Recordings/Discussions
Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion

Cantata BWV 124
Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of February 4, 2007 [Continue]

Xavier Rist wrote (February 12, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< 1. The musicians Bach had selected to perform with the Primary Choir were eminently capable of sight-reading Bach's music.
2. There is no evidence for any rehearsals taking place on either Friday or Thursday. >
You have been arguing back and forth on BWV 124 for more than a week, it should still be fresh in your memory. Switching to BWV 3 adds more confusion than clarity to the debate at least for me who already had a hard time assimilating all the historical data on 124. I just can't afford to go down that road again on a subject that is indeed fascinating but still secondary to my eyes.

However I will do my best to fully understand your answer. It will take me some time. As for now and on such an uncertain terrain, I don't feel I am armed to go much further in the debate. But I can't help comment on those two assertions I quote from you

< 1. The musicians Bach had selected to perform with the Primary Choir were eminently capable of sight-reading Bach's music. >
Man, if I didn't know this is coming from you, I would say either this is plain laughable , either incredibly naive. Where, in which country, When, in which century , during the whole western civilization history was there ever one ensemble, wether vocal or instrumental, who performed publicly newly written (or standard repertoire, for that matter) pieces of music on a regular basis at first sight, without rehearsing at least once or twice? Where? when,Thomas? give me just one other example... Or do you mean to say that Bach's choir and orchestra was the best group of musicians that EVER EXISTED?

< 2. There is no evidence for any rehearsals taking place on either Friday or Thursday. >
I take it from this one that there is no evidence of the contrary neither.

Of course they rehearsed. Why? Because,given the fact that they were practically living together 24/7, that would have been really stupid not to!

On that note I'm going to bed

Rick Canyon wrote (February 12, 2007):
First, let me say, that I have little problem with Thomas presenting his points in such a descriptive manner. I, myself, always have liked historical narratives. Thomas Costain's 4-volume history of the Plantagenets was always a favorite, for example, despite the handwringing of medieval scholars. But, because of Costain, I've always been able to have a strong framework on which to mount British kings (it made Mel's 'Braveheart' a little tough to take, for example). I have a reference point which is vivid within my brain. I can add or subtract from it as I learn more and more about a subject.

And while I appreciate the paternalism on the part of some who want to be absolutely sure the difference between fact and conjecture (or, is 'speculation' the more odious term?) is hammered home, I can pretty much tell using my own facilities, thank you very much.

Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Allow me to digress for a bit to explain how my thinking on this subject matter has changed over the years. For most of my life I have assumed what has been casually presented in a number of less authorative books on Bach's life. The picture that is presented is one where Bach would use the hourlong-weekday class time during which he taught (also was required to teach) singing at St. Thomas School for rehearsing the figural music required in the church on Sundays and Feast Days. There was no doubt in my mind that Bach would have allowed sufficient practice time with the choir and orchestra to perform his cantatas to his own satisfaction. >
But, it is not "the hourlong-weekday class time". It was 7 "hourlong-weekday class time(s)". Was it not 9 and noon Mon, Tues, Weds and 9 on Friday? From my own schooling, 7 hours a week on a subject is an enormously long time. And I might further ask what was done during the 9 and noon periods on Thurs and at noon on Fridays. Perhaps other subjects were taught--a definite possibility--but, maybe not.

< Then, while still a fairly new member on this list, I learned about the cantata text booklets which Bach had to have printed for distribution in the main churches. Since these booklets contained at least a month or two of Sundays and Feast Days, this would mean that Bach already knew relatively far in advance of the actual performance, which texts he would need to set to music. It would have been possible for Bach to compose a cantata at least a month or two before it was performed, but did Bach do this? Where is there any proof that he might have done so, other than applying our own current methods of planning ahead and forcing this onto Bach's work schedule. >
I keep in mind also that this discussion regarding cantata composition occupies only a couple of years of Bach in Leipzig. This flurry of composition was something out of the ordinary. Most years Bach just needed time for rehearsal. (indeed, is there any evidence that he did similar with secular cantatas? Was he burning the midnight oil, for example, to get the Coffee cantata completed in time for a Zimmermann's performance?)

< One could just as easily assume that the libretti functioned as a kind of syllabus for a course, providing a sense of direction in the form of an outline, but that, as most college/university students would do today, Bach would have waited until the time for real action was almost upon him. Call it realistic procrastination, if you will. Would students with a heavy and demanding course load say to themselves: "There's a book report due five weeks from now and although I am swamped with preparing and studying the subject matter which is currently being discussed in my seminar, I will turn my attention to the book report that is due 5 weeks from now rather than the one which is due this week." >
This sounds familiar from personal experience. Many students also claim that writing a report with a time constraint hovering overhead makes for a better report. If, indeed, he was composing up to the last minute, it's possible that Bach may have felt the same way (part of his composing technique, perhaps; but, then, one might wonder if there are other pieces composed with his back against the wall)

< Personally, I do not see Bach being that organized that he could compose on such a schedule. The evidence from the copy sessions keeps me from believing that Bach composed his scores and had his copies of the parts made well in advance so that there might be sufficient time to rehearse various cantatas simultaneously over the course of a number of weeks. >
Again, we are discussing only a couple of years. His remaining two-plus decades in Leipzig, composing as a factor in rehearsal time would have been largely eliminated.

< Then came my discovery of Arnold Schering's pronouncement. [Schering as an authorative figure in Bach scholarship reveals much about the inner workings of the Thomaner organization during Bach's tenure in Leipzig, but he does like to use words like "selbstverständlich" ("it goes without saying", literally: "the matter is self-understood" = it does not need any documentation or proof to substantiate its existence.)] Schering describes Bach's "dress > rehearsal" for a cantata to be performed the next day to have always taken place during the Saturday afternoon Vespers. Schering discovered this service in his list of all the church services that took place in the two main Leipzig churches. It seemed to him "selbstverständlich" that a connection could be made here since somehow it did not ring true to Schering that the dress rehearsals would have taken place during school classroom hours devoted to singing. >
Was this service alternated between churches? The church which had this Sat. Vespers would then have the cantata for it's main service the next day? with the cantata repeated again at Sunday's vespers at the other church?

