Recordings/Discussions
Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Continuo in Bach’s Vocal Works

Part 1

 

 

"Textbook" Instrumentation

Harry J. Steinman wrote: (December 9, 2000):
< A week or two ago, Steven Guy wrote: <snip> Here's a question....
Should a fagotto (a baroque bassoon) play on the continuo line? Indeed, what should instruments should play on the continuo line?.. >
This prompts a question from me: Is there any kind of a formula that composers or performers employ to determine what instruments to use and when? Is the final aribiter of Steven’s question merely, “How did it sound?” Or are there standards and protocols for using instruments?

For example, in the (controversial) recording of the B-Burgs, Il Guardino Armonico, uses a lute in the continuo group in the 6th concerto. I like the way it sounds, but others find it inappropriate. Is there a standard somewhere to answer such a question? Or is it all a matter of the listener’s ear?

Personally, I tend to accept anything that happens to sound good to me…but maybe if I knew more about music I’d have a more discriminating ear. (Of course one unintended conclusion of that logic is that the more I know about music, the less I would like! Ouch!)

Bob Sherman wrote (December 10, 2000):
The people who know the most (that is, the best conductors) also go by "what sounds best".

To my ear, bassoon doesn't work all that well for continuo. I prefer cello by a wide margin.

Incidentally, I've seen a lot of commentary on this list about harpsichord playing by Angela Hewitt. About two years ago I went to an SJP performance in New York, in which the first cellist absolutely stole the show with her faultless playing and obvious love of the music. While the "solo" singers and instrumentalists were doing ego trips, she was radiating Bach. She was young, tall, and blonde, and her name was Sara or Sarah Hewitt. Wonder if they're related?

Frank Fogliati wrote (December 10, 2000):
< Bob Sherman wrote: <snip> To my ear, bassoon doesn't work all that well for continuo. I prefer cello by a wide margin. >
Funny you should say that, because I know a few 'cellists who don't like playing continuo with a bassoon. One said he found the sound of a bassoon behind him quite disconcerting...whatever that means.

Personally I like gamba and harpsichord, or cello and harpsichord for baroque basso continuo.

< About two years ago I went to an SJP performance in New York, in which the first cellist absolutely stole the show with her faultless playing and obvious love of the music. While the "solo" singers and instrumentalists were doing ego trips, she was radiating Bach. >
I also tend to notice these same 'true' performers at concerts. They're the ones who aren't screaming 'look at me!'

Jeff Leone wrote (December 10, 2000):
I don't know much about this and was going to ask a related question to this group. However, from what I do understand, there were trends in music and continuo usages during the Baroque which allow us to say specifics. For example, I once read a review of Bminor Mass recording which used a lute as part of the continuo, and the author (someone from this group) wrote that the usage of the lute was very incorrect since it is widely known that Bach did not use a lute in is vocal works (??).

So my point is, what are the "best practices" when it come to continuo? Of course there's all that stuff about "what sounds good", but on top of this scholars have some idea of what was going on with continuo usage. Another example that I just thought of is Rouset's recording of Rameau's overtures. He does not use a harpsichord or any other instrument for continuo support since "the instrumental movements in French opera were normally performed without harpsichord [and] the use of which was generally restricted to the solo vocal music." So sounds to me that there is lots of evidence on this subject. So what is it?

Steven Langley Guy wrote (December 10, 2000):
< Harry J. Steinman wrote: This prompts a question from me: Is there any kind of a formula that composers or performers employ to determine what instruments to use and when?Is the final arbiter of Steven’s question merely, “How did it sound?” Or are there standards and protocols for using instruments? >
Harry, I guess you have to look at the overall work. The Cantata BWV 201 has a bass line that simply says ‘continuo’ - but in the two choruses (at the beginning and end) I would imagine that it would be ‘reasonable’ to include a bassoon. Koopman does on his recording of this work. (Perfectly reasonable to leave it out too!) I guess some works cry out for more instruments and others work well enough with a simple ‘cello and harpsichord. Heinrich Biber mentions he considered that a bass trombone was an attractive option in some works - ensemble sonatas and sacred vocal works. I am not suggesting a bass trombone in Bach! ;-)) or maybe with the organ continuo in the motets??????? (I’m not being terribly serious here)

< For example, in the (controversial) recording of the B-Burgs, Il Guardino Armonico, uses a lute in the continuo group in the 6th concerto.I like the way it sounds, but others find it inappropriate.Is there a standard somewhere to answer such a question?Or is it all a matter of the listener’s ear? >
I guess that the 6th Brandenburg is rather like an old fashioned ‘Sonata di Chiesa’ - with its gambas and violas. It reminds me very much of Biber and Buxtehude’s chamber music for similar instruments. Biber’s Harmonia artificiosa-ariosa for violins, violas and violas d’amore and continuo come to my mind when I listen to the sixth. Anyway, I love the 6th Brandenburg for its slightly ‘dated’ feel and using an organ and a theorbo or archlute for the continuo line seems in keeping with this and some ensembles have taken this option.

