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Bach Composing
Part 6

Continue from Part 5

Evidence for Bach's composing and performance schedule [was Modern choir schools]

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 22, 2007):
Philip Legge wrote:
>>As this is my first posting to the list. may I break my silence by making this small contribution?<<
Welcome to this discussion and this particular thread which seeks to uncover more direct evidence about Bach's composition and performance practices.

PL: >>I can accept that Bach may have on occasion not rehearsed music prior to performance - but I cannot agree with Thomas that Bach would have preferred this mode of music production.<<
You have possibly misunderstood, misread, or possibly not read at all (some messages do occasionally get lost through no fault of our own) the reference to the section in the "Entwurff" where Bach rather clearly spells out what his "pie in the sky" would be like if the Leipzig City Council would provide the necessary funding to achieve Bach's ideal:

Bach would have wanted professional musicians who were highly paid (comparable to what they might be paid as a member of the court orchestra or the opera in Dresden). This would immediately change Bach's performance conditions as follows:

1. the quality of singing and playing would be on a higher level (making life easier for Bach as a conductor)

2. singers and players would concentrate their efforts on only one voice category or one specific instrument, thus bringing their capabilities up to the highest standard possible

3. singers and players would not only practice their parts separately, they would also rehearse frequently as a group to emulate what the French court ensembles had already achieved

Without such a 'band' of professional musicians who concentrated their efforts only on being the best to be found anywhere, Bach was forced to accept the prevailing conditions that his predecessors had endured:

1. never knowing from week to week until just a few days before the performance of his new compositions the complete roster of his students (Thomaner and university students) - Bach had to carefully assess weekly what was available to him so that he could determine the precise orchestration that he would use -it was difficult to plan ahead more than a few days

2. stipends paid to participating university students were diminishing rather than increasing - this made it very difficult to recruit students who would essentially be performing without receiving anything in return for their efforts - to insist that performers, under these conditions, should be willing also to appear for rehearsals or spend extra hours practicing their own parts or appearing for sectional practice might simply persuade these volunteers not to perform at all under such conditions

PL: >>that his musicians would have been able to perform this music flawlessly at sight (better than modern performers?)<<
This comparison is bound to be flawed since we are unable to resurrect the same conditions today that existed for Bach during his Leipzig tenure. It has been suggested that the conditions for the Thomaner in the primary choir and those students from outside the school who assisted them were such that these students, hand-picked by Bach, had gained much experience with music comparable to that which Bach would expect them to play and perform at sight during a church service.

PL: >>.neither can I accept that this was supposed to be the normal week-in week-out state of affairs<<
No one is forcing you or anyone else on this list to accept anything blindly. Simply consider the factual material that has been presented thus far: evidence which strongly suggests that Bach was working under great pressure of time to accomplish his composing and copying tasks in preparation for an very imminent performance with little or no possibility of rehearsal.

PL: >>I will get almost all of the notes right on a first run, and will usually be sensitive to the dynamics, phrasing, etc, neither will it be my best performance in terms of finesse or of getting the overall impression of the music, which needs to be sung or played in for best results.<<
Obviously the performances by Bach's primary choir (and orchestra) could have improved if he had had more time. But that was the luxury that Bach did not have. This does not mean that his performances were only of an average, mediocre quality! His performers may have easily made up for what we might consider necessary today: a nearly perfect performance (such as could be accomplished by well-paid musicians at the major courts of Europe in Bach's time) by performing with a freshness that comes from discovering the profound beauty and expression in Bach's music when it is experienced by sight-reading it for the first time.

PL: >> Modern performers also have the advantage of carefully edited materials, and Thomas's argument doesn't seem to allow for the fact that Bach's singers and players were the first-ever performers and interpreters of the music; there will have been mistakes by the copyists in the parts, or various other inconsistencies that will have had to been ironed out before a competent performance could have been given.<<
This has also been covered in detail before. I am sorry that you missed this matter in previous discussions:

There are some remarkable revelations that arise from studying carefully both Bach's autograph scores and the parts from the original set of parts which Bach carefully edited whenever he could. Here are some points which are generally true (with only a few exceptions):

1. Most of Bach's cantata scores are composing scores. All the false starts, mistakes, cross-outs, faster notes not fitting into the measure/bar, not judging properly in advance where the page will end and using organ tablature to squeeze in notes, etc. are evidence that Bach never had time to make a clean copy of the score (one that would be more easily readable by a conductor in rehearsals and performances).

