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Basses in Bach’s Vocal Works

“Full” HIP Basses?

Juozas Rimas wrote (May 15, 2004):
I remember a lot of controversy here about the term "half-voice" used by Thomas Braatz in his reviews of cantatas. After listening to many cantatas by Koopman and Herreweghe, I can't complain about the alto, soprano voices being "thin". Their lightness is now definitely preferable to me over "full" altos and sopranos. The tenors are generally "thin", with the exception of Pregardien whose voice is stronger than that of other tenors.

But I am disappointed with basses a great deal. Mertens and Kooy are almost uncapable of singing very low notes and when they have to do that, they do that very quietly (eg Mertens' last note in the BWV 172 recitative with Koopman). Several times, when listening without a CD cover in hands, I found myself guessing whether it's a tenor or a bass recitative/aria! Perhaps Merten and Kooy are in fact baritones with some lower notes worked out?

So could you point me to the basses that sing in the HIP style but have "thick" voice and good handling of very low notes?

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 15, 2004):
Juozas Rimas asked:
>>So could you point me to the basses that sing in the HIP style but have "thick" voice and good handling of very low notes?<<
Check out:
Siegmund Nimsgern: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Nimsgern-Siegmund.htm
who recorded a number of important bass arias for the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Bach Cantata Series.

While Nimsgern as a 'cross-over' [non-HIP (operatic training & experience)] artist might not be what you would define as a 'bass that sings in the HIP style,' he is nevertheless used as a singer in a very HIP ensemble. Does this qualify him as a HIP-style singer, according to your way of looking at this?

Next question: Why was he used at all in the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series with the other 'main-stays' such as Egmond almost ubiquitous in this cantata series?

Could it be that even Harnoncourt/Leonhardt felt that the deficiencies of the normal HIP voice simply could not do the music justice, hence the need to call upon a true "schwarzer bass" (a discussion here on the various types of basses and bass-baritones would go too far here. Check out Aryeh's site regarding this matter.)

In any case, Nimsgern delivers some excellent performances of Bach's arias, both for Rilling and for Harnoncourt/Leonhardt.

Juozas Rimas wrote (May 15, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< While Nimsgern as a 'cross-over' [non-HIP (operatic training & experience)] artist might not be what you would define as a 'bass that sings in the HIP style,' he is nevertheless used as a singer in a very HIP ensemble. Does this qualify him as a HIP-style singer, according to your way of looking at this? >
The simplest way to diagnose "HIP style" IMHO is the amount of vibrato: little vibrato is a characteristic feature of HIP singing (the pinnacles of the HIP style to me are certain countertenors who sing 5-second long notes with 0 vibrato (just listened to one instance of this in Suzuki/Mera's BWV 54 first aria). There're likely other features of the HIP style known to the more knowledgeable.

< Next question: Why was he used at all in the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series with the other 'main-stays' such as Egmond almost ubiquitous in this cantata series?
Could it be that even Harnoncourt/Leonhardt felt that the deficiencies of the normal HIP voice simply could not do the music justice >
Perhaps the deficiences are especially evident in the bass voice? I've mentioned in my first post that in some cases the low notes by HIP basses are almost inaudible. It's natural (try to sing the lowest note you can yourself and it will be very quiet) but it does harm the music: Bach seems to use the very low notes as accents or "full stops" in recitatives.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (May 16, 2004):
Juozas Rimas wrote:
< But I am disappointed with basses a great deal. Mertens and Kooy are almost uncapable of singing very low notes and when they have to do that, they do that very quietly (eg Mertens' last note in the
BWV 172 recitative with Koopman). Several times, when listening without a CD cover in hands, I found myself guessing whether it's a tenor or a bass recitative/aria! Perhaps Merten and Kooy are in fact baritones with some lower notes worked out?
I have to say I think Peter Kooy has a beautiful voice, and is a very fine Bach singer. As is Klaus Mertens. Maybe they are really bass-baritones....an awful lot of "basses" are.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (May 16, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Could it be that even Harnoncourt/Leonhardt felt that the deficiencies of the normal HIP voice simply could not do the music justice, hence the need to call upon a true "schwarzer bass" (a discussion here on the various types of basses and bass-baritones would go too far here. >
Or could it be that Harnoncourt and Leonhardt don't think that normal HIP voices have any deficiencies?

Jason Marmaras wrote (May 16, 2004):
(Of P. Kooy being a HIP-bass/bass-baritone)
I never personally thought Peter Kooy had a lack of bass notes, as one may inded think about Egmond in the BWV 4 recording (the bass aria) on H/L. He always seemed to me a light bass, but still a Bass. Any feedback?

Juozas Rimas wrote (May 15, 2004):
Gabriel Jackson wrote:
< I have to say I think Peter Kooy has a beautiful voice, and is a very fine Bach singer. As is Klaus Mertens. Maybe they are really bass-baritones....an awful lot of "basses" are. >
In some instances I enjoy Kooy as well: eg in his duets with Prégardien. Those are simply fantastic - their voices blend perfectly, neither is louder than the other, they just stick to each other. Perhaps their voices have very similar weight that connect them like two toothed wheels. Examples: the tenor/bass aria in BWV 44, the tenor/bass arioso in BWV 11 (both by Herreweghe).

However, as a soloist, Kooy is not my favorite. Do you really prefer his performances of the BWV 82, the test for all basses?

Gabriel Jackson wrote (May 16, 2004):
Juozas Rimas wrote:
< However, as a soloist, Kooy is not my favorite. Do you really prefer his performances of the
BWV 82, the test for all basses? >
Well I do like it very much, though not more than Klaus Mertens' (or perhaps Jan Opalach as well).

 

The basses list

Juozas Rimas wrote (June 18, 2004):
On Aryeh's website I have found the following basses in the singers list (http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/IndexPer3.htm):

van Egmond, Dieskau, Hotter, Mertens and Goerne (bass-baritones) Kooy and Thomas (basses).

To this list I could add Niemsgern that Thomas Braatz has mentioned.

Some questions/requests:
1) from the mentioned basses I haven't heard Thomas and Goerne - what are you impressions about them?

2) what does the distinction between basses and bass-baritones mean in the singers list - that Kooy has a narrower voice range (no higher notes in the baritone range??) than the bass-baritones?

3) please mention any other basses (bass-baritones) that you have heard singing Bach and enjoyed it - there IS a possibility of a hidden gem somewhere...