< Personally, I tend to accept anything that happens to sound good to me…but maybe if I knew more about music I’d have a more discriminating ear.(Of course one unintended conclusion of that logic is that the more I know about music, the less I would like! Ouch!) >
Perhaps? I find that the more I discover about music the more I can appreciate the threads of thought and styles that are handed down from one generation to another. I think its good to know more background information about any period of music. Listening to Johann Schelle’s cantatas and Christmas oratorio gives us a chance to examine some of the influences of Bach and understand when and if Bach is being innovative in his own music. According to C. P. E. Bach, Johann Joseph Fux was Johann Sebastian Bach’s favourite composer - yet how much of Fux’s music do we get a chance to hear! I have only heard a little. Yet, if one studies the scores of Fux’s sacred music and opera it is possible to see how Fux’s supreme devotion to counterpoint was apparent in almost all his works - even his operas! Gradus ad Parnassum, Fux’s book on counterpoint was considered very important in the 18th century. I’m sure if Bach was around now he would be recommending Fux to us!

I digress. I tend to agree that in the end the choice of continuo instruments must be made in accordance with the style and function of the music. If oboes are present - a bassoon might seem logical. If only strings are being used - maybe just a cello or gamba and harpsichord would be appropriate? (Remembering that in the 17th century the dulcian/bass curtal was commonly used as the bass instrument to a stereotypical ensemble consisting of two violin parts and two viola (da braccio) parts - in many, many Northern European works) And sometimes we just have to make an educated guess about what instruments should be used on the bass line!

Harry J. Steinman wrote (December 10, 2000):
(To Steven Langley Guy) Thanks for your excellent (as usual) discussion…interesting points about listening to JSB’s antecedents—I recently received a few CDs created by another List member that include medieval and other early music works. I find it…um, different to listen to; my ears are not yet tuned to this period. But it was very illuminating to hear something of where Bach came from. Thanks again,

Kirk MaElh wrote (December 11, 2000):
(To Harry J. Steinman) If you're not familiar with this music, give it time. The biggest difference is the temperament used in pre-baroque times - the music may sound "wierd" at first, but once you get used to the "tuning" I'm sure you will start to get into it.


Figured Bass


Robin Crag wrote (January 6, 2001):
Just some quesions:
How much of Bach's music has figured bass?
Do performers now normally use a "realisation" writen out before, or do they just do it as they go along?

Pierre-Henri Jondot wrote (January 6, 2001):
< Robin Crag wrote: How much of Bach's music has figured bass? >
A lot ! The Cantatas, almost all the concertos, some sonatas (violin, flute)...

Bach sometimes uses continuo and obbligated cembalo in the same part (not at the same moment of course)

I'm not sure about the figures themselves though, I think that the vast majority of them have been added later, for the benefit of the executant. (As for Bach, he didn't need them, he only add to look at the other parts to know what was needed in the continuo part...) Please correct me if I am wrong!

For those reasons, some organists don't hesitate to add a continuo part when there is only a bass. (The realisation itself, separated from the bass, being played on another keyboard). Some examples :
-largo of the a concerto (after Vivaldi)
-during the bicinium of Sei Gegrusset partita
-the Schubler choral wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme

< Do performers now normally use a "realisation" writen out before, or do they just do it as they go along? >
Second choice of course. I'd add that the best continuo players are those who never play twice the same thing ! (That's not my case, I'm afraid !)

Paolo de Matthaeis wrote (January 8, 2001):
A lot ! The Cantatas, almost all the concertos, some sonatas (violin, flute)...
- YES !!!
Bach sometimes uses continuo and obbligated cembalo in the same part (not at the same moment of course)
- YES !!!

I'm not sure about the figures themselves though, I think that the vast majority of them have been added later, for the benefit of the executant. (As for Bach, he didn't need them, he only add to look at the other parts to know what was needed in the continuo part...) Please correct me if I am wrong!
- Just a line...at your good explanation...
- A number on a bass is a harmonic suggestion, sometime u no need this kind of suggestion... in other case author wants a particular realization in a right position and use to write a number... ad ex 7 (3.5.7) or only 6 (for 3.6) when u need 4.6 he will put 4.6 cause all knows that 6 is 3.6.. Sometime bach suggest it writing a note !! Look at triosonata for organ n2 in c moll - first movement... you will find a chord in the right hand that's give the harmony line.. Other cases of figured bass MOZART... is a great school!

Have a look at some concertos or church sonatas...

