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Performance of Bach’s Vocal Works

General Discussions - Part 2

 

 

Continue from Part 1

What is voice-leading? some principles

Bradley Lehman
wrote (March 21, 2003):
< Santu De Silva wrote:
I wrote about the Art of Fugue:
<<< ... I think it is quintessential string writing. >>>
<< Brad Lehman replies:
It's quintessential, and thoroughly idiomatic, harpsichord writing.

It happens to work well (most of the time) for strings and/or winds, too, because the voice-leading is so well done. >>
< [Perhaps we should take this discussion back to the Bach Recordings List, though on the face of it, my next question may well be relevant to cantatas.]

what is voice-leading?

[I know the rudiments of harmony, so don't be afraid to get moderately technical. But I know nothing about voice-leading.] >
Getting back to Arch's question "what is voice-leading?"....

Basically, it is a set of compositional principles found in Renaissance choral music, continued all the way through the common-practice tonal music to the present day. These principles help composers to produce music that is well-balanced, melodically pleasing, and with decent contrapuntal independence.

It wasn't originally any strict set of rules that must be followed; but rather, the theorists derived these guidelines and patterns by observing what the earlier music actually does, and then tried to explain why it pleases us. For example, Johann Joseph Fux in 1725 published "Gradus ad Parnassum", Steps to Parnassus, setting out a series of these rules of counterpoint...both to explain Palestrina's style, and more recent fugues. Other writers and teachers have derived similar guidelines, working from other repertoires that are also generally accepted as good models (e.g., the 371 Bach chorales).

It's a reverse process for "rules": first find music that is well-accepted as brilliant and pleasing, and then academically try to explain why it works, codifying it as grammatical rules of a living language.

Some of the principles:

- Every voice (whether actually for voices, or instruments) should have a reasonably interesting and expressive melody in itself.

- All the voices in the composition are (pretty much) equal in importance to one another; perhaps slightly more importance to soprano and bass, since those are easiest for a listener to notice, but all lines remaining important as lines. Yes, there is also plenty of music that is essentially only melody + bass (plus filler), but even in that case, the melody and bass each have good voice leading vis-a-vis one another.

- Each melody (that is, each voice, at all times) has a good balance of high and low notes, rhythmic interest in itself, climax, repose, and is singable (even if it's for instruments).

- When two parts (any two parts within a contrapuntal texture) form a harmonic suspension, the suspended note should be prepared (heard) before it forms the dissonance, and then sustained during the dissonance, and then resolved downward. It is very rare to resolve such a suspension upward. (Frescobaldi's piece that does this is extraordinary: a whole piece where all the suspensions go the "wrong" way!)

- Most of the melodic movement within each voice should be by step, for smoothness; and when there is a leap, the next move is most typically a step in the direction opposite to the leap.

- Leaps within a melody should not be too difficult to sing; that is, it is most common to leap to thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, or octaves; less commonly to sevenths or anything wider than an octave; even less commonly to strange intervals such as diminished fifths, augmented seconds, diminished thirds, or augmented fifths. (A weird example is the subject of the second "Kyrie" in Bach's B minor mass: everybody has to sing the interval of a diminished third going from the second to third notes! That's tricky in its harmonic context. Bach is boldly using a special effect here, dramatically, getting his fugal subject to stand out immediately!)

- There is good balance if simultaneous parts move in directions opposite to one another; this is especially important between soprano and bass.

- If two parts are moving parallel to one another, it should not be parallel seconds, sevenths, or ninths, because it doesn't sound good. :) That is, two parts should not have two consecutive dissonances against one another.

- If two parts are moving parallel to one another, it should not be parallel fifths or octaves, because it that reduces the independence of the parts...it makes them sound like ancient organum, or as if the composer couldn't think of enough interesting things for the voices to do. (That is, parallel octaves and fifths tend to sound like single sounds...like components of an organ registration working together...rather than like discernible lines.)

- Parallel fourths are also not used very often, because if the melodic parts exchange places (invertible counterpoint, reusing the same part-writing elsewhere in the piece, shuffled around) they become parallel fifths.

- That leaves parallel thirds and sixths as good; and contrary motion; and oblique motion (one voice stays on a single note while the other one moves).

- All this can also be tied to harmonic progression: certain harmonies that are expected to follow other harmonies in various circumstances. The linear motion of the part-writing interacts with the harmonic motion generated by the bass line. It's a complex matrix.

- All this also gets complex quickly in another way, as any two voices in the contrapuntal texture should have good voice leading against one another. That is, in three-part music there are three relationships to worry about; in four-part music, six relationships; in five-part music, ten relationships....

In playing and singing any of this music, i.e. any tonal music, it is important for the performer to parse all this grammar and know the contrapuntal function of every note. So, for example, when some voice in the texture is making a suspension against another voice, it is important to connect the present note with its downward resolution (the next note), strong to weak, tension to resolution, rather than making a strong articulation of the second note. Or, when some melodic part has a dramatic leap, it is important to make it sound vocal, that is, not too facile like merely moving a finger from one place to another...a singer executing a vocal leap is moving to a different part of the voice, and it is not as easy as moving by step. (That's of course assuming that all instrumental players should endeavor to sound at least somewhat like singers...although some might not agree with that. I happen to believe it's crucial.)

And, for composers and improvisers, all this voice-leading business is basic grammar of putting music together smoothly: knowing what patterns work well, and not having to reason it all out completely every time.

It's like the grammar of any language: one has to know how it's all put together, how the basic logic works, before being able to deploy it...and before knowing when it's artistically an effective idea to "break the rules" with some surprising gesture. One can't know what's surprising unless one first knows what is not surprising. Good "voice leading" is the not-surprising default in tonal music.

Dick Wursten wrote (March 21, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thanks for this clear and edifying survey


Bach, notation and breathing

Francine Renee Hall
wrote (March 22, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Didn't Bach often write without the slightest consideration for the performer where notes overlap, being technically impossible to play on keyboard, or where the musician must sneak in a breath somewhere when playing flute? I thought Elaine Shaffer talked about the breathing issue in her liner notes for the Flute Sonatas on Angel LP. (I don't have the LP any longer.) It seems that Bach is writing often in an abstract way, otherworldly, forgetting that human beings have to perform his compositions.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 22, 2003):
[To Francine Renee Hall] From Christoph Wolff's "Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician" p. 470:

"The permutations in Bach's style are regulated by one dominating element of stability and continuity, and that is his thoroughly virtuosic disposition. Having grown up in a family of musicians provided him with a professional outlook that he never shook off. Accordingly, making concessions to nonprofessional music making was for him unthinkable. More often than not, his technical requirements push the limits of both performance and compositional complexity, whether the work is a church cantata, a keyboard piece, or an instrumental concerto. The high standards and demands are typical of the young, middle, and old Bach -- in fact, they represent one of his most characteristic trademarks and one that brought him much admiration during his lifetime as well as considerable disapproval (he was accused of requiring that the throats of his singers have the same facility that his own fingers had at the keyboard.)

Bach's idea of musical perfection as Birnbaum affirmed, included the goal of perfect execution. He was well aware, however, that performances, especially of larger ensemble works, would not necessarily match the degree of perfection represented in the musical composition. It is this aspect that prompted him to have Birnbaum, in a 1739 supplementary essay, raise a crucial point: "It is true, one does not judge a composition principally and predominantly by the impression of its performance. But if such judgment, which indeed may be deceiving, is not to be considered, I see no other way of judging than to view the work as it has been set down in notes."

This statement is significant since it points to the value of the notated score of a composition, above and beyond its performance. It is, after all, the written text that establishes the only reliable document of the composer's ideas and intentions, and that is particularly true of a work displaying Bach's 'unusual musical perfections.' And as a performance may only represent an approximation, the dilemma between the perfection of the idea and the perfection of its realization may remain unresolved but still provide a stimulating incentive for perfectibility. In the final analysis, only the idea can claim to be truly perfect, and Bach knew it."

I find many parts of this description applicable to today's performance practices of Bach's music. Various performers and performance groups need to return again and again to the notated score, and then, with a serious and reverent attitude toward his music (in studying it and preparing it for performance,) try to present it to the best of their capabilities.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (March 22, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thank you so very much for sharing your sources and your insights. You've been a big help!