Thanks.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 18, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] I have some recordings of, say, the Mass in b minor (BWV 232) with Richard Lloyd Morgan and Stephen Varcoe, as well as Händel's Messiah with David Thomas. I haven't listened in a while because they are on cassette and for some time I did not have a working machine to play them back on, but my recollections of these people are that they are quite pleasant voices and recognizably HIP.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 18, 2004):
Juozas Rimas wrote:
On Aryeh's website I have found the following basses in the singers list (http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/IndexPer3.htm):
van Eg, Dieskau, Hotter, Mertens and Goerne (bass-baritones) Kooy and Thomas (basses).
To this list I could add Niemsgern that Thomas Braatz has mentioned.
Some questions/requests:
1) from the mentioned basses I haven't heard Thomas and Goerne – what are you impressions about them? >
I can't remember Goerne. I must have heard him, but he is not someone who frequently performs and records baroque repertoire, like Mertens and Kooy. David Thomas is very well known, but I don't know if he is still full time singing (he was already singing in the 70's, so it is possible he has retired). Thomas is someone who has received a mixed reception over the years. Some people strongly dislike his singing. I am a big fan of his, mainly for other repertoire than Bach. I don't think he has done that much Bach, but what I have heard is fine (Cantata BWV 82 is a good example). I recently heard him in a vocal work by Telemann (on CPO), where he is quite impressive in his performance of the recitatives (with the necessary rhythmic freedom). And he is excellent in Hogwood's recording of Händel's Messiah. And his contributions to Rooley's recordings of Dowland and Hogwood's recordings of Purcell's theatre music are not to be missed.

< 2) what does the distinction between basses and bass-baritones mean in the singers list - that Kooy has a narrower voice range (no higher notes in the baritone range??) than the bass-baritones? >
It is not always clear what the difference is. The same singer is sometimes referred to as baritone, sometimes as bass. It has indeed something to do with the range, but I don't think the differences between baritones and basses is spectacular. Even between basses there is a difference in character and range of the voice. David Thomas, for instance, has a very wide range, which allowed him to sing solo madrigals by Giovanni Puliaschi, which go well into the tenor range.

It is particularly interesting to compare Van Egmond and Kooy. Kooy is a pupil of Van Egmond, and their voices are very much alike. But since Kooy has a deeper voice there is just enough difference to give his voice its own character.

< 3) please mention any other basses (bass-baritones) that you have heard singing Bach and enjoyed it - there IS a possibility of a hidden gem somewhere... >
Yesterday I mentioned Ulrik Cold, who sings the part of Jesus in Herreweghe's first recording of Bach's SMP (BWV 244). He is also quite brilliant in Michel Corboz' recording of Cavalli's opera Ercole amante. In fact, he was the main reason I purchased that recording (on vinyl) in the 1980's. Some people will also remember him from Bergman's movie version of Mozart's Zauberflöte. When you hear him singing baroque music, it is hard to believe that he has also been active as performer in Wagner operas. He has even sung in Bayreuth. He is a good proof that when a singer is holding back – in volume, for instance - that has nothing to do with technical deficiencies, but with artistic choices. Because he is apparently someone with good taste and musical intelligence, he can sing both Wagner and Bach, and lute songs as well (I have a recording with some Danish songs from around 1600, which is delughful).

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 19, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] I hope I have not confused you. The list you found on that page includes only those singers for whom a special discussion has been dedicated. If you want a comprehensive list of singers who have participated in recordings of Bach vocal works, please take a look at the Short Biographies Section, starting at the page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/index.htm
[missing from the list are only few singers, for whom I have not been able to find biographical details, but all the others are there, including Nimsgern, etc.]
At the bottom of each biography you can find a list of Bach's vocal works recorded by the artist, sorted by Conductor.

Robert Sherman wrote (June 20, 2004):
I would add Hermann Prey to any list of baroque basses.

Although he has the strongest bottom register I've heard anywhere, I don't like David Thomas' singing much. He has a light-baritone (Terfel, who can't come close to Thomas on the low notes, still has a far darker sound) rather than bass quality and does odd things with diction and rhythm at times.

The distinction between baritone, bass, and bass-baritone seems to me to be:

A baritone (e.g. Thomas Hampson) has a considerably darker quality than a tenor, and sings comfortably down to A or B on the bass staff.

Bass-baritones and basses have about the same dark tonal quality But bass-baritones (e.g. Terfel or DFD) get pretty weak when they go down to G or F at the bottom of the bass staff. A true bass (Raimund Herincx, Samuel Ramey, Hermann Prey, Hans Sotin) is strong down to D below the bass staff, or even lower.

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 20, 2004):
[To Robert Sherman] The late Hermann Prey was a bass-baritone, not a bass. Yesterday I heard and saw a DVD of SMP (BWV 244) under the baton of Enoch zu Guttenberg with Hermann Prey in the role of Jesus. Both on the booklet attached to the DVD and on the screen he was defined as baritone. What is more important is that although his voice showed signs of age (he was 61 in 1990, when the this performance was recorded live), he still had Jesus in his bones. A most memorable performance.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 20, 2004):
Robert Sherman wrote:
"I would add Hermann Prey to any list of baroque basses.<<
Aryeh Oron wrote:
>>The late Hermann Prey was a bass-baritone, not a bass.<< and on the screen he was defined as baritone...<<
Both the "New Grove" [Oxford University Press, 2004] and the "Großes Sängerlexikon" by Kursch and Riemens have him listed as a baritone. Even his son, Florian, is listed as a baritone in the Sängerlexikon (it must run in the family!) and the latter also sang the role of Jesus in Venice (performed in the Teatro Fenice in a scenic performance of the SMP (BWV 244)) in December 1984.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 20, 2004):
Definition of "bass-baritone" by J. B. Steane in the New Grove [Oxford University Press, 2004]:
>>Bass-baritone (Ger. Bassbariton, Hoher Bass [High Bass]).
A male voice intermediate in pitch between BARITONE and BASS. This is a late 19th-century addition in the terminology of commonly recognized categories of the singing voice. It arose largely in response to the requirements of the great Wagner roles of the Dutchman, Wotan and Hans Sachs. Wagner used the term `Hoher Bass' to designate the roles of Wotan, Alberich, Donner and Fasolt in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre. These have too high a tessitura to be comfortably sung by a bass, and yet they presuppose a deeper voice than the baritone as understood by writers of opera in Italy and France, especially by Verdi, the most influential among them. There is no corresponding term in general use relating to the female voice.<<

The New Grove defines "baritone" as follows:
>>Baritone (from Gk. barytonos, `deep-sounding'; Fr. baryton; Ger. Bariton; It. baritono). A male voice in compass and depth between the tenor and the bass, with a normal compass of about A to f' which may be extended at either end.<<

"bass" as follows:
>>Bass (Fr. basse; Ger. Bass; It. basso). The lowest male voice, normally written for within the range F to e', which may be extended at either end.<<

>>Like the mezzo-soprano among women, the baritone is generally considered the `normal' voice among men. If an average male speaking voice is made to sing, some sort of baritone is probably what will be heard.<<
[quote from New Grove by either Owen Jander, Lionel Sawkins, J. B. Steane, or Elizabeth Forbes]

Hope this helps somewhat.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 20, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
>>Like the mezzo-soprano among women, the baritone is generally considered the `normal' voice among men. If an average male speaking voice is made to sing, some sort of baritone is probably what will be heard.<<
[quote from New by either Owen Jander, Lionel Sawkins, J. B. Steane, or Elizabeth Forbes]
Funny... my voice teacher back in the States (Philip Cho of Temple University, if anyone is curious) told me that 90% of women are actually sopranos. And quite frankly, judging from the tone quality, I'd say that a lot of supposedly 'low' female voices have completely the wrong tone quality for anything but a soprano...

