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OVPP (One-Voice-Per-Part)
Part 8

Continue from Part 7

OVPP

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 20, 2002):
While checking everything in Bach's handwriting to find out what he called his compositions that we now call cantatas, I found the following interesting document:
[This is not from the famous "Entwurff."]

From the Bach - Dokumente, Item 180 (autograph): "Einteilung des Thomanerchores in 4 Chöre" dated May 18, 1729 [Division of the St. Thomas Choir into 4 Choirs for their duties in the various churches in Leipzig.]

St. Nicolai

Choir 1

3 Discantisten
3 Altisten
3 Tenoristen
3 Bassisten

St. Thomae

Choir 2

3 Discantisten
3 Altisten
3 Tenoristen
3 Bassisten

New Church

Choir 3

3 Discantisten
3 Altisten
3 Tenoristen
3 Bassisten

Also to sing in the Petrikirche
[Bach does not indicate their 1st responsibility.]

Choir 4

2 Sopranisten
2 Altisten
2 Tenoristen
2 Bassisten

This appears to be an accounting of the minimum requirements that Bach had in mind for choir members who would not also function as instrumentalists who would be in addition to these numbers.

Ludwig wrote (September 20, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz]This sems to agree with the classic statement that the composition of bach's chorus would consist of
4 sop
4 alto
4 tenor
4 bass

8 violins
4 violae with perhaps extras on viola d'moure or
doubling on it
2 gambas
1 possible but doubtful violone

2 Flutes including Blockflote and other additions as
available
2-4 oboes with a doubling on oboe d'moure
1 bassoon (or ranket?)

organ and rarely harpsichord.

2-4 trumpets
1-2 horns
1 trombone

tympani

Robert Sherman wrote (September 20, 2002):
[To Ludwig] Bach commonly wrote for 1 or 3 trumpets. Not saying it doesn't exist, but I'm not aware of any scoring he did for 2 (Händel's favorite) or 4.

If records show he hired 2 or 4, my presumption is that the additional player would be an assistant first trumpet. Hopefully that fellow was used to alternate with the first trumpeter in fatiguing parts such as the bm, XO, Magnificat, and Bbg 2. Doubling might have been possible, but doubling trumpets is generally a bad orchestral practice.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (September 20, 2002):
< doubling trumpets is generally a bad orchestral practice. >
Well, back then anyways (my school wind ensemble would love it if we could have enough tpt players to double up!)

Robert Sherman wrote (September 21, 2002):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] In music written for wind ensemble (Holst, Vaughan Williams, etc.) doubling isn't so bad. But orchestral stuff has to be one on a part. Even the huge late romantic-period stuff, which might use up to 8 trumpets, is done one on a part. If you can't project the part enough by yourself, you don't get hired. If you double, coordinating the intonation, attacks, etc. becomes very difficult and the sound is foggy. Most importantly, doubling deprives the player of individuality which, let's face it, is one of the main reasons most of us take up trumpet in the first place. Plus there's great satisfaction in soaring above a large orch and chorus on your own, without electronic or human assistance.

All that being said, I admit to being thrilled by the two trumpets of the Canadian Brass when they play inhumanly perfect octaves, with a picc on top and a Bb or C on the bottom. But that is incredibly difficult and I've never heard anyone else do it -- which is one of the reasons it's so exciting to hear.

Ivan Lalis wrote (September 26, 2002):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< While checking everything in Bach's handwriting to find out what he called his compositions that we now call cantatas, I found the following interesting document: [This is not from the famous "Entwurff."]

From the Bach - Dokumente, Item 180 (autograph): "Einteilung des Thomanerchores in 4 Chöre" dated May 18, 1729 [Division of the St. Thomas Choir into 4 Choirs.] >
Parrott's argument concerning Entwurff and I think it can be extended also on this new source is his understanding of the word choir. AP claims choir is to be understood as a pool from which singers were picked for a particular performance. Check the title - Division of the Thomas Choir into 4 Choirs. AFAIK (but I do not know a lot of Bach sources :-) there is no source of information that the complete Thomas Choir performed in a single place. This IMO supports AP's understanding of the word choir. One can continue and apply it for every single choir - it's an allocation of the singers from which they are taken as necessary for a particular performance. AP also claims Bach used OVPP for cantatas only.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 26, 2002):
[To Ivan Lalis] Parrott (and Rifkin) may have cleverly created certain semantic boxes such as the one regarding 'choir.' This all begins to sound to me very much like "it all depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is." At a certain point one needs to stand back and allow a higher, intuitive reasoning power reflect on the scanty evidence that Bach left for us to ponder. Also, listening to the OVPP compared with good non-OVPP recordings will begin to give answers to anyone with an open, musical ear and mind. Personally I find some interesting aspects to such performances (it is sometimes possible to hear certain things in Bach that are not available in other non-OVPP performances.) Hearing a synthesized version of a Bach cantata would most likely uncover even other aspects not available in either the OVPP or non-OVPP performances, but that would not keep me from returning to a good non-OVPP which can create for me an elevating, uplifting experience that I do not necessarily have when listening to the others. Such a performance I can return to again and again, whereas the others tend to 'wear thin' after the newness of approach has been appreciated (an experience that I have to submit to on a weekly basis when listening to most of the choral performances in the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt cantata series.)