At the end you no need look the parts above the bass when you are realizing a figured bass.. melodic line in bass cleaf lead the performer.. sometime you need a number if the composer want a particular harmonization to give sense and a new performing line to the other voices.. in this age bass was the first thing... melodic lines was subjected.

Kevin Sutton wrote (January 9, 2001):
< Pierre-Henri Jondot wrote: I'm not sure about the figures themselves though, I think that the vast majority of them have been added later, for the benefit of the executant. (As for Bach, he didn't need them, he only add to look at the other parts to know what was needed in the continuo part...) Please correct me if I am wrong! >
This is correct. Likewise, publishers seldom if ever write them in either. According to a professor friend of mine, Bach occasionally wrote them in, but more often than not, he did not. One of the skills of the trained continuo player is to be able to "figure" a bass line.


Organ + therbo

Pablo Fagoaga wrote:
< Bradley Lehman wrote: Theorbo and lute have that "spoken" quality, too. I learn more from listening to lute/theorbo recordings than harpsichord recordings....

(In fact, generally my favorite continuo combination for listening and playing is theorbo+organ, where the organ registration is a simple and gentle stopped flue. The organ supplies the vowels and the theorbo supplies the consonants! Great combination, perfectly complementary.) >
Do you recall any recording in which we can hear the effect of this combination??

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 31, 2002):
Here are some recordings where at least some of the continuo part is played by the combination of organ plus theorbo (or chitarrone or lute or archlute). It's more typically a 17th-century sound than 18th-century.

And, functionally, it's as much to keep the other players and singers together on pitch and rhythm as to be heard by any audience. It's like the salt in food: you typically don't notice it much, but you definitely notice it if it's missing or if it's excessive!

Schütz: Motets - Herreweghe (HM) or Schneidt (Archiv)

Schütz: Requiem - Herreweghe (HM) or Tubery/Lasserre (Pierre Verany)

Schütz: Geistliche Chormusik 1648 - Cordes (CPO)

Schütz: Symphoniae Sacrae 1650 - Bernius (DHM)

Monteverdi: Vespers - Parrott (Virgin) or Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi)

Monteverdi: Orfeo - Nigel Rogers (EMI)

Monteverdi: Vespro per la Salute, 1650 - Tubery/Lasserre (Pierre Verany)

Cavalli: Vespers 1656 -Tubery/Lasserre (Pierre Verany)

Any of the "Heritage of Monteverdi" series by La Fenice & Tubery (Ricercar)

Charpentier: Messe des morts & Litanies - Niquet (Naxos)

Campra: Requiem - Gardiner (Erato)

Bach: Brandenburg 6 - Pickett (L'Oiseau-Lyre)

Bach: SJP (BWV 245) - Goodman/Cleobury (Columns or Musica d'Angeli) or Herreweghe 1987 (HM)

Bach: Cantatas BWV 198 (Trauer-Ode), BWV 156, BWV 8 - Thomas, American Bach Soloists (Koch)

According to Laurence Dreyfus in Bach's Continuo Group, the only two vocal works of Bach where lute is prescribed are the SJP and the Trauer-Ode. He suggests: "It is important to realize that in Bach's day the lute was no stranger to Leipzig. On the contrary, its presence can be felt in the immediate Bach circle. [Here he describes Bach's friends who played or made lutes...] (...)
Perhaps Bach found that the sound of the lute never penetrated well enough to warrant its use in church as a continuo instrument. In the _Trauer-Ode_, for example, Bach has the two lutes doubling each other in every movement where they play continuo. Considering the probable frequency with which Bach used the harpsichord continuo, moreover, it is likely that augmented support by the lute would not have added measurably to the ensemble. Although a continuo part realized by the lute cannot by any means have been considered inappropriate by Bach, the evidence--apart from the score for the Tr auer-Ode--suggests that he made little use of it in his sacred vocal works."


Continuo key?

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (September 24, 2002):
For the most part, I have seen continuo in concert pitch, and I think baroque trumpet parts as well, so herein lies my confusion:

On occasion I have heard various times about transposing continuo. Does this mean that the continuo part was not written in what we call concert pitch?


Reading Mendel
Mendel’s article
Mendel's article; and practical continuo orchestration
Reading Mendel

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 31, 2003):
< Thomas Braatz wrote: Brad, why would I need Mendel's book, if I can seem to get most of the information I need elsewhere? In any case, I have you as a source, as someone who can look up and reveal truly important, pertinent insights and explications that are contained only in his book(s). >
Anyone interested in real scholarship would... er, .... anyone who thinks it's wise to actually read something before criticizing it, or throwing the author's name around as a supposed enemy.... er, .... and Mendel's article about continuo is a journal article, not a book; I already told you at least twice exactly where to go look it up........ aw, heck, this is all so needless to say that I don't even want tobother finishing these sentences. There's nothing I could say here that I haven't already said. Besides, my baby is waking up and I need to go change her diaper, which is a more productive and fulfilling activity than this discussion is anymore. Plus I have to go choose and practice four pieces to play in church this morning, and I'd like to be at least a little bit prepared....