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 22, 2003):
< Thomas Braatz wrote: I find many parts of this description [from Wolff] applicable to today's performance practices of Bach's music. Various performers and erformance groups need to return again and again to the notated score, and then, with >a serious and reverent attitude toward his music (in studying it and >preparing it for performance,) try to present it to the best of their >capabilities. >
Yes, indeed, that is what we do: we return again and again to the notated score with a serious and reverent attitude toward his music (and not only toward his score). To understand the score, it is necessary also to find out what his notations meant to him rather than automatically assuming we know what they mean.

To do this, it is necessary also to bring in knowledge from societal expectations, the composer's working conditions, the composer's own training, the composer's commentary (if any) and teaching methods, descriptions of the composers' and his contemporaries' common practices (which would not show up in the score), study of the instruments themselves (extant hardware), areports of how his contemporaries reacted to him, ...and much more.

The score is important, yes, as the single most important piece of information about a work; but all these other things are also important, as they help to supply the appropriately serious and reverent attitude toward the music. It is then this whole picture (not only the score) that informs musicians, who then try to present it to the best of their capabilities.

Last year I wrote an essay about that:
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/performance-preparation.htm
There I listed at least 23 things a performer should consider along with the score....

Steven Guy wrote (March 22, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] I agree, Brad.

I would also suggest that one needs a sound knowledge of Baroque styles and forms - Gavotte, Sarabande, Courant, Minuet, etc. One needs to know how to play music that exploits these styles idiomatically. I do not believe that one can isolate the music of Johann Sebastian Bach from the rest of the Baroque - I do not believe that a pianist, for instance, can spend his or her time playing mainly 19th and 20th century music and then 'dip' into Bach's music from time to time and hope to play this music with the depth and style it requires. It is also true that Bach knew the instruments he was writing for and, accordingly, wrote idiomatic and appropriate music for these instruments.

As for difficult flute music, I would suggest that Georg Philipp Telemann's Fantasias for solo flute require a very high degree of musicianship. If we go back to the music of around 1600, we see virtuoso music written for cornetti and tromboni by composers like dalla Casa, Castello, Gabrieli and Bassano. This music seems to suggest that some players were capable of the circular breathing technique. The music itself also suggests that some cornett players were capable of lightning fast divisions and extended phrasing. Bach may have pushed his players but it is clear that modern musicians playing Baroque instruments can and do make this music 'work' on period instruments.

I don't buy the assertion that Bach was some sort of 18th century Schoenberg - writing abstract music that was disconnected with the styles, timbres, technologies and culture of his time, for one moment. The instrumental solos in the cantatas, Passions, Masses, chamber music and concerti seem to prove that Bach was a very fine BAROQUE composer. However, he had his limits - his lute music does seem to suggest that
his knowledge of this instrument was less than perfect.

As for notation, this is always the starting point for any Baroque music - one must know the conventions and develop a knowledge of what the composer probably 'meant by what he wrote' rather than being literal. This requires scholarship on behalf of the performer and time – time spent playing a wide range of Baroque repertoire - not just the music of Bach in isolation. It can come down to something as simple as adding a trill at a cadence or something more complex - knowing the conventions and requirements of interpreting music written in the French style. These things are not always notated - the player needs to add these things for himself - in his own way.


Affekt and detail

Continue of discussion from: Cantata BWV 50 – Discussions

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 24, 2003):
Bradley Lehman stated: >>An interesting approach! Sounds like we need an awards category for Most Closely Micro-managed Engineering. :)<<
As a primary candidate for such an award, you may have to consider Harnoncourt/Leonhardt :) The only problem there is that the emphasis is on 2-note, 3-note, and 4-note phrases with the final, unaccented notes barely audible or inaudible.

Brad, you forget that these are recordings and not a performance such as yours – a one-time-only, live performance. The moment Bach is recorded and generally available to the public, the criteria need to be expanded because the listeners, once they have found a good recording, will want to listen to it again and again, discovering more with each new listening.

>>There could be some value assigned to the overall musical effect of natusounding and spiritually-uplifting performance...did the music move us?<<
Again, upon the initial impression of a first (and perhaps only hearing in the case of a live performance), the listener will be swayed by an enthusiastic, generally natural-sounding performance. This is a good impression ‘to come away with;’ however, a truly good recording will stand up to close scrutiny and reveal with what care the conductor was able to bring out important details in the score. Or do you subscribe to the idea that a recording needs to fulfill only some of the details that Bach put into the score? Only those that the conductor chooses to make apparent? Shouldn’t the conductor attempt to render as much important detail as possible? Why, for instance, were all of the conductors in the recordings that I listened to unable to make audible the inversion of the fugal subject in the 1st oboe which is the only instrument or voice that has this musical element at this point in the mvt.? After hearing these recorded versions quite a number of times, also going back a few years as well, it would be a refreshingly glorious moment for a listener to realize that some conductor had paid some attention to this detail as well, a detail which reveals another level of depth that Bach had already accounted for and which was just waiting for someone (an astute conductor who is not only interested in ‘the overall musical effect,” but also is attuned to Bach’s complex musical mind) to discover and reveal to the listening audience.

We need to be careful not to overemphasize the emotional, impressionistic aspects of a performance to the detriment of details that are relatively important (not, of course, the micro-managing of Harnoncourt/Leonhardt) in a composition by Bach. A truly excellent recording will pay attention to both aspects: individualistic expression which tries to convey feeling + close attention to details in Bach’s scores which provide evidence of Bach’s complete mastery of musical form and language.

>>The conductor, to be able to direct both choirs at once, used the available bit of space (less than a meter) immediately behind me, standing on a chair; his feet were approximately at the same level as the top rail of the balcony, and there was NOTHING behind him. And he had his music stand between my organ bench and himself. We had a mirror set up on the organ so I could see him.
For the whole performance I was terrified: if I had rocked backward too much on the bench, or done anything sudden with my elbows, I could have sent the conductor plummeting to his death. He was not afraid of heights, but I was! I wouldn't have stood in his position, even with both feet on the floor, for any amount of money...let alone standing there on a somewhat shaky chair. Some of the choir members were afraid for him, too, but he simply took a look down and then grinned back at them.<<
This is a wonderful anecdote in which the falling motifs at the end of each section (and the text “weil der verworfen ist”) in the music being performed are paralleled in the actual situation that prevailed at the performance. A case of synchronicity?

Bradley Lehman
wrote (March 25, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Tom, I don't "forget that these are recordings"; and I agree with you that a recorded performance should bring out as many details as reasonably possible. (As I said here recently, I'm not opposed to hearing all the notes!) But I think we also need to keep in mind: in music as complex and rich as this is, there is never going to be a single recording that brings out everything. And I suggest that it's a dead-end pursuit to expect that.

If none of the conductors you've listened to really were able to bring out particular details you dearly wish to hear...too bad! Maybe it really is Bach's fault for writing music that is occasionally too opaque, even if it's recorded with multiple miking and artificial balancing and what-have-you other modern techniques. Or, maybe Bach really did not expect that a listener (present or future) MUST be able to hear EVERYTHING...if an oboe is in there alone doing an inverted fugal entrance, cool, that's a detail that God can hear even if we mere mortals perhaps cannot. Is that a problem? We can still look at the score and know it's there, and isn't that good enough? (I agree, it would be "better" in some way if it's at least somewhat audible, but I'm not all that disappointed if it's not. I don't think it's a very important criterion on which to judge the overall merits of a recording, all things considered; I think it's more important to keep in mind what is reasonably possible to hear, given that there are so many layers of music going on simultaneously.)

=====

All the things you say below should be equally applicable to a case where the composer himself (as an "astute" conductor) has conducted recordings of his own music, so let's check it out. I'll pick one of my favorite pieces: Elgar's violin concerto. I have a score of it, and several dozen recordings including both of the composer's own recordings.

Looking at the score, it is immediately obvious that Elgar has marked ten times as much detail as Bach ever did, anywhere. Almost every note of every part has notated detail of articulation, dynamics, tempo changes, and character...this level of detail in notation being a norm in Elgar's society, but not in Bach's. (That is, Bach's music isn't inferior to this from having less detail marked in it; it just wasn't an expectation.) So, it appears that everything is prescribed exactly, and therefore all performances "should" sound similar, right? No way!

