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Performance of Bach’s Vocal Works

General Discussions - Part 10

 

 

Continue from Part 9

A common sense view regarding styles of performance

Lord of Terror wrote (November 19, 2004):
First of all, my regards to all groups members, some of which having given informed reviews which shaped the reasons upon which I now try to discuss upon the works involved. Unlike most reviewers here, which appear to be musicologists (or at least they gained the required training), I am simply an attentive listener, the core of my reviews being therefore based either on "simple" perception or on common sense. It is now customary, in the prevailing relativistic passion, to deny common sense and offer the view that ANYTHING regarding artistic critique is based solely on so called "personal oppinions". Such a view is self-denying: if any artistic critique is relative, then this very theory (being an artistic critique) is relative. We must therefore conclude that even in the realm of late 20th century cheap "ideas", at least SOME of the methods involved in studying performances critically must be objective.

Common sense tells us that it's absurd and artistically futile to combine Van Gogh with Rembrandt. Although both gave stunning paintings, the style upon which they based their works is inextricably different. Equally absurd it is to perform Bach's music using styles of mid 20th century commercial romanticism. If Bach should be performed as done by Richter, then by all means why shouldn't Wagner be performed in Baroque fashion? Yes, it is THAT simple. Here, the common objection is that "we don't know how Baroque music was performed in that day". Based on same theory we should deny the existence of prehistoric cultures just because our knowledge regarding this period is fragmentary.

There is quite a huge difference here: one view is based on historical understanding, the other on someone's whims. True, HIP scholarship is ever changing and many of its theories may be invalidated by future arguments (as with any body of scholarship). However, to deny it based on these shortcomings and inherently adopt nonsensical ignorance as better alternative is just as relying to age-old theories about Earth being flat. The only argument supporters of romantic interpretation of Bach may VALIDLY try is to prove the absurd: that Bach was a late romantic composer who liked his counterpoint muddened by dozens of concert instruments, operatic choirs trained in performing Verdi, his variety of musical states entirely dismissed in favor of a single, to quote a reviewer, "monumentality". This "revealed" monumentality/sentimentality of Bach is nothing more than the usual superstar conductors' cheap methods to win their usual intellectually disengaged audience.

Ludwig wrote (November 19, 2004):
[To Lord of Terror] Interesting point! I wander how Wagner would really sound as Baroque music.---Maybe we could have Brunnhilde take off on an aria and have a Eunuch to sign Sigfried's part. Chnage all the charecters to goddesses, gods,nymphs, fauns, and other mythological charecterts. Opera was THE musical form of the Baroque age.

Neil Halliday wrote (November 19, 2004):
Lord of Terror wrote: <...... "monumentality". This "revealed" monumentality/sentimentality of Bach is nothing more than the usual superstar conductors' cheap methods to win their usual intellectually disengaged audience.>
You need to define your terms. "Monumentality" is not necessarily solely characteristic of, or confined to, an orchestra of modern instruments.

For example, the B minor Mass is inherently "monumental". Listen to the recordings of Hengelbrock and Hickox, on period instruments.

Of course, one can miniaturize the B minor mass, by performing it OPPP, but most people like "monumentalism" where it's appropriate - like in the architecture of St. Peter's Cathedral - and in the B minor Mass. That's why Rivkin can't make any money out of his approach.

Uri Golomb wrote (November 19, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote: < You need to define your terms. "Monumentality" is not necessarily solely characteristic of, or confined to, an orchestra of modern instruments. >
What is your definition, then?

< For example, the B minor Mass is inherently "monumental". >
All of it? In what sense?

< Listen to the recordings of Hengelbrock and Hickox, on period instruments. >
I can understand -- not necessarily endorse -- the classification "monumental" with regard to some movements in Hengelbrock's performance; not so much in Hickox's. (I'm not being judgmental here -- I like both recordings very much). Though I must add that the only "monumental" thing about Hengelbrock is his slow tempi in some movements and his frequent use of continuous, legato articulation. In other respects, he creates a palpable sense of tension which might be at odds with the "monumental".

For me, the word "monumental" has architectonic associations, and therefore a monumental performance is one with a somewhat static character (which, on the whole, I find inapparopriate in most of the Mass). In this sense, Hengelbrock does not qualify: the opening of his First Kyrie -- with a huge crescendo-diminuendo gesture -- is about as un-monumental as it gets, its slow tempo notwithstanding. Other people, hwoever, might not have the same assocations.

