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Castrati in Bach’s Vocal Works

Castrati

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 24, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< Not necessarilly true. Bach did not use Italian musicians (at least according to research) and never in his Sacred works did he use women. >
What's the scholarly status of the opinion that Cantata BWV 51 was originally written for a Dresden castrato?

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 25, 2004):
[To Douglas Cowling] That's just it. It was a Castrato, not a woman.

Santu de Silva wrote (February 26, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] I read an opinion (unf. I can't remember whose) that BWV 68 was possibly written for Anna Magdalena (before they were married). I know it is speculation, but is it possible?

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 26, 2004):
[To Santu de Silva] Possible, but Anna Magdalena Bach probably did not perform it (at least in public) after they moved to Leipzig.

 

Castrati

Lew George wrote (September 5, 2006):
I have just read a fascinating article in the latest Gramophone e-magazine (www.Gramophone.co.uk.) about the exhumation of the famous castrato Farinelli. It led me to wonder if Bach used castrati in any of his works, particularly the cantatas. Castrati are mostly identified with operatic roles, particularly Händel (among the great composers), and I have not seen anything about them singing in religious works. Both Suzuki and Harnoncourt use male altos, but were the original singers castrati? I did a quick search of the notes to the Harnoncourt set, and Wolff's biography, but could find no mention specifically of castrati.

Clearly the Roman church hierarchy of the day had no special view about them (other than perhaps a complimentary one) given that some were employed in Rome, but did Bach have a view about them? Did he have any favourite castrati for whom any cantata solos were written? Did Farinelli, indeed, sing any of Bach's work?

Tom Hens wrote (September 5, 2006):
Lew George wrote:
< I have just read a fascinating article in the latest Gramophone e-magazine (www.Gramophone.co.uk.) about the exhumation of the famous castrato Farinelli. It led me to wonder if Bach used castrati in any of his works, particularly the cantatas. Castrati are mostly identified with operatic roles, particularly Händel (among the great composers), and I have not seen anything about them singing in religious works. >
Castrati weren't made anywhere except in Italy. Some made international careers in opera, and some may even have been employed by religious music establishments north of the Alps in Catholic countries, but certainly Bach could never have used them. Even if there would have been some castrati about in Saxony at the time, no Lutheran church would have tolerated their presence as singers.

<snip> < Clearly the Roman church hierarchy of the day had no special view about them (other than perhaps a complimentary one) given that some were employed in Rome, >
This isn't correct. The Church had always condemned castration, from back in the days when extremely zealous and consequently sex-phobic Christians thought it was a good idea to castrate themselves to avoid any temptations of the flesh. There are also some OT condemnations of castrated males. The fact that the Roman Catholic Church tolerated castration for musical purposes for a couple of centuries was a fantastic, extremely public display of total hypocrisy. This isn't Catholic-bashing (I'm neither a Catholic nor a Protestant), but you wouldn't have gotten away with it in any Protestant denomination. The people who castrated the young boys in question, and even the young boys themselves, since they supposedly submitted to this "voluntarily", were engaging in serious, mortal sin. It didn't stop the Church hierarchy from funding the practice, and blithely ignoring the blatant, organised breaching of Church teaching. You'll note that despite the fact that some castrati became famous, they all changed their last name, to protect their families from the stigma that castration entailed. If being a castrato had ever been a normal, accepted thing in Rome that wouldn't have been necessary.

< Did Farinelli, indeed, sing any of Bach's work? >
One can't prove a negative, of course, but it's extremely unlikely he ever even heard a note of it, let alone sang it. I suppose it's theoretically possible he could have heard some of the published keyboard music.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 5, 2006):
Tom Hens wrote:
< It didn't stop the Church hierarchy from funding the practice, and blithely ignoring the blatant, organised breaching of Church teaching. You'll note that despite the fact that some castrati became famous, they all changed their last name, to protect their families from the stigma that castration entailed. If being a castrato had ever been a normal, accepted thing in Rome that wouldn't have been necessary. >
Castrati continued to sing in the Sistine Chapel choir long after they disappeared on the operatic stage. Alessandro Moreschi was the last castrato to sing on stage and in the papal choir. He made some wax cylinder recordings which have been remastered and released: Amazon.com

Don't buy this CD expecting to hear Farinelli. Moreschi was a mediocre singer who recorded these pieces in his 60's. However, it is fascinating to hear what sounds somewhat like a boy's voice in a man's body. The frustrating thing about the performances is that Moreschi adopts a Italian bel canto technique and his pronounced wobble hides much of the quality of the voice.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 5, 2006):
There is evidence in Bach's letters of recommendation that he had boys from the Thomanerchor who could sing
Bach's solo soprano parts (arias and recitatives):

In a letter dated Leipzig, February 24, 1740, Bach attests to the musical abilities of one Christian Friedrich Schemelli (son of the editor of the Schemelli Songbook that involved collaboration with Bach). Christian Friedrich Schemelli (1713-1761) attended St. Thomas School in Leipzig from 1731-1734 (from age 18-21), then enrolled at the University of Leipzig in 1735 where he studied until 1740. Bach particularly points out Schemelli's abilities as a soprano while attending St. Thomas School: "daß Ihn auch bey denen Cantoreyen als Sopranisten gantz wohl habe gebrauchen können" ("that I was able to make very good use of him as a soprano in the church choirs"). The latter comment might imply that he quickly moved up from the second to the primary choir where he probably sang solo parts as well.

