Continuo in Bach’s Vocal Works
Continue from Part 1
Continuo in Bach works
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (August 9, 2003):
I have a MAJOR problem with those who say that the Continuo group in Bach Sacred Works is Organ and Bass instruments. If one looks at the Manuscripts and Scores for these works, one would see that Bach writes "Organo ET Contiunuo" not "Organo Continuo" or simply "Continuo", which means that the Organ is NOT the Keyboard part of the Continuo group, but the Harpsichord IS. The Continuo ALWAYS has a Keyboard Instrument in it for harmonization of the Chords.
Neil Halliday wrote (August 10, 2003):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr] I'm very pleased that Rilling, more often than not, uses a harpsichord, and not an organ, as the continuo keyboard instrument in his cantata cycle.
In fact, in several of the arias where he does use an organ in this role, I have noticed a distracting effect where the same note appears to be sounding repeatedly from the organ in the continuo - obviously an engineering problem, but annoying nonetheless.
In general, I would say it makes more sense to use a keyboard instrument with a percussive nature for the role of supplying the figured bass harmony, to contrast with the other sustaining orchestral bass instruments in the continuo (cello, bassoon, contrabass); to use another sustaining instrument (organ) for the purpose of supplying the figured bass harmony, seems to fail consistently in the recordings I have heard. The attempt to overcome this difficulty by playing short or detached chords on the organ merely violates the supremely sustaining nature of this instrument, often making it sound "pokey" and silly - and often sounding like "no-brainer harmonic fill" (to borrow Bob's colourful phrase).
Of course, none of this relates to the role of the organ as a concertante or obligato instrument in the cantatas. I am absolutely delighted by the many examples in the Rilling cycle.
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (August 10, 2003):
[To Neil Halliday] That's just it, though. They would usually play ONE NOTE, no Chords. It was (and still is) up to the Keyboard to supply the WHOLE Harmony in the Continuo part. Even in song accompaniment, it is the Keyboard instrument that fills in the harmonic part, while the string and/or other accompanying instrument(s) play the Bass note. If you look at the score for the Johannespassion (BWV 245), for example, the Keyboard and the Organ play the harmony, whilst the Bassono Grosso and the Bass Viol play the Bass note.
By the way, Rilling is not the ONLY one to do that. If you look at Richter's 1979 performance of the Matthaeuspassion, he utilizes the Harpsichord in the Continuo and the organ where specified (namely in the Choral parts, in the Recitative where Jesus says "Eli, Eli, lama asabthani", and in the Recitative which begins "Und siehe de, die Vorhang in Tempel zerriss in zwei Stück"). Also Rilling does NOT do that in the Edition Bachakademie edition of the Passions and the Weinachtsoratorium (I don't know about the recordings of the other two Oratorios), and he does NOT do that in his regular recordings of the Matthaeuspassion (BWV 244) or the Johannespassion (BWV 245). Also I have a problem with his interpretation of the Continuo part of the Johannespassion (BWV 245). I have seen the NBA and BGA Editions, and they have SUSTAINED playing of the Continuo parts in the Recitatives, NOT at specified parts of these sections. Therefore, even though he doesn't use the Harpsichord in his recording of it, Richter DOES follow the Score more closely in respect to the Continuo parts of the Recitative sections. It was in LATER Oratorio works (which include the Passion settings) that Bach followed the latter way of Continuo writing.
Bradley Lehman wrote (August 11, 2003):
< David Glenn Lebut wrote: I have a MAJOR problem with those who say that the Continuo group in Bach Sacred Works is Organ and Bass instruments. If one looks at the Manuscripts and Scores for these works, one would see that Bach writes "Organo ET Contiunuo" not "Organo Continuo" or simply "Continuo", which means that the Organ is NOT the Keyboard part of the Continuo group, but the Harpsichord IS. The Continuo ALWAYS has a Keyboard Instrument in it for harmonization of the Chords. >
David, I agree with you that the harpsichord could/should be used much more in Bach cantatas than it currently is. The bulk of the evidence (both in the music, and in historical records) points toward BOTH hpsi and organ being used when available, along with other continuo instruments (sometimes together; or sometimes deployed separately for musical or practical reasons in individual movements or passages). It's nice to have both available, offering much more flexibility than if a single player has to handle it all. Both 250 years ago, and now.
Why is it not done more? I think there are two main reasons:
- The practical obstacles to hiring two competent keyboard improvisers (money, tuning, rehearsal time, skill) for the same gig: to many modern presenters this just seems superfluous, and/or insurmountable. The easiest approach is just to hire one; or to hire a keyboard player without this specific training/background, one who doesn't improvise the part at all but reads it from an editor's realization.