2. If Bach discovered an error in a part, he corrected it in the part for the performance, but did not necessarily go back to the score to correct it there as well.

3. A Bach composing score is a somewhat rough outline devoid very often of noting specifically which instruments are called for and including marks of articulation, dynamics, embellishments, etc.

4. No copies of parts (or even difficult passages copied into a student's notebook) other than those officially created for performance under Bach's direction have ever been found. From this is appears that Bach closely controlled as much as possible the circulation of his parts. Students did not copy a duplicate part (or particularly difficult portions thereof) for themselves for further study. Nothing along these lines has ever been found.

5. The existing parts are generally in excellent condition, a fact which has caused NBA editors to comment on this with some amazement. How is it possible that none of the usual wear and tear associated with parts which we know were used in performance are completely absent?

a) no frayed edges

b) no finger smudges (oil from the fingers on the edges when handling the music

c) not dog-eared (where a page turn or a number of pages are used for a single part)

d) no ink smudges (where saliva from the mouth or from an instrument might hit the page and cause the ink to become watery and run)

e) candle wax drippings or evidence of smoke from a candle

f) no additional markings by any singer or player (singers like to place breath marks or to indicate to themselves how a vowel should be shaped; players might want to indicate fingering or optional fingering positions, etc.)

g) some notes obviously incorrect (if they had not already been corrected by Bach - he did occasionally overlook such things late at night - to err is human) were not corrected by the singer or player who performed from the part (nor did Bach bother to go back to the part after a supposed rehearsal to correct it so that the mistake would not occur doing a performance)

It would appear from the fact ththese inconsistencies were not ironed out, that one could reasonably assume that there simply was no rehearsal at all before the actual performance.

PL: >>There are simply too many variables in the game of performance for such a sight-reading run to possibly succeed at the artistic level Thomas seems to imagine<<
How do you presume to know what I imagine the artistic level of Bach's performances is? Also performance is not 'a game', it was a serious matter to those performing this music as part of a church service where many important citizens of Leipzig were present. The Leipzig City Council members did not allocate the funds Bach had asked for in the "Entwurff". Possibly they believed that Bach's performances were good enough to represent Leipzig to all the visitors who came to the Leipzig Fair (3 times a year). No complaints other than Scheibe's (he attacked Bach for not composing in a simpler style "Galant" which led toward the music of the Mannheim school) were ever registered in regard to the quality of Bach's performances.

PL: >>.had Bach done this on any regular basis, the result would have been more or less a train wreck, or multiple train wrecks, during each week's Sunday morning cantata.<<
Here you are most likely underestimating Bach's abilities by comparing your personal experiences from a very different time and culture (and religious setting) with Bach's. This, you believe, allows to you to presuppose "multiple train wrecks, during each week's Sunday morning cantata" without the aid of rehearsals. This type of thinking fails because it does not acknowledge the differences which did exist between his time and place and ours. Also, it does not take into account the evidence that has been recently presented on this list, all of which points to a rapid, last-minute composing schedule in which the copy process begins before the final mvt. or mvts. have been completed and where numerous copyists are needed to accomplish the task on time before the performance takes place on the following morning.

PL: >> For this reason there must have been usually some minimal amount rehearsal - at the very least a single run-through - prior to performance.<<
This is what you believe based on your personal experience and that of others who think likewise because they also are unable to envision any other solution to what they consider to be Bach's problem of achieving good performances without any rehearsal time.

PL: >>Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!<<
The evidence that has been presented thus far points in a direction leading away from the notion you support. Perhaps it is time to rethink or reconsider your current position in this matter.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 22, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< No one is forcing you or anyone else on this list to accept anything blindly. >
Just "deafly" and without taking music lessons on any of the instruments Bach used, and without actually performing any of Bach's music to learn how hard it is....

Shawn Charton wrote (March 22, 2007):
[To Bradley Lehman] What do you know about te Doctrine of the Affections in relation to Handel, Mattheson and specifically Messiah. I'm writing a thesis on it and I want to make sure all of my sources are covered... Anything I should look at??

