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Fermata

Fermata

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 8, 2003):
Peter Bright wrote:
< (...) For example, I have no idea what a fermata is. (...) >
Peter, a fermata is the musical symbol of a semicircle (facing downward) with a dot inside it. Here's a picture: http://www.fermatapub.com/fermata.jpg

In some music, it means we should hold a note longer than we would normally. In other music, it simply marks the end of a phrase (e.g. in a Bach chorale) suggesting a lift or a breath, with or without extra time; or in some other situations it merely marks the end of a whole piece, meaning "don't bother turning the page, you've reached the last note."

Some people automatically assume that it means the first thing; others take it situation by situation. It's important to think about, anyway.

Hope this helps....

Hugo Saldias wrote (April 8, 200
[To Bradley Lehman] In Bach organ music fermatas are placed sometimes NOT ON TOP OF NOTES...

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 8, 2003):
[To Hugo Saldias] True. Does that surprise you? :)

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 8, 2003):
That same thing happens, by the way, at dozens of places in the Goldberg Variations: fermata over the final barline of some (but not all) variations. And in the violin sonatas and partitas; and in the cello suites........

Peter Bright wrote (April 8, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] OK - thanks. I knew the meaning of this symbol but not the name...

Charles Francis wrote (April 9, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] How do you know that the fermata in a Bach chorale suggests "a lift or a breath, with or without extra time"? Where did Bach document this practice? If you take a breath without adding extra time, the necessary consequence is to shorten the final note of the phrase to be less than written. To my knowledge, this innovation first appeared with the likes of Harnoncourt et al. and has been copied ad nauseum by politically correct performers of the HIP ilk.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 9, 2003):
[To Charles Francis] To my knowledge, it's just a traditional and straightforward manner of singing chorales, hymns, and spiritual songs (little sacred arias, like those in the Anna Magdalena Notebook), whether they occur in a cantata or not. Get to the end of each phrase, take a breath, go on pretty much in tempo (with maybe a SLIGHT bit of extra time, but not extra beats), and the fermatas simply make it immediately obvious (visually) where the phrases end. That's my understanding of it, anyway, possibly correct, possibly flawed, but a very natural way of doing it.

I know FOR SURE this one can't be 'blamed' on "Harnoncourt et al" and "politically correct performers of the HIP ilk" (what a phrase!). As a bit of proof, I have here in my hand (and on my turntable) the four single LPs "Johann Sebastian Bach: Geistliche Lieder" (i.e. the Schemelli songbook, BWV 439-507; and see: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV439-507.htm ). Westminster LPs 9613 to 9616, from 1954: Hildegarde Rössel-Majdan and Hugues Cuenod, with continuo. All these pieces are printed microscopically on the backs of the four LP jackets, in an Urtext edition (Bach-Gesellschaft). And they sing them as I described it above, with just a slight natural lift after each phrase where all the fermatas are in the score.

But again, as I said a few days ago, something is true because it's true, not because somebody did it on a recording and other people later copied that! I'd like to see more on this issue, myself. For example, this article title looks tantalizing: "The Fermata as Notational Convention in the Music of J. S. Bach." (by Don Franklin; cited at: http://www.npj.com/bach/bb-complex.html searching on "fermata"). The one by Schildkret looks interesting, too.

And I'd like to challenge the type of thinking that manifests in phrases such as "politically correct performers of the HIP ilk"....! Intelligent performers do things because we believe it's the right thing to do, from the music, not because it's "politically correct" or from kowtowing to Worshipful Master Harnoncourt or anybody.

Golly, give us a break. :)

The whole world doesn't revolve around Bach cantatas (or their recordings), either; hymns and chorales get sung in many contexts other than cantatas.


Thomas Braatz wrote (April 9, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman]
The OED has:

[1842 J. F. Warner Univ. Dict. Mus. Terms p. xxxviii/2 Fermata is the Italian name for what we call a hold.] 1876 Stainer & Barrett Dict. Mus. Terms 165/1 Fermata (It.), a pause (from fermare, to stay, or stop). 1889 Cent. Dict., Fermata,+A pause in the accompaniment to give room for an extended cadenza by the soloist.

Hugo Saldias wrote (April 9, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] In some Bach organ works (the most known the napolitan chord in the Passacaglia) there is a fermata on top of a chord. Now, most organist stop as it is written and then they continue. Some ADD a non written cadenza as Mr Braatz just said and after the short improvisation they continue with the written notes. Question please:

Do you think this is OK or not and why please?

