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Recitatives in Bach’s Vocal Works

Part 4

 

 

Continue from Part 3

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 25, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] But Tom, your arguments here from BWV 39 and BWV 140 (opening movements) are--as I'm sure you're aware--irrelevant. The convention of "play the note briefly and get off it" applies ONLY to secco recitative (which is ONLY a solo singer plus basso continuo), and these are not that...these are concerted movements!

The fact that you bring these two examples up at all suggests: either you've clouded the issue in your mind, or you're deliberately trying to mislead us, like the magician who misdirects our attention so he can perform his feats of prestidigitation.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 25, 2003):
Brad stated: >>But Tom, your arguments here from BWV 39 and BWV 140 (opening movements) are--as I'm sure you're aware--irrelevant. The convention of "play the note briefly and get off it" applies ONLY to secco recitative (which is ONLY a solo singer plus basso continuo), and these are not that...these are concerted movements!<<
You have not proven to me that the artificially constructed box (bc plays a shortened accompaniment in the secco recitative) really has any solid evidence supporting it, so you really have no right to exclude my argument which only wishes to point out to you that your observation about Bach’s effort at economizing in the shortest mvts. (the secco recitatives) by avoiding the frequent reiteration of rests in the bc part where simply writing down full-note values without rests would save his copyists a lot of extra work.Yours is an observation based upon a non-existent, insufficiently proven esoteric performance tradition.

As far as I can determine, you have only offered thus far:

1) ‘experiential proof’ which allows you to get inside Bach’s mind in order to know what he is thinking. All of this has been done by many people, Bach scholars, musicians, etc. and I have occasionally done this myself. I hope there are many listeners and performers who do this as well as this can be a very rewarding experience. But to claim that you or anyone else has a special pipeline to Bach’s mind which allows you to state with conviction: the shortened secco-recitative accompaniment is actually to be considered a fact, or at least the most likely theoretical possibility out of all possibilities that could exist, because I have experienced this within myself – such a claim I find questionable. It would be much better to say “IMHO” this esoteric tradition did once exist or to point to the individuals and sources that have led you to believe this to be the case.

2) insufficient response to the material that I have thus far pointed out. Why do you avoid actually pointing out specifically my mistakes or misinterpretations. Hiding behind the musicological experts (Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus, etc.) without even seriously taking into account my objections simply leaves this matter entirely unresolved. Wouldn’t you feel better about this yourself (as a firm substantiation of what you have arrived at through your vast experience as a musician) if you could look upon me kindly as an aspiring student who has some doubts that need to be fortified with a bit more evidence than you are used to giving to other students who normally accept with deference everything that you have to say? Brad, I have learned immensely from your posts and wish to continue to learn from you just as others have and still continue to do so. Just as you are able feel yourself in the role of Bach, for a moment allow me to feel like Beethoven did when he studied under Haydn. [What hubris on our part!] When Beethoven received from Haydn the scores that he (Beethoven) had submitted to Haydn who was his teacher, Beethoven was dismayed. Why? Because Haydn overlooked obvious errors in Beethoven’s scores which meant that Haydn was not taking Beethoven’s efforts seriously.

Questions that need to be resolved:

1) What’s wrong or incorrect about my reading of the ‘Paradebeispiel’ (Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus’ exhibit “A”)? Was this prime example insufficiently researched by Schering and then simply ‘believed as true’ by other scholars who followed in his footsteps? This sort of thing can happen. I am only asking you to step outside of your established persona to view this more objectively; or, perhaps, with a quick e-mail or phone call to the experts that you know personally, ask them to look into a matter which could affect directly just how listeners will continue to hear Bach’s secco recitatives performed. I would not trouble you with something like this, if it did not seem significant to me. I have absolutely no connections with institutions of higher learning, but you do.

2) Is my interpretation of the Heinichen quotation a realistic and feasible one, contrary to the strained approach that Dreyfus uses to interpret this important quotation?

3) Any reaction to Alfred Dürr’s statement regarding the performance of secco recitatives?

4) Is quality better than quantity in the selection of evidence (f.i., ‘Ist Niedt wirklich eine Niete’? = do you still believe that Dreyfus, or previous scholars, chose this quotation by Niedt wisely? Did they really believe as you do, that the association between Bach & Niedt is a valid connection to make?)

5) Can ‘good’ questions only be raised by persons who have a proven track record (sufficient degrees in musicology and sufficient experience in performance)?

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 26, 2003):
< Thomas Braatz wrote:
Brad stated:
>>But Tom, your arguments here from BWV 39 and 140 (opening movements) are--as I'm sure you're aware--irrelevant. The convention of "play the note briefly and get off it" applies ONLY to secco recitative (which is ONLY a solo singer plus basso continuo), and these are not that...these are concerted movements!<<
You have not proven to me that the artificially constructed box (bc plays a shortened accompaniment in the secco recitative) really has any solid evidence supporting it, so you really have no right to exclude my argument which only wishes to point out to you that your observation about Bachâ?Ts effort at economizing in the shortest mvts. (the secco recitatives) by avoiding the frequent reiteration of rests in the bc part where simply writing down full-note values without rests would save his copyists a lot of extra work.Yours is an observation based upon a non-existent, insufficiently proven esoteric performance tradition. >
Perhaps "insufficiently proven" to you, but not "non-existent" and not an "artificially constructed box"....

