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Douglas Cowling wrote (March 23, 2004):
Robert Sherman wrote: < In any case, I see no reason to get hung up on re-creating a historical moment. Music is for the living. >
Recreating the liturgical and historical matrices of music is an essential part of experiencing the music. Performing a mass setting in a modern concert hall gives us no idea of the place of the work in the liturgy, the acoustical setting, the spatial location or the relationships between musicians, or the relationship of the mass to other musical items. Paul McCreesh's recreation of a Bach Epiphany Mass on Archiv did more to "explain" Bach's music than any historical description ... I just hated the tempos in the F Major Missa Brevis!

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 23, 2004):
[To Douglas Cowling] I agree. I haven't heard that McCreesh record yet, but some of my other favorites in this regard are:

- Fritz Noske's reconstruction of Monteverdi's "Vespri di S Giovanni Battista" with the Netherlands Chamber Choir et al, conducted by Leonhardt [Philips 422074]

- Monteverdi's "Vespro de la Salute" 1650 by Akademia & La Fenice, dicrected by Tubery and Lasserre [Pierre Verany 797031/2]

- Cavalli's "Vespro della Beata Vergine" 1656 with those same performers [Pierre Verany 796042/3]

- Biber's "Missa Salisburgensis" directed by Goebel and McCreesh [Archiv 457611]

- John F Kennedy's memorial service: the Mozart Requiem with all the readings, chants, and communion, a complete requiem: conducted by Leinsdorf [RCA LP set 7030]. It is such a different experience to have the movements not follow one another straight on, but have bits of the service between them!

Johan van Veen wrote (March 23, 2004):
[To Douglas Cowling] Not only for historical reasons, but also for purely musical reasons it is wrong to perform liturgical music of the 16th and 17th centuries in a modern concert hall. The composers have written their music with a church acoustics in mind, and therefore if that music is performed in a concert hall it falls flat on its face.

(The same is the case with hymns by British composers of the 19th century: they fare best when sung in a large cathedral in an appropriate, pretty slow, tempo.)
Unfortunately a lot of early music is performed in unappropriate venues.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 23, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] With some exceptions, of course. There are Ralph Vaughan Williams' arrangements of folk songs for the English Hymnal and the Oxford Book of Carols (and elsewhere), and original tunes as well, that work just fine at a variety of tempos. And his own concert setting, for string orchestra, of the "5 Variants of 'Dives and Lazarus'"(the hymn-tune KINGSFOLD) and his more familiar orchestral version of "Greensleeves".

And in some church traditions, the hymn-singing is not in unison but in four (or more) parts, regularly...even if the music itself may have originated from unison traditions. The singing is still unaccompanied (including that same example, KINGSFOLD, written out in four-part harmony by R V-W). And in that situation, tempos have to be moderate: fast enough that everybody can get all the way through the phrase, but slow enough that they can negotiate the harmony parts.

Or, if written-out parts are not available, the congregation just improvises new harmony parts from the melody. They don't care one bit about the way it might sound in unison in a cathedral; they just look at it and sing it as they believe it sounds good. If the songleader wants unison, s/he has to request it explicitly (spoken instructions or printed in the bulletin) so the congregation won't harmonize. Ditto for the old Calvinist and Geneva psalm-tunes, Louis Bourgeois and Claude Goudimel et al...they're sung at pretty quick and bouncy tempos, in parts, even if it would have been much slower and in unison elsewhere or "elsewhen". The tempos usually get up fairly close to speech speed.

[The trick, for a composer writing within such a tradition, as I do, is to get people to read the written-out parts closely enough instead of improvising or guessing with their usual patterns. It's an interesting struggle: to make the written-out lines immediately singable by sight-readers, and expressive of the words themselves, and engaging enough, yet simple enough that the congregation won't just start guessing instead at their own harmonization. Four separate melodies going on at the same time...inspired by Bach's chorale-harmonizations, of course, along with the Fuxian rules of counterpoint.]

There are the two old jokes:
Q: Why are Mennonites so good at congregational singing at fast tempos?
A: Because they read the music and pretty much ignore the words.
Q: Why are Unitarian Universalists so bad at congregational singing, at any tempo?
A: Because they are always looking ahead to the next line to see if they agree with it, before singing it.

< Unfortunately a lot of early music is performed in unappropriate venues. >
Certainly true. But I still think that's better than not performing it at all.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 23, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < And his own concert setting, for string orchestra, of the "5 Variants of 'Dives and Lazarus'"(the hymn-tune KINGSFOLD) and his more familiar orchestral version of "Greensleeves". >
But "5 variants" isn't a hymn, Brad, it's a concert piece!

