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Bach Books

Bach's Choral Ideal

by Joshua Rifkin

Part 3

 

 

Continue from Bach's Choral Ideal [by Joshua Rifkin] - Part 2

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 25, 2005):
[To Uri Golomb] Thank you, Uri, for lifting the veil slightly so that others might catch a glimpse of the contents of this lecture-booklet by Joshua Rifkin!

We have already discussed quickly one of the linchpins of Rifkin's OVPP theory: the notion of a finite 'pool' from which Bach had to 'constitute' his 4 choirs. This led to the type of 'logical reasoning' which I had termed Rifkin's 'shell game' where vocalists and instrumentalists are shifted about in order to reduce the total number, 55, available for vocalists until practically only OVPP remains as a possible basis for performing. The extreme limitations imposed upon Bach in selecting which singers/players would be involved with the various types of music (from performing adequately Bach's own very difficult music to just barely being able to hold a tune when singing in unison) forced Bach to perform his own sacred music with considerably fewer vocalists/instrumentalists than he ideally desired, so much considerably less that he, in essence, capitulated to having only one singer per part on most Sundays, the latter situation now being documented in Rifkin's new booklet with evidence for the critical first five years of Bach's intensive production and performance of his sacred music that there are clear indications ('rather solid proof' on the part of Rifkin) that Bach preferred having OVPP performances in Leipzig, even that Bach did not wait very long before making OVPP his first choice after having some bad experiences with ripienists, and because he preferred it this way.

Uri Golomb's comments on Rifkin's book as follows:
1. >>Rifkin does not reach a firm conclusion about Bach's choral ideal.<<
Why should he? Bach's minimum choral ideal of 12-16 vocalists plus a number of instrumentalists would only offer evidence that would completely negate Rifkin's theory, yet anyone can read Bach's own words about this as evidence in the "Entwurff": "Zu iedweden musicalischen Chor gehören wenigstens 3 Sopranisten, 3 Altisten, 3 Tenoristen, und eben so viel Baßisten.." ["Each musical {the 4th chorale choir was not considered 'musical' by Bach} choir should have at least 3 sopranos, 3 altos and 3 tenors and just as many basses.."] Why do Rifkin and others not want to take this at its face value? Because it completely negates the OVPP theory.

As Uri puts it: "it [Rifkin's booklet] sets out to try and decipher what Bach's ideal choir might have looked like.." Again, what is so difficult here that Rifkin would like it to appear that Bach was anything but very explicit about his 'ideal' 'Chor' for performing his sacred music. The reality, admittedly, may have been different at certain times, but it may also have even exceeded the numbers that Bach indicated. What needs to be deciphered here? Why does Rifkin have to function as an intermediary to interpret Bach's explicit wording? Why do we have to doubt Bach when he states: "Derer [des Chores] Ripienisten müßen wenigstens auch achte seyn, nemlich zu ieder Stimme zwey" ["Of any one of the 4 'Chöre,' there must be at least 8 ripienists [for each choir], specifically, two for each voice part."] Are we supposed to imagine that Bach is saying this only to please the council members? On the contrary, they would be glad not to be bothered about all these picayune details, as long as they were not required to open their purse strings. Their only concern is that the music continue in a grand style as before and that the pupils of the school be involved in performing music in the various churches and anywhere else where this has become a tradition. But Bach is saying: "If you want me to provide great musical performances that will represent Leipzig to all the visitors who come here, then give me additional monies so that I can staff my musical organizations properly." Being cautious and deliberately conservative, Bach indicates what he considers the minimum number of good musicians, and as far as vocalists go, this certainly involves at least 16 singers in each 'Chor,' particularly his 1st 'Chor' which sings his more difficult music.

Disregarding this key evidence or attempting 'to put a negative spin on it,' Rifkin and his believers have to turn elsewhere to construct a specious argument that Bach did not always have all these vocalists available, hence he would tell the superfluous vocalists (these being the ripienists) not to sing along on any given Sunday, because the cantata sounded much better without them (Bach, according to Rifkin, wanted/preferred it that way.) Also, Bach would have only a single vocal part copied out for each voice in order to ensure that only one singer per part would actually sing his music. We are asked to believe that two or more singers could not physically sing from a single sheet of paper!

2. >>The word "Chor" means, in this context, a roster of musicians that he should be able to call upon during the entire year -- not the line-up of people required to perform a particular piece of music.<<
Here Rifkin is redefining 'Chor,' after Bach, in the "Entwurff" had clearly stated what the makeup of a 'musical Chor' is. Rifkin is insisting that Bach must have told his 'roster of musicians' (remember that Bach selected and personally divided his pool of 55 Thomaner into 4 'Chors' at the beginning of a new school year): "Up to 2/3rds of all of you in this 'Chor' no longer have to perform the usual Sunday cantatas."