 

Is OVPP revolutionary ?

Paul Dirmeikis wrote (April 16, 2003):
In a recent post, someone (excuse me, I delated the e-mail, and I can't recall your name...) stated that "OVPP is not revolutionary".I think this is a very interesting question that could open a debate here. There are certainly various and contradictory opinions.

My deep feeling is that OVPP is indeed revolutionary. I am not a musicologist, and I haven't read Parrott's book which everyone quotes when the OVPP subject comes up, and I might even say that this historical truth aspect is far from being my main concern.

So, why do I consider OVPP as revolutionary ? Because, as I wrote in a former post, OVPP is not a different "framing", an aesthetical affectation, or a kind of musical "face lift" : it radically changes the inner rhetorical logic and the spiritual meaning. Most of Bach's vocal works, cantatas, masses, passions, turn on a chorus/arias/choral structure as a rhetorical demonstration : first, we are all together, in a polyphonic way, then we separate and have an individual voice, and finally we reunify in the choral,
almost an organic, and historical connoted, entity. If the choir and the soloists are two different groups, in my eyes (or should I rather say "in my ears"), the meaning also gets different. I don't feel spiritually involved the same way as when hearing a OVPP performance. Different rhetoric, different meaning, different viewpoint... For me, this is enough to be called revolutionary.

Steven Guy wrote (April 16, 2003):
[To Paul Dirmeikis] I am not really interested in debating the issues surround the modern practice of OVPP in Bach's sacred works. The surviving scores of both Passions have 'solo' and 'tutti' marks in the vocal parts - so it is reasonable to assume that at least a few voices performed on each vocal line in the chorus - maybe a soloist and single ripienist represents the bare minimum?

Is OVPP revolutionary? No, not particularly. It has been around for a long time in one form or another. The vocal group Pro Cantione Antiqua London was performing Renaissance and Early Baroque music this way back in the 1970s. David Munrow employed this approach in some recordings too. I organised a concertback in 1993 of music by Schütz, Schein, Johann Michael Bach and Buxtehude. I wanted a OVPP approach throughout and was hoping that it would work well in the church we presented the concert. Unfortunately, the balance between voices and instruments was a major problem and even after several weeks of rehearsal we never got it quite right. We had the advantage of adult voices in the soprano and alto range - two female sopranos and a countertenor.

I have never heard a OVPP recording of a cantata, mass or passion with a boy soprano and until some conductor does this, all OVPP recordings and performances will be just as 'HIP-compromised' as recordings, like Harnoncourt's or Leonhardt's, which use boys' voices but with more than one voice per part. I would love to hear a recording of the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) with all male vocal forces with two voices per part - solo & ripieno. Surely there are eight reliable boys (sopranos and altos) in the world who would be up to the task of singing this music? Or four - if we employ c-tenors on the alto lines.

I am not sure and nobody can be for certain, but it is possible that Bach would have been very upset, offended or annoyed at the thought of using adult female voices in his sacred music. Bach was a very conservative man in many ways.

A 'choir' with a single boy soprano and three men would not balance well with a cantata orchestra consisting of 3 trumpets, timpani, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, bassoon, strings and organ. Or would it?

Matthew Westphal wrote (April 17, 2003):
Steven Guy says:
>>> I am not really interested in debating the issues surround the modern practice of OVPP in Bach's sacred works. The surviving scores of both Passions have 'solo' and 'tutti' marks in the vocal parts <<<
Really? Bach's autographs of the Passions actually show 'solo' and tutti' markings? I had never heard that before.

Can anyone point to particular places in the autographs (score or individual parts) where these markings are shown? I'd be very interested to know.

(My understanding was that in the St. John Passion (BWV 247), the autograph parts show the ripienists singing throughout all the choruses and chorales.)

 

OVPP research

Continue of discussion from: Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - General Discussions - Part 6

Matthew Westphal wrote (April 16, 2003):
Johan van Veen says:
>>> The whole concept of OVPP is most interesting, and I am not against it, but for me it is just too early to be convinced on the basis of one book of authors who have looked for evidence which supports their theory. Someone has to do extensive research with the explicit aim to prove them wrong. <<<
Oh, I think there have probably been scholars trying to do that since the very week after the American Musicological Society conference where Rifkin first presented his thesis more than 20 years ago.