But come, let us set aside your foregone conclusions, and continue.

< As far as I can determine, you have only offered thus far:
1) ‘experiential proof’ which allows you to get inside Bach’s mind in order to know what he is thinking. All of this has been done by many people, Bach scholars, musicians, etc. and I have occasionally done this myself. I hope there are many listeners and performers who do this as well as this can be a very rewarding experience. But to claim that you or anyone else has a special pipeline to Bachâ?Ts mind which allows you to state with conviction: the shortened secco-recitative accompaniment is actually to be considered a fact, or at least the most likely theoretical possibility out of all possibilities that could exist, because I have experienced this within myself â?" such a claim I find questionable. It would be much better to say “IMHO” this esoteric tradition did once exist or to point to the individuals and sources that have led you to believe this to be the case. >
And this I have done, at least twice (independently in different years, having forgotten I'd said it to you before!), recommending to you the most cogent and thorough explanation of the topic I know: Laurence Dreyfus' 35-page chapter "The Accompaniment of Recitatives" in his book about Bach's vocal works, Bach's Continuo Group, published in1987.

And, I have also said that I am convinced of it in two different ways: (1) I believe it sounds good (which observation is irrelevant to you--it doesn't matter what I think sounds good--fair enough!), and (2) because I find Dreyfus' evidence, and his case as a whole, intellectually convincing. He presents several different possible interpretations along the way as he builds his case, each documented with contemporary sources, and then he ties it all together with strong and (I believe) adequately conclusive explication.

This esoteric tradition did once exist. The individuals and sources that have led me to believe this, from a musicological standpoint, are presented in Dreyfus' chapter.

When (if ever) was the last time you actually read the whole chapter straight through, with an open mind to the sweep of his entire closely-considered argument, rather than pre-judging it along the way or picking at the sources he cites which you don't like?

I invite others here to do the same: read Dreyfus's chapter, and report back if you found it convincing, or if you didn't.

< 2) insufficient response to the material that I have thus far pointed out. Why do you avoid actually pointing out specifically my mistakes or misinterpretations. Hiding behind the musicological experts (Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus, etc.) without even seriously taking into account my objections simply leaves this matter entirely unresolved. Wouldn’t you feel better about this yourself (as a firm substantiation of what you have arrived at through your vast experience as a musician) if you could look upon me kindly as an aspiring student who has some doubts that need to be fortified with a bit more evidence than you are used to giving to other students who normally accept with deference everything that you have to say? Brad, I have learned immensely from your posts and wish to continue to learn from you just as others have and still continue to do so. Just as you are able feel yourself in the role of Bach, for a moment allow me to feel like Beethoven did when he studied under Haydn. [What hubris on our part!] When Beethoven received from Haydn the scores that he (Beethoven) had submitted to Haydn who was his teacher, Beethoven was dismayed. Why? Because Haydn overlooked obvious errors in Beethoven’s scores which meant that Haydn was not taking Beethovenâ?Ts efforts seriously. >
But Tom, I do look upon you kindly as an aspiring student (if perhaps an at times frustratingly argumentative one), and in that mode I have respectfully pointed you toward the experts who explain it better than I could do. To do so is not to "hide behind them;" it is simply a practical and responsible thing to do. When my house has water problems, I call in the expert plumber; when my vehicle needs work I get an expert mechanic; indeed, when one of my instruments had serious soundboard trouble, I had it rebuilt by a professional harpsichord builder rather than attempting repairs myself. And I trust the experts' opinions and assessments of the problems and solutions, because it is their job to know them.

You've responded by saying Dreyfus' argument is contrived, unsubstantiated, and basically crap. What response do you expect from me: to suddenly say that I myself know better than Dreyfus, and here's why (a, b, c, d, e...) his argument is NOT crap?

Further, you clipped a large bibliography about basso continuo from your beloved MGG and presented it
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Recitatives-Braatz.htm
with the purpose of showing how (supposedly) selective Dreyfus was, and you said, "all of them potentially might be able to shed light on the conventions of playing a secco recitative." But did you actually consult those sources directly to know one way or the other, or is this bibliography just a smoke-and-mirrors trick (cribbing everything from MGG) to give the casual reader an impression you are more widely read on this topic than Dreyfus is? The only ones you've said you have seen (correct me if I'm wrong here) are Heinichen, Mattheson, and Niedt, and you don't even think Niedt is relevant, or had a personal character that anyone should believe!

Let's try another exercise. What does the MGG say about secco recitative, and what sources are cited there directly? Remember, MGG was written long before Dreyfus' book was, and their omission of Dreyfus as a reference therefore says nothing one way or the other about their belief or disbelief of his findings.

And, what does the newest edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (updated just a few years ago) say about secco recitative? Does the writer there believe that Dreyfus' findings are wrong?