3. >>Rifkin does offer evidence that Bach often avoided the use of ripienists for his own music in Leipzig, preferring to use soloists only in his cantatas.<<
There were various reasons Bach had for composing solo cantatas, and there were only a few cantatas where Bach clearly marked where the concertists and the ripienists were to sing. This does not mean that in other instances in his choral movements where similar situations present themselves but have not been clearly marked to distinguish between these two groups that Bach intended them to be sung only by the concertists as OVPP choral movements.

What is this evidence that Rifkin offers? What makes this a 'reasonable hypothesis' "that Bach often avoided the use of ripienists for his own music in Leipzig, preferring to use soloists only in his cantatas?"

Now Rifkin asks us to assume an unprovable hypothesis for a moment and ask the question: "Would [Bach] have acted differently if better ripienists were available?" Here we have already been asked to pretend that Bach actually would have preferred OVPP, but then we should assume, after Bach had carefully selected them, that almost all of his ripienists were of such a low quality that he did not want them to perform his music, and, on top of this, begin to speculate how things might have been different, if Bach had had better ripienists.

Fortunately, before the reader can begin to entertain some very serious doubts about this presentation, Rifkin quickly secures his position by admitting "that question is unanswerable: the evidence is inconclusive as to what Bach wanted, let alone why he wanted it. The most we can offer is circumstantial evidence -- suggestive, but not conclusive)." How relieved a reasonable reader must be that this unfounded
conjecture would not lead to doubting Rifkin's veracity and use of reasonable logic!

4. ".they [the documents] do not always allow us to distinguish between what Bach actually did and what he ultimately wanted."
We do know what Bach wanted. His ideal is quite clearly spelled out in the "Entwurff":

1. a good choir consisting of more than simply OVPP for performing his own figural music

2. excellent instrumentalists of a high caliber and of sufficient numbers

5. A quotation from pp. 15-16 of Rifkin's booklet "Bach's Choral Ideal":
"institutiondocuments no less than private ones tend to presuppose a body of shared understandings that enable them to leave a lot unsaid or said obliquely. This remains true not only for documents intended for internal consumption but also for those -- like the Muehlhausen [resignation] letter or, for that matter, the Entwurff -- written for 'outsiders' with little or no specialist understanding. Musical terminology, moreover, has changed since Bach's day, and so has the German language itself. Under these circumstances, we can scarcely assume that even the most transparent-seeming passage of the Entwurff will necessarily have had the same connotations for Bach as it does for us. In particular, we cannot read the Entwurff unreflectively in light of musical practices that we now take for granted but whose relevance to Bach's era remains unproved. A proper interpretation of the document, therefore -- one that aspires to something more than what we might call tendentious carelessness -- will demand a close analysis of its language and logic, bolstered wherever possible by external evidence"
Here the reader is asked to believe that terms such as 'Chor' and 'Chöre' as used by Bach in the "Entwurff" and neatly and precisely defined in context, at least in regard to the number of vocalists in a choir and instrumentalists Bach needed, must now be called into question and covered with a veil of obscurity which allows only a few musicologists to fathom the arcane language which Bach used. We, as readers, are asked to suspend our judgment regarding Bach's clear directive regarding his wishes, desires and ideals regarding choral performances and what his needs were, monetarily, to cover the necessary expenses involved, so that Rifkin's theory can be upheld and maintained against reasonable arguments which seek to deflate it. We, as readers, do not have to doubt our capacity to see clearly through the tactics that are being employed here unless we wish to succumb to the notion that 'nothing is as it seems' and 'only Rifkin and his followers are capable of interpreting Bach's intentions properly.' If we do not believe Rifkin's statement that that which Bach stated about his ideal 'Chor' size can scarcely be assumed to be true because the 'most transparent-seeming passage of the 'Entwurff' will not have meant the same to Bach as it would to us', then we will be accused of 'tendentious carelessness' and 'being unreflective in light of musical practices.'

I believe that prospective reader of this document should be forewarned by the discussion of some salient details above, that OVPP remains very much a theory with a few staunch adherents who believe in this theory as an esoteric doctrine which requires suspending one's own ability to read and understand what is stated in the "Entwurff" whether in the original or in a reasonable translation. A more reasonable assumption would tend toward the number of singers Bach indicated as a minimum of 16 singers in each "Chor" (Bach repeats the word "wenigstens" ["at least"] 3 times on the first page! According to Rifkin, Bach should have written "nicht mehr als 1," ["not more than one"] then his theory would have a firm foundation; and, if you believe that Bach's German, even when translated properly, is 'untransparent' then you can join the faithful followers of this esoteric doctrine.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 25, 2005):
<>< I believe that prospective reader of this document should be forewarned by the discussion of some salient details above, (...) >
Prospective readers have to be forewarned away from a book by a person who hasn't read it himself?