< Of course, one can miniaturize the B minor mass, by performing it OPPP, but most people like "monumentalism" where it's appropriate - like in the architecture of St. Peter's Cathedral - and in the B minor Mass. That's why Rivkin can't make any money out of his approach. >
What do you know about Rifkin's finances? And those of Parrott, Junghänel,
McCreesh and several other musicians who perform Bach's vocal music OVPP? And on how they compare with those of supposedly more monumental musicians?

Neil Halliday wrote (November 20, 2004):
Uri Golomb wrote: <"What is your definition (of "monumentalism"), then?">
"Monumentalism" is not easy to define (as you have recognised in your post), but my point was that our correspondent was implying some kind of inadmissability of the "monumental" in performance of Bach, without defining what he means by the term.

For me, as examples, the 'Kyrie', 'Sanctus' and 'Dona' of the BMM are the essence of "monumentalism" (even from just looking at the score, without attempting to define the term; and ofcourse, the BMM is generally recognised as one of the "monuments" of Western music).

Listening to these three movements in Hengelbrock again, I can see what you are saying; and from my point of view, Hengelbrock does seem to be working against the "monumental" nature of the music, especially in the Sanctus, where the 'micro-management' of the notes is quite evident. (Nevertheless, his 'Gratias' and 'Dona' are gloriously "monumental", again without attempting to define that term).

For my part, I want to imagine, for example, that I am observing the vast interior space under the dome of St. Peter's Cathedral, when I hear this 'Sanctus' - or however else one experiences transcendence; if this is anachronistic to Bach's intention, so be it. Or rather, obviously transcendence is Bach's intention, so the question is - by what performance style do we achieve it.

No doubt some find a sextet 'Sanctus' to be charming (but surely not 'transcendent'?); however, I do recall Rifkin commenting that the apparent lack of widespread interest in OVPP for "large" ("monumental"?) choruses was a financial barrier to his presentation of many such works in this manner. (BTW, how many OVPP BMM's have been recorded?)

John Pike wrote (November 20, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] I have just received Hengelbrock's MBM. Superb! One of the best I know. I particularly like the way he has chosen tempi and other stylistic aspects to suit the words. Take the very slow tempo of the opening Kyrie Eleison! One is really left with a sense of the sinner weighed down with a sense of guilt and begging for mercy....very powerful. And the Dona Nobis Pacem again at the end...again, a very strong sense of a desire for peace.

Continue of this part of thdiscussion, see: Mass in B minor BWV 232 – conducted by Thomas Hengelbrock

Luke Hubbard wrote (November 22, 2004):
I was asked to define what I meant about monumentality. Since I had merely quoted several reviewers on this board, you may better ask this question to them directly. Their oppinion is that Bach music benefits from being performed "dramatically", by large orchestras and choirs, producing a powerful effect which supposedly "goes directly to the heart of the listener". I cannot diaggree more with such a view. Bach doesn't need 100 instruments and worn out attention-grabbing TRICKS to emulate musical substance. His music is already filled with substance and consequently, I fail to understand why those who disaggree with that even bother to perform this music.


Augenmusik and gestural performance

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 22, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < Only the aspects of 'Augen-musik' are available to the performer or sometimes only to the one who reads the score. I, personally, believe that such technique could have been intentional on Bach's part, even though it might hardly have been noticeable to anyone but the composer at the time. >
I've added some further remarks to my page at: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/performance-preparation.htm , which see. The new parts there are about gestural performance.

It's the performer's job to make anything noticeable in the sound that has a reasonable claim to need emphasis, from the page. Bach's scores are, foremost, for performers to look at as instructions for doing our job. Some of the markings on them make sense only to performers, coming to it with the background in performance/composition/improvisation that Bach expected as normal context, and that Bach himself taught to his students. Non-performing listeners are certainly welcome to look at scores, also, for further appreciation of the music; but they really have little reasonable basis to judge whether the right things are being done or not.....

This is not some attempt to keep anything hidden away from listeners, or to slip in anything dishonest. Quite the contrary. An excellent performance, in my opinion, makes it unnecessary for listeners to run and stare at scores to figure out what's going on. The performer's job is to reveal what's there, as clearly as possible, in musical priorities derived from coherent analysis of (and complete commitment to) the music.

