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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 83
Erfreute Zeit im neuen Bunde
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of February 26, 2006 [Continue]

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 1, 2006):
Tom Hens wrote:
>>This is exactly my problem with the "boys' voices broke much later in Bach's time" argument.<<
>>In general the age of the Thomasschule pupils ranged between 12 and 23. Remembering that voices then broke at the age of 17 or 18, it is clear that Bach could count on solo trebles and altos who already had some ten years' practical experience - an ideal situation, impossible in boys' choirs today.<< Christoph Wolff in the Grove Music Online (Oxford University Press, 2006, acc. 2/28/06)

Taking into account Agricola's observation recently reported here, Christoph Wolff will need to reveal his sources for the range of mutation (16-17 years of age for the Thomaner under Bach's direction) which seems not to be founded on sources such as Agricola.

Here are some selections from biographies contained in the same Grove Music Online:

Fogg, (Charles William) Eric
(b Manchester, 21 Feb 1903; d London, 19 Dec 1939). English composer and conductor. He was the son of Charles H. Fogg, organist to the Hallé Orchestra and himself a minor composer. Much of Fogg's life was centred on Manchester. He was a chorister at Manchester Cathedral from the age of 10 until his voice broke and, from the age of 15, organist at St John's, Deansgate.
Lewis Foreman

Isaack [Isaac], Bartholomew
(bap. Windsor, 22 Sept 1661; bur. London, 9 Oct 1709). English singer, organist and composer. He was the son of William Isaack, sexton and later verger of St George's Chapel, Windsor. He was a choirboy in the Chapel Royal from at least 18 May 1674 to autumn 1676, when his voice broke and he was discharged.
Peter Holman

Bouvard, François
(b Lyons, c1683; d Paris, 2 March 1760). French composer, teacher and opera singer. The main source of information about him is the Parfaict brothers' Dictionnaire des théâtres, which states that Bouvard entered the Opéra at a very young age to sing soprano parts, with a 'voice of such a range that its like had never been heard'. After his voice broke, when he was about 16, he spent a couple of years in Rome.
Robert Fajon

Boyce, William
(b London, bap. 11 Sept 1711; d London, 7 Feb 1779). English composer, organist and editor. Though formerly best known for some of his anthems and his editing of Cathedral Music (1760-73), the significant contribution he made to instrumental music, song, secular choral and theatre music in England is now widely recognized.. According to Hawkins, who was acquainted with Boyce, it was William's father who became aware of his son's 'delight in musical sounds' while he was still in his infancy. Given the proximity of St Paul's Cathedral to the family house it was natural to seek a place in the music school, where he was admitted in about 1719. There he began his musical education under the Master of the Choristers, Charles King, and on entering the cathedral choir he came under the guidance of the organist, Maurice Greene, who was to become his lifelong mentor, advocate and friend. When his voice broke, in about 1727, he became an articled pupil of Greene for seven years; he continued to act as Greene's music copyist at least until 1736.
Ian Bartlett

Haydn, (Johann) Michael
(b Rohrau, Lower Austria, bap. 14 Sept 1737; d Salzburg, 10 Aug 1806). Austrian composer, younger brother of Joseph Haydn. A prolific composer in many genres, he was especially admired for his sacred music. Michael Haydn was born in the village of Rohrau on the Leitha river, near the current border of Austria and Hungary. He went to Vienna at the age of eight and entered the choir school at the Stephansdom, where he will have participated in numerous performances of sacred works by the most prominent Viennese composers, especially the Kapellmeister, Georg Reutter. By his 12th birthday he was earning extra money as a substitute organist at the cathedral and had, reportedly, performed preludes and fantasies of his own composition. About 1753 his voice broke and he was dismissed from the choir school.
Dwight Blazin

Humfrey [Humphrey, Humphrys], Pelham
(b 1647/8; d Windsor, 14 July 1674). English composer. The most precocious of the brilliant first generation of choristers at the Chapel Royal after the Restoration, he spent the whole of his short adult life in its service. He had neither interest in nor aptitude for the old polyphonic style; instead he developed a distinctively English Baroque idiom, enriched by progressive French and Italian techniques, yet founded on the inflections of his native language, and far outstripping the experimental efforts of any earlier English composer both in consistency of approach and in technical fluency.. He was a nephew of Colonel John Humfrey, a prominent Cromwellian who was resident in London. By the end of 1660 he had become a Chapel Royal chorister under Henry Cooke; when his voice broke, at the end of 1664, Cooke was assigned £40 annually for his maintenance - £10 more than was customary. This difference has been attributed to Humfrey's pre-eminence among his contemporaries; but that explanation is questionable, for the young Purcell, on leaving the choir nine years later, was allowed only the usual £30.
Bruce Wood

