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Part 2

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Bach and the ideal number of singers [alt.music.j-s-bach]

Sebastian wrote (November 29, 2001):
In 1730 Bach wrote something about the ideal number of singers. Does anybody know anything about that?

Charles Francis wrote (November 30, 2001):
[To Sebastian] Wasn't it 3 per part, giving a total of 12? I think that's the Koopman/Wolff interpretation!

Pasacal Costar wrote (November 29, 2001):
[To Charles Francis] The letter you evoke is probably the long memorandum written from Leipzig on the 23rd of August 1730 to the "municipal council".

He says that a choir must, AT LEAST comprise 3 SINGERS per voice (He adds "counting one defection per voice - and they were numerous - there would be enough singers left to play a two choirs motet")

But he adds "it would be PREFERABLE if possible, to employ 4 SINGERS per voice to obtain a 16 voices choir".

Sybrand Bakker wrtote (November 29, 2001):
[To Pascal Costar] Read the Parrot book The Essential Bach Choir and you will be shocked.

He wanted three singers per part, so that if anyone was ill or on leave (which quite frequently happened) he still could perform a motet for double choir.

In short, as is also demonstrated by the parts we have: most Bach choirs were intended for one voice per part and this was about the norm in all of Germany

Tom Hens wrote (November 30, 2001):
[To Charles Francis] The problem is that Bach wasn't good at expressing himself in writing, and what he wrote on the subject in the "Entwurff einer wohlbestallten Kirchenmusic", sent to the Leipzig city council in 1730, simply isn't very clear. One can legitimately read that document as saying that he wanted three singers per part for choral works (one "concertist", who would also sing arias, and two additional "ripienists"), one can equally legitimately read it to say that he thought of one singer per part throughout as normal practice. A major problem is that he uses the word "Chor" in several different meanings. Sometimes it clearly only means the group of singers who were assigned to one particular Leipzig church, without any implication that they'd all be singing at once, sometimes it's used in the strict musical sense. Other evidence needs to taken into account when trying to decide on this question.

However, I see no way in which one could read the Entwurff as supporting a choir size of more than three singers per part. Twelve does seem to be an upper limit.

Myron Stackpool wrote (November 30, 2001):
[To Sybrand Bakker] Then why would Bach say it is preferable to have 4 singers per part to only having 3? I haven't read The Essential Bach Choir, but I do know Rifkin, Parrott, et al. have slighted this statement. And, no doubt, many Bach "chori" were intended for a quartet of voices rather than as ripieno parts, But the memo would seem to indicate that Leipzig wasn't representative of the norm throughout Germany.

Charles Francis wrote (November 30, 2001):
< Myron Stackpool wrote: Then why would Bach say it is preferable to have 4 singers per part to only having 3? >
We must remember Bach's 'Entwurff' isn't a technical document describing his ideal choir, but rather an attempt to negotiate a small improvement in his musical resources. To have any chance of success his requests had to be reasonable, otherwise they would be rejected out of hand. While he may have had an ideal of say 12-singer per part, he was hardly in a position to ask for this.

Tom Hens wrote (December 1, 2001):
[To Charles Francis] Now that is strange reasoning. I've never heard of anyone going into negotations asking for less than they actually want. Usually you ask for more than you know you'll get, in the hope of maybe ending up with more-or-less what you want.

Tom Hens wrote (December 1, 2001):
< Myron Stackpool wrote: Then why would Bach say it is preferable to have 4 singers per part to only having 3? I haven't read The Essential Bach Choir, but I do know Rifkin, Parrott, et al. have slighted this statement. >
If you read the passage in the Entwurff (I'm too lazy right now to type in the original text -- oddly spelled 18th century German is hard to type), he isn't talking about the number of singers per part in a performance, he is talking about the number of singers of each voice type in each group of singers assigned to a particular church service. With only two each of soprano, alto, tenor and bass, even one person being absent due to illness meant a motet for double choir couldn't be performed. Having three people available to choose from would improve this situation, and obviously having four even more. There is no implication that if all were present they would all sing all choral parts together.

< And, no doubt, many Bach "chori" were intended for a quartet of voices rather than as ripieno parts, But the memo would seem to indicate that Leipzig wasn't representative of the norm throughout Germany. >
You can't look at the Entwurff in isolation. One of the findings of Parrott is exactly that one voice per part seems to have been standard practice in other cities in Germany, including ones with well-funded large musical establishments. It wasn't a matter of not being able to afford anything better.

Jim Michmerhuizen wrote (December 5, 2001):
< Sybrand Bakker wrote: Read the Parrot book The Essential Bach Choir and you will be shocked. >
I'm sure I would be... ;^> I read one of Rifkin's papers a while back and was appalled at his - um - tortured reasoning on this subject. I like some of Parrott's conducting (saw a performance with the New York Collegium a couple of years back), but I suspect you're right about the book: I'd be horrified.

< He wanted three singers per part, so that if anyone was ill or on leave (which quite frequently happened) he still could perform a motet for double choir. >
And if nobody was sick he'd give two boys in each part the day off in order to keep the choir from getting too big?

< In short, as is also demonstrated by the parts we have: most Bach choirs were intended for one voice per part and this was about the norm in all of Germany >
I simply don't believe it. I'm not scholar enough to publish papers against this whole Rifkin/Parrott fad, but the fact is I just don't believe that Lutheran church music directors in Bach's lifetime didn't even want more than one voice per part. If that was the case, it would have been a most singular historical anomaly: choirs before, and choirs after, but no choirs during Bach's lifetime, only quartets.

