Recordings/Discussions
Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Pronunciation
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Authentic Bach Pronunciation

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 11, 2007):
An interesting sidebar to our debate about recreating authentic 18th century pronunciation for Bach's vocal works ...

I was chatting with a German singer this evening who sings with me in the Tallis Choir of Toronto: she had been coaching our German pronunciation. I mentioned that some early music scholars and musicians have been advocating using authentic pronunciation in the works of Bach. She laughed and said it would never fly with German audiences because the Saxon accent is often the source of jokes. Comic characters are often given a Saxon accent in the way Canadians find Newdfounland accents funny and Americans laugh at Alabama accents. She recounted how a choir which was preparing the Mass in B Minor (BWV 232) decided to play a practical joke on their conductor. He brought the choir in and they all sang the Latin with a Saxon accent. General hilarity ensued!

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 11, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>I mentioned that some early music scholars and musicians have been advocating using authentic pronunciation in the works of Bach. She laughed and said it would never fly with German audiences because the Saxon accent is often the source of jokes. Comic characters are often given a Saxon accent in the way Canadians find Newdfounland accents funny and Americans laugh at Alabama accents.<<
The point is that anything that distracts by appearing obviously different and non-standard in pronunciation will distract the listeners from what is really important: focusing one's mind the text in order to contemplate it or let it become a meditation, a period of devation, all of which are enhanced by Bach's great music.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 11, 2007):
[To Thomas Braatz] Nope. You're wrong.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 11, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< distract the listeners from what is really important: focusing one's mind the text in order to contemplate it or let it become a meditation, a period of devation, all of which are enhanced by Bach's great music. >
Perhaps a period of deviation?

Peter Bright wrote (January 11, 2007):
[To Douglas Cowling] Doug, can you expand on this by providing an explanation as to why you think he is wrong? From my perspective, and as a generalisation, I think that he is probably correct. It may be interesting from an academic/historically informed perspective to potentially get closer to way Bach might have expected to hear the words pronounced - but I do suspect that if it deviates significantly from 'standard' pronunciation, it may negatively impact on the listener's enjoyment of the work (i.e., sticking out like a sore thumb...). Why are you so sure that he is wrong?

Disclaimer: This is my own view out of potentially 5 billion different viewsand I reserve the right to be outrageously incorrect without receivinganything other than a mild rebuke for having an uneducated belief system.

Santu de Silva wrote (January 11, 2007):
[To Douglas Cowling] I'm alarmed at this starkly expressed dichotomy.

I remember receiving a CD called Elizabethan Christmas Carols by Red Byrd. There, this group tries (and mostly succeeds, as far as I can tell, according to the best information) period pronunciation. While there were some things about that CD that were alarming at first listen, eventually one gets a feel for not only the musical but also the religious intention of the works. On the other hand, non-authentic pronunciation is also perfectly acceptable for musical enjoyment, as well as spiritual upliftment. Why does it HAVE to be one or the other, but not both? After all, this is the 21st Century, and most people can afford two CDs of their favorite works! (For those interested in donating music to the starving millions in the Third World, a decision will have to be made whether to support an attempt at authentic pronunciation, or to stay with "standard pronunciation". In all other cases, vive la difference!)

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 11, 2007):
[To Santu de Silva] The voice of common sense.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 11, 2007):
Peter Bright wrote:
< Doug, can you expand on this by providing an explanation as to why you think he is wrong? From my perspective, and as a generalisation, I think that he is probably correct. >
I've outlined my argument several times, but here goes again.

Short version: Bach and his musicians spoke and sang with a Saxon accent (primarily this would affect the sound and length of vowels.) There was no standardized German pronunciation at the time.

Throughout the early music movement there has been consensus that the sound of the language is as important as the sound of the instruments. So for example, ensembles singing English Renaissance music will now sing Latin as it was pronounced in the period (e.g. Not the Italianate "ch" in "Coeli" but the same sound as "celestial").

This change in peformance practice is now matched by attempts to recapture the sounds of vernacular pronunciation, especially in opera where recitative is so important (at the moment this is primarily in French music). I think this is an interesting point to consider. If we want to hear 18th century style violins playing with period technique, why not singers? We debate the merits of adult women vs. choirboys in Bach's works, why not the pronunciation? Already, most choirs have abandoned the Italianate pronunciation of Latin for the more authentic German in the masses and Magnificat (BWV 243) of Bach. Why not the German as well? Some would say that it's analagous to using modern instruments and technique.

However, the self-appointed infallible ruler of this forum has decreed that this cannot be a question for discussion and that any free exchange of ideas must be suppressed with contempt and condescension. I'm sure my rebellious representation of the question will be met with a chapter of condemnation read from the Holy Book of Matheson and the rest of you warned never to attempt such an inurgency again.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 11, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< The voice of common sense. >
Unfortunately, very uncommon!

Peter Bright wrote (January 11, 2007):
Doug Cowling wrote:
< However, the self-appointed infallible ruler of this forum has decreed that this cannot be a question for discussion and that any free exchange of ideas must be suppressed with contempt and condescension. I'm sure my rebellious representation of the question will be met with a chapter of condemnation read from the Holy Book of Matheson and the rest of you warned never to attempt such an inurgency again. >
If you mean Thomas, he is not the ruler of this forum - it is Aryeh. Anyway, I tend to agree with Arch - it doesn't have to be one way or the other and both can surely work (at least for some). It would certainly be interesting to hear what a difference the period pronunciation etc. would make. Compared with other more salient developments (such as the welcome loss of misplaced vibrato, which (for me) spoiled many recordings from the pre-HIP era), I don't suppose it would have a massive impact for the listener. Consistent with my earlier suggestion, however, I do wonder whether some may find it distracting from rather than enhancing their listening pleasure. I guess the only way to know is for some brave soul to convince the record company to go with it. Maybe they already have...?