Self-important critics can yipe all they want to that a performer has rendered some of the notes less audible than they expected, or has overdone some other points, or whatever....some critics will never be pleased, personally, because of their own refusal and inability to think as performers/composers/improvisers, and their own lack of experience with prioritizing musical elements (i.e. knowledge of what's practical and reasonable to expect). It happens. It's the critic's problem, not the performer's problem, as long as the performer is presenting the music with a reasonable degree of clarity and immediacy. That's authenticity, and the serving of the composer's intentions.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 23, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: >>Quite the contrary. An excellent performance, in my opinion, makes it unnecessary for listeners to run and stare at scores to figure out what's going on.... Self-important critics can yipe all they want to that a performer has rendered some of the notes less audible than they expected,<<
Less audible? No, so inaudible so that the listener, with the aid of the score can at least 'imagine' what Bach placed into the score and what the conductor never really made perceptible except as 'Augenmusik.'

>>...or [the performer] has overdone some other points,<<
...to the detriment of the music so that other elements are missing in the performance.

>>personally, because of their own refusal and inability to think as performers/composers/improvisers, and their own lack of experience with prioritizing musical elements (i.e. knowledge of what's practical and reasonable to expect).<<
Ah, so Bach did compose 'Augenmusik' because he realized through 'prioritizing' his 'musical elements' that is was not really reasonable and practical to expect all the elements in his score to be heard. An interesting idea on your part. It speaks volumes about your notion of 'authentic' performances!

What a lame excuse this is for a bad performance, and then you even try to blame the listener or critic for not being able to go along with this utter nonsense.

>>It's the critic's problem, not the performer's problem, as long as the performer is presenting the music with a reasonable degree of clarity and immediacy. That's authenticity, and the serving of the composer's intentions.<<
Now 'war' equals 'peace' and 'black' is the same as 'white'! 'Presenting the music with a reasonable degree of clarity and immediacy' is not enough to satisfy Bach's standard of musical excellence. When entire entries of important musical motifs are swallowed up by an imbalance among the performers, there is definitely something wrong that can not be excused as being 'authentic' to Bach's intentions. Performers and performing groups should be willing to admit that performing Bach properly is a very difficult matter and that they may not have been able to do the music justice. It would be wrong to contend otherwise by saying: "This is good enough. The listeners do not need to know that we played all the notes correctly with exaggerated expression, but failed to 'bring out certain parts' because Bach put too much into the music." Niedt would have said, "See, I told you so. All this contrapuntal and fugal stuff in a cantata is really for no good at all. Rather give me a simple 'style galante' melody with a simple melody, then all this criticism by amateur critics will stop." Would Bach quote Niedt's opinion on this?

No one is 'serving the composer's intentions' by being unable to reproduce for the listener the basic information which Bach placed into his scores. The listener, by learning how to read and follow along with the score, will be doing a greater service for Bach's music than the performer who unnaturally stresses some minor aspects to the detriment of some more important ones in order to capture for a fleeting moment the attention of some modern-day audience.

Different interpretations can and should exist side by side, but the difference between a truly outstanding performance and a mediocre one is a decision probably best left to the well-informed listener rather than the so-called 'authentic' performers if they ascribe to some of the notions you have spelled out above.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 23, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/10755
blah blah blah blah blah!

Look, Thomas, let's cut a deal here.

- You go read all of J J Quantz' On Playing the Flute (1752, language of your choice, German/English/French) so you'll have a decent background in 18th century aesthetics (and 18th century standards of criticism). Also, Peter Kivy's Authenticities so you'll have a clue about current philosophical notions of "composer's intentions", "authenticity", and "faithfulness to the music". This latter is much broader and more tolerant than the restrictive views that you express. Kivy leaves room at the table for many approaches. You might even agree with much or most of what he says, if you'd give it a chance!

- In return, I'll go read another book about Rudolf Steiner or Rosicrucianism or whatever it is that makes you disdain scientific methods and academia, in favor of your esoteric "insights" into things. Tell me what I should go read, in that regard. I do already read some of that stuff, you know; more than you might guess, actually. Quite entertaining and intriguing. However, I try not to let it get in the way of my work.

Fair enough?

Meanwhile, you could also say what it is you like about recordings of BWV 127/1, and why. What are your aesthetic standards? Is it possible that you can express an evaluative opinion in such a way that your utter contempt for performers and for academic study is presented in some positive light? Can you express yourself clearly in personal preferences, without moralizing about the performers' presumed motivations or intelligence? Frankly, I'd advise you to steer clear of performance-practice issues since you don't have the practical background in them; just tell us what you enjoy hearing, as a consumer who likes collecting Bach's music, and leave it at that. A nice presentation that would respect other people's integrity.