Close eyes. Open sand. Insert head. Probably pretty hard to hear the music that way, too. Makes no sense to me why anybody would do this, first of all, and then (as if that wasn't enough) continue to defend such a practice forever. Doesn't any scientific and objective inquiry involve actually looking at the evidence that is purportedly under study? <>

<> I'm going to go listen to Rifkin's recording of cantatas BWV 80 and BWV 147 right now, and enjoy the musicianship of this excellent scholar. The music is where the rubber meets the road. And grips the road. And does sleek cornering. And whatever.

Neil Halliday wrote (May 25, 2005):
Is the title of Rifkin's book misleading?

http://www.music.qub.ac.uk/tomita/bachbib/review/bb-review_DortmundBf5.html

I'm wondering if the book should more properly have been titled, for example, "In search of Bach's choral ideal".

As Yo Tomita states in his review of the book: "Having read his previous arguments as well as various counter arguments by other scholars, I think Rifkin has stepped up the tone of his original claim, though it is disappointing to find that Rifkin was unable to find an appropriate answer to his ultimate question - Bach's choral ideal."

The bald title of the book certainly does give the impression that Rifkin is equating OVPP with Bach's choral ideal; but this is apparently not the case; rather, it seems Bach may have (through necessity?) employed OVPP from time to time.

Neil Halliday wrote (May 25, 2005):
(Re the failed link) For the full review, enter:

Joshua Rifkin: Bach's Choral Ideal

into Google; Yo Tomita's article is third from the top (below some articles from illustrious members of the BCML)

Uri Golomb wrote (May 25, 2005):
Brad Lehman wrote: < Prospective readers have to be forewarned away from a book by a person who hasn't read it himself?
Close eyes. Open sand. Insert head. Probably pretty hard to hear the music that way, >
Quite. Thomas Braatz thanked me for lifting a veil that was never there in the first place, and then proceeded to ignore my own forewarning: that I am only summarising Rifkin's conclusions, not his evidence, and that it is useless to argue about the conclusions without examining the evidence. No-one -- .least of all Rifkin himself -- is expecting anyone to take these arguments on faith, or to believe them because Rifkin said so. We never said "Only Rifkin knows The Truth". We just said: "Rifkin presents his evidence with detail and clarity, and anyone who says he's wrong must first examine his evidence and show where, exactly, he's wrong". That's the reason he presented his evidence: so that readers can judge for themselves whether his argument is persuasive. You have counter-arguments? By all means, produce them. But you can't counter an argument when you don't know what that argument is...

It's true, BTW, that book reviews are sometimes used as a way of deciding whether or not to read something. It's a risky procedure, but all of us have limited time and money... So, if it's not an important book from my viewpoint (for instance, if it's in a field that I'm interested in but is not really important for me -- e.g., a popular science book on evolutionary biology...), I might settle for the review. What I'd never do is write a review of a book I haven't read, solely on the basis of other people's reviews, and tell other people "I haven't read this, I'll never read this, and neither should you". And that, in effect, is what Mr. Braatz has done; and it seems that he's the one interested in drawing a veil of secrecy -- for himself and for others.

My hope is that this discussion has at least encouraged other members of this list to have a look at this book. I'd be quite happy to discuss reservations from poeple who have read the book; but not from someone who repeatedly offers wrong-headed guesses about its contents while refusing to read it.

PS: To Neil: Yes, I suppose the title is a bit of a misnomer. There should, at least, have been a question mark at the end; and possibly something like "IN Search of Bach's Choral Ideal" would have been better. This does not detract anything, however, from the content of the book itself.

John Pike wrote (May 25, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] A very helpful and comprehensive list that certainly gives food for thought.

When one considers the musicians that do the playing and singing to ever-inrequired standards, the work for them too is enormous. As a serious amateur, I have to work hard to play some of this music to a reasonable level, and I consider that I have a degree of natural ability. How much greater the workload and natural ability required of the musicians at the top of their profession.

I greatly admire people like Rifkin who has persisted with his scholarship into OVPP, with considerable justification, despite some very personal attacks from his peers. I think that anyone who has looked seriously at the growing body of evidence that Rifkin and Parrott have presented should acknowledge at the very least that there are some important issues here that merit detailed further work, and not to dismiss it out-of-hand.

I also greatly admire Gardiner for his Bach cantata pilgrimage. Despite knowing all the risks and the financial consequences that could (and did) materialise, he persisted with his project to celebrate one of the greatest corpuses of western music, in some of the finest buildings in Europe, on the days on which, broadly speaking, the cantatas were first performed. He and his musicians were, in my view, very definitely acting in the service of the music and of the audiences and not out of self interest. Indeed, in at least one concert, they provided their extraordinary musical gifts and services free of charge.