Uri Golomb wrote (April 9, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] For what it's worth, it seems that the accusation that "people are just following a model" sometimes comes from within the early music movement. A few months ago I interviewed Ton Koopman -- the interview should be coming out in Goldberg soon. Here's what he had to say about fermatas:

"Take the issue of how to perform fermatas in the chorales - should the note under the fermata be held longer? For a long time the conventional view was not to hold these notes; and then Harnoncourt started to extend them. For years, everybody followed him in not extending the fermatas, and then he reverted to the previous practice. And now everybody is following him again! Nobody is thinking why it's being done. So with these things, I do my own research, and I'm very independent. In the case of the fermatas, I think the earlier practice is the right one - they should not be held. I see no reason to do that. David Schildkret wrote an article about this in the Riemenschneider Bach journal in 1989; after examining many chorale books, he concluded quite clearly that the fermata is just an indication of the transition from one line of the chorale to the next. There's also another indication that you should not slow down at a fermata - and you should be an organist to know that: in the Orgelbüchlein, there are lots of fermatas at the end of individual lines of the chorale melody, but there are semiquavers still going on in one of the other parts. You can see something similar in some of the early cantatas - the part with the chorale has a fermata, while at the same time the violin obbligato part is still going on, without a pause. So I think nobody can honestly maintain, after having done research, that you should keep the fermatas. Yes, the fermata does mark a cadenza in some arias. But if you want to make cadenzas at those points in the chorales, you should recall that there's one text about Bach's organ playing, where one of his students - I don't remember who it is, I think it was Agricola but I'm not certain - said that Bach didn't like organists who introduced runs and ornaments at the end of chorale lines. So you have corroborating evidence, from several sides, proving that you should not hold fermatas in chorales."

The question was whether he listened to other people's recordings... and while he's right about the direction Harnoncourt has taken, but he's wrong in his implication that everybody followed him -- Herreweghe, for instance, took the opposite course (compare the chorales in his 1st and 2nd recordings of the SMP: in the former, he always holds the fermatas, in the 2nd hs works on a case-by-case, which means that only some fermatas get extended). As for the historical case -- I admit I have yet to do my own research on this, but my secondary-source reading suggests that Koopman's contention (that there's absolutely no evidence in favour of holding noteat fermatas) is wrong – see: http://homepages.kdsi.net/~sherman/Suzuki.html#fermatas for a summary of the opposite view.

As for imitation in general: yes, some musicians imitate venerable predecessors. This happens in all "schools", not just HIP. In fact, that's part of the reason why there are schools of performance, instead of just lots of individuals. Up to a point, it's even laudable: taking into account what your teachers tell you and what your best predecessors and colleagues have done is not such a bad practice. It should not, of course, become a susbstitute for making up your own mind.. But good musicians, HIP or otherwise, do think for thesmelves, and, as Brad says, do things because they make musical sense.

Nick Ford wrote (April 9, 2003):
Uri Golomb wrote:
"But good musicians, HIP or otherwise, do think for thesmelves, and, as Brad says, do things because they make musical sense."
Not me for I know nothing, but Quantz xvii, vii, 43
"As to how long you should wait after a fermata or general pause, which is indicated by a semcircle with a dot over a note or rest, there is strictly speaking, no fixed rule"

Charles Francis wrote (April 9, 2003):
[To Nick Ford] But this statement at least implies some pause, with the exact amount at the discretion of the performer.

Johan van Veen wrote (April 9, 2003):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< The question was whether he listened to other people's recordings... and while he's right about the direction Harnoncourt has taken, but he's wrong in his implication that everybody followed him -- Herreweghe, for instance, took the opposite course (compare the chorales in his 1st and 2nd recordings of the SMP: in the former, he always holds the fermatas, in the 2nd hs works on a case-by-case, which means that only some fermatas get extended). As for the historical case -- I admit I have yet to do my own research on this, but my secondary-source reading suggests that Koopman's contention (that there's absolutely no evidence in favour of holding notes at fermatas) is wrong – see: http://homepages.kdsi.net/~sherman/Suzuki.html#fermatas for a summary of the
opposite view. >
It seems there is no difference of opinion as far as the meaning of the fermata is concerned in that it is a signal of the end of a phrase. The difference of opinion is if it also means that the last note has to be held.

In my view there are a couple of questions here.

Firstly: to what extent is the way the chorales are to be sung in a cantata a reflexion of the way the congregation is used to sing them? Should they be sung the same way or could they be sung differently? I don't know how much is known about the way chorales were sung by the congregation in Bach's time, but I believe there is reason to see a parallel with congregational singing elsewhere. Someone has done extensive research in psalm singing in the Netherlands in the 17th and 18th centuries. Congregational singing was basically loud and slow. From the 18th century there are examples of organ pieces about psalm tunes which consist of harmonised lines, alternated by short interludes. During these interludes the pastor had the opportunity to read the next line, since most members of the congregation weren't able to read. This suggest that it is common practice to take time between lines, if not to listen to the next line, then to take breath - in particular necessary if the singing is slow. I believe there is reason to see a parallel between congregation singing in several countries, since the original rhythm in the psalms sung in the Dutch churches (the melodies of which are from the so-called Genevan Psalter and are composed by French composers of the 16th century) are disappearing during the 17th century, just like the rhythm of Lutheran chorales of the 16th century have disappeared in Bach's time. (Just compare the original 'Ein feste Burg' with the chorale setting in Bach's cantata BWV 80.)

Secondly: it has been said that holding the last note is reflected by the notation of chorales in works by other composers. I wonder if that is a valuable argument. There were differences between chorales in several cities in Germany, to such an extent that some texts were sung to different melodies in different cities. Some even had their own hymn book. And if you compare chorales by Telemann and Bach, for instance, you will hear differences in rhythm and melody. So I'm not sure whether the notation of chorales by the likes of Telemann does prove anything about the way Bach's chorales should be sung.