This, as usual for me, is a serious request! Don't blow it off with your usual contempt!

I've already stated my aesthetic criteria and artistic principles at: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/performance-preparation.htm
and my assessments of BWV 127/1 at: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/10753
My cards are on the table here. It's only fair that you do the same, so that any remaining readers might divine a clue as to your motivations in arbitrarily dismissing every principle and every person you don't fancy. (That's how it appears to me, anyway.) Why are you so doggedly antagonistic against academic approaches to understanding? What did academia ever do to you, to make you so unresolvedly bitter? Please tell us, so that we may understand your music reviews properly within the perspective that you intend them.

Thank you.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 23, 2004):
Brad Lehman wrote: >>blah blah blah blah blah!<<
Yes, that's what it sounds like as seen from my perspective.

>>Look, Thomas, let's cut a deal here.<<
No deal here, although I recognize that there might be some interesting quotes, pro and con, to be found in the books you have recommended to me. Also, I have trouble seeing how your reading about Steiner or Rosicrucianism will give you any insights into interpreting and performing Bach's music, particularly if you approach this type of material with the wrong attitude: "Quite entertaining and intriguing. However, I try not to let it get in the way of my work." A 'Weltanschauung' is not something you might don for a few hours as some church-goers might, only to put aside what they have learned and experienced when they return to their main activities and work.

>>Fair enough?<<
No, I am remain rather skeptical about such a deal.

>>Meanwhile, you could also say what it is you like about recordings of BWV 127/1, and why.<<
If you have read my past 'reviews,' you will know that I do not simply say: "I like it" or "I don't like it." I have been rather explicit about various facets of music-making, much to your dismay. I know that you would like some sort of 'catalog' of 'do's and 'don't's, but I have found taking up specific issues as they occur and become obvious in a particular cantata mvt. to be much more fruitful.

>>Is it possible that you can express an evaluative opinion in such a way that your utter contempt for performers and for academic study is presented in some positive light?<<
This is very difficlt, particularly if the 'contempt' for certain performers is deserved, as I see it. I know that others will not agree and they have a right to believe as they wish. I am simply reporting my reaction to recorded performances after listening to them carefully a number of times over the space of a number of days with recourse to a bona fide score.

"Contempt for academic study"? Only when I see evidence of how utter, unthinking reliance upon academic authority is demonstrated and when I observe the misuse of the rules of logic and blind faith in and adherence to all the methods and results of the scientific method. (This does not imply, as you so often have expressed simplistically, that all logic and all aspects of the 'scientific method' are cast aside, but only that certain limitations need to be recognized.)

>>Can you express yourself clearly in personal preferences, without moralizing about the performers' presumed motivations or intelligence?<<
I have expressed myself clearly in my personal preferences. It is all there to be read on Aryeh's site, as you have pointed out. Making assumptions about or ascertaining as far as it is humanly possible the motivations or possible intentions of Bach or the
performers of Bach's music is 'fair game' as I see it. When I see the meticulous care with which Bach composed his music, this allows me to make certain assumptions which may or may not be true, and when I recognize the carelessness with which some performers treat Bach's music in performance, I, likewise, allow myself to guess at the possible reasons and motivation for this, even if I can not be 100% certain about these matters.

>>Frankly, I'd advise you to steer clear of performance-practice issues since you don't have the practical background in them; just tell us what you enjoy hearing, as a consumer who likes collecting Bach's music, and leave it at that.<<
'Practical background in performance-practice issues' based upon errors, misinformation and unreliable evidence? What is the value in something so questionable and controversial? Why would I have to steer clear of these things? It is better to speak of these things openly and honestly rather than shoving these things under the rug.

>>This, as usual for me, is a serious request! Don't blow it off with your usual contempt!<<
Did you notice any contempt in my comments above? Speaking for myself, I am not aware of any. Actually, there is more condescending contempt inherent in the notion that all comments on this list must be expressed only in 'goodie-goodie' terms, lest someone who does not conduct, sing, or play well could feel hurt by criticism. You seem to have little or no faith in the ability of other readers/list members to gain insight into Bach's music or his alleged performance practices.