I wonder if singing wall that was taught during these 7 hours of classroom sessions. Students were also required to become proficient on the harpsichord, apparently. One would also think that some students were also learning violin, cello, or trumpet. Regardless of instrument, when did these lessons take place?

Additionally, you would have such a huge range of age and experience in these classes, that somehow they must have been broken down by ability in some way. What would Choir1 do while the youngest were being taught music notation? And vice-versa, when, for example, a disscussion of the 'passus duriusculus' took place? (and apparently, there were always some in these classes who were musically hopeless)

My whole point is that 7 hours per week is a substantial amount of time to devote to music education. I think Bach had a lot of flexibility here.

And also about the traditional view of the Saturday rehearsal: was rehearsal only for Choir1? Did not the other 3 choirs get to rehearse also? If they did not have a vespers to perform, what did they do? One would think that these lesser choirs would not be nearly as accomplished at sightreading making rehearsal vital.

And what then would ahppen during the Advent and Lenten periods? It's usually postulated that Bach used this time to prepare for Christmas and Good Friday/Easter. Should we assume that during these periods, Bach held, in the school auditorium, something resembling what we might call a rehearsal?

< Then the clear indication of sight-reading music in one of Bach's letters of recommendation seemed to suggest that this was a talent/facility that a virtuoso musician, whether being paid professionally or not, must have. Such a talent, if required from all of Bach's top musicians, would allow Bach to perform at sight any music that he would set before them. >
I feel comfortable with the sightreading as an ability for the "virtuoso musician". (tho again my question about rehearsal--and, thus, sightreading ability--of the other choirs comes up again)

Musicians in English orchestras seem quite proud of their ability to sightread. They acquired the ability because English orchestras lacked rehearsal time. And, this does seem to be something of an acquired skill (rather than one where a student receives instruction). Yet, they still have some rehearsal. I recall a comment about (roughly), 'if you have a difficult part, you know to practice it on your own, because there will not be time at rehearsal'.

My point here is that while sightreading was probably an important and necessary skill, it does not completely eliminate the need for rehearsal; which is why I think that somewhere along the line there was a rehearsal.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 12, 2007):
Sight reading [Was: BWV 124 Provenance + Time Line]

Canyon Rick wrote:
< I feel comfortable with the sightreading as an ability for the "virtuoso musician". (tho again my question about rehearsal--and, thus, sightreading ability--of the other choirs comes up again)
Musicians in English orchestras seem quite proud of their ability to sightread. They acquired the ability because English orchestras lacked rehearsal time. And, this does seem to be something of an acquired skill (rather than one where a student receives instruction). >
At the risk of being attacked by native (or more civilized?) 'headhunters', I am going to share a personal anecdote. I gave up playing clarinet publicly because I was a lousy sight reader. At my level (secondary school orchestra), I could deliver the best performance after preparation, so I played first chair.

This is consistent with what my mother told about how I learned to talk. I never said a single word, until one day , about age two, I recited a complete nursery rhyme to her. In the immortal words of boxer Sonny Liston, when someone questioned his age, 'My mother says that's how old I am. Do you want to call my mother a liar?'

If my prepared performance had been an A+, or even A, I would probably have pursued it. Alas, I was about A-, second chair a very close B+. He could pretty much sight read his B+, but there it remained. Maybe I am being a bit harsh about the absolute grade level, but we were definitely not world class. He went to music school, and ultimately started his own flute making business. I went to engineering school, and ultimately became a geologist and sculptor. I have not stayed in touch, even though he is not far away, but I would bet that if you measured our lifetime incomes, there would not be a nickel to separate us.

I still remember being intimidated by his sight reading skills. I think that is what gave me the incentive to go home and practice. I am glad that I did.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 12, 2007):
Xavier Rist wrote:
>>But I can't help comment on those two assertions I quote from you
"1. The musicians Bach had selected to perform with the Primary Choir were eminently capable of sight-reading Bach's music."
...Where,in which country, When, in which century, during the whole western civilization history was there ever one ensemble, wether vocal or instrumental, who performed publicly newly written (or standard repertoire, for that matter) pieces of music on a regular basis at first sight, without rehearsing at least once or twice? Where? when,Thomas? give me just one other example...<<
The singers (and instrumentalists?) of the Papal Sistine Chapel, for instance. I had quoted this on list before but will not now do a search for it.

X: >>Or do you mean to say that Bach's choir and orchestra was the best group of musicians that EVER EXISTED?<<
I never meant to imply that, but only that the level of the ability of sight-reading and producing a truly musical performance was generally much higher than that which is generally found today. Bach's Primary Choir + instrumentalists would have sounded as good in performance as the best comparable performance groups available in Europe in Bach's time. One reason for this greater facility in sight-reading I attribute to the fact that music in the form of musical manuscripts and printed editions was very expensive for a singer or player who played this music in a group. Bach did not supply extra copies of his parts and scores for musicians to study and rehearse from before a performance. All of this might place a greater emphasis upon being able to read and play music directly from whatever source that happens to come before your eyes, knowing full well that it is not something that you will be able to copy (the cost of making your own copies was rather prohibitive), particularly if you knew that you would only perform the music once or twice and then never again. And yet, musicians and congregations/audiences were eager and accustomed to hearing new music performed all the time at every occasion.

X: >>2. There is no evidence for any rehearsals taking place on either Friday or Thursday. I take it from this one that there is no evidence of the contrary neither.<<
That is correct. This is true for Saturday as well. No firm evidence means that "anything goes" or "anything is possible". But is it really?