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 1, 2003):
Since it appears that no one here has actually read Arthur Mendel's important 1950 article (or, at least, admitted to it), except myself, I'll tip his hand and let's see what happens. (BUT: I think it's important for anyone seriously interested to read the whole article, not just going on my excerpts here!)

I still think it's deplorable that Mr Braatz has been shooting arrows at Mendel for months, without actually looking at what Mendel wrote; but that's water under the bridge (excuse the mixed metaphor). If that's the type of "scholarship" technique that suits him, criticizing things without looking at them, well, that's just the way it goes, and let the reader beware.

This article is from The Musical Quarterly XXXVI, #3, July 1950. "On the Keyboard Accompaniments to Bach's Leipzig Church Music"; pages 339-362. Mendel writes about harpsichord vs organ; his main points being to show in his conclusions (p 360):

"(1) On the now available evidence, both of Bach's own works and of the writers of his period, the continuo instrument for his church works was the organ, not the harpsichord.
"(2) The registration used by the organist for continuo purposes was always quiet and discreet. The chords were played short and detached so that they really punctuated the vocal and instrumental texture and did not obscure it.
"Only when these two points are clearly understood can discussion of the nature of the figured-bass realization be carried on intelligently. Once the second point is thoroughly digested not a great deal remains to be discussed concerning the details of the realization."

[Tom, Alex, Neil, anyone else who dislikes the short sound, you're gonna love this...and don't accuse me of not giving a critical reading of the articles, because here it comes.... :) ]

Along the way, Mendel gives us a couple of paragraphs worthy of Pascal and Voltaire, in their famous reasoning about the existence of God. (Voltaire: If God didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent him. Pascal: If God doesn't exist, you've lost nothing by believing in him; but if God does exist and you don't believe it, you're in big trouble.) Mendel:

"Are we to reconcile ourselves, then, to the notion that the continuo instrument, instead of enhancing the rhythm of the orchestra, as the harpsichord easily does, actually obscured it, as one would think the organ with its 'sustained style' must? I should refuse to accept such a conclusion even if all the available external evidence pointed to it; for it would flatly contradict the internal evidence, which consists in the enormously lively inner parts Bach included in his orchestration. The liveliness of these inner parts is frequently obscured nowadays under the tonal massiveness in which the works are customarily clothed. But it reappears as soon as one reduces the performing forces to something like their original proportions. And to think that faithfulness to the original performing style required us to obscure it again under a cloud of uninterrupted organ tone would be absurd.
"Fortunately, there is external evidence enough to relieve even the most pedantic from such requirement. This evidence is to be found in books of the period, and consists in instructions for the organist relating to both registration and actual playing."
[He then goes on to give us the Niedt, Petri, Schroeter, Heinichen, Voigt, et al. He also spends some time on registration and on organ tonal design.]

Later he has this:

"But the concept of sustained organ tone as accompaniment to flutes and oboes, say, is still not a completely satisfying one, even after we have found that the organ was kept very much in the background. How can such accompaniment avoid muddying the lines, the rhythm, and the intonation of the obbligato instruments? Surely, it will be said, in all these respects the harpsichord gets less in the way than the organ. But the answer is still no: the organ need not get in the way any more than the harpsichord, _provided the organ is played as it was in Bach's period_." [the emphasis is Mendel's own]

He then proceeds to get into that, before summing it all up as I noted above.

After those main conclusions, he then has a few more pages of comments about whether we now should be bound by those conclusions in modern performances, or not. He comes out on the practical side of doing what sounds best in any given situation, making the best of circumstances: wise advice that (again) is on the side of musicianship rather than scholarship. He even recommends trying a Baldwin electronic organ, since good small portable pipe organs for continuo use were not readily available yet [when he wrote this, in 1950].

In short, Mendel's article filled a good role when it appeared: it encouraged and challenged people to think outside their habitual expectations of the type of organ touch being used in Bach's music. And he chose to err (if he erred at all) on the side of MUSICAL criteria rather than historical criteria; I applaud that.