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 22, 2007):
I had commented:
>>1. never knowing from week to week until just a few days before the performance of his new compositions the complete roster of his students (Thomaner and university students) - Bach had to carefully assess weekly what was available to him so that he could determine the precise orchestration that he would use -it was difficult to plan ahead more than a few days<<
An interesting observation about Bach's composing scores (most of the cantatas have only a composing score; Bach never got around to making clean/clear copies of them) is that they often do not indicate the precise information on scoring (instrumentation/orchestration). While this might not be a problem where an original cover sheet with its title might give this information, sometimes the cover sheet has been lost or replaced decades later by someone else not involved in producing the materials for the first performance of a cantata. Or the original set of parts has been lost. What we find then is an orchestral and vocal score devoid of any indications regarding who will sing which part or which instrumentalist will play which instrument. Now, as most of you know (those who have seen the printed full orchestral scores of the cantatas), the position of the staves on the page within the accolade as well as the type of clefs used will solve most of the riddles posed by such a page:

a) the brass instruments are always on top whenever they are included in the orchestration with the timpani (if present) directly below them.

b) at the bottom of the accolade is the continuo part and above them (in the established order of range (top down SATB) with the words of the text directly below each vocal part.

c) above the vocal parts are the string parts, the group beginning with the 1st and 2nd violin at the top of this group and the viola below them.

The problem that usually occurs when the original set of parts has been lost or only partially recovered is with the treble woodwind instruments located above the strings and below the brass instruments. While recorders might be indicated by the use of the French treble clef rather than the standard treble clef, all the remaining treble wind instruments (Taille, of course, is excluded from consideration here) remain undesignated. This means that there are some instances where it cannot be determined precisely which instrument Bach may have had in mind: did he want oboes or did he want transverse flutes? This problem is particularly acute when the flute(s) are used in a tutti capacity and not in a characteristically solo capacity where a more virtuosic style of writing distinguishes such a part.

Judging from the lack of clarity regarding the instrumentation of the treble woodwind instruments used, Bach was obviously leaving all available options open until the last minute. He would even make last-minute changes in instrumentation after the score was almost or even entirely completed during the copy process, adding a colla parte brass instrument to play the cantus firmus, a part not in the autograph score. As a time-saving feature, woodwind instruments playing colla parte with the existing string parts might be added during the copying process, although they were not accounted for in the score.

This rather fluid and flexible composition process would appear to support the notion that Bach, until almost the very last stages of the copy process, kept in mind the specific performers for whom this music was being composed. It is very likely that Bach would decide only a few days in advance of the actual performance, which vocal soloists he would use (were they available {not absent from Leipzig, ill or suffering a vocal problem} for the performance) and which obbligato instruments he would want to feature based upon the playing capabilities/abilities of individual instrumentalists he had just recently experienced.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 22, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Just "deafly" and without taking music lessons on any of the instruments Bach used, and without actually performing any of Bach's music to learn how hard it is....<<
Telemann was a complete autodidact, as was recently pointed out. He did not take "music lessons on any of the instruments Bach used" (he learned them all by himself without a teacher and without attending a music school or taking music courses at a university)and he very likely did not 'perform any of Bach's music to learn how hard it is' (he was busy composing and performing his own music).

Was Telemann t"deafly" unable to comprehend how Bach could expect his primary choir and orchestra to sight-read his cantatas during their first performances in church services on Sundays and other holidays?

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 22, 2007):
Quoting Thomas Braatz:
< Was Telemann then "deafly" unable to comprehend how Bach could expect his primary choir and orchestra to sight-read his cantatas during their first performances in church services on Sundays and other holidays? >
This doesn't make sense, because everything after the word "comprehend" has been made up by you: a premise (inserted by you) that isn't reliably tied to the reality of music.

Was Telemann unable to comprehend nuclear fission? Was Telemann unable to comprehend basketball? Was Telemann unable to comprehend pink and yellow marshmallow Peeps?

These issues are similarly irrelevant, and for the same reason.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 22, 2007):
Quoting Thomas Braatz::
< Telemann was a complete autodidact, as was recently pointed out. He did not take "music lessons on any of the instruments Bach used" (he learned them all by himself without a teacher and without attending a music school or taking music courses at a university)and he very likely did not 'perform any of Bach's music to learn how hard it is' (he was busy composing and performing his own music). >
And this part of your posting isn't true, either. Telemann took formal music lessons with (at least) Benedikt Christiani.

Not that any of that is relevant, either. Why bring up autodidacts (or alleged autodidacts) who didn't perform Bach's church music? Perhaps to place yourself into august company, and somehow inherit all their abilities by osmosis, as a virtue of not studying or performing music either? Does non-performing and non-study give somehow a better perspective than practical knowledge? How? Some blissful freedom from the constraints of reality?

