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OVPP (One-Voice-Per-Part)

Part 5

 

 

Continue from Part 4

Bach -- One-Voice-Per-Part: the (long-promised) article and book review

Matthew Westphal
wrote (July 19, 2000):
As I have mentioned off and on for some time, I have an article on OVPP (one-voice-per-part) Bach up at Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/feature/-/54102/102-2726844-5287301

The article includes comments from Paul McCreesh, Konrad Junghänel, Drew Minter, Julianne Baird and Philippe Herreweghe.

Also up at Amazon.com is a review of Andrew Parrott's new book, THE ESSENTIAL BACH CHOIR: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0851157866/104-3819402-9668743

Please have a look -- and comments are, of course, welcome.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (July 19, 2000):
(To Matthew Westphal) Very interesting article, Matthew...hope you enjoy your airline tix and caffeinated soft drinks as much as I enjoyed your article. Doesn't sound /like Herreweghe will ever consider the OVPP camp. Pity, because his ensemble and Collegium Vocale is so crisp and precise-I wonder what it would sound like unfettered by the constraints that apply to larger organisations.

Thanks for an informative review.


Bach OVPP (Parrott's book & an article)

Matthew Westphal wrote (July 20, 2000):

As many of you may recall, Bach performed OVPP (one voice [i.e., singer] per part is a favorite topic of mine.

Well, I have had the privilege of doing an article -- which includes comments from Paul McCreesh, Konrad Junghaenel, Drew Minter, Julianne Baird and Philippe Herreweghe -- on the topic of OVPP Bach for
Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/feature/-/54102/102-2726844-5287301

Also up at Amazon.com is my review of Andrew Parrott's new book, THE ESSENTIAL BACH CHOIR --
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0851157866/104-3819402-9668743

Please have a look -- and comments are, of course, welcome.

Sybbrand Bakker wrote (July 30, 2000):

(To Matthew Westphal) Just read this book myself this weekend. I found it very convincing. My main reservation until now was I assumed they would have disposed of the redundant parts, so our heritage was incomplete. According to Parrot - and he convinces me - they didn't. His explanation of why a double chorus would have performed the chorales in the SMP is quite logical: because in that case they are sung by 8 singers. And indeed from the parts of the SMP the only conclusion is there have been no 'ripieni'/additional singers at all, only 'concertists'/soloists. That said, I am anxious to hear the McCreesh recording for which we have to wait for some time. Your review, while not going into much details -and maybe that's better- summarizes the controversy and Parrots ideas adequate and very nicely.

Matthew Westphal wrote (July 30, 2000):
< Sybrand Bakker wrote: Just read this book [Parrott's THE ESSENTIAL BACH CHOIR] myself this weekend. I found it very convincing. My main reservation until now was I assumed they would have disposed of the redundant parts, so our heritage was incomplete. According to Parrott - and he convinces me- they didn't. His explanation of why a double chorus would have performed the chorales in the SMP is quite logical: because in that case they are sung by 8 singers. And indeed from the parts of the SMP the only conclusion is there have been no 'ripieni'/additional singers at all, only 'concertists'/soloists. That said, I am anxious to hear the McCreesh recording for which we have to wait for some time. >
He'll be performing it at the Chaise-Dieu festival in central France at the end of August and doing a pre-recording tour of it in Europe next spring, so you may get to hear it live or on the radio before 2002 (when the recording is due for release).

< Your review, while not going into much details -and maybe that's better - summarizes the controversy and Parrott's ideas adequate and very nicely. >
I'm not allowed enough space to go too much into details! We're told over and over that Internet readers don't like things too long -- they click away. (One study in the US indicates that this is because most people go on the Internet at the office, where they sneak peeks at sites between doing bits of their work!)

In any case, I really wanted just to give an introduction to the issue and give the rest of the space to the performers.

Thanks for the kind words.

Darryl Clemmons wrote (July 31, 2000):
I can't sit by and not saying anything. I disagree with the overall interpretation of the letter by Bach to the town council. If he was only using four people to perform his cantatas, then why would he need so many people?

Additionally, how about the "crowd" choruses in the St. John's passion? I can't imagine performing these with a quartet.

I could go on and on about other examples, but I don't want to bore people with a huge post.

My final thoughts are: the whole point is to make music. There are musical issues which makes for a "small forces" approach to some of Bach's choruses. "If it works, use it" is may pragmatic approach.

Historically, I think it is possible that Bach may have had to use 4-8 choristers on occassion. However, I don't think that "chorus" meant 4 people in Bach's time.

Sybbrand Bakker wrote (July 31, 2000):
(To Darryl Clemmons) According to Parrot you are confusing 'chorus' as a body of singers and 'chorus' as a piece of music. Did you read the book? The answer to question 'Then why would he need so many people' is there
a. of 55 alumni 17 were unusable
b. the number of instrumentalists was completely insufficient so alumni were forced to play an instrument
c. there were frequent illnesses
d. alumni could have been on leave

So the four singers per chorus (meaning : a body of singers) were needed to constitute a pool. If you look at the parts of the SMP: there are no ripieno parts at all, the parts for Pilate and Peter are completely marked 'tacet' except for their solos, the chorales were sung by both choirs, which in this case would mean 8 singers, no more.

Also, Parrott explains the situation in Weimar was no different from Leipzig, Telemann in Darmstad was in the same situation, Schütz in Dresden exactly the same.

Why disregard all the evidence? Because you don't like this music sung with only 4 voices? Fine with me! However, you must agree the musilogical evidence is overwhelming. No, I don't want to hear that age-old reasoning 'If Bach would have had 300 singers he would have used them' Exactly, but in that case he would written different music.

Thomas J. Wood wrote (July 31, 2000):
On the other we DO know from the existing documentary that Bach definitely did use ripienists. And since he says in the "Entwurff" that he wanted at least two ripienists on a part, at least sometimes, 12 singers would be singing in his cantata choruses, and in the St John Passion (which has existing ripieno parts.) Documentary evidence shows that Bach's predecessors at Leipzig also often used ripienists.

