HIP (Historically Informed Performance)
Complete Cantatas & HIP
Thomas Braatz wrote (June 19, 2001):
IMO HIP is an artificial term that shifts with the views of the person using it. A professor I had many years ago would have called HIP a 'weasel' word because it does not let itself 'get pinned down.' Anyone doing a doctoral dissertation would have found him very demanding in this regard. Can you imagine trying to defend yourself, your dissertation including the term, "HIP" before a panel of professors who thought similarly (and probably correctly)? They would have cut your defense of this term to shreds.
I think Don might be a bit closer to the truth by holding on to the term used by recording companies: 'Period (or authentic [read 'copies of originals'] Instrument Performance.' But even this term has to be taken with a grain of salt (or are we speaking of a block of deer salt here?) When the Teldec Harnoncourt/Leonhardt cantata series carefully lists the origins of every instrument used (I can't think of any other recording companies that have done this), you can begin to judge for yourself what a mixture of originals and copies exists out there in the recording world. Isn't it possible that the copy might even be an improvement over the original? Yes, and no. Take for instance the violins in this set with Alice Harnoncourt at the top of the list. Read the names and dates of the violins used. Talk to an excellent violin maker and repairman to find out how original these violins really are, how many times they have undergone serious modifications (wood removed through shortening, wood added in such a way that it can not easily be removed without damaging the instrument irreparably)! There is no way that any of these violins could have survived without being played, and therefore modified to suit the need for ever-increasing volume and brilliance. Or do you think these instruments were locked away in a museum without seeing the light of day until Harnoncourt/Leonhardt came along? The bow and how it was used is not the only thing that affects the sound of these 'period instruments.' What, then, if the present-day copies of these original violins were made of copies that were already modified, as I think might be the case. Does this mean that probably less than 50% the violins (and all the string instruments that were treated similarly) in a period instrument performance may actually be labeled as truly period instruments? Probably.
I partially agree with Brad that the artist's conception of the performance based on experience and knowledge may be a key element here. Obviously lacking either one can lead to gross distortions that are evident in the Teldec and Brilliant Classics Bach cantata series: Harnoncourt as an instrumentalist (cellist) in large orchestras, at one point began specializing in music of the baroque period, but no amount of studying was able to give him the expertise necessary to work with voices and choirs. This is evident in both series. Otherwise we would not have so many problem performances in these series where voices play a prominent part. It is extremely difficult to find a single cantata in either series, where the entire cantata might be considered a successful, memorable recording. It is all a matter of pick and choose. Remember that the Teldec series took c. 20 years to record and Leusink in c. 2 years, and Gardiner tried it in one. The results of this type of rapid production are not entirely satisfactory (an understatement). It is a 'hit or miss' situation because the task overwhelms any conductor alive today.
I admire Suzuki's approach, which is not to rush through these recordings, and thus avoid creating recordings which sound musically 'cheap.' Even Koopman is coming up with a better average of 'hits' over 'misses.' [Vol. 10 was unfortunately for me a 'miss' for the most part, but Vol 11 is better.] I would recommend that anyone who is interested in acquiring any Bach cantatas do so very carefully, otherwise this individual will have cantata recordings to which he/she will not return with pleasure and anticipation (speaking from experience).
Kirk's comment: "However, there are rough edges on the BC which are quite compelling; in a way, I get more of an authentic feel from them, thinking that the amateur choir is closer to the musicians Bach had."
I don't think so, Kirk. Bach frequently was losing his best young male voices to the Dresden Opera and other such places, only because Bach could not remunerate them sufficiently. This is an indication that he was not using 'amateur voices.' The tradition of singing must have been on a much higher level of ability than we can imagine. Bach certainly would not have allowed the falsettists to perpetrate on the listeners some of the horrendous vocal sounds that we hear on the Brilliant Classics series. They would have chased Bach out of town very quickly. We have copies of Bach's own assessment of the musical capabilities of his young singers, sometimes allowing them to play an instrument rather than sing. I think that this type of 'ear' is lacking in many of the conductors who have or still are creating 'failed' vocal performances for us to listen to. They should have enough sense and reasoning powers to decide: "This performance is not worthy of Bach. I do not want it sold as recorded music representing what Bach gave to the world."
