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Cantata BWV 79
Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Cantata 119, 79, dotted rhythm, and French ouverture tempo

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 19, 2003):
Going through some unmarked files this weekend I found an unexpected gift to myself from the past: a photocopy of William Malloch's article "Bach and the French Ouverture" (Musical Quarterly #75, Summer 1991). And it refers back to John O'Donnell's article "The French style and the overtures of Bach" (Early Music, April 1979).

In this 1991 article Malloch wrote about tempo relationships in Bach, Handel, Telemann, Mozart, Bruckner, French operas, and more. He also backed up his research and writing with his own recording of Bach's four suites 1066-69, and it is a useful package for studying this issue. [Earlier than this he also prepared his own orchestration of the Art of Fugue, and had a recording of this made by Lukas Foss and some Los Angeles players.]

The results sound surprising at first, but they can really grow on someone who takes this seriously. As Malloch pointed out in this article, "If this introduction [to suite #2], stormily dramatic at this pace, seems no longer sufficiently slow or even familiar, this, to paraphrase O'Donnell, is our problem, not Bach's."

These issues are apropos of last week's discussion of BWV 119 (in which I said all of Leusink, Harnoncourt, and Herreweghe seem "too slow" to me), and the April discussion of BWV 79 (where my remarks are summed up at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/4610 ). Both of those cantatas have opening movements in this "French ouverture" style.

And in this article Malloch said some of the same things about meter (C, cut-C, 2, cut-2, etc.) and emphasis that I have been using to determine basic tempos. And his remarks about tempo words such as "vite", "lento", "lentement", etc seem right on (to me), although they're shocking and alien if one comes to this with more typical expectations about tempo. (Yes, he shocked me too when I first read another article of his in Opus magazine, and listened to his recordings.) I believe his ideas about determining basic tempo have plenty of merit, although most of the classical-music community have ignored them.

These are serious musicological questions in performance practice, not an arbitrary preference for hearing things played fast (which, I must emphasize here, I don't generally enjoy). I believe it is crucial for performers to find and project the correct metric level that is the beat, according to the music, even if we more often hear pieces performed vastly differently from that (usually, much more slowly). When the music is felt and projected at a level we're not accustomed to, it can still seem slow or fast (or whatever) at that level of note values, and retain that expressive character, while internal "problems" (such as the question of double-dotting, and issues of articulation) become non-problems.

Personally, listening to Malloch's recordings, I wish he'd been less rigid once he's found those lucid tempos; the music could breathe more naturally with more flexibility, and come across with even stronger projection of gesture. But the basic tempos themselves, and their relationships, are fine. And the recordings are polemic, to wake people up from their complacency; polemic things have to be extreme and somewhat rigid to get the points across. (And then Andrew Parrott recorded the suites a few years later with most of the same players, and used similar tempos to good effect.)

I'd recommend this article, and Malloch's recordings, to anyone who is serious about the determination of tempo. And, since that affects ALL music...folks, run to look up and read this article!.....

Neil Halliday wrote (May 19, 2003):
Bradley Lehman writes:
"These issues are apropos of last week's discussion of
BWV 119 (in which I said all of Leusink, Harnoncourt, and Herreweghe seem "too slow" to me), and the April discussion of BWV 79 (where my remarks are summed up at:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/4610 ). Both of those cantatas have opening movements in this "French ouverture" style".
BWV 79's opening movement is not of the French overture style, though the discussion there was about tempo and the number of beats in the bar, and cut C versus 4/4 metre.

Re the French overtures of the Suites, Malloch's reading of these works would seem to take no notice of the 4/4 metre, in light of what Brad said about the significance of cut C metre in determining speed (in the BWV 79 discussion), or is there in fact no relationship betwwen tempo and metre (eg, cut C versus 4/4) - the argument seems to be for fast speeds no matter what the time signature of the music happens to be.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 19, 2003):
I wrote:
<< the April discussion of BWV 79 (where my remarks are summed up at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/4610 ). Both of those cantatas have opening movements in this "French ouverture" style". >>
And Neil corrected me:
< BWV 79's opening movement is not of the French overture style, though the discussion there was about tempo and the number of beats in the bar, and cut C versus 4/4 metre. >
Right you are, Neil. Sorry, everybody.