- The habitual bias against the hpsi in these works (i.e. the automatic assumption, as you allude to, that it should be organ alone...to be properly sacred church music, or whatever). I've read a historical survey of this particular debate (organ vs hpsi in Bach cantatas), tracing it back into the 1870s. The case has had political, quasi-theological, nationalistic, and other ideological slants, in addition to the occasional considerations of practicality and aesthetics and the music.
With some modern presenters and directors, the problem is compounded when they've listened only to recordings that use a single instrument (usually organ) instead of reading and studying. It just doesn't occur to them that the question should not be "organ OR harpsichord", but possibly "organ AND harpsichord and perhaps more"...or, if it does occur to them, they don't hire multiple players anyway for other non-musical reasons.
As for the word "continuo," though, in your argument above, it does not automatically imply harpsichord in itself, in this or any other repertoire. It's the general term for anybody who might be deployed on the bass line, according to circumstances, not prescribing any specific instrument or set of instruments.
The historical evidence for harpsichord here in Bach cantatas is much richer and more complicated (in all directions) than simply looking at the words written on Bach's parts. It doesn't do to simply replace one fundamentalist approach ("organ alone") with a different but equally fundamentalist approach (play only what positivistic scholarship has revealed in extant parts, permission to use certain instruments). Musicality is more important than that.
Neil Halliday wrote (August 12, 2003):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote: "That's just it, though. They would usually play ONE NOTE, no Chords. It was (and still is) up to the Keyboard to supply the WHOLE Harmony in the Continuo part".
I must have given you the impression that I believed figured bass harmony was realised on other than keyboard instruments. However, I am aware that the cello etc only (usually) play the single notes written on the (continuo) stave. My comment about "no-brainer harmonic fill" is only a comment about how the continuo organ often sounds in recordings, and even the continuo harpsichord often sounds as little better than a pitchless, tinkling buzz on recordings.
(Hence my call for a piano to be used for the role of keyboard continuo instrument, at least in modern instrument recordings of the cantatas, because the piano, in my estimation, can much more clearly convey, especially on recordings, the actual pitch of the noin more complex chords such as diminished sevenths etc. There is none the "twangy buzz" associated with harpsichord timbre; while this is an attractive feature of harsichord timbre, it does mean there is more extraneous "noise" surrounding the actual pitch of a note, in comparison to a piano. At least, this is my impression.)
I take it your original point was that you believe that the exclusive use of the organ as a continuo instrument in the cantatas is ill-conceived.
I agree. In fact,I think any of the three keyboard instruments (organ, harpsichord, or piano should be permissable, depending on artistic and recording-engineering considerations, with the actual audibility, on a recording, of the pitch of figured bass harmonies being an important consideration. I note that in many cantata scores, the actual continuo keyboard instrument to be used is not specified.
Bradley Lehman wrote (August 13, 2003):
[To Neil Halliday] In ensemble, especially with strings and singers, even the best modern piano is considerably less clear in pitch than a decent harpsichord is. Harpsichord tone has a fuller, more complex set of overtones (high harmonics) defining and reinforcing the fundamental pitch all the way down. Piano tone is much simpler (only a few overtones), less colorful. It disappears. In continuo work it just sounds like a nebulous clunking. ["Been there, heard that" and "Been there, played that" plenty of times!]
Perhaps you've been swayed in your expectations by hearing piano concertos and piano+strings chamber music where the pianist is miked separately? [I've been a producer in some piano+strings chamber recordings: we did have to mike the piano separately for clarity...not for volume but for clarity.]
If you must hear this for yourself on a Bach recording to believe it, listen to the Casals recordings of the suites and Brandenburgs, and try to pick out what the piano continuo is doing! I can scarcely hear that it's there, much less pick out any specific pitches.
This is not to say that piano "shouldn't" be used in Bach cantatas or whatever, but just that you're not going to hear it as much as you expect to, unless they stick a separate mike up to the soundboard.
Neil Halliday wrote (August 13, 2003):
Brad ley Lehman writes: "I've been a producer in some piano+strings chamber recordings: we did have to mike the piano separately for clarity...not for volume
but for clarity."
Indeed, separate miking of the keyboard continuo instrument may be the best approach, for the purpose of transferring as much audible musical information as possible, onto a CD.
However, I have listened to the six samples of the poignant aria for alto, from BWV 116, available as mp3's at the BCW; and I am struck by the superiority of the piano in the Tournet/Bach Aria Group example, in conveying an interesting and significant additional musical element to the rest of the ensemble (Alto, oboe d'amore, and continuo cello).