>>My cards are on the table here.<<
For me, the discussion of a Bach cantata or the recorded performances thereof is not the equivalent to a card game. Sorry! No dice! If this were a Mozart mailing list, we might have played skittles, to be sure, but what did Bach every play other than his
instruments? Ah, yes, musical games, but did you ever hear or read of Bach playing cards, or any similar type of game? Bach did enjoy puns, particularly musical puns, which brings us back to the subject of this thread: 'Augenmusik.'


Notions of Bach's taste

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 30, 2004):
< For the past few centuries, there have always been composer/performers who have not followed slavishly the performance standards of their time and place, just as there have also been a few who have meticulously tried to indicate in their scores just how they wanted to have their ornamentation performed. J. S. Bach, after a recent BCML discussion on this matter based upon clear evidence arising out of the Scheibe/Birnbaum controversy, is an example of a composer who knew that almost everyone else who would perform his music did not possess his high standard of good taste in music, hence Bach took great care, as much as it was possible for him, in preserving his musical intentions and sparing them from being diminished by the efforts of performers who believe they understand better (have better musical taste than Bach) how his music should be performed. These are performers who are absolutely opposed to what they term 'a devotion to dogmatism and rigidity' not realizing that adhering closely to Bach's intentions means demonstrating a willingness to learn from a great master whose good taste in performance practice is unparalleled. >
Translation of that particular fallacy (making it more obvious):

Because Bach wrote down some of his ornamentation/elaboration to teach dilettantes and beginners, which is a strong pedagogical thing to do, [HERE COMES THE FALLACY...] it's dithat any more competent/skillful/tasteful musicians than beginners should ever go beyond such elementary prescriptions in performance of any of Bach's music.

That is, according to that view (with which I disagree!), Bach's notation is somehow intended as RESTRICTIVE rather than INSPIRING. Reduce everything to a beginner's level, as to what is permissible, so the critic at such a dilettante level won't feel inferior or bewildered when confronted with a real display of tasteful skill.

=====

By contrast: I personally believe that adherence to "Bach's intentions" is to be inspired by his work, and spurred to thoughtfully creative action by it. That's the thing to learn from such a great master of unparalleled taste: pick up expression and balance from the nonpareil examples, using them as exercises develop as many techniques as are feasible. Then, go and do likewise in the myriad cases (in Bach's music and elsewhere) where it's not all written down, with freedom and taste that go way beyond the baby steps of pedagogical material for beginners.

It's about expressive range, flexibility, and beauty: inspiring the student to learn the art, and not merely to mimic or to follow a set of restrictions (as a beginner would do). Bach himself said, as a recurring theme on his title pages, that his collections present musical examples to teach control, agility, expression, creativity, style, high-spirited enjoyment, and refreshment.

David Sherr wrote (November 30, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I addressed that communication to John Pike, who questioned the validity of my source, not to you. He seems like a nice guy, as do you, but, no offense, bro, I don't have time to debate people who use the word parameter when they mean perimeter. It suggests a superficial approach that probably extends into other areas as well.

[To everyone else] I joined this list specifically to put an end to the notion that the "period instrument" movement has any validity. It does not. I have one monograph on the web site and will contribute another as soon as I can edit it. To my surprise, I have been inundated with discussions of the correct way to trill. Ordinarily, I avoid clichés like the plague, but if there was ever a time for "get a life" this would seem to be it. Here's the answer to all your questions:

Music students are taught that "the rules come from the music." They do. No matter what instrument you play, buy yourself a copy of the Bach flute sonatas played by David Shostac, or, if you're lucky enough to find one, any recording of Bach by Julius Baker. Listen to it carefully, frequently, for a week or two. Listen to not only the trills, but to every aspect of the performance: the articulation, the phrasing, everything. At the end of that time, if you still have any questions you are probably wasting your time listening to music.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 1, 2004):
[To David Sherr] Not to skirt the issue, how do you propose to circumnavigate--or circumvent--Peter Kivy (Authenticities) and John Butt (Playing With History) and Richard Taruskin (Text & Act) on said issues of validity, philosophically? Some people--myself included--have much of our musicianship and scholarship based on the notion that our work is valid. Can't just bop in, scratch the surface on this, and plane it away; it ain't veneer.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 1, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: >>Because Bach wrote down some of his ornamentation/elaboration to teach dilettantes and beginners, which is a strong pedagogical thing to do,..<<
No, this distortion of Bach's intentions, as made clear in the Scheibe/Birnbaum controversy, is only made possible by overlooking an important aspect: The discussion is not centered on pedagogical devices (small lists of embellishments, etc) for his children or his pupils "the baby steps of pedagogical material for beginners," but rather upon the finished product, church cantatas, etc., where Bach's pride in his compositions was being undermined by 'well-intentioned' musicians who did not have Bach's own good taste, but nevertheless insisted upon their own versions of his music, versions which Bach did not deem worthy of his authorship because they became inept distortions of his music, egotistical displays of virtuoso techniques having gone awry, and willful attempts to play his music only in an Italian or French style, rather than in that style which Bach had considered best for his music (an amalgamation of styles without many of the excesses foreign influences (Geminiani's style of playing and his opinions on good musical taste, for instance.)