John Pike wrote (May 25, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] <>
You say that Rifkin's interpretation of the evidence is not proved. Indeed, it is not, but neither is yours. You have not proved that more than one singer shared a part. At the very least, we need to acknowledge the existence, in many cases, of only one part per singer. There are plenty of highly plausible explanations for the observed facts. You seem to admit only one.

Some months ago, Brad I think it was, drew a very helpful analogy between the idea of a roster and a football team. You put your best players in the first team, your next best players in the seconds and your juniors in various junior teams. But for each match, you will not necessarily need all the players all the time. For a standard British soccer game you will have 11 players on the field most of the time. But there will also be reserves, if one person is injured, tired, not playing well etc. Some of the people selected for the first team will not be at the match at all. If 5-a side football is being played, only 5 of the best players from the first team or whatever will be used. It is highly possible that Bach did similar things in Leipzig, using 8 of the singers from a particular choir for an 8-part motet, less than that for one cantata, more for another cantata or passion, depending on the artistic needs. Flexibility. Seems a perfectly reasonable hypothesis to me, and one that fits all the available facts.

Ludwig wrote (May 25, 2005):
[To John Pike, relating to his feedback to Bradley Lehman above]
What lanaguages????

First of all a scholar should know Latin because it will open the doors to the rest of most European Languages. Then perhaps Greek because it will help open doors to the Slavic Languages.

Then she or he should know Italian, French, English, German, Spanish, Russian and yes --either Yiddish or Hebrew. To this depending on the studies--perhaps Dutch. If we are going to broaden our horizons then we need to include also Chineese and Japanese.

I do not think we need concern ourselves with learning Arabic since the mullahs and imans generally consider music sinful and do not tolerate their congregations listening to it---even if it is the Koran set to music.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (May 25, 2005):
<>

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 25, 2005):
John Pike wrote: >>You say that Rifkin's interpretation of the evidence is not proved. Indeed, it is not, but neither is yours.<<
But my interpretation does not have to rely upon assuming that Bach did not mean what he had written to the town council when referring to the minimum size of each choir. Rifkin has already removed himself one major step away from reality into a world of 'what ifs' and 'what would have beens' that only readers who are willing to follow his 'logic' and 'reasoning' by suspending their ability to either understand the German original or a good translation thereof will come to the conclusion that 'the evidence is not proved.' Take, for instance, Bach's statement about his ideal minimum choir in the 'Entwurff' which was discussed yesterday. Those who follow Rifkin in not taking these statements by Bach at their face value are being led down a very precarious path because they have to cling tightly to their leader for reassurance at each step along the way.

>>You have not proved that more than one singer shared a part. At the very least, we need to acknowledge the existence, in many cases, of only one part per singer.<<
This is another issue which was touched upon briefly in yesterday's discussion. I hope that you were able to catch this before falling asleep reading it as Brad has seemingly done.

>>There are plenty of highly plausible explanations for the observed facts. You seem to admit only one.<<
Yes, one that is the most reasonable under the circumstances without having to resort to arguments about Bach's words not really meaning what they imply rather directly. With Rifkin you first have to assume that Bach really did not mean what he said and that only a very small group of musicologists will be able to reveal this arcanum in all its glory.

>> Some months ago, Brad I think it was, drew a very helpful analogy between the idea of a roster and a football team.<<
Believe in this football analogy if you will, but the reality of where 'players' came from is indicated in the 'Entwurff.' Bach did not and would not draw from his other 'teams' after he had placed them into groups according to their abilities. Bach, as a coach, would have been crazy to use any of the players from the 4th or even 3rd teams, because they would lose the game for him. Forget the 'pool' and forget the 'juniors' who were not ready to (and some of them would never be) jump in on a moment's notice and sight-read correctly and musically from a single page of music held by another pupil. Bach had other 'players' to draw from and they are mentioned in the 'Entwurff': retired City Pipers, university students, graduates from the St. Thomas School still living in the city and possibly attending the university, visiting musicians whose outstanding abilities made them the equivalent to a Pele. Where in the world of sport does this ever occur: a Michael Jackson is asked to play along with one team in the major playoffs for just one or two games? Yet this is the type of thing that happened with Bach. Pele or Michael Jackson or some cracker-jack young player who has not come up through the ranks or who is not part of any team can not simply be called in as a substitute, but this is just what Bach did do as a matter of course. He recognized talent and mobilized it very quickly as he saw fit. These 'supernumerarii' [those not from St. Thomas School or the salaried City Pipers] were absolutely necessary as Kuhnau, Bach's predecessor had already indicated in 1709: "Also wären dergleichen Supernumerarii sonderlich izo, da der Haupt Chorus Musicus von Studenten entblöset ist, gar sehr nöthig." ["Now more than ever such supernumeraries are extremely necessary since the university students are no longer available to the main choir."]