 

German Pronunciation

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 24, 2007):
Georg Fischer wrote:
< Just to be precise: people in Berlin don't call this pastry a "Berliner", but a "Pfannkuchen" = pancake. The name for the donut differs in all German regions, though many people outside Berlin use "Berliner" - but Bavarians use "Krapfen", and in Frankfurt it is a "Kreppel". >
A while back we had a discussion about reconstructing authentic 18th century Saxon pronunciation in Bach's music. The question revolved aroundthe fact that there was no standardized German system of pronunciation in Bach's time, although the universities were certainly engaged in the standardization of spelling and grammar.

All of the native German speakers I've mentioned this to recoil in horror at the thought, primarily because the modern Saxon accent is apparently used in comedy and satire: the way the English use the Cockney accent and Americans use a Bronx accent.

In spite of that modern problem, the question still remains that Bach probably expected his singers to pronounce the texts the same way when they both sang or spoke. We're not talking about dialect words or expressions but rather about diction and the way in which vowels and consonants were sounded.

Two questions for you ...

1) Is there any scholarly work being done on historical pronunciation systems? It would be analagous to academic reconstructions of the way Shakespearen English was spoken.

2) Could you take a typical cantata text and show how a Saxon accent would differ from modern stage German?

 

Finally gettin' to sing the Magnificat & a question about diction

Jeremy Vosburgh wrote (July 17, 2008):
I'm finally going to get the joy of singing Bach's magnificat (BWV 243) in a summer festival choir this August. Its always great to get the opportunity to sing good music. So far the choir director hasn't pigeon-holed me in any voice part yet (although bass seems to be the more desired), but soon I'll know whether its gonna be tenor or bass. So for now I get the joy of being able to sing both at the rehearsals.

Now; for a more important subject. I would like to know from any scholar who would deign to answer: what is the deal with German diction of Latin? Would Bach really have desired Latin to be spoken with a German accent? A perfectionist like he was? Where do the "authenticity" police get the idea that imperfect pronunciation of Latin is the preferred way to sing a German composed Latin based piece? I have to admit its "fun" to listen to a French recording of a Latin piece or the German sister, but I've often wondered, musically, what is the purpose behind trying to mimic these accents with American or British choirs?

I realize there may be a good reason and this is why I'm bringing this question to you.

Thanks!

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 17, 2008):
< Now; for a more important subject. I would like to know from any scholar who would deign to answer: what is the deal with German diction of Latin? Would Bach really have desired Latin to be spoken with a German accent? A perfectionist like he was? Where do the "authenticity" police get the idea that imperfect pronunciation of Latin is the preferred way to sing a German composed Latin based piece? >
Aren't the vowel and consonant sounds as much a part of the piece as intonation and instrumentation are? And more to the point in Masses by German-speaking composers: is "eleison" a three-syllable word, not four? Maybe the allegedly "perfect" way to pronounce Latin is to reconstruct (if possible) what the original performers actually did, and not to impose some other anachronistic or spatially-displaced standard onto it?

I don't think it's so much about being "authenticity police" as practicality. By reproducing the sounds and motions from the original conditions, if possible, we can get a more direct understanding why the pieces were written the way they were...and performance becomes easier, too. It's about being inside the style and then behaving naturally within that language.

If someone wanted to get inside Nat King Cole's vocal art/delivery, they should probably Americanize his phonetic German and Spanish in the same way he did. (Not sure anyone should recommend ruining the throat with chain-smoking, though, as Cole did deliberately to keep the edge on his sound.) Or to reproduce Doris Day's sound, one would need her special R vowel. The musical line is shaped in part by the pronunciation...even if it's "wrong" by some other standard.

Of course, it's probably also a good idea to understand what one is singing about. Understanding guides diction. Exhibit A, Ken Lee: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RgL2MKfWTo

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 17, 2008):
Historic Pronunciation

Jeremy Vosburgh wrote:
< Now; for a more important subject. I would like to know from any scholar who would deign to answer: what is the deal with German diction of Latin? Would Bach really have desired Latin to be spoken with a German accent? A perfectionist like he was? Where do the "authenticity" police get the idea that imperfect pronunciation of Latin is the preferred way to sing a German composed Latin based piece? I have to admit its "fun" to listen to a French recording of a Latin piece or the German sister, but I've often wondered, musically, what is the purpose behind trying to mimic these accents with American or British choirs? >
Latin was sung with regional pronunciations throughout history both in Catholic and Protestant churches until 1903 when Pius X tried to impose Italian pronunciation on the whole Catholic church. Even then German choirs retained their historic pronunciation in the face of pressure to conform. The Regensberger Domsptazen recently sang a concert for Pope Benedict XVI and they used their usual pronunciation for "Oremus" - "Or-EE-mus" rather than the Italianate "Or-AY-mus".

There are strong differences in the national prinunciations of Latin in English, French, Spanish, German and Italian music. Bach would have grown up speaking and singing Latin with traditional German pronunciation: "ek-say" for "ecce" and "kvee" for "qui". The only time he would have heard the "Pope's Latin" may have been in Dresden where there were Italian singers.

In the last 20 years, most professional choirs have returned to using historical pronunciation, arguing that we should try to use the phoetic sounds which composers intended for their music.

