Recordings/Discussions
Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Multiple Choirs

Multiple choirs

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 20, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< I have not yet read of any single church in Germany having 3 or more vocal choirs for a single church. What could Scheibel otherwise be referring to here? >
Multiple choirs probably refers to the the Choir (the establishment of singers) being able to divide into antiphonal choirs for polychoral music, 2,3 and 4 choirs not being uncommon. The SMP (BWV 244) is laid out for three choirs.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 20, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>Multiple choirs probably refers to the the Choir (the establishment of singers) being able to divide into antiphonal choirs for polychoral music, 2,3 and 4 choirs not being uncommon. The SMP (BWV 244) is laid out for three choirs.<<
Thanks for your input on this matter. It is interesting that despite the attempt to have some construction work completed in St. Nicholas Church, Bach was unable to perform the SMP (BWV 244) there. The use of multiple choirs seems to have diminished since they flourished during the time of Michael Praetorius, one of its strongest proponents. What caused this decline in the use of separate antiphonal choirs? Were there spatial considerations or was it simply a case where the interest in this type of polychoral music was declining?

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 20, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< The use of multiple choirs seems to have diminished since they flourished during the time of Michael Praetorius, one of its strongest proponents. What caused this decline in the use of separate antiphonal choirs? Were there spatial considerations or was it simply a case where the interest in this type of polychoral music was declining? >
The taste for the Venetian tradition of mutlple choirs lasted much longer in Germany and Austria than in Italy. The consecration of Salzburg Cathedral in the 1682 had a mass by Biber for 53 voices in eight choirs. Even Venice had lost its fascination for such polychoral perversion by the mid-17th century.

Polychoral music was also performed in most places without the dramatic spatial separation in galleries presumed by Gabrieli and Praetorius. Palestrina's incomparable "Stabat Mater" was written for double choir and sung in the tiny Sistine Chapel choir loft where there would have been no spatial separation, the contast coming from the quality of the voices in the two choirs.

It would seem that this later tradition was normative for Bach and there was no attempt to place the choir singing one of his motets in distant galleries. The only work in which spatial values were expoited seems to be the opening of the SMP (BWV 244) where the Ripieno choir was placed in the Swallows Nest gallery over the chancel arch. Wolff's analysis of this placement is especially insightful.

Canyon Rick wrote (April 21, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< The only work in which spatial values were expoited seems to be the opening of the SMP (BWV 244) where the Ripieno choir was placed in the Swallows Nest gallery over the chancel arch. Wolff's analysis of this placement is especially insightful. >
Correct me if I'm wrong here, but doesn't Wolff say that actually the opening from the Swallows Nest faced over the altar rather than the congregation (or was there an opening over each? Perhaps the congregation side opening was only for the organ.) I bring this up because I've asked before about this nuance of Bach's Thomaskirche. If I'm understanding this correctly, Wolff's description then goes beyond beyond a simple spatiality of voices in the west end and voices in the east. The sound would initially be projected away from the congregation and then "curl" around and out the altar opening.

One would also think that Bach may have tried this arrangement out prior to the 1736 SMP (BWV 244). In a rehearsal perhaps? or with some other piece of music? Since this was not the first performance of the SMP (BWV 244), was nothing this innovative tried during the first performance?

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 21, 2007):
[swallow's nest...]
< the west end and voices in the east. The sound would initially be projected away from the congregation and then "curl" around and out the altar opening.
One would also think that Bach may have tried this arrangement out prior to the 1736 SMP (
BWV 244). In a rehearsal perhaps? or with some other piece of music? >
Maybe the echo aria in the Christmas Oratorio?

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 21, 2007):
[To Canyon Rick] The drawing in "Bach" The Learned Musician" (p.266) shows the organ and gallery opening towards the back of the church.

Canyon Rick wrote (April 21, 2007):
[To Douglas Cowling] I agree. I know which picture to which you refer. But i wondered if it meant there was an opening also out over the altar.

Regardless, I would also ask this:
Clearly, the Swallows Nest organ was used in the 1736 SMP (BWV 244). But, for what? Did it play the continuo part we associate with the harpsichord in today's performances? If so, wouldn't that mean the other continuo instruments--what? a violin and cello--were also up there? And if they're up there, doesn't it make sense that the tenor who sings the Evangelist is also up there? Why stop with the ripienists?

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 21, 2007):
Canyon Rick wrote:
< Clearly, the Swallows Nest organ was used in the 1736 SMP (BWV 244). But, for what? Did it play the continuo part we associate with the harpsichord in today's performances? >
The Swallows' Nest organ seems to only have doubled the Ripieno choir. I'm guessing that the organ was used in alternatim with chant from the east end of the choir in the 16th century. Bach placing a choir there may have been a novelty. Perhaps a century before Bach there was a tradition of spatial antiphony with the west galllery. The double choir of the SMP (BWV 244) were certainly in the west gallery. I've never read any detailed description of how the gallery was used.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 21, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>The Swallows' Nest organ seems to only have doubled the Ripieno choir....Bach placing a choir there may have been a novelty.<<
Here is some information about the early and later versions of the SMP (BWV 244) pertaining to the Swallows' Nest organ as gleaned from the related volumes of the NBA KBs:

BWV 244b (the 'Farlau' copy of Bach's now missing score of the earliest version of the SMP (BWV 244)) Church records show that the organ builder Zacharias Hildebrandt had repaired the Swallows' Nest organ to make it playable again. He may have done this at Bach's request in time for the first performance of the SMP (BWV 244) in 1727. Unfortunately the church records here are listed only by year and not specific date which would confirm this possibility. In any case, the organ would have been ready for the performance of BWV 244b in 1729.

