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Humour in Bach’s Vocal Works
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Bach’s humor?

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 1, 2003):
It has just occurred to me while looking at the original title of BWV 111:

"J.J. Doica (there is a fermata over the ‘i’ and ‘c’) 3. post Epiphan. Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit."

the word 'Dominica' ("Sunday") is frequently abbreviated in a rather unusual way. This abbreviation is rendered in different ways by the editors of the NBA who are trying to represent the closest equivalent in type: a straight bar or a curved line (looking more like a phrasing indicator, sometimes even a tilde) over two or three letters of the word. I have no easy way of knowing whether this was an abbreviation peculiar to Bach, or whether this was fairly common practice in Bach's time. It may even be that he chose this abbreviation (there does not seem to be an compelling reason for doing so, since he sometimes writes 'Dominica' in its full form) from those that were generally available because it had special significance for him. If this is so, what could the reason for this possibly be?

Again, assuming that Bach preferred to use this abbreviation for a reason other than conserving space (we know how much he liked to economize,) this abbreviation may simply be looked upon as a musical fermata, since this is the way it appears in the rendering of the title for BWV 111. All other renderings were perhaps intended to look like a fermata, but ended up in handwriting, if Bach was writing hurriedly (as he would be in the case of all those cantatas which were original compositions and not parodies) looking more like something else, but were nevertheless intended to be read as a fermata. In the abbreviation 'Doica' the line begins almost touching the 'o', then arches up over the dot of the 'i', and then returns downward to almost touch the 'c'.

Possibilities:

1) musicians, or a musician like Bach would use a musical symbol (fermata) out of context because it is a language, a lingua franca, understood by other musicians who may get to see the title (for a later performance of the work)

2) the replacement appealed to Bach's mind because it accomplished more than simply being a shorthand way of replacing 3 letters ('min') and hinting at their prior existence in this word 'Dominica' -- this could be evidence of Bach working on several levels of function/meaning simultaneously

a) the 'i' in 'min' is the link between the fermata which has as its central focus the single 'i' that remains in the word (Doica)

b) with the abbreviation in effect, a wonderful balance is preserved with just two letters ('Do') preceding as well as following the 'i'-link ('ca')

c) an antithesis is expressed and compressed into the abbreviation, an antithesis of which the readers are reminded each time they read it: the Latin stem root 'min' ("small in size, value", "less", "shorter") is replaced with its musical opposite in musical 'sign' language: the fermata, which means 'more' or 'longer in duration' (usually placed on notes already of long(er) duration) Very ingenious and very appealing to Bach's mind since he frequently worked with the concept of antithesis as the very basis for an entire cantata!

d) taking into account the former, this was perceived as a rather humorous substitution because of the unexpected nature of the fermata meaning just the opposite of the stem 'min' that is being replaced

I would appreciate hearing from others who might know how widespread this abbreviation really is, or is it truly unique only with Bach.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 1, 2003):
I have placed in the BCML file section of Yahoo groups an example of Bach's abbreviated form of "Dominica" which in printed form (I found some printed examples of the cantata texts which Bach either used or had printed) is always abbreviated as 'Dom.' and never the way Bach does it.

You can view the example below:

Juozas Rimas wrote (February 2, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< d) taking into account the former, this was perceived as a rather humorous substitution because of the unexpected nature of the fermata meaning just the opposite of the stem 'min' that is being replaced
I would appreciate hearing from others who might know how widespread this abbreviation really is, or is it truly unique only with Bach. >
Could it be that this is not a fermata - just an accidental stroke of the pen or a writing embellishment? Or is the arc over the dot of "i" present in all autographs where the "Doica" abbreviation is used?

Regarding the usage of "Doica" in old documents. Here is what I found at Google:

Marriage record reads, "Doica jubilate d. 1st May, copuliert nach der ordentlich Sontags predigt Christoph Durrberger Rümmey gediger Meliker herrschafft zu Mertzweiler ein sohn, u. Barbara Jacob Simonis auch eines Schweitzers tochter, hatt sich Verehelich zu samm... gehalten, dos ichen den 16th Juny lauffend 1664 Jahrs ein junge sohn gebohrn word.

