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Acoustics - Part 2

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Thomaskirche Acoustics

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 27, 2006):
Canyon Rick wrote:
>>According to Harnoncourt's SMP (BWV 244) #1, the interior was paneled with wood during Bach's time. (and no stained glass, apparently--not that I'm suggesting this affects sound)<<
Harnoncourt's assessment is truly an exaggeration. There were large portions of the interior of St. Thomas Church (in the 1720s and 1730s) that were not paneled with wood, particularly wherever there were no balconies and certainly above the existing balconies, including the ceiling and numerous stone columns, not to mention the stone floor. Also, the organ + choir balcony, situated on the west wall opposite (and quite distant from) the altar which was at the front/east end, was a wooden structure/balcony built on top of a stone balcony (according to Schering) 31 to 32 to meters above the lower stone balcony! (I am not certain here, but does this mean that the sounds from Bach's musicians emanated from a height of 50 to 60 meters?) What a difference this would make in the perception of sound/music compared to placing the choir and musicians on the ground floor before the altar near the front of the church! In Bach's time, it was the numerous wooden balconies that helped to absorb/mute the otherwise lengthy reverberation/decay of the organ and orchestral sounds to create a much better balance of sound that that in St. Nicholas Church in Bach's time. It is conjectured that the words sung by the choir at such great distance from the congregation were clearly heard below by those attending services (the printed texts, of course, helped to resolve any doubts).

>>How badly damaged was the TK during WW2? Are there any immediate postwar pictures? or of Leipzig, in general?<<
Much worse damage to the sound that Bach had heard in the 1720s and 1730s had already taken place before WWII. Extensive interior renovations to St. Thomas Church took place in 1740. There is a long list of workmen who were paid for these renovations: bricklayers, carpenters, glass-makers, locksmiths, slate workers, etc. We know exactly who got paid how much, but there is absolutely no record of what they actually did to change the church interior. One thing is certain: they did not remove the stone west balcony with the organ and choir loft at the back. The acoustics may have changed, however, as seen from the later changes Bach made to the SMP (BWV 244) (the 1736 version).

In 1773, the organ which had been up against the west wall was moved forward to take a position which was more inside the church, In the process the Rückpositiv of the organ was removed.

In 1802, the organ/choir loft was rebuilt once again to place the organ even higher, but moved forward more into the nave of the church. Another expansion took place in 1832.

A disaster, worse than a world war, struck the church during the years 1885-1888 when a complete renovation was undertaken. The exterior walls (except perhaps the wall behind the altar) were demolished to make room for the building of a yet bigger and better church. This amounted practically to a rebuilding of the church, leaving only the original stone pillars/columns in place and extending the roof in all directions. In particular, the length of the nave was extended considerably. Looking at the sketches made at the time, take the distance from an inner column out to the original side wall and double it to create the distance from the original column to the new outside wall.

Schering relates that an Englishman, H. Bagenal actually wrote an article in "Music and Letters" XI (1930) connecting Bach's music with the acoustics available in St. Thomas Church (after all these renovations had taken place!).

I am certain that there must have been at least a few individuals, who, after the damage sustained to the churches in Leipzig during WWII, may have considered, or at least entertained, the idea of reconstructing St. Thomas Church according to what it was as Bach experienced it. Unfortunately, and not only because this would have been an extremely costly project to undertake, such a plan would have been easily dismissed because there simply are no reliable records that would allow anyone to reconstruct (even as a virtual reality created by a computer) with any sense of reasonable accuracy what the interior of St. Thomas Church was like during Bach's tenure there.

What we do know, however, are some basic elements necessary for experiencing Bach's music as he would have performed it at St. Thomas Church: the music would have been quite distinct with the words sung being reasonably understood by the listener as well and the different sounds of various instruments clearly delineated (this would have been the opposite of hearing a confusion and muffling of characteristic sounds and pronunciation caused by extensive reverberation/re-echoing). As Schering puts it: the effect of the sound on the listener must have been very "de-materialized" ("entmaterialisiert") which would be very appropriate to the baroque idea that the singing voices along with the accompanying instruments
are the equivalent to the angelic hosts with the sound coming from a great distance, very high up [Schering: "from a great distance and height ("aus großer Ferne und Höhe"). [Arnold Schering "Johann Sebastian Bachs Leipziger Kirchenmusik", Leipzig, 1936]

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 27, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote::
< Also, the organ + choir balcony, situated on the west wall opposite (and quite distant from) the altar which was at the front/east end, was a wooden structure/balcony built on top of a stone balcony (according to Schering) 31 to 32 to meters above the lower stone balcony! (I am not certain here, but does this mean that the sounds from Bach's musicians emanated from a height of 50 to 60 meters?) >
50 meters high?! Is the interior of the building even that tall?
Notes and photos:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomaskirche
http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomaskirche_%28Leipzig%29

And see especially the lower-right paragraph at:
http://www.thomaskirche.org/neu/bauwerk/bauwerk_baugeschichte.htm

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 28, 2006):
Brad Lehman pointed out some URLs that describe St. Thomas Church today and that attempt to give a short history of the building: http://www.thomaskirche.org/neu/bauwerk/bauwerk_baugeschichte.htm

"Die Länge der Kirche beträgt 76m, der des Schiffes 50m, dessen Breite 25m und dessen Höhe 18m. Das Dach hat einen ungewöhnlich steilen Neigungswinkel von 63°. Im Inneren verfügt es über sieben Ebenen (Firsthöhe 45 m). Der Turm ist 68m hoch."

("The length of the church is 76 meters, that of the nave 50 meters, the span (width from side to side - from the inner columns on one side to the iiner columns of the other side) is 25 meters, the height of the nave is 18 meters. The roof has a very steep angle of declination of 63 degrees. The interior of the church has 7 levels (the roof ridge/edge of the roof is at 45 meters. The tower is 68 meters high.")

This present-day description is highly problematical in that it raises many hard questions which are avoided or not clearly explained.