Thirdly: I wonder if the way the fermatas should be treated should depend on the text, and the relationship between the different lines of a chorale. We have discussed about the way recitatives should be sung and I believe that the common practice in Bach's days was not to follow the notated rhythm strictly, but follow the text. Could we treat fermatas the same way: let the text decide whether to hold the last note or not?

> As for imitation in general: yes, some musicians imitate venerable predecessors. This happens in all "schools", not just HIP. In fact, that's part of the reason why there are schools of performance, instead of just lots of individuals. Up to a point, it's even laudable: taking into account what your teachers tell you and what your best predecessors and colleagues have done is not such a bad practice. It should not, of course, become a susbstitute for making up your own mind.. But good musicians, HIP or otherwise, do think for thesmelves, and, as Brad says, do things because they make musical sense. <
You refer to the views of Masaaki Suzuki. He is a pupil of Ton Koopman, but his views differ from Koopman's. So he is a good example of someone not following his teacher, but making up his own mind.

Otherwise I believe that too many musicians follow certain 'rules' laid down by preceding generations of interpreters. There is always the danger that the same happens in HIP-circles that has happened before the era of HIP, in that everyone is following traditional patterns of performance established many years back and never fundamentally questioned. Musicians in the 'HIP-camp' should be aware of the danger of a 'new orthodoxy' which can't be questioned.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 9, 2003):
[To Charles Francis] But Quantz' statement is in a chapter entitled "Of the Duties of Those Who Accompany a Concertante Part" -- that is, orchestral players in the orchestra for a concerto or similar work--a secular and free work not based on a chorale tune. It doesn't imply anything one way or another in the performance of chorales in church; totally different type of music.

Context! Such "proof" texts have meaning only in proper context!

(This is page 281 in the Reilly translation--a book that I reviewed, incidentally, on Amazon a couple of years ago: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1555534732 )

=====

Koopman's example from the Orgelbuechlein (cited here by Uri Golomb) is an excellent one; it is obvious there that Bach is simply marking the ends of the chorale phrases, while other parts keep going. That can also be seen in the Schemelli songbook songs (by Bach, of course) I mentioned last night: the fermatas are only over the melody line, not the continuo part which continues.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 9, 2003):
Johan van Veen wrote:
< Thirdly: I wonder if the way the fermatas should be treated should depend on the text, and the relationship between the different lines of a chorale. We have discussed about the way recitatives should be sung and I believe that the common practice in Bach's days was not to follow the notated rhythm strictly, but follow the text. Could we treat fermatas the same way: let the text decide whether to hold the last note or not? >
A wise suggestion.

An anecdote:

I did something experimental in one of my hymn compositions, some years ago: I wrote the piece mostly in quarter notes, but identified the places where it would be appropriate to dwell slightly on certain words (only in some of the stanzas, according to the meaning of the text and the flow of the poetry). I notated those spots in the soprano line with flagged white notes (i.e. looking like half-notes, but with eighth-note flags on them)...a very 17th-century thing to do. [I'd picked it up from a 1707 cantata by Händel, and from Muffat and Forqueray, and from doing a bit of research into that "white" notation in general...so it was a fun opportunity to use it in a piece.] It was absolutely obvious, I thought, that it simply implies a bit of extra emphasis (of some sort) making those particular melodic notes have a little bit more attention, without interrupting the flow since the alto, tenor, and bass all continue in normal quarter notes.

But people not accustomed to reading 17th century styles of notation were confused, and screwed it up, and were basically just all-around lost when looking at it. So, I renotated the piece all in quarter notes, losing something (in my opinion)...my original notation had expressed my intentions better. It implies a metrical flexibility all the way through the piece, as opposed to marching on stiffly. That's what it meant to some in the 17th century, and that's what it means to me, and that's how I've played and conducted it on occasions when I was there. It's important to find out what the notation meant to the composer! That piece itself is available on: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/hymns.html as "TRUEST SINGING", in an exemplary recording by the composer showing a good flexible way to interpret the whole piece, varying it by the meaning of the words in the different stanzas. (That is, it's a MIDI sequence that I played myself to show a good way to sing the piece!) It's difficult to be more clear than using specialized notation PLUS a recording, but some people will still find a way to be confused anyway if the composer isn't present...or will simply have different creative ideas about how it might go. So, I compromised and rewrote it as quarter notes.

[And through this compromise, I picked up experience that seems valuable to me: feeling first-hand how Bach and other composers may have felt, needing to revise the notation of some of their works when people screwed it up! The practical solution is: pick your priorities, make some compromises to serve those who don't know what you're thinking. It's practical to have people feel comfortable with the notation when they're singing or playing a piece, so accommodate them, perhaps at the loss of some other musical feature.]

And I knew that if I'd used fermatas instead of that white notation, people would have SURELY screwed it up by making the notes far too long, misinterpreting my intentions. When some people see fermatas, they simply assume they know what it means because they've handled plenty of fermatas in 19th century music, so they don't think. At least the white notation (just from being strange-looking) forces them to think instead of going along mindlessly! That was the point.