There have been and remain many people, in both the scholarly community and the community of HIP performers, who would like for the whole OVPP question to just go away. (As McCreesh put it about some othr well-known Bach conductors, "They've got choirs to feed; they've put their stall out; they've grown up with 25 years of this particular style of performance. It's much harder for them to actually change.")

No one has yet managed to prove the OVPP theory wrong, and the major attempts to do so that I have seen, in the pages of the journal EARLY MUSIC, have ranged (IMHO) from merely unconvincing (Robert Marshall) to shrill and embarrassingly unconvincing (an article by Ton Koopman).

Johan van Veen wrote (April 16, 2003):
[To Matthew Westphal] Well, this is not exactly what I meant. Obviously Rifkin and Parrott have put a lot of time and effort into their research. I would like to see someone else - or a group of people - doing exactly the same, with the explicit aim of proving the opposite of Rifkin's and Parrot's view. That is contrary to 'hoping the OVPP question to go away'.

It is often said that numbers play a much larger role in Bach's works than in that of his colleagues. That could well be true, but we will never know to what extent Bach was different from his colleagues until their works are just as painstakingly and extensively researched as Bach's works are.

So that is what I meant: we only know whether a theory holds if we really try hard to prove it wrong. That is the basis of all science, and I don't think musicology should be different in this respect.

Donald Satz wrote (April 17, 2003):
[To Johan van Veen] My personal opinion is that research which tries to prove something wrong or right isn't worth much. Bias from the start is a poor way to employ the scientific process.

Matthew Westphal wrote (April 17, 2003):
Johan van Veen says:
>>> Well, this is not exactly what I meant. Obviously Rifkin and Parrott have put a lot of time and effort into their research. I would like to see someone else - or a group of people - doing exactly the same, with the explicit aim of proving the opposite of Rifkin's and Parrott's view. <<<
But Marshall did. Koopman did. They don't seem to have succeeded -- they sure didn't convince me, and if they had been convincing generally, I think it's a safe bet that Kuijken, McCreesh, Junghaenel and Mallon (among others) wouldn't have gone over to the OVPP side.

If anyone had found/should find in the future solid evidence to disprove the OVPP thesis, I'm quite sure the discovery would be/will be very widely publicized by the people and institutions who support the established Herreweghe/Koopman/Gardiner/Harnoncourt style of period-instrument Bach performance.

 

OVPP
Still more OVPP
Yet more OVPP (and style of writing)
Balance, stamina and OVPP

Brad B. wrote (April 17, 2003):
It seems to me it wasn't so long ago that a few diehards were still trying to assert that the "Coro" sections of such operas as "La Dafne," "L'euridice" and "L'orfeo" should be done with a "Chorus" (i.e., a traditional, mammoth opera chorus). Now that that ludicrous "tradition" has mostly been abandoned, maybe it is time to do things the way they did them then: judge the numbers of players needed on the size of the house.

The Baroque era had its monster concerts, too. Corelli conducted an outdoor performance of one of his Roman oratorios with over 100 participants. But that was in an unfavorable "acoustic" (if one can say that of a performance al fresco), where much sound was needed.

For a house of 100-400 seats, OVPP makes perfect sense. But I hate hearing tiny ensembles at Carnegie Hall (as was the case with Bartoli and Il Giardino Armonico, where I heard hardly a peep!). When is HIP going to get hip to this extremely elementary performance principle?!

Recordings (the subject of this discussion) are another matter, of course. (I recorded "Dido" with OVPP and it seemed to work splendidly. Therefore, I have no axes to grind against OVPP.) It should be admitted that recordings are not "documented performances" (thank you, Richard Taruskin!). But, even if they truly were, we would need to keep an open mind about OVPP versus large ensembles, given that the size of ensembles was flexible during every era before this simplistic one that we live in now.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 17, 2003):
Brad B. wrote:
< It seems to me it wasn't so long ago that a few diehards were still trying to assert that the "Coro" sections of such operas as "La Dafne," "L'euridice" and "L'orfeo" should be done with a "Chorus" (i.e., a traditional, mammoth opera chorus). Now that that ludicrous "tradition" has mostly been abandoned, maybe it is time to do things the way they did them then: judge the numbers of players needed on the size of the house.
(...)
For a house of 100-400 seats, OVPP makes perfect sense. But I hate hearing tiny ensembles at Carnegie Hall (as was the case with Bartoli and Il Giardino Armonico, where I heard hardly a peep!). When is HIP going to get hip to this extremely elementary performance principle?! >
Agreed! It shouldn't be a binary decision of one-per-part vs manyper-part; every performance circumstance is different.

