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Continuo in Bach’s Vocal Works
Discussions - Part 8

Continue from Part 7

Brad's article on playing the continuo

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 18, 2007):
This evening I finally got around to reading some of the articles on the BC website, and among the most interesting to me was Brad's article on the method of recitative playing employing continuo and length or style of strokes. After finishing the article I listened to some files on my computer and came to the conclusion that perhaps the harpsichord is the most natural instrument for continuo. Last year when I wrote about figured bass I experimented with a range of instruments and didn't find anything that I created in Finale that really pleased me. But this evening I went back and removed all but the harpsichord from the file by muting the excess, and found the effect quite pleasing. There is some warmth, but the accompaniment will not dominate or override the singer. Quite naturally there is no sustain, and I am wondering if Bach used this instrument for recitatives more than organ or keyboard, or perhaps other instrumentation.

I'd be interested in hearing from those who play these parts of the cantatas which instruments they prefer if none is specified. I know some scores specify specific instruments. If others have opinions on instrument selection I'd enjoy hearing what they prefer and why.

Thanks,

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 18, 2007):
< This evening I finally got around to reading some of the articles on the BC website, and among the most interesting to me was Brad's article on the method of recitative playing employing continuo and length or style of strokes.>
OK, thanks! But, to be clear: that thing that's linked on "Index of Articles": http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/index.htm
as "Playing Plain Recitative in Bach's Vocal Works - Bradley Lehman - Apr 2003": http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Plain-Recitative[Lehman].htm

...is not an article. It was, rather, just an improvised e-mail message on a day four years ago when I was extremely frustrated with the several months of on-list harangue that had gone on before, on the topic of reading basso continuo parts in Bach cantatas. I tried to sum up my understandings of the topic, and the musical procedures I go through in performing this repertoire. That message really shouldn't be linked to the "Index of Articles" page at all, as if it were an article, as I didn't submit it as such to the BCW.

I did make some of that original material into an article, later (in September of that year), and that one is here on my own web site: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/recits.htm
If anything is to be linked from the BCW's page, it should be that version.

And the follow-up discussions continued for at least another year or two, in similarly heated manner. See, for example:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Recitatives-9.htm
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Recitatives-10.htm

Neil Halliday wrote (May 18, 2007):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
<(by removing all instruments except the harpsichord) There is some warmth, but the accompaniment will not dominate or override the singer>.
I tend to agree with where you are going on this, but I don't think it's a matter of "not dominating the singer" , because Bach's always attractive accompanied recitatives don't have a problem in this regard - rather the problem, in the case of secco recitatives, is to create an attractive accompaniment that supports the singer and conveys the harmonic structure of the recitative.

Those who wish to follow this discussion can try this experiment for themselves. (I presume most people have access to a piano, if not a harpsichord).

First, listen online to all the amazon samples of this week's short secco alto recitative (BWV 87 second movement). You can hear Harnoncourt, Rilling, Leusink, and Koopman at the BCW page.

In my opinion, none of them are satisfactory.

Harnoncourt's minimal accompaniment is stilted, and neither supports the singer nor satisfactorily conveys the harmony (implied by the figured bass). Rilling's prominent, sempre legato, `sempre vibrato' cello, apart from an ugly scraping noise being picked up (created?) by the recording microphone, rapidly becomes tiresome with its `single-voice harmony', even rendering the harmony on the organ difficult to hear. Leusink valiantly tries to bring some variety of instrumental expression to the recitative, by alternately employing the opposing styles heard in the above two examples - but he only ends up proving that two wrongs don't make a right (plus he also has that coarse string sound). Koopman is basically no better than Harnoncourt.

(Interestingly, if we only consider instrumental aesthetics - timbre etc, I think Harnoncourt, in this particular example, has the cleanest instrumental sound, and brightest organ tone, of any of them, so that he could have easily held each chord for at least twice as long, to good effect).

The above examples demonstrate why even 18th century commentators have argued over the best method for secco recitative accompaniment.

In my view, the basic problem is one of hardware, ie, trying to clearly present (with expression) recitative harmony via inflexible organ tone of sufficient volume to convey 3,4, or 5-part harmony , with the addition of one-part harmony (the bass notes) on the cello, either short or long, is practically impossible.

Now for the second part of the experiment.

Print out the recitative as shown in the BCW piano reduction score, and play the chords on a piano, or harpsichord, simply holding them from one chord to the next (and sing the easy vocal part). Does this produce a better accompaniment than that heard in the recordings? (Or simply memorize the first three chords, which will be sufficient to demonstrate the effect. Notice they are inversions of dominant 7th E, A, and D chords, on a chromatically descending bass).

My feeling is that it does. I don't miss the note on the cello at all, and - especially on the piano, but I suppose also on a harpsichord - the harmony of the chords is fully conveyed in a musically pleasing manner which is ideal for recitatives, because piano and harpsichord chords (held from one chord to the next), begin to decay immediately, automatically bringing flexibility of expression to the recitative. Attempting to hold such chords from one chord to the next on an organ keyboard will prove unsatisfactory because of the inflexibility of the organ tone. Inflexibility of cello tone, if cello is used, can easily be avoided by letting the cello tone 'die away" over the length of the chord; this is likely to be much better than cutting the cello note prematurely short, with the attendent stilted effect that we hear in Harnoncourt's recording, noted above.

The problem for recordings using harpsichord alone now becomes one of appropriate miking for that instrument, to ensure that something more than the usual pitchless `buzz' ("bunch of rattling wires" is one description I recall) is conveyed to the listener. (I presume a harpsichord is capable of projecting sound, once a chord is struck, over a length of several bars).

So, I can quite understand Jean's conclusions resulting from her own experiments with recitative accompaniment.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (May 18, 2007):
[To Jean Laaninen] You are not quiet right. The Organ is the best instrument for Continuo and was always used during the Baroque period if there was a choice between Harpsichord and Organ. Harpsichord does do well because of it's lighter tones and does not overpower singers. The art of Continuo playing is the art of improvision. Those who play Jazz make good continuo players because the techique is the same---just that jazz progressions are forbidden.

I hnot seen Brad's article if you would be so kind as to send me the address I would appreciate it.

thanks

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 18, 2007):
[To Neil Halliday] Neil on Cantata Recitativo understanding and experiments:

Thanks so much, Neil. I have copied your email to my Word program and printed it out. I see I have come into a rather large topic with my musical curiosity, and I'm very appreciative of the time you took to explain these issues. Now between you and Brad I have enough material to start to absorb and internalize so that I will be kept busy for a bit. That's great!

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 18, 2007):
< I tend to agree with where you are going on this, but I don't think it's a matter of "not dominating the singer" , because Bach's always attractive accompanied recitatives don't have a problem in this regard – rather the problem, in the case of secco recitatives, is to create an attractive accompaniment that supports the singer and conveys the harmonic structure of the recitative. >
No; the basic "problem" (if there is a problem) is not about creating an "attractive accompaniment" that modern listeners might fancy.

The basic "problem" (if there is any!) is on getting some modern listeners and prolific web-writers to understand and tolerate the basic nature of recitative, as a genre (Bach's and others'!): as heightened expressive speech, principally conveying the message of the text. The accompanists' job in this is to be sufficiently supportive and not distracting...which is not the same thing as being "attractive".

The secondary "problem" here (if there is any!) is that some people who haven't taken music lessons in 16th-18th century practices simply don't understand the flexibility inherent in recitative notation, as a genre. And then they press their own blinding literalism and their own expectations ahead of the serious work of people who do understand the work.

Please pardon any grumpiness; a friend of mine died yesterday and I really shouldn't be wasting my time here online at all.

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 18, 2007):
[To Bradley Lehman] Brad on his articles on recitative continuo playing:

Thanks Brad. I can see I will have a lot to chew on with this topic, and I really like that fact. Now I am going to learn something indepth that I have primarily only observed to date. That's great. I will respond to the information on these links with a little more detail when I've had a period of time to absorb the detail. I appreciate the detail being available.

Neil Halliday wrote (May 18, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>No; the basic "problem" (if there is a problem) is not about creating an "attractive accompaniment" that modern listeners might fancy.The basic "problem" (if there is any!) is on getting some modern listeners and prolific web-writers to understand and tolerate the basic nature of recitative, as a genre<
I understand your point; one list member once said that I am listening to the wrong music. Still, if something unattractive can be transformed into something attractive....

Sorry to hear about the loss of a friend.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 18, 2007):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
< Brad on his articles on recitative continuo playing:
Thanks Brad. I can see I will have a lot to chew on with this topic, and I really like that fact. Now I am going to learn something indepth that I have primarily only observed to date. That's great. I will respond to the information on these links with a little more detail when I've had a period of time to absorb the detail. I appreciate the detail being available. >
It's worth noting that there is a long dispute among historians whether the harpsichord was permitted in sacred music. Harnoncourt and Leonhardt took a strict reading and only used organ. Leusink as well. McCreesh reads the evidence differently and uses both organ and harpsichord. Does Suzuki ever use harspichord?