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 23, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote: < Not only for historical reasons, but also for purely musical reasons it is wrong to perform liturgical music of the 16th and 17th centuries in a modern concert hall. The composers have written their music with a church acoustics in mind, and therefore if that music is performed in a concert hall it falls flat on its face. >
Not just 16th 17th liturgical music, but more recent things too. Howells, for example, assumes the resonance of a large cathedral not only in his liturgical pieces but also in what might appear to be concert works like Hymnus Paradisi. When performed in a concert something very important is lost.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 23, 2004):
<< And his own concert setting, for string orchestra, of the "5 Variants of 'Dives and Lazarus'"(the hymn-tune KINGSFOLD) and his more familiar orchestral version of "Greensleeves". <<
< But "5 variants" isn't a hymn, Brad, it's a concert piece! >
I know. I was responding to a general assertion that such hymn tunes (as it is) work "best" in a cathedral setting, sung slowly. This one is certainly a concert setting that works beautifully outside the cathedral setting. With that example, I was trying to explain that such a "best" way to do hymn tunes is not to restrict them to one method of performance or another (only in a big church, only slowly), but to let them be used flexibly everywhere. People are going to do whatever they want to with hymn tunes anyway, whatever moves them for the situations they have, so why say there is any "best" way to do them? (And I agree, those 19th century English tunes and settings do sound wonderful in big English cathedrals, sung slowly, with organ--but they also work well so many other ways, and in other places.)

I fear this is circling back round to the whole "composer's intentions" thing again, but why can't the composer's "intentions" be simply that the music gets sung AT ALL in some intelligent way, such that people get something out of it, perhaps different for every occasion? That's certainly my intentions as a composer of church music, and I have no reason to assume otherwise from other composers of church music. If somebody asked me what the "best" way to sing one of my own hymns is, I couldn't give an answer. I've heard some of them done as solos, or duets, or instrumental solos, or big choir, or mixed vocal quartet, or men's vocal quartet, or congregational singing without rehearsal, or choral rearrangements by other people, sometimes accompanied, sometimes not; and all I can say as the composer is, if they've done it well, "that's a good way." If they really got into the piece and did something thoughtful and sensitive, that's "authentic" to me. As a composer it's fun to hear things done that one hasn't of oneself, as long as the musicians have good taste!

If they've engaged me to come direct the music myself, I don't arrive with any fixed notion of the way it has to go. I don't know until I get there. I might accompany on organ or piano, or I might conduct, or I might merely start the piece and let everybody sing without any more visual cues, just let it go on its own. And the tempo is determined by the room, and how many people are there, and how well they seem to know the piece already (if at all), and might be adjusted as it goes along. All this falls within composer's "intentions" and being musical with the material, addressing the situation as it comes. This coming Sunday I'm directing one from ten years ago that I have not looked at, at all, in the past eight; I'm a different person now than I was when I wrote it, and my "intentions" back then are now irrelevant.

So, in anybody else's music, and maybe especially Bach's (as a fellow church-musician), I'm both amused and annoyed whenever anybody goes on about how they think they know the only way it should go, to suit a composer's intentions.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 23, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < I was responding to a general assertion that such hymn tunes (as it is) work "best" in a cathedral setting, sung slowly. >
I don't want to nitpick(!) but it isn't a hymn (as you agreed) - the point that was being made, surely, was quite specifically about Anglican hymns. A concert piece that uses a hymn tune, like the VW, is not the same thing.

Johan van Veen wrote (March 24, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: With some exceptions, of course. There are Ralph Vaughan Williams' >arrangements of folk songs for the English Hymnal and the Oxford Book of Carols (and elsewhere), and original tunes as well, that work just fine at a variety of tempos. And his own concert setting, for string orchestra, of the "5 Variants of 'Dives and Lazarus'" (the hymn-tune KINGSFOLD) and his more familiar orchestral version of "Greensleeves". >
Sure, there are always exceptions to the rule. I was in particularly referring to the hymns of the Wesley's and that kind of stuff. I know from singing in my own church that if you sing these hymns in a rather fast tempo, they just lose all their beauty and strength. They fare best in big churches like St Paul's Cathedral etc.

< Ditto for the old Calvinist and Geneva psalm-tunes, Louis Bourgeois and Claude Goudimel et al...they're sung at pretty quick and bouncy tempos, in parts, even if it would have been much slower and in unison elsewhere or "elsewhen". The tempos usually get up fairly close to speech speed. >
I am very familiar with the Genevan Psalter, which we use in our church. I agree with what you write about the tempo, but it is important to realise that originally these were not meant to be sung in a large church - the Huguenots didn't have large churches, if any - but first and foremost to be sung in small circles and at home.