Bach's flexibility is not the kind that Rifkin and others refer to with their sports analogy or general pool of 55 pupils from which you can draw as needed.

This digression into a sports analogy is misleading and simply serves to 'muddy the waters' with a rather imperfect analogy that will only confuse those who are unable or unwilling to read the 'Entwurff' in the original or in a good translation. There is no substitute for reading Bach's words without Rifkin's interpretation and then deciding what it is that Rifkin is attempting to accomplish with his circuitous path through the maze he has artificially constructed.

John Pike wrote (May 25, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
>> Some months ago, Brad I think it was, drew a very helpful analogy between the idea of a roster and a football team.<<
< Believe in this football analogy if you will, but the reality of where 'players' came from is indicated in the 'Entwurff.' Bach did not and would not draw from his other 'teams' after he had placed them into groups according to their abilities. Bach, as a coach, would have been crazy to use any of the players from the 4th or even 3rd teams, because they would lose the game for him. >
Neither I nor Rifkin have suggested that he drew on singers from other choirs. Nor do football teams draw on inexperienced players to act as substitutes for their first team. They have a roster of first team players. When a country sends a team to the world cup, they send typically over 20 of the very best players in the country, although they will only have 11 of them on the playing part of the pitch at any one time. Others will be on the benches, relaxing in the hotel, or in hospital. They are still top players, but are not needed to play all the time. Just so with Rifkin's suggested model. Some of the singers from the first choir will be used at any one time, though not necessarily all 12 or 13, say. Moreover, we do not know I think how many singers were in the first choir at any one time. One cannot assume that exactly a quarter of the singers in the Thomaner school were up to first choir standard at any one time. all we can go on is isolated reports from Bach on the quality of the singers at his disposal. I do not have the relevant document to hand but I think he found a large number of the "choristers" not up to first choir standard. And this document refers only to one year out of 27. Nor can we assume that, of those of the requisite standard, there would always be 3 of each voice type. Factor in illness etc and Rifkin's suggestion for music-making in the real world, frustrating as it surely was, sounds highly plausible to me.

Doug Cowling wrote (May 25, 2005):
John Piker wrote: < Moreover, we do not know I think how many singers were in the first choir at any one time. One cannot assume that exactly a quarter of the singers in the Thomaner school were up to first choir standard at any one time. all we can go on is isolated reports from Bach on the quality of the singers at his disposal. I do not have the relevant document to hand but I think he found a large number of the "choristers" not up to first choir standard. And this document refers only to one year out of 27. Nor can we assume that, of those of the requisite standard, there would always be 3 of each voice type. Factor in illness etc >
I think we need to be very careful about assuming that Choirs 2 - 4 were not without ability. While this latest bitchfest has been going on, I've been looking at repertoire that the "other" choirs sang on a regular basis. Here are a few examples:

Gabrieli: Jubilate Deo a 8
Laudate nomen domini a 8

Handl: O quam metuendus a 8

Hier. Praetorius: Surge propera a 8

Those of you familiar with late 16th and early 17th century music will know that these works are challenging works: the Gabrieli "Jubilate Deo" in particular is as difficult as the opening chorus in any Bach cantata.

My point here is that Bach's cantata was not the only difficult music being sung on a Sunday morning. Far from sitting on the bench waiting for a shot at a cantata, the singers in at least Choirs 2 and 3 were performing substantive pieces that required first-rate musicianship.

And I will even put in a plea for poor Choir 4. It is clear that boys of tender age and or those who lacked musical talent were placed in this choir and given music which matched their abilities. To say that they "only" sang the chorales isn't fair. St. Thomas School was a choir school and any student there knew that music was an essential part of a man's education. There must have been many boys who remained in Choir 4 for their whole time at school and went on to professional careers. Undoubtedly, their ability to sing several hundred chorales and take an active part in public liturgy was a mark of a "Thomas Man".

If only our schools today fostered such universal musical formation.

John Pike wrote (May 25, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] Many thanks for this highly constructive contribution to this discussion. It seems that Bach had very exacting standards when he wrote so disparagingly of some students.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 25, 2005):
< Bach's flexibility is not the kind that Rifkin and others refer to with their sports analogy or general pool of 55 pupils from which you can draw as needed. >
The assertion: "Bach's flexibility IS NOT" <such-and-such> is made according to what method of divination? Special exclusive insight based on what?