I suppose I'll have to go read the book. I'm sure he'll have some historical facts to play with; but I'm equally sure that, like Rifkin, he'll wind up standing on his head in order to make them fit his argument. It's a very long distance from the available facts to the one-voice-per-part principle.

Let me repeat what I said above: on a Sunday when all the boys were healthy and showed up for work, does Parrott really want us to believe that Bach would have sent the "excess" kids back to their dorm?

Sybrand Bakker wrote (December 6, 2001):
[To Jim Michmerhuizen] OK I am going to argue with you, but I do 'believe' you are already so prejudiced and unwilling to accept any sound evidence of the contrary, that arguing with you is about useless.

1 Remember Bach describes the ideal. So he simply didn't have that number of singers.
2 Remember Bach was always short in instrumentalists, and he simply was forced to use Thomaner to play instrumental parts. The total number of Stadtpfeifer was only 7
3 Remember also Bach complained against Ernesti for not taking musical capabilities into account. If you read the Memorandum about the 55 projected alumni, 17 are 'unfit', read 'unmusical', they are not capable of making any music at all. Keep in mind only the alumni ('kids' living in the school for free) were requested to sing, the externs were not requested to sing and didn't participate at all.
4 All in all this would result in a demostructural shortage for both singers and instrumentalists.
5 Any score of Bachs time and before is marked with the correct number of participants. If you have a motetto a 8 you may be sure only 8 participants were present and not 100 as in modern performances.
6 Choirs before Bachs time were definitely not larger than in Bachs time. The average cathedral or courtly chapel (15th/16th century) consisted of 12-20 singers.

You may believe what you want, but I know the research (as I have read it) of both Mr Rifkin and Parrott is sound and they don't do any of the trics you accuse them of. I gather you are in the Koopman camp, who likewise simply can't ' believe' Parrott and Rifkin are right, but who simply can't refute the research of Parrott and Rifkin with anything suitable, other than he can't believe it. You and Mr. Koopman simply don't want it to be true. While you probably don't held a musicological degree and you probably can't proof mrs. Parrott and Rifkin are wrong, mr. Koopman does and he can't proof them wrong either, and I think it is a shame he refuses to see the proven inevitable truth.

Jim Michmerhuizen
wrote (December 6, 2001):
[To Sybrand Bakker] Thanks. We need more of that. Seriously. How else is a.m.j-s-b going to be exciting?

< but I do 'believe' you are already so prejudiced >
How did you get that impression? The statements to which you are replying are not my "pre"-judice but "post"-judice: I have some familiarity with the general position, from reading an essay of Rifkin. I believe I indicated that, if the opportunity arises, I will indeed read Mr. Parrott's book, and I made some guesses as to what I might find in it.

< and unwilling to accept any sound evidence of the contrary, that arguing with you is about useless.>
But my dear fellow, now you're giving up before you've even started. That sounds like an attempt to cover your ass in case the argument goes badly.

< 1 Remember Bach describes the ideal. So he simply didn't have that number of singers.
2 Remember Bach was always short in instrumentalists, and he simply was forced to use Thomaner to play instrumental parts. The total number of Stadtpfeifer was only 7
3 Remember also Bach complained against Ernesti for not taking musical capabilities into account. If you read the Memorandum about the 55 projected alumni, 17 are 'unfit', read 'unmusical', they are not capable of making any music at all. Keep in mind only the alumni ('kids' living in the school for free) were requested to sing, the externs were not requested to sing and didn't participate at all.
4 All in all this would result in a demonstrable *structural* shortage for both singers and instrumentalists.
5 Any score of Bachs time and before is marked with the correct number of participants. If you have a motetto a 8 you may be sure only 8 participants were present and not 100 as in modern performances. >
A dead horse. The issue is not 8 versus 100 but 8 versus 24.

You have nothing to gain by arguing against positions that nobody here is trying to defend. I want choirs with maybe five voices per part, not twenty-five.

< 6 Choirs before Bachs time were definitely not larger than in Bach’s time. The average cathedral or courtly chapel (15th/16th century) consisted of 12-20 singers. >
Well. Why does Parrott then perform with 4 or 5?

< You may believe what you want, but I know the research (as I have read it) of both Mr Rifkin and Parrott is sound . >
But how do you know this, Sybrand? Have you independently researched the same material? If you find their arguments persuasive, then just say so.

< and they don't do any of the trics you accuse them of. >
I'm not accusing them of tricks, only of bad logic.

< I gather you are in the Koopman camp, who likewise simply can't ' believe' Parrott and Rifkin are right, but who simply can't refute the research of Parrott and Rifkin with anything suitable, other than he can't believe it. >
I haven't been really following the scholarly discussions on this topic; I wasn't aware of being in Ton Koopman's "camp", but I'm certainly happy to have the support of such people as him.

< You and Mr. Koopman simply don't *want* it to be true. >
No, we simply don't believe that Rifkin and Parrott have proven their case.

Look, if Rifkin or Parrott could simply say "Hey, I tried performing with one voice per part and I liked the sound and I'm going to do it that way from now on, or at least until I get bored and want to try something else," I'd be all for it. I'm all for experiments. For that matter, if some billionaire Bach-lover wanted to hire a chorus of a thousand, full-time, to train them to total pitch and timing perfection so that they could sing with the same clarity as a choir of 16, I'd be all in favor of that experiment too.