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 22, 2007):
Bradleu Lehman wrote:
>>And this part of your posting isn't true, either. Telemann took formal music lessons with (at least)Benedikt Christiani.<<
Well, I guess you got me there! Here is a statement about this in the Grove Music Online: "At the age of 10 he took singing lessons from the Kantor, Benedikt Christiani, and studied keyboard playing with an organist for two weeks" and from the MGG1: "Im Gegensatz zu G.F. Händel ist Telemann niemals durch einen tüchtigen Lehrer in das Musikhandwerk eingeführt worden, sondern hat sich als Autodidakt seine Fertigkeit in der Kompos. und im Instrumenten-Spiel angeeignet." ("In contrast to G. F. Handel, Telemann never received any practical introduction (instruction) in music from a really competent music teacher, but rather acquired for himself as an autodidact his skill/proficiency in composition and the playing of various instruments.")

BL: >>Not that any of that is relevant, either.<<

Philip Legge wrote (March 23, 2007):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thank you very much, by the way, for your insightful analysis of the preparation of the parts for BWV 127. Bach of course did not invent this technique of working, and was certainly not the only composer faced with similarly short deadlines who was forced to adopt similar strategies to ensure the bulk of the performing materials could be made ready in the shortest possible time. There are several variations on this common theme that one sees - either breaking down multi-section works by movements of decreasing complexity, or from the most complicated part (or in later eras, the parts that required the most duplication, e.g. for multiple desks of violins) to the least complicated. The most senior of a team of various copyists being given the most critical tasks is also a technique that one sees in numerous places and times - because it is usually the most efficient solution to a recurrent problem!

I would point out though that I have seen no evidence presented in this thread so far that might suggest an answer to the obvious questions raised by these facts: that if the usual practice was for parts to be made ready by Saturday night, how would this preclude a rehearsal of the music on Sunday morning prior to the performance, either in toto, or of the "top and tail" kind[*]? What in fact was the hour at which the cantata was presented, and would Bach's musicians have had time to assemble beforehand for this exact purpose? Do we have documentation to say what time the musicians were expected to arrive with respect to the time of the musical services? If there were multiple services in the morning requiring music, were all of the musicians required for all of the services? One would like to know, in the interests of being fully informed - though after the passage of nearly three hundred years, one must be alert to the possibilities of lacunae in such documentation that might result in us failing to have a complete grasp of the actual circumstances.

[*] A common mode of rehearsal when time is short, which is to rehearse just the starts and ends of movements, rather than run through the entire course of a lengthy movement, on the grounds that the points of articulation - starts, stops, and changes in tempi - are most likely to be problematic for maintaining ensemble.

P.S. In a previous message on this issue you quibbled over my use of the phrase "since time immemorial" and proceeded to make a completely unrelated criticism - that I had alleged that "the conditions for performing music have remained fixed". I did not say this. Those are your words, and whether you impute that my words implied that meaning, I would like to respond by clarifying my words. So here they are.

Since time immemorial! - musicians have improved their skills by practice. Mozart had to practice to become as skilled a musician - pianist, violinist, composer - as he became. Bach had to practice. Even Mr.-H-who-should-not-be-named-on-this-list - even he had to practice. All over the world musicians practice every day to either improve, or simply retain their skills, as it is a normal human attribute that if learnt skills are not regularly exercised they do not remain at the utmost peak of condition. This is fairly unarguable and I would invite any performing musician on the list to propose a different argument. The means and methods that musicians have employed have undoubtedly varied enormously over time - a fact I do not attempt to deny - but the fundamental concept underlying this has not: that there are particular difficulties in attempting to perform complex works without rehearsal - which is itself a particularly focussed and directed form of practice.

If Bach was able to perform these works without a note of rehearsal - then good for him. However we can be utterly sure, beyond any shadow of a doubt, from the accumulated wisdom of centuries of musicianship, that he would have obtained a better result had he been able to rehearse the music first. I respectfully suggest that trying to then compare the qualities of modern recordings and performances to the quality of Bach's performances - which do no longer exist in any material form whatsoever, except as second- or third-hand reports - is an exercise in the utmost futility.