Recordings: Bach Stylishly Performed on Both Flute and Lute
Teri Noel Towe wrote (May 13, 2001):
<A HREF="http://www.nytimes.com/2001/05/13/arts/13KOZI.html">Click here: Recordings: Bach Stylishly Performed on Both Flute and Lute</A>
From this morning's New York Times:
May 13, 2001
Recordings: Bach Stylishly Performed on Both Flute and Lute
By DAVID MERMELSTEIN
ACH: WORKS WITH FLUTE
Emmanuel Pahud, flutist; Berlin Baroque Soloists, directed by Rainer Kussmaul. EMI Classics 7243 5 57111 2; CD.
With the death of Jean-Pierre Rampal and the waning of James Galway, Emmanuel Pahud is poised to become the world's premier flutist. It is a distinction he deserves, for Mr. Pahud, who was born in Geneva and was for eight years the principal flutist of the Berlin Philharmonic, is a gifted artist.
His latest record is devoted entirely to Bach. Although the composer's Fifth "Brandenburg" Concerto is more generally used as a star vehicle by keyboard players, it affords the flutist a substantial showcase. And Mr. Pahud makes this ensemble piece work for him, neither hogging nor ignoring the spotlight. Unfortunately, exceptionally fast tempos erase many of the performance's virtues.
The Trio Sonata in G (BWV 1038) suffers no such excesses. Even-tempered speeds prevail, and the flute stands in handsome relief to the string instruments surrounding it. But this CD's real prize is the unaccompanied Partita in A minor (BWV 1013).
Here, one can appreciate fully the flutist's virtues: musical grace, technical assurance and, most striking of all, a tone at once plangent and warm. Bach's stately Orchestral Suite No. 2 closes the disc. As in the "Brandenburg," the flute suddenly seems more prominent than memory would suggest. Is this some studio trick? Perhaps, though it's more likely that Mr. Pahud's talent is simply shining through.
BACH: LUTE WORKS
Rolf Lislevand, lutenist. Astrée Naïve E8807; CD.
Bach's lute suites have always been the crown jewels of both the guitar and the lute repertories, mainly because whatever other treasures those repertories offer, there is precious little original music for guitar or lute by composers of Bach's stature. That said, "original music" requires an asterisk or two. Guitarists have little choice but to play the music in transcription, since the translation from the Baroque lute to the modern guitar means a compression of both range and textural possibilities.Still, this is Bach, and Bach freely transcribed his works. So even at the height of authenticity mania, guitarists were able to make a case for their versions, which, at best(in the hands of players like John Williams or Eliot Fisk), were endowed with a visceral power that the lighter- voiced lute could not match.
Lutenists, of course, could claim a more direct line to the timbres and textures Bach knew. But they couldn't be too smug. The existing manuscripts posed problems even for them, not the least being Bach's penchant for writing outside the range (or what we think was the range) of the 13-course Baroque lute. In particular, Bach called for bass lines that descended below the instrument's lowest open string.
Rolf Lislevand, a Norwegian lutenist who has performed with Jordi Savall's various ensembles (including Hespérion XX, Capella Reial de Catalunya and Concert des Nations), catalogs a number of these transgressions in his notes for the disc (called "Intavolatura"). He does this not so much to suggest that Bach didn't really know his way around the lute — he says as much directly — as to argue the case for using versions of the works by Bach's lutenist contemporaries Christian Weyrauch and Adam Falkenhagen. Even so, Mr. Lislevand seems to have mixed feelings about Wey rauch's and Falkenhagen's versions. On the bright side, there is something to be said for editions by players who knew Bach as well as the lute and the performance style of the day, and who, unlike modern editors, are uninfluenced by 250 years of accrued (and constantly changing) traditions of Bach interpretation. Mostly, Mr. Lislevand writes approvingly of those players' solutions to the technical problems in the Bach originals. But he scorns a few of their decisions, including the use of flourishes soon to become unfashionable, and the omission of the Fugue and Double movements from the Suite in C minor (BWV 997).