But what I resent is their pounding their taste on the rest of us under the guise of historical research: "fuck you guys, this is the way Bach OUGHT to sound."

That makes me mad. Personal taste disguising itself as historical research.

Mark Slater wrote (December 6, 2001):
< But what I resent is their pounding their taste on the rest of us under Jim told us: the guise of historical research: "fuck you guys, this is the way Bach OUGHT to sound."
That makes me mad. Personal taste disguising itself as historical research. >
As for personal taste, I have to declare that I love my recording of the B minor Mass (BWV 232) from Harnoncourt/Petite Bande.It is definitely a small choir recording, but exciting, nonetheless. I would strongly suggest reading the Wolff book regarding the choir sizes available to Bach during his career. He includes pictures of the performing spaces, which I found intriguing.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (December 7, 2001):
< Mark Slater wrote: I have to declare that I love my recording of the B minor Mass from Harnoncourt/Petite Bande >
I think you mean Leonhardt/Petite Bande or Harnoncourt/Concentus Musicus.

Charles Francis wrote (December 7, 2001):
[To Mark Slater] If only you had said Leonhardt/La Petite Bande I would have agreed with you. I also recommend Rifkin, Parrott and Rilling's first (1974) performance.

Mark Slater wrote (December 6, 2001):
[To Charles Francis] Of course I meant Leonhardt/Petite Bande. This is my punishment for late night typing.

Jim Michmerhuizen wrote (December 7, 2001):
[To Mark Slater] Are you referring to the biography, or to the one about the early Bach cantatas? I have both - but they're not in front of me right now.

Wolff is ok - he's just presenting information about Bach's life and environment - he's not setting up to tell me how to perform. Parrott tells me about the choir sizes available to Bach, and then says, in effect, that I must bind myself to the same limits.

Musically, that's preposterous. Bach, for example, knew and used a great deal of earlier church music - Palestrina and others. Do you think that he gave a flying f--- for "historical authenticity"? He himself did not - he arranged, he added extra parts, he reorganized, he did things that would forever disqualify him today from membership in any HIP society.

Bach was a working musician, not a theoretician. Bach was not a musicologist but a working music director for the Leipzig school system. It's shameful to see the HIP bunch trying to tie us and our performance practice to their little ideas of what would have been acceptable to him if his mind were as small as theirs.

Sybrand Bakker wrote (December 7, 2001:
[To Jim Michmerhuizen] As usual opponents of HIP theories resort to shouting and other derogatory language. The reason for this is quite simple: they can't proof the HIP theories are wrong.

If you don't want to believe the FACTS, if you want to listen to performances where the polyphony is drowned by the number of singers (compare the OVPP motets by Cantus Cölln and the performances by Herreweghe and/or Koopman, and even your prejudiced ears may hear with I am getting at), that's all OK with me. However, please come up with arguments derived from the FACTS and not with your TASTE.

Charles Francis wrote (December 7, 2001):
< Sybrand Bakker wrote: As usuopponents of HIP theories resort to shouting and other derogatory language. The reason for this is quite simple: they can't proof the HIP theories are wrong. >
The term 'HIP' has been so closely identified with the now discredited performance practices of Harnoncourt/Leonhardt, Herreweghe, Koopman, Gardiner etc., that I feel we would better refer to the Rifkin, Parott school as post-HIP. Otherwise, we are left with an undefined performance category stretching from Münchinger to Rifkin. Of course, we may use the term 'HIP' to denote the current state-of-the-art with regard to scholarship, but then we should be clear that Harnoncourt/Leonhardt, Herreweghe, Koopman, and Gardiner etc., like Munchinger, Rilling, Richter and Karajan, are not HIP, but anachronistic.

Jim Michmerhuizen wrote (December 8, 2001):
< Charles Francis wrote: The term 'HIP' has been so closely identified with the now discredited performance > practices of Harnoncourt/Leonhardt, Herreweghe, Koopman, Gardiner etc., that I > feel we would better refer to the Rifkin, Parott school as post-HIP. >
That's interesting. I hadn't heard about the discrediting. Can you point me to some articles or books on this? Can you tell me what it is about all of these people that's now discredited? How recently (or over what period of time) has this happened? Are they all discredited for the same vice, or each for his own individual defect?

Is yet another wave of shifting fashion about to break upon us? Are you surfing on it?

Charles Francis wrote (December 8, 2001):
[To Jim Michmerhuizen] The so-called 'HIP' school (Harnoncourt/Leonhardt etc.) used multiple voices per part for Bach's choruses, an approach which Rifkin and Parrott have shown has no basis in the historical performance practice of Bach's time.

Jim Michmerhuizen wrote (December 9, 2001):
[To Charles Francis] So let me get this straight now: they have shown not to deserve the appellation "Historically Accurate Performers" because their performances were not Historically Accurate. Is that it?

Now, do you like the performances themselves less since the news came out? Has your own musical response to them changed since the headlines?

Tom Hens wrote (December 8, 2001):
< Jim Michmerhuizen wrote... <snipping very liberally> A dead horse. The issue is not 8 versus 100 but 8 versus 24.
You have nothing to gain by arguing against positions that nobody here is trying to defend. I want choirs with maybe five voices per part, not twenty-five. >
My question is: why? Why do you think 25 singers per part is bad, 1 is bad too, but 5 is good? Other than that you apparently like how it sounds that way, I haven't seen you offer any other arguments. The by now pretty generally accepted practice of using choirs of maybe 12 to 24 singers for Bach used to come in for vehement criticism, too.