The question is very complex. Lawrence Dreyfus lays out the evidence in "Bach's Continuo Group" (Harvard UP 1987) but it's still controverted. Lots of discussion about the role of various bass instruments in the continuo group.

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 18, 2007):
[To William Rowland (Ludwig)] http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/recits.htm

This is the article in its complete form. The other mention was apparently in the context of regular web postings. I think this article contains everything that was on the BC web pages, plus a good deal more. I didn't bother last night since it was so late to save the url from the article I referred to in the beginning. But the above url has an article I just started reading a bit ago, and it gives me more understanding than I've had to date. I will make it a point from now on to make note of anything I refer to...but I found the information under the section titled Articles.

I imagine that organ may have been chosen because of the size of the church, as the harpsichord sound might not have carried as well. I'm interested in what you think of that concept.

Neil Halliday wrote (May 18, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>Does Suzuki ever use harpsichord? <
Yes, Doug, quite a bit, sometimes both together (as did Werner and Rilling: Richter hardly ever used harpsichord).

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 18, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Yes, Doug, quite a bit, sometimes both together (as did Werner and Rilling: Richter hardly ever used harpsichord). >
McCreesh actually uses both in the same performance. Very Handelian.

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 18, 2007):
Doug Cowling wrote:
< It's worth noting that there is a long dispute among historians whether the harpsichord was permitted in sacred music. Harnoncourt and Leonhardt took a strict reading and only used organ. Leusink as well. McCreesh reads the evidence differently and uses both organ and harpsichord. Does Suzuki ever use harspichord?
The question is very complex. Lawrence Dreyfus lays out the evidence in "Bach's Continuo Group" (Harvard UP 1987) but it's still controverted. Lots of discussion about the role of various bass instruments in the continuo
group. >
...I had no idea I'd entered into a long historical debate, but I recall that when a harpsichord was given to our church some years ago someone must have thought it too much bother, or inappropriate, and it disappeared quite suddenly.

I used to have a small organ at home, but got rid of it before the move to Arizona. Interestingly, someone has sampled some of the great organ sounds from Europe...I'd have to check my files for the church and organ, and I downloaded these sounds to the sound library I've gradually been building. In the case of sequencing, and working with a wave editor, it is possible to create a more life like quality by creating little breaks in the wave form as in when the hands would be ever so briefly lifted off the keyboard to similate live playing, with longer breaks created where the rests would exist as happens automatically. Then one can make adjustments in other ways, too--processes I haven't had time to explore in practice, but that simulate what is done live.

All of this is very interesting and worth the time in retirement when the gracious thing to do is step aside and give space to the recognition of great younger talent in public performance.

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 18, 2007):
Thanks, everyone, for all the information. Today's a hot day in Arizona, so I settled in and read everything recommended. I priced the set on Bach's Continuo Group, but it is a little steep even used ($ 149.00 US), so I think a trip to the university library will be in order one of these days. The other problem here is having so many books and so much music and seemingly shrinking space.

After reflecting a bit I think I will try a little experiment with one of the shorter recitatives. I'll try the notation both short and more extended, and even use my piano as Neil suggested in the little experiment. Then I will record and compare my results. My last voice teacher recently wrote after I sent a recording that she prefers my work with my own piano accompaniment as the flow is more natural. Of course, tha's more work as practice is required.

I contemplate doing something a little extraodinary. I know that one cannot use the piano orchestral reductions that are currently available, so I am toying with using Finale to see how well it will work in taking my Kalmus based notations and creating an orchestral reduction from one of the selections as a test. Then I'll see if I can play the reduction, or how well. I have the time and the interest even though it's a long way of getting at results. I know that I can mic my piano quite well, so that issue is already settled.

I can see from reading the past discussions on this topic and looking at the Grove article on Continuo that there is more than one possibility of how I work things out. Thanks to everyone for all the ideas and information. After some time has passed I will share my conclusions regarding home recording related to what I have learned from this discussion. My most ardent teachers and scholarly friends always emphasize that Bach is of a communal nature and feel at times I should be spending my time in a chorale or working up something to do publicly. But at this point and retired I'm rather inclined toward staying with my current project. At my age I find it takes a lot of time to perfect these works. I improve, and then I hear something else that should be better. My husband cannot figure out how I can continue to work forever on the same numbers, but the vocal complexity for creating something beautiful is substantial. My remote audience (those to whom I give the CDs) enjoy them, and at this stage public performance stress isn't a high priority for me.

But I do love chatting with all of you. Both of my parents were smart people, but my Dad was the one with the highly organized academic mind. Mother was the source of my love of artistry and the one who gave me those gifts. The combination leads to enjoying communicating with people in this web community, because many of the same high standards with which I was raised are present in these conversations and their outflow. Thanks so much.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 23, 2007):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
< The other problem here is having so many books and so much music and seemingly shrinking space. >
Physicists claim that space is expanding! Some folks (my spouse, for example) claim that our stuff is expanding faster.

Maybe there is a lot of extra space available, and we haven't found it yet?

< But I do love chatting with all of you. Both of my parents were smart people, but my Dad was the one with the highly organized academic mind. Mother was the source of my love of artistry and the one who gave me those gifts. The combination leads to enjoying communicating with people in this web community, because many of the same high standards with which I was raised are present in these conversations and their outflow. Thanks so much. >
Thanks. The feminine perspective is always in short supply on this list. 'High standards' is notably generous.

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 23, 2007):
[To Ed Myskowski] Ed's comments below and another idea:

I was just thinking about Ed and his graduate students today. I suppose this is a little far afield, but maybe those graduate students, or some graduate students could be gathered to re-notate the Bach BGA orchestral cantata scores. Now that's a little bit of imagination. On the other hand, would the scores then lose authenticity?

I think, too, that your wife has figured things out. Every time I have to deep clean my office I ask myself where all this 'stuff' and endless paper came from, and it must simply duplicate itself. I've been backing up computer materials for 15 years now, and I think I have a box of stuff for each year. I think of Andy Rooney and his office, and his hilarious TV commentaries when I face the job. It comes up about once a year. No one would want to be in here with me on cleaning day. My husband has threatened to build shelves on the outside of our house if I bring in any more stuff...can you imagine? Maybe that's where more space can be found.

I'm enjoying the visits and I love to type. I hope a few more ladies will join in...I'm sure there are other expansive thoughts and questions that would bring enjoyment to all.

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 24, 2007):
Figured Bass and Expected Chord Progressions in the Cantatas

I've been contemplating a little more the discussion about figured bass and continuo practice that I brought up for discussion recently. Exploring beyond the resources we discussed following, I came upon a music web site regarding figured bass and a method for realizing the shorthand. At one point there was a comment to the effect that the shorthand notation of figured bass would have been realized, or should be realized according to the expected chord progressions. I interpret that to mean that looking at the bass line one would then want to be sure that progressions found in tonal music...normal harmonic progressions for Bach would be followed. In the chorales the progressions tend to follow hymn form. In the recitatives I understand now that even the barren sound of a bass line with some chords realized in the right hand would be appropriate...that one does not have to elaborate or create an arrangement unless there is a specific reason for the choice. I listened to Nancy Argenta on a recording I have here, and only the simplest of organ sound guided or undergirded her performance. In the arias where only the continuo is given, or perhaps with a few strings added I have to admit it has taken my ear a little bit of time to adjust to the idea that something could be so plain. Julian mentioned to me in an off topic correspondence that Bach never did anything without a reason. So I am taking the point of view now that even if the sound is very plain to my ears perhaps Bach's stark contrast might be for the reason of wanting his listeners to focus on the words, with the singer serving as a solo instrument.

Then by contrast in other arias and some of the choral work for the choir, Bach seems to take the joys and even the great levels of human anguish to a complexity that reveals the emotions and concerns of his texts.

Having said these things, I am curious to know if any of the scholars in the group have ever given thought to the 'expected chord progressions,' while working with their own figured bass interpretations, or, conversely, if they have employed some unique chords at times. I did read that the use of an accidental not in the given key is an indication of the possibility of an unusual chord choice. Or, perhaps indicates a unique choice, better said.

When I took music theory we did not get into the complex relationship of figured bass and expected chord progressions, and if anyone has some commentary on this subject I'm listening.

Thanks.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 24, 2007):
< I did read that the use of an accidental not in the given key is an indication of the possibility of an unusual chord choice. Or, perhaps indicates a unique choice, better said.
When I took music theory we did not get into the complex relationship of figured bass and expected chord progressions, and if anyone has some commentary on this subject I'm listening. >
The presence of odd-looking bunches of accidentals in the figuring doesn't necessarily mean that any of those chords are unusual or surprising, for their context. It could simply indicate that the music has already modulated pretty far from the home key.

The surprises (i.e. motion against expectation) come in when Bach occasionally cuts across the circle of 5ths to unprepared keys, instead of getting there through more typically smooth progressions. Forkel pointed out -- correctly! -- that Bach did not use these sudden changes very often; rather, Bach's progressions normally give the effect that he's never left the home key (even if he has). Certainly by contrast with CPE and Wilhelm Friedemann, in their music where they did those things for starker effect, more frequently than their father did....