Thomas could translate the above - if this makes any sense, we know that Bach's beloved abbreviation existed in the 17th century already.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 2, 2003):
[To Juozas Rimas] This designation is for the Sunday called "Jubilate" in the church year. "Jubilate" fell on May 1st in the year 1664 when this marriage was performed. This marriage (the names are given) took place after the Sunday sermon. I am not certain about the young son that was born later the same year on June 16th. Was this a shotgun marriage?

Thanks, Juozas, for sharing this information.

Juozas Rimas wrote (February 2, 2003):
< This designation is for the Sunday called "Jubilate" in the church year. "Jubilate" fell on May 1st in the year 1664 when this >
Well, if this is a real document, it means that there is no mysticism in the abbreviation. Just a standard abbreviation, maybe archaic for his time but nothing special and no humor :)

Maybe it's similarly possible to demystify the abbreviation of "Xsti" that Bach used? I read on this mailing list it had something to with the cross and a musical notation mark: perhaps it's also just generic writing practice of the time instead?

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 2, 2003):
Juozas Rimas Jr responded:
>>Well, if this is a real document, it means that there is no mysticism in the abbreviation. Just a standard abbreviation, maybe archaic for his time but nothing special and no humor :)<<
It's too bad that we can't see the actual handwriting in the original document, but from what you found, it does appear that this handwritten (not in print where 'Dom.' is used) abbreviation was at least used elsewhere in the 17th century, but just how was it notated - with a straight or curvy line, or did it look like a fermata the way Bach used it? This question still needs to be resolved.

>>Maybe it's similarly possible to demystify the abbreviation of "Xsti" that Bach used? I read on this mailing list it had something to with the cross and a musical notation mark: perhaps it's also just generic writing practice of the time instead?<<
This one, I am afraid, is not so easy to dismiss lightly. 'Chi,' a letter of the Greek alphabet which looks like the 'X' - cross that Bach uses, has a long history of being associated with Christ's name as it is the first letter in this name, so 'chi' = 'X' can easily be something that we can reasonably assume Bach was acquainted with. The cross on which Christ was crucified is also linked to this symbol as well. The musical association with the '#' pronounced and understood as 'cross' in German is quite apparent in Bach's works. Christ = 'X' = cross = sharp (in musical notation the accidental which raises the note a semi-tone.)

 

Humour alert!

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 17, 2003):
The Dangers of Music:

Three musical notes walk into a bar -- a G, an Eb, and a C. The bartender looks up and says "We don't serve minors."

So the Eb leaves and the other two have a fifth between them.

After a few drinks, the G was out flat, and the experience was diminished.

Eventually, the C sobers up, sees one of his friends missing, the other one passed out, and realizes to hihorror that he's under a rest.

C was brought to trial, found guilty and convicted of contributing to the diminution of a minor and was sentenced to 10 years of DS without Coda at the Paul Williams/Neil Sedaka Correctional Facility.

Moral: Never enter a bar without a conductor.

John Reese wrote (February 18, 2003):
[To Doug Cowling] Ouch!

 

Peter Ustinov sings Bach

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 6, 2008):
I think we've posted this before.

Peter Ustinov's one-man satire of a Bach cantata performance: http://youtube.com/watch?v=QhcJPEPZrX4

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 6, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] Cool, thanks!

There's a funny scene in the movie "Logan's Run" where he plays a mostly senile guy who hasn't seen any other humans for about 40 years. He starts spouting excerpts from T S Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.
http://coral.lili.uni-bielefeld.de/Classes/Summer97/SemGS/WebLex/OldPossum/oldpossumlex/
This was before the musical "Cats" made the book more widely famous.

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 6, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] I remember it from the time before - absolutely hilarious and a little irreverent, I must say. I laughed myself silly.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (May 10, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] Une parodie d'une cantate de J.S. Bach par Pete[r]

I wonder whether "parody" is being used in the technical sense here :-(

Yoël who shut it 1/3 way. This to me is really sacrilege without any redeeming virtue. Anyone here old enough to remember Helen Traubel on Jimmy Durante doing, the two of them, as I recall (I was quite young) Wagner, The Ring actually?

 

College music department suggestion box

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 5, 2013):
Groaner Alert!
http://tinyurl.com/mko5a87

 

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Last update: ýOctober 12, 2013 ý14:12:57