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Cantata Keys

Richard Brudick wrote (March 26, 2003):
Is there a list of the primary keys of each Cantata somewhere on the web. Or further is there a list of the keys of each movement?

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 27, 2003):
[To Richard Burdick] One could flip through all the incipits in the BWV: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/bwv-review.htm pretty quickly, movement by movement. But, there are also the various transposing situations of the venues to deal with (differing pitch levels, and especially the transposing organ-continuo parts...), and the occasions where Bach re-presented the compositions several different times in different keys.

Julian Mincham wrote (March 27, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] There is also the problem of matching recordings to the written keys. Many of the recordings today are at a higher or lower pitch than own would reasonably assume from the printed notes.

A further complication comes from the fact thatthe written cantatas may simply not have a clearly designated key, using a range of keys for the different movements (BWV 4 is an exception with all movements in E minor). If they open with a chorus or sinfonia it may be convenient to list it by the key of that movement, although I have my doubts. Some cantatas use the same key for opening chorus and closing chorale, thus giving a degree of overall tonal coherence. However, and just by accident because I am looking through the score at the moment and have it open in front of me, I see that BWV 108 works thus:

chorus A+
aria F sharp -
recit no one clearly determined key
chorus D+
aria B-
chorale B-

What is the overall key of the work?

For this reason it is not very helpful to catagorise the cantatas by key as one might a Bachian Brandenburg or keyboard concerto. It is, however, very interesting to observe the choice of keys within any given cantata as this is often revealing of Bach's structural thinking and textual responses.

 

Remote keys

Lewis George wrote (August 16, 2013):
I have been studying some of the preludes and fugues in the WTC and it has occurred to me that, given Bach's proficiency in composing music in every key, did he use any of the more remote keys (i.e. >4 sharps/ flats) as the principal key in any other works, particularly the cantatas, given their voluminous composition and almost endless variety of expression? He probably modulated his way through many of them, but did he actually compose any arias or choruses, sonatas etc in, say, F# major, G# minor, or even C# major or D#/Eb minor. Incidentally, I noticed that Eb minor seems to be as far as he went in WTC with the flat key signatures. For instance there is nothing in Ab minor. Perhaps he decided that in this and similar instances he proved his point by using the less complex sharp key (e.g. G# minor) to minimise the frequency of double flats/sharps.

A similar question could be asked for all composers up to some point in the 19th century, when composers began to explore the emotional pull that many of these remote keys can have, and also to render the composition more easily available to the fingers. You won't be likely to find anything beyond four sharps/flats in Mozart or Beethoven for instance. Yet they studied Bach, so were they perhaps more mindful of sales, knowing that, for strings and singers especially, the remote keys can be harder to read quickly and play/sing in tune?

Julian Mincham wrote (August 16, 2013):
[To Lerwis George] Interesting point. I can say categorically that none of the cantata choruses or arias areset in more than 4 sharps or flats--I think that is also true of the recits. He had a particular affection for 4 sharps--I think, from memory three of the great second cycle chorale/fantasias are set in E major (and the violin and keyboard concerti of course) including the superb BWV 8 When, Lord will I die? Interestingly thought when he reused this work some years later he transposed it down to D. But transpositions usually were because of changes of instrumentation--like the third movement of Brandenburg 1 taken into D in the secular cantata because trumpets are added. And have you noticed that he never seems to use horns in minor keys?

You are right that he sometimes modulates through the extreme keys but never for long. Perhaps aspects of tuning were still a problem in practical usage even if Bach had proven the point that with the correct tuning they were possible. F# minor was also a favourite key especially for deeply moving expressive movements.

I look forward to furthering such discussions in October. Hope you are fit, well and sufficiently slimmed down to get the best out of the trip!

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (August 16, 2013):
Lewis George wrote:
< I have been studying some of the preludes and fugues in the WTC and it has occurred to me that, given Bach's proficiency in composing music in every key, did he use any of the more remote keys (i.e. >4 sharps/ flats) as the principal key in any other works, particularly the cantatas,... as far as he went in WTC with the flat key signatures. >
An interesting question, Lewis. Bach did indeed modulate to tonalities with lots of accidentals in liturgical works, for example extended passages with five sharps like the well-known Coro towards the end of the First Part of the Mattheus Passion "Sind Blitze, sind Donner".