Otto, Georg [Georgius]
(b Torgau, 1550; d Kassel, bur. 30 Nov 1618). German composer. It is not known to what extent he was influenced by Johann Walter (i), who lived at Torgau while he was growing up there. He attended the local choir school, which supplied boys to the Kapelle of the Elector of Saxony at Dresden, and this no doubt accounts for his being engaged as a choirboy there in 1561. When his voice broke in 1564 he moved to the monastery school at Schulpforta, near Naumburg, and in 1568 he entered Leipzig University, where he came to know Nikolaus Selnecker. In the following year, however, he accepted the post of civic Kantor at Langensalza. In 1586 - after two unsuccessful applications for posts at Dresden, the second of which was for the vacancy caused by the death of the Hofkapellmeister,
Walter Blankenburg

Turner, William
(b Oxford, 1651; d London, 13 Jan 1740). English composer and singer. He began his musical training as a chorister under Edward Lowe at Christ Church, Oxford. He became a chorister at the Chapel Royal in the early 1660s, and he collaborated with Humfrey and Blow about 1664 to write 'The Club Anthem', I will always give thanks. When his voice broke in 1666 he was placed in the care of Henry Cooke until he was appointed master of the choristers at Lincoln Cathedral on 28 November 1667.
Don Franklin

Blow, John
(b Newark, Notts., bap. 23 Feb 1648/9; dWestminster, London, 1 Oct 1708). English composer, organist and teacher. By his mid-20s he had become the foremost musician in England, and in later years he was the elder statesman of the Restoration school, whose chief luminary was Henry Purcell.. Late in 1664, when Blow's voice broke, he remained in the charge of Cooke. He presumably continued his musical studies under Christopher Gibbons, one of the chapel organists, and possibly also assisted John Hingeston, the royal instrument keeper (as Purcell was later to do). He also continued singing, though only informally: on 21 August 1667, at Samuel Pepys's home, he performed trios with two other former choristers, one of whom, Tom Edwards, was by now servant to Pepys; the latter admired their 'extraordinary skill', presumably in sight-reading, but not their adolescent voices, which, he observed, were so badly out of tune they 'would make a man mad'.
Bruce Wood

Greene, Maurice
(b London, 12 Aug 1696; d London, 1 Dec 1755). English composer and organist. Though remembered chieflyfor his church music, he was also an important composer of keyboard music, songs and extended vocal works..As the youngest of seven children, Maurice is said to have been brought up in the choir of St Paul's Cathedral under Jeremiah Clarke and Charles King, and in 1710, when his voice broke, to have been articled to Richard Brind, organist of the cathedral since Clarke's death in December 1707.
H. Diack Johnstone

Eric Bergerud wrote (March 1, 2006):
[To Thomas Braatz] I wonder if Wolff really thought that one through. I don't doubt an voice or two broke at age 18 in Bach's time, but my guess is that most farmers watched their daughters like a hawk when any boy over 15 happened to drop by. I'm sure the marriage records (now those we do have) would show plenty of late teens at the alter. (And maybe in the hay wagon with parents knowledge if engaged. Don't know about the hay loft.)

I checked a number of sites the last time I was looking into this subject (actually when researching Napoleonic warfare) and estimates of the acceleration of contemporary adolescence since industrialization range from minus two to four years. So figure one of Bach's boys would have might have been an ex treble at any age ranging from 14-16. There would have been exceptions on both ends of the range of course.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 1, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< So figure one of Bach's boys would have might have been an ex treble at any age ranging from 14-16. There would have been exceptions on both ends of the range of course. >
We also have to remember that there has always been a winnowing process as cathedral and colllegiate schools competed for the best talents, training and minds. There is a famous story of Henry VIII getting pissed off because Cardinal Wolsey's household choir had better choristers than those in the Chapel Royal. The king demanded that he be send to the royal choir. When Wolsey hesitated, the king's agent threatened to take all the boys, all the men and all the music books. The boy was dispatched hastily to the Chapel Royal.

Orlando di Lasso was a brilliant child musician spent his pre-break life moving from one court to another all over Europe. He was obviously a commodity which could be bought and sold and his patrons clearly thought nothing amiss in what was a high-class musical slave trade.