But the broader point I was trying to make was about the difference of emphasis (i.e. which note gets the primary beat) when the meter is C vs cut-C. That's where Malloch's article is relevant.

Neil continued: < Re the French overtures of the Suites, Malloch's reading of these works would seem to take no notice of the 4/4 metre, in light of what Brad said about the significance of cut C metre in determining speed (in the BWV 79 discussion), or is there in fact no relationship betwwen tempo and metre (eg, cut C versus 4/4) - the argument seems to be for fast speeds no matter what the time signature of the music happens to be. >
Neil, is your comment here a reaction to Malloch's article, or to his recording, or to hearsay (from me) about them? That is, what exactly is this argument that you're trying to rebut? (I'm interested in discussing that article itself, if you are....)

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (May 20, 2003):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< But the broader point I was trying to make was about the difference of emphasis (i.e. which note gets the primary beat) when the meter is C vs cut-C. That's where Malloch's article is relevant. >
You won't make your point about the metrical difference by exclaiming about the obvious evidence; you should describe how accents and other phrasing could be applied to create the feeling that you claim to have but others have not comprehended.

Neil Halliday wrote (May 20, 2003):
Bradley Lehman asks:
"Neil, is your comment here a reaction to Malloch's article, or to his recording, or to hearsay (from me) about them? That is, what exactly is this argument that you're trying to rebut?"
It's a reaction to the 1st point ie, why is Malloch referring to cut C metres, when the time signatures of the dotted rhythm sections of the Orchestral Suites are common time, not cut C; and the 3rd point ie, your comments on how the speed of BWV 79 relates to its cut C metre.

Re the Suites, I have Scherchen with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra performing the B minor Suite. The (French) overture section sounds utterly 'authentic', in the sense of that word which you recently defined for us (and I applaud you for this definition) ie, it's a living, breathing, engaging performance for present day listeners, not 18th century listeners. Tempo (speed)? About crotchet = 50. The middle section is about double that speed.

The return of the 'slow' section (btw, why do we refer to 'slow-fast-slow') is, unusually, in 3/4 time and marked 'lentement'; the manner in which Scherchen unfolds the same thematic material in bars 1, 3, 5, and 7 on the st violins, continuo , 2nd violins, and violas, respectively, with the flute fluttering over all this, is one of the most beautiful moments in music that I know of.

Conclusion? The Suites cerainly must present different scenarios to different people, judging by the different tempo recommendations!

Re BWV 79, we both agreed that Ramin best captured the spirit of the piece, ie, best portrayed Bach's confidence in the eventual triumph of God over Satan, in the battle for control of human destiny. We are not talking about genteel matters here; if Rilling had employed Ramin's resonating, booming - yet balanced- timpani, instead of the discreet thudding sound we heard with Rilling, I would have rated Rilling's recording almost as highly. The difference in tempo appears to be a secondary factor, as far as the success or otherwise of the performance is concerned, given the range of tempi employed.

You had reservations about Ramin's speed, and went on to say that even the fastest example (Rotzsch, I think) sounded too slow, and you drew some conclusions about the cut C metre. While I agree the Ramin may be a little slow, your desire for a speed which is even faster than the fastest recording (Rotzsch, I think), based on notions of literally pacing to the minims at a certain speed, appears to be misguided, if for no other reason than the empirical evidence of the suitability, more or less, of the tempos chosen by all the conductors. While Ramin may be at the lower limit, Rotzsch is certainly at the upper limit.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 21, 2003):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Re the Suites, I have Scherchen with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra performing the B minor Suite. The (French) overture section sounds utterly 'authentic', in the sense of that word which you recently defined for us (and I applaud you for this definition) ie, it's a living, breathing, engaging performance for present day listeners, not 18th century listeners. Tempo (speed)? About crotchet = 50. The middle section is about double that speed. >
I dug out the LP this evening and listened to it. Yes, "authentic"...authentically reverential, and authentically sentimental. (If this suite had been attributed to, say, Graupner or Fasch, would Scherchen have stretched it out to its 27+ minutes without one of the first movement's repeats? Extraordinary!)