Of course, the tempo the composers had in mind is also related to the time in which they were living. Congregational singing was seriously slowing down everywhere during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 24, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < I fear this is circling back round to the whole "composer's intentions" thing again, but why can't the composer's "intentions" be simply that the music gets sung AT ALL in some intelligent way, such that people get something out of it, perhaps different for every occasion? That's certainly my intentions as a composer of church music, and I have no reason to assume otherwise from other composers of church music. >
Fair enough. But it isn't mine. But then it depends what kind of liturgical music one's talking about, and you go on to talk about hymns, which not something I do.

"So, in anybody else's music, and maybe especially Bach's (as a fellow church-musician), I'm both amused and annoyed whenever anybody goes on about how they think they know the only way it should go, to suit a composer's intentions."
I certainly agree with this! When people start sanctimoniously banging on about "the composer's intentions" they often have very little idea of how composers actually think about their work.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 24, 2004):
"So, in anybody else's music, and maybe especially Bach's (as a fellow church-musician), I'm both amused and annoyed whenever anybody goes on about how they think they know the only way it should go, to suit a composer's intentions."
< I certainly agree with this! When people start sanctimoniously banging on about "the composer's intentions" they often have very little idea of how composers actually think about their work. >
Yup. That's why I said a couple days ago, with regard to Parrott's book about OVPP, it would be an even stronger presentation if he'd take it further into that compositional process, as process. The differences, if any, between Bach's expectations and intentions might show up in the surviving materials. He's shown clearly that Bach's expectations and direct practices were OVPP for at least some of this music, coming at this analysis from several good angles. And he's also stated clearly that his goal is not to restrict anyone to one "right" way or another, to the exclusion of other approaches (it doesn't do any good to say one's opponents are all wrong and must change their ways). His bases are covered, and he keeps carefully to the documented facts, presenting a strong positive case. That's both the book's strength and its limit.

Now, the inquiry could go further into the areas of Bach's own critical stance toward composition (as Dreyfus has done in his patterns of invention book...was Bach just fitting into norms, or challenging them?), and more deeply into compositional process studies (Robert Marshall's strong suit), if those show up anything. Not as any invasion of Marshall's turf, but to show most clearly how it can all fit together, and retain all of Marshall's integrity as well. That, and Ulrich Siegele's excellent article "Bach and the domestic politics of Electoral Saxony": the political background around Bach's job in Leipzig, and the Entwurff, giving context for understanding that Entwurff at more than face value. And maybe also some reception history of the past 20+ years, the way the OVPP approaches have become more accepted by the public (not that popularity in itself is ANY indication of correctness, however!)

Such further exploration pulling all this together doesn't have to be by Parrott, necessarily; any scholar who can get his/her head around all this material (including musical analysis and not only historical facts) would be well placed. [But that's a tall order!] A good book for somebody to write, somebody willing to take more speculative risks than Parrott does here, more interpretation of the music according to the evidence. All of these arguments about historical evidence, on all sides, have to be in context of thinking like a practical church-musician (improviser/performer/conductor/composer/arranger/teacher), as Bach was, allowing for the same types of flexibility that are the norm in getting a church-music job done. Anything more restrictive than that is, ultimately, a dead end of inquiry.

I don't think we can know what Bach's "ideal" sound would be, anyway, if he even had one beyond practical considerations of performing the music directly. Is the music served best by trying to reproduce Bach's practical expectations as directly as possible? I'm not sure. It still seems to me, thinking also as a practical church musician, that one must simply do the best one can with whatever circumstance is available, and that the searching for ideal realization is a chimera. (How do we know when we get there?) It's better to cultivate flexibility than rigidity. The music sounds terrific sung OVPP, so do it that way. The music also sounds terrific sung moreVPP, so do it that way.

The reconstruction of original conditions is (often) more a historic pursuit than an aesthetic one, anyway. I'm more interested in the aesthetic and practical side of it: perform the music in all the ways that it sounds e, and don't worry too much about guessing and reproducing Bach's intentions ("if indeed he had any", in Schickele's memorable phrase, referring to someone else).

Thinking from the inside of compositional process myself, I don't believe that Bach's intentions were ever a constant, and we shouldn't pretend that we could ever find or match them. A favorite construction of mine is: Bach's intentions were that people learn to think like he did, and therefore do something intelligent to solve any given problem, treating each situation as it comes. No more detail or restriction than that; the flexibility is essential, and none of it can be pinned down in print. (Like the fluid way I treat the fermata sign in Bach's music: "something is coming to an end; notice it and do something intelligent." No firmer definition beyond that.)