I'm sure that there was status in attending the St. Thomas School where a man of Bach's genius and stature was in charge. Talented boys would be directed to apply and undoubtedly the old pattern of patronage where relatives or musically knowledgeable people would pay the costs was still around. Bach knew everything that was going on musically for 200 miles around, and I'm sure he was a perpetual talent scout. Anyone who is involved in church music knows that recruitment is a burning priority which
never goes away.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 2, 2006):
I have received my CD (Rilling [2]) in time to make some comments re BWV 83. Since this is my first opportunity to hear this work, and my only recording of it, no comparisons or deeply thought out analysis. I do want to thank Aryeh publicly for the obvious effort he makes to maintain an orderly web site, and to all the contributors for useful and often entertaining (current alto madness notwithstanding) discussion. I am hooked! Here are a few comments to get accustomed to the format.

I took a chance on the Rilling CD [2] despite some mildly negative discussion,because of the convenient grouping for my needs of BWV 83 - 86. I am glad that I did, if only for Helen Watts in 83/1 (alto sanity?). The booklet notes are also useful, first time I have realized that Bach Gesselschaft Vol. IX (BWV 81-90) are all cantatas without introductory chorus. Can anyone provide a link or reference as to the structure (or lack) in the BWV numbering sequence? Or perhaps a new project for Aryeh. Special thanks for the liturgical year, by the way.

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 4, 2001):
I also find the accompaniment here (Rilling [2]) too rich and dense. The delicacy and transparency of Harnoncourt's accompaniment [1] suits this unusual movement much better.

Peter Smaill wrote (February 25, 2006)
The suggestion by some that BWV 83/2 is also part of a lost concerto is strange, since its unique Intonation of the plainchant associated with the "Nunc Dimittis," and the sombre, indeed harsh pursuit of canonic form, marks it as ecclesiastical in purpose.

Scott Sperling wrote (February 26, 2006)
so through the travails of death, we move on to the next. But we can be assured that our Lord will be with us through that journey. This is expressed in the 4th Mvt Alto Recitative: "Ja, wenn des Grabes Nacht die letzte Stunde schrecklich macht, so wirst du soch gewiss sein helles Licht im Tode selbst erkennen" ("Yes, when the grave's night makes the last hour terrifying, you will certainly see His bright light in death
itself").

I agree about the continuo thickness of 83/2. However, I wonder if this does not have artistic intent, perhaps originally by Bach, as well as by Rilling's choice of continuo including contrabass (83/2) [2]. Dire death (thick and heavy) proceeds to the scattered shadows of doubt (83/4), the lightness of only cello and harpsichord accompaniment,
beneath Helen Watts (light alto? I am not saying another word about that!). I also agree that 83/2 does not sound remotely like a parody of a concerto adagio movement (lost). 83/1 and 3, very credible as possible concerto parodies.

I expect I will get around to Harnoncourt (or other HIP) someday for the 83/2 comparison [1] (as well as 83/4 with male alto) For now, Rilling is an enjoyable CD [2]. In fact, if you only have one recording of any of the cantatas, you are certain to enjoy it. I agree with whoever said that there are not any really bad ones, just good and better, to individual taste. Up until now, at least.

Yoël L. Arbeitrman wrote (March 2, 2006):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< I am glad that I did, if only for Helen Watts in 83/1 (alto sanity?). >
As far as I know Watts is only one of two altos whose recording of Pseudo-Bach cantata BWV 53 is not available on CD. The other is Herta Glaz.
Rest of this message, see: Non-Bach Cantatas - Discussuions Part 2

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: BWV Numbering System - Part 3 [General Topics]

John Pike wrote (March 2, 2006):
BWV 83 and countertenors

This is a wonderful cantata, especially movements 1 and 3. I like the idea very much that they may be related in some way to a lost violin concerto. I hope someone will take it on themselves to reconstruct a violin concerto from these two movements (just throw in a few more demisemiquavers and maybe some double stopping and Bob's your uncle!) but does anyone have any suggestions for a middle movement. Various things about the first movement reminded me of the first movement of the E major violin concerto.

I listened to Suzuki [6], Gardiner [4], Rilling [2], Leusink [5] and Harnoncourt [1] and enjoyed them all with the exception of the countertenor Robin Tyson for Gardiner in the first movement. His voice seemed strained and raw to me. By contrast, I thought the soloists for Suzuki and Leusink made a more satisfying sound in this movement, and the soloists for Rilling amnd Harnoncourt were also more to my taste. The vibrato that so often marrs Rilling's recordings for me was nicely in check here, partly I suspect because of the coloratura nature of the writing.