=====

And, my own teacher (Edward Parmentier) also pointed out to me that Mendel had unfortunately left out the citation of treatises that would go against the point he wants to make. Parmentier himself was one of Mendel's former students, and (to his credit) read this article critically, and made sure we got this point when we discussed it in class: Mendel's scholarship here is selective. Parmentier is terrific at this as a pedagogue, taking an agnostic view toward every bit of evidence, giving a fair assessment from all sides; a wonderful role model in how to read things critically (even when they're from one's own teacher; and his teachers included Mendel, Leonhardt, and Albert Fuller). I remember a phrase that Parmentier used with me, and with my classmates, whenever we discussed anything controversial: instead of launching into an explication of all the evidence, from all sides, he would first ask us, "What sort of evidence would be necessary to convince YOU?" He wanted to make sure we never blindly went into things, unaware of our own expectations. Bravo!

=====

Still, though, as Mendel himself said, the music's internal evidence tells us a good way to play it, regardless of what any treatises say or do not say. From that perspective, he's right. He offers useful MUSICAL observations at the expense of his own scholarly credibility.

Dreyfus, then, in the opening section of his chapter about recitatives, gave a historical survey of 20th century commentaries about shortened playing. He doesn't give much credence to Schering, and he (correctly, IMO) gives even less credence to Mendel. He also reviews the work of Jack Westrup, Peter Williams, and Emil Platen. (I also have the Williams article here, for reference.) That is, Dreyfus wishes to show that he's not simply relying on Schering and/or Mendel, but that he (Dreyfus) is doing fresh scholarship with a new and (one hopes) comprehensive survey of the topic...which he then proceeds to do, presenting both sides in (one is supposed to assume) a fair and balanced manner...that is basic rhetoric, of the type that Bach himself knew, the way to make a point. It is of course mandatory that Dreyfus would do this (first commenting about Schering, Mendel, et al); that's the nature of modern scholarly work...to show that he's contributing some fresh and of value to the field, rather than simply rehashing or relying on what others before him have said. (This is rule #1 of dissertation-level work.) Even if he agreed with Schering or Mendel on any of their points, it would not do to rely on them heavily in his chapter, or it would hurt the
credible value of his own work. Dreyfus is here writing a book to DESCRIBE historical practice, not to PRESCRIBE a suggested mannof playing (as Mendel allows himself to do)...he clearly distances himself from Mendel, to help his own scholarly credibility.

[So, Tom's repeated assertions here that Dreyfus has been duped by Mendel and/or Schering are questionable...that's exactly the type of situation that good scholarly work is supposed to avoid, where one opens oneself up to the facile condemnation of one's work as being too derivative. And Dreyfus' work made it all the way past the rounds of peer reviews before publication, and through the corrective suggestions of the people he credits in his acknowledgments; so, it's not just a maverick flight of fancy here, Dreyfus really does have the respect of at least part of the scholarly community...else his book wouldn't exist at all. Tom, of course, has zero perspective on the Mendel article as he hasn't read it yet, but that hasn't stopped him from accusing Dreyfus of this (undue reliance on Mendel and Schering, and generally sloppy thinking, and a supposed cluelessness such that Dreyfus doesn't even realize when he's been duped). Oh well.]

=====

For what it's worth, from my own practical experience: I was already playing organ in the manner described by Mendel long before I read his article (which was first about ten years ago)...I already knew from practical playing that his suggestions here are workable. That is, in my organ-playing that accompanies singing (hymns, solos, etc), or as continuo with or without other instruments in Baroque compositions, for the past 17 years in my various gigs as a professional organist, I've played in a style that emphasizes rhythm instead of connecting the notes in a 19th century type of legato. The default is a semi-detached touch ALL THE TIME (not just in recitatives), and occasionally making the notes either longer (for accent/emphasis) or shorter (to lighten them even more). I do it not because Mendel or anyone else says so; but because it is a musically effective way to play, as a catalyst for everyone else's music-making as they sing or play along. The music is, in my opinion, much clearer and more exciting this way without the organ droning through phrases; and the organ is allowed to "breathe" with everybody else...this being especially important in buildings with live acoustics. Yes, I take plenty of flak myself from people who accuse me of "playing organ like a harpsichordist," which is true (as my principal instrument IS harpsichord)...but I prefer to think of it as simply playing musically.

Even though I think Mendel committed a faux pas with his Voltairesque paragraph, hurting his own credibility, I don't see that as a reason to condemn the conclusions he comes to about an effective manner to play the organ. And when I became acquainted with this article, it was nice to see my own practical musical conclusions confirmed by a respected scholar (Mendel, the head of Princeton).