< <snip> No, we simply don't believe that Rifkin and Parrott have proven their case. >
You've said several times that you haven't read Parrott's book.

< Look, if Rifkin or Parrott could simply say "Hey, I tried performing with one voice per part and I liked the sound and I'm going to do it that way from now on, or at least until I get bored and want to try something else," I'd be all for it. I'm all for experiments. For that matter, if some billionaire Bach-lover wanted to hire a chorus of a thousand, full-time, to train them to total pitch and timing perfection so that they could sing with the same clarity as a choir of 16, I'd be all in favor of that experiment too.
But what I resent is their pounding their taste on the rest of us under the guise of historical research: "fuck you guys, this is the way Bach OUGHT to sound." >
Now this last argument is what I really don't understand. How can anyone "pound their taste on the rest of us"?

Rifkin and Parrott write articles and books, as any musicologist (or even any ordinary civilian) can do. They also both happen to make recordings, as any musician who can get a contract with a record label (or raise enough money in other ways to do it himself) can do. How can they impose their views on anyone else? Nobody is forced to buy their CD's, nobody else performing this music is forced to adhere to the same principles.

I'm just old enough to remember this same kind of rhetoric being used against people like Harnoncourt and Leonhardt. I didn't get it at the time either: if those people hated the recordings made by H&L so passionately, why on earth were they apparently listening to them and getting offended by them? One might almost think they were doing it on purpose and that they got a kick out of acting all "offended". What magical powers do the HIP performers possess that allow them to somehow "impose" or "force" their views on people who don't agree with them?

< That makes me mad. Personal taste disguising itself as historical research. >
Historical research which you've said yourself you haven't read. Who exactly is trying to disguise personal taste as factual argument here?

Jim Michmerhuizen wrote (December 9, 2001):
< Tom Hens wrote: My question is: why? Why do you think 25 singers per part is bad, 1 is bad too, but 5 is good? >
In the passage you quote, I was responding to somebody's referring to "100 singers" - I wanted to distance myself from that. In many of these threaded discussions the issue of who's in favor of what practices, and who's opposed to which practices, gets - um - sort of mixed up. After a while it's hard to tell where the enemy is.

< Other than that you apparently like how it sounds that way, I haven't seen you offer any other arguments. >
And you won't, either. I don't think any arguments are needed. What I'm objecting to is precisely the notion that if I want to perform with five voices on a part I need to find some documentary evidence to support that.

< Now this last argument is what I really don't understand. How can anyone "pound their taste on the rest of us"?
Rifkin and Parrott write articles and books, as any musicologist (or even any ordinary civilian) can do. They also both happen to make recordings, as any musician who can get a contract with a record label (or raise enough money in other ways to do it himself) can do. How can they impose their views on anyone else? Nobody is forced to buy their CD's, nobody else performing this music is forced to adhere to the same principles. >
Of course. And I freely admit I was raising the rhetorical stakes a little bit there in the passage you quoted. In plain fact, no, I haven't had any midnight threats from either Mr. Rifkin or Mr. Parrott. They don't even know my name. I was, in fact, referring to some language in Mr. Bakker's almost equally intemperate messages to me, in which *he* appeared to be prohibiting me from ever undertaking or participating in any performance involving more than one voice per part.

< I'm just old enough to remember this same kind of rhetoric being used against people like Harnoncourt and Leonhardt. >
Yeah. The rhetoric, on both sides of that argument, was mostly from passionate young partisans, like fans at a soccer match. It wasn't from their colleagues, who understood very well the point that L &H could conduct any way they damn well pleased as long as they didn't start passing out rules to everybody else.

< I didn't get it at the time either: if those people hated the recordings made by H&L so passionately, why on earth were they apparently listening to them and getting offended by them? One might almost think they were doing it on purpose and that they >
I think many of them did. Your analysis is dead on.

< What magical powers do the HIP > performers possess that allow them to somehow "impose" or "force" their > views on people who don't agree with them? >
<< That makes me mad. Personal taste disguising itself as historical research. >>
As I confessed above, the taste in question is that of partisans such as Mr. Bakker and some of the other contributors to this thread. The research is, indeed, not theirs but that of Rifkin and Parrott and others; it's picked up by the partisans as an arbiter of present performance standards -- and THAT's what I object to.

< Historicalresearch which you've said yourself you haven't read. Who exactly is trying to disguise personal taste as factual argument here? >
Not me, my friend. I'm trying to break that supposed connection, and haven't disguised anything.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (December 10, 2002):
< Sybrand Bakker wrote: Read the Parrot book The Essential Bach Choir and you will be shocked. >
BTW
http://www.andante.com/magazine/article.cfm?id=15005

Tom Hens wrote (November 29, 2001):
< Charles Francis wrote: Wasn't it 3 per part, giving a total of 12? I think that's the Koopman/Wolff interpretation! >
The problem is that Bach wasn't good at expressing himself in writing, and what he wrote on the subject in the "Entwurff einer wohlbestallten Kirchenmusic", sent to the Leipzig city council in 1730, simply isn't very clear. One can legitimately read that document as saying that he wanted three singers per part for choral works (one "concertist", who would also sing arias, and two additional "ripienists"), one can equally legitimately read it to say that he thought of one singer per part throughout as normal practice. A major problem is that he uses the word "Chor" in several different meanings. Sometimes it clearly only means the group of singers who were assigned to one particular Leipzig church, without any implication that they'd all be singing at once, sometimes it's used in the strict musical sense. Other evidence needs to taken into account when trying to decide on this question.