What we DON'T know for sure is how many ripieno parts have not survived, or how often Bach used ripienists without bothering to write out parts for them. Most of Bach's ripeno parts date from his first couple of years at Leipzig. It has been suggested he discovered they weren't worth the (considerable) effort of writing out, because the singers could share parts and learn in rehearsal where the tutti sections were. Parrott and Rifkin seem quite prejudiced against the idea of part sharing (even though ANYONE who has sung in a chorus knows it sure as heck happens -- and in these days of automated printing and xeroxes even). We know from the 1723 regulations of the St Thomas School that the boys werinstructed to stand so they could share parts.

As for instrumentalists, Christoph Wolff details in his new book that Bach's figures are bare minimums, because the Town Fifers could draw on a considerable pool of pupils, apprentices, and family members to fill out his orchestra. There are two eyewitness account of Bach conductiong. Both state their admiration at Bach's skill at conducting a large ensemble of 30-40 singers and instrumentalists. Wolff apparently believes those numbers were often achieved.

Generally, I agree with Parrott's scholarship. From the articles I've read by him, I think he pushes his evidence a bit too far, and interprets it too strictly in order to support his minimalist preferences. But I DON'T doubt Bach often used a chorus of four, which might be 8 or 12 when ripienists were used. Perhaps on some special occasons he was happy to use even more. We just don't know for sure.

Victor Eijkhout wrote (August 1, 2000):
< Thomas J Wood wrote: Parrott and Rifkin seem quite prejudiced against the idea of part sharing (even though ANYONE who has sung in a chorus knows it sure as heck happens >
Hey, this Gregorian choir I know uses one gigantic book on a stand for the whole chorus to see.

Darryl Clemmons wrote (July 31, 2000):
< Sybrand Bakker wrote: According to Parrot you are confusing 'chorus' as a body of singers and 'chorus' as a piece of music. >
The only choruses I have seen by Bach required singers in a group. Whether they are one per part or not is what we are debating. I will say that the final chorus from the Easter Oratorio is for Chorus and the corresponding movement in the Secular Cantata was labled Quartet as far as I know. Another example of this is found in Cantatas BWV 173 and BWV 173a, if I am not mistaken - however this was a duet transformed into a chorus.

< Did you read the book? >
I haven't read the book yet. However, I have been through this argument a few times. It seems like I won't be able to avoid reading this book.

< many people' is there
a. of 55 alumni 17 were unusable
b. the number of instrumentalists was completely insufficient so alumni were forced to play an instrument
c. there were frequent illnesses
d. alumni could have been on leave >
He is reaching a little here. You still have 38 people in part (a). Also, don't forget this isn't enough to satisfy the explicit requirement of 4 people per part. My German is non-existance, so the translation of this requirement of 4 per part is crucial to the underlying argument.

< So the four singers per chorus (meaning : a body of singers) were needed to constitute a pool. If you look at the parts of the SMP: there are no ripieno parts at
all, the parts for Pilate and Peter are completely marked 'tacet' except for their solos, the chorales were sung by both choirs, which in this case would mean 8 singers, no more. >
This is the core of the argument. Do we have all the performing parts? Considering how difficult it is to copy out a complete score, is it not as likely a couple of ripienists shared a copy? I know when I was a singer and music was expensive, we shared. This is only circumstantial evidence.

Besides, how much sheet music would 300+ cantatats, 3 passions, 4 short masses, 7 motets, and other stuff, contain? Where would he put all the parts if he had written out one score for each soloist? I think he kept all written out parts to a minimum.

< Also, Parrott explains the situation in Weimar was no different from Leipzig, Telemann in Darmstad was in the same situation, Schuetz in Dresden exactly the same. >
Are you talking about Passions, Cantatas, or Motets? I haven't read the book so I don't see the point.

< Why disregard all the evidence? Because you don't like this music sung with only 4 voices? Fine with me! However, you must agree the musilogical evidence is overwhelming. No, I don't want to hear that age-old reasoning >
I am not disregarding the evidence. I just find the evidence less than convincing. I don't see a "balanced" argument. Parrot and Ripkin seem to be only presenting "their side".

< 'If Bach would have had 300 singers he would have used them' Exactly, but in that case he would written different music. >
The simple truth is that Bach was influenced by the quality of singers he had to work with. Soprano and Alto parts had to be sung by boys and this affected the music.

I own several CD's with the one to a part approach. I enjoy listening to them. However, this is matter of taste. My only interest is in what is historically accurate.

Beth Diane Garfinkel wrote (August 3, 2000):
< Darryl Clemmons wrote: The simple truth is that Bach was influenced by the quality of singers he had to work with. Soprano and Alto parts had to be sung by boys and this affected the music. >
(indignant clearing of throat) Are you a singer? Have you ever sung any of Bach's choral parts? If he was writing "down" to his soprano and alto choristers, I'd hate to see what he would have done with (maybe "done to" is the more accurate expression) a truly competent bunch!

And besides, it's known that boys in the 18th century pubesced much older than they do today, so they actually had time to become good singers and musicians before their voices changed.

Darryl Clemmons wrote (August 3, 2000):
< Beth Diane Garfinkel wrote: Are you a singer? Have you ever sung any of Bach's choral parts? >
I have been a singer in the past. I am bass/baritone (3 1/2 octave range ). I have performed in choral groups and as a soloist. There is a big difference between singing Bach's solo and choral pieces. I once performed Bach's Laudamaus Te from the B minor (yes it is for alto, but I didn't want one of the longer Bass arias). for an audition for a professional group.

< If he was writing "down" to his soprano and alto choristers, I'd hate to see what he would have done with (maybe "done to" is the more accurate expression) a truly competent bunch!
And besides, it's known that boys in the 18th century pubesced much older than they do today, so they actually had time to become good singers and musicians before their voices changed. >
If you compare the B minor mass and the passions to his cantata movements you will see the difference. I think the lack of "practice time" also affected his music.