I chose to open my organ set with an audacious piece by young JSB where he did cut across the circle of 5ths with a bunch of surprises. That's the type of playing in his early 20s, where he got censured by the church authorities for confusing the congregation! Track 1 at: http://tinyurl.com/qv6cw "Gelobet seist du", BWV 722.

The start of the "recitative" section in the Chromatic Fantasy, BWV 903, has to be surprising to anybody! :) That piece has some of the boldest stuff Bach did with sudden modulations.

Sorry my remarks are more about the solo keyboard music -- harpsichord and organ -- than the cantatas, on this point! But there are also some terrific harmonies of surprise in, for example, the opening movement of the "Wedding Cantata" BWV 202, or in the chorale at the end of "Ich will den Kreuzstab" BWV 56.

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 24, 2007):
Brad Lehman wrote:
< I chose to open my organ set with an audacious piece by young JSB where he did cut across the circle of 5ths with a bunch of surprises. That's the type of playing in his early 20s, where he got censured by the church authorities for confusing the congregation! Track 1 at: http://tinyurl.com/qv6cw "Gelobet seist du", BWV 722. >
The modulations in Brad's piece are worth a listen. I can see where this piece would have confused the congregation. And, I can identify with this story as once I was turning pages for an organist and she went into a series of modulations on a hymn tune that the congregation could not follow. The pastor actually stopped the music and asked her to play it straight. Later on that day I had a number of people cornering me and telling me I should talk to this woman about her disruptive playing. I did not...but I get the picture.

In the cantatas, creating figured bass on the fly I would imagine as you've already indicated previously that simplicity is often best, and not to detract from the soloist. But there still could be something unexpected, perhaps as a diminished seventh chord over one of the other notes of the scale, that might also be interpreted in another way. Theory being theory, I learned that people sometimes see things or describe them in different ways, and I remember a few red marks on my paper, or a time or two being given a chance to go back and take another look and see if I could envision a different result.

Thanks for your comments.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (May 26, 2007):
[To Jean Laaninen] I don't necessarily find even weird modulations distracting - they were kind of common practice at a certain church I used to go to. On the last verse, one just had to stop singing from the four-part harmony printed in the hymnal, and sing the melody, and everything was fine. But as far as continuo goes, I can say two things here:

1. I admit to very conservative tastes as far as harmony is concerned. The reason I mention this is that some time back, we needed to write out a realization of the BC for BWV 80 'Komm in mein Herzenshaus' for my ensemble, and since I myself am not a keyboard player (just the 'chief handmaiden', which means that if none of us has time to do it, that means I get stuck with it), I had my gambist's harpsichordist wife go over it.

The result was that she made some modifications which clearly went in the direction of preserving a certain concept of 'Baroque figuration' (not in the sense of the little numbers, but in the sense of set patterns of ornamentation), at the expense of strictly following the harmony. Our organist and I ended up agreeing that we preferred the opposite approach - to err on the side of perhaps 'not quite standard Baroque' figures, while strictly preserving the harmony.

2. All that having been said, the texture of a given continuo part, I think, has to depend in part on the instrumentation. If there are many other instruments in the ensemble for a given aria, movement, etc., then it needs to go more in the direction of 'just harmonies', while if it's just voice and continuo with no other instruments, it can go so far in the other direction that it's tough to tell anymore whether it's 'just continuo', or obbligato.

For example, in the piece I mention above, there was evident two-voice counterpoint between the bass line and the voice, so I decided to make the right hand a third voice in the counterpoint. Now, in two places during this aria, there are huge melismas for the voice, with a bass suggesting perhaps only chords as an accompaniment. But that is not the only possible solution - another one is to treat it as two-voice counterpoint between the right hand and the voice, with bass accompaniment...

My two cents (or dwa grosze? ;;) )

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 24, 2007):
[To Cara Emily Thornton] Thanks for these interesting comments. Every time someone explains a little more about what he or she does in regard to writing or performance or interpretation I grow mentally just a bit more. I also find that the discussions have truly informed my own playing and singing, and that's exciting.

 

Piano continuo

Continue of discussion from: Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - Conducted by Karl Richter [Other Vocal Works]

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 2, 2009):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< I recently got the 1935 recording of Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" by Glyndebourne/Busch, which was apparently the first recording of the piece. According to the notes, Busch was adamantly opposed to using any harpsichord, even though the recitatives obviously need it. So, a piano plunks and thuds all the way through the opera, sounding silly. >
The Levine Metropolitan Opera recording of Figaro uses a fortepiano and it sounds quite light and marvellous: no industrial strength Bösendorfer there! The old Bonynge recording of Don Giovanni used a harpsichord continuo throughout, which sounded quite arresting in the Overture which he double-dotted!

There's still a lot of debate whether there should be a keyboard in all the Haydn and Mozart symphonies. Hogwood used a harpsichord in the early Mozart symphonies. In one famous precedent, Haydn wrote a piano cadenza in the final movement of a symphony.

I quite enjoyed the recording made a few years ago which reconstructed Mendelssohn's first performance of the SMP (BWV 244): fortepiano continuo and the four soloists singing in unison for the ripieno choir in the opening chorus.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (January 2, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< There's still a lot of debate whether there should be a keyboard in all the Haydn and Mozart symphonies. Hogwood used a harpsichord in the early Mozart symphonies. In one famous precedent, Haydn wrote a piano cadenza in the final movement of a symphony. >
Christopher Hogwood used no harpsichord continuo for the Haydn symphony cycle because he and his researchers found no evidence of a harpsichord in Esterhazy after a horrible fire. This editorial decision ignited a firestorm in the pages of Grammaphone that lasted nearly quite sometime. The decision never answered exactly what Haydn was doing during these performances- e.g. did he play and "conduct" as 1st violin, but then if he did, what about the offical concert-meister?

To be honest, you don't miss the harpsichord at all and Hogwood was using pretty small forces for the early symphonies. the specific symphony you mentioned with the small keyboard solo was written during the London tours, and was never recorded by Hogwood because DG-Archiv pulled the plug on the project. I sincerely hope that the project is revived now that L'oseau Lyre has been revived and issuing new recordings (e.g the new Handel Op 6 is due out on CD next month and is ABSOLUTELY fantastic).

The Mozart recordings were different, and I believe Hogwood also used pianoforte for the later symphonies because it was believed Mozart used the pieces for his academies and would have conducted from the keyboard. In my humble opinion, I think Hogwood's Mozart is absolutely the best recording.

Speaking of Haagain, Sony has completed a new Haydn symphony project with Russell Davies conducting and all the CDs will be released in 2009 for the Haydn celebrations.

Brilliant Classics will issue 2 huge box sets of the complete works, including a new recording of all 100 plus baryton trios. Great year for classical music buffs ;)

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 2, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< In one famous precedent, Haydn wrote a piano cadenza in the final movement of a symphony. >
You mean the harpsichord solo in the last few pages of symphony 98, where it plays some arpeggios? What really sound ridiculous are the modern-orchestra performances of that symphony that have gone along for 27 minutes with no harpsichord playing at all...and then suddenly one appears (closely miked and Godzilla-loud in context) just to play that one passage. Jochum's recording is one example of this, among many.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 2, 2009):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< You mean the harpsichord solo in the last few pages of symphony 98, where it plays some arpeggios? >
Is it piano or harpsichord?

 

Performance problems-Continuo

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (March 1, 2009):
IF anyone on this list has actually organized and performed Bach's cantatas--I would appreaciate some advice.

As we all know; the practice of Bach was to use the Organ as the Continuo instrument and the only time that Harpsichord was used was when the organ was down or being tuned/repared.

In the Magnificat (BWV 243) and in several Cantatas ---most notably BWV 29 (Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir) Bach scores for Organ obligato and Continuo (I am using the Kalmus editions). I am wondering what was used as Continuo in these pieces since the Organ was busy with its own material to be able to play figured bass of the Continuno. There is a possiblity that the left hand could possibly handle a 2 part figured bass??

The Continuo part in BWV 29 is exactly the same as the ORgan pedal but when we have a figured basso of 6/4 and then a four part figured bass--it does not seem possible that the Organist could play this while also doing a rapid succession of 16th notes in the right hand and at times left hand.

My research has shown that none of the churchs that Bach played at in Leipzig had more than one Organ during Bach's life time. Before WWII; St St. Thomas had two organs--a small one manual and the large organ. The organ that Bach and Mendelssohn knew and played was torn down in 1889 and replaced by a a totally new instrument instrument of 63 ranks by Sauer and added to to a total of 88 ranks in 1907. Between 1966-1967; Alexander Shuke of Potsdam apparently took down the Sauer instrument and installed a Baroque style instrument which we hear in E.Power Biggs' recordings. It is the realization of Straubes plans of 1927.

So I am wondering what instrument was or is to be used for the Continuo part when the Church did not have two instruments. Even if St.Thomas had the second small organ while Bach was playing from the large organ--this would have been a nightmare to keep everything together because the small organ that existed before and after Bach sat in a gallery at the East end of the church.