For a listener, the complaint about flourishes seems trivial (not, as Mr. Lislevand puts it, "almost unforgivable"): aren't written versions of Baroque performers' tricks what period-instrument specialists dream about? The dropped movements, though, are more serious, and anyone used to hearing these suites in their entirety will miss them. Might Mr. Lislevand not have grafted in Bach's versions for the sake of completeness?
That aside, he offers lovely performances of the Suites in C minor, G minor (BWV 995) and E (BWV 1006a), and the Fugue in G minor (BWV 1000). His sound is sonorous but also tactile, and it shows the degree to which delicacy and muscularity coexist in these works. Admirable, too, are the transparency Mr. Lislevand brings to Bach's counterpoint and his taste in ornamentation: free-fingered at cadence points and in dance movements, more restrained, sensibly, in the G minor Fugue.
That old war-horse HIP again!
Steven Guy wrote (May 18, 2001):
Misrepresentation time again!....
A number of points here and I'll try to answer them is some sort of order....
< Robert Sherman wrote: Steven's disagreement isn't about vibrato; it's about the fundamental nature and purpose of musical performance. We have had parallel arguments about other aspects of this question: whether one should use dead-tone out-of-tune valveless trumpets >
Okay, this is opinion not reality. I listen to many recordings of music played on period brass and the results are often amazingly good.
< because that's what Bach was stuck with, etc. >
Bach did not write for the clarinet even though clarinets were available in Germany. Shawms and Dulcians were still around too! But these instruments had been replaced in cantata performances by the new French model oboes and bassoons. Bach revelled in the sounds of his instruments. If he didn't he wouldn't have written such glorious music for them!
< Steven's post clearly demonstrates that he believes the purpose of performance is to recreate what somebody did at some time in the past. >
This is wrong. I play the cornetto. I have not interest in 'recreating' what someone did in the past. I am interested in playing this music with all its freedoms and limitations and, above all, simply playing the music on the right instruments. Pure and simple.
No one can recreate an exact performance from the past and it is stupid to try.
I feel that playing music in a joyful and expressive way on baroque instruments is THE most modern way we can play Bach. End of story.
< But music is a living, breathing art and the purpose of performance is to produce whatever is musically most effective; the best technology and technique is what best serves that end. >
Fine. Lets use synthesizers and electrically amplified instruments to play Bach! I have no problems with that! Its modern, its living, its reaches the young audiences and it is
musically effective! Sure, it isn't congruent with the range of possible performance standards that Bach would have expected but who cares what Bach thought! What did HE know about instrumentation.
Nope. I've heard Jazzed-up Bach and synthesized Bach and Symphonic Bach and after all this all I want is Bach on Bach's own terms.
< Museums do authenticity. >
Bull! Museums don't reveal what the Mona Lisa might have looked like the day it was painted! Museums show works through the grime and 'wear and tear' of history.
Museums do not interest me. I want to integrate Bach's music and its performance standards into today's world.
< Concert halls and recording studios should do quality. >
Who has ever said they shouldn't?
The whole idea of freezing music in a recording is museum stuff. Wouldn't you agree?
< We can argue about what constitutes quality, and if somebody actually thinks that vibratoless singing sounds better, fine, that could lead to some interesting discussions. >
We need to be allowed to hear recordings of Bach that focus in on the basic demands of the music and present Bach's vision for his music in ways that we have learned are appropriate to his vision.