Juozas Rimas wrote (June 20, 2004):
[To Cara Emily Thornton] BTW, is there a direct correlation between the pitch of the spoken and sung voice of a person? My girlfriend speaks with a distinctly high voice but she sings as an alto. On the radio, I have heard an interview with a countertenor: he was speaking with a "normal" male voice, a sort of "spoken baritone".

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 21, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] There is probably a very general correlation, but with many exceptions, for example the ones you give below. And I myself, for that matter. I am a soprano, but my old voice teacher would probably say that my speaking voice is about an octave too low (if anything, it's even lower now than when I was studying with him)... And yes, the countertenors I have met have for the most part not had high speaking voices. In other words, in order to know for sure what kind of singing voice a person has, you really have to hear them sing.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (June 21, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] I don't know that there is, particularly. But given that a countertenor singing voice is a falsetto voice (something which all of us can produce, sung or spoken, though in most cases it won't be particularly pleasant!) then you shouldn't be suprised that male altos have a normal male speaking voice! (They also all have some sort of baritonal, non-falsetto, singing voice.)

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 21, 2004):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote:
>>There is probably a very general correlation, but with many exceptions, for example the ones you give below. And I myself, for that matter. I am a soprano, but my old voice teacher would probably say that my speaking voice is about an octave too low (if anything, it's even lower now than when I was studying with him)... And yes, the countertenors I have met have for the most part not had high speaking voices. In other words, in order to know for sure what kind of singing voice a person has, you really have to hear them sing.<<
And Juozas Rimas wrote:
>> BTW, is there a direct correlation between the pitch of the spoken and sung voice of a person? My girlfriend speaks with a distinctly high voice but she sings as an alto. On the radio, I have heard an interview with a countertenor: he was speaking with a "normal" male voice, a sort of "spoken baritone".<<
And Gabriel Jackson wrote:
>>I don't know that there is, particularly. But given that a countertenor singing voice is a falsetto voice something which all of us can produce, sung or spoken, though in most cases it won't be particularly pleasant!) then you shouldn't be suprised that male altos have a normal male speaking voice! (They also all have some sort of baritonal, non-falsetto, singing voice.)<<
I tend to agree with Gabriel's statement here and in order to back this up with some 'objective' references about 'head'(voce di testa) 'chest'(voce di petto), and 'falsetto' voices, I submit the following definitions and quotations from the New Grove [Oxford University Press, 2004]:
>>'Voce di testa' ('head' voice) is one of the two primary vocal registers. The voice resonating from the head is higher, lighter and clearer than that resonating from the chest....Some 18th-century writers equate the 'voce di testa' with 'falsetto.'<<

[Confusing this issue, or possibly helping to explain it somewhat, is the following determination: For sopranos there seems to have been a change/extension of range upwards beginning in the latter half of the 18th century and onward.]

One of the following commentators in the New Grove wrote: (Owen Jander, J.B. Steane, Elizabeth Forbes/Ellen T. Harris {with Gerald Waldman})
>> The distinction between soprano and mezzo-soprano (or ‘mezzo’) became common only towards the end of the 18th century.<<

and
>>In the 17th century most music for ‘soprano’ had a range c' to g'', which by later criteria would be deemed appropriate for a mezzo-soprano. During the first half of the 18th century, however, composers of operas and cantatas began writing soprano parts that not only extended the upper range slightly, frequently reaching a'', but also demanded lengthy fioriture in the range g' to g''. Along with this trend towards higher and lighter parts for the soprano voice came an awareness of the somewhat weightier mezzo-soprano voice, which was unsuited to the new soprano roles.<<

I wonder if the above authors were thinking not only of Händel but of Bach when they wrote these lines. There are many 'struggling' sopranos who have recorded BWV 51 and have demonstrated just how difficult it is to sing this cantata meaningfully and effortlessly (even at the slightly lower pitch in the HIP recordings.) See the list of recordings and the discussion of this cantata on Aryeh's site.

We've veered off subject here so let's get back to Bach's basses - the role of Jesus in the Passions etc.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 21, 2004):
To complete the survey over bass voices and how they might possibly be applied to Bach's music, here are some quotations and summaries taken from the New Grove [Oxford University Press, 2004] and the MGG [Bärenreiter]:

Quotations from the New Grove are by Owen Jander, Lionel Sawkins, J.B. Steane, Elizabeth Forbes/Ellen T. Harris (with Gerald Waldman) and my summary from the MGG article on the bass voice is from Kurt Gudewill's article on that subject.

The apparent repetition in the New Grove entries arises from the difference between the regular and opera definitions which come from separate reference works. It is worth reading through all of them since they provide different perspectives on the type of bass voices.

The bass voice:

>>The lowest male voice, normally written for within the range F to e', which may be extended at either end, particularly in solo writing. Over time the bass voice has been subdivided into a number of distinct categories: the `basso profondo' or `basse noble' refers to a particularly low bass, the `basse chantante' (or `basso cantate') a higher, lyrical voice, and the 'basso buffo' a comic bass. By the 19th century the baritone split off from the bass, to be regarded as a separate category, although some overlap (and confusion) remains in the terminological distinction, especially between bass and bass-baritone.<<

`Basse chantante' (French: `singing bass.') In the Baroque era a term used to distinguish a vocal bass from an instrumental bass or basso continuo (Brossard, 1703; Walther, 1732; Rousseau, 1768). In the 19th century it came to mean a bass singer with a particularly high or light voice as distinct from a deeper, heavier bass (see `basso profondo' and `basso noble'). Operatic roles demanding this voice type include Max in Adam's `Le chalet' (1834), Lothario in Thomas's `Mignon' (1866) and Escamillo in Bizet's `Carmen' (1875). The Italian equivalent of this later usage is `basso cantante'; see also `baritone' and `bass.' [Owen Jander/Ellen T. Harris]

`Basse chantante,' a French term for a `singing bass' voice, akin to the Italian `basso cantante.' It is distinguished from other types of bass voice partly by having a timbre nearer to the bass-baritone than to the deep bass, partly by a style that favours smooth, melodic music rather than the more declamatory and dramatic, and partly by volume, which may not be sufficient for the heavier roles such as those in Wagner. Pre-eminent among French basses of the type was Pol Plançon who lacked neither volume nor depth, and who was also an expressive singer and a polished actor, yet whose prime excellence lay in the sheer beauty of his tone, its production and usage. [J.B. Steane]

`Basso cantante,' Italian term, meaning the `singing bass' voice of Italian tradition. A bass ofthis type, like his French counterpart (see `basse chantante'), sets out to offer beauty of tone, evenness of line and stylistic grace. Characteristic of the school, as represented by Francesco Navarrini and later by Ezio Pinza, is a well-rounded sonority, more vibrant than those of the French or German traditions, less deep in tone and range than the Russian. Typical roles are Count Rodolfo in `La sonnambula' and Silva in `Ernani,' both of whom have arias in which a prime requirement is a true legato. The term `basso cantante' should not be taken to imply that lyrical and dramatic qualities are mutually exclusive; its use could be misleading if taken to denote a clear distinction between repertories. In practice, for example, a `basso cantante' may often take essentially dramatic roles such as Boris Godunov and Boito's Mefistofele.