Bach's Organs at St.Thomas seem to be a source of constant problems as repairs were frequently being made

St. Johns in Leipzig did not have two organs but at one time had a smaller organ which Scheibe canabalized in building the new Organ that Bach and Zacharias Hildebrand proved in 1714.

St. Thomas in Leipzip had a small organ that dated back to 1489 but it was rebuilt in 1630. In 1740; this organ ceased to exist but its parts were used in St. Johns Organ. Bach had the large organ at his disposal.

St. Nicolas in Leipzig had at one time two organs but in 1693-1694 this Organ was canabalized and the parts and pipes used in the larger organ.

I was unable to find any information about St. Pauls or the New Church Leipzig but Bach certainly was familiar with them and Teleman had been the director of music at St. Pauls. Presumably what information may have existed was destroyed in the fire storm bombing raid by British and American Bombers in WWII which left Leipzig looking like Hiroshima.

The other thought to the Kalmus scores is that the copyist at Kalmus got things mixed up so that the score for the Organ and continuo which were once the same have been bastardized into 2 different instruments when only one should be used.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 1, 2009):
Ludwig wrote:
< As we all know; the practice of Bach was to use the Organ as the Continuo instrument and the only time that Harpsichord was used was when the organ was down or being tuned/repared.
The Continuo part in
BWV 29 is exactly the same as the ORgan pedal but when we have a figured basso of 6/4 and then a four part figured bass--it does not seem possible that the Organist could play this while also doing a rapid succession of 16th notes in the right hand and at times left hand. >
Recent scholarship has pretty much established that a harpsichord was available and used in Bach's cantatas. "Bach's Continuo Group" by L. Dreyfus is probably the standard reference: I'm sure there is more recent bibliography. The primary evidence is the existence of figured continuo parts written in Kammerton rather than the Chorton transposition needed by the organist. Dreyfus's analysis of the Cantata BWV 29 parts indicates the organ and harpsichord were used throughout the performance.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 1, 2009):
Ludwig wrote:
< IF anyone on this list has actually organized and performed Bach's cantatas--I would appreaciate some advice.
As we all know; the practice of Bach was to use the Organ as the Continuo instrument and the only time that Harpsichord was used was when the organ was down or being tuned/repared. >
That's not at all established. Please read Laurence Dreyfus's book Bach's Continuo Group, which debunks that 19th century whim.

David Glen Lebut Jr. wrote (March 2, 2009):
[To Ludwig] I would go on to argue the following in regards to the Continuo group:

When performing a Choral part in a Cantata, the Organ would be used. The same for arias. However, in the case of Recitatives, the Harpsichord would be used (except in the case of Passions, in which the Recitatives of Jesus would use Organ).

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 2, 2009):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] There's really no evidence for any of this: Dreyfus redrew the parameters for continuo realization in Bach. It's a Romantic affectation to use sustained organ for the Christus recitatives in the SJP (BWV 245) analogous with the string "halo" in the SMP (BWV 244).

James Atkins Pritchard wrote (March 2, 2009):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] Are your comments based on Dreyfus or some other source?

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (March 2, 2009):
[To James Atkins Pritchard] The Harpsichord is never used except when the Organ is down and if you have been in the loft of the places BWV 29 was perfomed you can see why---there was little to no room with the orchestra and chorusters. German Harpsichords were a minimum of 8 feet long. It would not be an easy task lifting a harpsichord up into the gallery.

Evan Cortens wrote (March 2, 2009):
[To Ludwig] While flat out assertions that fly in the face of Dreyfus's most-excellent book on this topic are hardly helpful, and likely just bait, I will nevertheless respond. Granted, this concerns the Himmelsburg in Weimar, not any of the Leipzig churches, but the picture on page 150 (which I can scan if necessary) of Wolff (2000) clearly shows a harpsichord in the musicians gallery. The image ispeculative, granted, but is based upon contemporary accounts and instrumental inventories.

I have to side with Doug and Brad here: that the harpsichord was not used as a continuo instrument in Bach's cantatas or that it was in any way a "secular" instrument* is a myth clearly debunked by Dreyfus.

* This secular association is suggested by numerous recordings, for instance. Ton Koopman comes to mind: he uses harpsichord in the secular cantatas and organ in the sacred ones. That said, Koopman also consistently uses lute in the continuo group, which, again according to Dreyfus, it is clear that Bach did not. We should certainly never be slaves to "authenticity", but at the same time, we ought not claim to be engaged in historical performance practice when clearly disregarding the facts that don't suit us.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 2, 2009):
Ludwig wrote:
< German Harpsichords were a minimum of 8 feet long. It would not be an easy task lifting a harpsichord up into the gallery. >
Reminds me of the canal landing behind St. Mark', Venice, where there is an elevator shaft which allowed ecclesiastical decorations and presumably music and organs to be raised by pulley to the level of the choir lofts. After several centuries of experience, I'm sure the 18th century custos of St. Thomas', Leipzig, knew how to manage the heavy lifting.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 2, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>After several centuries of experience, I'm sure the 18th century custos of St. Thomas', Leipzig, knew how to manage the heavy lifting.<
With analogous logic, expanded by several orders of magnitude, consider the heavy lifting abilities of the Egyptians five millenia ago, building the pyramids. Also, without a bit of inspiration from Christian beliefs, I hasten to point out.

Joel Figen wrote (March 2, 2009):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< Ton Koopman comes to mind: he uses harpsichord in the secular cantatas and organ in the sacred ones. >
There are a good many Koopman Bach performances on Youtube. I rather enjoy them. I think his standards of musicianship are among the highest. (for instance, his trebles are in tune...)

I especially love it when someone holds a tiny keyboard up for him to "improvise" one of his single-line continuo realizations. I almost believed it for a while, but... seriously, MIDI hadn't been invented in time for Bach. Even though the natural notes on the little keyboard are discolored enough to be 250 or so years old, I don't think there were any organs that small... (were there?) And the link between the key and the pipe had to be mechanical....

Right now I'm leaning toward the hypothesis that the keyboard is midi, and that the elephant was a very heavy smoker indeed .... (someone would have had to be holding up the pipes and everything.)

With regard to secular cantatas, I'm currently working up a set of MIDI files for a guerilla performance of BWV 211, and the only place I'm even remotely intrigued by the possibility of organ accompaniment is in the final recit, where the tenor is reciting the terms of the marriage contract. In that particular movement, I'm considering
starting with the harpsichord, switching at some point to organ, and then to trumpets for the final cadence, to mark Lieschen's victory. Other than that, harpsichord seems just right. (of course, I mean, once I let myself believe that harpsichords are actually loud enough to hear.... fortunately, in this electronic age, we can turn them up a bit. (use of harpsichord in a church seems not irreligious, just vewy vewy quiet....)

In this performance, since I have two sopranos, Schlendrian has two daughters: Lieschen ("Lizzy") and Mieschen ("Little Ugly"). Actually, they're one person with Multiple Personality Disorder, perhaps due to harsh parenting. I'm letting them divvie up the soprano part pretty much as they will, and I want them to compete for the attentions of the tenor, who is also the chosen suitor. naturally, Schlendrian (sung by me) is unaware of any of this. The only planned performance will be in a coffee house, in a tiny mountain town, and the Bach will be followed by an encore of "The Java Jive", also with MIDI accompaniment, bass, drums, and guitar. The Java Jive will be followed immediately by intermission.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 2, 2009):
Joel Figen wrote:
< The only planned performance will be in a coffee house, in a tiny mountain town, and the Bach will be followed by an encore of "The Java Jive", also with MIDI accompaniment, bass, drums, and guitar. The Java Jive will be followed immediately by intermission. >
Someone like Koopman did a dramatized performance of the Coffee Cantata (BWV 211) in modern dress in a contemporary coffee shop. Very well performed and quite hilarious, On DVD I think. Anyone have the link?

Evan Cortens wrote (March 2, 2009):
[To Douglas Cowling] Yep, that's Koopman. Agreed, quite funny!

On Amazon: Amazon.com

David Glen Lebut Jr. wrote (March 3, 2009):
Ludwig wrote:
< The Harpsichord is never used except when the Organ is down and if you have been in the loft of the places BWV 29 was perfomed you can see why---there was little to no room with the orchestra and chorusters. German Harpsichords were a minimum of 8 feet long. It would not be an easy task lifting a harpsichord up into the gallery. >
Not necessarilly true. There is evidence that Bach conducted from the Harpsichord in both the Trauerode (BWV 198) and the funerary cantata BWV 244a.

Beyond this, there is strong evidence of alternation between choir and organ in Chorale preluding and performance. The same principle, I would imagine, could be used when deciding what keyboard instrument to use when.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (March 3, 2009):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] I have since learned that the problem with BWV 29 dates back to 1860 when the complete works were edited and assembled into the BWV collection. IT was a time in which the prejudices of the time were openly inserted or proclaimed whether they were valid or not. Few people, if any knew how to read and perform figured bass. This revival of understanding figured bass only came about with Arnold's Treatise that came out circa 1929/1930.