I am intrigued by the comments made by those who have investigated and studied Bach's scores and parts more carefully than they have ever before been examined by anyone. What they have discovered is:

a) while Bach's composing scores often reveal quite a large batch of corrected and sometimes uncorrected mistakes with attempts at erasure or writing over notes almost making the intention illegible, Bach never got around to making a clean copy of the score even in some instances, when the cantata had a repeat performance! Obviously Bach either conducted from this score or possibly did not use it at all when he played the 1st violin part.

b) most of the parts from the original sets show no normal wear and tear which would be expected from actually using (really using!) these parts as musicians would today with rehearsals and private practice sessions. There are no frayed edges, dog-eared corners, oily residue from fingerprints, tallow spots from candles, lightly written-in indications for fingerings or breath marks created by the performers aa result of rehearsing these parts, etc., etc.

c) as yet, not a single extra part copied by a singer or player for his own use has ever been found. The parts have always been created by the copyists whom Bach employed.

X: >>Of course they rehearsed. Why? Because,given the fact that they were practically living together 24/7, that would have been really stupid not to!<<
It is my contention that there was certainly a lot of music-making going on in the school building where Bach lived, but not necessarily a rehearsing of the Bach cantatas. There must have been places (rooms/auditorium) there for the boys to practice singing and playing together and alone. I imagine that before and after any important point of the day they would perform motets and sing in church every day of the week. Bodenschatz had recommended in his foreword to the Florilegium Portense that these motets (many in 8 parts) should be sung before and after meals. He had done this himself with his own school choir and felt that others would profit by following his example. Certainly the Thomaner also had to learn to play instruments as well, but here the question remains whether they could achieve the level of excellence that Bach required when they were only 12, 15, or 18 years old. (Of course, there might always be some amazing exceptions here too, like WFB playing a solo obbligato part on the organ during a cantata.) For his instrumentalists and probably most of his concertists who sang the solos, Bach most likely had to rely mainly upon the "Outsiders" (those young men from 21 to 30 years old who may or may not have once been Thomaner). In this group Bach found musicians who were at a professional level of performance although they were not being remunerated commensurately. Remember that, while they were students at the University of Leipzig, Telemann, Heinichen, Fasch would likewise have had opportunities to perform in the Leipzig churches (Telemann even began composing sacred music for St. Thomas Church much to the dismay of Johann Kuhnau).

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 12, 2007):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< I Like it!!! You started this ED---fill in the gaps! Suggestion for first line "Hey Ludwig, what say we do an April Fool's day joke, a parody of some little known dead composer"?
And the last line might be "Never mind Ludwig---I'll do it myself!" >
Line 2, Salierei: "Perhaps we can find a gullible collector to buy it?"

PS ED has some unfortunate connotations these days! I prefer Ed. In case anyone (Harry, for example) was wondering.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 12, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< The singers (and instrumentalists?) of the Papal Sistine Chapel, for instance. I had quoted this on list before but will not now do a search for it. >
No ... *I* was the one who brought this fact forward, and the reason was to debunk this sight-singing opinion which is constantly presented as a proven practice. The Papal Choir was famous as being so good and so arrogant that they could sight sing anything. This flamboyance was always considered to be an extraordinary display (some scholars say they cheated) and utterly different from other choirs which required intensive rehearsal. And by the way, the Sistine Chapel is famous as the only church which never alllowed organs or instruments. This cannot be adduced as evidence for Bach having superhuman singers.

Barry wrote (February 11, 2007):
[To Xavier Rist] I can't address the competing scenarios from the point of view of historical evidence, but my intuition tells me that Xavier is closer to the mark.

I wouldn't like to say that JS Bach never found himself short of time, and thus working feverishly at the last minute. I have difficulty with the notion that he usually operated in that way. My reasons are purely practical. If Thomas' scenario is accurate, then the only chance for the musicians and singers to hear the cantata, is in its first performance during the Sunday service. For an acceptable performance to come out of that scenario would require, in my opinion, super-human talent, and a great deal of luck. These factors have to combine for JS Bach, not once, but every Sunday. Now, let's add to the mix the various arguments about the size of Bach's choirs. I've never performed in a choir, and would defer to those who have. Imagine presenting your choir, orchestra, and soloists with the hastily copied parts of completely new music, on the morning of their first performance. In effect, Bach has to depend on the ability of all participants to accurately sight read, and perform the whole cantata in one go. I really can't imagine all of them getting it right all the time, or even substantially right most of the time, under those conditions. I wonder too, whether the city fathers, church authorities, and congregation would accept that kind of regime - if, as I suspect, it would have led to some very substandard performances.

I wonder what would happen if I could discover in some archive, a lost Bach cantata. I approach, say Koopmann or Suzuki with the idea that I will hand the parts out to their singers and players, to be instantly performed. These are, after all, professional musicians. As such, I'll explain that they don't need to waste time on fancy gimmicks like rehearsals - if Bach's boys could do it that way, surely the modern professionals could. We could record this single performance and, it's all done. Now, this could work even better if the repertoire happens to be familiar. Frankly, I'd be very surprised if a modern professional ensemble would perform one of Bach's best known cantatas like that.

I'm sorry that this post has become long. I enjoyed reading Thomas' scenario, but I can't bring myself to believe that any competent musician would have behaved in the manner attributed to JS Bach. Is there any evidence of any significant Baroque composer/conductor routinely completing church music in a way which practically ensured that there would be no opportunity for the performers to rehearse prior to public performance?

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 12, 2007):
Barry wrote:
< Is there any evidence of any significant Baroque composer/conductor routinely completing church music in a way which practically ensured that there would be no opportunity for the performers to rehearse prior to public performance? >
Get your asbestos suit on, Barry.

Xavier Rist wrote (February 12, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< [...]the level of the ability of sight-reading and producing a truly musical performance was generally much higher than that which is generally found today. Bach's Primary Choir + instrumentalists would have sounded as good in performance as the best comparable performance groups available in Europe in Bach's time. >
Thomas, the fact that you are so erudite and at the same time seem to have such a vague idea of the actual process of making music is extremely troubling.

Of course they were good, probably the best by the time's European standards. They must have been, I subscribe completely. But saying that "They had superior sight reading abilities, the best ever heard" is equivalent to or implies that "They performed usually without any rehearsal, they didn't need to since they were so good readers" is just twisted, it's a wrong link from cause to effect. I can't believe that you fail to see that. That applies of course to the Sistine Chapel example as well.