But, heck, at an even more important level than all the above: the composer doesn't always know all the effective ways to perform his own piece! I've heard this song and some of my other compositions performed in ways that never occurred to me, and was pleased by the results: performers doing something intelligent and beautiful, responding to the musical content. That's really all one can hope for! (I've also heard some debacles; live and learn, and make the notation clearer next time, if it matters.) Once a piece is out there, it takes on a life of its own and the composer doesn't control it completely, even if there's an authoritative score and recording available. The process of composing is setting out some ideas that people will respond to, and find meaningful to them. Sure, it's good to find out what the composer's intentions were/are, if possible, to have a clue what the notation means. But in the end, the people who use the piece are moved by what THEY find in it, not by what the composer knowingly put there.

Another anecdote:

A few weeks ago in church I was asked to conduct the congregation in the old hymn "How Great Thou Art" (19th or early 20th century). It's still an old favorite for a lot of people. I heard and sang it probably at least 100 times as a kid, as it got led all the time. Two notes before the end of the refrain, there's a fermata; it's on the last of many repetitions of the phrase "how great thou art." The note that it's on already emphasizes itself by being the climactic highest note of the whole song, plus it's going into the final cadence. But when I was a kid, all the songleaders interpreted that @#%*&#% fermata by holding it a long time, because it's there, plainly visible on the page...and, I noticed, the congregations never picked their tempo back up for the succeeding stanzas, the song would drag slower and slower. Sometime when I was a teenager, and starting to lead the congregational singing myself, I decided to figure this out: obviously, as that part of the song already emphasizes itself, one shouldn't need to do more than a slight broadening there, and if any stanza could take such a grandly held-out conclusion, it should be only the last one. Perfectly reasonable. I started leading it that way, it worked beautifully (once the people got accustomed to actually watching the leader instead of mindlessly going by habit), and I've done it that way ever since, because it makes musical sense. That particular fermata in that particular song, to me, means what I have described here.

=====

Frankly, I have my own general definition of fermatas, an eminently practical one that probably doesn't show up in any dictionary. It is simply: "something is coming to an end here, notice it, do something musically intelligent!" The interpretation, then, comes from musical context, from thinking (and feeling the moment) rather than from following any pedantic rule.

Hugo asked what I'd do at the big famous Neapolitan chord in the Bach passacaglia: maybe sometimes I'd improvise a little cadenza there, other times not, depends on the occasion and on how the performance was going! The most important thing is that I'd find some way to bring out the specialness of that moment, which (to me) is what a fermata means. There's also a place like that in one of the Art of Fugue's canons, and in some Haydn piano sonatas, and many other situations: the fermata points out that something special is happening, as the end of something, and the performer should do something intelligent. (I don't think I've ever played that passacaglia, except for the time that Parmentier and I bashed through it on two harpsichords at a Thanksgiving Day party at his house once...I don't remember what we did at the fermata! We had put the book on a music stand between the two instruments and were both making up all kinds of fun stuff, and trying to stay reasonably together on it. I was playing the top parts, and he was playing the bass and adding continuo improvisation. Party music.)

Hugo Saldias wrote (April 9, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thanks so much for your opinion.

 

Fermata, a 19th century wordi

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 9, 2003):
In the "for what it's worth" category: I checked two different editions of the Merriam-Webster dictionary to find out how old the English word "fermata" is, and they say it originated either in 1842 or c1859.

Anybody have an OED handy?

Robert Killingsworth wrote (April 9, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] It's not even in the OED.

It is in the OED Supplement. The earliest reference is to an 1842 dictionary of music. The citation says 'fermata' is the Italian word for what in English is called a 'hold'.

Christian Panse wrote (April 9, 2003):
Robert Killingsworth wrote:
< The citation says 'fermata' is the Italian word for what in English is called a 'hold'. >
In Italian, the word "fermata" means also "bus stop" - perhaps a nice analogy to our musical discussion: whether the bus has to stop or not, the sis standing there at the roadside to mark the possibility ;-)

Fermata

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 11, 2003):
"fermata"

Use of the Term:

1. In the English-speaking world:

From the OED:

A pause of unspecified length; the sign indicating such a pause.
(1st use in English 1842)

[term and usage still unknown in Pilkington’s “A Musical Dictionary” (Boston, 1812)]

2. In the French-speaking world:

‘Pause’ = a rest of a semi-breve length

3. In the Italian-speaking world:

‘fermata’ = pause When was this word 1st used in Italian?


4. In the German-speaking world:

Fermate (Germanized form of the Italian word)

A ‘Fermate’ = ‘fermata’ can occur over a notes or a rests of varying duration, but ‘Fermate’ in German can be equated to “Pause” as well. This may cause great confusion, or at least ambiguity in German.

Quantz:

(1st use of ‘Fermate’ occurs in Johann Joachim Quantz’s “Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversière zu spielen“ (Berlin, 1752)

-- p. 131: „ein Bogen mit dem Puncte = Fermate, Pausa generalis, oder ad libitum“ [“a curved line (looking like a slur or tie) with a dot under it = can mean a fermata, a G. P. (Generalpause) or ad lib”];

-- p. 152: “Die Fermaten, oder so genannten Aufhaltungen – ad Libitum in der Mitte eines Stücks” [“Fermati or so-called ‘hold’ or ‘spending a long time on’ and the ad lib in the middle of a piece/mvt.”]