IT would be logical that Bach might have done the Trauer Ode (BWV 198) from the Harpsichord on such an occasion but also from the Organ. I do not have church records available but you may be correct about this --Bach did play the harpsichord on 17 October 1727 when the Trauer received its premiere and that is not surprising since this was performedat St.Paul's ( University of Leipzig Church) (as I mentioned before I did not have these records regarding the organ but someone just sent me details of the organ which was 3 manuals of 68 ranks played from 53 Stops) in a score that luxuriates in instrumental color for that period for a very special occasions. Bach had proved this organ in 1717 whose builder was Johann Scheibe. It was completely rebuilt in 1948 and now consists (last infor I have) of approximately 100 ranks distributed over 80 stops on 4 manuals and Pedal) .

The orchestration is extraordinary ---this is for that age a Mahlerian sized work calling for Lute(? unless this is another error ---meaning the Lute Stop on the Harpsichord. Only the original manuscipt could settle this point). Unless I am recalling incorrectly---this work was written to memorialize Christiane Eberhardine Queen of Poland whose promiscuous husband August I, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland--was the local sex maniac---it is known that he had 267 illegitimate children from a long line of mistresses. His hobby was sampling all the pretty flowers he saw.

James Atkins Pritchard wr(March 15, 2009):
Performance problems-Continuo

Ludwig wrote:
< My research has shown that none of the churchs that Bach played at in Leipzig had more than one Organ during Bach's life time. Before WWII; St St. Thomas had two organs--a small one manual and the large organ. The organ that Bach and Mendelssohn knew and played was torn down in 1889 and replaced by a a totally new instrument instrument of 63 ranks by Sauer and added to to a total of 88 ranks in 1907. Between 1966-1967; Alexander Shuke of Potsdam apparently took down the Sauer instrument and installed a Baroque style instrument which we hear in E.Power Biggs' recordings. It is the realization of Straubes plans of 1927. >
The Sauer organ is still in the Thomaskirche. It's the Schuke organ that's gone. I believe it was in the building from 1967 to 1999.

 

Harpsichords in Church

Continue of discussion from: Thomaskantors - General Discussions Part 2 [Performers of Bach's Vocal Works]

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 8, 2010):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Of course Bach, if not playing it himself, was no doubt usually phyically quite close to the harpsichord in the peformances of the (few?) cantatas that had continuo harpsichord, so he would not have been aware of the problem we are discussing - and which Beecham, standing at a distance in front of much larger vocal and instrumental forces, would have noted, in the relevent works. Hence his aversion? >
If I'm not mistaken, Beecham was part of the Romantic tradition begun by Mendelssohn which used the piano for continuo in the vocal works.

Mendelssohn used piano in the SMP in 1829. The Spering recording of Mendelssohn's concert version uses just the string accompaniment which FMB wrote for the 1841 performance: Amazon.com

Brad Lehmann can probably tell us, but I suspect that piano continuo was probably common until after WWI. I think I remember reading that both piano and organ were used in British performances. I can't think that harpsichords were widely available until the 1950's or 60's. And then they were banished from Bach once Harnoncourt so forcefully affirmed organ-only in the original cantata series.

They're baaaaack!

Julian Mincham wrote (May 8, 2010):
[To Douglas Cowling] I think from memory that Vaughan Williams used a piano in his SMP broadcast and recording around 1950--I think that neil H could probably confirm this.

I'd have to look it up, but there is one cantata from, I think the third cycle where a harsichord is stipulated in the score. The fact that this was such a rare event might lead one to suppose that it wasn't usual practice in the church cantatas. Maybe the organ was temporarily out of commission? On the other hand suggestions of religious observance in the domestic place rather than communally in church may have signified that a harsichord was the more appropriate choice.

The secular cantatas raise different issues of course.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 8, 2010):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< On the other hand suggestions of religious observance in the domestic place rather than communally in church may have signified that a harsichord was the more appropriate choice. >
I wonder if the old distinction of Organ = Sacred, Harpsichord = Secular, is still operative. The same could be said of the "secular" lute. In "Bach's Continuo Group", Dreyfus points out that the rather slim documentary evidence for the harpsichord and lute as continuo instruments does not mitigate against their use.

Dreyfus comes close to suggesting that Bach may have conducted from the harpsichord because it was easier to see the performers: anyone playing the organ had his back to the other musicians (Against this is CPE's testimony of Bach playing violin). Dreyfus makes the interesting suggestion that the continuo parts are transposed because they were played by others: Bach would have been able to transpose and realize at the same time!

The evidence for harpsichords and lutes in the choir loft go back to Praetorius, and even to Palestrina in Rome where lutes and harps were used in polyphony. Certainly Handel used both harpsichord and organ in his oratorios (I'm not sure about the Chapel Royal anthems). Kuhnau, Bach's predecessor used the colochon, a type of bass lute, which Mattheson says can be heard in churches.

On the question of audibility, there are contemporary comments that harpsichords and lutes had a percussive quality which aided the unity of the ensemble and that a good harpsichordist could bring back an ensemble that
was going astray.

If you want to hear a battery of lutes and harpsichords providing a percussion section, listen to this wonderfully outrageous performance of Handel's "Dixit Dominus":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGKAA54PtXA&feature=related

Neil Halliday wrote (May 9, 2010):
Julian Mincham wrote:
>I think from memory that Vaughan Williams used a piano in his SMP broadcast and recording around 1950<
Yes, Julian; in fact a live recording at Dorking Halls, in 1958. Organ also (not at all attractive; eg, in "my God why have you forsaken me" it's just a rumbling low-pitched sound).

Abridged (as well as some arias missing), in English. Strings replacing oboes d'accia in "Aus Liebe" and elsewhere.

In the recitatives, there are some emphatic chords on the piano that are quite effective, but this aspect (utilising the piano's potentially dramatic chordal power) is underplayed, and much of the piano realisation is 'flowery' and wanders aimlessly.

There are some beautiful moments, but generally the large choruses are not listenable by today standards.

Julian Mincham wrote (May 9, 2010):
[To Neil Halliday] Many thanks Neil. I'd like to Hear it again although i doubt I'd find it enjoyable.

This must have been only a few months before he died.

Russell Telfer wrote (May 9, 2010):
[To Julian Mincham] This is almost off topic, but I met a fellow singer today, probably in his eighties - who said he knew Vaughan Williams in Dorking. I didn't actually know that that was his home base.

We were rehearsing the Advent Cantata BWV 62 and BWV 29 this weekend which was written for a council election - very appropriate considering we've just had a general election here.

Don't-know-his-name had sung in a choral society in Dorking or Guildford, and RVW, I understand, was his choirmaster. He mentioned 1944 but one of us may have got that wrong.

Decades later Ursula, his widow, attended some of our choir rehearsals in London in the late 1970s (Bach Choir). Wheels within wheels.

In conversation I told him that the evening Vaughan Williams's death was announced, I was at a concert in Edinburgh, and Klemperer announced it to the audience.

Yeah, it's not the singing or the music we come for, it's the conversation. Name dropping big time.

Paul wrote (May 9, 2010):
[To Russell Telfer] I will think of this next time my train goes through Dorking Deepdean.
Thanks for the great story.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 10, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Dreyfus comes close to suggesting that Bach may have conducted from the harpsichord because it was easier to see the performers: anyone playing the organ had his back to the other musicians (Against this is CPE's testimony of Bach violin). >
From my own experience, it's easier to conduct from the harpsichord than it is from the organ, for a simple reason: the harpsichord makes a more immediately present and more rhythmically precise sound. Forceful and crisp chords on the harpsichord can put the whole ensemble back on track quickly, if things had been straying.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 10, 2010):
Russell Telfer wrote:
< Yeah, it's not the singing or the music we come for, it's the conversation. Name dropping big time. >
Remember those few of us who come to listen, as you sing.

About a year ago, about this time of night, I fell to bed with the radio on, only to hear music which sounded like SMP, but with pronounced piano in the recitatives. After a bit, I realized it was indeed SMP, and so lay awake listening, not so much for the great sound, as to figure out what was going on. It was in fact the RVW performance under discussion, immmortalized on disc.

More a curiosity than a great performance to my ears, from that single experience, but I am glad I caught a bit of it.

Music + conversation = life? Plus the occasional chuckle.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 10, 2010):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< From my own experience, it's easier to conduct from the harpsichord than it is from the organ, for a simple reason: the harpsichord makes a more immediately present and more rhythmically precise sound. >
A neat point -- the percussive nature of harpsichord/piano versus sustained organ is easily ovelooked in chat, never in the hearing.