>>Bach himself said, as a recurring theme on his title pages, that his collections present musical examples to teach control, agility, expression, creativity, style, high-spirited enjoyment, and refreshment.<<
Yes, because Bach spelled out everything so clearly, these compositions can be considered models of perfection for anyone who might want to compose similar pieces, but not as a basis upon which anyone might want to 'creatively' change Bach's music because the result of this can only be contrary to that which Bach considered good taste in music. The 'high-spirited enjoyment and refreshment' come from
following Bach's decidedly careful musical instructions which will inevitably lead more directly to the goal of musical perfection than any personal license to begin changing Bach's notation to suit one's own needs or cater to an audience's preferences because the performer thinks this will 'move' these intended listeners better than the Bach original would.

Control, agility, expression, and proper style which all provide for 'high-spirited enjoyment and refreshment' are more likely to be in keeping with Bach's intentions if his musical instructions are followed carefully. Even creativity (but not changing the notes) will be engaged in any truly excellent performance when trying to determine the best way to render/express the notes which Bach provided without changing them.

Bach's musical examples had at least a two-fold purpose: 1.) to provide models of excellence which the composer/performer should not slavishly copy (because Bach's efforts are uniquely his own), but rather use as a very general outline for the possibilities of newly invented ideas that such a composer/performer may then claim as his/her own compositions, and 2.) to allow the composer/performer to 'walk in Bach's own footsteps' and bring to bear on a finished product by a great master the necessary playing (or in the cantatas, singing) technique and agility to play (or sing) the notes properly, to supply within the restriction of Bach's careful notation meaningful expression ('without going overboard') which will move the performer, and then as a result of this, the audience as well, if there is one.

Only in the minds of musicians with over-inflated opinions of their own greatness and prowess as performers can the idea arise that following the above precepts will "reduce everything to a beginner's level, as to what is permissible, so the critic at such a dilettante level won't feel inferior or bewildered when confronted with a real display of tasteful skill." It is clear that such an arrogant, overbearing attitude which seeks to undo Bach's own meticulously careful notation can only lead to an utter distortion of Bach's intentions.

A self-serving modern composer might say: "Let the performer do whatever is necessary to get the music before an audience." This, however, does not conform to Bach's concept of a good performance of his music. Bach was very concerned about the fact that performers (often those who were considered professionals) of his music would take too many liberties with his music and thus deprive him of the dignity and honor that should be accorded him for having created a great piece of music.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 1, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < Only in the minds of musicians with over-inflated opinions of their own greatness and prowess as performers can the idea arise that following the above precepts will "reduce everything to a beginner's level, as to what is permissible, so the critic at sucha dilettante level won't feel inferior or bewildered when confronted with a real display of tasteful skill." It is clear that such an arrogant, overbearing attitude which seeks to undo Bach's own meticulously careful notation can only lead to an utter distortion of Bach's intentions. >
Sitting there reading scores and criticizing professional musicians, while not playing the music at all oneself, is somehow better on the "arrogance" scale, and better on some "understanding Bach's intentions" scale?

John Pike wrote (December 1, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] So much of this is pure speculation on your part, Thomas. If you want to lecture professionals and scholars on how to do their job, why don't you at least read the scholarly works which Brad has repeatedly recommended on this list, so that you can come to a more balanced judgement about what Bach considered "good taste", or what Bach did, instead of just spouting out continuously your own prejudices and preconceptions.