What distinguishes the recorded performances from one another? It is the different emphases the performers (and recording engineers!) bring to the overall Affekts, and to the details that are marked. Everything has to be hierarchized, some things more important, others less so, whether the conductor is the composer himself or somebody else. The different performances bring out different features. It happens that the composer's own recordings tend to have some of the strongest Affekts, an immediately obvious commitment to the impact of the music...and that works out well, because the primitive recording medium lost plenty of the detail. But the loss of detail is not only from the medium, but rather from the composer's emphasis (as conductor) on the ebb and flow of the music, the long line, the overwhelming effects. That big picture is more important to him than the mere notes are. More modern recordings bring out more of the detail, but also often sound more clinical and analytical...as if the performers were afraid to be swept away by the performance itself, but focused instead on making a careful recording that would offend no one. No wrong notes, no bending of the notated details, no "sins." Is the music a lack of "mistakes"? I don't think so!

And is listening to this music (or any music) with a score the "best" way to experience it? I would say not, personally. I get more from the music when I listen to it in a dark room, with no visual distractions at all; my ears can focus better on the sounds that way, and I can focus on the resonances that the music is setting up inside myself as a listener. I hear different things each time I listen to the work, just because it is such a rich piece of music with many levels of simultaneous interest in it. The most satisfying performances carry me along with strong Affekt, while also presenting details I can follow with my ears...but there has to be a balance of that. If there are too many details, too interesting in themselves, the Affekt gets lost or fragmented. And if a performance has no strong Affekt, being merely a collection of details presented next to one another, it's hardly worth listening to at all; I just leave it on the shelf. (I listened to one of those this morning: Kang's. There's nothing obviously wrong with it, except that it's boring...it never grabs me as a listener! A weak Affekt...that is what is wrong with it, even though the details are well done.)

If I want to find out how Elgar achieved his extraordinary sounds, blends, and Affekt, I can always go look it up in the score, following along with the passages I want to study. But I consider that a mostly academic task, telling me new things about the music rather than giving me a more direct experience of the music. Sure, there are plenty of things I would never know about this piece except that I have seen them in the score. So what? I don't feal cheated if I don't hear them in a performance; it suffices that I know they are there, as part of the overall venture. There are plenty of
details I have never been able to pick out in any recording, but that doesn't bother me. As a listener I'd much rather be carried along by the sounds, colors, and emotions I do hear in the music than focus on details that are "missing."

Another example here would be the Berg violin concerto conducted by Webern. The attention to detail in the performance is astonishing, it's an extremely analytical performance...but even more so there is an overwhelming Affekt, powerful surges of emotion radiating from the music. That powerful Affekt sweeps away the fact that the recorded sound is horrible. (That is, it is clear that the details and the emotion are both there being projected at an extraordinary level, even if we can't hear much of it through the scratchy surfaces and primitive miking.)

=====

A more crass illustration is: when I sit there eating my dinner, I don't care at all what the recipes said, or how they looked on the page, or analyze how closely those instructions were followed from the page to the table. I don't even think about it. All I really care about is that the meal is nutritious and pleasing, interesting and tasty, well-balanced, and that it doesn't make me feel awful later as I try to digest what I've taken in.

=====

The other, and even more seriously important, thing I'd like to take issue with is your phrase: "individualistic expression which tries to convey feeling". What makes you believe that the conveyance of feeling has ANYTHING to do with a performer's "individualistic expression," in any music?

The conveyance of feeling is not from a set of performers slinging their own hormones and feelings across a stage or balcony, and into the microphones. Rather, it is the craftsmanship of finding the Affekt and details that are already written into the music, and bringing all this out as vividly as possible...not having much (if anything) to do with the performers' own feelings or individuality.

The point is to have the listeners be moved by the music, not by the performers' own feelings or individuality. That, I suggest, is what the best performances do. The performers' own feelings about it during the event are not the music; rather, their job is to help the listeners resonate with the work.

When you eat a meal in a nice restaurant, do you care AT ALL about the chef's feelings (or individualism) as he/she prepared the food?

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 26, 2003):
Bradley Lehman stated: >>The point is to have the listeners be moved by the music, not by the performers' own feelings or individuality. That, I suggest, is what the best performances do. The performers' own feelings about it during the event are not the music; rather, their job is to help the listeners resonate with the work.

When you eat a meal in a nice restaurant, do you care AT ALL about the chef's feelings (or individualism) as he/she prepared the food?<<

I, personally, am concerned with and moved by the performer's own genuine emotions or unique individuality as it comes to terms with the music that is being presented. Above and beyond all matters of technique which also need to be present, a singer's voice (probably more than any other single instrument) reflects feelings about the music being performed, whether there is a stirring of 'emotional' memory of past performances, or whether current feelings color the interpretation of a work, or even a combination of both of these. To turn off entirely the performer's own feelings leading to or surrounding the performance of a work in order 'to allow the listeners to be moved solely by the music itself and not allow the individual feelings that the performer can bring to the performance also come into play (in a dignified, suitable, genuine manner, of course) is to deprive such a performance of the genuine ability to move the listener.

There are those that might admire a great vocalist/singer, as you seem to, for the ability to treat Affekt as just another musical technique that can be applied devoid of the true emotions that such a singer might be experiencing. A great tenor appears on the operatic stage the same evening of the day on which he has learned that his mother has died in a distant country. He sings his role, one that he has sung many times before, in such a way that no one in the audience is aware that anything of this sort has happened to him in real life. This is what you seem to be implying, isn't it?

Then there is also the situation with many current Bach soloists who seem to clinically remove themselves from any individuality as they sing more instrumentally than vocally, or they have a studied approach to the expression of the Affekt associated with a Bach text. They are not truly genuinely involved with the text and music beyond simply trying to move their listeners with affected emotions that lack a true sense of individual emotional commitment.

Just think of it, if the chef were crying all the time he was preparing a special soup, then his tear drops would make the soup too salty for you. Yes, I would care about his feelings because they do have an effect upon the food, food which he might have prepared the same way for countless times, but this time the result is a little different because of his 'emotional' input. If the chef prepared his food with a bit of extra love, and granting the fact that he is quite creative in that his special recipes may not always be exactly the same, it may be something that I might sense and might even positively affect my emotions on that given day.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 26, 2003):
< Thomas Braatz wrote: I, personally, am concerned with and moved by the performer's own genuine emotions or unique individuality as it comes to terms with the music that is being presented. Above and beyond all matters of technique which also need to be present, a singer's voice (probably more than any other single instrument) reflects feelings about the music being performed, whether there is a stirring of 'emotional' memory of past performances, or whether current feelings color the interpretation of a work, or even a combination of both of these. To turn off entirely the performer's own feelings leading to or surrounding the performance of a work in order 'to allow the listeners to be moved solely by the music itself and not allow the individual feelings that the performer can bring to the performance also come into play (in a dignified, suitable, genuine manner, of course) is to deprive such a performance of the genuine ability to move the listener. >
Nope. I haven't suggested that the performer should "turn off entirely the performer's own feelings"! Not at all! It seems you've missed this point pretty thoroughly; so, let me try again.

Think of a great actor...say, Patrick Stewart or Anthony Hopkins. These guys have the ability to play characters who seem absolutely real: complex, intelligent, emotional, vital, focused. The CHARACTERS seem real. Even more important, these characters are so strong that we watching them are able to emphathize with what the characters appear to be feeling and thinking...we resonate with them, we find something within ourselves that identifies with that character. Hopkins or Stewart might indeed be feeling something as they play those characters, but the important part is not WHAT their own feelings are at the moment (raw emotion), but rather their ability to project them in character so WE experience those feelings.

Catch the difference? I as the observer don't really care what Patrick Stewart (the actor) is feeling; rather, his great acting makes me feel what his character is experiencing, apparently, and puts me inhis shoes. Stewart does the right things in voice and gestures to make the character into a "real" person...that really is Ebenezer Scrooge or Captain Picard, in the flesh, right there, not Patrick Stewart.