I have to say that this matter has been fully studied by top scholars:

1. John Barnes discussed it from the point of view of the hypothetical temperament J.S. Bach would have needed. His work was published in: Barnes, John. "Bach's keyboard temperament" in Early Music, Vol. 7 pp. 236-249. Oxford University Press, London 1979.

2, David Ledbetter treats these and many other details of the composition and structure of every single piece in the WTC in his treatise; Ledbetter, David. Bach's Well-tempered Clavier: the 48 Preludes and Fugues. Yale University Press, New Haven (USA) and London 2002. I seem to deduce from your post, Lewis, that you have not read this book: you will certainly enjoy it!

3. Mark Lindley has recently published a webpage with a full set of detailed auditory experiments about temperament for each one of Bach's WTC Preludes and Fugues: Lindley, Mark. "Valuable nuances of tuning for Part I of J. S. Bach's »Das wohl temperirte Clavier«" in Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung, Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin 2011: http://www.sim.spk-berlin.de/bach%3A_wtc_973.html

Needless to say, the above works are commented upon in my treatment of Bach's temperament in my own work: http://temper.braybaroque.ie/

< For instance there is nothing in Ab minor. Perhaps he decided that in this and similar instances he proved
his point by using the less complex sharp key (e.g. G# minor).... >
Well, sometimes in the WTC he used a more complex notation than needed, for instance with 7 sharps instead of the simpler 5 flats: perhaps an exercise for students. Amidst the controversies about Bach's temperament, one fact is agreed upon and very obvious: the WTC requires a truly circular (if not equal) temperament, whereby flats and sharps are enharmonically unified. So it is purely a matter of notation, not of harmony, or tuning, or playing technique.

< A similar question could be asked for all composers up to some point in the ... 19th century ... Beethoven.... >
You will find more than four accidentals quite frequently in Liszt piano works, for instance.

< for strings and singers especially, the remote keys can be harder to read quickly and play/sing in tune? >
Once everybody was playing in equal temperament in Romantic times, you are certainly right that many accidentals are difficult to read and to sing or play. But there is no problem in tuning whatsoever: in equal temperament tuning in F#major or in C major is absolutely the same.

Julian Mincham wrote (August 16, 2013):
[To Claudio Di Veroli] Many thanks Claudio.

An accidentamis-posting reaps an interesting harvest!

Charles Francis wrote (August 16, 2013):
[To Lewis George] The natural harmonics of a brass instrument rooted, say, in Bb, F, C, G, or D would be justly tuned in relation to their fundamental, i.e. the available notes would be pure harmonics (overtones) of the relevant fundament, and that would tend to preclude performance in remote tonalities. My presumption, moreover, would be that the woodwind instruments at Bach's time were likely manufactured for compatibility with naturally tuned instruments and/or organs/harpsichords commonly tuned in meantone, again impacting their utility for remote keys.

Note that Bach's Leipzig organ, being pitched one tone higher than his orchestra, was necessarily displaced by two flats, which implies that when the orchestra played in four flats, the organist played in six. Bach quite often did this, which suggests the Leipzig organ was tuned a circular (well-tempered) manner.

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (August 16, 2013):
I wrote:
< 2, David Ledbetter treats these and many other details of the composition and structure of every single piece in the WTC in his treatise; Ledbetter, David. Bach's Well-tempered Clavier: the 48 Preludes and Fugues. Yale University Press, New Haven (USA) and London 2002. I seem to deduce from your post, Lewis, that you have not read this book: you will certainly enjoy it! >
I forgot an important caveat: having recommended the overall excellent, comprehensive and scholarly treatise by Ledbetter on the WTC, I have to clarify that I disagree with some of the ideas therewith regarding performance:

TEMPERAMENT. Ledbetter -- in agreement with some (not all) writings by Lindley -- finds it likely that the work was conceived for a Neidhardt temperament, or at least one inspired on the "Neidhardt ideal" of no major third approaching Pythagorean size. I have elaborate but, I believe, strong arguments against the likelihood of a Neidhardt-type temperament having been in practical use anywhere during JSBach's life (http://temper.braybaroque.ie/) .