BWV 244b has only one continuo part for both choirs and orchestras. There is a separate organo part for mvt. 1 which has only the chorale melody "O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig, am Stamm des Kreuzes geschlachtet" with the underlying text ending prematurely on "geschlachtet".

Here is Alfred Dürr's commentary on this matter:

It is unclear whether the BWV 244b ("Frühfassung"=early version) score is scored for a vocal part or not. Farlau simply writes "Organo" and nothing else.

Pro: Although the text (incipit) is not comple, there are no other places in Bach's oeuvre where an instrumental part citing a choral melody ever has the chorale text or even a portion of it placed under the part.

Picander's later publication of the text (1729) does include the text of the chorale, indicating that it would have been sung.

Con: Farlau's indication of the part states that it is only for "Organo". Also, a separate staff for a vocal part is missing.

BWV 244 (the expanded 1736 version)
The newly prepared autograph score does not have a separate "Soprano in ripieno" part anywhere in mvt. 1.

The cantus firmus is found untexted in the single, figured Organo part on the score which is then copied out as a part titled: Organo Chori 2. There is also an Organo Chori 1 part which does not include the cantus firmus.

p. 115 of NBA KB I/5 (Alfred Dürr) : It is possible that 3 organs were used for the performance of BWV 244. The third organ [the Swallow's Nest organ] would have played the cantus firmi in mvt. 1 and 29. For the late performances in the 1740s, this organ may once again not have been playable. Arnold Schering sees the cantus firmus presentation as the peak of the triangle if you assume Chorus 1 on one side and Chorus 2 on the other. This would form a 'musical triptychon'.

Belonging to the original set of parts from 1736 are 2 Soprano in Ripieno parts, containing only mvts. 1 and 29 without tacets. One of these was copied personally by Bach.

At the bottom of the same page referred to above, Alfred Dürr summarizes his presentation as follows:

In all probability and based upon the autograph score and parts (except 3 parts), the performance of this newer version of the SMP (BWV 244) took place in 1736. For this performance, compared to the earlier ones, each of the 2 choirs was now supported by its own continuo group. It is uncertain whether the little organ on the east balcony [Swallows' Nest organ] was used to support the cantus firmus.

Summary:

There are many open questions with numerous possibilities, but not much can be stated with certainty other than:

BWV 244b had a special organo part to play the c. f. in mvt. 1

BWV 244 had both an organo part and Soprano in Ripieni parts, (but was the Swallows' Nest organ still available for use or were the sopranos with a portativ located elsewhere ?)

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 21, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< BWV 244 had both an organo part and Soprano in Ripieni parts, (but was the Swallows' Nest organ still available for use or were the sopranos with a portativ located elsewhere ?) >
This brings a fascinating dimension to the opening of the SMP (BWV 244). If the Swallows' Nest organ had fallen into disuse when the larger west gallery was bulit, the "old" organ would have been an icon of ancient history to the congregation. If it was heard for the first time in the SMP (BWV 244), the congregation would have instinctively looked up in surprise when the chorale began -- that would have been literally a "deus in machina" effect.

Wolff suggests that the use of the "O Lamm Gottes", the German Agnus Dei, would have reminded the congreation of moving forward under the arch to receive communion. Did the 'old' organ playing the old chorale remind the congregation of the ancient narrative about to be told in the Passion?

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 25, 2007):
Polychoral Perversion

Sidebar to our multiple choir discussion ....

The Proms Concerts will include the first modern performance of a mass in 60 parts! Note that Lassus' double-choir motet "Aurora Lucis Rutilat" is being sung: that was in the repertoire of Bach's choir.

BBC

The first Late Night Prom of the season features a major rediscovery by harpsichordist and musicologist Davitt Moroney of the lavish multi-part Mass by Alessandro Striggio.The concert begins with The Tallis Scholars and the BBC Singers conducted by Peter Phillips in Striggio's celebrated 40-part motet Ecce beatam lucem, alongside Tallis's immortal Spem in alium, reputedly the result of a challenge by the fourth Duke of Norfolk, for Tallis to equal Striggio's 40-part triumph. There will be no interval

Striggio
Motet 'Ecce beatam lucem' (8 mins)
Lassus
Motet and Magnificat 'Aurora lucis rutilat' (11 mins)
Tallis
Spem in alium (9 mins)
Striggio
Mass 'Ecco si beato giorno' in 40 and 60 parts (first performance in modern times) (28 mins) *

BBC Singers
Tallis Scholars
His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts
Peter Phillips conductor
Davitt Moroney conductor *
Detailed notes about the music will be available one hour before the concert.

 

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



 

Back to the Top


Last update: żAugust 17, 2007 ż22:37:26