-- pp. 258-9 : an additional ‚pausieren’ [‘pausieren’ to be explained later)

C.P.E. Bach:


C.P.E. Bach in his “Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen.” (Berlin, 1753) --

-- p. 120: Fermati & Cadenzas do not follow the strict indications of the rests indicated by… „Alle Pausen so wohl als Noten nach der Strenge der erwehlten Bewegung halten muß, ausgenommen in Fermaten und Cadentzen.“ [C.P.E. Bach is trying to explain the difference between ‚rests’ and notes which are played more strictly according to the chosen tempo and the exception to this rule in the case of ‚fermati’ and cadenzas which last longer and/or are taken ad lib.]

[Fermate’ as a musical term is still unknown to Johann Gottfried Walther in his “Musicalisches Lexicon oder Musicalische Bibliothec” (Leipzig, 1732)] Chances are that Bach did not use this term either, although he may have understood it. I know of no documented use of this term by Bach. Does anyone know of such a use?

Bach obviously used ‘fermati’ as we know them, but what term did he really use in referring to them and what did he mean when he did use this musical symbol?

The earliest reliable evidence of a fermata (the symbol/sign as it appears today) that I could find is in a facsimile page from “Das Glogauer Liederbuch” (c. 1480). This example clearly shows a fermata on the final note of the song (which was either played by instruments or sung.) It is very important to understand that the players or singers used part books and were unable to see the entire score. This is very similar to Bach’s performance procedures where each singer and player (the bc sometimes saw a little more) only had a single part and did not see what the other parts were doing. Most singers in a choir today will be singing from a piano score with all the other voice parts visible.

The ‘fermata’ on the final note served a purpose which was to indicate to the singer/player to continue holding the final note until all the other voices ‘catch up’ (finish singing the additional notes that are striving to find a conclusion – while one or more voices are holding the final note longer than the others, the other voices are still moving up or down at faster note values in the final cadences of the piece. In essence, there are voices still moving while others have already reached their conclusion on a long note which they must continue to hold.)

One meaning, ‘hold the note longer than you would normally expect to’ applies here. But the additional movement of the non-stationary parts hints at another function that relates to the ‘fermata’: an ad libitum, cadenza-like flourish that may occur in the harmonic close of a piece. There may be one voice (not necessarily the bass) which holds the same (last) note for many beats while the other voices continue with their sometimes florid movements until they reach their eventual final cadence. Here there is a connection with ‘pedal’ or ‘organ’ point, which also has a very long ‘fermata’ on a single note while the others continue to move.

J. S. Bach must have known and used the terms ‘Pause’ or ‘pausieren’ when using or looking at the ‘fermata’ sign. Let’s examine the documented history of these words.

The DWB (the German equivalent of the OED) gives the first musical definition of a ‘fermata’ as documented in a dictionary by Simon Roth (1571) under ‘pausieren’ and ‘pause,’ (but not under ‘Fermate,’ of course):

die hingeschrieben zal im gesang zelen, oder halten” [“to count out specifically, or hold on {to a note or a rest} for the number of beats indicated in a song”];

in der musica oder gesang ist die pause ein künstlich und gewises aufhören, welches mit einem strichlein durch ein, zwo, drei, oder alle lini anzeigt wirt.” [as applied in music or in singing, ‚pausing’ is an artistic technique involving a kind of cessation {of the sounding of the note} which is accomplished by indicating little {vertical} lines that {enter the staff lines from above and cross through} one, two, three, or even all the lines {of any given staff}];

rasten, verziehen, ruhen, aufhören, stillhalten” [“a resting, a prolonging, a stopping, a holding-on confidently/a keeping quiet/still”]

In Samuel Scheidt’s “Das Görlitzer Tabulaturbuch” (1650), there are ‘Doppellonga’ as the ‘Finalis’ which the editors of a modern performing edition changed to a fermati. The ‘Doppellonga’ [‘doubly long notes’] consist of two rectangular notes adjacent to each other indicating their double length.

The MGG indicates the following and tries to make a forced distinction (one that is based on a 20th-century perspective, but does not relate to the correct understanding of ‘Pause’ as it was used after 1571 until c. 1750):