The term has also been used for the lyrical bass-baritone or baritone roles of the period of Bellini and Donizetti, before the term `baritone' came into general use. [J.B. Steane]

`Basso cantante' (Italian: `singing bass') A light, legato bass voice as distinct from a deeper, more powerful bass (see 'basso profondo'). Its early meaning sometimes took on a pejorative tone as when the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe referred to `these new singers [who] are called by the novel appellation of `basso-cantante' (which by-the-bye is a kind of apology, and an acknowledgment that they ought not to sing)' (`Musical Reminiscences,' London, 1824). Although more closely associated with vocal tone than range (see `basse chantante'), the term has also been used in modern commentary to identify the lyrical baritone and bass-baritone roles of the period of Bellini and Donizetti. [Ellen T. Harris]

`Basse noble' (French: `noble bass') A term first used in the late 19th century as a French equivalent to the Italian `basso profondo.' The higher and more flexible `basse chantante' is clearly distinguished (in `EMDC,' II/ii, 1926, p.920) from `the bass without a qualifying adjective [that] is the lowest bass voice, also called `basse taille,' `basse noble,' `basse profonde'. Although the `basse noble' has been distinguished from the `basso profondo' in terms of its greater flexibility and lighter tone, qualities it shares with the `basse chantante,' comparison of the `basse noble' with the `basse chantante' in range should be avoided. [Ellen T. Harris]

`Basso profondo' (Italian: `deep bass') A term first used in the late 19th century to describe a particularly deep, resonant bass voice, often associated with Russian basses and choral singing.. Earlier identifications of this voice type appear especially in France. Brossard (`Dictionaire de musique,' 1703) writes that this `deep' voice is called `bassista,' or more commonly, `basse-contre'. Rousseau (`Dictionnaire de musique,' 1768) states that `the `basse-contre ` sings the bass under the bass itself, and should not be confused with the `contre-basse,' which is an instrument'. Raguenet (`Paralèle,; 1702; Eng. trans., 1709) specifically cites the low bass as a particular strength of French opera as opposed to Italian:
>>Our operas have a farther advantage over the Italian in respect of the voice, and that is the bass, which is so frequent among us and so rarely to be met with in Italy. For every man that has an ear will witness with me that nothing can be more charming than a good bass; the simple sound of these basses, which sometimes seems to sink into a profound abyss, has something wonderfully charming in it.When the persons of gods or kings, a Jupiter, Neptune, Priam, or Agamemnon, are brought on the stage, our actors, with their deep voices, give 'em an air of majesty, quite different from that of the feign'd basses among the Italians, which have neither depth nor strength.<<
In opera, the `deep bass' solo voice has so often been associated with roles of great authority or majesty that today `profondo' sometimes is taken to mean `profound' as well as `low'. Examples from Mozart operas include Sarastro from `Die Zauberflöte' and Osmin from `Die Entführung aus dem Serail;' later roles include the Grand Inquisitor in Verdi's `Don Carlos' `(1867). The Russian school of singers has produced notable `deep basses' although the most famous exponents (Chaliapin, Regzen) have not been remarkable for their depth and the great Russian roles do not make heavy demands on the lowest register. The `basso profondo' is distinguished from the `basso cantante' by its lower range extension and especially its power (cf. `basse noble'.) [J.B. Steane, Ellen T. Harris]

"Basso profondo" = Italian term for a `deep bass' voice, distinguished from the `basso cantante' (or `singing bass') not simply by depth of voice but also in the power and weighty tone expected of the singer. The type, which is comparatively rare, is nearer to the German `black' voice [`schwarzer Bass',] less vibrant in tone than the typical `basso cantante;' it is the kind of voice needed for the Grand Inquisitor in Verdi's `Don Carlos.' Vittorio Arimondi, the first Pistol in `Falstaff,' was an example, and Nazzareno de Angelis, the leading bass of his generation in Italy, was nearer to the specification than his internationally more famous near-contemporary Ezio Pinza. In England, Norman Allin was an outstanding representative in a line that is now almost extinct, not because singers have lost the ability to produce low notes but because there is little encouragement to cultivate that kind of tone.Of the various national schools of singing, the Russian has been most noted for its supply of `deep basses,' yet the best-known of Russian exponents (Shalyapin, Reyzen) have not been remarkable for their depth, and the bass parts in Russian operas do not habitually make any great demands upon the lowest regions of the voice. Where the `basso profondo' is most essential in the normal operatic repertory today is in the Mozart operas, especially `Die Entführung aus dem Serail,' where Osmin's vocal line regularly dips to G and in his principal solo requires a sustained D. [J.B. Steane]

With Monteverdi's operas distinctive type roles for the bass appeared:
1) as a god (Pluto and Neptune)
2) in a sepulchral role: (Charon)
3) in a tragic role (Seneca)

After Monteverdi the tragic role either disappeared or became transformed into a comic role (A. Scarlatti's Alfeo in "Eraclea") a lecherous old tutor.

The `rage' aria:

At the beginning of the 18th century, the French Opera continued using all these types. Meanwhile and also somewhat earlier in time, the Italians, in their cantatas and serenatas, used basses to represent characters such as Belisarius, Nero, and Seneca, "usually in a mood of defiance or rage. These vehement emotions are expressed in extremely angular, wide-leaping lines that show the influence of instrumental styles in the developing concerto. A special genre for the bass voice was the `rage aria,' cultivated even in the oratorio volgare where it was characteristically sung by such figures as Lucifer and Herod. These Italian examples became the model for the most famous rage aria of all, `Why do the nations so furiously rage together?' in Händel's `Messiah'..The `rage aria' was parodied in the 18th century by such bellicose characters as Polyphemus (`O ruddier than the cherry' in Händel's Acis and Galatea."

The `basso buffo':

"The comic potential of the bass voice was best realized in the tradition of the `basso buffo,' whose spiritual ancestor was the `commedia dell'arte' character, Pantalone. Already in the late Renaissance madrigal comedies (Vecchi - 1597 and Banchieri - 1598) the blustering, the stammering and the bathetic self-pitying of this classic old fool were given eloquent musical depiction. "Comic basses of this sort continued to appear in the 17th and 18th centuries, and even 19th centuries. This tradition included certain stock effects: exaggeratedly wide-spinning phrases ending with a very low note at the end, wide leaps, patter singing and long violent crescendi.