Thomas J. Wood wrote (August 3, 2000):
< Darryl Clemmons wrote: If you compare the B minor mass and the passions to his cantata movements you will see the difference. I think the lack of "practice time" also affected his music. >
Many, in fact most, of the movements in the Mass are simply revisions of choruses and arias from earlier cantatas, so there are no significant differences in style or difficulty between the Mass and the cantatas.

Darry Clemmons wrote (August 4, 2000):
(To Thomas J. Wood) The movements of the B minor mass are far from simple revisions of existing cantata movements. Also, there are only a relative few surviving movements which the originals can be traced. I don't want to go into all particulars in a short post.

Also, this is well plowed ground. I have been through this before.

Thomas J. Wood wrote (August 4, 2000):
(To Darryl Clemmons) The particulars are simple. Bach's revisions and parodies did not consistently make the music harder or easier to perform. So your point in invalid.

Darry Clemmons wrote (August 5, 2000):
(To Thomas J. Wood) The point I would make is that the Kyrie I, the Cum Sancto, Gloria, Et Resurrexit, and Sanctus are not found in the Cantata ouvre. Bach had to make concessions when he was composing a new Cantata almost weekly. He couldn't expect his choir to be able to pick up something very complicated in few practice sessions. Consequently, it affected the compositional process for Bach.

Peter Hoogenboom wrote (August 4, 2000):
< Thomas J. Wood wrote: Many, in fact most, of the movements in the Mass are simply revisions of choruses and arias from earlier cantatas, so there are no significant differences in style or difficulty between the Mass and the cantatas. >
But the choruses, at least, are mostly revisions of festive secular works, not church cantatas.

Matthew Westphal wrote (August 4, 2000):
< Darryl Clemmons wrote: I have been a singer in the past. I am bass/baritone (3 1/2 octave range). I have performed in choral groups and as a soloist. There is a big difference between singing Bach's solo and choral pieces. I once performed Bach's Laudamaus Te from the B minor (yes it is for alto, but I didn't want one of the longer Bass arias). for an audition for a professional group.
If you compare the B minor mass and the passions to his cantata movements you will see the difference. I think the lack of "practice time" also affected his music. >
I take it the difference to which you refer between choruses in cantatas and choruses in the B-Minor Mass and Passions is one of technical difficulty of the parts.

Well, some cantata choruses are simpler than those in the B-Minor Mass and Passions, some are not. (We'll leave aside for the moment the fact that many of the choruses in the B-Minor Mass were adapted from cantata movements.)

The title choruses of "Wir danken dir" and "Weinen, klagen, sorgen, zagen" are certainly less difficult to sing than "Et resurrexit" and "Kreuzige, kreuzige."

(Many of you will rush to point out that those are two of the choruses that were adapted for the B-Minor Mass. Ah well, I said we'd leave aside the matter of adaptation for a moment.)

On the other hand, the title choruses of "Die Himmel lacht," "Ein feste Burg" and "O ewiges Feuer", as well as the fugues in the first and last choruses of "Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis," are rather more difficult than the Kyrie II and Credo or "Ruht wohl" and "O Mensch, bewein dein Sünden gross." In fact, I'd say that those choruses are about as difficult to sing as "Laudamus te."

Then there's the title chorus of "Wachet auf." Most of the writing in that movement is not difficult, but at the "Alleluia" the lower three parts have sixteenth notes galore. Similarly, "Confiteor" is not too challenging vocally, but it heads straight into "Et expecto."

I definitely agree with the idea implicit in Beth's posts (and others) that in this case, the more difficult a part is, the more likely it would seem that only one singer would sing it. (Especially where students are involved -- for what it's worth, it makes intuitive sense to me that a composer-conductor would give such a part to the one student in each voice range that he/she knew could handle it.)

Re: Darryl's suggestion that the cantata choruses are easier to sing than the choruses in the large-scale works or solos in either genre -- the opening chorus "Wir danken dir," which I cited above, is one of three works in Bach's surviving output where both (a) ripienist singers (i.e., singers i addition to the four soloists) are explicitly called for in the score and/or performing parts and (b) it's marked that those ripienists are to sing throughout all of the choruses ** (as choirs have typically done in most of Bach's sacred music since Mendelssohn revived it). The chorus "Wir danken dir" is relatively easy-to-sing technically. Coincidence?

** In the other nine or so works (including "Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis" and "Gott ist mein König") in which Bach's autograph materials call for ripienists, it's clearly marked that they are to sing at particular places in the choruses and not sing in others (leaving those places in the music to the soloists only).

In any case, if the autograph scores and/or parts make a point of explicitly indicating ripienist singers in some few of Bach's vocal works, does it really make sense to assume (as we all did) that he intended to use ripienist singers in all the other works where he didn't indicate them?

If we do so assume, it seems to me that we need some more solid reason for doing so than, "Why, of course Bach used ripienists -- after all, he called for a 'chorus' and what else could 'chorus' possibly mean?" (Yes, I think that's basically what conventional thinking about Bach's vocal forces comes down to.)

Darryl Clemmons wrote (August 4, 2000):
< Matthew Westphal wrote: "Sünden gross." In fact, I'd say that those choruses are about as difficult to sing as "Laudamus te." >
I thought the bass arias from the B minor to be more difficult. Some of the phrases were very long and difficult to find a place to take a breath.

< Then there's the title chorus of "Wachet auf." Most of the writing in that movement is not difficult, but at the "Alleluia" the lower three parts have sixteenth notes galore. Similarly, "Confiteor" is not too challenging vocally, but it heads straight into "Et expecto." >
First, the difficulty of the lower three parts in comparison to the soprano line proves my point. He had difficulties in finding good sopranos to staff his choirs.

Second, you left out the wickly difficult choruses Sanctus and Kyrie I. Of which both are technically challenging for the chorus.

There are a few difficult Cantata choruses. Generally speaking many others user the "permutation fugue" technique which led to more easily learned vocal lines. The task of preparing a new Cantata weekly gave birth to this technique. He needed to make things easier to learn and to sing.