FINGERING. Ledbetter finds it likely that JSBach playing technique was as described by CPEBach and Forkel. Again, many (Spitta was the first and I have substantiated this matter in detail) find this highly unlikely (http://finger.braybaroque.ie/).

NOTES INEGALES. Ledbetter does not mention them in his work, and for most of the pieces he clarifies the Italian-style elements on which they are based. While this is certainly correct for most of the pieces, I find that a handful have French style mannerisms that justify (and indeed make them sound better IMHO) playing them with inégales (http://play.braybaroque.ie).

Sorry to be so blunt: "amicus Plato sed magis amica veritas".

Anyway, I am at this point strongly "off-topic" in a Cantatas forum: mea culpa!

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (August 16, 2013):
[To Charles Francis] Actually, the fact that Baroque brass wind players (prior to the introduction of hand-in-bell techniques) were able to play reasonably in tune, by using flexible emission and embouchure, in any temperament including equal temperament, was specifically clarified by Tartini in a treatise he published shortly after JSBach's death.

Rudolf Rasch has published that (apart from some old organs), meantone was NO LONGER practised in German countries in the 18th century. This is agreed today by, say, 99% of musicologists. I see that you agree with this about Leipzig organ.

As for Baroque woodwind, charts are extant with either a meantone spiral of 17 notes (7 naturals, 5 sharps and 5 -- different -- flats), and others for 12 notes only, specifying flats-equal-sharps and obviously meant for circular temperaments.

Charles Francis wrote (August 16, 2013):
[To Claudio Di Veroli] I agree that there are workarounds for adjusting ill-placed natural harmonics, but in such cases significant skill is needed for accurate intonation (re: the H&L recordings).

The Bach Leipzig organs all date back to the seventeenth century, and likely few parishes in the first half of the eighteenth century would have possessed a modern instrument. A relevant consideration therefore is the work needed to adapt the tuning: I recall mention of a potentially relevant payment slip from Kuhnau's tenure in Leipzig, but nothing, to my knowledge, from Bach's time. Contemporary accounts from the likes of Johann Mattheson (1681-1764) and earlier by Andreas Werckmeister (1645-1706) suggest a general reluctance of organ builders to embrace new tunings. Georg Andreas Sorge (1703-1778) reports that Gottfried Silbermann (1683-1753), who had various business dealings with Bach, still tuned in meantone (likely 1/6-comma); Silbermann's organs were typically reworked (vandalised) in the mid-nineteenth century, presumably as they lacked the expected circular temperament. On the other hand various progressive organ builders associated with Bach did use circular tuning, e.g., Christian Förner (1609-1678), Tobias Heinrich Gottfried Trost (1680-1759) and Zacharias Hildebrandt (1688-1757). Also, we have reports of Bach's second cousin Johann Nicolaus (1669-1753) tuning his own organ with apparent concern for remote tonalities and indeed surpassing the monochord-wielding Johann Georg Neidhardt (c1685-1739).

Lewis George wrote (August 17, 2013):
My thanks to both Julian and Claudio for such interesting and comprehensive responses to my question on remote keys. I must say I hesitated for quite some time before posing this question, as I find it challenging as an amateur to wade into technical territory, always fearing the risk of a gaffe. However, I now feel encouraged to explore further this and other technical issues, as I find they add enormously to the pleasure of both listening and playing Bach as well as the other great composers. This, in turn, raises another question, in that all children are expected to learn to speak, read, write, and understand the grammar of their country's spoken language, but this is optional for the universal language of music, in which Bach is the headmaster. Pity no one made it a religious commandment. Bach would have devoted a cantata series to it!

Peter Smaill wrote (August 17, 2013):
[To Lewis George] A most interesting thread: we all know of the remote keys of the "48", many are aware of the amazing modulations in the Passions; but does Bach ever visit remote keys in the Cantatas, especially problematic given the tuning of instruments at that date?