A mothers day note (I heard it on TV): in 89 languages, the word for mother begins with the sound EMM (31/13). OTOH, there are those who say mother is only half a word.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (May 10, 2010):
[To Douglas Cowling] As you may know; the Harpsichord does not have much carrying power to it as does the Piano or Organ. It was for this reason that the Harpsichord was never used in Bach's time in Church for the huge spaces that Bach's music was played and sung in his lifetime. Bach himself knew this and that is the reason (except for the almost chamber like Concerto I in D minor, BWV 1052) he often scored for more than one harpsichord and even then the sound did not carry through easily unless a minimalist group was being used.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (May 11, 2010):
[To Julian Mincham] The Harpsichord was used ONLY when the Organ was down for cleaning, repairs and tuning. From the pre-renaissance period through the time of Haydn; the Organ was THE instrument used in all ensembles for church and musical events except when an Organ was not available.

The piano until late Haydn period is an inappropriate instrument to use in lieu of Organ or Harpsichord especially for the works of Bach. A piano does not blend well and stands out like a sore thumb when used for continuo et al. Bach never saw a piano and probably never heard one until his visit to see Frederick the Great in Potsdam where his son was employed which by this time Bach was blind and dying from an infection caused the primitive eye surgery he had had to correct what seems to have been glaucoma. J.S. certainly never wrote anything for piano. In those days; medicine was primitive and the 'cure ' was often worse than the disease. Sanitary practices were unknown and a surgeon would use dirty needles and knives thus spreading contamination. Physicians also were just as dirty and never washed their hands between patients---so that if one stayed home sick one was more likely to survive than if one went to a hospital---which people went to
to die in those days. It is probable that in addition to the infection; Bach also was bled which further weakened him as this was standard medical practice and one that resulted in the medical murder of George Washington. Frederick is reputed to have had a collection of more than 20 pianos around the Palace.

Between 1789 until 1879; the harpsichord for all practical purposes became and extinct non-existent instrument, except in Spain, as the result of the French Revolution. The only survivors that existed were those rescued (or were Ruckers make which were too valuable to trash) and then lived in silence in museums. Thereafter---nearly everyone tried to convert their instruments into a Piano ---Thomas Broadwood frequently converted such instruments. The Harpsichord was seen as an instrument representing the ancien regieme and was condemned with it. The French Harpsichord had reached the great master level of Harpsichord building and construction by the period of the French Revolution. Many people liked the 'new' French style so well that they took their old Ruckers (one of the great masters) and had them converted into the French style as exampled by those made by Blanchet and or Taskin--whose range was 61 notes.

About 1880, Dolmetsch and his group took an interest in the revival of old musical instruments and built them as best they could from either extant examples or from information in books. The art of building a Harpsichord was lost until the mid-1960s when Hubbard, Zuckerman in the US and others re-discovered the principals of constructing genuine harpsichords. Pleyel was one of the first to try to construct a harpsichord (one was commissioned by Wanda Landowska) as early as 1890. Pleyel's pseudo-harpsichords were nothing more than plucked pianos with heavy difficult action to play. They also had stops that did not exist historically such as 16' and 2' foot stops. Most 'harpsichords' made before 1960 were nothing more than plucked pianos. If you have ever had or have the privilege of playing an instrument posing as a Harpsichord made between 1890 -1960--then compared it with one made afterwards---you will know, see, feel and hear the great difference in these instruments and most notably in the action and voicing. Sabatahil ( a Vancouver builder) are a good example. The action of Sabathil Harpsichords, as well as Frank Hubbard of Boston, is so light that one play the keys easier than one can most pianos. Zuckerman also made some nice instruments but the kits in inexperienced hands often resulted in a plucked harpsichord and instruments that often warped because the wood chosen, by the kit builder, was cheap unseasoned wood such as white pine. Since then (1960); Zuckerman has made revolutionary improvements in their instruments which are nothing to be ashamed of to have in ones home or concert stage. Some of the older instruments posing as Harpsichords require almost a sledge hammer to get the plectra to pluck the string ---the action is so stiff.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 11, 2010):
Ludwig wrote:
< The Harpsichord was used ONLY when the Organ was down for cleaning, repairs and tuning. From the pre-renaissance period through the time of Haydn; the Organ was THE instrument used in all ensembles for church and musical events except when an Organ was not available. >
Dreyfus in "Bach's Continuo Group" examined the manuscripts and concluded otherwise.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (May 11, 2010):
[To Douglas Cowling] well then---where was it placed ---there was not much room to include the orchestra up in the gallery according to surviving architectural plans. I am assuming the following under normal conditions (this does not include extras such as Viola d'amore, Trombones, Horns which unlike Handel Bach rarely used in his scores): 8 violins, 4 Violas, 2 Gambas (and just may be 1 Violone); 2 Blockflutes, 2 Oboe da caccia, 2-4 Oboe d'more, 1 Basson (maybe), 1 Tympanist (2 drums), 2-4 trumpets.4 Sopranos, 4 Altos, 4 Tenors 4 Basses all from which normally the solists would be taken although on special occaisons soloists might be brought in. Allowing 3 sq feet per performer--this would require alone some 60 plus square feet of space for them to sit or stand excluding the Organ which itself (depending on how large) would have taken up as much as 244 sq feet. Standing would take less space--at least for the choristers. While few of the Churches survived WWII and WWI that Bach was associated with --those that did give us some idea of the space available to performers in addition to surviving arcplans.

Although we seem to have no proof to the contrary; I am reluctant to accept that Bach used a Violone in his Cantata works as this makes the score so lumbering and lugubrious that

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (May 11, 2010):
If Bach used a harpsichord for keeping his vocalists together in time, they were more than likely the only people in St. Thomas to hear it. It would seem very unlikely that a harpsichord would have been audible in such a large space, even in secco recitatives, especially when you consider how much keyboard makers were constantly attempting to make their instruments even louder during this period, which of course eventually paved the way for the pianoforte. I also find it interesting folks who believe in multiple voices for Bach cantata performers, would argue for a tinkly-continuo instrument in lieu or with the organ (e.g. solo voices would not have been as audible in such a large space, or the texture too thin).

Evan Cortnes wrote (May 11, 2010):
[To Ludwig] Hmm... maybe if Bach used a smaller choir, he'd have had more room to move around up there?

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 11, 2010):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< If Bach used a harpsichord for keeping his vocalists together in time, they were more than likely the only people in St. Thomas to hear it. It would seem very unlikely that a harpsichord would have been audible in such a large space, even in secco recitatives, especially when you consider how much keyboard makers were constantly attempting to make their instruments even louder during this period, which of course eventually paved the way for the pianoforte. >
I know I'm a nag about these things, but we shouldn't judge how Bach's music sounded in a large acoustic space from modern concerts in churches where the performers are placed at the front of the church -- the one place they never occupied historically. The acoustical amplification produced by a raised choir gallery with the vaults above as a sounding board makes even lutes and harpsichords perfectly audible in performance.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 11, 2010):
Ludwig wrote:
> 2 Blockflutes <
They're BAAAAAAACK!

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 11, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< The acoustical amplification produced by a raised choir gallery with the vaults above as a sounding board makes even lutes and harpsichords perfectly audible in performance. >
Hear, hear!

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (May 11, 2010):
[To Douglas Cowling] I did forget to include Traverse Flutes which Bach did write far as they edged out Blockflutes from the Orchestra about the time of his death.

Evan Cortnes wrote (May 11, 2010):
[To Ludwig, in response to his message to Julian Mincham] Fortunately for us, Dreyfus specifically addresses a number of Mr. Van Beethoven's concerns. In fact, he devotes an entire chapter, the second, nearly 60 pages, in his book to the question of the use of organ vs harpsichord. It's a waste of time to seriously discuss these issues without doing the reading first.

To address some specific points:

1) "The Organ Repair Hypothesis"

I quote at length from Dreyfus 1987, pp. 26-27:
"The literature of the harpsichord controversy often makes reference to what can be termed the `organ repair hypothesis,' in which the harpsichord is understood to have been used only when one of the main organs was unplayable. [45] Accordingly, evidence substantiating the use of the harpsichord--whether in the documents or in the musical sources--is attributed to an emergency substitution for a malfunctioning organ. One would think from this argument that periods of repair were frequent and extensive; in fact they were exceptionally rare. Excluding repairs that took place during the tempus clausum, when concerted music was forbidden, only two major repairs were undertaken on Bach's principal organs during his entire tenure at Leipzig (1723-1750).

The first of these took place in 1725 on the instrument in the Nikolai-Kirche, while the second occurred in 1747 in the Thomas-Kirche. Yet only the second repair could have forced Bach to substitute the harpsichord for the organ. Riemer's Chronicle of 1725 relates that he organ in the Nikolai-Kirche `was played continuously despite the work being done on it.' [46] And if the organ functioned in the midst of a major repair, it must also have functioned during a minor repair, such as the one Schering describes as having taken place on the Nikolai organ in 1726-1727. A cantata accompaniment, after all, required only minimal organ support--one or two registers would suffice. Even if one register were unavailable, the continuo player would surely have used another for the accompaniment. Admittedly, this recourse was impossible for a period of four months in 1747 when the Thomas-Kirche organ, according to reports, was totally unplayable. [47] In all, then, four months remain out of the twenty-seven years at Leipzig in which Bach must have relied on a secondary keyboard instrument to play the continuo accompaniment. Clearly, the organ repair hypothesis is untenable."