Raymond Joly wrote (September 5, 2006):
Castrati and boy sopranos

[To Thomas Braatz] Maybe Thomas is boosting Schemelli a bit much. If I were to write in a recommendation that I was quite happy to have young Soandso playing in my orchestra, would that mean that he was a soloist?

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 6, 2006):
Raymond Joly wrote:
>>Maybe Thomas is boosting Schemelli a bit much. If I were to write in a recommendation that I was quite happy to have young Soandso playing in my orchestra, would that mean that he was a soloist?<<
If Bach had simply written that Schemelli had sung in the choir(s), this might then be interpreted as a non-solo singer who simply sang a part along with others. However, the fact that Bach particularly mentions which voice (Soprano) an 18 to 21-year-old Thomaner sang places a different emphasis on his abilities. When Bach mentions in another letter of recommendation for Johann Ludwig Krebs (Leipzig, August 24, 1935) that the latter had distinguished himself in composition, playing keyboard, violin, and lute, I wouhave to assume that these instruments were played sufficiently well to perform in a solo capacity. Bach does not mention anything about Krebs' vocal abilities despite the fact that he had been a member of the Thomanerchor under Bach's direction from 1726-1735. This I would interpret to mean that among his vocal abilities, he might have sung in the choir at times, but never in a solo capacity. Despite his extremely excellent instrumental and compositional capabilities, singing is never mentioned specifically. Of note is that Krebs, who held positions as organist outside of Leipzig, applied twice without success to succeed Bach as Thomaskantor on August 6, 1750 and once again after Harrer's death in 1755. Perhaps his lack of solid credentials as a singer may have been one important reason why he was not chosen to conduct

Eric Bergerud wrote (September 6, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] Händel remained a Lutheran throughout his life (I will stand correction) despite some social advantages that could have been gained from moving to the Anglican Church (he had fans among the upper crust after all). So it doesn't look as though doctrine per se would have prevented the employment of castrati in secular works although the practice was already under attack by the philosophes in the late Englightenment. (Of course maybe German Pietists would have had different view of this. I suppose they would have found all of Händel's music to be sinful.) All I can say is that the early 18th century was a very tough age judged by our terms: slavery, serfdom, grinding poverty both rural & urban, physical abuse of prisoners, horrid treatment of the mentally ill etc etc etc. Indeed, to someone of that time might have considered the inability to have sons (along with some very ugly pain - or worse if things went wrong) to be worth the trade-off in an era when being poor meant being really poor and social advancement was no easy matter. One might not think of things in these terms, but Bach was actually pretty high on the pecking order for his time and place and lived a decent life.

I've heard the CD Doug refers to and he's right as usual. That said, it is interesting. And the gent in question definitely sounds like nothing one is used to hearing: not a woman, not a boy, not a man - although I'd say closer to a boy than any of them.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 6, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Of note is that Krebs, who held positions as organist outside of Leipzig, applied twice without success to succeed Bach as Thomaskantor on August 6, 1750 and once again after Harrer's death in 1755. Perhaps his lack of solid credentials as a singer may have been one important reason why he was not chosen to conduct the Thomanerchor >
Are there any documentary references to Bach as a singer? As conductor, keyboard player and violinist, yes, but I can't recall any reference to his singing ability.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 6, 2006):
Händel as Lutheran

Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Händel remained a Lutheran throughout his life (I will stand correction) despite some social advantages that could have been gained from moving to the Anglican Church (he had fans among the upper crust after all). >
The question of who was Anglican and who was Lutheran was a complex question after the accession of the Hanoverians in England. George I became a communicant of the Church of England at his succession yet he never ceased to be a communicant Lutheran in Hanover (he was also a de facto Presbyterian as King of Scotland). There was no act of conversion to the new church nor abrogation of the Lutheran faith.

This continued to be the pattern for the British royal family which was full of dual Anglican-Lutherans. As late as the end of the 19th century, Edward VII as Prince of Wales annoyed high church Anglicans by receiving the
sacrament at the Lutheran court of Prussia.

Händel seems to have followed this pattern and may have assumed that his naturalization made him a de facto Anglican as well. When he moved to his house in Brook Street, he became a parishioner in his local church, St. George's, Hanover Square. He was buried according to Anglican rites in Westminster Abbey. His many commissions for the Chapel Royal indicates that the Establishment considered him a conforming member of the Church of England.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 6, 2006):
< Are there any documentary references to Bach as a singer? As conductor, keyboard player and violinist, yes, but I can't recall any reference to his singing ability. >
Yes, as a decent bass.

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 6, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< the early 18th century was a very tough age judged by our terms: slavery, serfdom, grinding poverty both rural & urban, physical abuse of prisoners, horrid treatment of the mentally ill >
Alas, if you expand our to include all of humanity, the species Homo sapiens sapiens (like a man, doubly smart?), this applies to most of us.