Richard Mix wrote (March 23, 2007):
My memory might need refreshing, but it seems we (well, better make that some of you) arrived at this no rehearsal theory in reaction to Doug's opinion that the first cycle of cantatas must have been the result of a long range plan involving thinking further ahead than the next Sunday. Am I mistaken? Hence we have musicians trained not to Bach's but at best Kuhnau's exacting standards, and are dealing with a period well before the Entwurff. Thomas, do you really now insist that Bach stubstuck to a no rehearsal policy throughout his career?

The Entwurff complains of the "beneficia" being not reduced but totally stopped. I put forth the interpretation of this term as a paid 'call' possibly including rehearsals; however in context it appears that a salaried post could be meant instead, so in the later part of Bach's tenure we seem to be dealing with unpaid (amateur) rather than underpaid performers, especially if one assumes more than one per part. My experience with recruiting (modern) volunteers is that they are much more willing to sign up with the promise of a carefully prepared performance than they are for a bash-through with fewer rehearsal commitments. If the psychology of 18c Leipzig was otherwise, it might be illuminating to hear just what difference in circumstances there was.

Thomas Braatz makes further points:
< There are some remarkable revelations that arise from studying carefully both Bach's autograph scores and
the parts from the original set of parts...
1. Most of Bach's cantata scores are composing scores...
2. If Bach discovered an error in a part, he corrected it in the part for the performance, but did not necessarily go back to the score to correct it there as well. >
Interesting indeed! What are some examples of this?

< 3. A Bach composing score is a somewhat rough outline devoid very often of noting specifically which instruments are called for and including marks of articulation, dynamics, embellishments, etc. >
Does this then support the no rehearsal theory?

< 4. No copies of parts (or even difficult passages copied into a student's notebook) other than those officially created for performance under Bach's direction have ever been found. From this is appears that Bach closely controlled as much as possible the circulation of his parts. Students did not copy a duplicate part (or particularly difficult portions thereof) for themselves for further study. Nothing along these lines has ever been found. >
I cannot grant this point. In most cases the only evidence of a performance under Bach is the existence of parts. How do we know, for example, that the e minor version of BWV 82 was even made for a performance that took place, let alone under Bach? All we have in his hand is a correction to the voice part indicating it must be sung a third (maybe a tenth) lower.

Btw, another problem I have with the no rehearsal hypothesis is that we are not told what the musicians did on the other six days of the week. Does playing scales very well adequatly prepare one to sight read the most difficult obligati, or, as I somewhat faceciously asked before, did they sharpen their chops by practicing excerpts from the previous weeks' cantata?

< 5. The existing parts are generally in excellent condition, a fact which has caused NBA editors to comment on this with some amazement. How is it possible that none of the usual wear and tear associated with parts which we know were used in performance are completely absent?... >
I woudn't expect much wear on parts that were used for a week, especially if they were not held in hand. It would be interesting to know if there were choir desks, which would make sharing of parts a bit more plausible as well.

< e) candle wax drippings or evidence of smoke from a candle >
No one suggests that the Thomaner came to evening rehearsals after their day jobs! One supposes that the Sunday services used available daylight as well.

< f) no additional markings by any singer or player.. >
Pencils, I believe, were at the time a luxury item, certainly used by artists but not, for example, in composing scores. I suppose inkpots in the choir might have been frowned upon, and wet quills dont fit behind the ear very neatly.

< g) some notes obviously incorrect (if they had not already been corrected by Bach - he did occasionally overlook such things late at night - to err is human) were not corrected by the singer or player who performed from the part (nor did Bach bother to go back to the part after a supposed rehearsal to correct it so that the mistake would not occur doing a performance) >
Again, I would be interested in examples of this; did it occur anywhere in the bwv 3 parts that are available for inspection?

And now to play the Devil's advocate (pace!), I do recall that there is strong evidence that Purcell's odes were unrehearsed. This is part of the joke of the duet for 2 altos and BC, "Sound the trumpet". The trumpeteer in this case was Michael Shore and we know that his brother also played the instrument. The first and last mouvements in fact call for two trumpets, but in between they would suddenly have heard "Sound the trumpet, til around ....[scrambling through their parts] ...you make the listening Shores rebound..."