The `basso profundo' and `basse-noble' with their heavy, deep voices are appropriate for reprenting a king, high priest, elderly father, etc. "Even when well these tend to have a somewhat ludicrous effect."

Kurt Gudewill in the MGG has two main categories of bass voice:

1) the `serious bass'
Here we have the roles of the ruler, patriarch, judge, or priest. The main characteristics are manliness, dignity, seriousness, and wisdom. This wisdom gives the ability to make decisions that are fair and just When this wisdom is degraded by cleverness, or cloaked by the role of the fool or court jester or to an even lower level of using this cleverness, which they know that they possess, to gain an advantage over others, then the following designation may be more aptly applied:

2) the `basso buffo'
Both of these types/categories of bass voice/bass roles are essentially modifications of the same basic character type, but having different aspects accented.

Many of the opera singers who sing bass roles were formerly bass-baritones.

In comparison to the large number of celebrated castrati who sang during the Baroque period, there are only a few basses that became as well known. For this reason a passage in Praetorius' "Syntagma musicum" is quite important in that it gives us a valuable insight into how basses were used and what their voice range (compass) entailed. Praetorius writes about three basses in the Court Chapel of Munich that could sing a low F [it is difficult to determine exactly which pitch Praetorius had in mind here] "gar stark und mit volliger Stimme" ["very loud and with a full voice"] but in the upper range they could only go up to f, g, and a [Gudewill translates these notes as the modern equivalent to a, b, c'.] Also in the late Baroque there are reports of voices with a significant extension downwards. One of these was G. Boschi, for whom Händel probably composed the role of Polyphemus in `Acis and Galathea' and another bass, even later was the very famous L. Fischer, who first sang Mozart's Osmin ["Die Entführung aus dem Serail."]

Hope this will be helpful in distinguishing between the various types of basses that exist or the types of roles that basses can sing. Some of these types/categories may also apply to Bach's bass arias. Perhaps some list members would be willing to suggest some applications. Which Bach arias use (or should use) which type of bass voice? From all the terminology listed above, which terms are applicable to Bach's arias? Does Bach have 'rage arias'? If so, which ones would fall into such a category?

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Counter-tenors in Bach’s Vocal Works – Part 2 [General Topics]

Juozas Rimas wrote (June 21, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Perhaps some list members would be willing to suggest some applications. Which Bach arias use (or should use) which type of bass voice? From all the terminology listed above, which terms are applicable to Bach's arias? Does Bach have 'rage arias'? If so, which ones would fall into such a category? >
Off the top of my head I can remember several instances of emphatically low notes in Bach's bass arias.

Lots of low notes (on the word "Nacht") can be heard in the bass arioso from BWV 71 ("Gott ist mein König"). Part of the arioso is apperently build on the simple opposition between day (the sun and voice up) and night (the sun and voice down). Simple but such beautiful music! The text is also beautiful - "Day and night are yours. You make them both, the sun and the stars, follow their appointed course." (corrected from Old English that Ambrose uses on this website for mysterious reasons - the original German text ("Tag und Nacht ist dein. Du machest, dass beide, Sonn und Gestirn, ihren gewissen Lauf haben") sounds quite modern, doesn't it?).

I must note one more phrase is not translated on Ambrose's website: "Du setzest einem jeglichen Lande seine Grenze." You set borders for every country? Can anyone give a more exact translation? (my German is embryonic)

Another example is the bass aria in BWV 4 ("Christ lag in Todesbanden"). It asks for a dark voice with its mood but I have heard sung it by a bass-baritone, Dieskau, and it sounded excellent. However, the phrase "Das hält der Glaub dem Tode für" is IMHO demanding for any bass-baritone, especially when it's repeated for the second time with an exceptionally low note on the word "Tode". Could anyone name the note?

BTW, Ambrose gives an incomprehensible translation of "Das hält der Glaub dem Tode für" - "Our faith doth it to death display". I'd appreciate an explanation of what this is all about :)

It's obvious that Bach often uses emphatically low notes to accent evil (night, death etc). This is done again in the celestial bass aria "Es ist vollbracht" from BWV 159 ("Sehet! Wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem"): "Welt, gute Nacht!" ("Good night, world!") - a long low note on the word "Nacht", although not especially low but a
very meaningful accent.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 21, 2004):
Juozas Rimas wrote: >>re BWV 71:
I must note one more phrase is not translated on Ambrose's website: "Du setzest einem jeglichen Lande seine Grenze." You set borders for every country? Can anyone give a more exact translation? (my German is embryonic)<<
Your translation is correct.

>>Another example is the bass aria in BWV 4 ("Christ lag in Todesbanden"). (...)
BTW, Ambrose gives an incomprehensible translation of "Das hält der Glaub dem Tode für" - "Our faith doth it to death display". I'd appreciate an explanation of what this is all about :)<<
This is a reference to the exodus of Israel from Egypt, in particular the tenth plague. Exodus, Ch 12, vs 12-13 says: "For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord." [The Jews have to slaughter a lamb and take its blood and strike it on the two side posts and the upper posts of their houses]. "And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt." In Luther's hymn the blood at the houses of the Jews in Egypt is referred to as a symbol of Jesus' blood at the cross. The lines in the 6th verse you refer to are translated in the booklet to Cantus Cölln's recording like this:

Das Blut zeichnet unser Tür,
Das hält der Glaub dem Tode für,
Der Würger kann uns nicht mehr schaden.

The blood marks our doors,
faith holds it before death,
The murderer can no longer harm us.

Meaning: faith shows death the blood of Jesus, and therefore death ('der Würger') has no power over us.

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 21, 2004):
Translations of BWV 71

[To Juozas Rimas] The text of the Arioso for bass (Mvt.4) from Cantata BWV 71 is taken from Psalm 74: 16-17. I believe that Ambrose's translation is based on the traditonal English translation of the Bible. However, you can find over the web better translations, in modern English, of this Mvt/Cantata (as well of many others): Pamela Delal (Emmanuel Music) and our Francis Browne (Bach Cantatas Website). There are links to the original text of this cantata and all the translations at the page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/IndexTexts2.htm

BTW, in my Hebrew translation of the Mvt.4 from Cantata BWV 71 I have used the original text from the Bible. What a beautiful poetry, and what a beautiful cantata (one of the very earliest)! I am going to listen to it when I am back home. Thanks for reminding me!

Juozas Rimas wrote (June 21, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] Thanks! However, what borders are meant? I suppose it's about God seeting those borders but for what exact purpose?

Johan van Veen wrote (June 21, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] This is a cantata written for the annual change of administration in Mühlhausen. Therefore it's main theme is 'political'. The 'b' have to be interpreted litterally: God sets the borders of - and therefore between - all countries. This becomes clear in the next section: "Durch mächtige Kraft erhältst du unsre Grenzen" (with huge power you keep our borders), "hier muss der Friede glänzen, wenn Mord und Kriegessturm sich allerorts erhebt" (here peace shines, whereas everywhere else murder and war take place). So the thought is that thanks to God's power our borders keep us apart from the war elsewhere.