< I definitely agree with the idea implicit in Beth's posts (and others) that in this case, the more difficult a part is, the more likely it would seem that only one singer would sing it. (Especially where students are involved -- for what it's worth, it makes intuitive sense to me that a composer-conductor would give such a part to the one student in each voice range that he/she knew could handle it.) >
Actually, this wasn't my suggestion. I have read this in several places.

< Re: Darryl's suggestion that the cantata choruses are easier to sing than the choruses in the large-scale works or solos in either genre -- the opening chorus "Wir danken dir," which I cited above, is one of three works in Bach's surviving output where both (a) ripienist singers (i.e., singers i addition to the four soloists) are explicitly called for in the score and/or performing parts and (b) it's marked that those ripienists are to sing throughout all of the choruses ** (as choirs have typically done in most of Bach's sacred music since Mendelssohn revived it). The chorus "Wir danken dir" is relatively easy-to-sing technically. Coincidence?

** In the other nine or so works (including "Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis" and "Gott ist mein König") in which Bach's autograph materials call for ripienists, it's clearly marked that they are to sing at particular places in the choruses and not sing in others (leaving those places in the music to the soloists only). >
Both these works were special occassion pieces. Cantata BWV 12 was believe to have been originally used for an "audition" and BWV 71 was a "Town Council" cantata.

< In any case, if the autograph scores and/or parts make a point of explicitly indicating ripienist singers in some few of Bach's vocal works, does it really make sense to assume (as we all did) that he intended to use ripienist singers in all the other works where he didn't indicate them? >
Both these works were "pre-Leipzig". He had more time to write out directions in full. The later scores were put together in a more rapid pace.

< If we do so assume, it seems to me that we need some more solid reason for doing so than, "Why, of course Bach used ripienists -- after all, he called for a 'chorus' and what else could 'chorus' possibly mean?" (Yes, I think that's basically what conventional thinking about Bach's vocal forces comes down to.) >
I think you can't draw conclusions about the whole of the cantatas from two early works. I am more curious about the directions on BWV 67 (and the corresponding adaption in the Missa in A major) and BWV 110. These have solos in contrast with choruses. Why were they not mentioned in these examples?

For me, I would like to study the original sources in greater detail. But, alas, I have a day job and a family to support.

I wish you enjoy the recordings by Parrot and Rifkin further. They are wonderful to listen to.

Peter Hoogenboom wrote (A5, 2000):
< Beth Diane Garfinkel wrote: Are you a singer? Have you ever sung any of Bach's choral parts? If he was writing "down" to his soprano and alto choristers, I'd hate to see what he would have done with (maybe "done to" is the more accurate expression) a truly competent bunch! >
Beth, you know there are examples of this. The decision to double the SA duet in cantata 4 is a frequently-cited example. I don't deny there are some really tough bits, but you must admit that many soprano parts in the cantatas are cakewalks.

Peter Hoogenboom wrote (August 1, 2000):
< Sybrand Bakker wrote: If you look at the parts of the SMP: there are no ripieno parts at all, >
This never convinced me. It's perfectly possible to share, and I haven't heard any evidence that they didn't. Paper was expensive, and hand-copying extremely tedious. And it's just not that difficult to remember where to sing and where not to, after a few rehearsals.

< the parts for Pilate and Peter are completely marked 'tacet' except for their solos, >
This bit I'd never heard, and it certainly puts me a bit farther into the one-on-a-part camp.

< the chorales were sung by both choirs, which in this case would mean 8 singers, no more. >
This doesn't seem to be particularly relevant. Why couldn't "both choirs" mean 24 singers?

Beth Diane Garfinkel wrote (August 3, 2000):
<< Sybrand Bakker wrote: If you look at the parts of the SMP: there are no ripieno parts at all, >>
< Peter Hoogenboom wrote: This never convinced me. It's perfectly possible to share, and I haven't heard any evidence that they didn't. Paper was expensive, and hand-copying extremely tedious. And it's just not that difficult to remember where to sing and where not to, after a few rehearsals. >
Maybe we in the 21st century are spoiled by having published music printed by photolithography and artificial lighting, but take those two things away and you're lucky if you can read the music at all, much less read it while looking over someone else's shoulder, especially if you're a lot taller and nearsighted ;) *

Not to mention that musicians were generally expected to put things together on what we would consider remarkably little rehearsal time.

Peter Hoogenboom wrote (August 5, 2000):
< Beth Diane Garfinkel wrote: Maybe we in the 21st century >
I would have expected more from you, Beth. Or are you time-traveling these days?

< are spoiled by having published music printed by photolithography and artificial lighting, but take those two things away and you're lucky if you can read the music at all, much less read it while looking over someone else's shoulder, especially if you're a lot taller and nearsighted ;) *
They managed it in medieval and renaissance times.

< Not to mention that musicians were generally expected to put things together on what we would consider remarkably little rehearsal time. >
Are we sure about that?

< *I own a facsimile of the original ms. of the Brandenburg concerti, and if I had to try to learn Brandenburg 5 from it, I'd go nuts! >
But they also learned to read music like that from the start! I mean, look at the way they wrote letters! I can read the notes much more easily. But it worked for them.....

Michel Couzijn wrote (August 5, 2000):
<< Beth Diane Garfinkel wrote: you're lucky if you can read the music at all, much less read it while looking over someone else's shoulder, especially if you're a lot taller and nearsighted ;) * >>
< Peter Hoogenboom wrote: They managed it in medieval and renaissance times. >
Gregorian chant and early polyphony is VERY different from Bach's baroque vocal music with respect to the written notes (and the size of the sheet music). Argument dismissed.

<< Not to mention that musicians were generally expected to put things together on what we would consider remarkably little rehearsal time. >>
< Are we sure about that? >
Yes we are. Read any scholarly work on Bach's rehearsal practice and you'll be sure about it too.

< But they also learned to read music like that from the start! I mean, look at the way they wrote letters! I can read the notes much more easily. But it worked for them... >
This is comparing apples and pears. And we don't know that 'it worked for them', that is just your conjecture.