Tell a Japanese Koto player that his/her instrument is 'limited' and the instrument's repertoire would be better heard on a steinway or DX-7!
Composers exploit the sounds around them and musicians work within their fields.
No composer writes music that doesn't work with current technology. Well, no composer who wants to eat, that is!
Music is part of our technology, culture, beliefs and daily life. And we need to respect this aspect of other culture's and other period's music.
< Personally I prefer Rachel Podger's Bach to that of Heifetz Milstein et. al. because it sounds better, not because it's "authentic". >
Well, its not that its authentic but that it is a clear and expressive picture of Bach's written notes performed on an instrument with the timbre he expected. (or at least very close to the timbre he expected)
< Ditto for harpsichord rather than piano continuo. But I would no more subject myself to "historical" performance for the sake of authenticity than I would to the "historical" surgery that cost Bach and Handel their eyesight. >
Well, we are not trying to recreate music in some sort of time machine - merely offer a very good performance on the instruments that the composer selected with an observance of the musical styles, ornamentation and phrasing that the composer would have expected (Baroque composers expected you to add something extra to the music!) and played in a way that is expressive and sympathetic to music, its styles, its culture, its limitations, its freedoms and its visions.
Play the music well, enjoy it and make it live within its means.
Peter Bright wrote (May 18, 2001):
[To Steven Guy] I think of relevance to this misguided debate are the thoughts of Masaaki Suzuki, perhaps the most respected of current conductors of "period" recreations of Bach's music. I mentioned the interview some time ago (from the UK Independent), and I admire his open attitude to different ways of interpretation, even though he has selected the path of reproducing as closely as possible Bach's own intentions (the closeness of this match is of course open to debate).
Suzuki: "According to one opinion, Helmuth Rilling and Karl Richter were not authentic. Of course they didn't use period instruments, but they were together with the mind and spirit of Bach. I have played with R's orchestra. The way of playing is very different, but it has insight. And when I was at school I listened to the Richter B Minor Mass a thousand times. I have no contradiction in me in enjoying both types."
Teri Noel Towe wrote (May 19, 2001):
[To Peter Bright] Thank you so much for sharing Mr. Suzuki's open-mindedness with us.
As one who treasures Landowska and Casals above all other Bach interpreters, I am delighted to find another open-minded, open-eared musician among the HIP practitioners.
And there are others, including Christopher Hogwood and Skip Sempe, and many others!
Charles Francis wrote (May 19, 2001):
[To Teri Noel Towe] Yes, its so refreshing to hear the opinion of a true musician rather than the career archeologist.
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (Maay 19, 2001):
[To Charles Francis] The level of near personal acrimony raises its unpretty head in this discussion. IMVHO many of the posts have reduced their own arguments ad absurdum. In theory I fully agree with Sybrand's suggestions as to the "right" way that Bach should be interpreted. I always do find his arguments both persuasive and I often respond to the same recordings when I know them. But, nevertheless, there is absolutely no need to protect Bach from those who find much pleasure in e.g. Richter's or even! Rilling's performances. What harm is done? In live performance, you get what you can. If you have an excellent and fully HI group, you will have a great experience. Some less HI groups may sometimes also offer great experiences. I have been to what I guess by today's HIP doctrine are middling faithful performances which have been wonderful. On recording I want in addition to my favorite very HI performances ALSO sometimes more 1950s and 1960s performances simply bc. that interpreter, mostly those interpreters, can do some magic with Bach even being less HI than we would theoretically desire today.Bach is big enough that we need not protect HIM.
Yoel who tries generally to stay out of this argument these days for several reasons: (1) they become too dogmatic and (2) they are always the same argument. Each to his own and may Bach win.
Harry J. Steinman wrote (Maay 19, 2001):
< Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote: The level of near personal acrimony raises its unpretty head in this discussion. IMVHO many of the posts have reduced their own arguments ad absurdum. >
One of the reasons I've become mostly a lurker these days. I find it hard to deal with the acrimony...