Nowadays, any good symphony orchestra around the world is able to sight read The Rite of Spring (or, for that matter, any difficult contemporary new piece) amazingly well. Do you think it means that when they go for a public performance they don't rehearse? Believe me if they could avoid it, they would, if only for financial reasons.

Imagine a group of athletes that are so good that they all can compete for world record in high jump. Does that mean that, when they want to go to the village nearby, they never open the gate because they are able to jump over it?

I will finish with a personal memory and that will be my final word on the subj.

When I was 20 or so, we decided with a group of a dozen friends to gather every Tuesday night and sight read Bach's cantatas, just for the fun of it. One of us would sit at the harpsichord and sight read (from the orchestral score usually), while the rest of us would sing. There was no conductor. We didn't need one really, since we were all good musicians with excellent ear, superior reading abilities (that was a prerequisite to be part of the group) all of us major (or soon to be major) in harmony or counterpoint or fugue or the three of them, in addition to playing one or several instruments. Some of us, less at ease with German language would sometimes sing "la la la" but the majority was able to sing directly with words. I can assure you that, after a few weeks of this training, you could count the wrong notes or accidents with the fingers of a single hand. Being one of the youngest and far from the best at this exercise I was in admiration at what my comrades could do. Did I mention we changed cantata every week? After a few months of this regime and having great fun, one of us, Jean-Claude Raynaud (harmony teacher at Paris Conservatory, now retired), who was the appointed organist in a protestant temple in Paris, suggested that every once in a while we choose a cantata that didn't need too many instruments and sing it in his church, from the tribune, during Sunday morning service. We were fortunate to have at least one excellent cellist and two very good violinists in the group, plus an outstanding oboist so they would switch from singing to playing when needed. We would complete the set with outside instrumentalist fellows and the occasional professional singer for the arias we felt we couldn't do ourselves (bass arias mainly, for the
rest some of us had nice voices and could cover them).

Well, Thomas, what do you think we did? We rehearsed! Not very much, since we were all very busy and doing it just for fun after all, and since the level of musicianship of the group was good, but we did: at least one choir rehearsal in the week before performance, plus one with the instruments the day before.

It wouldn't have occurred to any of us to go straight to performance even though our audience was a bunch of parishioners that weren't aware of what they were hearing and probably couldn't care less. As good as our readings could have been (and believe me they were), the quality of music that we were able to produce after even a short time of rehearsal was so significantly higher that it would have been stupid, and negligent, and sloppy not to do it. And that is what I would like you to understand, Thomas: like in the dog joke, good musicians don't rehearse "because they need to" they do it because it's worth it and BECAUSE THEY CAN! And it is precisely the mark of a bad musician to content himself with a good sight reading level of execution. For some reason I can't picture JSB bearing that trait.

PS. Most of the times, the one who would sit at the keyboard during our cantatas session was Béatrice Berstel, a remarkable harpsichord player and superior musician who became later teacher in figured bass in Paris Conservatory. She died a few years ago in the Alps, caught by an avalanche. I salute her memory here with great affection and fondness.

Alain Bruguieres. wrote (February 12, 2007):
Xavier Rist wrote:
< Thomas, the fact that you are so erudite and at the same time seem to have such a vague idea of the actual process of making music is extremely troubling.
Of course they were good, probably the best by the time's European standards. They must have been, I subscribe completely. But saying that "They had superior sight reading abilities, the best ever heard" is equivalent to or implies that "They performed usually without any rehearsal, they didn't need to since they were so good readers" is just twisted, it's a wrong link from cause to effect. I can't believe that you fail to see that. That applies of course to the Sistine Chapel example as well. >
Are you looking for trouble ? ;)

< I will finish with a personal memory and that will be my final word on the subject. >
Your anecdote is fascinating. Thank you very much for sharing it with us.

As I keep repeating, I'm neither a musician nor a musicologist. However this never prevented me form having my say on the list. Today will be no exception.

May I ask one naive question?

Apparently the small group of gifted musicians that you were developped in a comparatively short time the ability to play without preparation a Bach cantata in a way which was satisfactory to you. This is all the more so remarkable that (so it appears to me) this is completely contrary to the usual practice of our times. I wish I could have attended!

However when you decided to give a public performance, you began to rehearse. Why did you decide to rehearse? From what you told us of your prior experience, I do not perceive any objective reason to have done that.

Did you decide that after all your production was not good enough for a public performance? Was it a matter of lack of confidence, ie fearing that the public performance would not be as good as your private performances? Was it a question of accepted style of performance, ie that your impromptu performances were not in the standard accepted style? Was it a matter of social pressure, of respecting conventions, or did you decide after all that your sight-reading performances simply were not good? Did you not lose something by doing that?

In Bach's time the practice and the expectations of the public were probably different from ours. Perhaps as different as the present time expectations of a classical music public versus a jazz public. Seen form this perspective, Thomas' theory doesn't seemso far-fetched. It seems so considering the way the process of making music is envisioned here and now; but obviously there aredifferent and more relaxed (and perhaps more lively) manners of making music, which are by no means inferior.

After all, it seems to me that you anecdote can be read as bringing grist to Thomas' mill.

Nicholas Johnson wrote (February 12, 2007):
[To Alain Bruguieres] Talking of sight-reading I heard that in America they switch out the light to see how far you are reading ahead.

Xavier Rist wrote (February 12, 2007):
[To Alain Bruguieres] Music is a praxis.

Please don't see any irony in the shortness of this answer.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 12, 2007):
Xavier Rist wrote:
>>Most of the times, the one who would sit at the keyboard during our cantatas session was Béatrice Berstel, a remarkable harpsichord player and superior musician who became later teacher in figured bass in Paris Conservatory.<<
I find the short biography of Jeanne Leleu interesting. She had a very long-lasting connection with the Paris Conservatory, but at one point in her career she was a Professor of Sight-Reading at the same institution!