Peter Hoogenboom wrote (August 6, 2000):
< Michel Couzijn wrote: Gregorian chant and early polyphony is VERY different from Bach's baroque vocal music with respect to the written notes (and the size of the sheet music). Argument dismissed. >
It's also different with respect to the number of people reading from one book. I say, if you dismiss my argument before trying it, you're being rather hasty.

<Read any scholarly work on Bach's rehearsal practice and you'll be sure about it too>
However, Bach's musicians dealt with a much more limited range of styles than "what we would consider" to be normal.

< This is comparing apples and pears. And we don't know that 'it worked for them', that is just your conjecture. >
It clearly worked for them, since they wrote things and read them. And apples and pears are very similar. Certainly more similar than apples and oranges, or apples and elephants.

I see you are in Amsterdam. Do you find European handwriting easier to read than American? Despite my name and my current location, I'm American, and I find American handwriting easier to read.

Michel Couzijn wrote: (August 7, 2000):
< Peter Hoogenboom wrote: It's also different with respect to the number of people reading from one book. >
Now breaks my wooden shoe! First you assert that singing baroque music is similar to singing medieval music with respect to the number of singers singing from one book, now you assert exactly the opposite!

< I say, if you dismiss my argument before trying it, you're being rather hasty. >
I 'tried' your argument twice before dismissing it: first by comparing what is known about the nature of written music in the Middle Ages and the Baroque era; second by having sung medieval/renaissance and Bach choir music for over twenty years. I know from experience how much more difficult the latter is compared to the former.

< However, Bach's musicians dealt with a much more limited range of styles than "what we would consider" to be normal. >
That is absolutely correct. But even after twenty years of singing Bach motets, choruses and chorales, I still need to look very closely at the sheet music whenever we take up a new piece. Bach is never just routine. And I can tell you, I am very happy to hold my own music in my hands.

< It clearly worked for them, since they wrote things and read them. >
Here I fell victim to the ambiguity of 'it'. I thought it referred to 'them' reading written notes instead of written text. About the latter, you may be right. The problem is that we know little about how quickly or slowly people decoded handwriting at that time. Even trained, highly experienced scholars nowadays read manuscripts at a slow pace. The same can be said about written notes, I'm afraid. We simply do not know that 'it (jointly reading handwritten notes) worked for them'. That's what we are discussing.

< And apples and pears are very similar. >
Not if you want to make an apple pie.

< Certainly more similar than apples and oranges, or apples and elephants. >
Not if you want to grow a pear tree from a clockhouse. Then apples, oranges and elephants are similar in their unusefulness.

< I see you are in Amsterdam. Do you find European handwriting easier to read than American? Despite my name and my current location, I'm American, and I find American handwriting easier to read. >
I'm not sure there is such thing as 'European handwriting'. I find British handwriting and American handwriting more similar than, say, Dutch handwriting and German handwriting. Or Dutch handwriting and Greek, Ukrainian and Swedish handwriting ;-)

Don't know much about how Americans, Swedes and Ukrainians

Peter Hoogenboom wrote (August 10, 2000):
< Michel Couzijn wrote: Now breaks my wooden shoe! First you assert that singing baroque music is similar to singing medieval music with respect to the number of singers singing from one book, now you assert exactlthe opposite! >
If my supposition is correct:

Baroque and medieval music are alike in that more than one person (can) read from a part. Baroque and medieval music are not alike in the actual numbers involved.

Put another way, in medieval music, you can have as many as ten or twelve people reading off one of those big books. I would never suggest anything like that happened with a Bach cantata.

Is your wooden shoe better now?

< I 'tried' your argument twice before dismissing it: first by comparing what is known about the nature of written music in the Middle Ages and the Baroque era; second by having sung medieval/renaissance and Bach choir music for over twenty years. I know from experience how much more difficult the latter is compared to the former.>
The difficulty of the music itself is not at hand, but the difficulty of reading it. I would suggest that we get a bunch of people together and try a few readings of Bach cantatas, three to a part in the chorus, and see how it works.

And difficulty is relative to familiarity with a style. I can sight read a Bach cantata far better than a piece by Dunstable. What's more, I flatly reject the idea that medieval music is not as difficulat as Bach's.

< That is absolutely correct. But even after twenty years of singing Bach motets, choruses and chorales, I still need to look very closely at the sheet music whenever we take up a new piece. Bach is never just routine. And I can tell you, I am very happy to hold my own music in my hands. >
And I can tell you, I don't mind sharing.

< Here I fell victim to the ambiguity of 'it'. I thought it referred to 'them' reading written notes instead of written text. About the latter, you may be right. The problem is that we know little about how quickly or slowly people decoded handwriting at that time. >
Good point.

< Even trained, highly experienced scholars nowadays read manuscripts at a slow pace The same can be said about written notes, I'm afraid. >
But these scholars were HOW OLD when they started learning these writing systems? I, for example, will NEVER, EVER read cyrillic as quickly as I read latin letters. Do Russians read more slowly than Americans?

For that matter, I will never read Dutch as quickly as I read English. Reading English in a black letter font (gothic script) also goes more slowly for me. But I am sure it has to do with what you are used to, and at what age you got used to it.

< I'm not sure there is such thing as 'European handwriting'. I find British handwriting and American handwriting more similar than, say, Dutch handwriting and German handwriting. Or Dutch handwriting and Greek, Ukrainian and Swedish handwriting >
European handwriting is handwriting from Europe. I don't mean to imply that it is all the same. But you didn't answer my question, which I will rephrase. Do you find it more difficult to read handwriting styles that are significantly different from yours?

Another question I have not seen considered (I really have to get this book): How does the writing of ostensibly "solo" parts in cantatas, passions and the b-minor mass compare with the writing of those parts that do indeed have ripieno indications? Are the latter more legible? Bigger? If they are the same, could it not be taken as evidence that the legibility of the copy is not relevant to a determination that the part was intended for only one person to read?