A biblography for historic pronunciation can be found at: http://www.music.princeton.edu/~jeffery/pronunc.html

J. Laurson wrote (July 18, 2008):
< Now; for a more important subject. I would like to know from any scholar who would deign to answer: what is the deal with German diction of Latin? Would Bach really have desired Latin to be spoken with a German accent? A perfectionist like he was? Where do the "authenticity" police get the idea that imperfect pronunciation of Latin is the preferred way to sing a German composed Latin based piece? >
Bach would undoubtedly have thought Latin in the "German" diction to be the correct and indeed only way of pronouncing it properly.

Nor is it any less proper than the Anglo way to pronounce Latin (though to my ears, that shall always sound funny, bordering ridiculous). Latin was, for some time, a rather living language and thus changed. What was common (or "proper" if you wish) in one part of Italy some time BC was not common in some part of Germany a thousand years later, or seventeen-hundred years later.

Unless one's ears don't react well to one way of pronouncing it, or another, I suggest the matter is a trifle. The character of the (musical) sound is changed only slightly by not using the German way of pronouncing it (it becomes somewhat emasculated, Italianate), so that the vast majority of listeners will neither care nor notice. So long as it is done consistently, of course.

Jeremy Vosburgh wrote (July 18, 2008):
Latin Diction

Thanks for the responses guys (Doug and Bradley).

I still find it hard to believe that a musical scholar like Bach wouldn't have know how Italian Latin was pronounced. And I would think, given the relative rarity of pieces he composed for Latin Libretta, he had special feelings for the few he did. Today, every professional choir conductor has taken years of diction classes. Am I to assume that diction was any less important in Bach's day? Maybe it was.

In addition, Latin seems like it was the unifying language back then. Educated people must have had tostudy it (I could be way off base here; please correct me if I'm wrong)

Does anyone know the history of Latin schools in Germany? Did they actually teach Latin with a German accent? That sounds preposterous; but stranger things have happened.

Thanks again for you patience.

Jeremy Vosburgh wrote (July 18, 2008):
Thanks for the vid Bradley. :)

Evan Cortens wrote (July 17, 2008):
[To Jeremy Vosburgh] I think what Doug and Brad are saying is that the very idea of a single, "correct" Latin pronunciation is quite new. Before the twentieth century the way to pronounce Latin was determined by your region.

Yes it is certainly true that for many things, especially science and math, Latin was the universal European language in the eighteenth century. (French was probably the standard language for things of a more political nature, hence "lingua franca.") Not only did Bach study Latin it was actually part of his job description to teach it in Leipzig, though how much he actilly did it is up for debate. Nevertheless, as I said above, though Bach could read and write Latin, this doesn't mean that it ever would have occurred to him to pronounce it in an Italian manner... I suppose it would be like an Englishman telling an American that he was pronouncing English incorrectly.

Hope this helps!

J. Laurson wrote (July 19, 2008):
Jeremy Vosburgh wrote:
< Does anyone know the history of Latin schools in Germany? Did they actually teach Latin with a German accent? That sounds preposterous; but stranger things have happened. >
Without knowing the "history" of Latin schools in Germany (what's a "Latin School", anyway? Until the 50s or 60s, it was probably the first and most widely taught "foreign" language in German Gymnasiums) I can tell you that as late as 1990, Latin was still taught with what you call a "German Accent" but which Germans steadfastly consider to be perfectly proper Latin.

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 19, 2008):
Jeremy Vosburgh wrote:
< Does anyone know the history of Latin schools in Germany? Did they actually teach Latin with a German accent? That sounds preposterous; but stranger things have happened. >
The Copeman book is very thorough on not only regional pronunciations of Latin, but changes within those national patterns. For instance, modern German choirs sing "Kyrie" as "Kür-ie" -- the same as in "Walküre". But recent scholars have discovered that there was a vowel shift at the end of the 18th century so that Bach and Mozart sang "Kee-rie", while Bruckner and perhaps Beethoven san "Kür-ie".

Copeman's account of English pronunication of Latin is fascinating. In general, legal Latin retains the old pronunication that we should use in Reniassance music: "ipse dixit" is a good example of the difference between English and Italian pronunciation. At the end of the 19th century, Classical scholars revised the pronunciation of Latin and Greek to be reflect what they thought was the pronunciation of Homer and Virgil. Until that time, the "caelis" in "Pater noster qui es in caelis" was pronounced "Say-liss". The classical pronunciation was reconstructed as "kay-lees". You will hear this in English academic convocations which have Latin prayers and orations.

Perhaps sometime we should go back to the discussion which caused a nuclear flameout on this list: Since there was no universal standardized German pronunciation in Bach's time, did he and his musicians sing their German with a Saxon accent? Even those of us who are not fluent in German notice regional differences in the way Berliners and Bavarians pronounce word like "ich". I'm still waiting for a scholar to investigate if all those recitatives should have a Saxon accent.

At this point, the Germans faint away in horror, the Saxon accenet today being the butt of humour in the way West Country is to Brits, the deep South is to Americans and Marseilles is to Parisians.

 

Latin pronounciation Re: Performance of Magnificat BWV 243

Continue of discussion from: Magnificat BWV 243 - General Discusssions Part 5 [Other Vocal Works]

Terejia wrote (December 25, 2008):
Bruce Simonson wrote: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/29625
(.. )
< Funny thing is, as I am now preparing for a Monteverdi Vespers 1610 performance in 2010, I can't read these texts without the German pronunciation in my head. Go figure.
Sounds like it was a great concert; thanks for sharing it with us. >
I know you are among those who are concert performers - so is Therese as a chorurist. My performance has been limited within church liturgy recently. The two Christmas mass, during which I played several Bach organ pieces as prelude, postlude, during communio(I just played my regular choices of J. S. Bach as usual), went without major accident, if not perfect level.