=====

Now, to reiterate Parmentier's question: what would convince me (Lehman) to abandon my ways and start playing much more legato on the organ than I do? I know the answer to that: I would need to be convinced MUSICALLY that it sounds good, and (even more importantly) that it helps other people to play/sing better along with me...that is, my playing would need to be more useful to them than what I already give, emphasizing rhythmic vitality. If I tone down that vitality, in my playing that is supposed to catalyze an ensemble, would they all play/sing better with me than they do now? I'd need to be shown that, conclusively. Meanwhile, I feel that a sustained
organ sound is like pouring indiscriminate gravy over a meal, and (musically) it offends my tastes. I feel that Mendel said it well (and I paraphrase): why are all those interesting parts in there at all, if we're just going to glop them up with a bunch of sustained garbage from the organ? Not just in Bach, but in all sorts of music, no matter when it was written. When I hear other players do that, glopping it up, the impression I get is that they simply aren't sensitive enough to the sound they're making, else they wouldn't do that. There's a time and place for sustained organ playing, but it's not (often) in the accompaniment of ensemble works, or even in congregational singing (except as a special effect...trying to overwhelm the people rather than helping them sing well).

In a practical sense, Mendel's recommended performance style is very effective, and indeed it describes well the way I play. So, let me reiterate it for good measure:

"The registration used by the organist for continuo purposes was always quiet and discreet. The chords were played short and detached so that they really punctuated the vocal and instrumental texture and did not obscure it.
"Only when these two points are clearly understood can discussion of the nature of the figured-bass realization be carried on intelligently. Once the second point is thoroughly digested not a great deal remains to be discussed concerning the details of the realization."

He's right. (Although, I wouldn't seek out an electronic organ unless I were REALLY stuck; I'd take my own harpsichord to the gig before playing an electronic organ, eww.)

There, I've tipped my hand. I suppose someone's now going to tell me that my whole philosophy about the keyboard player being a catalyst for the ensemble (rhythmic and accentual, illustrating the bass line's profile with maximum vividness) is dead wrong; that the keyboard player should instead be dominating the proceedings with a style that overwhelms everybody, instead of helping them to bring out their own parts clearly?

=====

Have at it, gentlemen. Thoughts about Mendel, or whatever. But again I say, please go read the whole article and don't just go by what I'm saying about it here. We can't have an intelligent discussion about something that only one person has read.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (April 1, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] I enjoyed your response! You're giving great info while making your arguments entertaining too! For what, if any, my comments are worth, I absolutely love the organ as continuo in early baroque, Purcell, Charpentier, Bach, etc. I saw William Christie having a blast on the organ while conducting Charpentier's 'The Hypochondriac' (from Moliere).

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 1, 2003):
[To Francine Renee Hall] Francine, thanks!

That reminds me: my own favorite sound to hear as a continuo team is the duo of organ (a light flute stop, and all notes played fairly short) plus theorbo (those good crunchy plucks), both improvising together. As a friend of mine put it, the two instruments complement one another so well, each supplying a bit of what the other one lacks. And then add a viola da gamba to that, for the bowed sound, giving it more dynamic direction as a line and the possibility of swelling long tones. Yum!

Given a choice, I'd rather hear that combination as continuo, than hear harpsichord! I know that's an odd thing for a harpsichordist to say (preferring "cembalo tacet"!), but that's really what I like to hear as a listener, especially in the 17th century French and Italian repertoire....

Something else we did Saturday [in Bach] that I thought was especially effective: in one movement for soprano solo, we put together a continuo team of cello, organ (the director) playing fairly short with bass line and harmony, and me playing only the bass line ("tasto solo") on the harpsichord in a more sustained manner along with the cello, emphasizing the linear articulation, but no right hand improvisation. That gave to the texture the crunchiness a theorbo would add (if we'd had one for the gig), but eliminated the overly busy sound if I'd been duplicating the fast-changing harmonies. This combo was the idea of the other singer, the bass (James Weaver) from listening from the back of the hall...the sound needed just that little bit of "bite" with the harpsichord playing one note at a time. In a different aria, for bass, we left the harpsichord out altogether which was fine with me!

And, in an accompanied recitative for bass and soprano in dialogue, we did something else: we reduced it to the sustained strings pluharpsichord, with harpsichord playing rather quick but simple arpeggiation (no up-and-down stuff or melodic interpolations that would be too distracting). That is, we cut the organ out of those sections entirely; we found in rehearsal that it was simply too loud--overwhelmed the strings--if he played anything more than the bass note. (We also tried having him play short chords and releasing, while the strings continued to sustain...that too could have worked, if we'd had more rehearsal time to get it down.) This left him free to conduct the strings, which was needed since there were some tricky bits at the transitions into and out of arioso.

Whatever works, and is done with musical conviction, is the way to go! Pedantic restrictions are silly. The audience is there to hear the music presented with dramatic and musical interest, stemming from the sense of the words and the musical gestures; not to hear everybody on stage pedantically double every note that appears on the part in front of them.

Hugo Saldias wrote (April 1, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Did you know that when Anthony Newman recorded in SONY CD the BRandenburg Concerti he uses organ and cembalo?