Physical abuse of prisoners hits especially close to home at the moment. All's fair in love and war, I suppose. I'll take love.

Tom Hens wrote (September 6, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Händel remained a Lutheran throughout his life (I will stand correction) despite some social advantages that could have been gained from moving to the Anglican Church (he had fans among the upper crust after all). >
That wouldn't have been an issue at all. Anglicans and Lutherans were for all practical purposes considered to be the same thing. After all, that "upper crust" included the Hannoverian monarchs of England, who magically changed between being Lutherans when they were in Hannover, and Anglicans when they were in England (and not just any old Anglicans, but the "supreme governors" of the Church of England). They continued to do so until the accession of Queen Victoria, AFAIK. The whole purpose of the Act of Settlement of 1701 was to forever put a Protestant on the English throne, not a Catholic -- what kind of Protestant didn't matter. The English royal family is still capable of such feats of religious shape-shifting today. All its members change church membership whenever they cross the border between England and Scotland: south of it, they're members of the episcopalian Church of England, north of it, of the presbyterian Church of Scotland. (This can come in handy if you want to marry in church and the Church of England won't let you -- you just get married in the Church of Scotland). I have no idea what church they belong to when they're in Wales or in Northern Ireland, let alone abroad. Anglicans have always been very lenient in such matters. If Händel had been a Catholic, that might have been a slight issue, but not an important one. He was a protestant, that was what mattered. And even being a Catholic didn't matter that much for the right people. Johann Christian Bach being a Roman Catholic didn't stop him from being employed by the royal family, not too long after Händel. For that matter, it didn't even stop John Dowland from being employed by Queen Elizabeth, and that was at a time when Christian religious warfare was at its highpoint, and people in England saw "popish plots" everywhere.

< So it doesn't look as though doctrine per se would have prevented the employment of castrati in secular works although the practice was already under attack by the philosophes in the late Englightenment. >
As I already said, the practice of castration had been condemned by the mainstream of the Church (i.e., that part of it that survived as an organisation, with all the ones that lost out becoming "heresies") since at least the 3rd century CE -- in other words, for almost as long as there has been an organised form of Christianity. A synod of 249 CE specifically condemned the Valesians (one of those many largely forgotten "heretical" forms of Christianity) for their enthusiastic practice of castration. Since all sex was bad and sinful, many early Christians thought the eaway of avoiding sexual temptation was castration. Unlike other crazy notions of the time, this was one idea that didn't make it into a mainstream Christian belief.

Tom Hens wrote (September 6, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
<basically, some of the same things I also wrote before seeing his message --
I could have saved myself the time>
< Händel seems to have followed this pattern and may have assumed that his naturalization made him a de facto Anglican as well. >
I agree that this is how he, and anyone else around at the time, would have thought about it.

< When he moved to his house in Brook Street, he became a parishioner in his local church, St. George's, Hanover Square. >
Where he also on occasion took an active part in services as an organist, IIRC.

< He was buried according to Anglican rites in Westminster Abbey. His many commissions for the Chapel Royal indicates that the Establishment considered him a conforming member of the Church of England. >
It's an old joke that to be a member of the Church of England, a belief in God might be an asset, but it isn't a requirement. Let's not forget that the confirmed atheist Charles Darwin was also buried in Westminster Abbey, and partially in Händel's grave (that was one of the few spots left).

Tom Hens wrote (September 6, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
<< Are there any documentary references to Bach as a singer? As conductor, keyboard player and violinist, yes, but I can't recall any reference to his singing ability. >>
< Yes, as a decent bass. >
The obituary by C.P.E. Bach and J.F. Agricola also mentions that as a boy, he had an "exceptionally beautiful soprano voice" ("ungemein schöne Sopranstimme"). Since neither of them could have heard that voice, this must
be J.S.'s own assessment.

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 6, 2006):
Raymond Joly wrote:
>>Maybe Thomas is boosting Schemelli a bit much. If I were to write in a recommendation that I was quite happy to have young Soandso playing in my orchestra, would that mean that he was a soloist?<<
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< If Bach had simply written that Schemelli had sung in the choir(s), this might then be interpreted as a non-solo singer who simply sang a part along with others. However, the fact that Bach particularly mentions which voice (Soprano) an 18 to 21-year-old Thomaner sang places a different emphasis on his abilities. >
First of all, I trust it is clear that my reply references both: Tom Braatz, in response to Raymond Joly. Neither said anything indelicate, so it should not be controversial, in any event.

From a strictly common sense perspective, I think Tom is onto an interestingthought. Performing with Bach, in the expectation of a recommendation for a sinecure, is not at all working without pay. Much more like what we now call an internship, or similar.