 

Bach's Timetable

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 25, 2007):
Tom Dent wrote:
< Is there any single direct piece of information about any element of Bach's weekly schedule (apart from, of course, when he was actually in church playing or directing music)? Any source saying clearly that at such and such time of this or that day he was doing something in particular? >
I posted the following weekly schedule assembled from Wolff. It shows the services for which Bach was responsible. It's a formidible timetable around which academics and domestic life had to be lived.
________________________________________________________

Choir Week in Leipzig in Bachıs Time
________________________________________________________

SUNDAY Week I

* Festivals occurring on weekdays are celebrated as if a Sunday New Yearıs (Jan 1), Epiphany Jan 6), Purification (Feb 2), Annunciation (Mar 25), Ascension, St. John (June 24), Visitation (July 2), St. Michael (Sept 29), Reformation (Oct 31)
* Three Days of Christmas, Easter, Pentecost & Reformation Day are each celebrated as if a Sunday
* Week II ­ Choir I & II reverse attendance at two churches

ST. THOMAS ST. NICHOLAS

5:00 am Matins Bell
5:30 am Matins [choir]

7:00 am Bells Bells
7:00 am Early Service (Mass) Early Service (Mass)
- 11:00 am with Cantata, Sermon with Sermon & Communion,
Communion [Choir I] no cantata [Choir II]

11:30 am Week I: Bells Week II: Bells
11:45 am Week I: Noonday Service Week II: Noonday Service
- 1:00 pm [choir] [choir]

1:00 pm Bells Bells
1:15 pm Vespers Vespers
with Sermon with Sermon & cantata
no cantata- [Choir II] [Choir I]

4:00 pm Baptisms Baptisms

5:00 pm Weddings Weddings
a) full ­ [Choir I?] a) half [Choir II?]
b) half ­ [choir] b) quarter [choir]
________________________________________________________

MONDAY

6:30 am Early Service
(Matins) [choir]
with Preaching

2:00 pm Short Prayer Service
(Vespers) [choir]
& Exhortation to Penitence

3:00 pm Baptisms Baptisms

4:00 pm Weddings: Weddings:
a) full [Choir I?] a) full [Choir I?]
b) half [Choir II?] b) half [Choir II?]
c) quarter [choir] c) quarter [choir]
________________________________________________________

TUESDAY

6:30 am Short Prayer Service
(Matins) [choir]
& Sermon

2:00 pm Catechism Major Prayer Service
(Vespers) [choir]
with Private Confession

3:00 pm Baptisms Baptisms
________________________________________________________

WEDNESDAY

5:30 am [Matins? ­ choir]

6:30 am Early Service (Mass)
with Sermon
& Communion [choir]

2:00 pm Minor Prayer Service Catechism
(Vespers) [choir]
with Private Confession

3:00 pm Baptisms Baptisms
________________________________________________________

THURSDAY

5:30 am [Matins? ­ choir]

6:30 am Early Service (Mass)
with Sermon
& Communion [choir]
(Bach takes communion)

2:00 pm Minor Prayer Service
(Vespers)
with Exhortation to Penitence

3:00 pm Baptisms Baptisms
________________________________________________________

FRIDAY

6:30 am Penitential Service
(Matins)
[choir] with Sermon

2:00 pm Major Prayer Service
(Vespers) [choir]

3:00 pm Baptisms Baptisms

________________________________________________________

SATURDAY

6:30 am [Matins? - choir]