About Latin pronounciation, I do not know whether I should envy or feel sorry for Europeans for having their own method of pronouncing a certain combination of alphabet letters. As you know, we Japanese don't use alphabet in the first place. We can simply accept whatever is told by the conductor without rebel nor applause, generally speaking.

Now, as I said, my performance in recent years has been only limited within the church liturgy but next year I'm going to do a charity concert with a professionally trained soprano singer who is also a member of my church. Outside of my church and in my profession field, one of my senior veteran legal collegeau is very active and keen in the area of helping homeless people and he has fund he established for that particular purpose. We have yet to work out the detail including program but I am exciting about the idea of donating something to his fund to help him-I respect him very much.

As to Monteverdi Vespers, once I took part in the chorus. Beautiful masterpiece, which seems to have different aethetic standard from that of J.S.Bach.

Jean Laaninen wrote (December 25, 2008):
[To Terejia] Nice news about the charity concert.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (December 26, 2008):
[To Terejia] I studied Latin in High School suffering through Julius Caesar's War series. Latin is pronounced similar to English. The reason being that during the Fall of the Roman Empire--the British Iles were isolated from all the goings on in Rome and escaped much of the disruptions et al until the VIking Invasions. Latin survived as a spoken language in Britain long after it was essentially dead elsewhere.

How to pronouce:'Magnificat'---we break this up much like modern Italian. This is what it would look like and pronounced: Mah-NEE-FEE-kaht--this pattern generally holds for most Latin but not all. For instance "Sum Ego Rex hic ergo ego sum Lex" trans; I AM THE KING THEREFORE I AM THE LAW----PRONOUNCED---Soom Ego REX HIC ERgo SOOM LEX..

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 26, 2008):
Latin regional pronunciation

Ludwig wrote:
< Latin survived as a spoken language in Britain long after it was essentially dead elsewhere.
How to pronouce:'Magnificat'---we break this up much like modern Italian. This is what it would look like and pronounced: Mah-NEE-FEE-kaht--this pattern generally holds for most Latin but not all. >
Actually, every major linguistic region has its own pronunciation of Latin: for Renaissance and Baroque Latin, there are distinctive systems for England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. For instance, "excelsis" is pronounced "ek-shell-sees" for Italian music, "ek-zel-zees" for German and "ex-cel-sees" for English.

Italianate pronuniciation of Latin was only imposed on the whole Catholic church in 1903, and then German choirs resisted.

In England, 19th century classical scholars tried to recreate the pronunication of antique Latin and this gradually usurped the native English pronunciation of Latin which would have been used by Renaissance composers such as Tallis and Byrd. For instance, until the mid-19th century, Englishmen would have pronounced the Lord's Prayer as: "Pat-ter nos-ter kwee es in say-lees". Academics now pronounce it "Pa-ter nos-kee es in koy-lees". If you attend an Oxbridge college ceremony where there are Latin prayers or orations, academic pronunciation is the norm.

Most modern choirs consider it authentic performamce practice to adopt regional pronuniciations in Renaissance and Baroque music.

The most comprhensive guide is "Singing in Latin" (Paperback) by Harold Copeman (Author), Andrew Parrott (Preface): Amazon.com

He however doesn't deal with the current contoversory over the German pronunication of "Kyrie".

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (December 26, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] I see the influence of French in kee-es but I was taught by an older person(born during the heyday of American Classical Education (1870-1890) period (when Latin was de riquer in all schools and one was not considered educated unless one knew Latin). who taught us to say 'kwee-est'. I would assume that the English version is closer to the original Latin ---particularly when it descends from Irish Monasteries and those Islands off Northern England and Scotland simply because this was the last place that Latin lived as a living language. By 1000 AD, Latin was becoming more and more corrupt and distant from its beginnings.and pinnacle and as the result we now have the controversy over the semantics of the word 'recorder' which means to remember something, to practice, to write down something for posterity. Which is why the insistence , in English, on the use of "blockflute' for this instrument as the instrument does not do any of these things that 'recordare' means.

By John Milton's time (who insisted everyone speak Latin to him); it was so corrupt as not to really be Latin anymore as far as syntax was concerned-----the syntax began to follow more and more English rather than classical Latin syntax and grammar.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 26, 2008):
Ludwig wrote:
< Which is why the insistence , in English, on the use of "blockflute' for this instrument as the instrument does not do any of these things that 'recordare' means. >
Pie Jesu recordare!

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (December 26, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] Thanks ---and bless you! At least I do not have to explain to some obstinate folks why in English 'recorder' is not appropriate name for the musical instrument.

Julian Mincham wrote (December 26, 2008):
Ludwig wrote:
< Thanks ---and bless you!? At least I do not have to explain to some obstinate folks why in English 'recorder' is not appropriate? name for the musical instrument. >
No I think this ground has been pretty well covered on this list??

Terejia wrote (December 26, 2008):
Performance of whatever pieces

Jean Laaninen wrote: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/29642
< Nice news about the charity concert. >
Many thanks for your kind words.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 26, 2008):
OT? Latin regional pronunciation

>Pie Jesu recordare!<
Is that both terrifyingly pedantic and quite amusing? A Doug classic, IMO!

Edward Kennedy (Duke) Ellington, intro to sacred concert three (an annual Xmas radio broadcast on my block), recorded in concert at Westminster Abbey, a mutual honor to Duke and the Abbey :

<Everyone speaks to God in his own language, and God understands them all.>

Joel Figen wrote (December 26, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] Et etiam,

Recordare, Domine, quod acciderit nobis.