John Pike wrote (June 21, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] Very interesting. Mozart seems to do the opposite in Die Zauberflöte. The Queen of the Night ("Bad") gets up very high whereas Sarastro ("goodness") gets down extremely low. The work is full of imagery, Masonic references and contrasts between good and bad, light and dark.

Robert Sherman wrote (June 24, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron, regarding Hermann Prey] Unfortunately, recordings as well as concert programs tend to use the terms baritone and bass interchangeably, or to use the term written into the part rather than what the singer actually is. Also, in oratorio basses and baritones frequently sing parts written for either voice, so the situation gets really muddled. Mezzo-sopranos and altos sometimes suffer from similar imprecise labeling.

I agree that Prey makes a magnificent Christus. But listen to his low notes on the Richter SJP (BWV 245). To my ear, he's a bass.

Robert Sherman wrote (June 24, 2004):
These are two different issues. Countertenors are most commonly baritones who sing above the break in their voices, so they speak in baritone.

Regarding the prevalent pitch of female voices, that's a more subtle question. It may be that most women are natural sopranos, but in the choirs in which I've sung they divide about equally. And all too frequently I've heard good mezzo and alto voices ruined by trying to reach the more "glamorous" range and sound of soprano. A fine mezzo or alto sound is a beautiful thing, and I wish those who can do it well would be content to live down there where nature intended.

This is just personal observation, but I've found very little correlation between a woman's speaking range and her best singing range.

Robert Sherman wrote (June 24, 2004):
Somebody wrote
< Another example is the bass aria in
BWV 4 ("Christ lag in Todesbanden"). It asks for a dark voice with its mood but I have heard sung it by a bass-baritone, Dieskau, and it soundedexcellent. However, the phrase "Das hält der Glaub dem Tode für" is IMHO demanding for any bass-baritone, especially when it's repeated for the second time with an exceptionally low note on the word "Tode". Could anyone name the note? >
The note is E#, or F to us plain ordinary musicians. DFD's performance (with Richter) is magnificent, but he is scraping the bottom of the barrel very hard to get that E#. A true bass could have done that note with power and ease -- but might not have done the rest of the aria as well as DFD.

Robert Sherman wrote (June 24, 2004):
John Pike wrote:
< Very interesting. Mozart seems to do the opposite in Die Zauberfloete. The Queen of the Night ("Bad") gets up very high whereas Sarastro ("goodness") gets down extremely low. The work is full of imagery, Masonic references and contrasts between good and bad, light and dark. >
I've always found the Queen of the Night's song to be dramatically incomprehensible. Here she is singing this angelic lovely elegant stuff at the very top of the female range, yet she is singing evil words. I just don't get it.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 24, 2004):
Robert Sherman wrote:
< These are two different issues. Countertenors are most commonly baritones who sing above the break in their voices, so they speak in baritone.
Regarding the prevalent pitch of female voices, that's a more subtle question. It may be that most women are natural sopranos, but in the choirs in which I've sung they divide about equally. >
I have read in several books on singing that most women are 'natural' mezzosopranos, and most men 'natural' baritones.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 24, 2004):
Robert Serman wrote:
< I've always found the Queen of the Night's song to be dramatically incomprehensible. Here she is singing this angelic lovely elegant stuff at the very top of the female range, yet she is singing evil words. I just don't get it. >
Probably the fault is with the singers. It is quite possible to sing that stuff with a sharp edge to it - even on purpose :), so that the effect is, for example, hysteria. But a lot of sopranos appear to be so in love with their own voices that they don't stop to think about the dramatic aspect, i.e. what they are playing. I mean, it's great to get sensual (as in, sensory) pleasure out of the act of singing, but that can't be the be-all and end-all of art, right?

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 24, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] He probably got that idea that most women are sopranos from something I wrote before, Johan, and I got that idea from my last voice teacher, who is someone I would consider qualified to make such an observation from his own experience of listening to and teaching sopranos...

Not that he was the type to force anyone to sing high. (I had that problem with someone else). With Dr. Cho, I was also for the most part not asked to sing higher than C, and usually not even that high in the arias I was doing.

Probably when he said what he did about women's voices, he was talking about the tone quality of the voice, rather than the range (which in an untrained female voice is indeed normally too low to be considered 'soprano'). And I myself am inclined to think of such categories as soprano, alto, tenor, bass, etc. as more tone qualities than ranges.

I mean, what do you do with someone who has a 4-octave range? What do you do with a man whose range extends from C one octave below middle C to... C two octaves (sic) above middle C? (In case you are curious, yes, I do know such a person, and he is in fact a tenor, NOT a countertenor). Or, what voice is Cecilia Bartoli? The woman has a high E-flat well enough to sing in public - and at least a low G 'downstairs'! Why is she a mezzo while I am a soprano?

Stevan Vasiljevic wrote (June 24, 2004):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote:
< I myself am inclined to think of such categories as soprano, alto, tenor, bass, etc. as more tone qualities than ranges. >
I agree with that as far as solo singing is concerned. But when a choir sings, it sounds to me much better if there is no big difference in tone quality between voices, that is, when the whole choir sounds like a single instrument, with only the pitch that is changing (just like piano, harpsichord...). Such blending of voices brings great coherence to choir's sound and produces superb results.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 24, 2004):
[To Stevan Vasiljevic] Quite right. I had in mind solo singing. Choir singing is indeed a different matter.

Robert Sherman wrote (June 24, 2004):
[To Stevan Vasiljevic] Interesting. The question is whether a choir should sound like a piano (homogenous) or like a brass or woodwind quintet (heterogenous). I'm of the opposite view. I prefer a choir in which there are dramatic differences between the colors of the four (or whatever) voices. This adds interest and variety, an makes it a lot easier to follow the lines of counterpoint. Even in block harmonic writing with no counterpoint, vocal variety makes it easier to hear all the notes.

Stevan Vasiljevic wrote (June 24, 2004):
Choir sound

[To Robert Sherman] Indeed I see your point. However, there are certain fine points that I hear when 'well' blended choir parts are singing in counterpoint. Let me point to the recording in which choir has amazingly homogenous sound that I was writing of: Leonhardt's performance of BMM (BWV 232) from 1985. Their crafted singing makes it fairly easy to hear each line, but their coherence brigs out wonderful effects of secundas (and their resolutions) in movements like 'Kyrie 1', 'Qui tollis' and 'Crucifixus'. That alto in Crucifixus, what character it bto the whole music. What harmony and balance emerges when such voices 'counterpoint' against each other!