1:30 pm Vespers [choir] Vespers [choir]
& Sermon & Sermon

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 25, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>I posted the following weekly schedule assembled from Wolff. It shows the services for which Bach was responsible. It's a formidible timetable around which academics and domestic life had to be lived.<<
Being responsible for any of these services does not mean that Bach needed to be present at any of them, nor did he conduct the choirs (except the 1st choir) nor did he play the organ all the time, except during the services when the primary choir performed. In reality there were prefects and organists who accomplished these tasks for him in his absence. He was not directly involved in leading the Thomaner to their destinations and conducting the music they sang, nor with the Kurrende, nor with funerals (except lavish funerals as part of a church service) nor with funeral processions (but always received a portion of the monies collected nevertheless), nor with weddings, except those requiring a full church service. ("Hochzeitssingen" {"Singing for weddings" on a smaller scale} also did not concern Bach directly.) Schering states on p. 22 of "Johann Sebastian Bachs Leipziger Kirchenmusik" (Leipzig, 1936): "Immer wieder läßt sich feststellen, daß er mit seiner Zeit über alle Maßen sparsam gewesen ist und im Rahmen des öffentlichen Diestes nichts über das hinaus getan hat, wozu er vertraglich verbunden war." ("Again and again it can be determined/established that he [Bach] was exceedingly careful with how he made use of his time and, within the scope of his public duties, he never did anything extra than that stipulated in his contract.") To this one could add that he even went as far as breaking many of the rules as spelled out in the school rules as far as not conducting personally the required singing classes (all of this recorded in the Bach-Dokumente). Schering indicates (p. 23) that Bach never rehearsed or performed any of the usual motets (Florilegium portense) with the exception of his own compositions. All of these above duties were performed by reliable choir prefects (who were paid for their efforts). Bach's main {with the exception of lavish wedding or funeral services} responsibility lay with the primary choir whether they sang at St. Thomas or at St. Nicholas Church. All the remaining 'lesser services' on this long list (with the exception of full wedding or funeral services where the primary choir would sing) were delegated to choir prefects and Bach had nothing to do with them unless an unusual problem occurred. Under those circumstances, his responsibility was to make certain that the choral music did not suffer unduly or the services temporarily halted. Schering relates one incident where Bach reported a problem with the singing of the motets: "After today's disturbances at both the morning and afternoon services took place, and where the same problem occurred, I was forced to make the decision ("ich...mich [habe] entschließen müßen [sic]") in order to avoid the creation of an even greater confusion in church thus upsetting the sacred ritual, to conduct the motet myself, after which I had a university student take over this task/duty" [to replace the incapable prefect - this was part of the Ernesti-Controversy over a choir prefect]. Schering interprets Bach's comments to indicate that Bach felt that the exception he made here in conducting the motet choir was degrading and something Bach would always avoid if possible. [It was beneath Bach's dignity to be called upon to conduct that choir during a church service.]

Does all of this give Bach more time to work with his primary choir in preparing the figural music that they would sing? Not at all, if we consider the usual schedule of a comparable contemporary music director in Halle, Johann Gotthilff [sic] Ziegler, of whom Walther, in his music dictionary (Leipzig, 1732) reported that he gave private music lessons from 6 in the morning until 9 at night with a waiting list of 33 "Expectanten". Bach, during his tenure in Leipzig, was equally famous, if not even more so. Would not his private music student load be similar to or perhaps even greater than Ziegler's? Seen from this perspective, time lost rehearsing new cantatas when they could be performed reasonably well by a select group of Thomaner and university student virtuosi sight-reading them during the church services, would be better spent in individual music instruction for which he would receive ample payment.

Therese Hanquet wrote (March 25, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
"("Again and again it can be determined/established that he [Bach] was exceedingly careful with how he made use of his time and, within the scope of his public duties, he never did anything extra than that stipulated in his contract.") To this one could add that he even went as far as breaking many of the rules as spelled out in the school rules as far as not conducting personally the required singing classes (all of this recorded in the Bach-Dokumente)."
and also:
"Seen from this perspective, time lost rehearsing new cantatas when they could be performed reasonably well by a select group of Thomaner and university student virtuosi sight-reading them during the church services, would be better spent in individual music instruction for which he would receive ample payment."
If Bach was neglecting the tasks for which he was paid and devoted most of his time to other tasks in order to make extra money, this would mean that his primary concern was not the quality of the performed church music but his wallet. Does this fit with what we know of him (and of his budget)?

Alain Bruguieres wrote (March 25, 2007):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote:
< If Bach was neglecting the tasks for which he was paid and devoted most of his time to other tasks in order to make extra money, this would mean that his primary concern was not the quality of the performed church music but his wallet. Does this fit with what we know of him (and of his budget)? >
It does fit with what his employers thought (numerous letters complaining that Bach shirked some of his duties and had himself replaced by incompetent persons on some other of his duties; there is one decision to diminish his salary on that account. See the Bach dokumente for such things (I only have the French translation - but Gille Cantagrel's Bach en son temps has plenty of that kind of stuff). Besides, many letters by Bach himself and others, indicating that his 'wallet' was a very serious concern for Bach. Nothing to indicate that he was ready to sacrifice any of his time or money for the quality of performed church music. But testimonies by his (private) pupils that he was very generous in terms of time, hospitality and concern to those who came to him to learn music on a personal basis.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 26, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Being responsible for any of these services does not mean that Bach needed to be present at any of them, nor did he conduct the choirs (except the 1st choir) nor did he play the organ all the time, except during the services when the primary choir performed. In reality there were prefects and organists who accomplished these tasks for him in his absence. <> Seen from this perspective, time lost rehearsing new cantatas when they could be performed reasonably well by a select group of Thomaner and university student virtuosi sight-reading them during the church services, would be better spent in individual music instruction for which he would receive ample payment. >
The rehearsal of talented, capable musicians as "lost" time?