Joel (non prophetes)

John Pike wrote (January 5, 2009):
Ludwig wrote:
< I studied Latin in High School suffering through Julius Caesar's War series. Latin is pronounced similar to English. The reason being that during the Fall of the Roman Empire--the British Iles were isolated from all the goings on in Rome and escaped much of the disruptions et al until the VIking Invasions. Latin survived as a spoken language in Britain long after it was essentially dead elsewhere.
How to pronouce:'Magnificat'---we break this up much like modern Italian. This is what it would look like and pronounced: Mah-NEE-FEE-kaht--this pattern generally holds for most Latin but not all. For instance "Sum Ego Rex hic ergo ego sum Lex" trans; I AM THE KING THEREFORE I AM THE LAW----PRONOUNCED---Soom Ego REX HIC ERgo SOOM LEX.. >
I love the bit in "1066 and all that" where it says that "Julius Caesar came to Britain and described the British as weeny, weedy and weaky"!

William Hoffman wrote (January 5, 2009):
[To John Pike] To wit: William Hoffman (German, Scotch-Irish) replies:
Please add: winky, whiny, wimpy and wussy. Actually, I have the highest respect for all English-speaking peoples. As for contributions: Italians make music, Frenchmen make love (sort of), Germans make conflict, and Englishmen make speeches.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 5, 2009):
John Pike wrote:
>> I love the bit in "1066 and all that" where it says that "Julius Caesar came to Britain and described the British as weeny, weedy and weaky"! <<
EM
As the suggested pronunciation of <veni, vidi, vici>, I presume.

Will Hoffman added:
< To wit: William Hoffman (German, Scotch-Irish) replies:
Please add: winky, whiny, wimpy and wussy. Actually, I have the highest respect for all English-speaking peoples. As for contributions: Italians make music, Frenchmen make love (sort of), Germans make conflict, and Englishmen make speeches. >
There is a definition of Hell, along the lines of:
English cuisine, French engineering, Italian politics, and German humor (or amour).

 

Bach and diction

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 16, 2012):
Thomas Quasthoff announced his retirement in the past week. Something of an event on local radio, including broadcast of his recording of BWV 56.

Coincidentally, on New Years Eve, a few days earlier, the same radio station aired his recording of <My Funny Valentine>. I made a note to comment on his English pronunciation, in relation to frequent criticisms in BCW archives of bad accents and/or pronunciation of lyrics by non-German singers, singing Bach.

Is your figure less than Greek?
Is your mouth a little weak,
When you open it to speak?

All is forgiven, Thomas, thank you for loving American music!

 

Bach's Pronunciation

Continue of discussion from: Texts of Bach Cantatas – Discussions [Texts & Translations]

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 18, 2013):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< Other versions differ from the NBA in many points - spelling, punctuation, capitalisation or even word itself. Some examples (Dürr ->
NBA):
BWV 40/1 darzu -> dazu
BWV 64/7 genung -> genug
BWV 133/6 mein Jesu -> o Jesu >
These variations bring us back to the flammable discussion about the pronunciation of Bach's German texts. Historically reconstructed pronunciation is widespread in early music, especially of Latin: singers and choirs regularly use Italian, German, French, Flemish and English pronunciations. A recent HIP of a Lully opera on French TV included French subtitles because the singers were using 17th century pronunciation.

So what did Bach's singers sound like? Did they use a Saxon accent? (most Germans today are horrified by the thought) . Modern "high German" had not been completely regulated by the mid-19th century through the universities, and the natural conservatism of church leaders may have kept alive the 16th century sound of Luther's German, modulated by regional accents.

What do the linguists and historical literati say?

P.S. The much-mocked "out and about" of the modern Canadian Raising retains the medieval pronunciation as preserved in isolated rural and outport communities.

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (August 18, 2013):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< These variations bring us back to the flammable discussion about the pronunciation of Bach's German texts. >
Even more puzzling is to try and find out online what is old and what is new. Just google
genung or genug
Google Search
and you will find a website whereby genung is the old form and genug the modern, and another that asserts plainly the opposite!

This is an easy case, however: "genug" is the modern German form, and Bach's own title is "genung", so it looks like the latter is the older form and to be employed when singing.

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 18, 2013):
Thomas Braatz writes:
< Another aspect that must be considered is that the higher, educated class, particularly in a university 'town' like Leipzig would have aspired to a higher level of standardized pronunciation as evident in the larger geographical region of Germany from the North Sea to the borders of South Germany >
It's interesting to speculate whether Bach's singers sang "genung" or "genug". How long did standard "high" German take to establish itself in churches? I think you're right that by the mid-18th century, a time of intense interest in biblical and classical linguistics, the clergy as members of the "educated class" would have been promulgating the new purer German enunciation through their preaching. Bach was not university educated but his years at court would have smoothed out any regional imperfections. How the Bach cousins spoke to each other over a beer is another question!

My German isn't good enough to hear dialectical differences beyond the broadest Bavarian "Gruss Gott", so it would be interesting to hear from native German speakers whether Lutheran pastors today have an "educated" accent. I know when visiting the North of England, I never heard an Anglican cleric speak in anything but the most cultured Oxbridge accent.

Dr. Thomas Jaenicke wrote (August 21, 2013):
[To Douglas Cowling] Thomas Braatz'z idea of standardized pronunciation used by the higher, educated classes forgets that this are intentions born after the nation building beginning in the 18th century, in Germany at least. There wasn't anything as a "propper" pronunciation as there wasn't propper spelling. Only the (Hessian and protestant) Grimm bothers started in 1832 to set up dictionnary hoping to get their ideas formalized (which was taken up happily by the Prussians to be on the "modern", progressive site in contrast to the south Germans and Austria!).