< There is no substitute for reading Bach's words without Rifkin's interpretation and then deciding what it is that Rifkin is attempting to accomplish with his circuitous path through the maze he has artificially constructed. >
Oh, based on that. Based on the assumption that a naive and horse-blinders approach to Bach's words is better (and more reliable) than an expert approach. Based on the assumption that the only skill relevant here is an isolated command of German, plus some private special exclusive channel into Bach's intentions, but not any of the other necessary musical or research skills I listed yesterday at: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/14032
Sorry, I'm just not accustomed to approaching anything with such a method of tunnel vision, especially when it purports to tell us what Bach's flexibility entailed, or what Bach's flexibility absolutely was not.

Sounds to me like this is more like the opposite of "flexibility" here. It appears that "Bach's flexibility" (or the broader "Bach's intention") is equated with "Thomas Braatz's wishes" as the very first premise of the argument, and that everything descends from there. Well, for those of us who don't buy the premise, that whole approach makes no consequential sense in telling us about Bach as a separate entity from Braatz. "Thomas Braatz's wishes" can be whatever he wants them to be, but that doesn't give us any method to discern Bach's content free of Thomas Braatz's interpretations and exclusions. It just tells us what Thomas Braatz prefers to hear as a listener and a music fan, which is just fine as far as that goes. Thomas Braatz enjoys recordings of MoreVPP more than OneVPP, in general. Fine. Thomas Braatz has made a firm and well-nigh inflexible point about his own personal taste. Fine. I agree with Thomas Braatz that MoreVPP makes a good musical effect. (But so does OneVPP when done well.) Thomas Braatz has very strong convictions about what he likes to hear. Fine. Thomas Braatz is a smart and resourceful guy with a need to make sure everybody understands him as a smart and resourceful guy. Again, fine...as long as that process respects that other people are also smart and resourceful, and at least as committed to the material (and able to deal with it, and well-prepared) as he believes he is.

However, scholarly inquiry is not about anyone's current personal preferences. And it's definitely also not about warning people away from material that might encourage them to think in unfamiliar directions! (Which would be anti-scholarship, or pseudo-scholarship: basically the opposite of allowing other people to be open-minded and discerning, trusting their brains and hearts in their own onfrontations with the evidence. Smart and resourceful people DON'T NEED a self-appointed priestly consumer advocate, especially an unscholarly one, stepping in front of material to tell us what we must believe, as if we're not smart enough to make our own informed choices. See the 2nd half of http://tinyurl.com/bt5wr for more along this line of arbitrary consumer advocacy.)

Scholarly inquiry IS about revealing and sifting the evidence with an expert set of skills and the broadest possible range of resources, trying to uncover what Bach did, irrespective of what today wishes he did. Scholarly inquiry is about de-crusting the layers of other people's (and one's own!) wishes and assumptions, to get back to accurate and objective reportage as far as is possible. Scholarly inquiry requires at least the broad set of skills mentioned at: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/14032
and not only one or two of them in isolation. Isolation only leads to an inflation of the small area one is familiar with, as if nothing else matters. Well, that's horse-blinders, not scholarship. Horse-blinders are for safety and self-preservation, to keep the horse from getting spooked or distracted away from its task. Isolation is a good thing in that situation. But horse-blinders aren't made for people, they're made for horses. And, they're not made to force other people to wear, trying to reduce their perception of the world to only the things a horse would need to concentrate on: one small task of pulling a vehicle of conveyance within scary traffic. Smart and resourceful people typically know how to handle scary traffic, without restricting their perceptions artificially or deliberately first.

Brad Lehman (whose neighbors drive horses past the house every day)

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 26, 2005):
Uri Golomb stated: >>We never said "Only Rifkin knows The Truth". We just said: "Rifkin presents his evidence with detail and clarity, and anyone who says he's wrong must first examine his evidence and show where, exactly, he's wrong".<<
Why is it necessary to examine Rifkin's evidence, when there are proponents for the OVPP theory who are unable relate in words what this evidence really is and when Bach has so clearly stated in the 'Entwurff' what his ideal-sized choir for performing his cantatas, etc. should be?

Let's put it this way: the believers in this OVPP, armed with the new insights and proofs delivered by Rifkin in his most recent lecture-booklet, should be able to express in words the proofs which demonstrate that Rifkin is right in his description of Bach's performance practices during his early years in Leipzig. Failure to do so amounts to a failure of communication either on Rifkin's part or a notable inability on the part of the believers to comprehend and explain clearly the basis for their doctrine. Since when do I have to taste a poison personally in order to speak intelligently about the nature of this poison? A good book review should convey a foretaste of the contents of a book which someone has not yet read. The reader can then decide if this is 'the way to go' or not.