>> Leleu, Jeanne (b Saint Mihiel, 29 Dec 1898; d Paris, 11 March 1979). French pianist and composer. Her father was a bandmaster, her mother a piano teacher. At the age of nine she began studying at the Paris Conservatoire, where her teachers included Marguerite Long, Cortot and Widor. In 1923 she won the Prix de Rome with her cantata Béatrix. This was followed by two other prizes (Georges Bizet and Monbinne). She became a professor at the Paris Conservatoire in 1947, first for sight-reading, then for harmony. In style her compositions belong to no school. Clear, rhythmically alive, adventurous in harmony, her Suite symphonique caused a sensation in Rome, where it was first heard. In 1937 she played her own Piano Concerto with success in Paris, at the Concerts Lamoureux. Her Transparences, with its imaginative orchestral textures, was described by Florent Schmitt as 'a marvel of freshness, finesse and feminine grace', showing a high degree of invention, sensibility, richness and knowledge. Her ballets, Un jour d'été and Nautéos, have been praised for their grace, wit and invention, and both have enjoyed considerable success in the theatre.<<
David Cox in Grove Music Online, Oxford University
Press, 2007, acc. 2/12/07

X: >>wouldn't have occurred to any of us to go straight to performance even though our audience was a bunch of parishioners that weren't aware of what they were hearing and probably couldn't care less.<<
I see this as an expected preconditioned response which is and has been the general rule in the 19th and 20th century: we expect rehearsals even if we can already sing or play the music and, more importantly, we expect the strong personality of the conductor to impress upon us his/her personal vision of what the music should sound like. We sacrifice ourselves rather completely to the conductor and his/her cause. He or she becomes the Dompteur/Dompteuse (ring-leader, circus trainer) and we must obey all his/her wishes. The conductor becomes the most critical audience that we can have so we find it necessary to be prepared for this rather than simply singing or playing for our own enjoyment.

That the situation may have been different when Bach conducted his cantatas seems to be indicated by Salomon Gesner's now famous description in Latin (1738) of Bach conducting what appears to be a cantata (it is not clear whether this is a rehearsal or a performance since the audience/congregation is not mentioned) [Here is the gist of Gesner's comments:]

"If you could only see him as he achieves not only what several of your lute players and a 1000 flute players are unable to achieve, but that he is also capable of paying attention to all of the 30 to 40 musicians at the same time and keeping them together by waving his hand at one of them, by indicating the beat with his foot to another, by shaking his finger at a third musician to keep him in line, by singing give the correct note/pitch to one singer in the high range, then another in the low range and yet another in the middle range; and that, despite the fact that he has the most difficult task of all the musicians, he is able to notice immediately in the midst of the loudest volume produced when all sing and play together if, when, and where something is not correct, so that he can keep all the musicians together and prevent them from losing their places or when somewhere something threatens to fall apart, he will bring them back together again so that they can move forward securely, and how the beat is completely a part of him, how he, with his sharp ear immediately comprehends all the harmonies involved and even uses his own limited voice to indicate which notes any of the singers or players should be playing. Although I am a great admirer of antiquity, I nevertheless believe that my friend Bach and anyone who is like him, contains within himself many men like Opheus and 20 Arions as well.<<

If only Gesner had left one additional clue regarding the venue: was he the only one observing this, or did this represent an actual performance of a cantata in church? That a church might be implied could derive from Gesner's preceding comments on Bach the great organist. But this remains only a tenuous connection just before he moves into the description of the rehearsal?/performance?

Here is that same description from Charles Burney's translation:

>>If you could see him, I say, doing what many of your citharists and six hundred of your tibia players together could not do, not only, like a citharist, singing with one voice and playing his own parts, but watching over everything and bring back to the rhythm and the beat, out of thirty or even forty musicians, the one with a nod, another by tapping with his foot, the third with a warning finger, giving the right note to one from the top of his voice, to another from the bottom, and to a third from the middle of it - all alone, in the midst of the greatest din made by all the participants, and, although he is executing the most difficult parts himself, noticing at once whenever and wherever a mistake occurs, holding everyone together, taking precautions everywhere, and repairing any unsteadiness, full of rhythm in every part of his body - this one man taking in all these harmonies with his keen ear and emitting with his voice alone the tone of all the voices, Favorer as I am of antiquity, the accomplishments of our Bach, and of any others who may be like him, appear to me to effect what not many Orpheuses, nor twenty Arions, could achieve.<<

From a 21st-century standpoint, this certainly sounds more like a rehearsal than an actual performance, but can we be certain that it was not a performance in Bach's time? In a rehearsal, would Bach not be quite as concerned about keeping everything together all the time or preventing at all costs the music from stopping at any point? What would be wrong with stopping at a difficult point in a mvt., explaining what went wrong and then repeating the passage again? BTW, Bach's original parts, with the exception of the vocal parts and continuo, have no text attached to them and all of the parts are devoid of measure/bar numbers. There is no easy way to indicate where one might begin again without starting over from the beginning.

I am still very troubled by the lack of any normal wear and tear in these parts. They give the appearance of being unused.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 12, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< From a 21st-century standpoint, this certainly sounds more like a rehearsal than an actual performance, but can we be certain that it was not a performance in Bach¹s time? In a rehearsal, would Bach not be quite as concerned about keeping everything together all the time or preventing at all costs the music from stopping at any point? What would be wrong with stopping at a difficult point in a mvt., explaining what went wrong and then repeating the passage again? BTW, Bach¹s original parts, with the exception of the vocal parts and continuo, have no text attached to them and all of the parts are devoid of measure/bar numbers. There is no easy way to indicate where one might begin again without starting over from the beginning. >
The description certainly seems to be of a rehearsal: only in the face of an imminent breakdownin a performance would Bach correct a singer by singing out loud himself or tapping his foot audibly (although the French certainly expected the conductor to beat time audibly when there were ensemble problems).

The question of finding your place without bar numbers or rehearsal letters is one of those tantalizing mysteries which make it so difficult to reconstruct Bach's teaching and rehearsal method. We can only guess that performers mentally counted and remembered the bars as they played, the way in which modern instrumentalists count bars with rests -- six bars of rest in 4/4 will be mentally counted 1-234, 2-234, 3-234, 4-234, 5-234, 6-234.