At the same time?

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 1, 2003):
[To Hugo Saldias] Nope; but I have Newman's first set (LPs from the late 1970s, IIRC).

And I have Philip Pickett's set from 1994, where they use as many as cello + bassoon + harpsichord + organ + violone + 2 archlutes, all in the same concerto. I think I'll go listen to it again right now, it's been a while!

Jim Morrison wrote (April 1, 2003):
< Bradley Lehman wrote: Whatever works, and is done with musical conviction, is the way to go! Pedantic restrictions are silly. The audience is there to hear the music presented with dramatic and musical interest, stemming from the sense of the words and the musical gestures; not to hear everybody on stage pedantically double every note that appears on the part in front of them. >
Something from a New York Times article related to what Brad says below from one of my all-time favorite cellists:
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/30/arts/music/30SILV.html
Mr. Wispelwey (pronounced VISS-pull-vay), 40, stocks his performances with deeply personal revelations. What is most striking about him, whether in performance or in conversation, is that music, for him, is confessional. "I certainly cannot identify with musicians who pretend to be not involved," he said emphatically last fall in an Upper East Side apartment, winding down after a recital at the Frick Collection and warming from his initial reserve. "They say they present the score as it is. What a pretentious thing to say. This not only shows a lack of imagination but is simply wrong, because every sound produced is an interpretation of something written.

"To read the score you need a passionate analytical mind, and this doesn't go without imagination. Music needs personality. It needs to be enlivened."
Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/

Hugo Saldias wrote (April 1, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] GREAT>

Mr Anthony Newman plays them regulary in New York City.Last time was 4 months ago for Thanksgiving...

Francine Renee Hall wrote (April 1, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] ... and Purcell's "Wondrous Machine"!!

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 1, 2003):
Brad shared some snippets from Mendel’s explication of the shortened secco recitative accompaniment in the bc:
>>This article is from The Musical Quarterly XXXVI, #3, July 1950. "On the Keyboard Accompaniments to Bach's Leipzig Church Music"; pages 339-362. Mendel writes about harpsichord vs organ; his main points being to show in his conclusions (p 360):
"(1) On the now available evidence, both of Bach's own works and of the writers of his period, the continuo instrument for his church works was the organ, not the harpsichord.
"(2) The registration used by the organist for continuo purposes was always quiet and discreet. The chords were played short and detached so that they really punctuated the vocal and instrumental texture and did not obscure it.
"Only when these two points are clearly understood can discussion of the nature of the figured-bass realization be carried on intelligently. Once the second point is thoroughly digested not a great deal remains to be discussed concerning the details of the realization."<<
These main conclusions give evidence that Mendel is an epigon following in the footsteps of Spitta, Schering and others in regard to (1) and

(2) “The registration used by the organist for continuo purposes was always quiet and discreet.” This follows Mattheson which I quoted recently and with which I agree. But when Mendel states dogmatically and with insufficient or incorrectly applied evidence:

”The chords were played short and detached so that they really punctuated the vocal and instrumental texture and did not obscure it.”

he [Mendel] is relying upon Schering’s (1936) dogmatic pronouncement and even uses the same methods (“Selbstverständlichkeit” and references that have little or nothing to do with church recitatives in Bach’s sacred works, all of which have been discussed here before.) Each later musicologist simply built upon that which was essentially already there, but then as you, Brad, have indicated, found it necessary to make it appear as if the founders of the theory really deserved little more than a passing reference here and there.

These conclusions only confirm my suspicions all the more: this esoteric theory should rightly be named the ‘Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus’ theory with all its inherent weaknesses that are simply compounded by some examples of careless scholarship that would not have passed muster if the peer review group were not likewise ‘hooked’ on the ‘validity’ of this theory in the first place.

Brad stated: >>I remember a phrase that Parmentier used with me, and with my classmates, whenever we discussed anything controversial: instead of launching into an explication of all the evidence, from all sides, he would first ask us, "What sort of evidence would be necessary to convince YOU?" He wanted to make sure we never blindly went into things, unaware of our own expectations <<
This may be the problem. By not examining ALL available evidence as objectively as possible, but rather limiting the discovery process to a mindset already established by what the mind wishes to see, the element of serendipity has been seriously restricted. No wonder that your preset search is unable to uncover anything that does not qualify for the type of ‘evidence necessary to convince YOU!’ You continue to read and reread the mantra established by the Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus theory until you have come to believe that it is infallible in every aspect. There is no way that you can become even remotely objective under these circumstances.

Johan van Veen wrote (April 1, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz, regarding the last paragraph of jis message above]
Do you really believe strict objectivity is possible? Hardly any scientist does still believe that. Your writings are the ultimate evidence that strict objectivity is a fiction.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 1, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] To which I say: road apples!