I think that part of the problem is the notion that a recording is supposed to define a "definitive" (pun intended) way of doing something: such that everybody else's way is wrong. Maybe not (or maybe so) in the minds of the performers and publishers, but in the minds of some consumers: people who might want to collect the single "best" recording of something and not listen to others anymore. Or, if they're not consciously out to find such a thing, perhaps at least by default: having found an approach s/he really likes, a listener might ignore new things that come up as options. Everybody has favorites, and everybody has a limited budget.

A recording also (supposedly) defines an artist's view of a work, and until that same artist does a remake, it is assumed (by some) that the artist's opinion does not change...that it remains fixed, like the record...and that the artist is expected to defend the way s/he did it for the record, and do the same thing in a later concert. Or in the case of a composer, the score defines (to some) a "perfect" realization, a set of immutable facts. Why? Why is there such an assumption that a piece of music is anything other than a living entity, different in every performance? Why must music be ossified into (and limited to) these snapshots from its life
cycle?

Here's an article about that: the chapter "Music Becomes a Thing" in the book The Recording Angel by Evan Eisenberg. Well, the whole book is worth reading also...various thoughts about this ossification, and more.

Personally, I think an "authentic" performance is one that is imaginative; everything else (instruments chosen, techniques, tempos, etc. etc. etc.) is merely the stylistic features and "window dressing" making it more or less attractive. If there's no imagination in there, it's not really a performance; it's dead, it's just following somebody else's rules (composer, treatises, traditions, current fads...). An unimaginative approach might sell a lot of records, and pack some halls, but is it music?

As for notions of style, I like Peter Schickele's simple motto on his radio program: "If it sounds good, it IS good."

=====

I'm curious about any reactions to the following statement (sort of a "mission statement" or a Credo) from a practitioner of "historically informed" performance:

"Great performance is a creative and imaginative act of communication, speaking directly to the audience in the language of musical speech and gesture. It is not an attempt to articulate another person's intentions exactly, which is impossible. Nor is it a slavish adherence to instructions, a supposedly selfless attempt to reproduce some platonically perfect work according to a set of rules. A performer must bring the music to life today, with exactly the right expression relevant to the actual moment.

"Historical knowledge is helpful insofar as it encourages performers to be more insightful, expressive, and communicative: recognizing the music's character and its native language, identifying its unique features, taking all of that to heart, and finding some way to bring it out. It can free performers from the deadly habit of not thinking--as long as it does not simply replace that with some different habit of not thinking! At its best, historical techniques of expression enlarge a performer's imagination and command of the musical language (vocabulary, syntax, and usage patterns). It sparks him to approach the music in a vital and creative manner, today, thinking and feeling like a composer or improvisor in the moment of inspiration: coming to the performance with fluent language and something to say. Such is the type of performance that allows the music to live and breathe, as natural communication among living souls."

Matthew Westphal wrote (April 18, 2003):
[To Brad B.] Bradley has a very good point. But that leads to the issue of the style of writing. When a Baroque composer -- Viadana (to take one of Steven's examples) or Händel or the composers of the Pellegrina intrmedii or whoever -- wrote for a big ensemble in a big space, wasn't the style of writing different from that for a smaller ensemble?

To take one example with which most of us will be familiar, Händel's Royal Fireworks Music was written for outdoor performance by the biggest wind band the capital of the British Empire could muster -- and the writing is generally chordal, the counterpoint pretty simple and not very ornate.

Now look at the swirling 16th notes in the counterpoint of the opening choruses of, say, "O ewiges Feuer" or "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben". Probably written for the 18th-century Thomaskirche and Nikolakirche, which were probably smaller than Carnegie Hall. But even if you're going to do those cantatas in Carnegie Hall, I'm just not sure it works to bring in a larger ensemble that would be better suited to less intricate, more chordal writing.

I didn't hear Il Giardino Armonico with Bartoli at Carnegie, but I did hear the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment there with her, and I heard her with Le Nuove Musiche (five or six people, if memory serves) at the similarly sized Verizon Hall in Philadelphia, and I thought the sound was just fine. It seems to me that if you can hear Barbara Bonney and one piano at Carnegie Hall, you'll be able to hear a period-instrument group.

(Avery Fisher Hall is another matter!)

Steven Guy wrote (April 18, 2003):
Matthew Westphal wrote:
< Bradley has a very good point. But that leads to the issue of the style of writing. When a Baroque composer -- Viadana (to take one of Steven's examples) or Händel or the composers of the Pellegrina intrmedii or whoever -- wrote for a big ensemble in a big space, wasn't the style of writing different from that for a smaller ensemble? >
Well, as far as Viadana, the intermedii (La pellegrina comes to mind) and Händel, the style of writing is not detectably different from music written on a smaller scale. Lully's famous Te Deum was performed with vast forces - yet a recent recording on NAXOS has presented it with a very small number of instruments and voices.