There seems to be a deliberate effort here, by means of omission or unclear presentation of facts to make this present-day edifice appear to be a reconstruction of the church as J. S. Bach knew and experienced it in the performances of his music. This is exactly what Arnold Schering predicted in 1936:
".wir werden unbewußt aufgefordert, mit lauter falschen Vorstellungen zu arbeiten. In Wirklichkeit hat Bachs Musik mit der "Gotik" der heutigen Thomaskirche sebenso wenig etwas gemein wie mit der Empireklassik der heutigen Nikolaikirche..Daß Bach gelegentlich immer wieder als Künstler bezeichnet wird, der mit Tönen "gotische Dome" aufgebaut, geht wohl zum Teil auf den irreführenden Eindruck der modernen Thomaskirche zurück. Das läßt sich nicht aus der Welt schaffen.Stellen wir jedoch die Frage nach der historischen Wirklichkeit, so muß manche dieser Illusionen fallen.

("unconsciously we are being asked to work with false ideas/incorrect notions. In reality, Bach's music has as little in common stylistically with the "Gothic" face of the present-day St. Thomas Church as the "Empire" classical style of the present-day St. Nicholas Church..The reason that Bach is occasionally, but repeatedly referred to as an artist who creates "Gothic Cathedrals" in sound is most likely due in part to the misleading impression given by the modern St. Thomas Church. There is no way to get rid of this impression..If, however, we ask the question about the [true] historical reality, then many a false illusion will have to be dropped.")

From the wikepedia:

"Darüber [Kreuzrippengewölbe] findet sich eines der steilsten Giebeldächer Deutschlands mit einer Giebelhöhe von 43 Metern und einem Neigungswinkel von 63°.

("Over/above the ribbed vault there is one of the steepest gable roofs in all of Germany with a gable height of 43 meters and an angle of declination of 63 degrees.")

and

"Beim Luftangriff am 4. Dezember 1943 entstanden Schäden am Turm" ("In the air/bombing attack on December 4, 1943, the tower was damaged.")

Here we find out the extent of the damage St. Thomas Church suffered during allied bombing raids in WWII.

Now back to the hard questions about the church itself:

1. Elsewhere in the URLs posted above, the point is made that the modern St. Thomas Church has undergone subsequent renovation (after WWII) to return it to its former splendor as a New Gothic structure. Most of this work had already been accomplished in the 1880s. Just what did the renovation and restoration in the early 1960s and late 1990s involve? Obviously, in the 1880s the roof had to be changed to accommodate the newly enlarged building. Was the tower renovated as well? How specifically? Were the outer walls which had added much space to the interior in the 1880s once again completely removed? No answer!

2. The new roof is 43/45 meters high. Does this mean the height of the roof from the top to the bottom of the roof or the distance measured from the ground to the hightest point above ground? Assuming that the ribbed vaulting is enclosed under this roof and does not quite reach the ultimate height specified here where both sides of the roof meet and assuming that the high point of the ribbed vaulting might only reach a height of 30 to 35 meters above the point where the roof begins, could one reasonably assume that in Bach's time the organ/choir loft began on top of where the columns ended (and the ribbed vaulting begins just as Schering had described it with the longest/highest pipes of the organ extending to almost the very top of the vaulting? Or are we to envision a vaulting which is at the most 5 to 10 meters high (from where the vaulting begins at the top of the columns).

3. Looking at a side view of the church in Bach's time, it appears that the height of the roof is just a little more that the sides of the church (probably the height of the columns as well). Let's say that the walls were 35 to 38 meters high and not just c. 15 meters high. This would give us a total of circa 80 meters from the ground to the top of the roof, but today's tower (is it the same tower with the same height as the one in Bach's time???) is given as only 68 meters in height.

4. Assuming that today's tower height (78m) is exactly the same as the one that existed in Bach's time (a very dangerous assumption here since the church has undergone massive renovations in the 1880s and the tower was damaged by bombings in 1943), and assuming that the roof in the 1720s was 43m from the ground as indicated today, this would leave only 35m for the height of the columns, and this would make the stone balcony that Schering refers to as the one on top of which the wooden structure containing the organ/choir loft was built only a few meters high. Schering had stated (on p. 161 of the book that I quoted from yesterday): "Die Entfernung von der steinernen (unteren) Empore bis zum Ansatz des "hohen Chores" maß 31-32 m." ("The distance from the stone (lower) balcony up to the point where the "high choir" [the choir loft] began measured 31 to 32 m.") Perhaps the latter can be to easily misinterpreted and should perhaps have read 31 to 32 meters above the ground floor, but Schering's German does not appear to say this. From Schering's drawing it would appear also that the organ/choir loft began at about 2/3rds of the full height of the column measured from the bottom. Perhaps the height of the columns was changed in the 1880s or during later renovation and reconstruction?

I would certainly begin to question Schering's statistics if it were not for the fact that he enlisted the help of an expert in reading and interpreting architectural plans, as few of them as have survived.

Does anyone know of any reliable materials, aside from Schering's descriptions, that take into account the changes from the 1880s as well as all the subsequent renovations that were undertaken?

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 28, 2006):
>> Also, the organ + choir balcony, situated on the west wall opposite (and quite distant from) the altar which was at the front/east end, was a wooden structure/balcony built on top of a stone balcony (according to Schering) 31 to 32 to meters above the lower stone balcony! (I am not certain here, but does this mean that the sounds from Bach's musicians emanated from a height of 50 to 60 meters?) <<
< 50 meters high?! Is the interior of the building even that tall? >
Once again, this question is plainly and simply: where does this mysterious "50 to 60 meters" come from, allegedly derived from Schering's "31 to 32"?

The two pages of follow-up speculation (i.e. the message that includes: "This present-day description is highly problematical in that it raises many hard questions which are avoided or not clearly explained. <> have dodged my question instead of answering it.