We know that Bach was not physically present at all the services, but that is no argument for the Myth of Auto-Pilot Sight-Singing. He was not a solitary musician but the head of a large choral and instrumental establishment with at least four assistant conductors (prefects) and several sub-organists. Bach probably prioritized his functions so that composition, direction of the figural music and virtuosic organ-playing took precedence. On the bottom of his list was the teaching of basicmusic fundamentals and academic subjects. The latter he contracted to others.

On Sundays in the loft he probably played the opening organ prelude and the offertory piece -- those historically were the "show pieces," He may well have left the accompaniment of the chorales to his sub-organist although there were times when he wanted to improvise beteen the lines of the of hymn (as in "In Dulco Jubilo". The continuo realization was left to the sub-organist although he may well have taken the bench when a cantata had an obligato part ("Wir Müssen durch). In the cantata he generally acted as concert-master.

It is wrong to think that Bach thought that the performance of motets was "beneath" him. Bach's admiration for "early music" was unbounded -- he appears to have chosen a family motet for his own funeral. He left the conducting of motets and chorales to others for practical musical reasons: he wanted to reserve his creative energy for the performance of the new music and improvisation. The fact that he stepped in at the problematical performance of a motet shows that he took personal responsibility for the standard of performance.

The conflict with the Leipzig authorities was between two competing job descriptions which convused the internal poiltics of the council : the Cantor model in which Bach was supposed to give prioroty to academics and service playing, and the "Capellmeister" model in which Bach was supposed to give priority to the compostion and direction of figural music and virtuoso organ-playing. Those were the competing models which made the Leipzig appointment so difficult and which coloured Bach's entire tenure.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 26, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>The rehearsal of talented, capable musicians as "lost" time?<<
Time is money which he could be earning from teaching this private music students almost all day long. Just because he knew that his musicians in the primary choir and orchestra were 'talented and capable', he was able to rely on them to give better-than-average sight-reading performances of his figural music during church services, a practice that seemed to apply to other larger churches in Germany as well with the exception of the court chapels where highly-paid musicians would practically memorize their music before performing it much like French court choirs and orchestras had been doing for quite some time.

DC: >>Bach probably prioritized his functions so that composition, direction of the figural music and virtuosic organ-playing took precedence. On the bottom of his list was the teaching of basic music fundamentals and academic subjects.<<
and unnecessary time spent rehearsing the music when he knew that his musicians could read everything he composed reasonably well. Rehearsal time would simply make him lose precious hours that he could better apply in making money by giving private music lessons.

DC: >>It is wrong to think that Bach thought that the performance of motets was "beneath" him.<<
The quotation of Bach's own words which you are unable to refute gives clear evidence that the performance of motets (unless they were of his own composition for special occasions) was "beneath" him. Also, we have a statement by Arnold Schering corroborating and expanding on this point. We can reasonably assume that Schering, although I do not agree with him on a number of important points, did investigate this matter rather closely. This point will need to be refuted by something more than simply stating "it is wrong" or "Bach liked old music".

DC: >>Bach's admiration for "early music" was unbounded<<
This is certainly true and he learned much from this music; however, this does not mean that he would, of his own choosing, occasionally take over the rehearsing and conducting of motet performed by the 'motet' choir in Leipzig in order to demonstrate that he personally desired to uphold a high standard of performance with the other choral groups (other than the primary choir) under his jurisdiction and control.

DC: >>- he appears to have chosen a family motet for his own funeral.<<
If this is true, there may be another reason why this choice was made: it was simply a family tradition.

DC: >>The fact that he stepped in at the problematical performance of a motet shows that he took personal responsibility for the standard of performance.<<
This happened only because two church services had already been disrupted by the poor performance of the motet by the motet choir under its prefect. Bach was reluctantly forced to react and intervene personally (as indicated by the quotation). I do not consider this an act of 'taking personal responsibility for the standard of performance' but rather an attempt to avert complete disaster after having not stepped in sooner by circulating regularly from church to church to determine how things were going. [There may, however, have been much more political maneuvering involved here than meets the eye.]

 

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Last update: ŭSeptember 29, 2008 ŭ09:49:38