As Johan has said, the concentration of numbers versus kinds of voices gives a very narrow version of HIP - which should, after all, represent a holistic approach to the music - at least in my opinion! ;-)

The example of a string quartet is perfect - is a string orchestra closer to the composer's wishes than a quartet of wind instruments (say, a flute oboe, clarinet and bassoon)? One group has the right instruments but too many on each line and the other has the right numbers but the wrong instruments.

< To take one example with which most of us will be familiar, Händel's Royal Fireworks Music was written for outdoor performance by the biggest wind band the capital of the British Empire could muster -- and the writing is generally chordal, the counterpoint pretty simple and not very ornate. >
Well, Händel wrote very contrapuntal music in his choruses - check out Messiah! The Musick for the Royal Fireworks does contain the slow French style Ouverture to begin with - compare it to the opening of Messiah! The following movements are particularly suited to wind instruments and take account of the harmonic ranges of natural horns and trumpets.

I've got the score of Viadana Vesper Psalms from 1612 and they look pretty similar to those of Claudio Monteverdi to me.

Corelli's concerti grossi were performed with vast forces from time to time - up to 170 musicians according so a report.

Let's face it, it is possible to go just as wrong by miniaturising this music as it is by using too large an ensemble of voices or instruments.

< Now look at the swirling 16th notes in the counterpoint of the opening choruses of, say, "O ewiges Feuer" or "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben". Probably written for the 18th-century Thomaskirche and Nikolakirche, which were probably smaller than Carnegie Hall. But even if you're going to do those cantatas in Carnegie Hall, I'm just not sure it works to bring in a larger ensemble that would be better suited to less intricate, more chordal writing. >
I don't think composermade many changes to music when it was performed on a larger scale. Lully's Te Deum has some very florid music! (I've looked at the score) Look at the choruses of Israel in Egypt and Saul by Händel! Some very contrapuntal stuff here! Mercilessly written too!

Composers like Händel might have thought to themselves: "Hmmmm! I bet a big double chorus singing swirling and cascading semiquavers is just what this piece needs!"

< I didn't hear Il Giardino Armonico with Bartoli at Carnegie, but I did hear the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment there with her, and I heard her with Le Nuove Musiche (five or six people, if memory serves) at the similarly sized Verizon Hall in Philadelphia, and I thought the sound was just fine. It seems to me that if you can hear Barbara Bonney and one piano at Carnegie Hall, you'll be able to hear a period-instrument group. >
I'm not sure what the point it here? One singer and a group of instruments will probably work in most venues - even if a bit of sneaky amplification is used here and there! Choral and orchestral works are a different matter. The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra accompanying Andreas Scholl here in Adelaide in March were just loud enough for the Adelaide Town Hall - but they never really made the place vibrate with sound - as a larger ensemble might have done. Of course, the balance was excellent and Scholl's voice was very well matched with the forces around him. A wonderful concert, by the way. I've heard Bach's Magnificat performed with a chamber choir in the same venue and a cut down Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (on modern instruments) and it sounded good. If we had a single voices boys and men in the same piece in the same venue with all the instruments Bach calls for in his score I doubt the voices would be audible. Even in a church the same forces would favour the instruments above the voices. The counterpoint in the choruses of the Magnificat is exceptionally good but it is no more difficult to sing than the counterpoint frequently encountered in typical choruses in Händel's oratorios of Rameau's Grands motets, for instance. Take the chorus "Let us break their bonds asunder" from Messiah - I've sung this in choirs many, many times and it still amazes me how difficult it is to pull off well - but choirs do manage to sing this chorus and do sing it well.

The counterpoint distributed among the four choirs of Lodovico da Viadana's Vespers would be hellishly difficult to pull off at times. I have photocopies of the score of this work. I'd love to hear it performed or recorded - with the forces Viadana calls for! I've also been trying to make a Sibelius file out of Lully's Te Deum and I've had a very close look at the entire score.

It seems to me that Baroque (and Renaissance) composers expected nimble, deft and tricky singing from soloists, vocal quartets and very large choirs! It is wrong and misinformed to suggest that all (or most) complex Baroque and Renaissance choral music was sung by soloists and just as wrong to assert that simpler music was usually suggestive of larger forces.

Cesti's opera 'Il pomo d'oro' was performed with large forces and so was J. J. Fux's opera 'Costanza e Fortezza' (with very large forces) – but the scores of both of these operas do not exhibit a style of vocal and choral composition significantly different from their other smaller scaled works.

Anyway, that's enough from me.