Care to try again, without blaming anything on either Schering, or on any attempt of the current Thomaskirche personnel to be deceptive on their own web site? I mean, 31 meters itself already seems unusually high for placement of a choir, but how did it magically become 50 to 60 after that? Who's measuring what diagonally, or orthogonally, or mixed-upally, or just plain making up numbers, and why? The nave's only 50 meters long, and are we to believe that the singers' balcony was somehow higher than that, measured vertically? Odd church, if so.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 28, 2006):
Brad Lehman wrote:
>>Once again, this question is plainly and simply: where does this mysterious "50 to 60 meters" come from, allegedly derived from Schering's "31 to 32"?<<
Once again, there is no simple and plain answer to this question unless we can ascertain the following:

In the far-reaching renovations and modifications made to St. Thomas Church in the 1880s, precisely how were the acoustics affected by adding considerable width to the church, doubling the size/width of the side galleries adjacent to the nave. I had described the size of this width increase in a previous message. For this the original 3 walls of the church (west, north and south - I have no information about the east wall where the altar stood) were completely demolished, making way for the new ones. How did this affect the height of original roof, the height of the original ribbed vaulting above the nave? Were these torn down and replaced? How were the dimensions different after all this had been accomplished? What was the height of the main columns on either side of the nave before and after all these changes were made? Was the original church tower, which must have been very old, replaced with a tower of difheight in the 1880s? What was the height of the stone balcony at the west end of the church before it was removed/renovated/ and modified in the 1880s? Schering distinguishes as I have just determined (on p. 161 of the aforementioned book) that there were two performing 'arenas' for the Thomaner: one on the west end (up against the wall!) called the "Schülerchor" which included with various adjacent structures the great organ, city pipers raised balcony, and other instrumentalists along with the singers. The other "Chor" (this referring to a place where singers/instrumentalists would perform) is called the "Hoher Chor" ("high choir loft") where the 'swallows nest organ and only a few boys would have room to perform. This "Hoher Chor" is the one that Schering refers to as being "31 to 32 meters above the lower stone balcony", but this precarious spot (possibly used for the cantus firmus of the opening mvt. of the SMP (BWV 244)) was located at this 'dizzying' height on the EAST wall behind the altar. (Sorry about the confusion here!) Did this balcony touch the highest part of the rib vaulting?

When St. Thomas Church is described and advertised as a Neo-Gothic church (or having been renovated after WWII to become more like the Neo-Gothic church that it had once been after the 1880s, do people realize that this refers to the results of the 'disastrous' major renovation of the 1880s('disastrous' in as far as achieving even a slight resemblance to the church as Bach once knew it)? The shape and form of the tranformed interior along with changed acoustics from what the church once had prevented performing Bach's compositions under conditions that might even have had some similarity with those that Bach had encountered.

It is certainly high time to end the speculation about the acoustics that Bach experienced in St. Thomas Church during his tenure. This can be done by providing some hard evidence (obviously very difficult to come by) regarding the questions raised above. Simply pointing to present-day dimensions given in an encyclopedia does little to resolve this issue when the details of the historical changes are not even mentioned.

Simply assuming that the size, dimensions, height & width of various structures of the present-day St. Thomas Church must give today's listener an authentic experience of the musical sound Bach wanted and had once heard there is perhaps a serious delusion caused by not investigating thoroughly enough what little evidence we do already have.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 28, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< [much] >
If ever there were an example of the adage <a picture is worth a thousand words>, this is it. Actually, I did not count the words. I don't think the guy who wrote the adage meant it precisely. I speculate that it is a figurative rather than literal statement.

Accurate, nonetheless.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 28, 2006):
< When St. Thomas Church is described and advertised as a Neo-Gothic church (or having been renovated after WWII to become more like the Neo-Gothic church that it had once been after the 1880s, do people realize that this refers to the results of the 'disastrous' major renovation of the 1880s('disastrous' in as far as achieving even a slight resemblance to the church as Bach once knew it)? The shape and form of the tranformed interior along with changed acoustics from what the church once had prevented performing Bach's compositions under conditions that might even have had some similarity with those that Bach had encountered.
It is certainly high time to end the speculation about the acoustics that Bach experienced in St. Thomas Church during his tenure. This can be done by providing some hard evidence (obviously very difficult to come by) regarding the questions raised above. Simply pointing to present-day dimensions given in an encyclopedia does little to resolve this issue when the details of the historical changes are not even mentioned. >
I agree that "present-day dimensions given in an encyclopedia" are insufficient for the understanding of this topic. That's why I linked explicitly to the parish's own web page about its own history, namely this one:

>> And see especially the lower-right paragraph at: http://www.thomaskirche.org/neu/bauwerk/bauwerk_baugeschichte.htm <<
I also provided links to current internal photos of the structure, which show that (at least) the main organ loft is not even 10 meters off the ground floor. (And that's of course where the main figural music-making would have taken place, with organ and orchestra and singers.) These photos:

>> Notes and photos:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomaskirche
http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomaskirche_%28Leipzig%29 <<
Did anyone look at this detail "interior with pulpit" photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:HPIM4664.jpg
to make an estimation of the loft's height? Its floor looks to be at less than twice the height of the doorway, i.e. less than 10 meters -- the height from which the congregation would have heard the singers on Sunday morning.

(But, of course, other photos and sources would also be available, and anyone is welcome to offer a more comprehensive look! Those are just the things I found within a five-minute search yesterday.)

As for "ending the speculations", I'm still waiting for the explanation of that bizarre figure of "50 to 60 meters" (i.e. Bach's congregations hearing some of the singers from 50 to 60 meters above them). I've asked about it three times now, and it's still being dodged. Put all the swallow's nest stuff about 30 meters aside, as that's been explained well, thanks. Now, how did it become the mysterious (and still unexplained) 50 to 60 in the earlier posting on this thread? Apparently the "50 to 60" was just hyperbole and had no clear purpose; if only it could be acknowledged as such, so we can actually understand the reasonable dimensions of this fine building and its performance spaces.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 28, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Did anyone look at this detail "interior with pulpit" photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:HPIM4664.jpg to make an estimation of the loft's height? Its floor looks to be at less than twice the height of the doorway, i.e. less than 10 meters -- the height from which the congregation would have heard the singers on Sunday morning. >
To get back to my original point, Bach wrote his music to be heard in an acoustical setting which most modern Bach audiences have never experienced, namely in a high gallery behind and above their heads. Is there any point in billing a performance as special merely because it is performed in a church connected with Bach when the musicians are not in their historic position?

I feel the same way about the intimate chamber acoustic adopted for most recordings. We hear the music as if we are standing beside the performers in the gallery. We don't hear it as Bach's congregation would have heard it. There are few recordings which even suggest that a large reverberant space is part of the expereince of Bach's music.

I would be very interested to hear a recording with the performers in a gallery of a large church with the microphones on the floor turned away from the sound. That's the acoustic Bach wrote for.