Modern singers have totally lost this capability and depend on having a piano vocal score which has all the voices and a reduction of the orchestra. Single voice parts started to be replaced in the early 19th century.

Alain Bruguieres. wrote (February 12, 2007):
[To Xavier Rist] Praxis is too big a word for me. I stand awestruck.

After a while I recover. We were (well, I was) talking about practices, not praxis.

Practices are diverse. Practices do change. Practices are human. Music after all is human, too.

Of course you do not have to answer my question, but I'm not so easily praxised away!

If I understand well your initial post, you rehearsed because it is so much better with a rehearsal.

All right. So you did have time to rehearse, and since you want to give the best to the public, you do. If you'd had no time to rehearse, would you have canceled the concert? Perhaps not, perhaps it would have been an extraordinary experience for the people attending. I, at any rate, would give a lot to attend such a performance.

If you do not answer, I have to turn to my personal experience. As a mathematician, I give talks about my works here and there. I used to rehearse my conferences; these days I have lots of administrative tasks and I have no time for rehearsing (and very little time for preparing) my talks. I am well aware that my talks are less smooth, in a sense less good than they used to be.\

I'm not quite happy with that. I could devotmore time to preparing the talks, that would mean taking some time away from doing research, and I have very little time for doing research. So this is not my choice, because research is what gives me most personal satisfaction in my job and besides, I think (somewhat immodestly, I admit) that I have something - something of no great importance - still something, to contribute to mathematics. And matter-of-factly, if I did no research I would have nothing to give talks about.

In view of my personal experience, and in the absence of insight into a musician's experience, I find Thomas' hypothesis not implausible. I can believe that Bach - if he were would not compromise on the quality of his production, even if it meant very little time for preparing performances. Besides, I think that we have a certain expectation of what a musical performance shouldbe which is purely cultural, and completely at variance to expectations people have in other cultures. For instance, Indians will attend a concert of classical hindu music for a full night, with a total and indeed religious devotion to the music played, and they will eat while listening. I do not know what the expectation was in Leipzig, under Bach's cantorship.

Julian Mincham wrote (February 12, 2007):
Alain Bruguieres wrote:
< I used to rehearse my conferences; these days I have lots of administrative tasks and I have no time for rehearsing (and very little time for preparing) my talks. I am well aware that my talks are less smooth, in a sense less good than they used to be. I'm not quite happy with that. I could devote more time to preparing the talks, that would mean taking some time away from doing research, and I have very little time for doing research. >
To my mind there is an issue here that no-one has yet addressed fully i.e the two aspects of musical practice:

1 there is rehearsal fpr the purposes of learning and practising your own part i.e. learn to play the bloody notes musically and in time.

2 there is rehearsal in order to surmount the challenges of playing with other people--i.e. in ensemble. This involves matters of balance, keeping together, knowing other peoples' parts etc. etc.

For myself I can believe that Bach may well have given out parts to vocal soloists and oboists (etc) early in the week so that they could master them I find it difficulat to believe that all the problematic ensemble problems
could be solved to his satisfaction without at least one good rehearsal with everyone together.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 13, 2007):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
< If I understand well your initial post, you rehearsed because it is so much better with a rehearsal. >
Don't overlook the old (dog joke) suggestion Xavier mentioned.Explanations, if needed, probably better off-list! Ask Xavier. Note associative parentheses for clarity, thanks for the hint, Alain!

< As a mathematician, I give talks about my works here and there. I used to rehearse my conferences; these days I have lots of administrative tasks and I have no time for rehearsing (and very little time for preparing) my talks. I am well aware that my talks are less smooth, in a sense less good than they used to be. >
See Brad Lehman's associated post. Going even further than your experience, I find that a technical presentation, by one person, benefits from the spontaneity of an unrehearsed presentation, whether or not there is time available for rehearsal. But that is not sight reading, that is presenting material on which we are expert (or good at faking it, as the case may be). And as soon as more than one person is involved, at least a bit of rehearsal or pre-talk agreement in terms of who covers what, where to switch off, etc., is essential, or at least helpful.

Now extend that to a group of musicians, sight reading new and challenging music. I would suggest that the main value of sight-reading skills might have been to present the more familiar motets and chorales with minimal or no rehearsal, in order to free up time for Bach's fresh creations.

I remind us all of the following comment by Wolff (Bach: The Learned Musician, p. 345):

<[Bach] was weary of asking his musicians to play for very little or nothing, and that these musicians were forced by circumstances to accept money-making engagements for weddings and other private events rather than take the time to practice and rehearse Bach's challenging works. <end quote>

I previously posted this back in November, and it was incorrectly brushed-off as part of the Entwurff Document, and therefore somehow irrelevant. I let it slide, but that is incorrect. It is Wolff's interpretation of Bach's state of mind, and of the preferred working methods (that is, adequate rehearsals), expressed by Wolff in the context of discussing the Entwurff Document. Even if the quote were from the document, how is it irrelevant?

< In view of my personal experience, and in the absence of insight into a musician's experience, I find Thomas' hypothesis not implausible. >
No one would stand up more strongly than me for your right to an opinion. If you had said 'not impossible', I would even grudgingly agree. But 'not implausible'? C'mon, Man! What is proposed is the 'Saturday night scramble' as a routine working method. Not a one-time or occasional performance without rehearsal, because of some screw-up. A routine working method.

I am going to be polite, and leave you to fill in your own adjectives. Hint: one of the ones I would use sounds very much like a current USA hip-hop star, Ludikris.

Chris Rowson wrote (February 13, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
"The question of finding your place without bar numbers or rehearsal letters is one of those tantalizing mysteries which make it so difficult to reconstruct Bach's teaching and rehearsal method. We can only guess that performers mentally counted and remembered the bars as they played, ."
My conjecture here is that they didn“t restart from anywhere but the beginning.

(This is based on nothing more than my instinct derived from my experiences playing early 18th C music and reading about 18th C playing.)