However, I see no way in which one could read the Entwurff as supporting a choir size of more than three singers per part. Twelve does seem to be an upper limit.

J. Howard Collingsworth wrote (December 8, 2001):
Let's say for example, you have 3 different frequencies related to one part. One 440, one 438, and the other 442. Mind you, these are pure tones for an example, no vibrato or trembelo. The tones between 440 and 438 produce a difference tone of 2 hertz (or two cycles per second, this is what is perceived as a beat wave, a rolling swell of sound). Add the third tone (which adds 4 hertz to the first, 440, and 2 hertz to the 438 tone) then you have two difference tones, two, and four respectively. Add those different tones together you get 6 hertz.This is how multiple sounds interact with the ear. The more voices, the more complex the sound. I hope this makes sense.

J. Howard Collingsworth wrote (December 8, 2001):
What I'm trying to say is that the more voices, the more "homogenized" the overall sound.

Jim Michmerhuizen wrote (December 8, 2001):
[To Howard Collingsworth] Yeah, clearly. We've all heard that, I imagine, in comparing different kinds of choral experiences.

How big are the choirs that do plainchant? I've always been impressed at the kind of unison sonority they achieve - and I've wondered at that. They seem to get a kind of unison that ordinary choirs never achieve. Do they really achieve a "zero-beat" condition? Is that even possible for multiple human voices?

I've sung in a small (12 voices) church choir for about six years now, and had earlier sung in other choruses such as the San Francisco Bach Choir. We never came anywhere near the powerful unisons, in each part, that the plain-chant singers do.

In high school I participated in a more-or-less "regional" performance of the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244). A collegiate choir of about 80 did the big things, and some half-dozen high-school choirs combined did the chorales.

This thread has been discussing mostly from a listener's standpoint. But I can tell you, it's worse to be in a huge choir like that than to have to listen to it. The inertia (given the size and our relative lack of training) was awful. And it can't have sounded very good.

===============
And of course there are issues in addition to pitch. Two of the most important are:

a) tone color (the precise timbre of each vowel, and the way diphthongs evolve through their allotted time)
b) consonant synchronization (all the "t's" at the same instant, etc.)

A choir that can achieve unison delivery on these, as well as on pitch, is pretty good.

Charles Francis wrote (December 8, 2001):
[To J. Howard Collingsworth] As you may know, synthesizers often have multiple oscillators where each oscillator is slightly detuned and this difference in frequency gives rise to the familiar 'chorus' effect. What is interesting, is the dramatic change in sound quality that a second oscillator produces. Three oscillators give an even richer sound, but thereafter adding extra detuned oscillators has little effect, everything has become homogeneous, a kind of harmonic mush, and the ear can no longer detect the separate oscillator frequencies, but rather detects one complex signal. So from these empirical considerations, I would expect a profound qualitative difference between One Voice Per Part and Two Voices Per Part, and a lesser difference between Two Voices Per Part and Three Voices Per Part. Thereafter, the main purpose of adding extra voices would be to increase volume as the perceived quality of the sound will not change much. In conclusion, the difference between a Richter and Koopman choir is volume and perhaps extra reverberation with the larger choir as the singers are placed further from the mike to balance in volume with the orchestra. But the distinction between the Koopman and Rifkin approach is profound and hits the ear immediately.

Sybrand Bakker wrote (December 8, 2001):
[To Charles Francis] Also note the ear doesn't perceive linearly. Ie when you have 4 singers instead of 2, the ear perceives 3 db difference. When you have 8 singers instead of 4 the ear perceives 3 db difference. Adding one extra singer to two singers almost doesn't do anything in terms of volume. The interesting thing of course is this applies to everything. To have 3db more volume, you need to double the number of performers, ie 24 violins instead of 12.

Tom Hens wrote (December 8, 2001):
[To Sybrand Bakker] Jos van Immerseel wrote about this phenomenon in practical terms in the notes to his recordings of the Schubert symphonies. Since the intended performance conditions for these symphonies aren't exactly clear, he experimented a lot with various orchestra sizes before settling on the forces to be used for the recording. He notes that adding more and more instruments, especially large string sections, doesn't really result in a noticeably louder sound, just a muddier (for lack of a better word) one, and that smaller groups playing in tune extremely well sound subjectively "louder" than larger groups who aren't so well-tuned.

J. Howard Collingsworth wrote (December 9, 2001):
This is wonderful. I appreciate the responses. We are delving into the realm of acoustics. I confess, I love the subject, and I love the mathematics that go with it. Of course, I love the "chaos" of a live performance, but I also am interested in the idea of "controlled sound". And the psychology of sound.

Jim Michmerhuizen wrote (December 9, 2001):
[To Tom Hens] That's the same phenomenon, probably, as what I was trying to say about plainchant choirs in an earlier post. Except you said it better: smaller groups playing in <perfect> tune sound louder than larger but less tuned groups.