As a sidebar, Paul McCreesh's reconstructions of historic performances present are quite effective in suggesting what Baroque music sounded like in a large building. His recording of the Praetorius Christmas Mass (Chritsmette) uses a lot of spatal placements to suggest the interplay of complex counterpoint with a reverberent acoustic.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 28, 2006):
Bradley Lehmanwrote:
>>I agree that "present-day dimensions given in an encyclopedia" are insufficient for the understanding of this topic. That's wI linked explicitly to the parish's own web page about its own history,<<
This was duly cited and translated by me, but it still left many issues unresolved. It only shows us today's
dimensions as they exist currently. It is unreasonable to assume that they are anything at all like those which Bach experienced. All of this was explained in my recent posting.

BL: >>I also provided links to current internal photos of the structure, which show that (at least) the main organ loft is not even 10 meters off the ground floor. (And that's of course where the main figural music-making would have taken place, with organ and orchestra and singers.)<<
Anyone who still believes, after Schering's explanation of the disastrous renovation of St. Thomas Church in the 1880s, that the current location of the organ loft is a reliable indicator of just where Bach would have performed his 'main' figural music indeed has a poor sense of what constitutes historical accuracy even when faced with the loss of much of the material (like blueprints) surrounding the near destruction of St. Thomas Church in the 1880s. Why continue to support by unreasoning belief a myth that not much, if anything has changed in St. Thomas Church? It has, after all been restored to its former Neo-Gothic glory (from the 1880s) and the Gothic dimensions of Bach's sacred music sound have been frequently pointed out (all of this explained in Schering's book as an undesirable after-effect caused by misunderstanding the Baroque nature of Bach's music style).

BL: >>if only it could be acknowledged as such, so we can actually understand the reasonable dimensions of this fine building and its performance spaces.<<
The 'reasonable dimensions of this fine building and its performance spaces' will never be truly understood by 'doing a five-minute search', unless the results of this search bring forth greater details about the major transformation of the interior in the 1880s. Little can be gained by simply looking at pictures that represent the current interior. We do not even know if the current height of the columns is the same as that which existed before the 1880s. Until more important, specific information about the radical transformation of St. Thomas Church in the 1880s is uncovered, only wild speculation would insist that today's acoustic conditions within the church are the same as they once were in Bach's time, more specifically, that the organ/choir loft on the west end of the church had the same position and height as it did in the 1720s, 1730s and 1740s.

Why not expound H. Bagenel's 1930 essay (it must have passed through peer-review before it was published) which linked Bach's music to the current (at that time 1930) acoustics of St. Thomas Church? By continually equating today's conditions with those in Bach's time, who knows, something may begin to stick as the myth becomes reality? There are always those who seem to like to believe in simple explanations of this sort.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 28, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Why not expound H. Bagenel's 1930 essay (it must have passed through peer-review before it was published) >
It is uncomely to insistently attack (even if subtlety is attempted) the peer review process of scholarly publications. No one (or at least certainly not me) has suggested that peer review achieves absolute truth, whatever that might be. Rather, it is the accepted (and very workable) method of achieving some sort of consensus on the current state of knowledge and academic opinion, which is in a state of constant flux and evolution.

Speculation outside the peer review process is welcome and valuable. Speculation is not necessarily a dirty word (although I suppose it can be, depending on the context). All new ideas start with some sort of specualtion, followed by testing. Testing by peer review is especially important in a field such as music, where there are so few objective tests available.

The value of speculation is greatly enhanced when logic is applied consistently, and references provided. And vice versa. <>

Canyon Rick wrote (December 28, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< As for "ending the speculations", I'm still waiting for the explanation of that bizarre figure of "50 to 60 meters" (i.e. Bach's congregations hearing some of the singers from 50 to 60 meters above them). I've asked about it three times now, and it's still being dodged. Put all the swallow's nest stuff about 30 meters aside, as that's been explained well, thanks. Now, how did it become the mysterious (and still unexplained) 50 to 60 in the earlier posting on this thread? Apparently the "50 to 60" was just hyperbole and had no clear purpose; if only it could be acknowledged as such, so we can actually understand the reasonable dimensions of this fine building and its performance spaces. >
I want to follow up on the Swallows' Nest and its height because the 1736 SMP (BWV 244) appears to be the apex of Bach and sound. (also Bach's experience with the great height of the choir and organ in the Weimar royal chapel may have been influenced him in Leipzig)

Here is the 1710 engraving of the TK interior: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Tour/Leipzig-Photos-4.htm

It is interesting to note the absence of the Swallows Nest. When this picture was put online, it was suggested that perhaps the engraver simply "imagined away" the Swallows Nest in order to present more glorious image of the altar. Since there seems to be little doubt the Swallows Nest was there, I would think one would have to question the engraver.It is interesting too because this engraving possibly gives the perspective from the west choirloft--probably not 60 meters, but substantial nonetheless.

But, more importantly about the Swallows Nest, Wolfe presents this regarding the effect of singers performing the 1736 SMP (BWV 244) from this perch. Apparently, the Swallows Nest also opened out over the altar:

"And when the G-major chorale sung from the swallows' nest organ loft at St. Thomas's above the so-called Triumphal Arch--that is from the altar side--pierced the E minor and thereby forced a modal switch, the music revealed its deep-symbolic dimension right from the outset. For the tremendous show of musical force (two choirs and two orchestras on the main west gallery, a distant third choir on the small east gallery) was not meant as a display of powerful and luxuriant sound. The chorale reverberating from the chancel side of the church warned the audience and alerted skeptics at the outset that what awaited them was not 'theatrical' music, but music that indisputably proclaimed its sacred and liturgical character."

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the arrangement, but if one looks at today's TC there would appear to be little room for the Swallows' Nest to have been up very high. (could this roof have been lowered during renovations?) If, indeed, the Swallows' Nest did open also (or, perhaps only? Do we need to change our paradigm here?) on the altar side, the roof over the altar does not seem to allow for a Swallows' Nest of great height.

And how did one get up to the Swallows' Nest? I saw a reference to some rickety stairs, but they managed to get that organ up there which does not appear to have been all that small in the portative sense.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 29, 2006):
< To get back to my original point, Bach wrote his music to be heard in an acoustical setting which most modern Bach audiences have never experienced, namely in a high gallery behind and above their heads. Is there any point in billing a performance as special merely because it is performed in a church connected with Bach when the musicians are not in their historic position?
(...)
I would be very interested to hear a recording with the performers in a gallery of a large church with the microphones on the floor turned away from the sound. That's the acoustic Bach wrote for. >
I agree. The sense of spaciousness is so important. I was thinking some more this morning about the Swallows' Nest thing, and came up with another piece (beyond the obvious SMP (BWV 244) opening chorus) for it: the echo aria in the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248). Stick one treble way up there yonder to the birdie nest, as the echo, and it's a nifty effect...especially if the congregation doesn't know it's coming.