I greatly welcome your knowledge, your informative contributions to the list, your expertise in German and your access to many interesting sources which many of us don't have the time or money to access, but you really should recognise your own limitations. Who do you think you are kidding? Not me for one.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 1, 2004):
>>Bach himself said, as a recurring theme on his title pages, that his collections present musical examples to teach control, agility, expression, creativity, style, high-spirited enjoyment, and refreshment.<<
< Yes, because Bach spelled out everything so clearly, these compositions can be considered models of perfection for anyone who might want to compose similar pieces, but not as a basis upon which anyone might want to 'creatively' change Bach's music because the result of this can only be contrary to that which Bach considered good taste in music. >
Fallacy: the arrogant notion that Bach's consideration of good taste (or the depth of his craftsmanship!) is somehow understood better by non-musicians than by musicians. Does there exist some inside line in any craft, wherein the written materials about a project somehow speak more directly/completely/meaningfully to non-practitioners than to practitioners? How?

Think of a musical score like a recipe. It describes something tasty and (one hopes) nutritious. It doesn't become something tasty in practice until it's studied and used by someone who knows how to cook, using the ingredients and tools of cooking. The recipe doesn't include every detail of information that a beginner would need to know, to produce something tasty. The written recipe only offers anticipation, not a complete capture of the finished dish at perfect temperature and occasion. It's the chef's job to fill in all the unspecified parts correctly, with reasonable experience as to what's normal and necessary beyond the page, and then to serve the results appropriately. A person staring only at the recipe, and not knowing how to cook, really isn't in much position to stand there instructing the chef at every step according to his own wild guesswork.

You're welcome to sit around reading cookbooks as much as you want to. How is it food, though, unless those instructions are engaged by someone with the time and skills and materials to make it so? And, how can you claim that your non-practicing reading of the recipe is the only possible correct one, according to some subliminally expressed intentions (known only to you, of course) of the chef who created the recipe?

< The 'high-spirited enjoyment and refreshment' come from following Bach's decidedly careful musical instructions which will inevitably lead more directly to the goal of musical perfection than any personal license to begin changing Bach's notation to suit one's own needs or cater to an audience's preferences because the performer thinks this will 'move' these intended listeners better than the Bach original would. >
My goodness, a 62-word "sentence" with no pauses for breath!

That notwithstanding, let's hear a recording of some Bach piece performed by Thomas Braatz, carefully following those musical instructions exactly as it must be done, so we can decide if our appreciation of the result is inevitably tasteful or not. Time for a fair taste test here. Let's hear one. Be a chef. Compare it with somebody else's interpretive work that has been presented already. Get together an oboist and cellist, play a harpsichord with them in BWV 1030a following "Bach's decidedly careful musical instructions" absolutely to the letter, down to every tiny note value exactly as written. Then, we listeners can decide if we're inevitably moved or not by your particular interpretation of the instructions (whatever bizarre result that might be, where NOTHING outside the page is allowed to intrude on the process).

Remember, you're not allowed to bring any background to this, such as lessons in playing harpsichord (had any?), or experience performing any other pieces by other composers (had any?). Merely follow the instructions exactly as you believe they are presented to you on paper, in their alleged completeness and their full containment of Bach's notions of taste and style. Put your fingers where your mouth is, and play the music, recording it so we can hear what you're talking about and make our determinations as to the tasteful results. You've purchased an authoritative score, the Neue Bach-Ausgabe. Sit there and play it, exactly as it says.

This, as usual for me, is a serious request. Put up a musical example of Thomas Braatz personally playing a piece of Bach, using the proper taste/style in which exclusive understanding is claimed (straight from Bach via some subliminal process that all musicians would not be privy to). Then we'll decide if it sounds good or not.

John Pike wrote (December 1, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thomas also had the temerity recently to tell me how to do my job as a doctor, so perhaps he would like to read a few textbooks of medicine and then come and do my job for a few weeks.........

Expertise in any field comes not just from reading books, excellent though that may be. It comes from years of PRACTICE, learning from superiors, and immersing yourself in every way in your subject, not from prejudging works you haven't read and criticising the authors or practitioners of the art. Real scholars just don't behave like that.

It is a real pity that Thomas is so stubborn about this, because he undoubtedly has a lot of knowledge in Bach studies.