Allowing for the poor quality of this 'fifties recording, some lovely chords can be heard on the piano, even though the piano admittedly lacks sufficient volume in this example.
All the other recordings use an organ as the keyboard continuo; most make audible only vague 'tootling' from the organ, with Leusink probably the best (from this viewpoint), because one can at least hear the pitch of two tones (wow!) now and again, from the organ; Rilling, in this instance, unfortunately does not give us a harpsichord example, as I had hoped for, and the pipe-mechanism of this chamber organ is distractingly noisy; and Richter has all the continuo instruments playing staccato, thereby adding much less substance to the ensemble's musical message in this poignant and heartfelt aria.)
I remain uncertain that a harpsichord in fact can convey audible pitch more readily/easily than a piano, despite your explanation of the more complex harpsichord overtones reinforcing the fundamental pitch (isn't it possible this very complexity will increasingly mask the pitch of the notes in a complex chord?). The above Bach Aria Group example seems to confirm the case for the piano (when one makes allowances for the limitations of the recording, noted above); I cannot imagine a harpsichord doing as well on CD (in a similar ensemble situation), as far as conveying recognisable chords, or harmonic structure, is concerned.
Bradley Lehman wrote (August 13, 2003):
< Neil Halliday wrote: Indeed, separate miking of the keyboard continuo instrument may be the best approach, for the purpose of transferring as much audible musical information as possible, onto a CD. >
This brings us back to the question: what if the composer (and/or the performers) did NOT intend for every note to be individually identifiable, but rather put the notes out there to be perceived as a blend? It's a 20th century assumption, and a tall one, that a recording should present an aural x-ray of the score (plus any improvised notes not shown in the score), allowing the listener to pick out even the most minor detail. What's the fascination with individual notes? Can't the composer and performers be allowed to prioritize things in the presentation?
Neil Halliday wrote (August 14, 2003):
Brad ley Lehmam writes: "What's the fascination with individual notes? Can't the composer and performers be allowed to prioritize things in the presentation?"
I do feel that (nearly) every note is precious in a chamber music score.
The vagueness of the keyboard figured-bass realisations in all those BWV 116 alto aria examples, apart from the one with piano, is akin to completely omitting the cello part from the score of a Beethoven string quartet, IMO.
Baroque continuo does present special problems, because we depend on the artistry of the continuo keyboard player for a satisfactory realisation of the figured bass; nevertheless, audio engineers ought to ensure that the conception of the continuo keyboard player is conveyed to the listener, at least in the smaller-scale (chamber) forms.
It does not matter so much in the larger forms, obviously because every note that the figured bass player might think of, is likely to be already included, somewhere else in the score. I have not heard the Casals' recordings you referred to (Suites and Bburgs), but I'm sure I would not be concerned by the inaudibility of the figured bass part, anyway, in these larger orchestral compositions.
On the other hand, Bach did not intend the BWV 116 alto aria to be heard, virtually, simply as a trio for voice, oboe and cello - here, the the figured bass chords (or harmony) are a significant part of the musical structure that need to be heard.
David Glenn Lebut J. wrote (August 14, 2003):
[To Braadley Lehman] In the Baroque and Classical periods, they NEVER did. The point was that each Continuo instrument would play ONE note, whilst the Keyboard would harmonize the Chords. Just as in the Orchestral part each instrument would play ONE NOTE. That is why I have a problem with "Piano Reductions"-they do NOT give the true sense of the performance of the Orchestral parts. If tehy DID, they would need MORE THAN ONE Piano for the reductions.
Neil Halliday wrote (August 14, 2003):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] David, my reading of your post leaves me with the impression that you believe that all the continuo instruments, INCLUDING the continuo keyboard, only play one note.
This is obviously incorrect, and I assume I am misunderstanding what you are saying.
In any case, my discussion in no way touched on the matter of piano reductions of Bach's scores (it does now seem that this is what you were referring to); but it is interesting that in the case of a score with just one vocalist and continuo with figured bass , as in many arias and recitatives,(written on only two staves - one for the voice and one for the continuo), the piano 'reduction' of such a score ( written on three staves - one for the voice, and two (bass and treble clefs) staves for the piano part which has replaced the cello and continuo keyboard realisation of the figured bass- could pmake a reasonable realisation of the figured bass. (I have in mind the interesting three stave (ie, the minimum number of staves) piano reduction scores shown for the simplest arias and recitatives, available at the Bach Cantatas website.