>>I am only summarising Rifkin's conclusions, not his evidence, and that it is useless to argue about the conclusions without examining the evidence.<<
Is the hard evidence hidden deeply within the text of this booklet, so deeply, in fact, that it can not be revealed in a short paragraph or less? Think of all the unnecessary words that have been spouted forth in defense of the book by saying in essence: "I really believe in this booklet, I think I understand it, but I certainly can not explain it to anyone else, particularly to anyone who might take a critical attitude towards it because they could misapprehend, misinterpret, misconstrue, etc., the sacred contents of this booklet." Would it not be better to try to convince non-readers or those who doubt this theory by revealing just a few key points of important evidence such as the truly powerful citations from original sources from Bach's time, citations upon which the edifice of the OVPP can truly rest? Or is the reality of the situation such that Rifkin's proof is that 'we really do not know anything about OVPP for certain and the points that that Rifkin had made before in earlier articles and papers have not provided the firm foundation for his theory which he had hoped to find." Perhaps this is the reason why the few readers of this booklet want to talk about this book without getting into a detailed discussion of the major points and the documented evidence.

>>I'd be quite happy to discuss reservations from poeple who have read the book; but not from someone who repeatedly offers wrong-headed guesses about its contents while refusing to read it.<<
Ah! So you really wish to talk to other believers and are simply using this notion about not speaking to those who have not read the booklet as a ploy to avoid hard discussions that get down to the real points that matter.

>>That's the reason he presented his evidence: so that readers can judge for themselves whether his argument is persuasive. You have counter-arguments? By all means, produce them. But you can't counter an argument when you don't know what that argument is...<<
We have already intelligently discussed the following:

1. the 'pool' or 'team' concept as applied to Bach's performance practices

(This does not stand up very well to closer scrutiny.)

2. the misnomer for the title of Rifkin's booklet

3. what the meaning of 'Chor' is

(shades of Clinton involved here: "It all depends upon what the meaning of 'is' is.")

4. a hint at how Bach's Mühlhausen resignation letter tells us what Bach meant when he desired OVPP over any other method of performance throughout his entire career

(Unfortunately, a very terse description left this point 'up in the air' so that only a true reader of Rifkin's booklet will be able to savor the full flavor of this remarkable discovery.)

5. the role of the ripienists in Bach's 1st choir

(They were doomed to inactivity; at least professional athletes get paid a lot of money for just sitting around and doing nothing.)

6. a hint of new and profound evidence that Bach "often avoided the use of ripienists for his own music in Leipzig, preferring to use soloists only in his cantatas"

(Unfortunately, this tidbit can only be savored by reading Rifkin's booklet, because adherents of the OVPP are entirely unable, and now even unwilling, to put this wondrous proof into a few words. It seems that the more important and overwhelming something is, the more difficult it becomes to put it into words that others can understand.) Footnote alert! "We can not be 100% sure why Bach avoided ripienists." Translate: We promise more than we can really deliver but we at least offer suggestive, but not conclusive evidence.)

7. Rifkin's notion that only properly initiated individuals are capable of reading, understanding and interpreting original documents, such as those written by Bach and in particular the "Entwurff."

(Here Rifkin has appropriated Bach's writings and ensconced them in an ivory tower where he wishes to maintain and protect them for our benefit. His faithful followers find this very helpful in that they need not exert themselves very much in trying to explain something which is so difficult to understand in the first place. Heaven forbid! Unsuspecting, unprejudiced readers will most eagerly, under these circumstances, agree to renounce their inherent right to examine objectively this booklet with its documentation based upon original sources out of fear that any heretical thoughts might weaken the ethereal structure of this OVPP theory. The faith must be maintained at all costs! One comforting thought: Rifkin would not have gotten very far with this type of thinking in the time of Hans Sachs.)

Consider that this entire discussion was initiated by an 'objectivity alert' issued by Brad Lehman. Now ask yourselves, which respondents are most eager not to engage the pertinent issues, but rather employ diversionary tactics with personal accusations to avoid confronting the most important 'proofs' for the OVPP theory head-on. With the exception of Uri, who at least allowed a tiny glimpse at the contents of Rifkin's booklet/article, and John Pike, who offered a few 'teasers' that kept the discussion going, the remainder of those who actually possess and cherish this book remain very reticent about its contents. I find all this exceptional reserve regarding the actual contents of this booklet highly unusual, for if I had upon a book that I determined to be a real 'gold-mine' of information and proof for a theory that I was inclined to accept, I would willingly share some of the key points and documentary proof for the most important arguments. The excitement and enthusiasm provide the impetus for sharing this with other possibly interested individuals on the BCML.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (May 26, 2005):
Thomas Braatz writes: "Why is it necessary to examine Rifkin’s evidence, when there are proponents for the OVPP theory who are unable relate in words what this evidence really is"
Er...to find out what Rifkin's evidence is, perhaps.....?! Why are you so determined not to read a book on a subject which clearly interests you greatly? Are you afraid of what you might find therien?