Ditto for James Stewart in just about anything...he had such an ability to become Everyman in whatever role he played, getting us to be very strongly on the side of his character, experiencing his joys and his problems as if they were our own. We are moved because he cries and yells and does the pleading eyes and all the other stuff at the right time, and in convincing character; not because he necessarily feels it himself (although, of course, it helps if he does, since it makes the acting easier).

Or, take Hopkins in "The Remains of the Day"...just the way he squints and pauses and speaks politely makes his butler character so real, projecting a man who would never, ever have an emotional outburst (that being the point of this story), or think of his own needs first. And then in other films he's a wild man, terrifying; equally convincing as a man who cannot restrain his emotions. It doesn't matter what Hopkins himself is actually feeling as he plays these parts, but rather that he puts across a convincing character, 100%. It's so real that it doesn't seem like Hopkins playing a character, but rather a character that just happens to be in Anthony Hopkins' body. It's so real that we identify with the character and feel for him, rather than merely watching him. That's why he's convincing.

Does that make more sense?

< There are those that might admire a great vocalist/singer, as you seem to, for the ability to treat Affekt as just another musical technique that can be applied devoid of the true emotions that such a singer might be experiencing. A great tenor appears on the operatic stage the same evening of the day on which he has learned that his mother has died in a distant country. He sings his role, one that he has sung many times before, in such a way that no one in the audience is aware that anything of this sort has happened to him in real life. This is what you seem to be implying, isn't it? >
Nope. If he's "a great tenor" as you've said, and therefore also a good actor, he will project the human qualities of the character he's playing, whether he himself has experienced a personal tragedy or not; and on this occasion, if some part of his stage character is supposed to project tragedy, the actor/singer might do an especially fine job on this occasion, seeming even more real than usual. If he's not such a good actor, though, his personal feelings about his mother's death will probably have a negative (distracting) rather than a positive (useful) effect on his performance. All we'll see and hear is a guy who doesn't have composure, at moments when his character is supposed to have composure.

< Then there is also the situation with many current Bach soloists who seem to clinically remove themselves from any individuality as they sing more instrumentally than vocally, or they have a studied approach to the expression of the Affekt associated with a Bach text. They are not truly genuinely involved with the text and music beyond simply trying to move their listeners with affected emotions that lack a true sense of individual emotional commitment. >
Anybody who presents a clinical performance of any music is, in my opinion, misguided and unconvincing. I think you're simply saying here it's bad musicianship, and I agree with that. If the singer doesn't make us come to grips with the text and music OURSELVES, he/she hasn't done a good job but is merely making pleasant sounds.

< Just think of it, if the chef were crying all the time he was preparing a special soup, then his tear drops would make the soup too salty for you. Yes, I would care about his feelings because they do have an effect upon the food, food which he might have prepared the same way for countless times, but this time the result is a little different because of his 'emotional' input. If the chef prepared his food with a bit of extra love, and granting the fact that he is quite creative in that his special recipes may not always be exactly the same, it may be something that I might sense and might even positively affect my emotions on that given day. >
I trust you've seen some of the movies along this line? "Like Water for Chocolate"? "Simply Irresistible"? "Chocolat"?


Urtext authencity

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 7, 2003):
< Thomas Braatz wrote: "(...) every performer who aspires to get at the essence of his music with some sense of authenticity must return to the best available Urtext as the point of departure. The more removed from this source the performance becomes, the more important it will be to assign an honest declaration: Bach-Busoni, Bach-Stokowski, Bach-Harnoncourt, Bach-Leonhardt, Bach-Reger, Bach-Lehman, etc."
Tom, I've been wondering for a while: what do you make of the fact that the Telefunken LP sets of Leonhardt and Harnoncourt all included Urtext scores in the boxes? (Bach-Gesellschaft, in the cases where the NBA wasn't available yet.) Was that just hubris on their part? And, along with that, what about your superhero's participation and implicit blessing--manifested in Alfred Dürr's program
notes--from the beginning of that cycle?

=====

One other thing: could you describe for us in detail what the ideal Bach-Braatz performance sounds like? Exactly what voice type, ideal age, and gender(s); how many people in the chorus; how many players per part; what type of organ and its specific registration; what the organist's default touch/articulation must be in arias and
recitatives; how fermatas should be interpreted; exactly how much or how little accentuation anyone should use anywhere; what dynamic schemes the players and singers are allowed to use in their lines; what pitch level (in Hz) would A be; what keyboard temperament; what tempos must be used (and what clues are used to determine them); the dates and places where the ideal instruments were manufactured; the ideal venue for the recording; that sort of thing. It could be very interesting. And I was listening last night to some of the recording of a Bach sonata played by Gähler with his special round bow (from Albert Schweitzer), and wondering how many of these we'd need to have on hand for your orchestra--since it's able to render all those notes in a more Urtext fashion than normal bows can. Would you use those, or regular bows?

I already know that in a Bach-Braatz performance, everything must be as precise as possible--you've made that abundantly clear in postings on both these Bach lists--all notes must be played/sung as exactly together as is humanly possible; and all note-values must be sustained everywhere exactly as they look on the page in the NBA...there must not be any 'esoteric' performance traditions used anywhere. (For example, nobody would be allowed to play in the typically 1940s-70s "Baroque" orchestral fashion where all the notes from everybody are articulated crisply with the default half length of their notation; that's too esoteric a practice, drawn as 'proof-text' permission from treatises by CPE Bach and others, and not shown in the score, so must not be allowed.) And, for the recording, everything would be miked and mixed such that we could hear every single note. And, how much would Frederick Neumann be paid to write the program notes about the treatment of rhythm and ornamentation?

With such a clear and categorical checklist of absolutely immutable Bach-Braatz principles to work from, rendering the music with unquestionable authenticity, such a reference performance could indeed be very interesting. So, please: do you have a list of these details? All the above questions do need to be answered, as performers need that sort of guidance to know what they must do. Help us to understand what these ideal Bach-Braatz authentic performances sound like in your head, as you read through the scores.

Thanks!

Arjen K. Gijssel wrote (April 7, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Some pertinent questions Brad. I am very curious ons Thom's responses: what is his ideal performa?

Sundry Q & A

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 8, 2003):
Brad Lehman queried: >>With such a clear and categorical checklist of absolutely immutable Bach-Braatz principles to work from, rendering the music with unquestionable authenticity, such a reference performance could indeed be very interesting. So, please: do you have a list of these details? All the above questions do need to be answered, as performers need that sort of guidance to know what they must do. Help us to understand what these ideal Bach-Braatz authentic performances sound like in your head, as you read through the scores.
Thanks!<<
What a charming attitude of disarming obsequiousness!

BL:>>Tom, I've been wondering for a while: what do you make of the fact that the Telefunken LP sets of Leonhardt and Harnoncourt all included Urtext scores in the boxes? (Bach-Gesellschaft, in the cases where the NBA wasn't available yet.) Was that just hubris on their part? And, along with that, what about your superhero's participation and implicit blessing--manifested in Alfred Dürr's program notes--from the beginning of that cycle?<<
Of course, this is another loaded question regarding the hubris of these pioneers. Since when would such excellent ideas as including the Urtext scores (did they really include the NBA when they were available???) and commentaries by Alfred Dürr be considered a disadvantage in selling this series? Did Harnoncourt/Leonhardt overestimate their capabilities of fulfilling what could have been expected? No, if you consider that this was to be a revolutionary, pioneering effort, which, at the very beginning, still had not been thoroughly defined. Yes, because it was a very tall order for these conductors to fill, one that was beyond their grasp to fully achieve. “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley.” Why did Dürr ‘jump ship’ before the series was completed? Perhaps someone reading these lines will be able to supply more correct information on this point, or Brad already knows the answer and yet remains coy, but to imply and suggest that Dürr gave his imprimatur to this entire series is taking this much too far. Let me suggest (without really knowing the facts here) that Dürr, when he was asked to supply the commentaries, would have prepared within a short amount of time a number of these commentaries from his notes. As it is, Dürr stopped writing these commentaries when he had completed BWV 1 – BWV 46, not even a quarter of the entire project. This is a rather odd place to stop. Had he heard enough of the musical results by this time, and was this perhaps the reason why his excellent notes (Wolff’s commentaries for the Koopman series are meager and not very informative in comparison with Dürr’s) were stopped so abruptly?

