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Bach Musicology Mailing List (BMML)

Bach Musicology Mailing List

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 15, 2004):
I have just launched a new Bach mailing list, called Bach Musicology Mailing List (BMML).

Description: Discussing of music theory and musicological issues related to J.S. Bach
Home Page: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachMusicology/
Subscribe: BachMusicology-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

The idea for this new mailing list has been proposed by several members on and off list. Many members of the BCML/BRML are not interested in the theoretical aspects of Bach's music. On the other hand, these are important issues that should have a proper place for discussion. Creating a dedicated mailing list for this kind of topics seems to be the most reasonable solution.

Every member interested in discussing these topics is invited to join.

I have not set yet guidelines for the BMML, but they would be similar to those of the BCML/BRML.

Paul Farseth
wrote (July 15, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] Great idea, Aryeh! Thank you.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 16, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] A good idea. May I suggest, as a guideline, that members should be those who come to it respecting musicology and historical performance practice as scientific disciplines?

If that stipulation isn't put up front, it's just going to turn into yet another forum in which members make up unsupportable garbage, trying to DESTROY those fields with their implications and misrepresentations. The shtick is an obvious one: lacking the expertise or training themselves, such people try to show that serious musicians and researchers allegedly make professional choices through arbitrary or egotistical priorities ahead of the music, and that musicians aren't even smart enough to read music as well as non-musicians do. This devalues the music, and the notions of expertise and training, to something near zero. Such nonsense coming regularly from a small group of members on the Bach Cantatas mailing list is--directly--the reason why I am no longer active there. If those same members show up on the new BMML and keep that same charade going, it will ruin that group similarly.

The root of the problem, IMO, is as I suggested in the paragraph above: the fundamental lack of respect by some that experts in Bach performance really do know how to do their jobs better than untrained enthusiasts do, and the lack of understanding that scholarship (and the investment in recordings and publications!) is serious work...not to be frittered off at the whims of people who don't understand the processes and outcomes, and who can't do the work themselves. Those who can't and don't do the work ARE NOT in the position to judge its validity!

This is not about love of the music, or enterprise, but about the investment of training and experience actually doing the work: the investment of years and careers in these serious pursuits, formally. When that's belittled and mocked by people who assert that it's all meaningless...the quality of the discussion will degenerate quickly to zero and be a waste of time.

That's my historically-informed observation from several years of membership in the BCML and BRML, and being weary of the constant battles there. I know some other researching scholars, scholarly performers, and performing scholars who could perhaps be persuaded to join a serious group; but not if we're going to have to play constant defense against allegations that our field of expertise is meaningless.

John Pike wrote (July 16, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I agree 100%.

John Reese wrote (July 16, 2004):
Aryeh Oron wrote: < The idea for this new mailing list has been proposed by several members on and off list. Many members of the BCML/BRML are not interested in the theoretical aspects of Bach's music. >
While some of us "music geeks" aren't interested in anything else. :)

Thanks, Aryeh!

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 16, 2004):
Coincidentally, this morning I received from another friend (and a former university professor of mine) a related bit from Galileo Galilei. Quote: "And who can doubt that it will lead to the worst disorders when minds created free by God are compelled to submit slavishly to an outside will? When we are told to deny our senses and subject them to the whim of others? When people devoid of whatsoever competence are made judges over experts and are granted authority to treat them as they please? These are the novelties which are apt to bring about the ruin of commonwealths and the subversion of the state."

She (my friend) may have got that from this page, where there are various other bits by Galileo as well: http://www-gap.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Quotations/Galileo.html

I'd already used a different quote from him as part of my paper about Bach's tuning (scheduled for publication early in 2005): "All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them." Galileo Galileo studied mathematics, planetary motion, etc etc etc, as everyone knows, but the family is also famous in that his father Vincenzo Galilei was one of the foremost music theorists of his day, in the area of tuning and the study of it as a hard science like any other.

Uri Golomb wrote (July 16, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < May I suggest, as a guideline, that members should be those who come to it respecting musicology and historical performance practice as scientific disciplines? >
If I might offer a slight dissent: by "historical performance practice", do you mean RESEARCH INTO how music was performed at Bach's time, or do you mean the actual performances? IF the latter, then I'm not sure I agree: performance is not, and usually doesn't claim to be, a scientific discipline. This point is actually emphasised, repeatedly, by scholars-performers: people like John Butt, Laurence Dreyfus, Joshua Rifkin, Andrew Parrott, etc. etc., have all made it clear that performanc is fundamentally different from scholarship -- though the two can enjoy a fruitful relationship. I daresay that Brad himself would agree -- after all, he himself has often emphasised the role of creativity and imagination in performance, and stated (for instance, in the context of the OVPP debate) that performers need not be strictly bound to what the historical evidence tells them (unlike scholars, who must be bound to that evidence).

Historical research demands a clear distinction between historically-documented facts, creditable interpretations of these facts, and mere conjectures (which could still be raised -- but must clearly be marked as such). Performance, on the other hand, cannot proceed if it is restricted to historically-creditable facts (Taruskin expressed these points with particular eloquence). On the other hand, many performers feel free to openly flout historical evidence (that is, knowingly perform in a way which does not correspond to what the composer did or expected hsi contemporaries to do) -- not because they do not agree with historical research, or do not respect it, but because they have their own aesthetic preferences.