I got to play this piece some years ago in a round church with a decently generous reverberation. We had the main soprano and the obbligato oboist up in the loft, flanking both sides of the organ bench (me), and we hid our other soprano all the way across the church (about 40 meters) at the same loft height, to make the echoes. Great stuff. Once the audience figures out that a series of echoes is starting, they start looking around. "Ja!" "Ja ja!" "Nein!" And then later, Bach still throws the thing a curve several times, because the audience can't guess if the echo is going to come from the singer first or the oboe first.

We also got to do Allegri's "Miserere" in that same church, with the two vocal groups divided as far as possible to opposite balconies, and with the plainchant section's cantor down on the main floor. The piece is sectional enough and spacious enough that they hardly needed me to conduct at all (I was down on the floor just doing minimal cues), until the last section when the two groups have to stay together across the space. Fun stuff. It would be a disaster in a small room or with no appreciable reverb.

By the way, this is the same piece that young Mozart heard at church and then wrote down when he got home. The thing is repetitive enough across 15 minutes--ornamented strophic psalmody--that that's not as much of a genius-coup as it might seem in the storytelling; just a fairly easy memory/dictation of five-part and four-part counterpoint, moving slowly, and going half a dozen times each (except for the text which is straight from a psalm anyway). Working from a published score (way too many pages) and a couple of recordings, I was able to condense the whole piece down to two sides of the same piece of paper, more than adequately.

 

Bach's performance environments--acoustics

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 28, 2009):
I got to wondering this evening if anyone on list has attended Bach performances in Bach's former churches, and if so what the size of the ensemble might have been and what his or her reaction to the acoustics in that setting might be? Would there have been changes in the sanctuaries since his day?

This bears on my imagining the size of Bach's ensembles should they have been of a chamber orchestra size and smaller choir, even though we have established in a recent discussion that we cannot know with absolute certainty what the size of his ensembles was.

Just curious, here.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (January 28, 2009):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
< I got to wondering this evening if anyone on list has attended Bach performances in Bach's former churches, and if so what the size of the ensemble might have been and what his or her reaction to the acoustics in that setting might be? Would there have been changes in the sanctuaries since his day? >
I believe I read somewhere that St. Thomas' interior was remodeled in the 19th century, and a lot of wooden surfaces/panels were removed during that process. I would imagine wood would have had somewhat of a muffling effect on music, but that obviously depended on placement, and how much there was.

Baroque instruments must have sounded pretty soft in such a large space as St. Thomas (Doug Cowling pointed out in an earlier thread, that it ain't no village church). Humidity issues also must have played havoc for the string players, and keeping in tune had to have been a nightmare.

The Weimar chapel had to have been impressive, with a four square musicians gallery above the worship space, it had to have been absolutely stunning to hear.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 28, 2009):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
>even though we have established in a recent discussion that we cannot know with absolute certainty what the size of his ensembles was.<
I suppose *absolute certainty* is difficult to establish with respect to the 21st C., let alone 18th. But absent that linguistic loophole, I thought what we established was:
(1) Daniel Melameds recent work establishes, with solid evidence, the size of Bachs ensembles.
(2) The uncertainty lies mainly with folks who ignore Melameds update of the pioneering work of Rifkin and Parrott.

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 28, 2009):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< ....The Weimar chapel had to have been impressive, with a four square > musicians gallery above the worship space, it had to have been absolutely stunning to hear. >
Thanks, Kim. This was the kind of information I was looking for...

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 28, 2009):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< Baroque instruments must have sounded pretty soft in such a large space as St. Thomas (Doug Cowling pointed out in an earlier thread, that it ain't no village church). Humidity issues also must have played havoc for the string players, and keeping in tune had to have been a nightmare.
The
Weimar chapel had to have been impressive, with a four square musicians gallery above the worship space, it had to have been absolutely stunning to hear. >
The removal of the side galleries and wood paneling in the 19th century would have given St. Thomas the generous reverberation time which it has now. Most of us have only heard Bach performed from the front of a church or concert hall where, if the reverberation time is long, the sound is muddied and echoey. Bach's choir loft was high above his listeners' heads where the gallery forms a rather small room close to the ceiling. This acts like a natural amplifying megaphone.

I remember attending a mass in the catholic cathedral in Toronto when the choir was singing a double choir motet by Gabrieli with half the choir at the front of the church and half in the elevated gallery at the back. The singers were worried that the gallery choir would not be heard. The effect was quite the reverse: the choir at the front sounded distant and weak, the gallery choir sounded like twice their numbers and right in our ears. It was the best practical demonstration that if Bach's forces were chamber-sized, they would have had no problem filling St. Thomas.

We also have to take into account the acoustic phenomenon of doubling voices with instruments. In Bach's recitatives and arias, the voice is rarely doubled by the instruments. In the "choral" movements, however, the choir voices are usually doubled by the instruments, often at the octave. This gives the listener the illusion that the voices are louder or more numerous. One of the things I always listen for now in a live OVPP performance is whether Bach's scoring is the key to his choral sound.

Music at Weimar where the gallery was directly above the listeners' heads must have had the decibel levels of a rock concert!

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 28, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< We also have to take into account the acoustic phenomenon of doubling voices with instruments. In Bach's recitatives and arias, the voice is rarely doubled by the instruments. In the "choral" movements, however, the choir voices are usually doubled by the instruments, often at the octave. This gives the listener the illusion that the voices are louder or more numerous.
One of the things I always listen for now in a live OVPP performance is whether Bach's scoring is the key to his choral sound.
Music at
Weimar where the gallery was directly above the listeners' heads must have had the decibel levels of a rock concert! >
Thanks, Doug. This gives me more perspective.

Jane Newblw wrote (January 28, 2009):
[To Jean Laaninen, in response to her original message] I attended a Bach Motette concert at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.

What I can remember of the performers was that it was the Thomanerchor with Georg Christoph Biller. Not sure about the orchestral part or how many instruments there were, but I remember the wonderful organ. The church of course was not quite the same as in Bach's time, because of renovations etc. Neither would the performers probably be like a typical Bach ensemble, but the performance was in the loft. I remember the acoustics - the whole effect was amazing, and I thought that it was perhaps because they were up in the loft?