Metrisch gliedernde Funktion hatten sowohl Pause (z.B. bei Scheidt, Tabulatura nova, Görlitz 1650) als auch corona oder Fermate (ital. fermare = anhalten, befestigen), als sie zur Kennzeichnung der Zeilenenden im protestantischen Choral eingesetzt wurden; doch schreibt im Vorwort zu den Choralsätzen des Beckerschen Psalters 1628 Schütz, er habe »anstelle der Pausen sich der Strichlein zu Ende jedes Versleins darum gebrauchen wollen, weil doch in dergleichen genere compositionis die Pausen nicht eigentlich observiret werden«. Die Anregung entnahm Schütz zweifellos der jungen weltl. Monodie der Italiener, die, wie die Atemzeichen in Cavalieris Rappresentazione di anima e corpo beweisen, schon um 1600 der Notwendigkeit bewußter metrischer Gliederung innegeworden war.“
[„The ‚Pause’ (i.e., Scheidt, “Tabulatura nova, Görlitz, 1650), but also ‘fermata’ {the sign as we understand it today} has a metrically organizing function when it is applied to specify the end of each line of a Protestant chorale; however, in his foreword to the chorale settings of Becker’s Psalmody (1628), Heinrich Schütz wrote that he ‘had wanted to use the little vertical lines instead of the ‘Pausen’ (=rests) (=’fermati’?) to indicate the end of each little verse because in most compositions generally these ‘Pausen’ (=rests) (=’fermati’?) were not really observed anyhow. Schütz probably got this idea from his recent acquaintance with Italian secular monody {proof of these breath/breathing marks are found in Cavalieri’s ‘Rappresentazione di anima e corpo’ (1600)} where the necessity of deliberate metric division was addressed.”]

The question here is whether Heinrich Schütz single handedly succeeded in setting a new course in removing ‘fermati’ and replacing them with vertical-line breath marks after the last note at the end of each line of the chorale. It is that he did not.


The French Connection:

Loys Bourgeois’ [c. 1510-15 to 1559] “Vingt-quatre psaumes à 4 voix” (Lyons, 1547)

I would like to see a facsimile of a page. Does it show ‘fermati’, and if so, only at the very end of the psalm?

The Dutch Connection :

Souterliedekens (Antwerp, 1540)

I would like to see a facsimile of a page. Does this show ‘fermati’, and if so, only at the very end of the psalm?

The English Connection:

Another interesting, independent development is found in John Merbecke’s (Marbeck) [1505? – before 1585] “The Book of Common Praier Noted” (1550) which according to Robin Leaver – (New Grove) has close connections with the Reformation which was just as interested in adapting the Latin musical rituals to be sung in German as Merbecke was pioneering a similar adaptation into English. For his system of notation, Merbecke used only 4 types of notes: 1. a strene note, a “breve”; 2. a square note, a “semy breve”; 3. a “pycke” , a ‘mynymme’; 4. a “close” [This is a fermata over the note], ‘this is only used at the end of a verse.”

Back to German and Bach’s Time:

Walther's Lexikon:

Johann Gottfried Walther in his “Musicalisches Lexicon oder Musicalische Bibliothec” (Leipzig, 1732) pp. 469-470, tries to come to terms with the ambiguity of the term “Pause” by specifying a rather long list of “Pausas:” among which are “Pausa di Longa,” Pausa generalis:”

Pausa generalis”: wenn alle Stimmen zugleich mit einander inne halten [when all the voices/parts stop at the same time or are simultaneously silent.]

“Corona” oder “Coronata,” also wird von den Italiänern dieses Zeichen {the fermata symbol is shown} genennet, welches, wenn es über gewissen Noten in allen Stimmen zugleich vorkommt, ein allgemeines Stillschweigen, oder eine “Pausan generalem’ bedeutet; wenn es über einer ‘final-‘ Note in einer Stimme allein stehet, so zeiget es an, daß sie daselbst so lange aushalten soll, bis die übrigen Stimmen auch zu ihrem natürlichen Schluß nachkommen; die Frantzosen nennen es ‘Point d’Orgue.’ Man braucht es auch in den Canonibus, um den Ort zu bemercken, wo alle Stimmen inne halten können, wenn beschlossen werden soll.”
[„The Italians call this symbol {fermata} a ‚corona’ or ‚coronata’ when it is placed over certain notes in all the parts at the same point in order to indicate a general cessation or “General Pause;” if, however, it appears over only a single note in only one part, then it indicates that this note must be held as long as necessary until all the other parts have reached their conclusion; the French call this “Point d’Orgue.’ It is also used in canons in order to mark the spot where all voices have to end.”]

The Bach Connection:

BWV 1048 (Brandenburg Concerto 3, mvt. 2) A Phrygian cadence marked ‘Adagio’ has a fermata over the final chord. Was this an indication of an elaborate cadenza that might be intended?

Bach sometimes places a fermata not over the final note, but over the double-line that marks the end of the final measure of the entire piece.

BWV 72 Final Chorale:

When the line of verse ends on a quarter note, Bach places the fermata above it. When it ends on a dotted half-note (this happens twice because of the repeat), he omits the fermata [the note is already long enough,] except at the very end where a fermata must appear on the final note of the entire verse (and is probably held longer.)

It will be interesting to hear how the various conductors will treat the quarter notes with the fermati above them! Will they make these notes even shorter than a quarter note?

BWV 148 Final Chorale:

This chorale which consists primarily of quarter and eighth notes (the final note of each line ends with a quarter note that has a fermata above it,) after which another quarter note follows immediately without a pause or rest. A number of HIP practitioners would reduce the value (and volume) of the quarter note under the fermata in order to commence quickly, without losing a beat, with the next line of the chorale. Interestingly, 3 trumpets and timpani are waiting until the very end of the chorale for a final, surprising flourish. Had Bach wanted the chorale to be performed without ‘losing a beat,’ he easily could have marked these special instrumental parts with whole-note rests (this certainly would have saved time) until the very end, but he did not. Instead, each time a fermata occurs in the voices, Bach, in the instrumental parts, breaks the whole rest into half-note and quarter-note rests with a fermata over the rest which coincides with what the choir is singing. From this it appears quite evident that Bach did hold the notes under the fermati longer than their stated value.