Donald Satz wrote (May 19, 2001):
[To Harry J. Steinman] For me it's largely a matter of choices in that I usually take exception to the notion of "should" when it comes to performing practices. We have a wide variety of performing styles on record which is good for the record collector.
Steven Guy wrote (May 19, 2001):
[To Charles Francis] Gee! Thanks a lot!
I am a practising musician. I also said that 'museums suck'! I bet I listen to a range of music as big or bigger than anyone on this list - from Techno to Hip Hop to Trip Hop to World Music to Schoenberg to Messiaen and most things back to the Renaissance.
Other people can listen to whatever they like! I am just sick and tired of having to defend and and explain HIP all the time. Here's a deal – I won't try to justify HIP again if others don't indirectly insult people like me by making blanket ondemnations of the practitioners of HIP who are decidedly NOT "career archaeologists". (I'd like to know which conductors or museums actually ARE "career archaeologists"! I don't
actually know of any myself.
I am a musician who lives in the real world. Sure, my instrument wasn't invented yesterday - but then again, neither was the Steinway!
Sure, I've studied music too - anyone who is a sensitive and decent musician has done that! Baroque and Renaissance music are simply too far away from us in time and space to be approached blindly.
Robert Sherman wrote (May 20, 2001):
< Steven Guy wrote: Here's a deal – I won't try to justify HIP again if others don't indirectly insult people like me by making blanket condemnations of the practitioners of HIP who are decidedly NOT "career archaeologists". >
Good deal, for my part I accept, but this requires nothing new. My posts on this issue have never been initiatives. They have always been responses to someone who has condemned some aspect of modern-instrument or modern-voice performances of baroque music. I didn't want to let comments of that sort stand unrebutted and become part of the conventional wisdome. But if we can all agree to live and let live, to judge all performaces on their musical merit, then we can end this discussion now and never need to resume it.
Ehud Shiloni wrote (June 4, 2001):
I made a point of re-setting the above subject line, because I wanted to re-focuse our attention precisely on Pogo's performance of the Prelude of Suite #2, and, not less, on the quality of Bach's inspiration as displayed in this marvel of human creation.
< Donald wrote: when I heard his Prelude from the English Suite No. 2, I knew that I was listening to a special reading. >
For me, when I heard this performance, I felt like the entire Prelude is acquiring totally new dimensions. It was a similar kind of feeling to the one I had when hearing the great Chaconne for the first time [all differences duly recognized, of course]. You all know that the great majority of Sebastian's music is on a very high level, but still some pieces or even some individual movements seem to tower above the rest, and this is how I feel towards this Prelude ever since I heard the Pogorelich "version".
I remember that some members took exception to a discussion of individual movements "removed" from the work in its entirety, but in the case of PPP I feel that it can be viewed as a "stand alone" mini-work, about which I say: Divine inspiration - breathtaking realization.
< Brad asked: I just wonder, though, if Pogorelich's Bach disc had come out with some unknown name on it instead of "Ivo Pogorelich," would anybody be talking about it this much 15 years later? I don't think so! Almost all of Pogorelich's own recordings are better than this one (I know, I know, I have some bias in this...). Pogorelich's performance sounds like an average college student recital, the obligatory Bach on a program >
As far as the Prelude goes, after listening carefully to the great Scihff and the formidable Gould, I find it hard to believe that the average and even the exceptional college student can come anywhere near what I'm hearing from Pogo!
< And also from Brad:
On a positive note:
The most successful movements in his performances are those that are Italianate (as opposed to French), and therefore indestructible vis-a-vis his approach: the preludes and the gigues. This is fortunate: at least the beginning and end of each suite sound pretty good. He makes an energetic first impression and leaves a good strong last impression: exciting playing in each case. It's all the stuff in between that's a total disaster. If his playing in the inner movements were anywhere near his playing in the preludes and gigues, THEN this would be a good disc.