Matthew Westphal wrote (April 19, 2003):
Brad L. says:
>>> I had Parrott's recording of the B Minor Mass on in the car last weekend, and my wife said she really missed hearing a choir. I defended it by saying something like, "Yeah, I do too, but at least these people are playing and singing it really well...." :) <<<
That's entirely fair and reasonable. She misses hearing a choir because it's what she's used to and she likes. No arguing with that.

But with OVPP Bach, we're still at the point of arguing about what forces Bach had and how he deployed them -- that is, if we think that issue even matters.

(I think it's useless arguing about what Bach would have wanted, because it's nothing but speculation -- we have absolutely no way of knowing what Bach, presented with various options, would have chosen, let alone what he'd have written for the forces he selected.)

The whole rationale for the period-instrument movement, if I've understood it correctly after all these years, is that if we take the instruments (and the musical conventions) that a certain composer had in mind when he was composing, master them and play his music on those instruments with that mastery, the result will sound really good -- better, even, than the various other alternatives. (To boil it way down, the composer knew what he was doing with what he had.)

Which is why I think we need to take OVPP Bach seriously. I personally think it's much the most convincing way to read the evidence, and when I hear good performances done that way, the result is, to me, as revelatory as when I heard, say, Hogwood's Messiah for the first time.

The OVPP thesis, of course, puts the likes of Gardiner, Koopman and Herreweghe in a potentially difficult position -- one which has now Gardiner and Herreweghe saying that what exactly Bach did doesn't matter so much and they'll do it the way they've gotten to like it, thank you. (And has Koopman doing that embarrassing article for EARLY MUSIC attempting to discredit Parrott's and Rifkin's research.)

Now if only we could that definitive piece of evidence, the letter in JSB's handwriting that says, "Dearest Anna Magdalena: Another Sunday at the Thomaskirche. Markus, Gottlob, Christian and young Friedrich were very good in the cantata, especially in that opening Coro, though Friedrich was shaky in his soprano solo, and the rest of the little brats completely screwed up the Schuetz motet. Ah, if only you were permitted to sing in church, my dear! Love, your Sebastian."

(Or, alternatively, the letter that says, "Dearest Anna Magdalena: Well, those worthless students mucked up the cantata yet again this week. Can't the three altos get that passage in the coro right for once? I just wish I had one of those marvelous 20-voice collegiate choirs like Friddy Händel has over in London. But it's the strangest thing about London: I have this odd foreboding that, two and a half centuries after you and I dead and gone, there will be a cabal of Anglo-Saxons running around claiming that I wrote my mighty choral masterpieces for one of their little madrigal consorts. "The B minor Madrigal" -- what rubbish! Love, your Sebastian.")

Matthew Westphal wrote (April 19, 2003):
>>> Corelli's concerti grossi were performed with vast forces from time to time - up to 170 musicians according so a report.<<<
Sure, on the ripieno parts. In any case, do those concerti grossi have 16th-notes in all four or five parts at once?

Now that you mention it, it might be a grand thing to assemble 170 baroque string players and do a few of those concerti grossi.

Steven, you also cite Lully's Te Deum and Cesti and Fux operas that were performed with large forces. I'm sure they were, and I've never seen scores of these works myself. So my question is -- is the florid writing in these works in the big tutti ensemble numbers or in the arias and duets? And if it's in the tutti numbers, is it in the parts for the ripienists?

To take a composer whose work I know better, what about Giovanni Gabrieli? He had large forces at least sometimes, no? Isn't his writing for the cappella less florid than that for the choirs of instruments and solo voices?

>>> Well, Händel wrote very contrapuntal music in his choruses - check out Messiah! Look at the choruses of Israel in Egypt and Saul by Händel! Some very contrapuntal stuff here! Mercilessly written too! <<<
Oh, I've thought about that, certainly.

My sense is that Händel in his choruses (written for around 4-5 singers on each part, I think, no?) didn't usually write extended fast-moving passages for more than one or two voices at any given instant -- and when it's two voices, they tend to be in parallel motion. (Cf. "And he shall purify," "For unto us a child is born," "Let usbreak their bonds asunder" from Messiah or "The Lord shall reign for ever and ever" from Israel in Egypt.) The other voices have either longer note values or move chordally (e.g., the lower voices going "unto us ... a Son is given" chordally while the sopranos swirl). Even "Let us break their bonds asunder" has, I think, usually has only one or at most two voices swirling on "and cast awaaaaaaaaaaaaaay" at any given instant, while the other voices are singing "their yokes from us" chordally and with rests between the statements. That makes the swirling part much easier to hear clearly and to keep together, particularly if multiple performers are singing each part.