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 13, 2007):
<< If I understand well your initial post, you rehearsed because it is so much better with a rehearsal. >>
< Don't overlook the old (dog joke) suggestion Xavier mentioned. >
Or the other similar old (dog joke) whose punch line is: "Well, go ahead, but you'd probably better pat him on the head first."

Rick Canyon wrote (February 13, 2007):
< No one would stand up more strongly than me for your right to an opinion. If you had said 'not impossible', I would even grudgingly agree. But 'not implausible'? C'mon, Man! What is proposed is the 'Saturday night scramble' as a routine working method. Not a one-time or occasional performance without rehearsal, because of some screw-up. A routine working method. >
"A routine working method"?. At best, this could only be called routine during those couple of years when Bach composed cantatas in Leipzig. Would he have followed this "routine" also with his Weimar cantatas? (even tho it was something like only one per month there?) Was he following a similar routine once he completed his cantata cycles?

I don't know whether this argues in favor of Thomas's idea or not, but for more than his last 2 decades in Leipzig, this does not seem to be routine.

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 13, 2007):
Xavier Rist wrote:
< Thomas, the fact that you are so erudite and at the same time seem to >have such a vague idea of the actual process of making music is extremely troubling.
Of course they were good, probably the best by the time's European standards. They must have been, I subscribe completely. But saying that "They had superior sight reading abilities, the best ever heard" is equivalent to or implies that "They performed usually without any rehearsal, they didn't need to since they were so good readers" is just twisted, it's a wrong link from cause to effect. I can't believe that you fail to see that. That applies of course to thSistine Chapel example as well.
Nowadays, any good symphony orchestra around the world is able to sight read The Rite of Spring (or, for that matter, any difficult contemporary new piece) amazingly well. Do you think it means that when they go for a public performance they don't rehearse? Believe me >if they could avoid it, they would, if only for financial reasons. >
Why would we think that Bach had anything like the best performers in Europe? True he had access to the town musicians - professionals of a sort, and the faculty and students of the University of Leipzig. Would they have been better than a major court orchestra? Do you think they would have been hailed as masters at Versailles, Vienna or London? Would Bach's singers - amateurs by anyone's definition - been able to match up to the professionals that sang at one of Europe's major opera houses? Perhaps Bach lived in a time and place where the super-human was the norm. Maybe, as Gardiner has suggested, a Bach performance would have been a real let down to the modern ears. Obviously we don't know. However, I rather suspect that one thing hasn't changed since the 1730s: you get what you pay for. I don't doubt the musicians were decent - if they were incompetent Bach would have fled Leipzig or composed different music. But, what on earth is the message of the Entwurff if not a very clear call for extra resources? Why would Birnbaum plead in print not to judge Bach's works by their performance but rather by their score if Bach had the best musicians on the continent? If Wolff has it right, Bach was known to take away the beer money from his singers if they hit a particularly bad note: bet that wouldn't have done the job for Handel. None of this rings true to me.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 13, 2007):
Canyon Rick wrote:
< "A routine working method"?. At best, this could only be called routine during those couple of years when Bach composed cantatas in Leipzig. Would he have followed this "routine" also with his Weimar cantatas? (even tho it was something like only one per month there?) Was he following a similar routine once he completed his cantata cycles?
I don't know whether this argues in favor of Thomas's idea or not, but for more than his last 2 decades in
Leipzig, this does not seem to be routine. >
At last fall's International Bach Festival in Toronto, Michael Marissen made the intriguing suggestion that Bach spent much time during his tenure in Köthen increasing his theological education in preparation for applying to a position such as Leipzig. I didn't get an opportunity to ask him, but I wondered at the time if Bach was also thinking about how he would change the face of church music through comprehensive cycles of new cantatas. Was he already planning libretti and perhaps sketching music before he arrived in Leipzig? There's obviously no documentary evidence for any of this, but we do know that Bach looked over his previous cantatas and systematically incoprporated them into his new cycles.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 13, 2007):
Canyon Rick wrote:
< "A routine working method"?. At best, this could only be called routine during those couple of years when Bach composed cantatas in Leipzig. >
How so? We have demonstrated that there is no imperative relation between an average of one cantata per week, and the 'Saturday night scramble'. The last remaining shred of objective support for the scramble is the pristine condition of the surviving parts.

< Would he have followed this "routine" also with his Weimar cantatas? (even tho it was something like only one per month there?) >
I don't know. Do the Weimar documents show any more (or less) evidence of use?

< Was he following a similar routine once he completed his cantata cycles? >
I don't know. Do the surviving later scores look more or less used?

< I don't know whether this argues in favor of Thomas's idea or not, but for more than his last 2 decades in Leipzig, this does not seem to be routine. >
Why not? If he liked to procrastinate, do a Saturday all-nighter, and it worked out OK in Leipzig, why change. Bach was nothing, if not pragmatic.

Ah, well, not exactly. Cranky genius also.

Neil Mason wrote (February 27, 2007):
You wrote:
< You appear to have no idea about what the term 'hypothetical' means (included at the beginning of Thomas's message). There is clearly an attempt to kick Thomas off the list by using collective bullying tactics - you would obviously welcome this, but I (and others who have contacted me off list) welcome his informative insights (even if they are routinely given as facts rather than opinions). I fail to see what was so offensive about his post - like Aryeh, I enjoyed it. What is wrong is you? >
Yes I'm still behind, but I feel that to reply to this is important.

First, there is nothing wrong with me (I thought I'd start there, refuting the usual ad hominem attacks).

Second, there is certainly no attempt to kick Thomas off the list, just to point out that his opinions are worth no more than mine or anyone else's.

But the main problem with this little fiction is that it perpetuates the silly notion of high-quality performances being possible without any rehearsal. I happen to be a singer who is regarded as an extremely good sight-reader. I have a good deal of world-wide experience singing Bach, including the Evangelist parts in SMP (BWV 244), SJP (BWV 245) and WO (BWV 248). Would I (except in an emergency situation) sight-read Bach in concert? No way Jose.