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 26, 2005):
Gabriel Jackson wrote: >>Why are you so determined not to read a book on a subject which clearly interests you greatly?<<
It is a subject that should interest anyone who listens to Bach cantatas! This makes it a subject of utmost importance for discussion on this list.

>>Are you afraid of what you might find therien?<<
Judging from Parrott's book and what little has been revealed about Rifkin's booklet, at least according to some very reticient readers, there is very little to be feared. On the contrary, those who support this OVPP theory seem to be very reluctant to give any details about newly found 'proofs,' a sure sign that something is amiss or that they fear that such nonsense proposed by Rifkin as 'Bach did not really mean what he wrote' and 'only a highly trained musicologist can interpret Bach's words properly' will threaten to bring down the whole house of cards as soon as more people are initiated into the arcane mysteries of the OVPP theory.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (May 26, 2005):
Gabriel Jackson wrote: >>Why are you so determined not to read a book on a subject which clearly interests you greatly?<<
Thomas Braatz writes:
"It is a subject that should interest anyone who listens to Bach cantatas! This makes it a subject of utmost importance for discussion on this list."
A subject of the utmost importance, yet one which you refuse to read a book about, all the while rubbishing its contents and warning others off it. Very bizarre!

"Judging from Parrott's book and what little has been revealed about Rifkin's booklet, at least according to some very reticient readers, there is very little to be feared."
Then it should be very simple to read it and very simple to rebut its conclusions. But no, better to coax and cajole little bits of information from those who have read it, accuse them of not having understood it (not having read it yourself of course) then claim that because they haven't explained its contents to your satisfaction, pronounce the book to be rubbish. Have you any idea how preposterous this is?!

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 26, 2005):
Gabriel Jackson wrote: >>Have you any idea how preposterous this is?!<<
Certainly not as preposterous as claiming that Bach did not really mean what he wrote and that only a musicologist is able to interpret Bach's intended meaning as being the opposite of what Bach had originally written!

Eric Bergerud wrote (May 26, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] This whole thing is a little bewildering to yours truly. In my heart of hearts I want the OVPP camp to be proved either wrong or the matter left clearly in the air. I am sure OVPP will doom the boy choirs in future Bach recording and in many performances if it became party line.

That said, only a sophist would argue that the large number of very exceptional conductors and ensembles shifting squarely into the OVPP camp means nothing. If this is truly a simple matter of morons versus common sense, how on earth does one explain deep interest in OVPP by folks like McCresh, Parrott, Junghanel, Kuijken and the American Bach soloists? I suppose one could dismiss a single example of an outlandish performance technique as a stunt, but are all of these people be considered simple fools? I don't think so. I should think that there is enough integrity in music at the highest level to view the wave of VP performances in the last twenty years as representing a perfectly valid way of approaching Bach. True, not everyone is on the bandwagon. (Good.) That's the sign if a healthy and fun debate. Simple dismissal of VP as some kind of philistine plot or the work of the most skillful fraud since the maker of the Piltdown Man strikes me as basically silly.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Choir Form - Part 4 [General Topics]

John Pike wrote (May 26, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] <>

John Pike wrote (May 26, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud] Very well said, Eric.

I would like to add that I am sure that the considerable interst in OVPP amongst the eminent conductors you mention will not be the death knoll of boy choirs and larger choirs. No-one on this list amongst the OVPP enthusiasts, nor indeed Rifkin or Parrott themselves, are saying that this is the only way to do it. Indeed, Bach's music is so resilient it can sound beautiful with so many different approaches. I have a vast array of different styles in performance of Bach's music and there is much I love about many of them. Indeed, a conductor we both admire gredatly, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, has himself only partially adopted OVPP, although I gather from Uri that he uses it sparingly in certain passages for artistic effect. Great! I am sure he uses it very well. When I first heard performances of Parrott and Rifkin done OVPP, I was struck most forcibly by the clarity. Since then, I have listened to an even broader repertoire (outside Bach) done OVPP and have enjoyed all the same qualities. In short, lets continue to enjoy all these approaches for their beauty.

Peter Bright wrote (May 26, 2005):
<>


Choir Form: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
One-Voice-Per-Part (OVPP):
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19
Books about OVPP:
The Essential Bach Choir [by Andrew Parrott] | Bach's Choral Ideal [by Joshua Rifkin]: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


Joshua Rifkin: Short Biography | The Bach Ensemble | Recordings | General Discussions | Three Weimar Cantatas – Rifkin | BWV 232 - Rifkin | BWV 243 - Rifkin | Book: Bach's Choral Ideal [by Joshua Rifkin]


Biographies of Performers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Explanation | Acronyms | Missing Biographies | The Sad Corner



 

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