Ned S. Vanderven wrote (December 10, 2001):
< Tom Hens wrote: Jos van Immerseel wrote about this phenomenon in practical terms in the notes to his recordings of the Schubert symphonies. Since the intended performance conditions for these symphonies aren't exactly clear, he experimented a lot with various orchestra sizes before settling on the forces to be used for the recording. He notes that adding more and more instruments, especially large string sections, doesn't really result in a noticeably louder sound, >
To produce a "just noticeable difference" in loudness requires approximately a 25% increase in the sound intensity (a 1 dB increase in sound intensity level). If you have four performers, adding one will produce a just noticeable difference, but if you begin withtwenty, you have to add about five more, so diminishing returns set in rather rapidly.

< and that smaller groups playing in tune extremely well sound subjectively "louder" than larger groups who aren't so well-tuned. >
This may not be too hard to explain. If you have a section of identical electronic oscillators, each producing the same intensity I at identical frequencies, and they are all in phase, N of them them together will produce an intensity of N-squared x I. In this case the oscillators are said to be "coherent". If these oscillators are all at somewhat different frequencies and their phases vary in time, the resulting average intensity is only N x I, and they are said to be incoherent.

Although a group of singers won't achieve the complete coherence of a set of identical electronic oscillators, I can imagine that a well-tuned, well trained group might achieve partial coherence over a sufficiently long time, leading to an intensity greater than the N x I that you would expect from a more "incoherent" group, even though it may be appreciably less than N-squared x I.

Jim Michmerhuizen wrote (December 11, 2001):
[To Ned S. Vanderven] That's interesting. I am going to speculate that groups of singers can indeed achieve this. I believe that I hear it in some plain-chant groups, and I've experienced it several times in singing groups. (I think. This is, after all, speculation.)

IF it can happen, one of the contributing factors is I think a spontaneous coupling of frequencies. You have to be standing close together, almost singing at each other.

It's something qualitatively more than just "unison". Any well-trained singers can get into unison and stay that way. The vocal coupling I'm referring to is more than that.

Has anybody else experienced anything like this? (If not, I'll assume I'm talking nonsense.)

There's a different but related fact: whenever a composer switches between unison and four-part writing, the apparent volume of the choir falls off in the four-part singing compared to the unison.

Alain Naigeon wrote (December 12, 2001):
< Jim Michmerhuizen wrote: It's something qualitatively more than just "unison". Any well-trained singers can get into unison and stay that way. The vocal coupling I'm referring to is more than that. >
Do you mean a kind of "vocal laser" ? ;-)
I'm not teasing you, that's just to be sure
I understand your point.

Ned S. Vanderven wrote (December 13, 2001):
< Alain Naigeon wrote: Do you mean a kind of "vocal laser" ? ;-) >
I can't tell you what Jim Michmerhuizen may be thinking, but I was definitely not thinking of a "vocal laser". Different light sources, none of which depend on laser action, can also exhibit varying degrees of coherence.

Ned S. Vanderven wrote (December 13, 2001):
[Jim Michmerhuizen] Not being a singer, I have no direct experience of this phenomenon but, like you, I think I have heard it from plain-chant groups.

I did not mention, because my original post was getting overlong, that this effect will be wiped out by any appreciable vibrato, whose rapid phase variations are such that the time-average intensity, even for short times, would be little more than the sum of the individual intensities. I would also expect the partial coherence to be more pronounced for music that is relatively slowly varying.

I have a hard time thinking of a mechanism for any "spontaneous coupling" of frequencies other than whatever may occur when a small group of good singers can hear each other very well.

When you have this experience, is it for all kinds of vocal material? Have you noticed any differences that depend on the amount of vibrato?

Tom Hens wrote (December 12, 2001):
[To Ned S. Vanderven] Thank you for putting it in scientific terms. There is a very obvious interaction with the use of vibrato here. It seems to me such a high degree of coherence is very unlikely to be achievable in a group of singers or players using continuous vibrato, since they wouldn't just have to stick to the same basic frequency, but also to the exact same rate and level of vibrato, and in perfect phase too. When everybody uses vibrato, it's unlikely there'll ever be two people producing the exact same frequency at the same time.

Ned S. Vanderven wrote (December 10, 2001):
< Sybrand Bakker wrote: Also note the ear doesn't perceive linearly. Ie when you have 4 singers instead of 2, the ear perceives 3 db difference. When you have 8 singers instead of 4 the ear perceives 3 db difference. Adding one extra singer to two singers almost doesn't do anything in terms of volume. The interesting thing of course is this applies to everything. To have 3db more volume, you need to double the number of performers, ie 24 violins instead of 12. >
Apart from your comment that the ear does not perceive linearly, this is utter nonsense. I suggest you not try to buttress your arguments with your imperfect understanding of musical acoustics.

If you double the number of instruments you double the intensity of the sound, which is an increase in the sound intensity level (not the volume, whatever you may mean by that; it has no quantitative measure) of 3dB. At a frequency of 1000 Hz this increase of 3 dB in the sound intensity level corresponds to an increase of 3 phons in the loudness level. A 3 phon increase in the loudness level does not result in a doubling of the perceived loudness, measured in sones. For loudness levels of 40 phons or more, a doubling of the perceived loudness (i.e. doubling the number of sones) requires an increase in loudness level of 10 phons, which, at 1000 Hz, is an increase in sound intensity level of 10 dB, requiring 10 times as many instruments. This does not hold exactly at all loudness levels and at all frequencies, but a good rule of thumb for most levels over a fairly wide range of frequencies is that you need about a 10 dB increase in sound intensity and about 10 times the number of instruments (playing at the same intensity) to double the perceived loudness.