Of course there was the added excitement of being in Bach's church, but it did sound fantastc. An experience never to be forgotten. I actually liked not being able to see the players or singers.

I don't know if this is the sort of thing you wanted to know though.....

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 28, 2009):
Jane Newble wrote:
< I remember the acoustics - the whole effect was amazing, and I thought that it was perhaps because they were up in the loft?
Of course there was the added excitement of being in Bach's church, but it did sound fantastc. An experience never to be forgotten. I actually liked not being able to see the players or singers.
I don't know if this is the sort of thing you wanted to know though..... >
Thanks, Jane. I was thinking about both then and now really. Your comments add to my growing picture of the environment of Bach's music, and as in retirement I'm not the traveller I was when I was young it is unlikely I will visit these places. Not quite comparable, but bringing about some comparison, I did a photo-shoot for one of the ASU choir's at a huge church in Scottsdale, Arizona some years ago. Before the program I photographed them in the front of the church, but their opening music was done from a balcony. The audience did turn to the back to watch as this was allowable, but the effect was different from the music their gave later from the front of the church. We were also able to hear it well as the church was built with acoustics in mind---but the effect was different.

I do envy those who have had this more direct experience in Bach's environs, in a healthy way, of course.

Thanks for sharing.

 

Dimensions of Thomaskirche in Leipzig

Bruce Simonson wrote (February 3, 2009):
I've lost the original thread on this, but wanted to add a question, and a few thoughts.

I have visited the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, and remember not being particularly struck by its size. It is certainly no Ulm, St Marks in Venice, or St Peters in the Vatican. That being said, after looking at it in Google earth, and overlaying site plans I found here and there on the internet, the Thomaskirche is indeed larger than I remembered.

My question has to do with antiphonal works. Years ago, I conducted a few movements from the Monteverdi Vespers in a largish auditorium. I was particularly concerned with the time lags that would be heard by the antiphonal choirs (listening to the other choirs), and how that could ultimately lead to slowing down (with choirs waiting for each other and so forth). It also made me wonder about the audience experience, for those folks sitting closer to one chorus than the other. As conductor, I tried to position myself equally from all of the choruses (not completely possible, with our configuration and the time), and asked folks to perform with the beat. (Do what I show, and not what you hear?). Which they mostly did, or tried to do.

So, after the posts on the dimensions of the Thomaskirche, I started thinking about this again ... what with the speed of sound in air at about 1200 feet/second, and quarter notes (crotchets) at 60 beats per minute, 1/16ths (semiquavers) come at 4 per second (which isn't rally all that fast...). This means, if I'm not mistaken, that choirs
separated by 300 feet (i.e., 1200/4) each choir will hear the other choir's downbeat entrance, at the time they are delivering the 2nd 16th note in a group of four.

All that being said, it looks to me like Thomaskirche is about 90 feet by 140 feet (guessing from Google earth). I think this means that, for example, the motet Singet dem Herrn (BWV 225), even with its relatively fast and furious melismas in the first movement, probably wouldn't have been much of a problem.

On the other hand, St Marks in Venice looks to be about 150 feet, which would make staggered 8th note entrances (at half note = 90, for example), sound confused with respect to any intended echoing overlays. The Monteverdi Vespers is remarkable for this type of writing (e.g., the Laude Jerusalem).

So, I just wonder about these things.

Has anyone in the group any recollections of antiphonal works, like Bach's BWV 225, performed in largish spaces, and care to share impressions with how well things held together, and sounded overall?

PS: Although they're cheesey, I put together some simple-minded Google earth overlays of these various churches, which show the floor plan. For what they are worth, I can try to share these with anyone who is interested.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 3, 2009):
Bruce Simonson wrote:
< All that being said, it looks to me like Thomaskirche is about 90 feet by 140 feet (guessing from Google earth). I think this means that, for example, the motet Singet dem Herrn (BWV 225), even with its relatively fast and furious melismas in the first movement, probably wouldn't have been much of a problem.
On the other hand, St Marks in Venice looks to be about 150 feet, which would make staggered 8th note entrances (at half note = 90, for example), sound confused with respect to any intended echoing overlays. The Monteverdi Vespers is remarkable for this type of writing (e.g., the Laude Jerusalem). >

There's a popular misconception that antiphonal works in the Renaissance and Baroque always employed significant spatial separation. The famous example is St. Mark's in Venice. In fact, the choirs and instruments were placed in the two galleries on either side of the altar which are only about 30 feet across. The dramatic galleries in the vaults of the church were not used for musicians. The choir space in San Marco is a remarkably small area and there is not much more separation than one would encounter in a English choir layout. Thus the spatial separation was never more than 25-30 feet -- that would be the architectural setting of Schütz and Praetorius' music. Even in the 56 voice, 8 choir mass of Biber for Salzburg cathedral saw the choirs of voices and instruments in a fairly contained space.

Far more conventional was the performance of polychoral works by choirs standing side by side. Palestrina's famous double choir "Stabat Mater" was sung in the choir gallery of the Sistine Chapel which was about 20 by 8 feet. In churches where instruments were allowed, the antiphony was enhanced by contrasting intrumental doubling. Even a conservative composer like Victoria published organ parts doubling one choir.

This was Bach's practice. The singers of the two choirs probably stood side by side in the west gallery. There were no singers at the front of the church. Like Praetorius before him, Bach often doubled the voices to enhance the antiphony, winds with one choir and strings with the other. The frequency with which the two choir sing the same music and the existence of a common continuo part for both suggests that spatial separation was not significant in Bach's tradition. For instance in the final movement of "Singet dem Herrn" (BWV 225), the two choirs sing antiphonally for the opening "prelude" but then sing in four parts for the closing fugue.

The only example of what appears to be dramatic architectural antiphony is the supposed placement of the unison ripieno choir in the SMP (BWV 244), and that effect is only called for in the opening chorus and "O Mensch Bewein" Even then the two galleries were on the same level and Bach probably employed two sub-conductors just as is depicted in the engravings of Praetorius's music.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (F3, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< There's a popular misconception that antiphonal works in the Renaissance and Baroque always employed significant spatial separation. The famous example is St. Mark's in Venice. In fact, the choirs and instruments were placed in the two galleries on either side of the altar which are only about 30 feet across. >
I'm curious, how do you know this exactly?