There is, however, an instance or two where Bach writes the moving instrumental parts which obviously must continue in strict time while the choir has fermati over the final note at the end of a line of the chorale. Many famous examples such as BWV 147 mvts. 6 & 10 (“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”) have ‘written out’ pauses without fermati, so there is no conflict apparent here.

Summary:

Some possible meanings of ‘Pause’ or ‘pausieren’ (terms that Bach probably would have known and used):


1) to hold on to the note longer than its indicated value

2) to mark the end of a mvt. (the fermata may be on the final note or the double-line that concludes the mvt.

3) to indicate an optional embellishment or cadenza involving the final harmonic progression which leads to the final note/chord of the piece.

4) to mark the place where a break (for breathing) or a long pause/rest occurs (G. P., for instance, where all voices and instruments cease playing temporarily.)

5) to become a pedal/organ point (or tasto solo - where a single note is held for a long time.)

Jim Morrison wrote (April 11, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thanks Thomas, I had a feeling you'd be able to help us out on this one.

Anyone read that relatively light and silly, slightly too long novel by Nicholson Baker called "The Fermata." Not much to do with music! ;-)

 

Fermata & Schemelli

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 12, 2003):
Bradley Lehman explained:
>>And, if you need a vocal work where this same thing happens, consider Bach's settings of the "Schemelli" songbook, for solo voice and continuo. He does the same thing there: at the end of each phrase he has a "fermata" symbol while the motion of the continuo bass keeps going...again implying no extra pause there, but just a breath in the sung part.<<
Careful! The NBA KB III/2.1 p. 108 speaks only of Bach’s ‘mutmaßlichen Anteil’ [‘his supposed participation’] in this Schemelli project, or it points to only certain portions of the notes [not text] as being ‘möglicherweise von Bach selbst’ [possibly being by Bach.] Under these conditions, where no autograph exists and others [Johann Benjamin Brühl, Johann Gottfried Krügner, Christian Friedrich Boetius, and two other unidentified engravers, all of whom were responsible for, and have been identified as having made the final corrections] were directly involved in the changes that resulted in the printed version (and the ‘plates’ thereof – a ‘Klatschverfahren’ was used in this instance,) it is highly unreliable to come to any conclusions about Bach’s use of the fermata based on such shaky evidence.

>> He [Bach] does the same thing there: at the end of each phrase he has a "fermata" symbol while the motion of the continuo bass keeps going….<<
One of the very first ones I looked at, BWV 453, has three separate instances where the bc has a half note with a fermata while the voice has two quarter notes above it with a fermata over the second quarter note while the bc is still holding the half note.

Check out: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Fermata.htm
particularly the summary at the end of the page.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 11, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Yes, and that summary by you is (for once) something I agree with:
>>
Summary:
Some possible meaninof 'Pause' or 'pausieren' (terms that Bach probably would have known and used):
1) to hold on to the note longer than its indicated value
2) to mark the end of a mvt. (the fermata may be on the final note or the double-line that concludes the mvt.
3) to indicate an optional embellishment or cadenza involving the final harmonic progression which leads to the final note/chord of the piece.
4) to mark the place where a break (for breathing) or a long pause/rest occurs (G. P., for instance, where all voices and instruments cease playing
temporarily.)
5) to become a pedal/organ point (or tasto solo - where a single note is held for a long time.)
<<
That is, as I said, to recap: the fermata symbol could mean all sorts of things in Bach's music, judged individually by occasion, and the only really general rule is: "something is coming to an end at this point; pay attention and do something musically intelligent."

And, I submit, "do something musically intelligent" by extension informs a good musician's reading of all of Bach's markings, everywhere, including ornamentation and note-lengths and orchestration and fermatas and speed indications (and more). It's all by taste and experience and skill, and careful study of appropriateness.

And recall also my point about the absolute necessity of lifting melodic notes (on keyboards) to repeat the same note, and my remarks about (therefore) also giving some space after other notes that are not to be followed by the same one. Halfway down this page: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/11921
That's just another obvious case where notes are written longer on the page than they really can be in practice; and the score would be less clear (rather than more) if all those various lifts were to be notated with microscopic rests. A good musician plays by the sound as much as (or more than) by the page.

Such flexibility and open-mindedness negates an overly literalistic reading of any point in the music! Listen, and think, and be musical, instead of expecting the page to give complete niggling detail; such a page trying to show everything would just be a cluttered mess, and still incomplete. Instead of doing that, Bach trusted his musicians to have brains and ears, and use them. Think like a skilled improviser and composer. Composition, improvisation, and performance were all part of the same craft, not separate ones (as separate as they are today). All markings of everything tell the player/improviser/co-composer how to think in the right directions, rather than spelling everything out in absolutes. And at the same time, a spirit of continuous improvisation does not mean it's a free-for-all; good improvisation is knowing exactly what the reasonable limits are, to focus the thoughts and stay within the bounds of the piece while also being free to do whatever is needed in the moment of this particular performance.