You need even more performers than you might think to produce a significant change in the perceived loudness, so in that general sense you are correct, but your numbers are not.

Ned S. Vanderven wrote (December 10, 2001):
< J. Collingsworth wrote: Let's say for example, you have 3 different frequencies related to one part. One 440, one 438, and the other 442. Mind you, these are pure tones for an example, no vibrato or trembelo. The tones between 440 and 438 produce a difference tone of 2 hertz (or two cycles per second, this is what is perceived as a beat wave, a rolling swell of sound). Add the third tone (which adds 4 hertz to the first, 440, and 2 hertz to the 438 tone) then you have two difference tones, two, and four respectively. Add those different tones together you get 6 hertz.This is how multiple sounds interact with the ear. The more voices, the more complex the sound. I hope this makes sense. >
Except for your penultimate sentence, most of what you have written is not correct.

You have confused a beat phenomenon, which is linear, with a particular type of combination tone (the difference tone), which is inherently a non-linear phenomenon. The phenomenon of multiple beats, which is responsible for the "chorus effect" is not a result of the interaction of multiple sounds with the ear. You will observe beats between two tones even if you pick up the sound with a microphone and display the resulting waveform on an oscilloscope.

When two pure tones of nearby frequencies are added, the frequency of the resulting tone is the average frequency of the two tones, and the amplitude oscillates at the beat frequency, which is the difference of the two frequencies. If the two tones have equal amplitudes A, the resulting amplitude oscillates between zero and 2A.

If your three tones each have amplitude A, the result of adding them is the following:

From adding A/2 of the 438 Hz tone to A/2 of the 440 Hz tone you get a tone of frequency 439 Hz, whose amplitude oscillates at 2Hz between zero and A.

From adding A/2 of the 440 Hz tone to A/2 of the 442 Hz tone you get a tone of frequency 441 Hz, whose amplitude oscillates at 2Hz bzero and A.

From adding A/2 of the 438 Hz tone to A/2 of the 442 Hz tone you get a tone of frequency 440 Hz, whose amplitude oscillates at 4Hz between zero and A.

As long as we stick to the linear phenomenon of beats, these three amplitude-modulated tones account for everything.

Combination tones, which require a non-linear response (say in the ear), are not important for the chorus effect. For a simple non-linearity and tones of moderate amplitude, the most important combination tones produced by tones of 438 Hz and 440 Hz are the four second-order tones, but these are generally much weaker than the primaries. Moreover:

The difference tone 440-438 = 2 Hz, is far below the frequency range of the ear.

The sum tone, 438+440 = 878 Hz, is very difficult to hear because of masking by the two primary tones.

Harmonics of frequencies 2x438 and 2x440 are also very difficult to hear, again because of masking by the primary tones.

Of the six third-order combination tones, only two of them, those at 2x438-440 = 436 Hz and 2x440-438 = 442 Hz, would not be strongly masked by the primaries.

If you work out corresponding frequencies for your two other pairs, you still do not get a 6 Hz difference tone, and even if you did you could not hear it.

The one thing you have written that is correct is "The more voices, the more complex the sound."

Zachary Uram wrote (December 6, 2001):
[To Jim Michmerhuizen] That may be but the idea behind of their general argument is sound: namely that when it comes to Bach's music a more minimal vocal force is better than say a 100 voice Romantic approach. Personally I am not against OVPP for some works though I agree that to say it is the Bach ideal in all of his vocal works is rather stretching things.

Jim Michmerhuizen wrote (December 7, 2001):
< Zachary Uram wrote: That may be but the idea behind of their general argument is sound: namely that when it comes to Bach's music a more minimal vocal force is better than say a 100 voice Romantic approach. >

But Zach, that battle has been over for almost half a century already. Rifkin and Parrott are not merely saying we ought to do away with hundred-voice Bach choirs; they are saying we ought to do away with TWENTY-VOICE Bach choirs, and use vocal quartets or quintets instead. That is the position that I am arguing against.

Charles Francis wrote (December 7, 2001):
[To Jim Michmerhuizen] Luddite!

Ken Moore wrote (December 7, 2001):
[To Zachary Uram] On a point of detail, I don't recall Rifkin & Parrott alleging that OVPP was Bach's ideal, just that he was constrained to it by the economic circumstances. Personally, I like the results on record, but have doubts about how well one could achieve balance in live performance.

Jim Michmerhuizen wrote (December 8, 2001):
[To Ken Moore] Thanks for the point.

Yeah, I'm on slightly shaky ground there myself. I haven't yet read Parrott's book - the one that's apparently the source of most of Sybrand's ammunition - and when I reread earlier today the only Rifkin essay I have - about the performing conditions for the Trauer Ode BWV 198 in 1727 - I found him much less dogmatic than I remembered.

That suggests the (deconstructive) reflection that maybe the doctrine under discussion could only arise anyway in an era in which recorded performance could make it possible to divorce musical balance from musical resources.

Sybrand Bakker wrote (December 7, 2001):
[To Zachary Uram] With all due respect it is not. The only thing that really counts is the number of parts retained. Parrott and Rifkin satisfactorily proved there have been concertisten and ripienisten parts. They also proved (examples are included in Parrotts book) a ripienist couldn't sing from a concertisten part, because these parts don't distinguish the concerto and ripieno movements. They also proved it didn't happen multiple ripienists sang from one part.