I would suggest a similar comparison for string parts that can be shown to be solo or section parts, since stand-sharing is a long-established practice in string playing.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (August 6, 2000):
Even though OVPP is about two decades old, it is so satisfying to know that such debate is now getting its due in the classical news group. It's about time that such conductors and performers as Rifkin and Baird are even being mentioned. BTW, has anyone heard the 10-CD set of "Deutsche Barock Kantaten" by the Ricercar Consort (on the Ricercar label)? Greta De Reyghere, soprano, is especially wonderful--try CD no. 3, with cantatas by F. Tunder, J.H. Schein, and D. Buxtehude. Absolutely gorgeous. Bach and OVPP would be pleased!

Matthew Westphal wrote (August 7, 2000):
Francine R. Hall wrote: Even though OVPP [Bach performance] is about two decades old, it is so satisfying to know that such debate is now getting its due in the classical news group. >
Oh, in rec.music.classical.recordings, we've been having arguments about it off and on for at least two years or so. :^)

For me, it's satisfying to know that OVPP Bach is finally beginning to get its due in concerts and recordings! For so long, Rifkin and Parrott were crying in the wilderness, but now Cantus Cölln, McCreesh's Gabrieli Consort & Players, Kuijken's La Petite Bande, Jeffrey Thomas' American Bach Soloists (sometimes), the Purcell Quartet of London and others are coming around.

< It's about time that such conductors and performers as Rifkin and Baird are even being mentioned. >
Oh, Julianne Baird has a number of admirers here.

< BTW, has anyone heard the 10-CD set of "Deutsche Barock Kantaten" by the Ricercar Consort (on the Ricercar label)? Greta De Reyghere, soprano, is especially wonderful--try CD no. 3, with cantatas by F. Tunder, J.H. Schein, and D. Buxtehude. Absolutely gorgeous. Bach and OVPP would be pleased! >
OVPP would be pleased?

I've heard some of the series (including a nice rendition of BWV 131, "Aus der Tiefe") but not all of it. I prefer Agnes Mellon to Greta de Reyghere myself. Vol. 12 in the series came out last year, and I think it's the best of all. It has Schütz' Seven Last Words and Aufferstehungs-Historie (Easter Oratorio) with Agnew, Padmore, Mellon, van Laethem et al.
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000007OWD/
(Scroll down the page and you'll find a brief review by yours truly.)

Francine R. Hall wrote (August 7, 2000):
Matthew Westphal wrote that "Vol. 12 in the ['Deutsche Barock Kantaten' Ricercar] series came out last year." What a pleasant surprise! The reason I mention this series is because it shows so powerfully the long and strong cantata history Bach was so embedded in--and that means a small musical group. I can't pretend to be a scholar here so I can't argue about doubling of parts. However, I'd gamble that Bach would be quite satisfied with the sound of period performances, i.e., light, airy, and spritely in speed. and perhaps little vibrato. As a fun anecdote, did you know that Harold C. Schoenberg, in his book, "The Lives of the Great Composers" wrote that Bach had a temper and once went after one of his students with a dagger?! Ha! Poor Bach was lucky to get the number of students who behaved to perform! Seriously, though, I'd like to say that I'm a period performance fanatic and would like to add to the list countless other groups and singers you have mentioned, but perhaps that could be saved for another posting? Let's just say I've been collecting and going to period performances for at least 25-30 years. From what I've read, this "movement" started in the late 1940's, early 1950's. And, yes, Bach and OVPP would smile! (I like playing with words too....) I enjoyed reading your reviews! Thank you for sharing them!

Beth Diane Garfinkel wrote (August 8, 2000):
< Francine R. Hall wrote: As a fun anecdote, did you know that Harold C. Schoenberg, in his book, "The Lives of the Great Composers" wrote that Bach had a temper and once went after one of his students with a dagger?! >
Apparently (I think this one is in the Bach reader), he once go into a street brawl with a student that he had called a "nanny-goat bassoonist".

Francine Renee Hall wrote (August 8, 2000):
Beth Diane Garfinkel added some more fun trivia about poor Bach's temper when, as she says, "He had called a student a 'nanny-goat bassoonist'." My anecdote was a joke to the bigger question about Bach's OVPP. I used to be an English literature lecturer at the U of IL. I mention this because because I always appreciate your Shakespeare quote you place at the end of your postings! Are you a teacher too, Beth? You areso knowledgable about this whole OVPP business. If you've read my other postings (which I just joined a few days ago for the first time-gulp!) you'll find I'm such a period performance fan. I took advanced music history classes as an undergraduate so I might know a thing or two, but your postings are definitely fascinating and rewarding. It's a pleasure to find more women involved in classical music! And now I'll end on a quote too:

John Dunstaple (yes, with a "p", not a "b") and who did NOT write "Oh Rosa Bella": "Here is entombed John Dunstaple who had secret knowledge of the stars. He scattered the sweet arts of music throughout the world."

Zachary Uram wrote (August 1, 2000):
< Darryl Clemmons wrote: I can't sit by and not saying anything. I disagree with the overall interpretation of the letter by Bach to the town council. If he was only using four people to perform his cantatas, then why would he need so many people? >
That may be so, however there is definitely an 'upper limit' on choral size. Bach didn't intend for his cantatas to be performed with 100+ Romantic style force :) Too many voices muddy the music. I prefer this minimalist OVPP to the other extreme of the spectrum.

John Howell wrote (August 4, 2000):
< Darryl Clemmons wrote: Historically, I think it is possible that Bach may have had to use 4-8 choristers on occassion. However, I don't think that "chorus" meant 4 people in Bach's time. >
I believe (and this is from memory of a long-ago study) that the performing parts for the St. John Passion include parts for both ripieno and concertist singers. And of course one part does not necessarily imply only one singer reading from that part.