Compare, for example, the much more modest letter Bach wrote for F. G. Wild, flautist extraordinaire in 1724, when the wonderful music we are presently discussing (in off moments) was composed, including extraordinary flute lines. Coincidence? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Wild eventually got a job he wanted, with Bach's recommendation, ca. 1735. In the interim, I guess he was, consultant, free lancer, or graduate student. I have been all three. Leisen to grad students everywhere.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 6, 2006):
Tom Hens wrote:
< That wouldn't have been an issue at all. Anglicans and Lutherans were for all practical purposes considered to be the same thing. After all, that "upper crust" included the Hannoverian monarchs of England, who magically changed between being Lutherans when they were in Hannover, and Anglicans when they were in England (and not just any old Anglicans, but the "supreme governors" of the Church of England). They continued to do so until the accession of Queen Victoria, AFAIK. >
We're a little off-topic here, but the 18th century Anglican religious establishment tolerated the personal Lutheranism of its sovereign and court without tolerating Lutheran doctrine in the Church of England. One of the reasons that there are so few Lutheran chorales in Anglican hymn books even today is that they were forbidden in Anglican churches until the late 19th century.

Ironically, it was the Bach revival in England which created a popular appetite for the classic chorales, but it was only in the 20th century that the music of Bach became "respectable" in the repertoire of Anglican choirs. When Händel wrote extended anthems for the Anglican rite, he covered what were basically Lutheran cantatas with the veneer of a Purcell anthem. In a very daring move, Händel quoted "Christus ist Erstanden" in one of the Chandos Anthems. If the Anglican clerics had recognized it, the work might have been prohibited.

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 6, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
<< Are there any documentary references to Bach as a singer? As conductor, keyboard player and violinist, yes, but I can't recall any reference to his singing ability. >>
< Yes, as a decent bass. >
I did not recover the reference, but I believe there is documentation that he was an excellent soprano before his voice changed. Dei Gratia, no castati in Germany.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 6, 2006):
Tom Hens wrote:
< The obituary by C.P.E. Bach and J.F. Agricola also mentions that as a boy, he had an "exceptionally beautiful soprano voice" ("ungemein schöne Sopranstimme"). Since neither of them could have heard that voice, this must be J.S.'s own assessment. >
Many musicians who were gifted boy sopranos look back at those heady 4 or 5 years when they were coddled and feted as prodigies as the golden period of their lives. I know several adults who have never recovered from the shock of discovering that they had mediocre voices after The Change.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 6, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>Are there any documentary references to Bach as a singer? As conductor, keyboard player and violinist, yes, but I can't recall any reference to his singing ability.<<
There is a contemporary reference (Leipzig, 1738 - Bach Dokumente II, item 432; Charles Burney's English translation in "New Bach Reader" by David, Mendel, Wolff, Norton, 1998, item 328, pp.328-9 ) by Johann Matthias Gesner who appears to have described Bach playing the organ and also conducting one of his sacred cantatas (Passions or oratorios). In the latter Bach is described as "singing with one voice" {singing a solo? - the specific vocal range is not specified here) "while playing his own part...[a description of other things that conductors do follows], giving the right note to one [of the 30 to 40 performers - no proof for OVPP or OPPP here!] from the top of his voice, to another from the bottom and a third from the middle of it...this one man...emitting with his voice alone the tone of all the voices."

All of this seems to indicate a very wide range of notes that Bach could sing accurately and clearly (audible to the listeners) at the age of 53 years.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 6, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< All of this seems to indicate a very wide range of notes that Bach could sing accurately and clearly (audible to the listeners) at the age of 53 years. >
Hey,I'm 55 and can still hit a few notes! (grin)

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 6, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< giving the right note to one [of the 30 to 40 performers - no proof for OVPP or OPPP here!] >
Nice detail, worth emphasizing. Of course, one would expect a reliable witness to do better than <30 or 40>. But you have stated it precisely: no support for OVPP here.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (September 6, 2006):
[To Lew George] I think that the best way of looking at this situation is from a religious point of view.

Bach was Protestant and a Northerner or at least a near Northerner and Southern Germany is and was mostly Catholic. In those days being Catholic and or a Jews were not exactly compatible with the teachings of Martin Luther.

In all probability; no castrati were used in Bach's vocal works unless they had become converts. They were available to be sure. I do not understand why Farinelli was dug up--unless he is mummified---any indications of his eunuchism and vocal chords have long turned to dust. If they were trying to get dna so that Farinelli might have modern day children after all ----then that is understandable. To me this sounds like the sick digging up of Haydn and his dead body's beheading by some medical students in Vienna in the name of a pseudo-science---physiogamy. IF any notable needs to be dug back up ---it is Tschaikovsky to solve the mystery surrounding his death.

In case you are not aware of it there is a movie called Farinelli that I felt was worth watching but it makes Farnelli seem to have a sex drive that he could not have had he been castrated before adolescense. It is sad that Thomas Edison was not around to record his voice while he lived.

The nearest thing that Bach ever wrote to an Opera was the Passions of St Matthew and John and these may have been acted out and as such may have had castrati doing them.

Opera was a Catholic Country thing---Protestants were less appreciative of this art form.

Peter Smaill wrote (September 6, 2006):
<Opera was a Catholic Country thing---Protestants were less appreciative of this art form.>
It's true that the Leipzig Opera failed in 1720 , and its building served as a penitentiary facility until the second half of the eighteenth century (some feel Bayreuth with its wooden seats and long sentences fulfils much the same function!). However, the thriving opera house in Protestant Hamburg suggests that attitudes were fluid, and especially Handelian London where Catholicism was scarcely legal.