How do you know, one way or another, about Mendel's reliance on or disagreements with any of Schering's work? You haven't read the article.

The Williams article that I quoted here this morning pokes plenty of holes in Schering, and you'd enjoy reading that. He also cites more sources, on all sides, than Dreyfus does; and he disagrees with some of Mendel's points. I know you're going to like what he says on page 239 about BWV 18.

Overall, I myself give more credence to Williams and his arguments, than to either Dreyfus or Mendel, both on his thoroughness and his ability to bring in other practical considerations that Mendel didn't mention. His article is so fully packed with information, and (I know this is important to you, as it is also to me) it's GOOD QUALITY information from relevant sources! Furthermore, organcontinuo is the central topic of Williams' article (and indeed part of the title), while Dreyfus' chapter is merely one chapter among many other topics in his book, and not any central point on which his whole book stands or falls. Williams comes out at a more agnostic point on all this than Dreyfus does, and I think that's commendable: we really DO have no way to be absolutely sure. (The article in The New Grove Dictionary... 2001 edition also mentions that nothing's really solved here, one way or another, and that's a wise thing to say.)

Again, as I mentioned yesterday, Dreyfus surveys Williams' work as part of his preamble. He obviously can't simply echo Williams (as that practice is not thought of as good scholarship), but has to say something in a fresh way; anyone who's interested can and should go read Williams directly.

As for me believing that Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus are "infallible" in any way, I say again: road apples! I said here yesterday what I found to be badly done in Mendel's article, while I praised his candid emphasis on musical considerations (internal evidence directly from the MUSICAL CONTENT of the scores, not the notation of them...the inner lines that get wiped out if the organ is too sustained). Dreyfus, on p106, openly disagrees with the Williams point I presented here this morning (about what the figures over rests mean), and I think Dreyfus is wrong on this one. And I've already pointed out that either Dreyfus or Williams have misplaced the initials of Herr Voigt.

So there.

You may wish that I'm merely an ignoramus who has been duped by Schering et al, or (as Alex insinuated earlier) an uncritical reader who doesn't even understand Dreyfus, but that's just wishful thinking on the part of you and Alex. You've never met me or heard me play. And you don't know what other books and articles are in my library, or what else I studied during doctoral work in this field (keyboard skills and historical perspectives on harpsichord, organ, and fortepiano; plus a completely separate master's degree in historical musicology, having nothing to do with keyboards). Instead, you're merely wishing that I were wrong, or unmusical, as that would make it a lot easier to poke holes in what I've said here. Sorry to disappoint you.

May I suggest: "mantras" and "careless scholarship" (as you say) are more the property of people who haven't actually gone through formal graduate work in music......... I'm trying not to be an Arschloch about this, or a petulant young'un, but my academic credentials do say that I've jumped through all the appropriate academic hoops and understand what I'm doing. You're resourceful, imaginative, obviously earnest, and you seem to have good intentions, but: what academic credentials, if any, do you have in the field of music? You've never told us. And, what direct performing experience (Bach's music, and otherwise) do you bring to any of this discussion? And, tell us: how do you KNOW what really works, beyond looking things up in your books and listening to recordings?

Hugo Saldias wrote (April 2, 2003):
[Toi Bradley Lehman] Once again I agree with you but most of all:

Have these mantra masters:Dreyfus and CO. ever made a recording?

So why listen to theis people?

Why don't we listen to those that have worked and recorded the music.And most of all some conductors play BY MEMORY ALL the recitatives as well as memorizing the rest of the music.They have studied VERY VERY hard to get to that point. I think they deserve our listening and example. Regards

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 3, 2003):
[To Hugo Saldias] I wouldn't call him a "mantra master", but yes: Larry Dreyfus is a wonderful player of viola da gamba, and I have at least three of his recordings: Marais suites, Bach sonatas (with Haugsand on hpsi), and the Art of Fugue (Phantasm).... all of them (IMO) some of the best available recordings of those works. He's a viol-master.

Hugo Saldias wrote (April 3, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thanks.

There is a lot of people that talk too much and do nichts. But MR Dreyfus does not belong to this category. Thanks and regards



Continue on Part 2


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

Introduction | Cantatas | Other Vocal | Instrumental | Performers | General Topics | Articles | Books | Movies | New
Biographies | Texts & Translations | Scores | References | Commentaries | Music | Concerts | Festivals | Tour | Art & Memorabilia
Chorale Texts | Chorale Melodies | Lutheran Church Year | Readings | Poets & Composers | Arrangements & Transcriptions
Search Website | Search Works/Movements | Terms & Abbreviations | Copyright | How to contribute | Sitemap | Links



 

Back to the Top


Last update: ýJanuary 29, 2005 ý15:35:41