Of course, I understand that piano reductions, of the more complex scores, which attempt to transcribe the parts of the (sometimes many) orchestral instruments in the score, for performance on the piano, are in no way satisfactory as a realisation of the continuo keyboard figured bass in an orcherstral performance.
(I have already hinted that, IMO, many recordings of the larger (baroque) works would in fact sound better without any figured bass keyboard realisation at all! Beecham's famous remark, referring to harpsichord continuo 'sound' on recordings, as resembling "two skeletons making love on a tin roof" comes to mind, and Thomas Braatz has drawn attention to Richter's sometimes distracting, and unnecessary, organ realisations in movements for choir and orchestra. It's with the smaller forms that an audible figured bass realisation is important.)
BTW, did you listen to the BWV 116 example with the piano realisation of the figured bass?
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (August 16, 2003):
[To Neil Halliday] Not INCLUDING the Keyboard, but the other instruments PLAYED A SINGLE NOTE. The impression I get from the others is that they think that the other instruments played the Chords as well.
Bradley Lehman wrote (August 17, 2003):
< David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote: Not INCLUDING the Keyboard, but the other instruments PLAYED A SINGLE NOTE. The impression I get from the others is that they think that the other instruments played the Chords as well. >
David, who are these "others" you're referring to? I don't think anybody in the present discussion thinks the other non-keyboard instruments played chords. (Unless we're talking about a theorbo or a lute, perhaps....)
Earlier this year I played in a performance of Cantata BWV 49, "Ich geh' und suche mit Verlangen." We had the rare opportunity of two keyboard players in the same cantata: the director played the organ solos and I played harpsichord. The continuo team for this also included cello and bassoon (and it was a period-instruments orchestra).
In rehearsal we worked out various delightful deployments: sometimes with both keyboards improvising right-hand parts, sometimes with only one of us playing, sometimes with one of us playing only the bass line while the other played with both hands. All this was done to suit the acoustics of the room, and to get good balance with the other instruments and the singers. It also gave the director the opportunity to conduct the few parts that needed a visual beat for the strings. The rest of the time we took most of our cues from the first violinist, a nice way to go.
The sound I liked, especially, was the movement where we had the harpsichord playing only the left hand (i.e. "tasto solo") with the cello and bassoon. It gave a magical bit of extra presence to the bass line without becoming too loud, while the organist took care of the harmonies. As I recall, this idea was suggested in rehearsal by the bass soloist, listening from the back of the church.
I like this collegial and practical approach to music-making, where anybody can bring up a suggestion, and the "conducting" is done by whichever player is best suited at the moment to take the lead. It's not necessary to have somebody standing up there being a full-time conductor for the piece. Better to have everybody cue one another as needed, and go mostly by listening.
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (August 17, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Viol, Cello, Gamba, Bassoon, etc. They ALWAYS PLAYED ONE NOT PERIOD. It was the KEYBOARD INSTRUMENTS that supplied the harmonization of the chords for the Bass (hence the name "Figured Bass" for the Continuo part).
Bradley Lehman wrote (August 17, 2003):
< David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote: Viol, Cello, Gamba, Bassoon, etc. They ALWAYS PLAYED ONE NOT PERIOD. It was the KEYBOARD INSTRUMENTS that supplied the harmonization of the chords for the Bass (hence the name "Figured Bass" for the Continuo part). >
I'll repeat my question more clearly. David, we KNOW that the instruments in the continuo group play exactly one note: the bass line. (Except of course for keyboards and lutes/theorbos which can play more notes.) Who do you think is claiming otherwise here, that you believe you're arguing against to make this point?
And another question: David, which instruments (if any) do you play yourself?
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (August 18, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] The inuendo that is going on that says that the keyboards did NOT harmonize the chords and/or that OTHER Instruments did so as well. (Note-the Lute was NEVER a Continuo instrument in Bach's works-it was ALWAYS a Solo Instrument and therefore of course played chords and melody as well; even those who insist on using Lute in Continuo do so AGAINST historical practice [i.e., in Helbich's recording of the Lukaspassion (BWV 246) and the recordings of Telemann by the Telemannorchester Hamburg])-unless they are performing Italian Baroque works.)
Alex Riedlmayer wrote (August 18, 2003):
< David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote: (Note-the Lute was NEVER a Continuo instrument in Bach's works-it was ALWAYS a Solo Instrument and therefore of course played chords and melody as well; >
In the Trauer-Ode (BWV 198), the lutes mostly double the bass.
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (August 18, 2003):
[To Alex Riedlmayer] Right now, I just looked at the copy of the Score for BWV 198 that I have, and NO, THE LUTE IS A SOLO INSTRUMENT.