< The dramatic galleries in the vaults of the church were not used for musicians. The choir space in San Marco is a remarkably small area and there is not much more separation than one would encounter in a English choir layout. Thus the spatial separation was never more than 25-30 feet -- that would be the architectural setting of Schütz and Praetorius' music. >
Again, how do we know this? I know in the DG Archiv CD recording/recreation of a Praetorius Christmas Mass, Paul McCreesh makes a case in the tray notes using the large spatial relationships between the performers and listeners; and I believe he discusses Praetorius' writings on the subject, the most obvious example was the placing of trumpets and timpani at the back of the church away from instrumentalists and singers.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 3, 2009):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
> I'm curious, how do you know this exactly? <
For Venice, there are paintings from the 18th century which show the musicians in those galleries. There are also loading docks in the canals which connect with "elevator" shafts to the galleries by which organs and instruments were raised. Records document the work required.

North of the Alps, there seem to be two performing traditions of polychoral music: 1) the "architectural" school of Praetorius through Biber where spatial separation was a factor (I like Praetorius' provision for the brass to be OUTSIDE the church!); and 2) the "contrast" school of Lassus onwards into the 18th century and Bach, where the antiphony was created by unequal voicings and instrumental doubling in the choirs.

Teri Noel Towe wrote (February 3, 2009):
Bruce Simonson wrote:
< I have visited the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, and remember not being particularly struck by its size. It is certainly no Ulm, St Marks in Venice, or St Peters in the Vatican. That being said, after looking at it in Google earth, and overlaying site plans I found here and there on the internet, the Thomaskirche is indeed larger than I remembered. >
The most vivid and compelling description of the dimensions of the Thomaskirche that I know is the one that Arthur Mendel provides in the introduction to his performing edition of the St. John Passion (BWV 245):

"The Thomaskirche is a big building: about 80 feet wide, 140 feet long, and 140 feet high in the nave section; that is, slightly narrower than Carnegie Hall, but just as long and a good deal higher."

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 4, 2009):
Bruce Simonson wrote:
< I've lost the original thread on this, but wanted to add a question, and a few thoughts. >
Thomas Braatz wrote:
Bruce Simonson has raised questions about the acoustics in the present-day St. Thomas Church in Leipzig and is attempting to draw conclusions from a Google site analysis about how the acoustics must have been in Bach's time. Thomas Braatz advises you to study carefully the information already provided at:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Acoustics.htm
particularly about 3/4 of the way down the preceding page where Schering soundly criticized Bagenal's misleading conclusions about how Bach's music must have sounded in this church.

Bruce Simonson wrote (February 5, 2009):
[To Teri Noel Towe] This is about what I measured from Google Earth (except for the height, of course). And as Doug pointed out, the antiphonal choirs in Bach's motets (and the SMP (BWV 244), for example) would not have been separated front and back in the nave. From my recollection of the space, that would not have worked or made any sense. The choirs would have been in the lofts, I imagine.

I guess I should check the archives, for information on when and how the motets (especially BWV 225 - Singet dem Herrn) were performed in the Thomaskirche. Anybody know for sure?

Bruce Simonson wrote (February 5, 2009):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thank you Aryeh ... as I should have known, this fine group has already visited this topic.

What I glean from a first cursory read of the reference above, is that the Thomaskirche of today is not the Thomaskirche of Bach's time, and that the church's dimensions, in particular, have changed over the years since then. And that there are a lot of unknowns about the actual dimensions and possibly the locations of choirs in the church during Bach's tenure there.

What is known, I think, is that the dimensions were never large enough to complicate the timing of entrances of antiphonal choirs, regardless of where they were placed in the Thomaskirche (if indeed, any effort was made to separate the choirs spatially).

It seems safe to assume that Bach probably wouldn't have (much?) noticed or cared about the effects of the finite speed of sound and the associated nuances in the performance of any of his works in the Thomaskirche.

What a list! Cheers!!

 

Bach Acoustics

Michael Cox wrote (November 9, 2011):
What sort of acoustics did Bach expect when composing his church music? He had experience of working in a number of different churches throughout his life and would, of course, take into account the amount of echo that would occur in churches of different sizes, and would be well aware of the different acoustics with a full congregation as compared with an almost empty church in rehearsals, apart from the singers and musicians themselves.

When Bach's music is performed today in cathedrals with large forces, the details tend to get lost because of the inevitable echo, especially in fugal passages.

It seems to me that some modern recordings of Bach's works are recorded with very "dry" acoustics to minimize echo in the interests of "authenticity" and "clarity", but are they really "authentic"? Does the use of multiple microphones mean that the music is to some extent distorted, because the listener can ultimately only hear music with his or her own two ears?

Many "live" performances have been edited for commercial purposes. How might a live performance have sounded in Bach's day?

I thought I would do a little amateur detective work.


The St. Thomas Church /Thomaskirche, Leipzig
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Thomas_Church,_Leipzig

The church has been renovated three times since Bach's time:
1884-1889 Renovation of the church in the Neo-Gothic style
1961-64 Interior renovation of the church
1991 Initiation of the complete restoration of the church

So present-day acoustics may give us some idea, but not a full picture of acoustics in Bach's day.

Here's a video I took in the church in 2009. Can anyone identify the piece of music played on the organ?:
http://www.youtube.com/user/migeco1809#p/u/1/o83dzUtP6aM


The St. Nicholas Church /Nikolaikirche, Leipzig

In 1794 the interior was remodeled by German architect
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Carl_Friedrich_Dauthe> Johann Carl Friedrich Dauthe in the <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoclassicism> neoclassical style. - i.e. 44 years after Bach's death.

Here's a video I took while the orchestra was warming up before playing a Bach cantata and church music by Mendelssohn under the direction of Frieder Bernius:
http://www.youtube.com/user/migeco1809#p/u/2/1eLIq_DLt6c


St. Mary's Church, Mühlhausen
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Tour/Muhlhausen.htm

While Bach was living and working in Mühlhausen he wrote the following cantata specifically and exceptionally for this church, now a museum. The congregation and the pews are indeed missing, but listen to how the trumpets echo around the church.

Gott ist mein König BWV 71
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-Q0MnkwUuU in Mühlhausen

Compare a performance conducted by Helmuth Rilling:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01qotomDGYE

I would like to listen to recordings where the trumpets resound joyfully, and are not muffled to conform with "respectable" academic aesthetics.