Even Goethe, the greatest German authority on the written word is quotes as saying as long as one understands what the others are saying, orthography is of minor importance.

A problem with this discussion is also that we do not know how the Saxons spoke 100 ore 200 years ago. how were the vovals pronounced, how the consonants we simply don't know as spoken language is in constant flux. Still more a problem this is the more we travel in the past: do you really expect the medieval troubadours to have spoken the language as it sounds now with the use of our present day phonetic transcription? The use of characters expressing a specific sound changes with time and from region to region. So it is impossible to know if Bach in his St John passin writing "JÜDEN" was expecting the singer to pronounce this as 'juden', 'jiden' or 'jüden' Sadly the e-mail editor does not allow for the phonetic alphabet's special characters!)

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 21, 2013):
Dr. Thomas Jaenicke wrote:
< So it is impossible to know if Bach in his St John passin writing "JÜDEN" was expecting the singer to pronounce this as 'juden', 'jiden' or 'jüden'. Sadly the e-mail editor does not allow for the phonetic alphabet's
>special characters!) >
In English, linguists have charted changes from 1400 - 1700 (the Great Vowel Shift) in pronunciation principally through studies of rhyme and assonance. For instance, we know that Shakespeare pronounced "reason" and "raisin" like the latter word because of the play on words in one of the comedies that wise men might be as common as raisins. I suspect that German linguists have done the same and might be capable reconstructing high and low forms used by Bach and his singers. The orthographic hints are sometimes obvious. Should we sing the original spelling, "Ich habe genung," to rhyme with "jung"? Much work has been done on the Occitain of the troubadours. Why not 18th century Leipzig?

One of the things that amuses me is that modern German speakers seem to have a measure of class snobbery about the Saxon accent. It's as if you suggested that Shakespeare be done in a Cockney accent or read the Gettysburg Address in a Misssissippi accent. The French have some of the same sniffiness about the Marseillaise accent.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (August 22, 2013):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< **
One of the things that amuses me is that modern German speakers seem to have a measure of class snobbery about the Saxon accent. It's as if you suggested that Shakespeare be done in a Cockney accent or read the Gettysburg Address in a Misssissippi accent. The French have some of the same sniffiness about the Marseillaise accent. >
There are several Saxony accents, not just one. And language has always been a marker of economic class, including in Canada. Although a Anglican church choir singing like Elza Doolittle (pre-Henry Higgins's tutoring) sure would liven up things, and keep everyone awake!

Julian Mincham wrote (August 22, 2013):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< It's as if you suggested that Shakespeare be done in a Cockney accent or read the Gettysburg Address in a Misssissippi accent. The French have some of the same sniffiness about the Marseillaise accent. >
Actually for Shakespeare it would be a more Midlands, Birmingham-tuep accent. I did one attend a performance of Shakespeare scenes done with such a regional accent (although the fact that he may have used it does not mean that all his actors did--there may have been a profusion of accents)The result was a lot of laughs where the text was not in itself humorous but rendered so by the manner of speech.

An interesting experiment but I don't think it will lead anywhere.

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 22, 2013):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< Although a Anglican church choir singing like Elza Doolittle (pre-Henry Higgins's tutoring) sure would liven up things, and keep everyone awake! >
North American Anglican choirs can alternately amuse and horrify by the degree they affect an Oxbridge accent for English cathedral music. Ironically, it is American choirs who often sound like a an Oscar Wilde play.

The supposedly saner approach is the so-called "Mid-Atlantic Accent" which attempts to jettison the obvious vulgarisms of Canadian and American accents without going as far as the cork-in-the-mouth affectations of Downtown Abbey.

But then Thomas Wolfe described the Mid-Atlantic Accent as "five miles off Newfoundland heading for Blackpool."

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (August 23, 2013):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< ... described the Mid-Atlantic Accent as "five miles off Newfoundland heading for Blackpool." >
Yeah we are straddling away ...

I was a few years ago in Blackpool as part of the small but very active PC Pilots Ireland delegation to an international meeting of PC Flight Simulation enthusiasts (hello Julian!).

Blackpool has been and is certainly a tourist resort for the masses, but I did not find it the horrid vulgar place sometimes portrayed, and we had a nice time.

The local English accent is certainly not Oxonian, but having been all over Great Britain, I found it is certainly much more pleasing and understandable than others (like Lancastrian, Liverpudlian or Glaswegian).

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 23, 2013):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< An interesting experiment but I don't think it will lead anywhere. >
Proponents of historically-based pronunciation would argue that the sound of Bach's vowels and consonants is as important as reconstructing the sound of Bach's oboe. Early music ensembles have experimented with
national pronunciations of Latin over the past 20 years and gained greater insight into composers' treatment of texts.

A small example. Here's Clerambault's setting of "Hodie Christus Natus Est". Notice how the composer sets "Hodie" with the typically Gallic acccent on the final syllable of "Hodie": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Myjw1WoBH4g

Compare that articulation with Sweelinck's setting of the same text where the word "Hodie" has the stress on the first syllable and forms a true dactylic rhythm: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zoPQ4bAM1S4

And of course, sometimes the "h" sounded in "hodie", sometimes not.

We can see the effect on rhythmic articulation of this factor in Bach's "Magnificat" (BWV 243) where the Italian pronunication of that word does not have the hard g of Bach's singers. It is easier to sing the rhythms with German pronunciation because the consonants provide a kind of vocal springboard.

I suspect that we would learn much about Bach's declamation, especially in the Passion prose recitatives, if their original pronunciation was factored into the discussion.