The closest we can do is to come into the musical problems wearing all those same hats, as improviser/performer/conductor/composer/arranger/teacher. That's why I especially appreciate the contributions of scholars who actually do all those things (as Parrott and Rifkin do) hands-on, along with the (also fine) contributions of more "pure" scholars who don't mix the fields of performance and scholarship, whose strength is in text-critical analysis. I don't think those fields should have become so separated in the first place...they're both science and they're both art. [My outspokenness about this got me into some trouble in grad school, especially on the scholarly side, but I still stand by that conviction. Practical performance considerations cannot be abstracted out of issues, it's all bound together in a flexible web of influences.]

Several more interesting avenues to be pursued:

1. Marshall in his essay about the B Minor Mass (BWV 232) ("The Mass in B Minor: The Autograph Scores and the Compositional Process") goes back to a tantalizing bit about the first Kyrie, working from the manuscript. He remarks about corrections of some transposition errors in it, errors that suggest that that Kyrie was originally in C minor instead of B minor. And in the footnote, that pops back to the booklet notes by Rifkin in his 1982 recording. [Not that this has anything to do directly with the question of counting singers for each part, but just an acknowledgment by Marshall that Rifkin has covered the same territory in examining the manuscript, and isn't just some schlep with a wild idea. Marshall cites various other Rifkin articles, as well, in his essays about other pieces.]

2. In Marshall's review of the Telefunken cantata series, volumes 1 and 2, written when those volumes were first issued on LP: he wrote the following, contrasting the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt approaches with the more familiar Richter/Rilling big sound: "The wisdom, finally, of adhering to the absolute size and the proportions of Bach's preferred ensemble, as these are set forth in the 1730 memorandum, has been questioned. The bright sound of the smaller ensemble undoubtedly comes at first as something of a shock. But the employment of the small ensemble seems to me to be artistically sound as well as historically correct." And at that point, in his 1989 reprint, he inserts the following new footnote: "Whether Bach's chorus, however, actually consisted of no more than a solo quartet, as proposed by Joshua Rifkin, seems quite unlikely. See Rifkin 1982a, 1983, Marshall 1983, and, especially, Wagner 1986." That is, it's the early few years of the debate after Rifkin's paper. There was another decade for things to settle down between 1989 (this Marshall book) and Parrott's book.

The Günther Wagner article is "Die Chorbesetzung bein J S Bach und ihre Vorgeschichte: Anmerkungen zur 'hinlaenglichen' Besetzung im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert", Archiv für Musikwissenschaft #43 (1986), pp 278-304. Parrott lists that article in his bibliography about the topic, but doesn't bring it up in the text. That omission isn't terrible: he doesn't purport to offer a comprehensive interpretation of the 20th century debate anyway, but focuses on the 18th century evidence, and tells us where to go find the 20th century materials. Interpretation of the debate is left to Bernard Sherman: http://homepages.kdsi.net/~sherman/oneperpart.html
and others. Parrott's thrust in this book is to present a positive case, assemble the relevant materials into one handy reference, and not bicker against opposition. (And he's done all that, very well.)

Anyway, it's tantalizing as Marshall cites that article as "especially" a useful one against the OVPP conclusions, as of 1989. Both Marshall and Parrott could have said more about that G Wagner article. (But of course, to do this seriously we must go read it for ourselves anyway; no shortcuts or hearsay, so maybe it's good that they didn't say more.) I'd like to know where Marshall stands on all that now, in the several years since Parrott's published case: are they coming closer together in all this compositional-process business, or did Parrott's book drive Marshall more against the OVPP conclusions again?

Here's the Marshall book to pencil into Parrott's bibliography: The Music of Johann Sebastian Bach: The Sources, the Style, the Significance (1989 collection/revision of earlier articles).

Brad Lehman (improviser/performer/conductor/composer/arranger/teacher)

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 25, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < The music sounds terrific sung OVPP, so do it that way. The music also sounds terrific sung moreVPP, so do it that way. >
Absolutely! It is very dangerous to insist that, because Bach wrote for, and therefore intended that the piece would be performed by, a particular number of voices (whether one believes that number to be one per part, or more) that it is somehow wrong to perform it any other way.