I rather like it for that bold approach, and they were clearly committed to the task; but several things really bothered me:

- The flautist spends that whole middle section of the first movement playing all the notes uniformly short; it sounds aimless.

- Throughout the suite everybody in the orchestra plays all the trills as fast as possible, regardless of the Affekt of the passage they're playing them in...it really breaks the mood.

- The Menuett is sooooooooooooo sloooooooooooooooooooooooooooow.........

- Nothing in the suite seemed to have anything to do with dancing. I feel that something is lost.

< The return of the 'slow' section (BTW, why do we refer to 'slow-fast-slow') is, unusually, in 3/4 time and marked 'lentement'; the manner in which Scherchen unfolds the same thematic material in bars 1, 3, 5, and 7 on the 1st violins, continuo , 2nd violins, and violas, respectively, with the flute fluttering over all this, is one of the most beautiful moments in music that I know of. >
And I've never heard it played more slowly by anybody; have you?

< Conclusion? The Suites cerainly must present different scenarios to different people, judging by the different tempo recommendations! >
"Love it to death" is one possible scenario, yes. :)

 

Out of Sequence: BWV 79 and pitch standards

Joel Figen wrote (October 16, 2005):
I'm participating in a local performance of BWV79. I'm singing the bass solos and joining the bass section in the choruses. I immediately noticed that many choir members were having trouble with the tessitura. It's just plain high. The Bass solos are high too, and, for me, so far, the high e-flat, on "Ach!" (appropriately enough) comes out more like "Eek, a mouse!" unless I project it with operatic force, in which case it dominates the recitative inappropriately. No doubt, we'll all learn our parts, and I'll be able to manage a more civilized Ach.

I just looked through the bass part of the opening chorus and noticed nothing lower than a G, the tonic, but Bach is rarely shy about taking the basses quite a bit lower.

This all leads me to the question of pitch standards, yet again. Is it conceivable that this cantata was notated to a lower pitch standard than Chorton? And, perhaps, that this is due to an initial performance situation without an organ?

Any musicological input on this matter will be appreciated.

Also, where does Chorton lie in relation to the modern a=440hz?

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 16, 2005):
Joel Figen wrote:
>>Is it conceivable that this cantata [BWV 79] was notated to a lower pitch standard than Chorton? And, perhaps, that this is due to an initial performance situation without an organ?<<
The NBA KB for this cantata reports nothing unusual about this cantata which was composed for performance with the existing conditions that prevailed in Leipzig. There is nothing unusual to report about the organ continuo part. It conforms to Bach's usual practice in Leipzig.

For a good discussion on Chorton and Pitch Standards for the Bach cantatas, see the special articles on these subjects in "Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach" ed. Boyd [Oxford University Press, 1999].

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 16, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< The NBA KB for this cantata reports nothing unusual about this cantata which was composed for performance with the existing conditions that prevailed in Leipzig. There is nothing unusual to report about the organ continuo part. It conforms to Bach's usual practice in Leipzig. >
The tenor aria is written in an extremely high register with a rare high B in the vocal part.

Tom Dent wrote (October 16, 2005):
[To Joel Figen] Chorton is about 1 semitone higher than modern pitch. However, the name is misleading. This was actually the organ pitch and the pitch of some wind instruments.

In most Leipzig cantatas, the actual choir parts are notated a whole tone lower than Chorton. So the appropriate transposition is about a semitone below modern pitch.

However, it might also be acceptable to take the choir pitch a minor third below Chorton, thus ending up a whole tone below modern pitch.

If the key signature is rather 'flatty' this transposition would make things easier for the organist - eg G minor for the choir would be E minor for the organist, rather than F minor.

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 79: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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

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Last update: řApril 25, 2013 ř15:12:45