Julian Mincham wrote (August 23, 2013):
Julian Mincham wrote:
<< An interesting experiment but I don't think it will lead anywhere. >>
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Proponents of historically-based pronunciation would argue that the sound of Bach's vowels and consonants is as important as reconstructing the sound of Bach's oboe. Early music ensembles have experimented with national pronunciations of Latin over the past 20 years and gained greater insight into composers' treatment of texts. >
Douglas I think you made the comparison with Shakespearean pronunciation which I followed up. My comment (above) referred to that as I don't see an appetite of audiences seeking performances in marked archaic local accents.

The matter of pronunciation in music is rather different as it can affect the expressive qualities of the lines. But if it disguises the meaning or if people laugh at it (mainly because it might be so unexpected as in the example I gave) it becomes rather non productive.

Julian Mincham wrote (August 23, 2013):
Claudio Di Veroli wrote:
< The local English accent is certainly not Oxonian, but having been all over Great Britain, I found it is certainly much more pleasing and understandable than others (like Lancastrian, Liverpudlian or Glaswegian). >
It struck me forcibly when I first came to Britain (30+ years ago) how, in travelling only 20-30 miles, you could notice a marked change in the accents. I think this has been diluted somewhat over the years (mainly due to the spread of media, although ironically radio and TV now sport a very wide range of regional accents which they didn't 40 years ago) but there are still huge differences between say, Liverpool, Yorkshire, West country and Cornish accents.I suspect that the range in Germany in the C18 was as great or maybe, due to the many independent principalities, even greater. Would there have been, for example a marked difference in accent between citizens of Leipzig and Dresden??

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (August 23, 2013):
[To Julian Mincham] Indeed, German in Bach's time was probably very diverse.

My deceased father once told me that, about a century ago, it was still the case that in some regions of Italy they would speak with not just different pronunciation, but different non-mutually-intelligible dialects between two towns barely 50 miles away. This is no longer the case nowadays, although still some "dialects" in Italy cannot be understood by most Italians: examples are the languages still spoken in Genova and Romagna (I am NOT including Sardinia where the language is officially accepted as different from Italian). If differences were so wide in non-unified Italy, chances are that they were also quite wide (surely not so but still strong to the point of making mutual understanding difficult) in non-unified Germany.

Alan Bruguieres wrote (August 23, 2013):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< In English, linguists have charted changes from 1400 - 1700 (the Great Vowel Shift) in pronunciation principally through studies of rhyme and assonance.
One of the things that amuses me is that modern German speakers seem to have a measure of class snobbery about the Saxon accent. It's as if you suggested that Shakespeare be done in a Cockney accent or read the Gettysburg Address in a Misssissippi accent. The French have some of the same sniffiness about the Marseillaise accent. >
You are perfectly right, linguists can trace back the evolution of language sounds by several means, this has been done for English, as well as for German and French.

However, while it tells you a lot when it comes to explaining the evolution of the language you are studying, it is of limited interest if you want to reconstruct the particular pronounciation deemed acceptable in such context, in such place at such time. That's because, even at a given time and in a given place, you don't have one way of speaking - you have a wide spectrum, across society and even for a given individual. Unless we have direct testimony specifically about how German was sung in church in Leipzig in Bach's time, very little can be ascertained. The best you can hope for is a reasonable conjecture.

As far as I am concerned, I much prefer having Bach's cantatas recorded in a conservative modern accent, rather than some conjectural attempt at reconstructing Bach's pronounciation. Of course, we're lucky in that Bach used a (moderately early) form of New High German, that is, in essence, the same language as today's German as you learn in school. Sheakespeare is much more problematic, in that his English is very early Modern English, quite different from what people speak or write nowadays (since in his time the Great Vowel Shift you mentioned was still in progress), not to mention Chaucer, who spoke Middle English. Middle English sounded like a different language altogether. When recording vocal works of those times, you can't avoid the question of pronounciation and it's a tricky one indeed...

Linda Gingrich wrote (August 23, 2013):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< My comment (above) referred to that as I don't see an appetite of audiences seeking performances in marked archaic local accents.
The matter of pronunciation in music is rather different as it can affect the expressive qualities of the lines. But if it disguises the meaning or if people laugh at it (mainly because it might be so unexpected as in the example I gave) it becomes rather non productive. >
I tend to agree with Julian on this. As the conductor of a chorus in the suburbs of a large city (Seattle), our audience's tastes and musical training/background are all over the map. Many are not familiar with Italianate Latin pronunciation, much less localized archaic pronunciation. I have experimented with archaic pronunciation in English, Latin and German in our performances, more for the fun of it than anything else, and it does indeed affect the music. But if it gets in the way of communication with the audience, I use modern pronunciation. In a more specialized situation it would no doubt be different.

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 24, 2013):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< The matter of pronunciation in music is rather different as it can affect the expressive qualities of the lines. But if it disguises the meaning or if people laugh at it (mainly because it might be so unexpected as in the example I gave) it becomes rather non productive. >
The reconstructed 17th century French pronunciation for the Lully opera had its eye-popping moments: the pronunciation of "moi" as "moy" reminded me of the Lower East Side. However, there was a certain inevitability to the performance because the recitatives had real spice, unlike the smooth urbanity of Academie Francaise elocution.

The use of national pronunciations of Latin is here to stay: all professional choirs use German pronunciation over the "Pope's Latin", unless they are old-fashioned choral societies.

I would argue that the "sound" of words is a significant part of HIP. Bach may have heard Italian singers using Italian Latin in Dresden, but his Saxon schoolboys would have ripped into "Kyrie" to sound like "Walküre".

I would suggest that there should be a moderate system ofBach German which attempts some nuance at sounding like 18th century Leipzig rather than 19th century Prussia.