Bradley Lehman wrote (August 18, 2003):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] David, if a group today uses a lute or a theorbo as part of the continuo group in an ensemble work of Bach, for the simple reason that it sounds
good, does that ruin the piece for you? Why?
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (August 19, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] No, as long as it is keeping in tune with tradition. Such is the reason that (although I DO admire his using the Harpsichord in the Continuo [as Bach would have done]) I do NOT recommend Rilling recordings when opposed to Richter recordings or those featuring the Thomanerchor Leipzig. In addition, I absolutely LOATHE Rilling's recordings of the Matthaeuspassion (BWV 244) in all except 1 point-he (as opposed to Richter) follows Bach's intent and score for the 2 False Witnesses. His treatment of the Opening Chorus ESPECIALLY put me off. He has it as if it were a minor-keyed dance party. Granted it is in Triple meter, but it should be played with funerary pallor. It should be played as if it were crying (which the words express themselves-Kommt, ihr Toechter, helft mir Klagen [Come, ye Daughters, help my mourning]).
Also, as far as I know, the Lute was EXCLUSIVELY secular and NEVER used in the Continuo parts in Germany (or at least Evangelical Germany), whereas it was used to abundace in the Continuo parts in Italy (both in Sacred and Secular music). And while Bach had friends who were Lutenists (i.e., Samuel Leopold Weiss), he and they acknowledged it as a Chamber instrument, to be used SOLEY for entertainment purposes at Court and for private use-NEVER as an instrument in Liturgical performances (which is why I doubt that the Lute was used in the funeral performance for the Electress, whereas it might have been used in the private observances and the Wake).
Johan van Veen wrote (August 19, 2003):
< Charles Francis wrote: Has any one noticed that Leusink's choir sings 'heilsam' (healing) while Rilling et al. sing 'heilig' (holy)? The BGA and the piano reduction score both use 'heilsam' while Alfred Dürr in 'Die Kantaten' indicates 'heilig'. So what's the story? What does the NBA say? Did the BGA anachronistically revise Bach's text? Did Leusink really use an old BGA edition (1891) for his cantatas? >
I don't have the solution, but the answer to your last quis very likely "yes". I know that during the recordings the BGA wasn't at hand. Every singer just used the edition he had in his closet.
Matthew Neugebauer wrote (August 19, 2003):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr."] It may seem to a surprise to some people that I'm saying this, but here we really have the only flaw in the HIP movement, and it isn't entirely musical, but more ethical and philosophical-I believe that there is a fundamental flaw in interpreting a piece of performing art (be it music, drama, whatever) simply because something in a book says so. The only way we can truly, musically heed what Bach and others said about the lute (for example) is if we can say the same thing. If a performer/conductor feels personally, upon actually hearing it or hypothetically simulating it, that the lute takes away from the feeling, the religious fervour, the affekt of a Passion oratorio, then by all means he/she should not use the lute. I've said this before-I espouse authentic principles in performance, such as instruments aiming for vocal presence (perhaps there's a better description of that), minimal vibrato, lower pitch, unequal temperament, and even the hardware, because it makes the music sound better. I follow these principles not because they were written down in some treatise, but because of why they were written down. As for the lute issue, I think it can take away some of the grandeur, etc. of a Passion oratorio, as it connotes a more festive atmosphere (the Italians seemed fond of festive atmospheres back then). However, for lighter, festive works, such as the ChrO, BWV 140, etc. where dance rhythms and joyful noises abound, a lute would definitely be well suited.
Just my thoughts!
Bradley Lehman wrote (August 19, 2003):
< Matthew Neugebauer wrote: (...) As for the lute issue, I think it can take away some of the grandeur, etc. of a Passion oratorio, as it connotes a more festive atmosphere (the Italians seemed fond of festive atmospheres back then). However, for lighter, festive works, such as the ChrO, BWV 140, etc. where dance rhythms and joyful noises abound, a lute would definitely be well suited. >
Hi Matthew, I liked your reasoning up to the point above, where it took the "lute=festive" turn. :) I think that's too limiting a view of what the instrument can do.
I've put up a three-minute example, part of an aria from Bach's cantata 82. It's a piece about dying gently into eternal rest. The singer here is accompanied by lute, organ, and viola da gamba. The accompaniment is all improvised from figured bass, and of course the performers chose this instrumentation because they felt it sounded appropriate.
Also there's an example of a theorbo in an extremely somber instrumental piece, Marais' tombeau in remembrance of Lully, 1701. In this recording the viola da gamba soloist is accompanied by harpsichord and theorbo, both improvising their parts from the figured bass. What do you think of the theorbo's contribution here, as to
the mood of the piece?