David Sherr wrote (December 1, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] If deciding "if it sounds good or not" is the criterion, then the "period instrument:" movement has failed. It is and it has. Listen to the Bach Aria group to find out what the music can and should sound like. Bravo Brad Lehman.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 1, 2004):
David Sherr wrote: < If deciding "if it sounds good or not" is the criterion, then the "period instrument:" movement has failed. It is and it has. Listen to the Bach Aria group to find out what the music can and should sound like. >
So, there are no relevant aesthetic criteria here (either from the 18th century or 20th or 21st), other than it doesn't sound good to you?

Period instruments make a gorgeous, expressive, moving sound according to the listening assessment of some other people, including me. Therefore, this point isn't proven to me. All that's been proven (really, merely an assertion) is that David Sherr doesn't fancy the sound he hears.

One could say, with just as much (or as little) thrust to it: "Listen to Paul McCreesh to find out what the music can and should sound like."

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 1, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < So, there are no relevant aesthetic criteria here (either from the 18th century or 20th or 21st), other than it doesn't sound good to you? >
Taking a step back to the bigger picture, this is rather ironic to me anyway. Last night I was drafting the booklet notes for a CD by me and a colleague, performing some 17th and 18th century music using modern instruments. I wrote (under some influence from Peter Kivy's book) as our credo andexplication:

"We believe that musical authenticity is not merely an issue of hardware and playing technique; importantly it also involves sound and style, emulating appropriate effects in earlier music. As with any other skilled craft, the choice of tools also includes practicality, availability, and the comfort of the people using them! Accordingly, instead of bringing a _____ and a _____, we performed these sonatas with a ______."

(That is, at the time, we recorded these pieces with the instruments we had available and could play well, with strong technique and musical conviction.) Then, the program notes go on to explain the other bits of arrangement we did for the album, wherever we didn't stick with the original instrumentation of each piece in question.

Any reactions, or suggestions for improvement?

Dale Gedcke wrote (December 1, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Maybe you mentioned it elsewhere in the CD notes. But, a key issue that occurs to me is the difficulty in determining exactly how the composition was originally played in the era in which it was composed. Being a musician, you are cognizant of the fact that two players or conductors can sound different when reading from the same score. There are lots of nuances in playing that can alter the sound. In fact those nuances typically change from decade to decade as playing styles and interpretations migrate.

Not being able to go back in a time machine to the year of composition, it is impossible to listen to performances played in Bach's time and duplicate the exact styles (nuances) that were in vogue at that time. We can only extrapolate to what we think they must have been. Thus any attempt at historical authenticity, is in the category of "the best we know how, given that we were not there to hear the original productions in the composer's day."

Of course, even when Bach was conducting, the style must have changed slightly depending on which musicians he employed.

My hunch is that there is no such thing as a "perfectly authentic reproduction". We can only offer our best estimates and approximations to how it originally sounded.

If the best effort at a particular interpretation of authenticity sounds interesting to a lot of people, then there will be a good audience and market for the CD.

HOW you wish to address that issue, or IF your wish to address that issue, in the CD notes is up to you, not me.

David Sherr wrote (December 1, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Period instruments make one sound each--no color, no variety, no flexibility, limited dynamic range, limited articulations. If that's enough for you, you're really lucky, because you'll never be disappointed.

Dale Gedcke wrote (December 1, 2004):
It has been interesting to watch the discussion of how restrictive Bach may have been with his notation. As the argument progresses, everyone tends to become more emphatic and extreme in the point they try to make.

If there is some valid essence behind the arguments of Thomas Braatz, I think it is this. The information I have been exposed to (which is not all- encompassing) indicates that German composers like J. S. Bach and Ludwig Beethoven, tended to be compulsively more complete in specifying the ornaments and dynamics in their scores. Perhaps this was a natural result of the German culture. Italian composers, in contrast, left much of this expression up to the discretion and skills of the player.

However, there is a dichotomy in this perception of meticulous completeness in Bach's scores. We are well aware that the figured bass left much to the discretion of the players. Of course, figured bass was a popular convention for composers at the time. So Bach may have simply been employing the convenient convention.

Another factor that I presume would have placed a limitation on how complete Bach could be in his scoring is how much time was available to produce new cantatas every week. Anyone who has tried to write complete scores for multiple voices or instruments knows that it takes a great deal of time to write each note at the appropriate position on the correct staff. And that is time consuming, even with modern computers that can separate the voices and print individual copies relatively quickly. Bach and his supporting crew had to do this all by hand. If I were in that situation, I would be forced to take some short cuts that prevented me from specifying all intended details. I would count on taking care of those nuances during the rehearsal.



Continue on Part 11


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