2) "Bach never saw a piano":

In fact, there is even evidence to suggest that not only did Bach see pianos, he acted as an agent in the course of selling them! [The receipt is in Bach-Dokumente somewhere, I don't have the reference off hand.] That said, this is an entirely separate issue from cantata accompaniment; no one here, or elsewhere, to my knowledge, has advanced the argument that Bach used the piano to play the continuo line in his Leipzig cantatas. (Whether or not we should nowadays is an entirely separate issue.)

3) Existence of cembalo (i.e., harpsichord) parts:

Dreyfus shows that there are five extant continuo parts, from throughout Bach's Leipzig years, which call specifically for continuo. See his Table 2-1, on page 33.

4) Existence of Cammerton continuo parts:

The difference between Cammerton and Chorton is one whole step, the organs being tuned to the former and the remainder of the ensemble to the latter. To account for this discrepancy, Bach's organ parts are always written a whole tone lower than they sound; thus it is obvious when Bach intended a continuo part to be played on the organ. Dreyfus's Table 2-5 (p. 49) shows 28 separate extant figured Cammerton continuo parts. As the harpsichord was tuned to Cammerton, this makes it the most likely candidate to have realized these parts.

5) Use of harpsichord as obbligato instrument:

Even if you don't buy that the harpsichord was used as a continuo instrument by Bach in Leipzig, there still exists the fact that it was used as an obbligato instrument. The third movement of BWV 27 clearly shows, in Bach's own hand, that the movement was conceived for "Aria a Hautb. da Caccia | e Cembalo". I've got a facsimile somewhere around here to prove it.

Like I say, there's a substantial literature here, these are just a few selections.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (May 11, 2010):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< Hmm... maybe if Bach used a smaller choir, he'd have had more room to move around up there? >
[To Evan Cortens] This WAS the size of Bach's Normal sized Choir. Of course there were variations with some choristers going and others coming in. Generally speaking the 4 SATB formula for all the choristers IS the size of his chorus during his lifetime. Most of the choriesters were men and boys. Bach got into trouble if you recall for allowing his wife to sing in Church in those anti-feminist days. A woman's place was in the home birthing babies and taking care of both them and her husband while he worked outside the home or farmed, in those days,--except that you were some Aristocrat like Maria Theresa of Austria or Catherine the Great of Russia---who did both--ruling a country and having children--of course these women came AFTER then time of Bach. Those of us, today, who manage and conduct choral groups/orchestras of a volunteer nature know.

I have done the Cantatas with larger and smaller ensembles athe smaller (4SATB) works best. I also generally leave out any Violones or Double Bass pretenders. The sound is brighter and happier than when the Violone is used. These instruments are doing nothing but plodding along with the Gambas so it is no real loss to the ensemble to do without them. TThe huge choirs and choruses of the Romantic age are not appropriate for Bach as he did not write for such huge Mahlerian choirs.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (May 11, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< The acoustical amplification produced by a raised choir gallery with the vaults above as a sounding board makes even lutes and harpsichords perfectly audible in performance. >
Sorry but I'm pretty skeptical. I'd really like to see a test for that in St. Thomas church in Leipzig, along the lines with what the Academy of Ancient Music did with Handel's Watermusic, by recreating the events and using period instruments. As I've mentioned before, in the AAM's recreation there were some surprises: it was very unlikely people on the riverbank heard any of the music, with string instruments being the hardest to hear, even as close as ten feet (particularly the cello). That sort of gave me an explanation on why there are so many basso continuo parts for the Graupner, Telemann, and Stölzel materials I've seen. And sure, I know the difference between outdoor performances with the Handel versus the Bach cantatas in a church, but I'd still like to see it tested as theory. My hunch that any Bach cantata recordings that used harpsichord continuo were heavily miked, or were adjusted during the final mixes.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 11, 2010):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< Sorry but I'm pretty skeptical. I'd really like to see a test for that in St. Thomas church in Leipzig, along the lines with what the Academy of Ancient Music did with Handel's Watermusic, >
Failing that, I think we have to assume that the lute solo in the SJP and the harpsichord parts in the cantatas would not have been written if they were not audible below in the nave of the church. One could argue the same about a solo boy's voice.

The Handel situation is somewhat different. At a royal occasion, there was only one person who had to hear everything, the King. One's proximity to the sovereign dictated how much of the music could be heard.

We see this also in the music in St. Mark's, Venice. It was sung from galleries in the sanctuary area which was very small and where the Doge and the Senate were seated. Only the elite heard the music properly.

The same could be said of a Palestrina mass being sung in St.Peter's Basilica. The singers only had to be heard by the pope and his immediate ceremonial entourage. A lesser person at the back of the church would hear a distant echo.

Bach's situation was very different. Audibility and comprehension was an essential part of proclamation and preaching. The cantata was democratic: everyone had to be able to hear it.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 11, 2010):
Ludwig wrote:
< As you may know; the Harpsichord does not have much carrying power to it as does the Piano or Organ. It was for this reason that the Harpsichord was never used in Bach's time in Church for the huge spaces that Bach's music was played and sung in his lifetime. >
I know the opposite to be true: that a good harpsichord played by a specialist in harpsichord has more "carrying power" and rhythmic bite through a texture than a piano does. Saying that in another way: if the harpsichord stops playing, everybody knows it immediately, but if a piano playing continuo drops out, it's harder to notice the lack...because it wasn't contributing much "bite" in the first place.

The piano and organ may have more sheer volume, certainly, but they don't have more drive with the fast transients that provide accent.

I've also used harpsichord alone to accompany congregational hymns in a big and resonant space; it works fine. Again, it's the strong rhythm and accentuation that holds the group together, not any overpowering volume.

 

Article: The Problematical Origins of the "Generalbasslehre of 1738"

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 12, 2012):
Thomas Braatz contributed another article to the BCW:
The Problematical Origins of the "Generalbaßlehre of 1738"
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/GBLehre.pdf
Linked from: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/index.htm

Thomas Braatz wrote:
At the end of 2011, Bärenreiter published a supplement to the NBA [Neue Bach Ausgabe]. It includes, in addition to the recently discovered aria, BWV 1127, notes and studies on thorough-bass, composition and counterpoint along with numerous sketches and drafts in facsimile. My article focuses primarily upon the so-called "Generalbaßlehre of 1738" and its supposed connection with Bach personally. Bach experts have used terms and phrases like 'relatively secure' to 'quite dubious' to evaluate the strength of the attribution to Bach. The article will attempt to describe the provenance of this document as well as its historical reception and the current status of research regarding its authenticity. The pertinent original German passages from the NBA Supplement along with their English translations will appear in appendices at the end of the article.

Julian Mincham wrote (January 12, 2012):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thanks Thomas--a useful and detailed article which puts the various aspects of the history of this document into perspective.

My own feeling is that the archaic nature of some of the instruction (particularly for the highly experimental 'Leipzig Bach' and the number of errors in themselves combine to suggest highly dubious direct connections with Bach as a teacher and composer.

 

Continuo [was: Chorales for the 14th Sunday after Trinity]

Continue of discussion from: Motets & Chorales for 14th Sunday after Trinity [LCY]

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 31, 2012):
Neils post from a few days back ties into the current discussion thread re continuo realization.
Neil Halliday wrote:
< [From the OCC pg. 123: "...J.C. Kittel's report that Bach would intervene to add additional notes whenever the student entrusted to the harpsichord furnished an insufficient accompaniment in a church work...Lorenz Mitzler mentioned Bach improvising accompaniment so intricate they sounded (like) written out obbligato counterpoint."]. (No doubt these remarks apply to organ continuo as well). >
EM:
The OCC entry for *continuo* is signed DS {David Schulenberg]. The references include neither Kittel nor Mitzler. Can we identify the sources, apparently contemporary with Bach? The idea that Bach would intervene to add notes to an insufficient student accompaniement is difficult to visualize logistically, unless Bach were playing organ along with the students harpsichord line. This is a possibility specifically propoed in the article.

NH:
< The other problem is the seccos. Ugly continuo practice, as ever, on the Gardiner CD [Vol. 7, including BWV 25 and BWV 78].>
EM:
I took the liberty of moving Neils opinion to the end. I do not recall that we have had discussion of Gardiners continuo practice as ugly. What are the issues?

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 31, 2012):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< The idea that Bach would intervene to add notes to an insufficient student accompaniement is difficult to visualize logistically, unless Bach were playing organ along with the students harpsichord line. >
This actually happened to me once as a teenaged student. I was playing an organ piece rather ineptly with my teacher standing behind me. At one point, I was not executthe articulation properly so he reached over me and took over one of the melodic lines, eventually leaving me just playing the bass line with my left hand. As I gradually realized what he was doing, I took over playing again by myself. The flow of the music never stopped or halted.

This was the same teacher who criticized my harmony exercise because I resolved a 4-3 suspension with the alto line dropping to the dominant rather than rising to the tonic of the final chord.