Anyway, in this case music would illustrate my words far better then any explanations I could put together.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 24, 2004):
Q of Night, and E# and bass leaps

<< I've always found the Queen of the Night's song to be dramatically incomprehensible. Here she is singing this angelic lovely elegant stuff at the very top of the female range, yet she is singing evil words. I just don't get it. >>
< Probably the fault is with the singers. It is quite possible to sing that stuff with a sharp edge to it - even on purpose :), so that the effect is, for example, hysteria. But a lot of sopranos appear to be so in love with their own voices that they don't stop to think about the dramatic aspect, i.e. what they are playing. I mean, it's great to get sensual (as in, sensory) pleasure out of the act of singing, but that can't be the be-all and end-all of art, right? >
Isn't it part of the theme of that whole opera (er, "Singspiel"), that it's sometimes difficult to recognize evil where it is? We go at least halfway through with the assumption that Sarastro is the villain, but it just ain't so. A classic dramatic device.

>> (...) the bass aria in BWV 4 ("Christ lag in Todesbanden"). (...) the phrase "Das hält der Glaub dem Tode für" is IMHO demanding for any bass-baritone, especially when it's repeated for the second time with an exceptionally low note on the word "Tode". Could anyone name the note? (...) The note is E#, or F to us plain ordinary musicians.<<
To 18th century "plain ordinary musicians" the note E# was about 1/5 of a semitone lower than F. How times have changed! :) And, that's apart from any question of overall pitch in 1707/08. By the function of tonal intervals E# is simply lower than F; although, if a singer is coming down to it in a leap and then resolving up to F# it makes just as much sense musically to sing the E# higher than F would be (i.e. going more with Pythagorean-style intonation, melodically) instead of trying to match the orchestra. Leading tones can be raised, like that.

Check out the bass leap of the aria that Händel wrote in "Aci, Galatea, e Polifemo" and recycled into "Sosarme". In one version, the guy has to leap from A above the bass staff down to D below the bass staff, all in one go. In the other version it's slightly less. Either way, there's a kicking of butt. Has anyone made a better recording of this than David Thomas's several? It's hard to imagine it done in any way "better" than his marvelous singing there.

 

Bach's Bass singers

George wrote (September 8, 2006):
Any record of who may have sung, for example, BWV 82 or BWV 56 for Bach? Both would seem to require a certain depth and maturity. Ich Habe Genug is not a young man's message.

Since Bach was reportedly a good bass singer, I wonder if he ever performed any of his bass solo cantatas?

George (amateur Bass)

Tom Hens wrote (September 8, 2006):
[To George] Why not? I don't see anything in the text that would make it more suitable for an old man than for a young man. Besides, it's not as if Bach's vocal music is about realistic portrayal of characters of a certain age. The people who sang the parts of the characters in the Passions for instance must all have been completely wrong for them, age-wise and even sex-wise (the few female interventions were undoubtedly sung by boys). Most of the texts Bach set in the cantatas are supposed to contain universal messages, applicable to all Christians, not a personal expression on the part of the singer.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 8, 2006):
Tom Hens wrote:
< Why not? I don't see anything in the text that would make it more suitable for an old man than for a young man. Besides, it's not as if Bach's vocal music is about realistic portrayal of characters of a certain age. The people who sang the parts of the characters in the Passions for instance must all have been completely wrong for them, age-wise and even sex-wise (the few female interventions were undoubtedly sung by boys). >
Harnoncourt in his recording of the SMP (BWV 244) proposed that the voicing of the bass parts reflected the old traditonal voice types used for Christ (deep bass), Evangelist (baritone) and Turbae (tenor) which had existed since the Middle Ages. Harnoncourt actually cast a famous Wagnerian bass as Christ, a normal bass for Pilate, and light baritones for Peter and Judas.

On this list, we have barely touched on some of the gender issues of voice types in Baroque music, a topic being passionately debated in academic circles these days. As an example, what is happening in Cantata BWV 140 in which Christ and the Soul are given passionate duets to sing? And how was gender and sex perceived by the good burgers of Leipzig who were listening to an adult man and prepubescent boy sing highly-charged erotic music?

Eric Begerud wrote (September 9, 2006):
[To Tom Hens] I agree with Tom. Because the work (BWV 82) is popular (44 recordings in print at Achiv: by far the most of any cantata: the Wedding and Coffee (BWV 211) are 2nd and 3rd with 20 and 12 respectively) there should be some room for several interpretations. I really like Nancy Argenta's soprano version. I wish there were more like it.

BTW: I caught the Berkshire bug from some people on the list and picked up a really nice CD of hymns by the Christ Church Cathedral Choir at Oxford. I've never heard that choir before and their trebles hit notes. Not pure Bach of course, but lovely works including a nice bit from BWV 147. Hope there are more recordings.

 

The Bass 'Vox Christi' in Post-Easter Cantatas

Douglas Cowling wrote (November 6, 2010):
A Genre of Cantatas?: The Bass "Vox Christi" in Easter Season Cantatas

During our recent discussions of the cantatas after Easter, it has been frequently noted that the solo bass voice opens the cantata. If we crunch the numbers, we can see that 8 out of the 12 surviving cantatas for the Easter season begin with a bass solo singing the words of Christ as the scriptural "dictum":

Easter 2 (Misericordias Dominus)
BWV 85 - Aria: Ich bin ein guter Hirt

Easter 3 (Jubilate)
BWV 103- Chorus & Arioso: Ihr werden weinen

Easter 4 (Cantate)
BWV 166 - Aria: Wo gehest du hin?
BWV 108 - Aria: Es ist euch gut

Easter 5 (Rogate)
BWV 86 - Aria: Wahrlich, wahrlich
BWV 87 - Arioso: Bisher habt ihr

Easter 6 (Sunday after Ascension - Exaudi)
BWV 44- Duet (T&B): Sie werden euch
BWV 183 - Recitative: Sie werden euch

That predominance, far from being a relaxation after the rigors of Holy Week & the Three-Day Easter, would seem to indicate that Bach intended to follow or create a genre of Easter season cantatas which amplified the old tradition of the bass voice as the Voice of Christ.

A couple of observations.

It would be interesting to look back into the 17th and early 18th century motet and cantata repertoire and see if there is a tradition of Vox Christi works or whether this is a unique creation of Bach. Is the string 'halo' effect in the Matthew Passion part of a larger tradition?

Bach's approach to this "genre" is extraordinarily varied: everything from a simple recitative in BWV 183 to the elaborate chorus & arioso layout in BWV 103.

It would be instructive to go on and crunch the numbers for other Vox Christi "solo" cantatas outside the Easter season.

I suspect that the old designation of "solo cantata" doesn't make much sense.