Certainly castrati were already known in London when Händel arrived in 1710 :

"Although Italian singers, including castrati, had aroused favourable comment, opera 'after the Italian manner' -that is, entirely sung, was for the most part held to be 'nonsense well-tun'd'. (Hogwood)

'though opera in Italy is a monster' admits John Dennis (Essay on the Operas, 1706), 'tis a beautiful harmonious monster, but in England 'tis a howling one'.

Any inhibition to Opera was surely demolished later by Händel in Anglican London- admittedly, Calvinist areas like Switzerland and Scotland would likely tell a different story.

In the case of the latter , all music was frowned on . A raid was made by the ministers and elders in the Highlands against the fiddles so much beloved of their owners. They made people break and burn their pipes and fiddles and 'forsake their follie, playing with a cold hand without and the devil's fire within'.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (September 6, 2006):
[To Peter Smaill] Part of this was due that the Pope had banned Opera for a while---the Church has at various times looked at the theatre as immoral and this ideology was also taken up by various Protestant groups. The Pope's ban on theatre and Opera put singers out of work so they had to go elsewhere---Protestant country of course.

Händel is reponsible for that Italian Rage in England and made several fortunes doing so but he was only able to do so because the House of Hanover were among the rare Protestants that appreciated Opera. Whilt Catholicsm was officially illegal in England among Royals ----there were clandestine groups that had continued meeting since the ban on Catholicsm in Henry's days---the Anglican Church finally settled down during James rule to allow Catholics to rest in some peace --at least in the closet----Law was going around the Country to insure no variation in the service.

However, we are getting too far afield here. While Bach probally was very aware of Castrati---and they were available ---it is unlikely from the men who sang for him that any were Castrati. The records indicate that most were married and had children.

If any Castrati did sing for Bach it would have occured durng the Kothen period because the Duke (or whatever his title) was inclined to Catholicsm, if my memory serves me correctly.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (September 6, 2006):
Some Historical notes (was: Castrati)

[To Peter Smaill] With regards to Catholicism in England. As most of us learned Charles I was executed by Cromwell. Crowell and his group dating back to before 1620 had sought to purify the Church of England, dress it down and were restrictive in many things--a sort of Taliban of the day. Most of all Cromwell and his followers were responsible for the Puritans coming to what is today the United States in 1620 and also reponsible for the Witch trials of Salem, Massachusettes under the repressions of James I that led to civil war between 1625-1649. The Civil War period ripped England and the UK apart at the soul and was a very violent bloody period. Today these people are called Congregationalists. Charles I's children were sent to France under cover for safety.

During the Restoration; Charles II came to the throne in 1660 also the date of the famous London fire. In Charles II coming to the throne; Catholicism in England was tolerated more than before after all they were not the offending regiciders. Charles forgave all except those who had signed the warrant for his father's death.

Charles I was followed James II in 1685. James I tolerated Catholicism but kept it somewhat in the closet. James II was very militant and allowed Catholiscm to flourish openly in England. He is also thought to have been a gay man who married and had children because the law required him to do so in order to be King. James was not the first nor last of Gay English Monarchs and for that matter of fact German ones also. James's lavish attention to his male favorites at Court, while ignoring his wife, was found greatly disturbing and created jealousies among those who were not part of the 'in' crowd. This combined with his Catholic militancy would cost him dearly. He was deposed and his militantcy cost him his throne and in 1689 Willliam and Mary then took over followed
by Anne who was the last of the House of Stuarts.

The House of Hanover took over in 1714 begining with George I and have ruled ever since under the names of Hanover, Saxe-Coburg and Windor. George II was King of England when Bach died in 1750. With George came Händel. George never spoke a word of English his entire life. As you stated, Opera was appreciated in Hamburg and that is where we know that Händel was. Händel had previously spent time in Rome where he had learned the ins and outs of Italian Opera and had met Farinelli whom he later employed.

Most of both Händel and Bach's life were spanned in England by the rule of James II to George II. Händel was only a month older than Bach. However, the Catholic influences of James lingered on and still
does today in the Anglican services.

Nicholas Johnson wrote (September 6, 2006):
[To William Rowlabd (Ludwig)] Yes the Protestants were rather austere in their musical tastes although the English hymnal far outshines the Catholic equivalent. Bach has 20 odd entries and Händel 4 including number 555 with its unusual dominant 7th 1st inversion.

Does anyone remember the site where amateur Bach pianists record their efforts?

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 6, 2006):
Ludwig wrote:
< In all probability; no castrati were used in Bach's vocal works unless they had become converts. >
I doubt that even conversion would have made the castrati acceptable to social sensibilities north of the Alps. Church music was the business of men and boys, not exotic figures like women and castrati.

Ironically, even in the topsy-turvy moral universe of Baroque Italy, the castrati took precedence over women. When Händel wrote his superb oratorio, "La Resurrexione" for performance at a Roman cardinal's country villa, a woman was slated to sing the part of Mary Mgadalene. When the pope heard of this scandalous casting, he threatened to have her publically flogged. A castrato was quickly substituted.