John Howell wrote (August 8, 2000):
< Darryl Clemmons wrote: The simple truth is that Bach was influenced by the quality of singers he had to work with. Soprano and Alto parts had to be sung by boys and this affected the music. >
I would suggest rather that we know the capabilities of his boys rather well from studying what he wrote for them, just as we know how well Gottfried Reiche played his trumpet. Perhaps you've never heard a really fine boychoir, or the musicianship of the Kings College choristers.

One thing I did discover while studying the St. John Passion is that there are significantly more ornaments notated in the soprano and alto solos than in the tenor and bass solos. And why not? Bach was always teaching, and by the time the boys' voices changed they presumably knew how to ornament properly!

Peter Hoogenboom wrote (August 10, 2000):
< John Howell wrote: John Howell wrote: I would suggest rather that we know the capabilities of his boys rather well from studying what he wrote for them, just as we know how well Gottfried Reiche played his trumpet. Perhaps you've never heard a really fine boychoir, or the musicianship of the Kings College choristers. >
While I would tend to agree with this, I would note that many composers' music is called "unplayable" by its first performers, and only later does it become playable.

Beth Diane Garfinkel wrote (August 8, 2000):
< Peter Hoogenboom wrote: Beth, you know there are examples of this. The decision to double the SA duet in cantata BWV 4 is a frequently-cited example. I don't deny there are some really tough bits, but you must admit that many soprano parts in the cantatas are cakewalks. >
Perhaps, but the ones in the oratorios and masses (the Lutheran masses as well as the B minor), not to mention the motets, are not, by any stretch of the imagination.

What about the choruses for cantata no. 198? that was written for the Leipzig University Choir, which was supposed to be better than the one at St. Thomas.

Beth Diane Garfinkel wrote (August 8, 2000):
<< Beth Diane Garfinkel wrote: are spoiled by having published music printed by photolithography and artificial lighting, but take those two things away and you're lucky if you can read the music at all, much less read it while looking over someone else's shoulder, especially if you're a lot taller and nearsighted ;) * >>
< Peter Hoogenboom wrote: They managed it in medieval and renaissance times. >

With

a) music that followed much clearer and stricter rules of counterpoint
b) notation that was produced with an eye to ease of reading rather than ease of writing.

At least, if you compare an 18th-century presentation ms. with, say, a 15th-century one, you will find that in the 18th-century ms. (and mind you, this is one for show we're talking about, so the copyist has been extra careful to make it look good), a lot of the note stems and beams will be curved and the note heads will often be little black dots.

In the 15th-century presentation ms., not one edge (let alone line) in all the musical notation will be curved unless it is an odd form of a clef. Choirbooks that were intended for many people to read out of at once generally held to the same standards, and the notation was generally very large as well. (I own a couple of examples, and have worked with some others). And there is no evidence to suggest that renaisance part-books of the moveable-type variety were ever intended for use by more than one person at a time.

P.S. I don't know about reading letters in the 18th century in Germany, but I do know that in 16th - and early 17th -century England, reading meant reading aloud (one small nugget remembered from an arduous course on the subject), so they didn't expect to read text as quickly as we do.

Beth Diane Garfinkel wrote (August 12, 2000):
< Peter Hoogenboom wrote: Reading English in a black letter font (gothic script) also goes more slowly for me. But I am sure it has to do with what you are used to, and at what age you got used to it. >
Face it, some forms of notation are harder to read whether one is used to them or not. For example, black letter font derives from black letter calligraphy, and when medieval scribes wrote in black letter calligraphy, they prided themselves on making it look so similar to picket fences that it was barely legible, practicing with writing sences filled with n's and m's, and latin words like vini, numi, and minimum. in fact, the reason that lower case i's are dotted is that medieval black letter was impossible to read without the dots. I suspect (just a guess, mind you) that Germany stuck with black letter type fonts because they had the printing press before book hand (the basis for Times Roman fonts) became widespread. All the rest of the western European nations that I know of based their printed fonts either on book hand or italics (the "fine Italian hand"). This is even true of England, even though much English handwriting was in secretary hand, which was also ultimately based on the old blackletter script.

Peter T. Daniels wrote (August 12, 2000):
<< Peter Hoogenboom wrote: Reading English in a black letter font (gothic script) also goes more slowly for me. But I am sure it has to do with what you are used to, and at what age you got used to it. >>
< Beth Diane Garfinkel wrote: Face it, some forms of notation are harder to read whether one is used to them or not. For example, black letter font derives from black letter calligraphy, and when medieval scribes wrote in black letter calligraphy, they prided themselves on making it look so similar to picket fences that it was barely legible, >
Do you have some evidence for this claim? A very good justification for "black letter" writing is that it is quite economical, so that an expensive resource like parchment is consumed at a slower rate than with manuscripts in, say, Caroline minuscule.

< practicing with writing sences filled with n's and m's, and latin words like vini, numi, and minimum. >
Of course one practices making one's hand neat and beautiful and legible!

< in fact, the reason that lower case i's are dotted is that medieval black letter was impossible to read without the dots. >
And there was a mark over u to distinguish it from n and from u with umlaut. This persisted through the "Fraktur" handwriting used in Germany until the second quarter of the twentieth century.

< I suspect (just a guess, mind you) that Germany stuck with blackletter type fonts because they had the printing press before book hand (the basis for Times Roman fonts) became widespread. >
The basis for roman type was the Caroline minuscule, which (as the name tells you) was standardized under Charlemagne (some 650 years before Gutenberg). The basis for italic type was the cursive hand pioneered by Petrarch, again for economy of materials. The mixture of italic and roman type was a somewhat later innovation.

< All the rest of the western European nations that I know of based their printed fonts either on book hand or italics (the "fine Italian hand"). This is even true of England, even though much English handwriting was in secretary hand, which was also ultimately based on the old blackletter script. >
Caxton's font (1470) was gothic-like, not roman or italic. (William Morris tried a variety of it for some of his own writings; if you've ever tried to read Morris's romances or fantasies in modern editions using roman type, you see they definitely benefit from being rather harder to get through...)