Why not? Because Bach's vocal music is primarily instrumental in contour and form, or to put it another way is angular, and therefore needs to be sung into the voice. Because there are plenty of examples of "word-play" or word-painting that would be missed on a first run-through. Because one needs time to reflect on the spiritual and emotional content of the words, and to "colour" one's timbre on certain key syllables to illustrate this. Because.... I could give more reasons.

If it is impossible for a professional singer who is a good sight-reader to contemplate doing this, how much more absurd is it that an amateur choir sharing (according to Thomas) three singers to a part reading in candlelight, with orchestral accompaniment with the wrong number of bars>>>> Give me a break!!!!

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 27, 2007):
Neil Mason wrote:
< If it is impossible for a professional singer who is a good sight-reader to contemplate doing this, how much more absurd is it that an amateur choir sharing [...] three singers to a part reading in candlelight, with orchestral accompaniment with the wrong number of bars>>>> Give me a break!!!! >
Or as I like to abbreviate it, GMAFB. NB, this is not proposed as official BCML shorthand, simply a one-time usage.

Julian Mincham wrote (February 27, 2007):
Neil Mason wrote:
< Why not? Because Bach's vocal music is primarily instrumental in contour and form, or to put it another way is angular, and therefore needs to be sung into the voice. Because there are plenty of examples of "word-play" or word-painting that would be missed on a first run-through. Because one needs time to reflect on the spiritual and emotional content of the words, and to "colour" one's timbre on certain key syllables to illustrate this. Because.... I could give more reasons. >
I don't know if you have caught up with the recent correspondence about the tenor aria in 92. I asked singers what was the minmum time for which they would need to study and learn the score before giving a performance. It seemed to me that the leaps, runs, scotch snaps, ensemble difficulties would all need a few days to master with confidence.

Cara was the singer to take on the challenge and she thought it could be done within a day---which surprised me a little. But then much of my earlier professional experience was with opera singers who were often poor readers and required hours of having the notes drummed in to them by long suffering pianists:--there is a new breed of singers about today.

But given your experience I wondered how long you would need as minimum and as ideal time for the preparation of such a movement?

Neil Mason wrote (February 28, 2007):
[To Julian Mincham] No I haven't caught up with recent posts. I just had a quick look at the vocal score of this aria, and it is certainly not an easy aria. Just at a casual look it seems of similar difficulty as "Ach, mein Sinn" from SJP.

If there was a performance scheduled this evening and the tenor soloist has pulled out sick and I was asked to do it I could, and would expect to get all the notes right.

But as professional musicians know, there's a lot more to it than that (and that was the reason for my previous posting). When I learn a piece, I like to allow enough time for it to sink into the subconscious. That for me is a matter of weeks (because my life is somewhat complicated and there is much more to it than music). Partly this is a matter of repetition, but I have found in my experience that given enough preparation time my performance (in rehearsal) improves even between rehearsals. I find it difficult to put this into words, but there is a kind of "mental osmosis" going on where things sink into my brain by themselves.

From a technical point of view, this is a demanding aria, and I would want to give it time to be "sung into" my voice. In particular I would want to give some thought as to how to deal with the top A's. Do they all need to be strong, noting that they are on a variety of vowel sounds, all of which give them a different "feel" to the singer. Textual considerations apply also (see below), but even without them there are register choices (or what is the appropriate mix of registers) to think about.

Of course, for a singer the music is only half of it, the text is the other half. Without it we get mere "note spinning". I am not a German speaker, so I would want time to get at least one (preferably a number of different ones) translation, word for word, so that I can start to give emotional colour to certain syllables.

It is fair to say that if I was fluent in German like my sons this would be a lot quicker, as it is when I sing in English. (I am singing the tenor solos in Haydn's Creation, and that is a much easier task).

Of course I am speaking in this post of the process for a solo singer. For choirs, although a good chorister would realise that a lot of these considerations also apply, in practice this would be left to a choir director to "interpet" the score. It would be totally unrealistic to expect this of child choristers.

So, in summary, although I COULD sing this at short notice, I would not want to for ideal results.

The bottom line is that, based on my own experience, I find it hard to believe that such a fine musician as JSB would be satisfied either. There would have been (IMHO) enough drudgery in his position without also having poor performances every week to add to the list.

Shawn Charton wrote (February 28, 2007):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< But then much of my earlier professional experience was with opera singers who were often poor readers and required hours of having the notes drummed in to them by long suffering pianists:--there is a new breed of singers about today.
But given your experience I wondered how long you would need as minimum and as ideal time for the preparation of such a movement? >
I, too, am an opera singer and I take exception to that assessment of our required abilities. The days of the stupid singer a LONG gone. The only singers who can solely ride the merits of their voices these days are those with Wagnerian voices... and that is just becuase they are so hard to cast.

I would have no trouble learning this or any other Bach aria in a day. If you've sung one Scotch snap, you've sung them all, IMHO. It's a simple matter of being a good reader and being good at singing Bach.

The fact that it is a tenor aria MIGHT make your assessment of modern opera singers slightly more applicable. Larger voiced tenors tend to have thick and unflexible tops. And sadly, what passes for fioratura and ornaments today could really be more aptly named the "Joan Sullivan death-ray tremolo" ornament. I wonder how Bach would have notated such an ornament. But I digress... suffice it to say... not all oepra singers are created equal and whether it's today or the 1950's generalizations like that are inappropriate.

IMHO,

 

Continue on Part 5

Cantata BWV 124: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion

Introduction | Cantatas | Other Vocal | Instrumental | Performers | General Topics | Articles | Books | Movies | New
Biographies | Texts & Translations | Scores | References | Commentaries | Music | Concerts | Festivals | Tour | Art & Memorabilia
Chorale Texts | Chorale Melodies | Lutheran Church Year | Readings | Poets & Composers | Arrangements & Transcriptions
Search Website | Search Works/Movements | Terms & Abbreviations | Copyright | How to contribute | Sitemap | Links



 

Back to the Top


Last update: żOctober 24, 2011 ż08:47:21