The rest of that page about fermatas is also worth reading, not only that summary.

Run all this formally through the 25-point skepticism sieve if you wish. I believe you will find it's a good argument. Really, the only possible objection I can think of at the moment is that it might terrify anybody who's already afraid of a "slippery slope" and cause him/her to overreact (that is, a fear that the whole notion of Bach interpretation could turn into an uncontrollable bowl of soup, where pieces are no longer recognizable).

Well, I know first-hand about slippery slopes; in fact, I fell on my backside this morning on the way to the mailbox, on my icy driveway. Ouch. And we had the car stuck in somebody else's sloped driveway a few days ago, unable to get up their hill and back to the road. Slippery slopes are annoying.

Anyway, the range of "do something intelligent" is the reason good teachers and schools and scholarly materials exist, to sort out what is and is not acceptable in the bounds of taste, as the composer knew and expected it. One must venture onto the ice to get any traveling (much less any artistic skating) done at all, not just stand at the side saying (as some people do here, in effect), "Thou shalt not take Bach's hallowed markings in any manner but the most literal one!"

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (December 11, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Actually, it is good that you bring up the "smaller" Vokalwerke. I admire thelarge ones, but I admire the smaller ones because in them Bach does come to use proper meter in the Choralverstellungen. Case in point: the Schmelli setting of "Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher Geist". In the version Bach uses in the Weinachtsoratorium, it is more evened out. This is not the way the actual tune is. It is in fact in triple meter, which is what Bach uses in the Schmelli-Gesangbuch.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 11, 2003):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] Just to be clear: which 17th century hymnal(s) are you using as source material, to pontificate about the "proper" meters for the various chorales? And does it matter if those particular hymnals were in Bach's library (personal or at the school), or are we talking generalities here? Those tunes exist in so many different forms (see Zahn's catalog, etc), some of which Bach saw and others of which he probably didn't; I'm wondering how you can claim a single correct version of them.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (December 12, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] No hymnal, butrather the Choraele themselves. After all, with the exception of Luther's Choraele, the others were put into hymnals after composition. They could be found in the works of their respective composers.

 

Tuning & Fermatas - "Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ"

Charles Francis wrote (October 2, 2012):
BACH uses the chorale "Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ" in the Leipzig cantatas BWV 67 and BWV 116, and in the earlier BWV 143: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Du-Friedefurst.htm

The BWV 67 and BWV 116 chorale harmonisations both have the same key signature, namely one sharp at Corntet-Ton pitch - the Leipzig organ providing the immutable tuning reference for the other instruments and voices. Accordingly, if we assume for arguments sake some irregular, well-tempered system in place on Bach's organ, and thereby diverse thirds, fifths etc., then the peaceful/pure affekt that might be expected from the
subject matter of this chorale would be enhanced by the anticipated slow beating of relevant intervals, for example, the prominent G-B Cornet-Ton third [this remark is especially relevant to slow tempo or expansive
performances, where tempo and fermata interpretation don't conceal the beat rates]. Note that if we assume everything is kept in tune, then any optimised thirds on the fixed intonation Leipzig organ, e.g. the diatonic
intervals of the commonly used C major / A minor scales, would be transposed when viewed from the Cammerton perspective, to D major / B minor with the aforementioned example. Of relevance here is CPE Bach's remark concerning his father: "Das reine Stimmen seiner Instrumente sowohl als des ganzen Orchestres war sein vornehmstes Augenmerk".

In the case of BWV 67, three continuo parts have survived (see Bach Digital), one with figured bass at Cornet-Ton pitch, a second with figured bass at Cammerton pitch and a further Cammerton part without figured bass. From this we may suppose that the supporting basso continuo consisted of an organ, a second chordal instrument (e.g. theorbo, harpsichord) and a wind or string instrument. In the case of BWV 116, only one Cammerton continuo part survives and is without figures.

With regard to fermatas, it's instructive to compare the older 17th century hymnal version of the chorale melody given at the link above, with Bach's various settings - note the rest corresponding to the first fermata. Also
compare the first movement of BWV 116, which uses the same choral melody and has extended rests corresponding to each fermata elsewhere. Likewise, the second and seventh movements of BWV 143, both of which feature extended rests corresponding to these fermatas.

By way of audio illustration, I have realised the BWV 67 and BWV 116 closing chorales on a well-tempered virtual copy of the 1721 Gottfried Silbermann organ from the St. Georgenkirche - Rötha (as with most existent organs, the actual Rötha instrument was modernised in the centuries following its construction and is today tuned to 1/12 Pythagorean comma meantone). My pedagogic video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBcaFQrTkL4

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 2, 2012):
Charles Francis wrote:
< In the case of BWV 67, three continuo parts have survived (see Bach Digital), one with figured bass at Cornet-Ton pitch, a second with figured bass at Cammerton pitch and a further Cammerton part without figured bass. >
One of the speakers at the ABS was discussing organ specifications and noted that a particular organ had one 8' stop which was tuned to Kammerton even though the rest of the organ was in chorton. It was obviously used for
concerted music.

 

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Last update: ýDecember 29, 2012 ý09:16:56