And we wonder why we have difficulty projecting ourselves into the mind of the 18th century?

John Pike wrote (September 6, 2006):
Tom Hens wrote:
< The obituary by C.P.E. Bach and J.F. Agricola also mentions that as a boy, he an "exceptionally beautiful soprano voice" ("ungemein schöne Sopranstimme"). Since neither of them could have heard that voice, this must be J.S.'s own assessment. >
Not necessarily. They could have received a report from JSB's long-standing friend Erdmann, who was at Lüneburg with Bach. They remained friends for many years and correspondence survives.

Rick Canyon wrote (September 6, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< In a letter dated Leipzig, February 24, 1740, Bach attests to the musical abilities of one Christian Friedrich Schemelli attended St. Thomas School in Leipzig from 1731-1734 (from age 18-21), then enrolled at the University of Leipzig in 1735 >
I was most interested in the age here. Thomas has also posted Bach letters of recommendation which indicated that there were Thomanerchor basses whose ages were mid/late-20ish. At the time I wondered if such maturity existed among the TC's basses, then couldn't it also exist among the sopranos/altos in the form of falsettists (or whatever they might be called).

For myself, an 18-21 yearold soprano then raises such a question. Even in an age when voices changed a couple of years later than today, this seeems somewhat on the old side, especially if the soprano voice continued until he was 21.

I'd accept that Bach wasn't using castrati, so are we saying then that Schemelli had still not undergone a voice change at 21? or, that he merely had an ability or technique to 'sound' like a soprano?

I believe Thomas also mentioned that one of these more mature basses was probably not a soloist. If so, is this an indication that perhaps the TC's bass often was made up of singers who in no way could be described as 'boys'? Is there a possibility that Bach's use of older singers in the TC was OK during Gesner's tenure as rector, but perhaps not supported when the 2nd Ernesti took the rector's post?

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (September 6, 2006):
[To Canyon Rick] I think that the solution to your problem is to examine some recent pop music history. The singer Wayne Newton is a very high pitched tenor The first time I heard him without knowing anything about him I thought that I was hearing a female. While not common; some males, who are not castrati, do have such high pitched voices. Wayne is the father of two daughters thank you the last being born in 2002.

Rick Canyon wrote (September 7, 2006):
Thomasschule and Bach's Singers

William Rowland (Ludwig)wrote:
< I think that the solution to your problem is to examine some recent pop music history. The singer Wayne Newton is a very high pitched tenor >
Yes, and what would Bach have thought of Frankie Valli?

But, I don't know. I think if I have a problem it is that Bach's singers are constantly referred to as boys, yet I'm seeing many examples where the TC had, what I would call, adult members--and not just in the bass section.

I think some of my difficulty may have to do with my lack of structural understanding of the Thomasschule. But, as I understand it:
I won't call it a high school, but the Thomasschule was still preparatory education for a university.
In order to be an official member of the Thomanerchor--especially the First Choir--one had to be an alumni (not externi) at the Thomasschule.
The classes had Latin names like Quinta and Tertia up to Prima. But, one did not advance from one class to the next each year in the same way one goes from tenth to eleventh grade. I gather one could spend several years in the Quatra before moving on to the Tertia, etc., etc.

I'm supposing then--perhaps--one didn't necessarily have to take exams to move to the next level (or graduate) until one felt ready.

Which, I further suppose, is why I'm wondering about all these mid/late-20s members of the TC. Could Bach finagle in some way, admission of such persons to, say, the Prima and delay graduation so they could sing for a few years? It's possible they might not even have to go to classes then. Perhaps they didn't even need to graduate if the goal was merely to get a musical recommendation from Bach. (Possibly my imagination is running amok, but this sounds something like collegiate athletics--which why I wondered if such practices might have brought him into conflict with Ernesti)

Thanks.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (September 7, 2006):
[To Nicholas Johnson] On n'a pas en particulier permis la musique dans l'église puritaine. Mais oui, ils ont chanté hymne ce qui n'acomplissent pas par les instrumentats musicaux. C'a souvent été une affliction de l'église Anglicanne puisqu'il fonde. À l'église de St. Michael à Charleston, Caroline du sud ; nous avons des attestations pendant le temps de la vie de Bach qui énoncent que le Pachelbel (professeur d'un des fils de Bach) Pachelbel a été terminé et course hors de la ville quand un nouveau prêtre a succédé parce qu'ils ont estimé que la musique n'a eu aucun endroit dans l'église et qu'il distrayait pour avoir une "bande" qui a inclus les joueurs en laiton jouez à St. Michaels. L'eglise St. Michaels à ce moment-là était une église très riche dont l'adhésion s'est composée du creame de la cream des propriétaires de société et des plantations de Charleston. En fait leur richesse était telle qu'ils ont souvent envoyé leur blanchisserie en Angleterre pour le nettoyage, censément, en dépit de ont une générosité des esclaves pour faire ceci pour eux.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 7, 2006):
Canyon Rick wrote:
>>Is there a possibility that Bach's use of older singers in the TC was OK during Gesner's tenure as rector, but perhaps not supported when the 2nd Ernesti took the rector's post?<
No, as a payment for services primarily as a bass solo vocalist in both St. Thomas and St. Nikolas Churches of Leipzig, Johann Christoph Altnickol received from the City Council during Ernesti's tenure as rector a payment of 6 Taler from the moneys designated to be used for services rendered in both churches (dated May 19, 1747) along with a note that the Cantor should always report beforehand whom he would like to use in such a capacity. [It would appear that Bach's ability to render musical decisions as to who would sing (or play) as extras in the cantata (etc.) performances is being undermined here and that he should first have asked the council for permission to engage any particular performer if he would expect any payment made to such individuals (mainly students at the university).