As I have mentioned, a I often find a good countertenor as satisfying as any alternative in that range in much of Bach's music but on this occasion I wasdisappointed. I must have heard Robin Tyson in recordings many times before and do not remember any such misgivings, so I am not sure why I was disappointed on this occasion.

Santu de Silva wrote (March 2, 2006):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thanks for this informative and convincing post.

Tom Hens wrote (March 4, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Johann Friedrich Agricola, who participated in performances of Bach's sacred music under Bach's direction for a number of years, writes as follows in his translation and commentary of Pier Francesco Tosi's (a castrato) "Opinioni de' Cantori...." Bologna, 1723:
<snip for brevity> >
Thank you for finding that excellent Agricola quote. I'll definitely keep it around for future use. It does make one wonder why someone like Christoph Wolff simply states that "voices then broke at the age of 17 or 18", without apparently feeling any need to support this dubious statement with sources. It's especially strange considering in his own biography he documents that Bach's own voice broke at 15.

I've long been suspicious about this often-repeated claim. I've actually repeated it myself in the past -- until one day I realized, "wait a minute -- do I actually *know* this for certain?" It's one of those things that has achieved the status of "everybody knows that...", which should always bring on a healthy degree of scepticism.

Tom Hens wrote (March 4, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Orlando di Lasso was a brilliant child musician spent his pre-break life moving from one court to another all over Europe. He was obviously a commodity which could be bought and sold and his patrons clearly thought nothing amiss in what was a high-class musical slave trade. >
It sounds remarkably similar to the way soccer players are bought and sold these days.

< I'm sure that there was status in attending the St. Thomas School >
That depends on what is meant by status. Certainly not socio-economic status. The Thomasschule was an "Armenschule", a "pauper's school", where a limited number of boys whose parents couldn't afford tuition went, and where they had to earn their keep by providing the music in the Leipzig churches. Rich kids went elsewhere.

< Bach knew everything that was going on musically for 200 miles around, and I'm sure he was a perpetual talent scout. Anyone who is involved in church music knows that recruitment is a burning priority which never goes away. >
The Thomasschule always had more applicants than available places, long before Bach arrived on the scene (at least, if we can trust Wolff on this point). It was a matter of selecting candidates, not going out looking for talent.

Eric Bergerud wrote (March 5, 2006):
[To Tom Hens] Gee, I don't think Wolff makes Thomasschule sound at all like a ghetto school. He notes that it was founded in the early 13th century as a school for paupers. By the 17th century Leipzig was one of the leading economic and intellectual centers in Germany and, in the absence of an opera, the Churches held the most important musical events in the city. The school received generous contributions from city merchants and their scholarship program provided tuition for one third of the enrollment (about the same as Harvard, give or take). Two thirds of the 150 or so pupils were paying students that lived in town. Wolff describes St. Thomas as "the area's most selective Latin school." Germany was by and large a literate country in the 18th century. But in that era literacy and education were hardly the same thing. "School" for most would have been a couple or three years of basic reading and numbers, often interrupted by harvest or anything else the parents thought up. (And overlooking education altogether was hardly unknown, especially for girls.) Attending a proper Latin School was a way to enter the non-titled German elites (although not a guarantee). I would guess strongly that most of Bach's scholarship applicants came from prosperous farmers who could afford to dispense with the labor of a son but couldn't foot the bill for a real school themselves. With lucky, sonny might become a lawyer. Or perhaps he'd rub elbows with the right merchant's kid and make a tidy bundle in trade. Maybe he'd become a professional city or court musician somewhere - beat plowing the fields. Bach himself, while he had the kind of public adulation we think he should have received, was by the standards of his time very well off indeed both financially and socially and he came from a Latin School that lacked the prestige of St. Thomas.

None of this answers the important question of the size of Bach's pool of talent. Was he indirectly or directly choosing from a few thousand, a few hundred or a few dozen boys? I don't see how this question could be answered without digging deep into the sociology of 18th century Saxony.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 5, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Gee, I don't think Wolff makes Thomasschule sound at all like a ghetto school. He notes that it was founded in the early 13th century as a school for paupers. >
As Eric so rightly points out, the monastic background of these schools was for centuries the path to professional elites and even beyond. Abbot Suger of St. Denis was a foundling and rose to one of the highest positions in the land, so too with Cardinal Wolsey in England. Is there any evidence of musical audtions for German schools in Bach's time?