BL: >>And, the Christoph Gottlieb Schröter (1699-1782) who defended Bach in 1746 is the same guy who (26 years later) had some of the most prominent things to say about recitative accompaniment.... [Translation from Dreyfus, p85; the German original is in the footnote. Mendel also cited part of this passage in his article.]<<
Nothing surprising here in that Mendel & Dreyfus are simply continuing the same type of asynchronous reasoning that Schering had applied in his book “Johann Sebastian Bachs Leipziger Kirchenmusik” (Leipzig, 1936.) These later ‘scholars’ are not willing to admit how much they are indebted to Schering for his ideas and methods, as questionable as they may be. Even Rifkin must have been inspired (as much as he may not want to acknowledge this) by Schering’s call for a choir severely reduced in numbers, albeit not OVPP which was the extreme to which Rifkin took this idea.

This asynchronous reasoning involves calling upon references outside of the time frame when Bach composed most of his cantatas and then claiming that they offer evidence for such things as the Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus esoteric theory of shortened accompaniment in ‘secco’ recitatives in Bach’s sacred works.

Schröter is just another case in point. There is behind all of these asynchronous examples a delusional assumption that most musician/composers remain fixated on the compositional style of their teacher(s) and that the former do not undergo any type of development in their musical performance style throughout their lifetimes. The books or treatises which they then write after Bach’s death are used as supposed proof for Bach’s performance practices. Even citing C.P.E.Bach, as a son who spent his formative years directly under the tutelage of his father, is problematical as any one would know after listening to the difference between the music of both father and son. Compositional and performance practices are deeply intertwined. The generational differences are quite apparent even to an untrained ear. Also, Schröter and C.P.E. Bach would be writing for the current and future generation already completely influenced by the galant style of performance and composition and not really interested in J.S.Bach's performance practices a quarter of a century or more earlier than the publication dates of these books and treatises.

About Schröter from the MGG: „Die wenigen noch vorhandenen Choralbearbeitungen sind unbedeutende Ausläufer des Barock und lassen Zweifel an Schröters Fähigkeit aufkommen, »reine Trios, Quatros und Fugen« zu improvisieren, eine Angabe, die Gerber von Hiller übernommen hat, obwohl er Schröters fortwährendes staccato gegenüber Bachs legato-Spiel verurteilt.“ [This quotation casts doubt upon the claim that he {Schröter}could improvise trios, quatros and fugues as well as Bach did, but it does point out a major difference in Schröter’s keyboard playing style – it was a continuous staccato style as compared with Bach’s primarily legato style of playing.]

Again from the MGG:

„Seinem Lehrer [J. S. Bach] am nächsten stand J. L. Krebs, dessen Werke sehr bald bis nach Ungarn verbreitet wurden. Wertvolle Kompositionen schufen u.a. W. F. Bach, G. A. Homilius, J. Schneider und J. Chr. Kittel, der die Tradition der Bach-»Schule« an das 19. Jh. weitergab. Stark von Bach beeinflußt sind die Werke J. P. Kellners. Eine andere Richtung vertraten Chr. G. Schröter, G. A. Sorge und J. A. Scheibe. Die kleinmeisterliche Tradition Mitteldeutschlands setzten u.a. J. Chr. Oley, J. G. Tag und J. Chr. Kühnau fort. J. E. Rembts Orgelsonaten stehen als beachtliche Leistungen am Ende des Jh. Großer Beliebtheit erfreuten sich um die Jh.-Wende die Kompos. von G. Chr. Kellner. Im allgemeinen machte sich jedoch in diesen Kreisen eine zunehmende Erstarrung im Schulmäßigen oder die Neigung zu einer gefälligen, aber verflachten Schreibweise bemerkbar.“

[Summary: There are different organ-playing traditions that were developed by Bach’s own students: J. L. Krebs represents the closest and best example of Bach’s own playing style (this is why he was dubbed the only “Krebs” [‘crab”] in the “Bach” [“brook”]).
Also among the true tradition bearers are: W. F. Bach, G. A. Homilius, J. Schneider and J. Chr. Kittel. J. P. Kellner was also strongly influenced by J. S. Bach. A completely different direction was taken by Chr. G. Schröter, G. A. Sorge und J. A. Scheibe. Generally, these organ composers, and others that are mentioned above, tended toward an increasingly ossified pedantic style or exhibited a tendency toward an obligingly agreeable, but nevertheless noticeably shallow/superficial compositional style.]

It would appear from the above that proponents of the Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus theory make little or no effort at sorting out evidence which disqualifies itself upon closer examination. Just as it is a mistake to quote Niedt whose limited experience and views on music and performance are completely antithetical to those of J. S. Bach, so also does Schröter fail to measure up as a reliable indicator of Bach’s performance practices. It is truly remarkable that the ‘peer group’ to which Brad belongs, has conveniently overlooked these rather obvious failings and refuses to examine them objectively.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 8, 2003):
(...) "It would appear from the above that proponents of the Schering/Mendel/ Dreyfus theory make little or no effort atsorting out evidence which disqualifies itself upon closer examination. Just as it is a mistake to quote Niedt whose limited experience and views on music and performance are completely antithetical to those of J. S. Bach, so also does Schröter fail to measure up as a reliable indicator of Bachâ?Ts performance practices. It is truly remarkable that the â?~peer groupâ?T to which Brad belongs, has conveniently overlooked these rather obvious failings and refuses to examine them objectively."
So now, too, Peter Williams and David Ledbetter (authors of the "Continuo" article in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2001) are wrong, too? They have summarized material from more than 100 primary sources, and more than 150 modern studies (all cited in their bibliography), and come up with a balanced and responsible conclusion. Which sentence(s) of theirs, specifically, do you not agree with?

Or, Williams in the other article I've been citing here: same question...exactly what in it don't you agree with? Page number, please.

It still appears to me you're lumping all these scholars together (and somehow including me in their "peer group"...thanks for the promotion!) as boogey-men who subscribe to some "proponents of the Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus theory" conspiracy, when that "Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus theory" itself (as a phrase) is YOUR OWN CONSTRUCT as something you can rail against, without having read what the scholars (excepting Dreyfus and Schering) actually said. Prove me wrong, Tom. Prove that you've actually read anything here beyond MGG and Dreyfus and Schering!

(And now back to bed...the baby got us up....)

Grumpy,

Peter Bright wrote (April 8, 2003):
Is this Dreyfus, that Thomas feels in a position to lambast, the Thurston Dart Professor of Music at King's College London (my old college)? Although I have not read his books, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture he gave some time ago, shortly after being inducted into the British Academy. I find his views open, compelling and backed up with a great deal of comprehensive first-hand research. Dreyfus's experience and expertise is respected internationally and one should always be free to criticise his standing (this should go without saying) but to allow other list members to make up their minds perhaps Thomas should provide more information about his own background and why he thinks in what sometimes seems absolutist terms (think Harnoncourt). A brief introduction to Lawrence Dreyfus is in order. Some of the list members will know him best as the leader of Phantasm but here is a run down of this and other achievements:

Teaching appointments prior to King's College London: Stanford, Yale, Chicago
Major Academic Interest: J S Bach, Early Music movement, Mozart, Wagner and antisemitism
Books: 'Bach's Continuo Group'
'Bach and the Patterns of Invention' (Otto Kinkeldey Award from the American Musicological Society for the most distinguished work of scholarship published in 1996. At the request of the composer Luciano Berio, the opening and closing chapters of this book were translated into Italian and were issued in 2001 by Longanesi Press of Milano.)
'Signs of Wagner'
Articles:
'J.S. Bach's Experiment in Differentiated Accompaniment: Tacet-Indications in the Organ Parts to the Vocal Works', Journal of the American Musicological Society 32 (1979), pp. 321-334.
'Early Music Defended against its Devotees: A Theory of Historical Performance in the Twentieth Century', The Musical Quarterly 69 (1983), pp. 297-322 [translation into Polish with author's postscript in Canor, 1997].
'The Metaphorical Soloist: Concerted Organ Parts in Bach's Cantatas', Early Music 13 (1985), pp. 237-247. Also in J.S. Bach as Organist: His Instruments, Music, and Performance Practices, ed. George Stauffer and Ernest May. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986, pp. 172-189.
'J.S. Bach's Concerto Ritornellos and the Question of Invention', The Musical Quarterly 71 (1985), pp. 327-358.
'The Articulation of Genre in Bach's Instrumental Music', The Universal Bach: Lectures Celebrating the Tercentenary of Bach's Birthday, Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1986, pp. 10-37.
'J.S. Bach and the Status of Genre: Problems of Style in the G-Minor Sonata, BWV 1029', Journal of Musicology 5 (1987), pp. 55-78.
'The Hermeneutics of Lament: A Neglected Paradigm in a Mozartian Trauermusik', Music Analysis 10 (1991), pp. 329-343.
'Mozart as Early Music: A Romantic antidote', Early Music 19 (1992), pp. 295-309.
'Matters of Kind: Genre and Subgenre in Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier', A Bach Tribute: Essays in Honor of for William F. Scheide, ed. Paul Brainard and Ray Robinson (Kassel: Bärenreiter Verlag, and Chapel Hill: Hinshaw, 1993) pp. 101-119.
'Hermann Levi's shame and Parsifal's guilt: A critique of essentialism in biography and criticism', Cambridge Opera Journal 6:2 (1994) pp. 125-145.
'Bachian invention and its mechanisms' in The Cambridge Companion to Bach, ed. John Butt. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 171-192.
'Hermann Levi', The Revised New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, [in press, to be issued in 2000]
Inaugural Lecture
'Bach as Critic of Enlightenment', delivered at King's College London, 2 June 1994
Published Congress and Colloquium Papers
'Zur Frage der Cembalo-Mitwirkung in den geistlichen Werken Bachs', Bachforschung und Bachinterpretation heute. Bericht über das Bachfest-Symposion 1978 der Philipps-Universität Marburg, ed. Reinhold Brinkmann. Leipzig: Neue Bach-Gesellschaft, 1981, pp. 178-184.
'The Capellmeister and his Audience: Observations on 'Enlightened' Receptions of Bach'. Alte Musik als ästhetische Gegenwart: Bericht über den internationalen musikwissenschaftlichen Kongreß Stuttgart 1985, ed. Dietrich Berke and Dorothee Hanemann. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1987, pp. 180-189.
[Problems of Teaching and Research.] The Contemporary Humanities: Theory and Practice. Proceedings of a symposium on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Society of Fellows in the Humanities, April 1987. New York: Columbia University, 1988, pp. 42-44.
'Early Music and the Repression of the Sublime'. Papers from "The Early Music Debate: Ancients, Moderns, Postmoderns," Berkeley Early Music Festival and Symposium 1990. Journal of Musicology 10 (Winter, 1992), pp. 108-112.
'Music Analysis and the Historical Imperative'. Papers from a Round table on "Music Analysis: Systematic vs. Historical Models" held at meetings of the International Musicological Society, Madrid, 1992, Revista de Musiologia: Actas del XV Congreso de la SIM, vol. 16, no. 1 (1993) [1994], 407-419.
'Idiomatic Betrayals: François Couperin as composer for the viol'. François Couperin: Nouveaux Regards. Actes des Rencontres de Villecroze 4 au 7 octobre 1995, III, 3, ed. Orhan Memed. Paris: Éditions Klincksieck, 1998, 205-221.
Musical Editions
Jean Baptiste Bréval. Drei leichte Sonaten für Violoncello und Bass (with Anne-Marlene Gurgel). Leipzig: Edition Peters, 1980.
Johann Sebastian Bach. Drei Sonaten für Viola da Gamba und Cembalo, BWV 1027-1029 [with Concluding Remarks and Critical Notes]. Frankfurt and Leipzig: C.F. Peters, 1985.
Edited Texts
Abstracts of Papers Read at the Fifty-Eighth Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society. 4-8 November 1992. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Ed. Laurence Dreyfus. Madison, Wisconsin: A-R Editions, Inc., 1992.
Solo and Chamber Recordings
Johann Sebastian Bach. Sonatas for Viola da gamba and Harpsichord, BWV 1027-1029. Laurence Dreyfus, viola da gamba and Ketil Haugsand, harpsichord. Simax Digital PS 1024 Stereo (LP), PCS 1024 Stereo (compact disc), and PCD 1024 (Digital Audio Tape). Oslo, Norway: Pro Musica A/S, 1986, 1987.
Marin Marais. Pièces de violes (1701). Laurence Dreyfus, viola da gamba and Ketil Haugsand, harpsichord. Simax PCS 1053 (compact disc). Oslo, Norway: Pro Musica A/S, 1989.
Historische Instrumente der Leipziger Sammlung, Historical Instruments of the Leipzig Collection. Antoine Forqueray, Suite No. 5 with Laurence Dreyfus, viola da gamba and Maria Bräutigam, harpsichord [=Rundfunk der DDR Produktion, Leipzig, 1977]. ChristophorusCD 74605. Freiburg im Breisgau: Christophorus-Verlag, 1990.
Jean-Philippe Rameau, Pièces de clavecin en concert, with Ketil Haugsand, harpsichord, and Catherine Mackintosh, violin. Simax PCS 1095 (compact disc). Produced by Arne Akselberg and Laurence Dreyfus. Oslo, Norway: Pro Musica A/S, 1993. Nominated for a 1994 Gramophone Award.
William Byrd, Songs and Sonnets, with Concordia, Rachel Platt, soprano, and Laurence Dreyfus, treble viol. Meridian Records, 1994.
Sylvia McNair, The echoing Air: Music of Henry Purcell with Christopher Hogwood, harpsichord, Paul O'Dette, archlute, and Laurence Dreyfus, cello and viola da gamba. Philips 446 081-2, 1995. Winner of the 1995 Grammy Award for the Best Classical Vocal Recording.
Henry Purcell. The Complete Fantasias for Viols. Phantasm, Laurence Dreyfus, director. A digital recording on compact disc postproduced by Jonathan Freeman-Attwood and Laurence Dreyfus (Simax PSC 1124, 1996). Winner of the 1997 Gramophone Award - Best Baroque (Non-Vocal) Recording.
Still Music of the Spheres. Consorts of William Byrd and Richard Mico, Phantasm, Laurence Dreyfus, director. A digital recording on compact disc postproduced by Jonathan Freeman-Attwood and Laurence Dreyfus (Simax Classics PSC 1134, 1997). Nominated for the 1999 Gramophone Award - Best Early Music Recording.
JS Bach, Art of Fugue, BWV 1080 (1-11, 19). WA Mozart, Sebastian Bach's Fugues arranged for Strings, K405, Fuga, K401 Phantasm, Laurence Dreyfus, director. A digital recording on compact disc postproduced by Jonathan Freeman-Attwood and Laurence Dreyfus (Simax Classics PSC 1135, 1998).
BYRD SONG, Consorts and Songs by William Byrd, Phantasm, Laurence Dreyfus, director, with Ian Partridge, tenor, and Geraldine McGreevy, soprano. A digital recording on compact disc postproduced by Jonathan Freeman-Attwood and Laurence Dreyfus (Simax Classics PSC 1191, 1999).
Matthew Locke, Consorts of Three and Four Parts, Phantasm, Laurence Dreyfus, director. A digital recording on compact disc postproduced by Jonathan Freeman-Attwood and Laurence Dreyfus (Global Music Network, 2000).
William Lawes, Consorts in Four and Five Parts, Phantasm, Laurence Dreyfus, Director. A digital recording on compact disc postproduced by Jonathan Freeman-Attwood and Laurence Dreyfus (Channel Classics, CCS 15698, 2000). Editor's Choice, Gramophone, August 2000.
Fairest Isle, Barbara Bonney, soprano with Phantasm, Laurence Dreyfus, director, William Byrd, Though Amaryllis dance in green, O Lord how vain, and John Jenkins, Fantasy No.9 (Decca, to be issued in summer 2000).