Both of these are at
After hearing these two examples, are you still sure that a lute and/or a theorbo wouldn't be appropriate for a passion oratorio?
And, to David Lebut, a similar question: are you still sure that the lute family has no appropriate place in liturgical German music? (HINTS: Heinrich Schutz; Buxtehude; Telemann....) Can you honestly say you're not moved by the Bach example here, and that the music would not be diminished if they omitted the lute from this performance?
This afternoon I'm listening to the Gardiner recording of Buxtehude's "Membra Jesu Nostri" (cycle of seven short cantatas, 1680, about parts of Jesus' crucified body). They're using a theorbo in this performance. It adds just the right amount of rhythmic emphasis and presence, improvising a continuo realization along with the organ....
It's nice to hear Ruth Holton's singing here, too.
Matthew Neugebauer wrote (August 19, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Ok-I was definitlely wrong about the lute only connoting a festive atmosphere-it can definitely be plaintive and serene, but it still connotes "Italian" and even "17th century" for me. Which I feel is unnapproptiate to a very German 18th century Passion such as the SMP-it just doesn't have the grandeur of the organ or the urgency or despair of a harpsichord. Even in the Lully example, which has a melody similar to an aria in the SMP (BWV 244), it was the gamba and the harpsichord that reallly connoted the 18th C German style here to me, and the lute just sounded 17th C and Italian (nevermind that it was written by an Italian-born Frenchmen near the turn of the 18th C).
Just my reaction!
Bradley Lehman wrote (August 19, 2003):
< Matthew Neugebauer wrote: Ok-I was definitlely wrong about the lute only connoting a festive atmosphere-it can definitely be plaintive and serene, but it still connotes >"Italian" and even "17th century" for me. Which I feel is unnapproptiate to
a very German 18th century Passion such as the SMP-it just doesn't have the grandeur of the organ or the urgency or despair of a harpsichord. (...) >
Fair enough...but check out Telemann's St Matthew Passion of 1746. This is one where I haven't seen the score, so I'm not sure what Telemann asked for explicitly in the continuo team. But, in the Stotzel recording (on Hanssler) lute is used to good effect in the continuo, along with organ, bassoon, cello, and bass.
[Stotzel was a Rilling student, but uses period instruments here; basically he's a choral conductor coming in here with his own choir to work with the independent ensemble, La Stravaganza Köln.]
This one: http://www.amazon.de/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000024P8C
I like your comment about the "urgency" and "despair" of harpsichord, and it's good to see you thinking in terms of emotional effects rather than stiff-necked score reading. That emotional urgency is indeed what some of us try to convey, in pieces that call for such effects. (And believe me, playing harpsichord with that goal in Bach's SMP is a blast, trying to express the whole dramatic range of emotions...I did one of those in 1996. Such dramatic music! I wish we'd had a second player, though; it wasn't always possible to cover the continuo parts for both orchestras simultaneously!)
Unfortunately, there are still some old-fashioned notions going around that harpsichords have very little expressive range...or that only an organ is reverent enough for church music...or that performers may only use what the composer gave permission for in a certified copy of the score. What dead-end ways of thinking those can be!
Richard Mix wrote (August 20, 2003):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] You make it almost sound as if you were there, and I'm sure I've missed out on some of your reasoning by not following this thread more attentivly. It seems odd to me, though, that a lutenist should play an obligato in one movement of a sacred work and then twidle his thumbs for the rest. Granted, I once saw a performance of the St. Mathew's where the gambist did exactly that, but it struck me as exceptional. What evidence do we have that the lutenist who played Komm suesser Kreutz in the first version of the Passion was forbiden to play in the rest of the work?
Neil Halliday wrote (August 20, 2003):
Bradley Lehman wrote: "I've put up a three-minute example, part of an aria from Bach's cantata BWV 82. It's a piece about dying gently into eternal rest. The singer here is accompanied by lute, organ, and viola da gamba. The accompaniment is all improvised from figured bass".
Interestingly, I like this example of the "Schlummert ein" aria (despite it being an arrangement omitting the upper strings), better than the Europa Galante/Biondi/Bostridge recording I have, because the thin, `reedy' timbre of theupper strings in Biondi's version detracts from the peaceful slumber portrayed so well in this (Brad's) example.
The lute helps create an intimate, gentle mood, and as I noted with the piano in BWV 116, the plucked/struck instrument (in this case, lute) creates a nice contrast with the sustaining instruments in the continuo (organ and cello/viola da gamba), and adds significant, audible chordal structure to the music.