Some of the distinctions are obvious even to non-Germanophones (sic?) like me. What should be the sound of -ch in "ich" and "dich"? Is there a discreet glottal attack when "J" is the first letter, as in "Ja, nicht auf das Fest" in the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244)?

Rather than usual modernization of spelling, could the original orthography of Bach's texts present clues as to pronunciation? We've mentioned "ich habe genung" before, but it would be interesting to compare texts in the cantatas with those in the Vopelius hymn book to see where older orthography might indicate prounciations which were archaic even to Bach.

The modernization of texts often distorts the original music. It's only in the last 30 years that editors of English 16th and 17th century music have restored the authentic division of words such as "salvation" as four syllables. Even in an warhorse like "Messiah", most choirs sing the restored ellision for "and the glory, the glory*of the Lord" which horrified Victorian grammarians. Although I doubt we will ever hear a bass in Handel's "Messiah" sing the composer's original underlay for "be raised incorrup-TI-ble" in "The Trumpet Shall Sound."

I must say that I have a certain impatience with the notion of a purified, correctivist pan-German approach to the question of Bach's language. It's not resolved as easily as the last act of "Die Meistersinger".

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 24, 2013):
Claudio Di Veroli wrote:
< My deceased father once told me that, about a century ago, it was still the case that in some regions of Italy they would speak with not just different pronunciation, but different non-mutually-intelligible dialects between two towns barely 50 miles away. >
I always thought Italy came third after City and God.

As the Venetians say:

"Prima Veneziani e poi Cristiani"

Venetians first, then Christians.

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (August 24, 2013):
(another one of my off-topic posts ... )
< As the Venetians say:
"Prima Veneziani e poi Cristiani" >
Yeah, although not all of them of course. Venice had for centuries (notwithstanding Shakespeare) a proud Jewish quarter and community, which included musicians. That was until they were all sent to their deaths in the
camps by the invading Nazis: only few Jewish families live in Venice now, mostly recent new arrivals. A few years ago the 5 centuries-old Synagogues were reopened, one for Shabbat service, the other 4 as unique architectural jewels. (No I did not read this, I learnt it when I was to Venice a decade ago). For them, probably

"Prima Veneziani e poi Ebrei"

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 24, 2013):
OT: Italians

Claudio Di Veroli wrote:
< (another one of my off-topic posts ... )
<< As the Venetians say: >>
I've heard that the Milanese say that the ancient Roman SPQR sign means"

Sono Porci Questi Romani

I think that probably ends this string.

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (August 24, 2013):
[To Douglas Cowling] Let me have a "last last" one!

An even older one says that SPQR, rather than Senatus PopulusQue Romanus ("The Senate and the People of Rome", sorry for the clarification but not all our members are expected to know), is instead a Vatican dialog:

- A visitor tells the Pope: "Sancte Pater, Quare Rides?" ("Holy Father, why are you laughing?")

- The Pope answers "per motu contrario": "Rideo Quia Papa Sum!" ("I laught because I am the Pope!")

It is good that one cannot get rotten eggs online ...

George Fischer wrote (September 3, 2013):
Bach's Pronunciation, Saxon dialect, and modern German

Sorry that I'm come back so late to this subject.

I would take the "Bach Werke Verzeichnis" (I have the "little edition" from 1998) as a basis. Cantata BWV 82 is titled there "Ich habe genung" and the scores in the 1st aria also show "genung", so we in our choir would sing "genung" instead of the present German "genug".

Lutheran Pastors today would use "high" German in almost all services, since especially here in Southern Germany the evangelic church members are rather mixed and stem from many regions. My town was catholic in
the first place, but after the war a lot of evangelic people settled here: the so called "fugitives".

This leads me to the Saxon dialect, which is (among Bavarian and Suebian) one of the strongest, which people often cannot overcome for their lifetime. It's definitely not high German, and it will not be admissible in official
speech anywhere outside Saxonia.

The point is that during the 40 years of the split Germanies, in the eastern GDR (=DDR) the political scene was majorized by Saxons, (for example: Ulbricht), and the Saxon dialect was beginning to develop into a separate language identifying their political direction. Nevertheless they still wrote high German, of course, except for a lot of special new expressions. Such expressions (Broiler, Zweiraum-Wohung) still can tell that the speaker came "von drüben" ("from over"). If you can read some German, you may have a look at: <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sprachgebrauch_in_der_DDR>
----
Back to Bach's cantatas I can report that in our church choir we use a few subtle modernizations of the texts, when the original wording would no longer be understood by peoply knowing current German only, for example:
- BWV 227: muss lauter Zucker sein -> muss lauter Freude sein
- BWV 140: An deiner Stattt / wir sind Consorten -> An deiner Stadt; wir stehn im Chore
- BWV 140: mit Menschen- und englischen Zungen (="english tongues") -> mit Menschen- und mit Engelszungen (=tongues of angels)

Regards - Georg (from southern Rhine valley/Black Forest)

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 24, 2013):
Georg Fischer wrote:
< Back to Bach's cantatas I can report that in our church choir we use a few subtle modernizations of the texts, when the original wording would no longer be understood by peoply knowing current German only, for example:
-
BWV 140: mit Menschen- und englischen Zungen (="english tongues") -> mit Menschen- und mit Engelszungen (=tongues of angels) >
Ah, but English IS the language of the angels!

A bit like Pope Gregory seeing blond English slaves in Rome in the 6th century and exclaiming,

"Non Angli sed Angeli!"

 

Pronunciation - Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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



 

Back to the Top


Last update: żOctober 13, 2013 ż21:05:05