The Johannes Passion (BWV 245) is the only passion with ripieno parts, hence 8 singers are involved, not one more, not one less. That is an established fact.

Bach was not a theoretician, he was like all composers of his time pragmatic. He composed for the forces he had at his disposal. Listen to the church music of Vivaldi, of Haydn, of Mozart. No piece of church music of any of these composers, with their larger ensembles at their disposal is truly polyphonic.

Listen to the music of Schütz, all his scores list the exact number of performers. I can go on ad libitum, however mr. Michmerhuizen's ears (and maybe your ears) simply make his eyes blind for the truth: Bach had usually only 4 to 8 singers at his disposal for the cantata, the number of singers in Weimar weren't larger, and in Arnstadt and Mühlhausen ditto.

These remarks from Sybrand do a great deal to clarify where our respective priorities lie. I'm
snipping some good stuff just for conciseness; what I have to say here is not by any means
a full reply...

Jim Michmerhuizen wrote (December 12, 2001):
I had posed six questions which I believed to be intermixed in the thread so far:
> > >Are we arguing about
> > > a) how many singers Bach had?
> > > b) how many he wanted?
> > > c) how big a choir can get before it gets muddy?
> > > d) whether it's ok to like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?
> > > e) whether it's ok to prefer vocal quartets to choirs?
> > > f) how much a contemporary performance should be bound by the answers to a-e?

..and after presenting some details of the arguments on which the Parrott/Rifkin thesis
is based, Sybrand goes on to say,

< For me b) is completely unimportant and of the mark. >
Well, ok, then, let's get on to the remaining four. How do you feel about those? (You go first. Then I'll tell you how I feel about them.)

< No composer before Beethoven composed for imaginary orchestras, imaginary instruments and imaginary voices. >
That may be true. But if it is true, is its truth established by musicological research? If it is false, is their any way that you or I could know that it is false?

< Rifkin, in a different context, convincingly demonstrates the Requiem of Mozart was projected for only 8 singers. Even the Stephansdom in Vienna didn't have more than 8 singers to perform a Requiem Mass.
In order to realize the composers intentions, we need to reconstruct as close as we can his performance conditions. >
The expression "composer's intentions" gives a curiously romantic cast to your argument, I think. As other contributors to this thread have pointed out, it is, or may be, an essentially unrealizable ideal.

I want to investigate this notion of "realizing the composer's intentions".

Can we imagine a performance that perfectly realizes every documentable intention of a composer but is a musical failure nonetheless? Or is that a self-contradictory notion?

Could there ever be such a thing as a performance that was, say, a transcendent musical experience for both participants and audience, but that violated what was known and documented about its composer's "intentions"? Or is that a self-contradictory notion?

What canons of taste do I violate if I substitute a clarinet for the trumpet in the 2nd Brandenburg, performing for a bunch of school kids who've never heard it before?

< I know Jim Michmerhuizen will disagree with me here. >
You're right: I do. Not so much with your principles, I think, as with your priorities; that is, with the relative importance you assign to each of them. You assign far too much importance to this whole business of "the composer's intention". Sure, it's useful to know what the original performing conditions were; but that's only one factor among many that can legitimately enter into decisions about contemporary performance. And it's not by any means the most important.

< His basic line of thought is: If it suits my taste I can do anything with a piece. >
..not just my taste but that of my fellow musicians and of our audience.

< He probably is an advocate of playing Bach on piano. >
I am an advocate of playing Bach well, and expressively, and tastefully, on whatever instrument is handy: ocarinas, kazoos, zithers, dulcimers, sackbuts, gemshorns, Hammond or, Silbermann's, Yamaha DX7's, analog synthesizer, Pleyel harpsichords, Steinways, Fisks, electric guitars, banjos, saxophone quartets, and even thousand-voice choirs if a good one happens to come knocking on the door.

You may visit my website, if you want, and listen to some of my mp3's. They violate every practice you could ever define as part of Bach's "intentions" except a few relating to pitch and timing.

< I definitely am not. Bach's pieces for harpsichord were not intended for piano, if they were intended for piano he would have written different pieces. Many of the ornaments in Bachs pieces are necessary because the harpsichord is incapable of sustaining a tone. If these ornaments are played on a piano they often sound silly and overdone. >
But now are you arguing from principles of taste, or of historical practice? Those principles, surely, are not identical with each other.

< If Bach cantatas are not intended for multiple voices per part, why perform them that way? Because Bach wanted this? Parrott and Rifkin demonstrate this idea is derived from reading the Entwurff incorrectly. Because it sounds better? I'm sorry to say so, I think they don't sound better. >
Now, as I've said elsewhere, that statement I respect. But that's been my point all along: if you like to do choral works with a vocal quartet or quintet, by all means do so. You don't need any historical arguments to do things that way; just do it.

So it does come down to taste, after all, doesn't it.

 

Continue on Part 3

Choir Form: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9
One-Voice-Per-Part (OVPP):
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21
Articles:
Bach’s Choir and Orchestra [T. Koopman] | Evidence for the Size of Bach’s Primary Choir [T. Braatz]
Books on OVPP:
The Essential Bach Choir [A. Parrott] | Bach's Choral Ideal [J. Rifkin]: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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Last update: ýDecember 6, 2009 ý23:11:52