BTW, the score (BGA edition) for this movement is unusual, in that an organ part (stave) is written out below the continuo part (stave), despite this organ part, as written, being almost identical to the continuo part - only a few notes here and there, on the organ stave, are written an octave above the continuo part. I doubt that the
finished piece would sound different in any way for these few octave-
higher notes in the organ's bass line, shown on the stave; this is not an obligato or concertante organ part, so why did Bach bother writing the two separate staves for the continuo? OTOH, the figured bass numerals written below the organ part are unusually detailed. In many cantata scores, the figured bass numerals are very sparse, or non-existent.
Bradley Lehman wrote (August 20, 2003):
On the bench for most of a piece
[To Richard Mix] There's a similar problem in the B Minor Mass: the hornist for the "Quoniam" has nothing to do elsewhere (unless s/he picks up trumpet for the rest of the piece, as was probably the original expectation).
In the times I've played in the BMM, the hornist either sneaked onstage just a bit before the Quoniam, or sat there reading a book for most of the first half (concealed by the music stand). Then he went home at intermission. The "sneak in" option has the advantage of some time to go warm up elsewhere, out of earshot of the hall. It's a rather tricky solo to play cold, after sitting there for 45 minutes doing nothing.
At least in the SMP the gambist gets that half-minute of recitative to warm up before the big solo. But it makes more practical sense to be playing along with the continuo group some before that as well...either on viola da gamba or on lute. (The two instruments havepretty much the same left-hand fingering.)
Alex Riedlmayer wrote (August 20, 2003):
< Bradley Lehman wrote: There's a similar problem in the B Minor Mass: the hornist for the "Quoniam" has nothing to do elsewhere (unless s/he picks up trumpet for the rest of the piece, as was probably the original expectation). >
Let's see: the horn part in "Quoniam" is already quite difficult to perform, and it is rarely played strongly enough. (And I do not want to hear about that English instrument that plays in the wrong octave.) Now, does the immediately following movement allow any relaxation?
< At least in the SMP the gambist gets that half-minute of recitative > to warm up before the big solo. But it makes more practical sense to be playing along with the continuo group some before that as well... either on viola da gamba or on lute. (The two instruments have pretty much the same left-hand fingering.)
An early version of "Komm, süßes Kreuz" printed in NBA has a lute instead of the viola da gamba. The added part in "Mein Jesus schweigt" has the gamba player take the continuo line in "Geduld, Geduld". (NB: there is no such thing as a "gambist".)
Bradley Lehman wrote (August 20, 2003):
< Neil Halliday wrote: Interestingly, I like this example of the "Schlummert ein" aria (despite it being an arrangement omitting the upper strings), (...) >
Yes, they're using the version of this aria from Anna Magdalena's notebook: there aren't any upper strings in that one.
Bradley Lehman wrote (August 20, 2003):
< Alex Riedlmayer wrote: (NB: there is no such thing as a "gambist".) >
I understand your complaint: some modern lexicographers disdain that one. It is, however, in the 1913 edition of Webster's dictionary. And despite its omission from some other dictionaries, "gambist" has enough precedent in English and German that I feel comfortable in using it. For example: http://www.google.com/search?q=gambist
I wouldn't use "gambist" in a formal paper. Indeed, I avoided it in one about Forqueray: I stuck with "violist" after the context had established that the paper is about the viola da gamba, not the viola da braccio.
But I still think "gambist" is fine in everyday parlance. What else should we say? "Viola da gamba player" and "violist da gamba" are both cumbersome, and "viola da gamba player" has the added disadvantage of being macaronic.
"Gamba player" (which you used) suggests that somebody's leg is being pulled or fondled by a lothario...whose counterpart would be a "petto player," I guess.
According to Webster's 11th we should go with "violist da gamba":
On another instrument, do you prefer "hornist da caccia," "cornist da caccia," "hunting-hornist," "corno da caccia player," or something else?
Why do we park on the driveway and drive on the parkway? Why do "luthiers" make violins?
Joost wrote (August 20, 2003):
< Bradley Lehman wrote (answering Alex Riedlmayer's remark "
(NB: there is no such thing as a "gambist".):
I understand your complaint: some modern lexicographers disdain that one. It is, however, in the 1913 edition of Webster's dictionary. And despite its omission from some other dictionaries, "gambist" has enough precedent in English and German that I feel comfortable in using it.