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (March 6, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] That was one of the wonderful things about life back then when class structures were so rigid that if you were born a poor peasant of poor parents it was highly unlikely that you could 'get above yer raisin'. The Church offered this opportunity and even made it possible for commoners to be elevated to Royal status.

The Donald Trump, Bill Gates,Rockefellars and Rothchilds all rolled into one person of those ages started out as a lowly peasant of the lowest sort. With the help of the Church, he became Duke or Chancellor of Burgundy. Kings and others came to call on Nicolas Rowland (English/Dutch spelling) when they needed money or other things. Unfortunately, he left a very bad taste in the mouths of those who he served in his early days because he was so ruthless that he would take food out of the mouths of babies if someone owed hime money. As he got older; he had great remorse and feelings of guilt for his super aggressive inhumane behavior and the sins and immoralities of his youth that made him the worlds wealthiest man. IN that regard his influence is still felt today. He founded the first Hospital in the western world in Beaume, France and blessed it with vineyards to support it that produce very fine wines. He also provided for the free education of the poor.

Richard Raymond wrote (March 8, 2006):
Corni da caccia in BWV 83

I heard BWV 83 last sunday in Paris with a brilliant couter-tenor (Christophe Laporte ) and 2 REAL Corni da caccia players. The first aria was exciting, not always in tune, but the sound of the corni da caccia is thrilling. I know all the recordings, and the horns look dull.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 8, 2006):
Richard Raymond wrote:
>>I heard BWV 83 last sunday in Paris with a brilliant couter-tenor (Christophe Laporte ) and 2 REAL Corni da
caccia players. The first aria was exciting, not always in tune, but the sound of the corni da caccia is thrilling. I know all the recordings, and the horns look dull.<<
It may well be that the Corno da Caccia players still had not acquired the necessary skills to produce the sound which Johann Mattheson, in his "Das Neu-Eröffnete Orchestre", Hamburg, 1713, p. 267, describes as 'lieblich' ('pleasant, lovely, charming, sweet-sounding') and contrasts this sound with that of the Trombae (trumpets) which tends to be 'ruder' (coarser, more penetrating) in nature. Mattheson also compares the ease of playability of these instruments: [in essence] "the horn instruments of the , Corno, Corno da Caccia, and Corno du/de Chasse, are easier to play than those in the trumpet group." Here is the German original on which this information is based:

"Die lieblich-pompeusen Waldhörner. Ital. Cornette di Caccia, Gall. Cors de Chasse, sind bey itziger Zeit sehr en vogue kommen / so wol was Kirchen- als Theatral- und Cammer-Music anlanget / weil sie theils nicht so rude von Natur sind / als die Trompeten / theils auch / weil sie mit mehr Facilité können tractieret werden."

The raucous, rough sounds with poor intonation are simply an indicator of players who are not fully proficient and lack complete control of their instruments or perhaps they were playing their parts an octave higher than usual and encountering even greater difficulties than they were able to handle. Such performances should not be touted as an ideal, but rather criticized for what they really are: rather poor, below-average performances compared to the ideal players which Bach was able to rely upon in Leipzig: Gottfried Reiche (and his successor, Ulrich Heinrich Christoph Ruhe) and Johann Cornelius Gentzmer. While we should be glad that the attempt is being made not to use modern horns, there still remains a problem with instrumentalists still in the learning stages of playing these reconstructions of instruments found in museums. They should be encouraged to strive for greater control of their instruments and not become self-satisfied because they begin to sound like some of the raucous horn players in the Leusink and Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Bach cantata recordings where attempts were being made to use 'original' instruments by instrumentalists not yet fully in control of their instruments.