OK, Brad - when you focus on the #2 Prelude - does it still qualify as just "pretty good"? And what says you about the quality of the music itself [under any performer]?
Original instruments: that crystal flute
Bradley Lehman wrote:
Here's another example of un-HIP on an original instrument. Recently I heard a concert where James Madison's crystal flute was played by a professor of modern flute. The performance was tentative, boring, and the intonation was awful. But that's only because the player had not learned to meet that flute on its own terms; she was playing it as if it were a modern instrument, but mechanically inferior, and she was obviously terrified. She tried to use her normal modern breath support, tongueing, and vibrato, and it just didn't work at all. She meant well, but didn't have the background to fit that flute. I'm sure that many in the audience went home assuming that that flute (and use of original instruments in general) is hopeless. But that same crystal flute is played by a profof Baroque flute on a CD, and the performance is gorgeous. That player comes to it with HIP background and technique, and the instrument responds as designed. (See http://www.google.com/s!
earch?q=madison+crystal+flute for more about this flute and recording.) He treats it as a real instrument, not an inferior curiosity.
Bradley Lehman wrote (June 20, 2001):
Off the topic of Bach, but on the topic of taking Baroque instruments and techniques seriously....
I saved the next day's newspaper article about that crystal flute concert. Note how they didn't say anything about the music or the performance except that it happened. http://www.vaix.net/~bpl/crystalflute.html
Interest here was strictly in the novelty of such a thing, and the security concerns of having something that valuable around. You know, real human interest stuff that people would care about. The articles and promotions leading up to this concert were like that, too, Never anything intelligent about the music.
According to other articles and things that were said at the concert, the player prepared for this by practicing for a few months on a one-keyed wooden flute (but no lessons specifically in Baroque flute techniques). OK, a start, at least to unlearning years of modern flute habits.
Evidently in some universe a modern flautist can just pick up Baroque flute in a couple months and be adequately prepared, just as a pianist can pick up harpsichord or organ in a couple months, or a modern violinist can learn to use a Baroque bow with complete mastery. It's all just the same notes sounding a little different, right?
Sigh. And by the way I have this piece of land to sell, it's triangular, 50 x 100 x 50....
Fortunately there was a much better feature about that flute on National Public Radio the next day, with the Baroque flautist who can REALLY play it. (Search http://www.npr.org for "crystal flute" - it was Morning Edition, March 16th.) "Like driving a Ferrari, you have to approach it on its terms. In some ways it's not as forgiving, but that's typical of the kinds of tools that experts use for just about anything that you want to do particularly well." That sums it up pretty well: to get the desired effects, the tools and techniques need to match the task.
PP, HIP, Teldec, pitch / Pitch of Bach
Francine Renee Hall wrote (June 20, 2001):
I grew up with the term "period performance" or PP and these were newer forays into studying original instruments or copies. The attempts by Harnoncourt and Leonhardt in the early '60's were quite brave and moving, even if the playing was not up to absolute par. HIP is a later term which digs deeper into uncharted territory, and it seems Jaap Schraeder and Christopher Hogwood would fit this latter category--the playing is much more professional. However, I don't care what anyone says, Harnoncourt still sounds great to me, and I still cherish his early Brandenburgs recorded in the Palace Schonbrunn in Wien. If anyone wants to try the Teldec 2000 Sampler for only $8.00 American one can get a wonderful overview of the Teldec 153-CD complete Bach edition with close to 80 minutes of treasures. You can't go wrong. Finally, I wanted to bring up the question of PITCH. When hearing original instruments I hear a lower pitch in my ears than the modern 440A, and the older stringed instruments have a mellower sound. Also when listening to Brandenburgs with original instruments I hear more of a kaleidiscope of distinct sounds rather than homogeneous mush.