For a highly compressed but accurate and readable history of the roman alphabet, please see Stan Knight's chapter in *The World's Writing Systems*, edited by me and William Bright (Oxford UP, 1996). A very useful, more general account is Donald M. Anderson, *The Art of Written Forms* (1969) (which appeared as a Dover reprint about two weeks after I paid well over the list price for a used copy without

Jason Smith wrote (August 12, 2000):
It's worth remembering that, in medieval England at any rate, singers were expected to know most, if not all, of the corpus of plainsong off by heart. Learning the Antiphoner (music and text) was often a task for the probationary year; the rest could follow later. It's always easier to read something you already know!

Beth Diane Garfinkel wrote (August 12, 2000):
< Peter T. Daniels wrote: Do you have some evidence for this claim? A very good justification for "black letter" writing is that it is quite economical, so that an expensive resource like parchment is consumed at a slower rate than with manuscripts in, say, Caroline minuscule. >
Given your credentials (snipped), I obviously must bow to your superior knowledge. When it comes to calligraphy, I'm a hobbyist at best, with one graduate course in paleography under my belt and a passing acquaintance with books like _The Pen's Excellency_ and Marc Drogin's _Medieval Calligraphy)_.

That said, however, it seems to me that I've seen lots of examples of medieval presentation manuscripts where on each page most of the space is taken up by illuminations, but the small amount of space left over is filled in with black letter so picket-fence like as to be practically illegible, never mind that the designers obviously were not too concerned with conserving parchment in order to get more text in the book.

Meanwhile, it seems that many of the choir books from France, Spain, and Italy in the fifteenth century that I've seen or seen examples of used a black letter variant known as littera rotunda which appears to be about as economical in terms of conserving space but which is much easier to read than standard gothic.

Also, speaking both as a calligrapher and a composer and transcriber of music: in terms of legibility and conserving space, I would figure on being able to pack about the same amount of text in black letter into the same space using a narrower quill tip and writing in italic, with the resulting text being much easier to read (and again, I've seen examples of this); italic and book hand being much easier to read than black letter even without the extra space between the lines often but not always given them. And I'll also find that I find italic easier to write in than black letter.

Just my two cents.

Beth Diane Garfinkel wrote (August 13, 2000):
< Peter T. Daniels wrote: practising with writing senses filled with n's and m's, and Latin words like vini, numi, and minimum. Of course one practices making one's hand neat and beautiful and legible! >
Except in this case, they were practising making their hands neat and beautiful and Illegible! I don't know if they were deliberately making their writing hard to read, but that is the result, at least. And although gothic script is certainly not as extreme as Merovingian charter hand, the latter does provide an example of a script, which was deliberately made difficult to read. And let's not forget that this was in the same period of history when philosophers talked about knowledge being made worthless by being allowed to become too common.)

< Caxton's font (1470) was gothic-like, not roman or italic. (William Morris tried a variety of it for some of his own writings; if you've ever tried to read Morris's romances or fantasies in modern editions using roman type, you see they definitely benefit from being rather harder to get through...) >
Yes, but England didn't continue using black letter fonts until well into the 20th century as Germany seems to have done! In fact, to go by music printings I've seen, black letter was pretty much abandoned in England as a standard type font by the end of the sixteenth century.

I'll have to take your word about William Morris; I left my copies of his works at my mother's house in Philadelphia.

Keith Edgerley wrote (August 13, 2000):
< Beth Diane Garfinkel wrote: [snip] Yes, but England didn't continue using black letter fonts until well into the 20th century as Germany seems to have done! In fact, to go by music printings I've seen, black letter was pretty much abandoned in England as a standard type font by the end of the sixteenth century. >
Germany officially abandoned black-letter fonts in 1942, apparently to make it easier for the conquered peoples to learn German! FWIW, I learnt German from a textbook written by my German teacher himself in 1938, and naturally learnt the Fraktur, in which I read German at least as fast as in "normal" printing. I must say this was very useful when studying German literature, as over 50% of the library copies of books I had to read were so printed.

German always seems to me to be more civilised in black letter; perhaps this is the real reason why the Nazis abandoned it.

Peter T. Daniels wrote (August 13, 2000):
(To Keith Edgerley) It's a little more subtle than that -- at first the Nazis embraced Fraktur printing ("German heritage" and all that), but then when they discovered the subjugatees had trouble with it, they decided it represented "Jewish heritage" and switched their allegiance.

It does take a little practice to get used to reading Fraktur print, but no one should be asked to try to decipher Fraktur handwriting...

Stephen Rowland wrote (August 16, 2000):
< Beth Diane Garfinkel wrote: P.S. I don't know about reading letters in the 18th century in Germany, but I do know that in 16th- and early 17th-century England, reading meant reading aloud (one small nugget remembered from an arduous course on the subject), so they didn't expect to read text as quickly as we do. >
and again:
< when medieval scribes wrote in black letter calligraphy, they prided themselves on making it look so similar to picket fences that it was barely legible, practicing with writing sences filled with n's and m's, and latin words like vini, numi, and minimum.>
You should -- everyone interested in mediaeval culture should -- read Paul Saenger's _Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading_ (Stanford, 1997). He argues, convincingly IMHO,

"the thesis that the separation of words, which began in the early Middle Ages, ... enabled the common practice of silent reading as we know it today."
(p. ix)

and that

"scholastic Latin ... allowed the medieval scholar ... to read swiftly and skim easily in a fashion not readily distinguishable from the perusal of a modern printed book. The difficulty encountered by the modern manuscript cataloguer or editor ... in determining and noting in transcription within brackets the absence in scholastic writing of a given letter or minim stroke -- the short, vertical lines forming the minuscule letters _i_, _u_, _n_, and _m_ -- was of no concern to a medieval reader,who easily grasped the correct meaning of the word as a whole unit, even when a single minim stroke or even an entire letter was wanting."
(pp. 19-20)



Continue to Part 6


Choir Form: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
One-Voice-Per-Part (OVPP):
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19
Books about OVPP:
The Essential Bach Choir [by Andrew Parrott] | Bach's Choral Ideal [by Joshua Rifkin]: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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