On this topic Eric Chafe is helpful: " B major - Heinichen's "extremum chromaticum" is very rare ( Cantatas BWV 45, BWV 49, BWV 139) and never appears as a movement key. E minor appears frequently, mostly with the association of suffering, sorrow, doubt,pain, fear and the Passion (Cantatas BWV 4, BWV 7, BWV 20, BWV 32, BWV 60, BWV 75, BWV 81, BWV 84, BWV 88, BWV 91, BWV 92, BWV 100, BWV 109, BWV 135, BWV 138, BWV 147, BWV 155, BWV 158 among others). At the other end of the spectrum B flat minor - the "extremum enharmonicum" appears only once as a movement key (Cantata BWV 106, "In dein Haende") and as a key within recitatives. It is associated almost always with darkness, the cross and suffering [over 20 examples]. F minor is the flat limit for movement keys but...is never used as the key of a whole Cantata: its associations are almost invariably anxiety, tears,tribulation,sin, pain sorrow, care , suffering and death.[over 23 examples]. E flat minor appears only once in the Cantatas (BWV 159) and once in the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244), both times associated with the most extreme torment........."

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 17, 2013):
< A most interesting thread: we all know of the remote keys of the "48", many are aware of the amazing modulations in the Passions; but does Bach ever visit remote keys in the Cantatas, especially problematic given the tuning of instruments at that date? >
Yes, he does. Furthermore, it's not sufficient merely to look at what home keys or modulations are used by the main part of the ensemble (the strings and singers). At many of Bach's venues, and in the extant parts from his performances, the continuo organist was playing in keys a second away from the other musicians. Similarly, at many venues, some of the wind players were playing either a second or a minor third away, from transposing parts.

The playing techniques of the wind instruments, and the organ's temperament (plus that of the harpsichords, when used in cantata performances and rehearsals), would all affect the character and Affekt of the music, and the sound of the whole ensemble. The musicians wouldn't be trying to match every note to the keyboard, of course, because that's futile and unmusical, but the temperament's character does matter. I brought some that up in a two-part video from 2008, here ("Temperament: Werckmeister 3 vs Bach/Lehman"),
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/larips/videos.html
and in some earlier resources, such as these:
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/larips/affekt.html
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/larips/testpieces.html

Study of keys and temperaments must also go far beyond a tally of home keys, or even all the modulations: the crucial thing is which NOTES are required in the scales, and in the compositions. When an exotic note,
such as B# or Ebb occurs in the music, has it been tuned in a way that works passably with all the other notes around it, within the scale of the passage? Are the fairly common notes such as Ab or Db tuned smoothly enough so they can serve as long-sustained bass notes, in the music, with other notes from those scales moving above them?

I find it interesting that when Bach helped to dedicate the organ at Störmthal, in 1723, he wrote a cantata for the occasion that had the ensemble in B-flat major, and the continuo organ playing in A-flat major, as tonic.

The original keys for the vocal music's keyboard parts can be found in the Neue Bach-Ausgabe (NBA): it shows in each score what the transposition was.

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 17, 2013):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< The playing techniques of the wind instruments, and the organ's temperament (plus that of the harpsichords, when used in cantata performances and rehearsals), would all affect the character and Affekt of the music, and the sound of the whole ensemble. The musicians wouldn't be trying to match every note to the keyboard, of course, because that's futile and unmusical, but the temperament's character does matter. I brought some that up in a two-part video from 2008, here ("Temperament: Werckmeister 3 vs Bach/Lehman"),
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/larips/videos.html
and in some earlier resources, such as these:
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/larips/affekt.html
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/larips/testpieces.html >
At the latter page, I mentioned these cantatas:

/Basso continuo/ in vocal music
<http://www-personal.umich.edu/%7Ebpl/larips/vocal.html> in the keys where the original organist read the part, i.e. allowing for the transposing /Chorton/ organ at each venue. For example, the C minor movements in Bach's Leipzig audition cantatas (BWV 22, BWV 23) read in B-flat minor, or any B-flat movements wherein the organ was playing A-flat major (likewise E-flat movements in D-flat); such harmonically adventurous cantatas as BWV 12, BWV 21, BWV 27, BWV 48, BWV 56, BWV 78, BWV 82, BWV 89, BWV 97, BWV 98, BWV 116, BWV 134, BWV 140, BWV 143, BWV 159, BWV 166, BWV 176; St Matthew Passion BWV 244 (especially movements 9, 10, 19, 32, 51, 52, 59, 60, 63, 65, 68)

 

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Last update: żOctober 12, 2013 ż23:16:08