To take one random example: when Ensemble Sonnerie recorded the Musical Offering, they included a performance of the Six-Part Ricercar on a consort of six instruments (three winds, three strings). Their viola da gamba player, Sarah Cunningham, described this instrumentation as "not entirely 'authentic' in terms of Bach's probable intention" -- that is, she herself believes that Bach probably intended the Ricercar as a solo keyboard piece (and, indeed, the CD also includes a solo-harpsichord rendition of the Ricercar). She went on to describe the ensemble performance of the Ricercar as "a layer of performance tradition which the piece has acquired in the intervening centuries and which adds both a richness of sonority to the whole and a clarity to the individual lines. We do not wish to imply any superiority of this version over Bach's intention". The Ensemble Sonnerie is a period-iensemble; Cunningham emphasises that they only used instrumetns "used by Bach himself in his cantatas and Passions". Their approach to phrasing, articulation, tempo etc. also reveals their keen interest in, and respect for, historical performance practice (as, indeed, does their very willingness to state, explicitly, where they deviated from it). Yet it would be quite wrong-headed to describe their performance of the Musical Offering (which, I hasten to add, is perhaps my favourite recording of that work) as an example of a "scientific discipline" in action. Rather, it reflects a complex web of artistic decisions, drawing upon scientific research but certainly not restricted by it.

Anyone who regards performance as a branch of science would be forced to condemn Ensmeble Sonnerie: they did something which they themselves acknowledge to have little historical foundation. I have absolutely no reservations whatsoever about their decision to perform the Six-Part Ricercar as a consort piece (in fact, personally, I prefer it that way): but this is because I do not regard performance as a science. As Cunningham herself put it: "IT was for our own pleasure, as well as that of listeners accustomed to orchestral or string or wind sextet versions, that we chose to bring the richness and colour of instruments of BAch's own time to this aazing piece". Pleasure is not a scientific criterion; it is, however, a perfectly valid criterion in the context of the art of performance.

John Pike wrote (July 16, 2004):
[To Uri Golomb] A most interesting e mail. Thanks.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 16, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: << May I suggest, as a guideline, that members should be those who come to it respecting musicology and historical performance practice as scientific disciplines? >>
Uri Golomb wrote: < If I might offer a slight dissent: by "historical performance practice", do you mean RESEARCH INTO how music was performed at Bach's time, or do you mean the actual performances? >
Good clarification: RESEARCH INTO it. The research is purely science; the performances themselves (when done at their best, IMO) are a delicate blend of unimpeachable science plus artistic inspiration/experience/imagination/commitment/musicianship. The scientific research supplies the solid background as to making well-informed choices about the notation and the general approach to styles and instrumental/vocal techniques; and then musicianship is all the stuff that happens in the more immediate foreground of the performance.

I've tried to lay this balance out there several times in web essays, over the past five years or so:
"What does a musical performer think about?"
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/performance-preparation.htm

"My performance goals and preparation methods"
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/purc.htm

"Performance practice: plain recitative in Bach's vocal works"
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/recits.htm

"Decoro, sprezzatura, grazia"
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/sprezza.htm

"Music, dimensions, chaos, and extremes"
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/why.htm

=====

The remainder of Uri's posting
http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachMusicology/message/12
is trimmed only for space...all good points there.


Cara Peterson wrote (July 16, 2004):
To the rest of the group (SPECIFICALLY Mr. Lehman):

I think the Bach Musicology List is a wonderful idea. I do know a great deal on Bach and would like to learn more about his musicology, as I find it extremely interesting (something quite unusual for someone my age).

< May I suggest, as a guideline, that members should be those who come to it respecting musicology and historical performance practice as scientific disciplines? >
Mr. Lehman, if you want a group like that, I put fourth the suggestion just for you to start your own group like that. Let Aryeh make his own groups the way he wants.

< If that stipulation isn't put up front, it's just going to turn into yet another forum in which members make up unsupportable garbage, trying to DESTROY those fields with their implications and misrepresentations. >
You really think they are trying to DESTROY these fields? The reason these people even join is to see if their knowlage is correct and to learn more. And when it is just to 'destroy those fields', all the 'learned' members of the list know and call to have that person removed. The correct thing to do (rather than accuse them of trying to terminate Bach) is to gently correct them with YOUR evidance to prove or disprove theories.

< The shtick is an obvious one: lacking the expertise or training themselves, such people try to show that serious musicians and researchers allegedly make professional choices >

NB: I am a serious musician myself, but I'm no university trained Bach scholar. However, I probably know as much if not more about Bach's life than many of the people on this list.

< through arbitrary or egotistical priorities ahead of the music, and that musicians aren't even smart enough to read music as well as non-musicians do. >
Again, maybe I could suggest that you make your own mailing list, maybe one to complain about all those people?

< If those same members show up on the new BMML and keep that same charade going, it will ruin that group similarly. >
I encourage you: make your own mailing list and invite only those who have university training about Bach onto it. From your words, you'll have more fun.

< the fundamental lack of respect by some that experts in Bach performance really do know how to do their jobs better than untrained enthusiasts do, >
And...again: I'm an 'untrained enthusiast', but I could probably win Jepordy (or some other stupid game show) if it was Baroque music based because I've done so much research on it. I specialize in Bach, even though I've had no 'formal training' in his music. If I don't know anything on the subject, however, I don't make any stupid assumptions. I read to learn more.

< Those who can't and don't do the work ARE NOT in the position to judge its validity! >
That's very true.

< This is not about love of the music, or enterprise, but about the investment of training and experience actually doing the work: >
Mr. Lehman, again, I respect what you have to say, but I really believe you should leave those sorts of assumptions up to the person who actually started the Bach Mailing Lists.

< the investment of years and careers in these serious pursuits, formally. >
Use this for helping and teaching, not authority.

< but not if we're going to have to play constant defense against allegations that our field of expertise is meaningless. >
BACH IS NEVER MEANINGLESS. If you really feel that way: MAKE YOUR OWN GROUP. And if you don't want to participate in these groups, so be it; most of us (at least) will miss hearing what you know, being a learned scholar and/or
scholarly performer.

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Last update: ýJanuary 31, 2006 ý09:14:15