Any comments welcome!

Julian Mincham wrote (November 9, 2011):
[To Michael Cox] Of the several performances I heard in Bach churches lats year, all were given with the musicians on the floor of the church. I was disappointed not to hear at least one from the gallery and spoke to the organisers about this. I was told that they had previously experimented with such placement of the singers and band but had abandoned it because of the poor acoustics.. Perhaps the word 'variable' is better than 'poor' since it was much worse in some parts of the church than in others. I experienced something of this effect with a concert in the Blasiuskirke in Mülhausen (BWV 106, 150, 196 and 230). I was sitting in the first three rows and the balance was good and the general acoustic very acceptable. But I was told by those who sat some rows back that the echo was intolerable and the sound disappointingly muddy and confused. Apparently a rather short distance way from the musicians made a lot of difference.

We also have to take into account the changes that have been made to the interior of several of these churches since Bach's day. My guess is that Bach had to grin and bear the fact that the musical affects varied to a considerable degree around the churches. However, having heard works performed both with one (or at most two) voices to a part as well as with larger choirs I formed the view that the former works much better in these environments----another argument in favour of the OVPP contingent. I also came to the view that the thin sound of the oboes works better than some other instruments in the churches which might well explain why Bach made so much use of them in the cantatas, both as soloists and doubling the strings. I think he knew exactly what he was doing within a given acoustic environment which he couldn't alter.

While here I'd like to comment on the subject of 'new' and 'old' German which was recently raised. I had some experience of this when working on the cantatas. My wife is half German and a fluent speaker of the language and her mother was native German. I had virtually none of the language when I began the project. I often consulted them but just as often they came up against archaic words which bore little or no meaning for the modern listener.

For myself I solved the problem by consulting as many translations as possible, and learning some basics---. Sorting out nouns from verbs is pretty easy as is the memorising of a lot of the constantly re-ocuring terms Tod, Glaub, Gott, falsche, Freude and so on. But it is often Bach's setting which gives a clearer view (or at least his view) of the meaning of the text. A good example is the opening chorus of BWV 176 at the end of the second cycle. The various translations seem to have little in common (they are quoted in my essay on this cantata) and the character of the music conveys as much (I would suggest) as the enignatic text.

So my recipe is---learn some basics---have several translations handy along with a good dictionary----have access to native German speakers for consultation----and when in doubt refer to the music.

Nothing to it!!

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Accent / German [General Topics]

Douglas Cowling wrote (November 9, 2011):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Of the several performances I heard in Bach churches lats year, all were given with the musicians on the floor of the church. I was disappointed not to hear at least one from the gallery and spoke to the organisers about this. I was told that they had previously experimented with such placement of the singers and band but had abandoned it because of the poor acoustics. >
I suspect that the gallery placement was too foreign to modern notions of concert arrangement. Modern artists always think that they can't be heard, let alone be SEEN, in the gallery. It is well worth going to a church like St. Michael's Church in Munich or the Hofkapelle in Vienna when a classical mass is performed with orchestra as part of the liturgy and the building is fllled with people (testing in an empty church doesn't work).

The acoustic setting in a gallery is much superior to placement on the chancel steps which is the worst position because music was never performed at that spot in Catholic and Lutheran churches. The loft position has several acoustic advantages:

* The gallery is closer to the vaults which creates a smaller "room" in which the performers can hear it each other admirably.

* The gallery forms a kind of architectural band-shell which amplifies the sounds and throws it forward.

* Music from above projects further and with greater clarity. I've been at concerts in reverberant historic churches in which the first half was sung from the gallery and the second half from the chancel steps. The sound from the floor is always less present and less clear.

The gallery was the acoustic norm for Bach, and he would never have written his music if it was badly played or imperfectly heard. It's our hangup that we're unwilling to listen to the entire St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) performed by invisible musicians.

Julian Mincham wrote (November 9, 2011):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I suspect that the gallery placement was too foreign to modern notions of concert arrangement. >
This appears not to have been the case with those I talked to since they tried it and found it did not work well, or at least evenly well. I am suspicious, however, about blanket statements which say' it works well here but not there' because of my experience which indicates that it may 'work' in very different ways when performed in, or listened to in different parts of the church.

< he would never have written his music if it was badly played or imperfectly heard >
Badly played yes, I would agree, but as to the acoustics there as only so much that he could have done about them in those days. Bach was a practical musician who did the best he could in any circumstances. I can't imagine him throwing a tissie and saying 'Oh my dears I couldn't possibly play my music here---some of the low oboe notes might not be heard.'

Douglas Cowling wrote (November 9, 2011):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< As to the acoustics there as only so much that he could have done about them in those days. Bach was a practical musician who did the best he could in any circumstances. I can't imagine him throwing a tissie and saying 'Oh my dears I couldn't possibly play my music here---some of the low oboe notes might not be heard.' >
I agree. Yet I still think it is modern ears that consider church acoustics imperfect because they differ so profoundly from concert halls. Add to that thirty years of magnificent recordings which increasingly use an intimate "chamber" acoustic for cantata recordings. We hear Bach's cantatas as if we were sitting in the gallery, not as his contemporary listeners did down in the nave.

I still think it would be a lifetime act of aesthetic perversity on Bach's part to compose works every week for an acoustic that he deemed ruined the effect of his music. What other acoustic could have been his model?

Beyond the positive advanwhich I suggested earlier, there is pretty good evidence that Bach understood his acoustic space, and on occasion exploited it for musical effect. The St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) places the third ripieno choir in a separate gallery for, what Wolff suggests, are symbolic reasons: Choirs I & II in Passion E minor in the west gallery; Choir III in Resurrection G major in the chancel gallery.

I doubt that he would have devised such an extraordinary effect if the acoustic prevented its expression.

Julian Mincham wrote (November 9, 2011):
[To Douglas Cowling] Most of the complaints were about excessive echo and reverb. One important factor might have been that the audiences were 2-400 instead of, possibly, a couple of thousand. That would have made a vast difference.

Douglas Cowling wrote (November 9, 2011):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< One important factor might have been that the audiences were 2-400 instead of, possibly, a couple of thousand. >
Warm bodies have an admirable effect in large buildings: muddy echoes turn into supportibe reverberance. The few surviving engravings of 18th century St. Thomas show a standing room-only crowd.

 

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