Johann Matthias Gesner (1691-1761) was the Rektor of St. Thomas School from September 1730 to 1734. In his Entwurff (Leipzig August 23, 1730, before Gesner took up his official position, Bach had already voiced his concerns (the same ones that his predecessors had) to the Leipzig City Council that university students should not have to sing or play for nothing when performing figural music along with the Thomanerchor under Bach's direction. Johann August Ernesti became Gesner's successor on November 16, 1734 and remained in this post until 1759. He was generally on good terms with Bach.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 7, 2006):
<< giving the right note to one [of the 30 to 40 performers - no proof for OVPP or OPPP here!] >>
< Nice detail, worth emphasizing. Of course, one would expect a reliable witness to do better than <30 or 40>. But you have stated it precisely: no support for OVPP here. >
Except that this comes from #328 in the New Bach Reader and #432 in Bach-Dokumente; and it's about "thirty or forty musicians" (not necessarily singers). Please note also that it's within a sentence where the writer used the obvious hyperbole of "six hundred of your tibia players".

It's not a report of any head-counted performance in particular; it's rhetorical hyperbole in which the guy is simply raving about Bach's musical talents. The sentence where "thirty or forty" occurs is a sentence of well over 100 words...a run-on bit of gushing. He also compares Bach with "twenty Arions." In his effusive praise, if we may read between the lines slightly, he looks to be on the verge of soiling himself.

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 7, 2006):
[To Bradley Lehman] As is my wont, or custom, I accepted the challenge. And as might be expected, things get curiouser and curiouser. In the Bach Reader, 1966 edition, p. 231, Gesner's letter is accompanied by the footnote:
<Original in Latin; Burney made an incomplete translation, some details of which are used here.>

One of the details is the phrase <out of thirty or even forty musicians (symphoniaci)>. The implications of <symphoniaci> are beyond my scope, whether singers, instrumentalists, or both. If it matters I expect someone will help out.

The basic point, carefully stated, remains: no support for OVPP here. No refutation, but certainly no support.

For the record, I have no reason to take any position re OVPP. I have two recordings for BWV 8, which are associated with OVPP: Rifkin [5] and Thomas/American Bach Soloists [6]. On a couple quick listens, both make an excellent impression. In this case, Thomas is not OVPP, in fact the photo included has exactly thirty (30) instrumentalists and singers. If you must get by with one tenor, you could do worse than Frank Kelley, with Rifkin.

As is also my wont, I have a glance at adjacent material when looking it up, for the random insight. I note with bemusement, at the head of p. 231, Bach Reader:

Bach's Thorough-Bass Playing: [...] who accompanies every thorough bass to a solo so that one thinks it is a piece of concerted music and as if the melody he plays in the right hand were written beforehand.

Note those two little words, <as if>, implying improvisation. But what if the writer, Lorenz Mizler was fooled, and it was in fact written beforehand, or more likely, mentally prepared?

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 7, 2006):
I had previously written:
>>There is a contemporary reference (Leipzig, 1738 - Bach Dokumente II, item 432; Charles Burney's English
translation in "New Bach Reader" by David, Mendel, Wolff, Norton, 1998, item 328, pp.328-9) by Johann Matthias Gesner...<<
Whereupon Brad Lehman replied:
>>Except that this comes from #328 in the New Bach Reader and #432 in Bach-Dokumente<<
Who has trouble reading English here? Perhaps if my original reference had been quoted correctly with my
name attached, this type of problem could be avoided in the future.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 7, 2006):
Bach as conductor (was: Castrati and boy sopranos)

Ed Myskowski wrote:
< As is my wont, or custom, I accepted the challenge. And as might be expected, things get curiouser and curiouser. In the Bach Reader, 1966 edition, p. 231, Gesner's letter is accompanied by the footnote:
<Original in Latin; Burney made an incomplete translation, some details of which are used here.>
One of the details is the phrase <out of thirty or even forty musicians (symphoniaci)>. The implications of <symphoniaci> are beyond my scope, whether singers, instrumentalists, or both. If it matters I expect someone will help out.
The basic point, carefully stated, remains: no support for OVPP here. No refutation, but certainly no support. >

This anecdote from school administrator Gesner says nothing that could be construed reliably for or against OVPP practices in any of Bach's Sunday morning church music. It says very little, except that Bach was an outstandingly attentive and capable musician, in the opinion of the writer.