An example: a lot of my work is with choirs -of diverse dispositions - and other vocal ensembles; a couple of years ago I wrote a piece for Alistair Dixon's group Chapelle du Roi. I knew that the forces for the first performance would be 2 each of (adult female) sopranos, (male) altos, tenors and basses. So I wrote the piece with those forces very much in mind (and not just in terms of numbers, of course, but quite specifically the kind of sound that Chapelle produces). At one point the piece divides into 8 parts, so at that point, again, I knew that the performing forces would be OVPP (and, of course, thinking about the sound of 8 singers OVPP). At the same time I was hopeful that the piece would be sung by other, differently-constituted choirs in the future, and had this possibility in mind while writing it also; and indeed it has been - by forces greater than 2.2.2.2 , by choirs with adult female sopranos and female altos, by a group with a mixed alto line, by a choir with boy trebles and male altos etc. (all with slightly different numbers of voices per part).

So the forces the piece were written for were (in the divisi) OVPP. But the piece has been performed by very differently constitued choirs. So, for those that are very insistent about "the composer's intentions", what would the composer's intentions be deemed to be here?!

Johan van Veen wrote (March 25, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] There is an important difference, of course. You write a piece for an ensemble, but hope it will be performed by others. That is not comparable with Bach's situation. As long as his music wasn't published, there was no possibility that his music would be performed by others than himself.

And I assume most contemporary composers hope their work will still be performed after their death. That was certainly not something Bach had in mind.

Therefore I don't think it is right to claim the same freedom in regard to the performance of Bach's music as you give interpreters of your compositions.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 25, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote: < And I assume most contemporary composers hope their work will still be performed after their death. That was certainly not something Bach had in mind. Therefore I don't think it is rightto claim the same freedom in regard to the performance of Bach's music as you give interpreters of your compositions. >
It's not really freedom though, just the recognition that no two choirs (in this instance) are different, in size/vocal disposition, and indeed in many other regards as well. But, as you say, we live in different times.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 25, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote: <There is an important difference, of course. You write a piece for an ensemble, but hope it will be performed by others. That is not comparable with Bach's situation. As long as his music wasn't published, there was no possibility that his music would be performed by others than himself. >
You are quite right of course, although he may have imagined other kinds of performance as being possible (pure speculation, but....) - after all there are those that would tell us that Bach really wanted this, or really wanted that! (And the most pointless of all - "but Bach would have loved the modern piano"......!)

By my point was really to illustrate how hard it is to know what "the composer's intentions" were/are, in terms of performing forces (let alone anything else).

John Pike wrote (March 25, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] Is this so? Why did he assemble the BMM? Was it for performance in his own lifetime? Unlikely, since he was a Lutheran. Maybe he assembled it for posterity, as I saw suggested in the liner notes for the recording by Harry Christophers/The Sixteen.

Johan van Veen wrote (March 25, 2004):
[To John Pike] Nobody knows what is in a composer's mind. We don't know what Bach was thinking when he composed the B-minor Mass. But performing music of the past wasn't common practice in his time. Bach himself knew music from previous generations, and he avidly studied it, but it is very unlikely he ever performed it. Therefore it is reasonable to think that he didn't expect coming generations to perform his music. But the fact that towards the end of his life he very carefully wrote down a number of compositions suggests he hoped that his work would be studied and would help others to become good musicians, like he had become by carefully studying the works of older composers in his youth.

Charles Francis wrote (March 26, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] I recall you once mentioned owning a CD of Bach's arrangement of the Palestrina's Missa sine nomine performed by Concerto Palatino. I also recall reading that the PERFORMANCE parts of this arrangement exist for both the Kyrie and Gloria. So, contrary to your suggestion, it would appear Bach actually did perform the music of the past (or parts thereof) when it suited his purpose. One imagines, therefore, that he expected others to use the Kyrie and Gloria of his B-minor Mass in the Lutheran liturgy and other parts of his Mass to be employed in the Roman Catholic rite. Towards the end of his life, Bach apparently invested significant effort in organising his works for posterity and in this regard doubtless saw himself in the context of the historical Bach's.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 24, 2004):
< But performing music of the past wasn't common practice in his time. Bach himself knew music from previous generations, and he avidly studied it, but it is very unlikely he ever performed it. >
Don't forget about the payola. Bach got an annual piece of income for performing certain old favorites on specific dates, funded by people's memorial endowments. [Page 111 in the New Bach Reader detailing Bach's multi-pronged salary at Leipzig]

And see also the "Repertoires" chapter in Parrott's book, detailing the music for each of the four choirs: not all by contemporary composers.

I wouldn't be surprised if Bach used older pieces occasionally to teach his keyboard students, also....

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