Compare that to, say, the Alleluia in the opening chorus of "Wachet auf" BWV 140 or the "Cum Sancto Spiritu", "Et resurrexit" or "Pleni sunt coeli" from the B minor Mass (BWV 232). (There are loads of other examples.) You have three, four, five, six parts all swirling at once. The fewer people you have on each part trying to execute all those swirls in unison, the more likely it all is to be audible and the less likely it is to turn to aural mush.

That's one of the musical reasons (aside from what Bach's autograph parts and the Entwurff do and don't say) that OVPP Bach makes sense to me (where it wouldn't for Händel). Granted, that's nothing but instinct on my part, but there it is ...

Francine Renee Hall wrote (April 19, 2003):
[To Matthew Westphal] And my common sense says that 2VPP is more likely in Bach's Mass in B-moll (BWV 232). Yes, the clarity is there with OVPP but so is the enormous strain on all the worn out singers doing their best to be overheard from the orchestra, brass and timpani. A 2VPP would still keep the clarity and make the vocal lines more seamless.

Robert Sherman wrote (April 19, 2003):
Matthew Westphal wrote:
< The whole rationale for the period-instrument movement, if I've understood it correctly after all these years, is that if we take the instruments (and the musical conventions) that a certain composer had in mind when he was composing, master them and play his music on those instruments with that mastery, the result will sound really good -- better, even, than the various other alternatives. (To boil it way down, the composer knew what he was doing with what he had.) >
Matthew puts it well, and in the process illustrates how off-target the debate is.

Let's accept as given that "the composer knew what he was doing with what he had."

But from that it doesn't necessarily follow that duplicating what he had (or "Hollywood duplicating", which is what the currently trendy pseudo-historic trumpets with finger-holes do) will sound better than the various alternatives. We now have available alternatives the composers didn't have. They had no opportunity to judge whether to use these alternatives. We do.

Matthew Westphal wrote (April 20, 2003):
Balance, stamina and OVPP

Francine Renee Hall says:
>>> And my common sense says that 2VPP is more likely in Bach's Mass in B-moll (BWV 232). Yes, the clarity is there with OVPP but so is the enormous strain on all the worn out singers doing their best to be overheard from the orchestra, brass and timpani. A 2VPP would still keep the clarity and make the vocal lines more seamless. <<<
I understand your point, though personally I find that the clarity of nuance isn't usually there in the same way even with 2VPP (and I don't hear a lot of difference in terms of volume between one and two voices). To put it more precisely, a singer doing his or her line solo can put in all sorts of small, subtle nuances that just come naturally as part of being a musical singer. Put two singers on the part and either that detail becomes obscured because each singer is doing something slightly different, or everything becomes a bit less natural and more overdetermined ("choirmasterly" is a word I like to use) because the two singers have to concentrate on executing all their nuances in unison.

As for the vocal lines being more seamless, I'm not sure I think they should be seamless -- or at least any more seamless than, say, the oboe lines (which are pretty much never done 2OPP).

As for the worn-out singers straining to be heard over (maybe "through" is a better word) the orchestra, I've been lucky enough to hear the B minor Mass (BWV 232) live OVPP four times; in only one of them did I find strain (or even balance, really) to be a serious problem, and in that case I thought that both the venue and some of the singers were not well chosen.

(Volume can be an issue, yes -- I certainly had to listen harder in Avery Fisher Hall, but that comes with going to concerts there, so I just dealt with it. Mostly Mozart wasn't going to move the concert to one of the nearby churches just because I thought they should.)

Re balance between orchestra and OVPP singers, here's something Paul McCreesh said to me for an article I did for Amazon.com a few years ago: "Once you start using solo voices, you've got to redefine the whole concept of balance. One thing you have to do with the band is cut away the [habits from] years of overaccentuated, aggressive playing--that sort of 'dramatic' approach to the crowd choruses in the Passions, where everybody is shouting every syllable. It all happens very easily and naturally when you have solo voices because they have to project in a very dramatic and direct way--but then you have to say to the band, 'Don't feel you need to thrash the same way you would if you were supporting a choir of 25 or 30.' "

Re stamina, Julianne Baird (who has sung a few OVPP B minor Masses in her day) told me this for the same article: "I think that the audience is somewhat amazed that the same five to eight singers who have sung the choral parts can then step forward to manage the solos. Of course it takes stamina -- but no more than singing a major opera role. And there are breaks, just as in an opera."

One thing that always bugged me about the way Rifkin performed the B minor Mass when I heard him do it in concert (twice) is that he made five singers slog through the entire thing while the other three he hired just shuffled out for the last quarter of the evening. If you've gotta hire eight singers, use them -- let them take turns singing the various choruses. (Kuijken and Junghänel did it this way.)