Let's look more closely. This text doesn't say anything about Bach conducting one of his own compositions; it could have been anything. Nor does it say anything one way or another about Sunday morning worship...or even if this was a performance at all, as opposed to a rehearsal. It could have been any classroom setting, teaching some other piece, for all we know.

It's just a guy using logorrhea, and in Latin!, to gush about how totally awesome Bach was as a director of music, and able to multi-task. The writer was the former rector of the school--Gesner--asserting that his colleague there had been amazing. (Gesner himself had left the position in 1734, and this writing was in 1738.) We can't even be sure that this Gesner was himself at all musical (maybe so, maybe not)...but he was merely asserting that, in his own estimation, Bach was way excellent.

Note also that Gesner's little piece of fluff is addressed to a dead guy, Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (Quintilian), who died in approximately 100 A.D. It's not a letter at all; it's a foreword to an edition of Institutio oratoria by Quintilian. It's an example of flowery rhetoric, as foreword to a book about rhetoric. Gesner (by then a professor of philology elsewhere) was asserting that the Leipzig school music was like totally wonderful, and way better than any old dead Greeks or Romans, because they have such an awesome expert in charge of it: a Bach who's equally fantastic at harpsichord, organ, and conducting. And in the way he said so, Gesner used sentences of more than 100 words, and a bunch of classical references (like citharas, tibias, Orpheus, and Arion).

The passage strikes me sort of in the same way as the song "Everything's up to date in Kansas City", in the musical "Oklahoma!" http://lyricsplayground.com/alpha/songs/e/everythingsuptodateinkansascity.shtml

Let's recall also: to non-organists, any sufficiently brilliant organ-playing is totally awesome to watch, seeming incomprehensibly difficult. Even more so if the guy doing the playing just shrugs and says nah, it's merely hitting all the right notes at the right times, and anybody who is willing to work as hard could do it just as well as this.

Professional basketball players have astounding skills, to me, but I'm terrible at basketball and don't understand its fine points. If I had to write some piece about Shaquille, in Latin and for a book that's not about basketball, what would I say?

See also the way that Harold C Schonberg used that same Gesner anecdote, on page 39 of The Great Conductors (1967).

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Bach as Conductor [General Topics]

Tom Hens wrote (September 9, 2006):
John Pike wrote:
< Not necessarily. They could have received a report from JSB's long-standing friend Erdmann, who was at Lueneberg with Bach. They remained friends for many years and correspondence survives. >
That's true. C.P.E. Bach and Agricola may also have known other, older people, friends or family members, who could have heard Bach singing before his voice broke, unlike they themselves. But it's not as if they went out of their way to write a properly researched biography, and gather as many eyewitness accounts of Bach's life as they could, before writing that obituary. C.P.E. later stated that he and Agricola had "cobbled it together" by request (the word he uses is "zusammengestoppelt"). I think it's pretty obvious that almost everything that is in there about Bach's youth are things they heard from the man himself.

Tom Hens wrote (September 9, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< We're a little off-topic here, but the 18th century Anglican religious establishment tolerated the personal Lutheranism of its sovereign and court without tolerating Lutheran doctrine in the Church of England. >
Let's also not forget that the Act of Settlement, which put the succession to the English throne with the Lutheran house of Hannover, was a product of the reign of King William III, who was neither Anglican nor Lutheran, but a Dutch Calvinist (I don't know if he ever pretended to go through a pro forma "conversion" to Anglicanism). It didn't stop the Church of England from welcoming him with open arms, and ignoring the fact that his invasion f England and seizing of the throne was highly illegal by any standard. The Church of England has never gone in for theological hairsplitting.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (September 9, 2006):
[To Tom Hens] William of Orange did not invade England and seize th thrown per se. William was invited to come to England by Parliament after Parliament had deposed James II. He was able to achieve what he did because Parliament was very dissatisfied with James and William had enough supporters that Parliament was able to send James scampering.

As far as William's Calvinism ---there was no conflict per se here because the Presbyterian Church was the chief religion of Scotland which was congruent with the then current state of affairs. Law caused a revolt that threatened to bring Scottish Armies down attacking England over this issue when he went into St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh and threw out the Calvinist Minister at the very moment he began to Preach and Law then began the "popish" (so the Scots claimed) liturgies of the Anglican Church dressed in his robes and Archbishop's hat. At that time at St. Giles the Presbyterians had divided up into various quarters containing various shops, other businesses and two Presbyterian Churches. Law ordered these out and the walls torned down after which he restored the Cathedral as an open spaced cathedral. Today both Presbyterians and Anglicans worship in the same space in peace at St. Giles and Elizabeth II has given equal rights to the Church of Scotland in religious issues.

In the United States; the Evangelical Lutheran Church left their Synod and joined up with the Episcopal Church over women and gay clergy,gay marriage et al. Lutheran Pastors of the Evangelical group are fully licensed to preach and function as Anglican Priests in the US. However, the Lutherans still maintain their traditional liturgies as we do in the Episcopal Church.

 

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Last update: ýSeptember 9, 2006 ý09:06:57