But I still think "gambist" is fine in everyday parlance. What else should we say? "Viola da gamba player" and "violist da gamba" are both cumbersome, and "viola da gamba player" has the added disadvantage of being macaronic. >
Being a viola da gamba player I agree with Brad. Nine out of ten times I use "gambist", when referring to myself, or to a player in a concert or in a recording. The same goes for the instrument itself: when somebody I hardly know asks what instrument I play my answer would be "viola da gamba"; in almost all other situations it's just "gamba".
An additional peculiarity is the plural "violas da gamba", which is very macaronic too. Most players would use "gambas" in stead. A good friend of mine, who is a luthier (specialising in bows), uses the plural "gambi", which of course is incorrect in every respect, but he isn't happy with any alternative...
By the way, does anybody know why a recorder in Italian is called "flauto dolce" (French "flûte douce"), whereas the transverse flute has a much sweeter sound?
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (August 21, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] In many works, there are examples. For instance, the Organist does that for more than 2/3 of the time in the Matthäus-Passion (BWV 244) (only coming in at Chorale or Choral movements, or at the final recitative of Jesus). This is (I think) the way it should be, although I wouldn't mind an organ accompanying ALL the Jesus recitatives (I think it would add to the "halo" effect that the sustained strings already provide). Besides, the Lute (while I DO like its sound), as I stated earlier, was and is fundamentally a secular instrument. I doubt if Bach would have used it in Church performances of his Sacred works, especially in his Leipzig period, in which he was performing duties for one of the most (if not the most) ultra-conservative congregations in Evangelical Germany at the time (even more conservative, I think, than his Arnstadt and Mülhausen congregations), and certainly he wouldn't have wanted to make more trouble for himself (he had plenty already).
Bradley Lehman wrote (August 21, 2003):
< David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote: In many works, there are examples. For instance, the Organist does that for more than 2/3 of the time in the Matthaeuspassion (only coming in at Chorale or Choral movements, or at the final recitative oJesus). This is (I think) the way it should be, although I wouldn't mind an organ accompanying ALL the Jesus recitatives (I think it would add to the "halo" effect that the sustained strings already provide). >
Hmm. I paged through the Bach-Gesellschaft score of the SMP this evening and counted the times it says "Organo e Continuo" as opposed to simply "Continuo". According to that, an organ (and sometimes two!) is playing in more than 3/4 of the movements. And that includes most of the arias, too, not only the choruses. By what reckoning do you come to the conclusion that the organist (or two) sit(s) there tacet for 2/3 of the piece, and then suddenly makes a solo-like appearance?
And, that final recitative of Jesus is a place where it does not say "Organo e Continuo", but simply "Continuo." It also doesn't ask for organ in the climactic recitative where he dies and the graves open up, although I've heard it done to good frightening effect with organ there.
Now, I don't mind a tasteful re-orchestration of the piece, especially if organs or competent organists are not available for the performance; but my question here is about your reasoning, and your extraordinary conclusion that the organ is silent 2/3 of the time. According to what, if not the score?
[Has the NBA's scholarship overturned it that much, perhaps?!]
< Besides, the Lute (while I DO like its sound), as I stated earlier, was and is fundamentally a secular instrument. >
Isn't that true of violins, timpani, trumpets, oboes, flutes, and most of the rest of the orchestra as well? How does this claim of "secular instrument" support your point?
Even an organ isn't necessarily a "sacred" instrument. What do you do with the tradition that some organs are owned by the state (and the organist an employee of the state) even if it is installed in a church? [Isn't that still true in the Netherlands?]
p.s. Or was all of your message merely the straight setup for the punch line that the organist is "on the bench" for all of the SMP, with the subject line of this discussion thread?
Johan van Veen wrote (August 21, 2003):
< Bradley Lehman wrote: Even an organ isn't necessarily a "sacred" instrument. What do you do with the tradition that some organs are owned by the state (and the organist an employee of the state) even if it is installed in a church? [Isn't that still true in the Netherlands?] >
No. As far as I know there are only two cases where the organist is appointed by the city council. The first one is the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, but that church isn't used for Sunday services anymore. I believe the current organists are Bernard Winsemius and Gustav Leonhardt.
The other case is the St Bavo in Haarlem. It has two organists, one appointed by the church - he is responsible for the organ playing during Sunday services -, the other is appointed by the city council to give and organise concerts.
To my knowledge this situation dates from the 20th century.
Continue on Part 3
Articles: The “Shortening of the Supporting Notes” in the Bc of Bach’s ‘Secco’ Recitatives [Thomas Braatz] | Playing Plain Recitative in Bach's Vocal Works [Bradley Lehman]
Discussions of Recitatives: 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 | Continuo in Bach’s Vocal Works: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4| Part 5