BTW, despite all of the attempts to categorize Bach's designations of the various 'horn' types as found on his autograph scores and original parts, there is no clear systematic classification apparent in Bach's naming of them. 'Corno' can even mean a type of 'Tromba' at times, but generally 'Corno' can mean 'Corno da Caccia' even though Bach did not always spell out this intention specifically. Bach's most famous trumpeter and horn player, Gottfried Reiche, mentioned above, is depicted holding a 'Corno da Caccia' in C in his famous portrait. Based upon a study of which notes are played, BWV 83/1 calls for 2 'Corni' in F. The Csibas, in their study "Die Blechblasinstrumente in J. S. Bachs Werken" Merseburger Verlag, 1994, distinguish between 'Corni' in F 12' length and 'Corni da Caccia' in F 12' length while Ulrich Prinz, in his "J.S. Bachs Instrumentarium" Stuttgart etc. 2005, leaves the door open for greater freedom in assigning specific instruments in the 'Corno' family, just as he considers 'Flauto' and 'Flauto dolce' as meaning the same thing but not 'Flauto traverso' to Bach. According to Prinz, there is also a raging argument regarding 'Corno' parts as to whether they are played at a higher or lower octave {according to the Csibas, there are 'Corni' of varying lengths and pitches: in D (7'), in C (8'), in B, in A, in G, in F (12') in D (14') in C (16')} with the tendency at present to favor the lower octave (as opposed to various attempts on recordings of Bach's music since the late 50s and
early 60s to play some of these parts an octave higher.)

>> the horns look dull<< ??
These original instruments some of which still exist in museums do not appear to have a dull, but rather shiny surface. I have no idea whether these were left in their original state or whether this is due to an attempt by museum officials to preserve the instrument or to make it more presentable/impressive for viewing.

>>the horns sound dull<<??
1. the players may be using modern French horns which sound different

2. the players may be playing horn reconstructions of original instruments at the lower octave

3. the players may be playing all the notes correctly with excellent attacks and proper intonation

4. Bach did not expect his 'corni' in church to sound like hunting horns played from horseback in the middle of a chase, exciting as that may be for some people to hear.

Michael Marissen ("The Social and Religious Designs of J. S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos" Princeton University Press, 1995, pp. 22ff.) refers to the aristocratic atmosphere which the 'Corni da Caccia' evoke, the hunt being emblematic of "Tugend" (worldly virtue), but the horns also evoke the grandeur of aristocratic life. This latter aspect is applied in a church setting, as "in the "Quoniam" of Bach's B-minor Mass (BWV 232), [where] the horn's affective connotations highlight the image of God's entry into the world as a human being in the form of Christ the king." (p. 23) Now, in a church setting, the full, round sounds of the horn are expected, not the raucous disarray of a wild chase through the countryside.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 9, 2006):
Richard Raymond wrote:
>>...don't you think that smooth sounds of Corni de caccia are more appropriate to classical period work?It seems that most of baroque music for Corni da caccia was written for brilliant sounding instruments (Fasch concertos for instance or Bach 1st Brandenburg Concerto).<<
Mattheson describes the sound that these instruments should have. Put yourself back into the time when Bach composed the 1st Brandenburg. It is generally accepted as a fact that Bach composed his music with the capabilities of specific players (and singers) in mind. When Bach performed the Brandenburgs with the court musicians of Sachsen-Weimar and Anhalt-Köthen, he knew that he could rely on these instrumentalists, who were well-paid and represented the best musicians available in that area of Germany, for excellent performances devoid of splattering, insecure attacks and intonational problems on the brass instruments. It was not a question of imitating the hunting horns played on horseback in the midst of leading a charge on a wild animal. Such crass imitation of these ugly sounds, as exciting and as appropriate as these sounds may be in real life, would not be condoned in a chamber music performance much less in a church performance where some of the Brandenburg mvts. eventually appeared as opening Sinfonias. An interesting theory advanced by Peter Schleuning ("Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Brandenburgischen Konzerte" Bärenreiter, 2003, p. 29ff in a chapter called "The Early Version of the 1st Brandenburg - Music for the Hunt?") traces the various aspects of the hunt which are alluded to symbolically by Bach at various stages throughout the 1st concerto. There is a difference made here between the folk music manner of presentation (coarser sounds of the hunt) and the artistic performance by the best musicians that can be assembled for a performance at court. Schleuning quotes Philipp Spitta, the great Bach biographer of the late 19th century, who describes the 2nd slow mvt. as a lament caused by cries of the suffering animals. All of this is left to the imagination of the listener, but it is Bach that provides the support for this idea with his music. There is no need for excellent musicians deliberately to create ugly, unmusical sounds to get this idea across to the listeners.

To be sure, the original instruments had a different sound than the modern horn, this being caused by the difference in the size of the bore, but the notion that these horns (and trumpets) from Bach's time could not be played any other way than that which we hear on certain recordings where the instrumentalists create unpleasant sounds for which they are then commended and told that Bach wanted them to sound that way or that Bach deliberately composed the hard parts for his musicians who would then be expressing what Bach had in mind by being unable to play the notes properly, such a notion is in dire need of correction.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 9, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
<"According to Prinz, there is also a raging argument regarding `Corno' parts as to whether they are played at a higher or lower octave".>
I remember enjoying the more spaci, deeper sound of Werner's horns, played an octave lower than those of Rilling, in the richly scored tenor aria of BWV 65. The latter sounded as if they were playing in the same range as the recorders, meaning that the contrast between the timbres of these instruments was less pronounced, ie, the horn parts were less effective in Rilling in comparison with Werner, IMO.(I presume both orchestras were using modern instruments).