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 8, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< A Genre of Cantatas?: The Bass "Vox Christi" in Easter Season Can
During our recent discussions of the cantatas after Easter, it has been frequently noted that the solo bass voice opens the cantata. If we crunch the numbers, we can see that 8 out of the 12 surviving cantatas for the Easter season begin with a bass solo singing the words of Christ as the scriptural "dictum":
Easter 2 (Misericordias Dominus)
BWV 85 - Aria: Ich bin ein guter Hirt
Easter 3 (Jubilate)
BWV 103- Chorus & Arioso: Ihr werden weinen
Easter 4 (Cantate)
BWV 166 - Aria: Wo gehest du hin?
BWV 108 - Aria: Es ist euch gut
Easter 5 (Rogate)
BWV 86 - Aria: Wahrlich, wahrlich
BWV 87 - Arioso: Bisher habt ihr
Easter 6 (Sunday after Ascension - Exaudi)
BWV 44- Duet (T&B): Sie werden euch
BWV 183 - Recitative: Sie werden euch
That predominance, far from being a relaxation after the rigors of Holy Week & the Three-Day Easter, would seem to indicate that Bach intended to follow or create a genre of Easter season cantatas which amplified the old tradition of the bass voice as the Voice of Christ. >
I recall wondering about that old tradition, including also the alto voice as the Holy Ghost, and tracking it down to a single late 17th C. (1600s) reference. This seems like an opportune moment to nail it down a bit further.

DC:
< It would be interesting to look back into the 17th and early 18th century motet and cantata repertoire and see if there is a tradition of Vox Christi works or whether this is a unique creation of Bach. >
EM:
Exactly. If this is a historical tradition, let us document some of the musical examples. If it is more a general idea which Bach picked up and expanded upon (my impression from memory of a unique reference), this is also an opportune moment to elaborate. As usual, I will appreciate any help in recovering references: I believe I posted to BCW re a conventional 17th C. association of SATB voices with soul, Holy Ghost, worldly persona, and Voice of Christ. More or less. I also recall having the impression that Bach had greatly elaborated on this traditional interpretation. Not a unique creation, so much as adoption and creative expansion of an idea which was waiting around for him?

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (November 8, 2010):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
DC:
<< It would be interesting to look back into the 17th and early 18th century motet and cantata repertoire and see if there is a tradition of Vox Christi works or whether this is a unique creation of Bach. >>
EM:
< Exactly. If this is a historical tradition, let us document some of the musical examples. If it is more a general idea which Bach picked up and expanded upon (my impression from memory of a unique reference), this is also an opportune moment to elaborate. As usual, I will appreciate any help in recovering references: I believe I posted to BCW re a conventional 17th C. association of SATB voices with soul, Holy Ghost, worldly persona, and Voice of Christ. More or less. I also recall having the impression that Bach had greatly elaborated on this traditional interpretation. Not a unique creation, so much as adoption and creative expansion of an idea which was waiting around for him? >
A bass voice as the voice of Christ is not unique to Bach at all. In Christoph Graupner's magnificent 1741 cantata cycle based on Christ Last Seven Words On the Cross, e. g. the cantata "Das innerliche Leydten Jesu im Garten" for Good Friday, GWV 1120/41, the 2nd movement is an arioso for bass voice. "Ach Vater in der Hohe." The vocal line consists of largely short phrasing, to lend an urgency of the text being presented, where Jesus asks that the cup be passed from him.

You can see the opening bars to this movement here: http://oi53.tinypic.com/11iek2q.jpg

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 8, 2010):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< A bass voice as the voice of Christ is not unique to Bach at all. In Christoph Graupner's magnificent 1741 cantata cycle based on Christ Last Seven Words On the Cross, e. g. the cantata "Das innerliche Leydten Jesu im Garten" for Good Friday, GWV 1120/41, the 2nd movement is an arioso for bass voice. "Ach Vater in der Hohe." The vocal line consists of largely short phrasing, to lend an urgency of the text being presented, where Jesus asks that the cup be passed from him. >
Thanks for picking up this thread. Do you think that Graupner was following Bach, or that both were following an earlier tradition or convention?

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (November 8, 2010):
[To Ed Myskowski] It was an earlier tradition they were both following, as did other German baroque composers. Telemann's masterpiece "Der Tod Jesu" comes to mind immediately,

Douglas Cowling wrote (November 8, 2010):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< It was an earlier tradition they were both following, as did other German baroque composers. Telemann's masterpiece "Der Tod Jesu" comes to mind immediately, >
The tradition is certainly well-established in Passion music. I'm wondering about a bass "Vox Christi" pattern in non-Passion music.

It's always worth pointing out that the words of Christ were sung every Sunday in a bass range when the Gospel was chanted just before the cantata. The cleric sang the text dramatically using three voice levels: Chronista (Evangelist) in the middle tenor range; Christus in the low bass range, and Turba (Crowd) in a higher alto range.

On Rogate Sunday (Easter 5), Bach's listeners would have heard the Dictum sung twice, once in chant in the Gospel and almost immediately afterwards in Cantata 86:

GOSPEL OF ROGATE SUNDAY: [translation below]

CHRISTUS (bass):
Und an demselbigen Tage werdet ihr mich nichts fragen. Wahrlich, wahrlich,
ich sage euch: So ihr den Vater etwas bitten werdet in meinen Namen,so wird
er's euch geben
.

Bisher habt ihr nichts gebeten in meinem Namen. Bittet, so werdet ihr
nehmen, daß eure Freude vollkommen sei
.

Solches hab' ich zu euch durch Sprichwörter geredet. Es kommt aber die Zeit,
daß ich nicht mehr durch Sprichwörter mit euch reden werde, sonderneuch frei
heraus verkündigen von meinem Vater.

An demselbigen Tage werdet ihr bitten in meinem Namen. Und ich sage euch
nicht, daß ich den Vater für euch bitten will;

denn er selbst, der Vater, hat euch lieb, darum daß ihr mich liebet und
glaubet, daß ich von Gott ausgegangen bin.

Ich bin vom Vater ausgegangen und kommen in die Welt; wiederum verlasse ich
die Welt und gehe zum Vater.

EVANGELIST (Tenor):
Sprechen zu ihm seine Jünger:

CROWD/DISCIPLES: (Alto):
Siehe, nun redest du frei heraus und sagest kein Sprichwort.

Nun wissen wir, daß du alle Dinge weißt und bedarfst nicht, daß dich jemand
frage. Darum glauben wir, daß du von Gott ausgegangen bist.


[23] And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto
you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.
[24] Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive,
that your joy may be full.
[25] These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh,
when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you
plainly of the Father.
[26] At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I
will pray the Father for you:
[27] For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have
believed that I came out from God.
[28] I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I
leave the world, and go to the Father.
[29] His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and
speakest no proverb.
[30] Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any
man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (November 8, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< The tradition is certaiwell-established in Passion music. I'm wondering about a bass "Vox Christi" pattern in non-Passion music. >
Why would it be any different ?

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 9, 2010):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< I recall wondering about that old tradition, including also the alto voice as the Holy Ghost, >and tracking it down to a single late 17th C. (1600s) reference. This seems like an opportune >moment to nail it down a bit further. >
See this page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Altos.htm

in mid-page, headed Old Discussion, the title of the reference and a brief citation, via Herreweghe liner notes, is available in BCW archives.

 

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Last update: ýNovember 29, 2010 ý15:00:54