Smart-ass that I was, I protested, "But Bach does it all the time!"

"You can do it when you're as good as Bach" was the retort.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 31, 2012):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Smart-ass that I was, I protested, "But Bach does it all the time!"
"You can do it when you're as good as Bach" was the retort. >
Ah, thats what they all (teachers and students!) say. Nice anecdote.

 

BWV 244 O Fermatas & Pedals

Continue of discusion from: Cantata BWV 52 - Discussions Part 3

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 8, 2012):


[To Douglas Cowling] Thomas Braatz asked me to send this message:

Doug Cowling asked: Is there any evidence that Bach and his contemporaries used pedals [for cantata performances]?

Friederich Erhard Niedt: Musicalische Handleitung/Zur Variation des General-Basses.... ed. Johann Mattheson (Hamburg, 1721), pp. 121-122.

"Ist derowegen das allerbeste, daß ein Organiste, um General-Baß-Spielen dieses in Acht nehme: Wenn nur eine oder zwo Stimmen singen oder spielen, so braucht er im Manual bloß das Gedact 8 Fuß, und kein Pedal überall nicht; sind mehr Stimmen zu accompagniren, so kan er im Pedal Untersatz oder Sub-Baß 16 Fuß mit dazu anziehen; wo aber ein Tenor, Alt, oder Discant-Zeichen stehet, welches man sonst ein Bassetgen nennet, so muß er das Pedal weglassen, und die Noten eben in der Octava spielen, wo sie geschrieben stehen; hergegen, fällt ein gantzer Chor von 8/12 oder mehr Stimmen ein, (wie dann in solchem Fall der Ort meistentheils mit den Wörtern Chor, tutti, ripieno, &c. bezeichnet stehet), alsdann kan im Manual das achtfüßige Principal, und im Pedal, zum Sub-Baß, noch eine Octava von 8 Fuß gezogen werden. Ist ein Stück mit Trompeten und Paucken gesetzt, so wird im Pedal zu achtfüßigen Octava ein Posaunen-Baß von 16 Fuß gezogen; die Tone müssen aber nicht bey gantzen oder halben Täckten ausgehalten werden, sondern man darff sie nur ansprechen lassen."

English translation:

"It would, for that reason, be best for an organist playing figured bass [basso continuo in figural music] to pay attention to the following: If there are only one or two vocalists singing or instrumentalists playing, then the organist will only need the 8 ft. Gedackt stop [on the manual] and no pedal whatsoever. If more voices are to be accompanied, then he [or she] can add the 16 ft. Untersatz or Sub-bass pedal stops. Wherever the figured bass has a tenor, alto, or soprano clef (this is usually called a Bassettchen), then he must use no pedal and simply play the notes in the octave in which they were written. However, if an entire choir consisting of 8 or 12 voices or more begins to sing (in such a case the continuo part usually indicates this with the words, Chor, tutti, ripieno, etc.), then a [loud] 8 ft. Principal stop can be added on the lower manual and, in the pedal, an additional 8 ft. Octava [fairly loud] along with the 16 ft. Sub-bass stop. If the composition calls for trumpets and timpani, then, in addition to the 8 ft. Octava in the pedal, a 16 ft. [very loud] Posaunen[trombone]-Bass will be used. The notes played by this latter combination of stops in the pedal should not be held out [sustained] for a half or entire measure/bar, but rather only allowed to reach their full sound and then released ['you are allowed only to let them speak']."

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 8, 2012):
[To Thomas Braatz]
** Thanks to Thomas for this remarkably detailed practical guide to registration in Baroque vocal music. This gives us an extremely varied sonic picture which we never hear today in HIP peformances.

Aryeh Oron wrote:
< Friederich Erhard Niedt: Musicalische Handleitung/Zur Variation des General-Basses.... ed. Johann Mattheson (Hamburg, 1721), pp. 121-122. >

Niedt: "It would, for that reason, be best for an organist playing figured bass [basso continuo in figural music] to pay attention to the following: If there are only one or two vocalists singing or instrumentalists playing, then the organist will only need the 8 ft. Gedackt stop [on the manual] and no pedal whatsoever.

** This is the continuo sound most commonly used today on portatives: a light flute sound with no pedals.

Niedt: If more voices are to be accompanied, then he [or she] can add the 16 ft. Untersatz or Sub-bass pedal stops.

** This suggests that a light 16' pedal stop was used in solo movements and the bass sound was moderately weighty: "Christe Eleison" in the Mass in B Minor and "Et Misericordia" in the Magnificat might be examples.

Niedt: However, if an entire choir consisting of 8 or 12 voices or more begins to sing (in such a case the continuo part usually indicates this with the words, Chor, tutti, ripieno, etc.), then a [loud] 8 ft. Principal stop can be added on the lower manual and, in the pedal, an additional 8 ft. Octava [fairly loud] along with the 16 ft. Sub-bass stop.

** Niedt suggestions weight the bass considerably. The realized harmonies are played on one manual with the right hand, while the bass line is played both with the left hand on a second manual and on the pedals. On modern organs it is not necessary for the left hand and feet to be playing the same line because the manual can be coupled to the pedals. This is done electronically now, but there were some mechanical couplers in the 18th century. If Niedt is factual, Bach's continuo organists were not just plunking out supporting chords but exercised in extensive pedal-work.

Niedt: If the composition calls for trumpets and timpani, then, in addition to the 8 ft. Octava in the pedal, a 16 ft. [very loud] Posaunen[trombone]-Bass will be used.

** The addition of big reed stops makes the bass line positively symphonic. One can imagine the effect in the great bass line in the "Sanctus" of the Mass in B Minor

Niedt: The notes played by this latter combination of stops in the pedal should not be held out [sustained] for a half or entire measure/bar, but rather only allowed to reach their full sound and then released ['you are allowed only to let them speak']."

** This is a very interesting technique in which sustained notes in the bass are played staccato, clearly so that the overtones of a sustained note do not overwhelm the texture. I can imagine this technique in a movement such
as the "Cum Sancto Spiritu" of the Mass in B Minor.

Fascinating document. I can't think of any conductors today who would allow their performances to be weighted so "Romantically" in the bass line.

Anne (Nessie) Russell wrote (September 8, 2012):
Guide to registration in Baroque vocal music [was: BWV 244 O Fermatas & Pedals]

I'd like to add my thanks too. Very interesting.

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 15, 2012):
Article on Playing Bach's Organo Parts

Thomas Braatz has prepared the Niedt/Mattheson quotation with an explanatory introduction for the Articles section of the BCW.
The content of the quotation seems important enough to warrant this special treatment so that it does not simply become part of a long discussion where it cannot be located as easily.
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/NiedtPedals.pdf
Linked from: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/index.htm
and from the Home Page of the BCW [Articles box]:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 23, 2012):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< Thomas Braatz has expanded his Niedt/Mattheson article.
Modern performances and recordings of Bach¹s figural music have used reduced forces (often only one vocalist or instrumentalist per part). This has grled to faster tempi and a lighter manner of singing (sotto voce) and playing instruments in a more heavily accented and non-cantabile style. The sound of a church organ with its 16¹ pedal stops would simply be too overwhelming and slow the tempi down. >
The Matheson and Niedt documents are fascinating primarily because they show how different Hamburg and Leipzig were. Bach's was a much more stable institutional status quo.

I'm not sure that the documents support the categorical generalizations above. First, we can't make a false contrast between small portative organs and large gallery instruments: it's a difference of size not type. A portative generally had three stops; a large organ might have over 100. Bach could pull one or two stops on the gallery organ and the sound would be indistinguishable from that of a portative. Nor does a large organ necessarily mean an overwhelming sound.

This video shows the Chorale-Prelude "Kommst Du Nun" played as a miniature. Note that the pedal plays the chorale in 4' register, above the left hand. The difference between the large organ and a portative is one of colour: the former player has countless options that the latter doesn't: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4qgqHw24XA

A large organ does not inhibit fast tempos. Bach's "Pedal Exercitium" gives us a good example of pedal technique. There isn't a bass line in the vocal works that Bach could not have played with his feet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMCMdm-I70Q

None of the modern singers who sing in HIP performances use "sotto voce" or "mezza voce" techniques in order to sing Baroque music. They use normal chest voice. Their voices are naturally smaller and more focused than
singers trained in Romantic bel canto technique. It is these latter singers who are probably responsible for the slowing of tempos in the 19th century to accommodate their larger voices. Many modern singers simply cannot handle (no pun intended!) the coloratura in a quick tempo. Having said that, there are some remarkable singers like Kathleen Battle and Natalie Dessay who can sing across the Baroque and Romantic repertoires with aplomb.

And Dessay looks great in a cocktail dress: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jExF36PF_A

 

Will be continued…

Articles: The “Shortening of the Supporting Notes” in the Bc of Bach’s ‘Secco’ Recitatives [T. Braatz] | Playing Plain Recitative in Bach's Vocal Works [B Lehman] | The Problematical Origins of the “Generalbaßlehre of 1738” [T. Braatz]
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 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

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