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 8, 2003):
< Thomas Braatz wrote: Brad Lehman queried: >>With such a clear and categorical checklist of absolutely immutable Bach-Braatz principles to work from, rendering the music with unquestionable authenticity, such a reference performance could indeed be very interesting. So, please: do you have a list of these details? All the above questions do need to be answered, as performers need that sort of guidance to know what they must do. Help us to understand what these ideal Bach-Braatz authentic performances sound like in your head, as you read through the scores. Thanks!<<
What a charming attitude of disarming obsequiousness! >
So, then, what are the answers to those performance questions, the parameters of the ideal Bach-Braatz performance? It's a serious question, and it really would be good to know, and you've been asked nicely.... [Or, perhaps, did you misinterpret the question as if there's some undocumented esoteric convention behind it that prevents it from being a real question?]

In case you've already deleted the list of parameters, I'll supply them again as a checklist you should be able to answer easily. Quite simply: what are EXACTLY the ideal features (in your opinion) on each of the following points, for the Bach vocal works? (And I'll be glad to answer them myself sometime, too, so you can know exactly what I expect in a Bach-Lehman performance, my own preferences; I wouldn't want you to just guess!)

- Exactly what voice type(s), ideal age, and gender(s) should the soloists and chorus singers have?

- How many people in the chorus?

- How many players per part?

- What type of organ, and its specific registration?

- What must the organist's default touch/articulation be in arias and recitatives?

- How should fermatas be interpreted?

- Exactly how much or how little accentuation anyone should use
anywhere?

- What dynamic schemes are the players and singers allowed to use in the delivery of their lines?

- What pitch level (in Hz) would A be?

- What keyboard temperament?

- What tempos must be used (and what clues are used to determine them)?

- What are the dates and places where the ideal instruments were manufactured?

- What is the ideal venue for the recording?

- What type of bow should the string players use? (Gaehler's modern curved bow designed for playing Urtext scores as thoroughly as possible, or a normal Tourte bow, or one of the Baroque types of bow?)

- Goals of overall precision, as in, rendering the music EXACTLY as it looks on the page (or, should we adopt the rhythmic alterations mentioned by Agricola and others)?

- What is the default length of sustain in all note values, vis-a-vis the way they look on the page in the NBA scores?

- Are the players and singers allowed to use any esoteric performance conventions outside the score, for example, the typically 1940s-70s "Baroque" orchestral fashion where all the notes from everybody are articulated crisply with the default half length of their notation?

- Miking and mixing goals: what percentage of the notes must be audibly discernible to the modern listener following along with the recording, watching the NBA score?

- How much (or how little) ornamentation and rhythmic alteration are the players and singers allowed to use overall, with respect to Frederick Neumann's writings, and those of his opponents?

[Frankly, it looks as if EVERYBODY should answer that list at least for themselves, and perhaps also here, so we know what your expecations are in reviewing a performance you liked or disliked!]

Peter Bright wrote (April 8, 2003):
< Brad Lehman wrote: [Frankly, it looks as if EVERYBODY should answer that list at least for themselves, and perhaps also here, so we know what your expecations are in reviewing a performance you liked or disliked!] >
Brad, do you really expect myself and others to answer this list? Remember that some of us are amateurs but can still provide valid reviews! For example, I have no idea what a fermata is. Does this mean I should leave the group? I agree with you that opinions presented as fact should really be backed up by some pretty strong supporting evidence (often lacking here) but remember that the most experienced professionals can sometimes be blinded by their own predilections and that music as a universal language can be rated by musicians and non musicians alike...

For continuation of this part of the discussion, see: Fermata

Johan van Veen wrote (April 8, 2003):
[To Peter Bright] I don't think anyone should feel obliged to answer all the questions. Some are very difficult to answer for non-professionals. But it can be very useful to write down what criteria you use if you ask yourself whether you like a performance or not. It helps to understand what you yourself expect from a performance. Answering the questions Brad formulated is in fact helping to understand your own preferences. If you don't care about - say - the pitch which is used in a performance, you just skip that question, since it won't play any role in your assessment of a performance anyway.

But if one regularly and very firmly criticises some aspects of recordings, like the type of voices used or the way the basso continuo is realised - then it isn't unreasonable to ask that person to be more specific about his or her criteria. If someone doesn't like a certain way of singing, then it seems to me perfectly reasonable to ask him what way of singing he prefers.

The main problem I see is that some questions can't be answered in a very general wa. The pitch used depends on the cantata which is performed: the pitch for the early cantatas is different from the pitch in the cantatas composed in Leipzig, for example. On the other hand, it is certainly possible to say what kind of voices one would prefer in Bach's cantatas generally.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 8, 2003):
An update on our friend Friedrich Erhard Niedt

< Thomas Braatz wrote: (...) Just as it is a mistake to quote Niedt whose limited experience and views on music and performance are completely antithetical to those of J. S. Bach, so also does Schröter fail to measure up as a reliable indicator of Bach’s performance practices. >
I guess it wasn't good enough that Schröter was Bach's friend and correspondent for 30 years, and a fellow-member of the Mizler society, and indeed the guy whom Bach himself hired to defend him (Bach) in print against somebody else? [Biedermann; see Christoph Wolff's description of all this at pages 423-4 in Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician.]

=====

OK, no matter. I've followed up some more on our friend Niedt. First, to recapitulate what has been said before, for context:

- Friedrich Erhard Niedt (1674-1708) wrote a treatise that was published and republished several times in the first few decades of the 1700s; it was a standard textbook of figured-bass and contrapuntal theories and issues. It was championed (and reissued) especially by the well-known writer Johann Mattheson, in Hamburg.

- Johann Peter Kellner was 20 years younger than Bach, and one of the most important copyists of his music; he may not have taken lessons directly from Bach, but they did work together. (For example, he and Bach jointly made a copy of BWV 548.) He knew Bach; there is no dispute about that. This same Kellner, at some point in his life, also owned a manuscript that was supposedly some written material derived from Bach's own teachings of basso continuo: a handwritten document whose title page is a revision of a passage from a published book (we'll get to that in a minute), and whose musical examples are also drawn from that other book. That is, this manuscript was in the possession of someone (Kellner) who worked with Bach. It doesn't prove that the manuscript was by Bach, or ever seen by Bach, but at least there is some circumstantial evidence: Bach could have had some role in the creation and/or practical use of this manuscript.

- This manuscript's text and examples derive from the book Musicalische Handleitung by Niedt, described above. It was (therefore) a readily available book in Bach's society, at least at some point during Bach's life. Furthermore, Niedt himself had been a music student of Bach's relative Johann Nicolaus Bach (1669-1753). JSB himself may or may not have worked with this book himself as a student; he also may or may not have used it in his own teaching of others. We don't know for sure, one way or the other. The existence of Kellner's manuscript suggests that he probably did; so does the
above family connection with Bach.

- Kellner's manuscript has the title: Vorschriften und Grundsaetze zum vierstimmigen spielen des General-Bass oder Accompagnement. The entry about this in the Oxford Composer Companions: J S Bach has this to say about it: "Its only surviving source is a manuscript copy in the Brussels Conservatory, dated 1738 and ascribed to Bach. Bach's authorship has been questioned, however, but H-J Schulze's identification of the Bach pupil C A Thieme as the scribe of the title-page and several corrections to the text at least places the treatise in the Bach circle. It includes instruction, with worked examples, in four-part harmonization of a figured bass, and is more a written harmony primer than a textbook on continuo playing. The first nine chapters are closely based on Part 1 of F E Niedt's Musicalische Handleitung (1700)."

- Furthermore, the connection of this manuscript with Bach's circle has also been described in published articles and books by Christoph Wolff, Arthur Mendel, Hans David, John Butt, Laurence Dreyfus, P L Poulin, the aforementioned H J Schulze, and others; it is quite well established as musicological "fact." That is, scholarly consensus (especially over the past 15 years) gives credence to this Niedt/Bach connection.

- The only person known to me who disagrees with this consensus (at least, vocally) is Thomas Braatz, here on our list: a person who may indeed have some scholarly credentials in the field of music, but who has consistently failed to produce them; we don't know if he has them or not. [Braatz has also asserted that he doesn't even need to read Schulze's article here; he simply knows that it's wrong. Such logic is a rather odd form of scholarship, but let us set that observation aside for now and continue....]

- Pressed to demonstrate his reasons for dismissing the Niedt/Bach connection, Braatz has resorted to an ad hominem argument based entirely on hearsay. That is: he has looked up the article about Niedt in MGG (Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart : a standard German-language musical encyclopedia, see: http://www.mgg-online.com ).