Santu de Silva wrote (April 22, 2003):
Matthew Westphal replies to Francine:
"Hi Francine. I understand your point, though personally I find that the clarity of nuance isn't usually there in the same way even with 2VPP (and I don't hear a lot of difference in terms of volume between one and two voices). To put it more precisely, a singer doing his or her line solo can put in all sorts of small, subtle nuances that just come naturally as part of being a musical singer. Put two singers on the part and either that detail becomes obscured because each singer is doing something slightly different, or everything becomes a bit less natural and more overdetermined ("choirmasterly" is a word I like to use) because the two singers have to concentrate on executing all their nuances in unison."
I think we're getting at the crux of the matter here.

I come from what Matthew calls the "choirmasterly" tradition. Some folks might have to concentrate like crazy to blend (which is what we called it), but it comes naturally. The question of what is "natural" is entirely relative. At the end of the Victorian era when large choruses were the norm, together with lots of rubato and lots of vibrato [in fact all the styles that some list members seem to think were the "old" ways, and therefore probably closer to the ways Bach would have liked it, etc etc, but are in fact inspired by grand opera] there were two traditions:

(1) the result of putting a large chorus of mixed voices, each doing its "subtle expressive" thing, resulting in a commonly recognized 'chorus' sound.

(2) a slighly more recent boys' voice sound with little or no vibrato. This is the British choirsound made famous by King's College, very smooth and homogeneous.

[Actually, Harnoncourt's trebles, and even the Vienna Singerknaben do not have as much blend. In recent times, I think gardiner's choir has a lot of blend, the Sixteen as much, Pinnock a little less. Harnoncourt's most recent SMP choir has a lot of blend, even being a mixed chorus.]

I won't even try to speculate what the degree of blend might have been in bach's choir of 1738. I imagine it would be different for different pieces. It is something that can be controlled.

HOWEVER

if the choir was one voice per part, is it relevant?

To some degree, yes, there is blending even with a quartet; this is called 'chording.' A good choir chords very consciously--perhaps striving for Pythagorean intervals? Again it is not hard, but it is not automatic, by any means. Anyone who has sung in a choir that chords well will absolutely HATE to sing in a choir that does not.

But should choristers even try to do the "subtly expressive things"? The perfect answer is: when appropriate. Can two trebles be subtly expressive together? It is possible. Just the fact that it seems impossible is not, in my opinion an argument pro one voice per part.

My personal guess is that Bach used few voices. I would guess at least two (boys) each for the upper parts, possibly (as few as) one each for the lower parts. This has been a common configuration in small (English tradition) churches all over the world for centuries.

Further, I believe that (notwithstanding the lack of evidence that Bach went in for spectaculars like did Händel) for special occasions Bach may have used larger forces. It is a human phenomenon: more people want to be involved in special events!

Granted that I know little about German culture of the 18th century, especially in Saxony (or wherever Leipzig is), all I can say is in any church I have ever been connected with, there is always a larger choir for Christmas and Good Friday, etc, than for other days. If a lot of good trebles have their mothers petition to have them included--please, please please Herr Bach? what's he going to do? tell them that
their subtle expressive stuff is gonna screw his passion? (Maybe it's not as simple as that, and I'm wrong ...)

Let me tell you an instance where the blending issue is really noticeable: in the tenor chorale of BWV 140. This number sounds best to me with chorus tenors (three is optimal), NOT blending perfectly. (You don't ask them to not blend; you ask them to sing expressively.) The result is slight thickness in the sound-- exactly what matthew is describing, except that it is desirable here; there is a feeling of excitement. But this is an exception.

There is a place for everything. There is a place for one singer per part also. That place, in my humble, biased and generally ignorant opinion is: only when appropriate, not all the time.

Johan van Veen wrote (April 23, 2003):
Santu de Silva wrote:
>>>HOWEVER
if the choir was one voice per part, is it relevant?
To some degree, yes, there is blending even with a quartet; this is called 'chording.' A good choir chords very consciously--perhaps striving for Pythagorean intervals? Again it is not hard, but it is not automatic, by any means. Anyone who has sung in a choir that chords well will absolutely HATE to sing in a choir that does not.<<<
I can't see any reason why "blending" wouldn't be important with only four singers. The problem I see with the OVPP approach is that the whole performance is done by "solo singers" who are not always interested or experienced in ensemble singing. It is my experience that more often than not "ensembles" in Händel operas sound horrible because the soloists involved don't know how to sing in an ensemble.

Therefore I think the best OVPP performances will be those by ensembles which are singing together regularly and whose members yet are able to sing solo parts as well. I am thinking of ensembles like Cantus Cölln. Simply bringing four solo voice together doesn't make an ensemble.

 

Continue on Part 9

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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Last update: ýFebruary 2, 2008 ý16:32:52