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (March 9, 2006):
[To Thomas Braatz] First of all we need to discuss as to what you are refering to as a Corno da Caccia. If you are refering to an Oboe; we are not talking about the same Instrument that J.S. Bach himself invented. In fact it has only recently been rediscovered in the storage of a German Museum apparently put away to prevent it's destruction during WWII and as luck would have it ---there was also another one both of which date from Bach's time (could this be something that Bach himself played or had played or maybe owned??) and reproduced contrary to what most of us had been lead to believe before. I myself had always thought of the Corno da caccia as something like the English Horn but it is not and does not sound the same.

This instrument is rather strange looking with a box like apparatus and while I could be confused about the following statement: I seem to recall that Hans Sachs had one of these pictured in one of his books on musical instruments from about 1930-1940. It looks nothing like an Oboe, English Horn or Oboe d'amore or primitive Bassoon and a contemporary person would not immediately know that it was related.

While we are on this topic those of you who conduct or operate an Orchestra---the Oboe d'amore is not the same as the English Horn and the English Horn should not be substituted for it these days. There is no excuse to sub when the genuine article is avaibable and can be purchased not only in modern form but also duplicating the instrument as it was in Bach's day.

Robert Sherman wrote (March 9, 2006):
[To Thomas Braatz] We-ve been over this ground before, but --

1) I totally agree with Thomas that it is unconscionable to commend ugly sounds based on a -- right or wrong -- belief that they're authentic.

2) On the other hand, in the absence of time travel machines and of recordings made three centuries ago, we have no primary evidence on whether the brass playing of that time included splattering, insecure attacks, uneven scales, and so forth.

3) We have words that were written at the time, but those have to be placed in context. If the only horn and trumpet playing anyone had ever heard had all the defects just cited, that would be regarded as normal and not worth rwriting about.

4) If today's trumpeters and hornists were able to record on authentic instrument designs (no finger holes and no mouthpiece technologies not available then) and play without splats, out of tune notes, uneven scales etc., that would be powerful evidence that Bach's brasses could do it. But I have yet to hear a recording or a live performance that does this.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 9, 2006):
Robert Sherman wrote:
< we have no primary evidence on whether the brass playing of that time included splattering, insecure attacks, uneven scales, and so forth. >
My grandfather was the factotum for a small Polish church in Lowell MA. That meant he did everything but say Mass. Everything included providing music for weddings and other events. Sort of a small town Bach. His instrument was horn (further details lost). For one event he was, shall we say, compromised. So he sang the horn part. Reports (reliable) are that the bride and groom thanked him for not playing the horn.

This story has not been committed to print before, consider it primary evidence.

Tome Hens wrote (March 9, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< As Eric so rightly points out, the monastic background of these schools was for centuries the path to professional elites and even beyond. >
For a large part of European history, there was no such thing as "professional elites". There was no meritocracy, a very few isolated cases of (relatively) poor boys who managed to achieve some political power through a church career doesn't change that fact. Throughout the Middle Ages, monasteries or monastic schools weren't classless institutions that took in anyone, many of the richer ones were restricted to the nobility. Slaves or serfs, a huge proportion of the population, needn't apply at all -- especially not those owned by the church itself, of course. The vast majority of the church hierarchy (the bishops, abbots of wealthy monasteries, etc., and of course the popes) was always made up of members of the nobility. This is not terribly relevant to Bach's time or to Saxony in Bach's time, but since you bring up Abbot Suger (not born a commoner, BTW) and Cardinal Wolsey, it might as well be said.

<snip>
< Is there any evidence of musical audtions for German schools in Bach's time? >

Wolff describes one such audition for the Thomasschule in which Bach participated in 1729, apparently the only one during his tenure for which documentary evidence survives. 24 applicants were tested, for nine available positions. He decided 14 were possibly suitable as singers. 5 of those who had had musical training were admitted in May of 1729, and one more a bit later (after a second audition). Three others who had no musical training, but apparently in Bach's judgement could be taught, were admitted too. The remaining 5 were also admitted to the Thomasschule at later dates. What happened to the ten who were dropped at the first audition, history (or at least Wolff) doesn't record. Clearly, they missed out on the path to the "professional elites" because they couldn't sing well enough.