Bradley Lehman wrote (June 20, 2001):
[To Francine Renee Hall] For some of Jaap Schroeder's best work, in addition to his wonderful Bach and Vivaldi and everything else, may I humbly suggest his recording of the Schubert piano trios with Enid Sutherland and Penelope Crawford, as the Atlantis Ensemble? (I'm sort of required to say "humbly" there, since I was the session producer.)
It's with period violin and cello and bows, and an original c1835 Graf piano. But the physical instruments aren't the most important thing; the extraordinary playing is. It's all good, but I think especially in the slow movements....
As Atlantis prepared this set, they listened to as many other recordings of these pieces as they could get, including borrowing all of mine. Of these, they reported they were most inspired by the 1926 Thibaud-Casals-Cortot recording...its declamatory style, the exciting risk-taking, tempo fluctuation, and portamento (expressive slides of pitch). Thibaud was one of Schroeder's teachers, and there's a link directly back into 19th century style. In their own performances Atlantis then blended this approach with their own expertise in historically-informed Baroque and classical style and technique. All the academic work is securely in the background for basic style, and then they play boldly and directly as Thibaud-Casals-Cortot did.
The result is on Wildboar 9703 and 9704. It's the best performances of those pieces I've ever heard, period or otherwise. They make everybody else sound dry and cautious by comparison.
Ludwig wrote (June 20, 2001):
[To Francine Renee Hall] Bach railed against uneven temperment and was the inventor of the well temmpered scale. As conductor and organizer of performances; I have had a little more of my share of prima donnas who seem tho think that Bach had only one pitch which is often lower than A=440 and I am sorry to say that Oboists, who are accustom to being the Queens of the Orchestra(everyone tunes to them) are the worse offenders especially those who have come to Bach after playing Wagner and the like for years on end. They still think everyone MUST tune to them instead of the ORGAN --the King of Instruments.
Unless there was time for tuning the Organ (this can take weeks); Bach had to accept whatever pitch he could get. Based on surviving Organ pipes; we know that this could be as low as A=410 to as high as A=460. More often than not; Bach's usual pitch was closer to A= 440 than any of the other extreams. One should remember that before the days of electricity, modern heating and Airconditioning--that one of the great woes of the Organists were Organs which changed their pitch with the temperatures and humidity, the necessity for Organ pumpers to play and finally insects and mice that ate or destroyed Organ parts. Modern technology has eliminated most of these but
Organ owners still have to abide with mice and insects which seem to persist inspite of poisoning and birth control techniques.
Bradley Lehman wrote (June 24, 2001):
[To Ludwig] I agree with your points about the necessity of tuning the other instruments to the organ at whatever pitch it might be found, and the variability of the pitch all over. (It's still true, not only in Bach's day. I did a concert with a trumpeter where we got to the church and found that the organ was 1/2 step away from A 440, but nobody had told us ahead of time...and the trumpeter transposed our entire program because there was no way to pull out the trumpet that far!)
As you pointed out, the organ's not going to move quickly to match an oboe or anyone else. (Well, a small chamber organ suitable for continuo can be tuned in under an hour, I've done so myself where it's just a few flue ranks, but if we're talking about a full-sized church organ, days or weeks is correct.) The rest of the orchestra must tune to wherever the organ is in pitch, as far as possible.
A relevant topic here is the existence of transposing organ parts from some of Bach's cantatas. The organ's pitch could be almost anywhere. There was sometimes no way to set the other instruments to its pitch without breaking them, so Bach chose the practical solution of writing the organ part in a different key from everyone else. The players still had to tune themselves to the organ, but their A or C for reference was not necessarily the A or C key on the organ! The organist might hold down a G, a D, or something else.
But can we put to rest the 19th century mythology about Bach inventing well temperament and/orequal temperament? It's just plain wrong.
Marin Mersenne published a treatise giving mathematically accurate ratios of equal temperament in 1636, and he gave credit to Gioseffo Zarlino and Francisco de Salinas of the 16th century, and Aristoxenus of the fourth century B.C. But Aristoxenus wasn't the first either; there was a Chinese theorist named Ling-Lun in the 27th century B.C. who described equal temperament....