Braatz learned there that all of Niedt's own compositions are no longer extant; and the writer of the article there has speculated (from Niedt's own comments about certain types of counterpoint, and from the musical examples in Niedt's text) that Niedt was not, shall we say, the world's greatest composer. Braatz' entire argument to date (as demonstrated here, anyway) has been based on that bit of speculation. [Braatz prides himself on being notably skeptical of scholarly articles he reads; but, it appears, in this case he has found enough evidence solely from MGG to be suitably convinced. Whatever.]

- Meanwhile, the article about Niedt in the similar (and more up-to-date) English-language standard encyclopedia, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (most recently revised in 2001), similarly notes that Niedt's compositions are all lost, but the writer there does not speculate one way or the other about Niedt's musical competence. It is noted in these standard references (and in others) that Niedt unsuccessfully applied for at least one professional music post. [But then again, it must be noted: so did almost everybody else, including Johann Sebastian Bach.] So, Niedt is known to us as a theorist more than as a composer or performer. [And the music world today continues to be filled with plenty of people who are better at theory and research than as composers or performers; there is indeed a well-respected place for that type of people.]

- As I mentioned once before, I myself have received some academically accredited instruction using Niedt's materials as a textbook, and found it to be a rewarding experience. That is: I learned something useful from it, and my teachers respected it! [For whatever personal experience is worth: there it is.]

That's the recap. Now, to continue:

This weekend I did some further reading about Niedt and his circle, in this book: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1580460291/
The author, Dr Paul Walker, is one of the top experts on historical writings about counterpoint; he is also the contributor of some of the New Grove articles in that area.

For our discussion here about Niedt, the most relevant parts of his book are chapter 9 and the first part of chapter 10. He gives a survey of how Niedt's descriptions of contrapuntal forms made their way into the standard German musical dictionary in Bach's own lifetime, namely the one by Bach's own cousin (and colleague and friend: working together at least as early as 1708, Weimar days), Johann Gottfried Walther. This dictionary was the Musicalisches Lexikon (1732), and Bach himself was a sales agent for this book in Leipzig (according to the Walther entry in Oxford Composer Companions: J S Bach). Walker also describes the other music dictionaries of that period, goes through their definitions of contrapuntal forms, and shows how several of them rely directly on Niedt's work. [It seems alneedless to point out here: none of these people, including Walker, think of Niedt as an incompetent moron, as Mr Braatz does.]

Walker then continues with the reception history of Niedt's work, and Mattheson's republications and updates of Niedt. He shows how Mattheson defended himself, and defended Niedt, against challenges from gentlemen named Buttstedt and Bokemeyer. Bokemeyer, especially, was upset at the way Niedt and Mattheson had a low opinion of canon as a technique; but Mattheson rose to the challenge. Walker also presents opinions by a Johann Christoph Schmidt of Dresden, along with some other characters in these early 18th-century debates. [My main point here is: Niedt's work, both on its own and in Mattheson's promotions of it, was a standard reference and people were talking about it and publishing articles about it; there is no way that Bach would not have been aware of these buzzes in musical/theoretical circles...especially as a cousin of Walther, and as a member of Mizler's society. The raison d'etre of Mizler's society, after all, was to discuss exactly this type of stuff: the musical sciences. And Walker notes that Bach was one of "the most historically-aware composers" of his time, which is of course common knowledge anyway: Bach knew very well what theoretical and practical forms he was working with, and he knew the published writings in this field.]

I have written to Dr Walker for permission to reproduce those pages of his book, scanned onto my web site; as soon as I hear back from him I'll put those up for our reference. (Unless, of course, he says no...which is difficult to imagine, as he and I work together regularly and this would be good free exposure for his book!)

=====

So, anyway...to sum all this up, it still appears that Mr Braatz is the only person who holds such a low opinion of Friedrich Niedt: such a low opinion that we should not trust Niedt on anything he says on any topic. Braatz has asserted that Bach would never have associated with the work of such a loser as Niedt. OK: Braatz is entitled to his opinion, based on whatever evidence he feels has convinced him.

To follow that same Braatzian logic to its natural conclusion, perhaps we should do the same. We should (perhaps) not give credence to the musical or theoretical pronouncements of ANYONE who has not first demonstrated his own compositional aptitude. According to Mr Braatz, Niedt is not to be trusted since we can't see evidence that Niedt was ever a competent composer of contrapuntal music, himself. Fair enough, if that's Braatz' standard. (It's an odd one, but let's go with it for the sake of argument.)

It seems the next step here is to examine Braatz' own compositions so we can discern his fitness to make any sort of musical or theoretical pronouncements. That is, we should hold him (as he holds Niedt) to that measuring-stick; and should hold everyone else to it as well. Fair enough.

Here are some representative samples of my own compositions: some to listen to variously at these web sites:
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/hymns.html
http://listen.to/bpl
http://www.mp3.com/hlduo

And an earlier work from student days...contrapuntally competent, at least, and good enough to have made it into Frances Bedford's standard reference book of modern harpsichord compositions: http://www.vaix.net/~bpl/reflections.htm

Now, let's see some Thomas Braatz compositions (please!) that are somehow demonstrably better than Friedrich Niedt's lost works. That's what seems to be necessary here. Either that, or Niedt gets reinstated as respectable (not that he ever was disrespected by anyone other than Braatz....).

That's the only fair way, following Braatz' own logic. How about it, Tom? (Plus, I'm really itching to hear what a Braatz composition sounds like, and to play through it for myself if possible, savoring the clarity of every note as the marvelous counterpoint is manifested in my finger motions...I anticipate an experience analogous to playing through _Die Kunst der Fuge_, feeling and hearing all that contrapuntal richness in process....)

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 8, 2003):
[To Johan van Veen] As Johan says here: it is at least useful to think about this list for oneself, point by point, to begin to understand one's own preferences.

As for the pitch question itself: I think it's valid to say one would prefer A=440 or A=415 (or whatever) across the board, rather than trying to match different pitch standards to different parts of Bach's career and hear exactly the same pitches he heard. Or, one could indeed try to mix and match the pitches by Bach's situations. That's a valid approach, too. The point is to think about what YOU (anyone) want to hear, as a preference, if pitch matters at all to you.

Myself, personally, I'd wish to hear all the cantatas performed with A=415. Why? Because that is the most convenient 'standard' NOW for period instruments and copies, as a practical measure, and I happen to prefer the sound of such instruments, so it's best to pick a pitch that works well with them. Plain and simple. Also, a number of professional singers (even those who work mostly with later music) have told me they are much more comfortable singing Bach's music at that pitch than at A=440; it fits their voices better, and lets them sing more confidently. So, there's another reason (personally) to choose 415. Sure, Bach himself may have heard this music and expected it to be performed at pitches other than 415, but the question is about OUR preferences TODAY. Somebody else 'blessed' (or 'cursed') with 'absolute pitch' at A=440 would probably prefer to hear all the cantatas at that pitch, and that's valid too!

I'm a practical man; I prefer the pitch at which the voices and instruments sound best. All these questions are to some extent interrelated, and all worth thinking about, in my opinion.

Robert Sherman wrote (April 8, 2003):
As far as the singers are concerned, it seems to me the music should be pitched however is best for them. But as a (very amateur) bass, I must point out that this doesn't necessarily mean low pitch. Consider two examples:

1) When Terfel sings "Why do the Nations" at 440 (his modern-instrument recital disk) he ad libs a low G, to great dramatic effect although it's clearly at the bottom of his range. When he sings it at low pitch (with Hickox), he can't attempt the low G.

2) When Fischer-Dieskau sings the bass aria from BWV 4 at 440 (with Richter), he is able to make the low E#, although with a bit of effort, and it works well. At low pitch, he couldn't have tried it.

Regarding trumpets, for some psychoacoustic reason I don't understand, the key of D at 440 is the most brilliant key and works best for Bach's brilliant high trumpet writing. I suppose, though, that in many or most cases he had in mind to do it at low pitch, sounding what we think of as Db, which is less brilliant. So why didn't he write it in Eb, which would have been about the same as D is now at 440?

Any of you musicology buffs have an answer for that?



Continue on Part 3


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Last update: ýAugust 7, 2005 ý18:36:31