Tome Hens wrote (March 9, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Gee, I don't think Wolff makes Thomasschule sound at all like a ghetto school. >
Nobody suggested that the Thomasschule was a "ghetto school". But you definitely wouldn't have found a single son of the aristocracy there. The social status of professional musicians (a career to which musically gifted pupils of the school might aspire) wasn't generally high either.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Horns in Bach's Vocal Works [General Topics]

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 9, 2006):
Robert Sherman wrote:
>>2)On the other hand, in the absence of time travel machines and of recordings made three centuries ago, we have no primary evidence on whether the brass playing of that time included splattering, insecure attacks,uneven scales, and so forth.
3) We have words that were written at the time, but those have to be placed in context. If the only horn and trumpet playing anyone had ever heard had all the defects just cited, that would be regarded as normal and not worth writing about.<<

Johann Mattheson, in his "Die drei Orchestre-Schriften III: Das forschende Orchestre" Hamburg, 1721 p. 426, refers to the ability of the ear to hear very fine differences in intonation amounting to a comma [OED: A minute 'interval' or difference of pitch; esp. (1) the comma of Didymus or common comma, which is the difference between four perfect fifths, and two octaves and a major third, from a given note (ratio 80 : 81); (2) the Pythagorean comma, or the difference between twelve perfect fifths, and seven octaves, from a given note. Mattheson defines 'comma' as the 19th part of a single tone] or even less: ½ or ¼ of a comma (p. 433): "Man betrachte mir doch den Greuel / wenn manchesmahl Instrumente / die im Kammer=Ton stehen / als: Waldhörner / Flöten / Fagotten/ u.d.gl. andere accompagniren sollen / die da Chor=tönig sind / dabey entweder diese oder jene transponirt werden müssen; klingt es anders / als wenn der Componist oder Cantor den Zanck der Hunde über den Cörper der abgestürzten Jesabel hätte vorstellen wollen?" ("Just consider for a moment the horrible/outrageous sounds created when sometimes instruments made for Cammerton pitch like Corni da caccia, flutes, bassoons, etc. have to play together with those which are at Chorton pitch, a feat which is accomplished by transposing one group of instruments at one pitch to play at the pitch of the others. Doesn't this then sound as if the composer or cantor had wanted to represent the sound of dogs quarreling over the Jezabel's corpse?"

Later on pp. 432-433, Mattheson points out that the natural tone row is easier to play (lies more naturally correct without adjustments such as those made by changing the embouchure [OED: 'The disposition of the lips, tongue and other organs necessary for producing a musical tone']) at Chorton than at Cammerton pitch which is lower. He does point out that no deviation or difference from the expected notes at Cammerton pitch will be heard "wenn ein guter Meister über die Trompete kömmt der ihrer recht mächtig ist" ("when played by a master trumpeter, one who has absolute control of his instrument {one who has the capability to play the trumpet properly/in tune}").

On p. 434 Mattheson declares that the correct intonation of oboes and bassoons is harder to maintain than that of Corni da Caccia. ["die mit dem Rohr etwas / wiewohl sehr schwer / zu zwingen sind" "those with the blade/reed somewhat at times as well as very difficult to force at other times - into the proper intonation"]. On the same page Mattheson refers to playing according to the appropriate temperament ["nach der Temperatur"].

We know that we will never hear a recording from Bach's time, but certainly the 'recordings' left behind in the form of printed descriptions by master musicians and composers such as Mattheson are well worth considering in lieu of a time machine or its equivalent.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (March 10, 2006):
[To Robert Sherman] The Smithsonian Institute has several recordings issued back in the1970s that does this very thing. However, we must remember that most of Bach's players were amateur players often of less than professional quality. We do know that he had at least one Trumpeter who was at the very least Bach's organ playing equivalent as for as trumpet playing goes and he was highly paid Government employee.

Richard Raymond wrote (March 10, 2006):
Ludwig wrote:
< We do know that he had at least one Trumpeter who was at the very least Bach's organ playing equivalent as for as trumpet playing goes and he was highly paid Government employee. >
We must not forget that The trumpet players of The City used to play all kinds of wind instruments, especially Corni de caccia for which they had a privilege.

 

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Last update: ıDecember 29, 2012 ı23:22:38