As for well temperament [which is distinct from equal temperament!], one of the most famous writers about it, Werckmeister, published a paper about it in 1681 before Bach was a gleam in anyone's eye.
Bach used various practical temperaments at different times in his career, as tastes changed. Most of his early works, especially, are in the keys that are best in the ordinary meantone-based temperaments of the 17th century: up to four sharps in the signature, or up to three flats. This temperament business is quite apart from any question of what pitch was called "A". (Some French winds are based on an A around the low 390's; some Italian instruments are pitched higher than 460; some early 17th century harpsichords used to have keyboards that played a fourth apart from one another to accommodate vocal or instrumental ensembles....)
And yes, I've been bitched out by queen oboists myself for having an A they don't like. I've set harpsichord temperaments exactly to the fork or an electronic tuner's indication of the proper A of the gig; it was right on when I did it yesterday or this morning. If the hall's humidity or temperature change substantially between then and the rehearsal or performance, the whole instrument may have drifted anywhere from about 437 to 443. The queen oboists tend not to be happy about this. "Why is the harpsichord so far out of tune? Didn't you tune it?!" "Yes, I've tuned it four times already this week to get it to stay up this high. It's been adjusting to the weather, plus the owners of this harpsichord have kept it unused in a room for eight months and it's not accustomed to being at this pitch. Plus it's now sitting in a sunbeam through that skylight up there. (Or those hot stage lights just came on ten minutes ago and they're shining directly on the soundboard...) If you give me the gospel A you'd like and ten minutes of silence in the hall, I'd be glad to reset it so we can continue the rehearsal."
I'm not kidding here. This really happens, often. Dad-blast the laws of physics that allow wood and metal to expand or contract! But especially dad-blast those who don't have the harpsichord tuned or played for months until just before the gig, and who expect it to stay in tune magically on one emergency tuning. Sometimes the hard part of the situation is getting everybody to stop making any pitched sounds (including speech and opening/closing doors) in or near the room during the time set aside for tuning...!
Bach of course had to deal with all this same stuff and more of it, since artificially climate-controlled rooms didn't exist, and wind instruments (including the organs) could be designed at different pitches in every town. Ever wonder why he was notorious for grumbles with his employers, in both directions?
It's a pleasure to play with well-trained Baroque string players on original instruments or copies...they actually know some practical things about unequal temperaments historically (and artistically) appropriate to the music. They tune each individual string to the organ's or harpsichord's temperament (not just grabbing a single A), and they listen carefully to match the lower major thirds in the common keys. Players of Baroque winds know how to handle unequal temperaments, too, as some of the instruments are built closer to meantone than to equal temperament. (Try, for example, the Handel wind sonatas on SEON/Sony played by Bruggen and friends on period winds.) The musical effects are very different from the effects of an ensemble that knows only equal temperament.
Ludwig wrote (June 26, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thanks Brad.
I am also an Organist but I think one of the most frustrating things I have ever had to happen to me is when I commissioned an Oboe d'amoure to be built by a MASTER luthier (sp?) based on German Museum instruments. It was to be used mostly for Bach's works but for more modern things as a loaner.
This man was very familiar with Baroque methods and tunings and when I requested flexibility in tuning the instrument so that it could be used to play Bach as well as Ravel and Strauss--he had a tantrum worthy of a 3 year old in a toy store pitching a fit because his mom would not buy him an expensive toy. He refused get the instrument to tune to anything but one the very low side of A= 360. Needless to say; I canceled the order and was forced to borrow an original, which I had to insure for a hefty price, for the performance of Bach's Magnificat.
There is a tuning solution which is VERY controversial and that is to build is instruments out of pyrex glass or some plastics. Pyrex expands very little and is used by astronomers for the better telescopes. (I am also an amateur astronomer)
Continue on Part 2
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