I checked the book Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach edited by Malcolm Boyd and John Butt, 1999. They cite six references to modern commentaries from 1958 to 1995. And in the main portion of their text they simply refer the reader to Dreyfus' book for explanation of the correct way to play the notes, shortened. (Hmph! They have picked the same expert I did, as the best available presentation of the topic!)

And what did the peer reviewers of Dreyfus' book say in the musicological journals after it came out? Frankly, I haven't looked them up because I don't currently have access to a good library. I invite you to do so: it might be an enjoyable exercise for you to try to find some other experts who think Dreyfus is wrong. (But if you do embark on this search, do it with academic honesty: report also the reviews you find that AGREE with Dreyfus!)

=====

I'll address your "questions that need to be resolved" in a separate posting.

Santu De Silva wrote (February 26, 2003):
Tom attempts to use creative logic to show why Brad's arguments about why simplified notation is used is a matter of practicality. He compares a section where there is a repeated musical figuration with the (most probable) general practice of simplifying the music for a secco recitative.

It's not the same, is it? On the one case you have a piece of music, and in the other, a piece of sung speech. It is hard to explain to someone who can't see the difference right away. You have to have the imagination to see where abbreviation and simplification is possible, and explainable to a musician. We all know the passage in S. 140, and it's easy to see why abbreviation was not used in that instance. Yes, I do believe that it is "self-evident," which seems to me the corresponding English expression. Some things are self-evident, while others may not be, and while I am not qualified to judge the general issue, I can certainly see that this particular argument is not valid!

>>> Thomas Braatz wrote: >>>
Brad brought up the following 'argument':
>>- Bach and his copyists were in a hurry, and they (naturally) had to write out all the parts and all the scores by hand, since there were no other alternatives. If more copies were needed, one wrote them out by hand [, as rapidly as possible to get through the volume of work]. Try this exercise: with pen and ink (the kind of pen that has to be dipped), write out a whole page of music from one of the Bach cantatas: a bass-line part to be given to a continuo player, for a recitative. Time yourself...write it out in whole notes. Then go back and do the same page again, timing yourself again, but this time write it out with quarter notes and rests.
- Give these two parts to a player who is decent at sight-reading. Ask him or her which one is easier to read: the one with the uncluttered look of "whole notes" (showing very obviously where the note is supposed to change pitch) or the one that is full of rests, where the notes sometimes change in the middle of a measure or wherever.
[snip]
It is far, FAR more practical to give a good musician a page of simple-looking whole notes with the spoken instructions "Whenever the note changes, play it briefly and then get off it," than to give him/her a page full of quarter notes and rests that s/he has to count carefully. <<
In short, the copyists saved time by avoiding writing out all the rests and simply using notes with fuvalues that would be understood to have the rests between or in place of the full note values.

Check this out, Brad, and see how this stands up:

BWV 39 mvt. 1 has a bc part just like the otherwise very short recitatives where you want the copyists to save time. Bach has written out a pattern for the bc that consists of an 8th note followed by an 8th -note rest. This pattern is repeated for 65 ms. in this mvt. This means that Bach unnecessarily burdened his copyists with writing out these rests for 65 ms.with 3 rests per ms., giving a total of 195 repetitions of the pattern, and since Bach usually had 3 bc parts copied out, this means that in a single mvt. these rests proliferated to a total of 585! Surely these bc players .... [etc etc]

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 26, 2003):
Another of my favorite scholars, Robert L Marshall, has this to say in his review/essay of the entire Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series of Bach cantatas. It is in his book The Music of Johann Sebastian Bach: The Sources, the Style, the Significance, published in 1989:

"The artists participating in the Telefunken series demonstrate to a remarkable degree not only their knowledge of the conventions associated with Bach performance but in addition their empathetic grasp of the spirit informing these conventions. In observing, for example, the eighteenth-century practice of sustaining continuo notes in recitatives for only a fraction of their written value, the notes are not shortened uniformly but are held for a longer or shorter time as seems appropriate for the affective content of the text. [And he continues in his endnote:] In other respects as well--the vivid, 'naturalistic' declamation, the reedy, organ-like timbre of the sustained strings in accompagnato settings--the recitatives provide perhaps the most consistently successful feature in the entire cantata series."

(from page 236 and its endnote)

He also has an example where he praises the performers: "This instinct for capturing the essence of a convention is on one occasion so acute that the performers permit themselves to disregard what Bach allegedly wrote down himself (assuming they were aware of it) in order to play a variant that he would surely have approved...." [And then he explicates that example: the bass aria "Empfind' ich Hoellenangst und Pein" from cantata BWV 3, third movement, as recorded by Harnoncourt.]

That is, Marshall lauds Harnoncourt's approach of capturing the spirit of the work, and the unwritten but real conventions, so well that they are able to present performances of artistic merit, going remarkably far beyond any restrictive modern methods of reading notation.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 26, 2003):
Marshall on the H/L series of cantatas

A few clarifications on this citation from Marshall:

- He wrote this article for The Musical Quarterly, 1973: reviewing the first two volumes (not the whole series, which didn't exist yet) of the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt cycle of Bach cantatas. When he included it in this 1989 book, he updated only a few points in the text, and his additions are clearly marked with his own [brackets] (while the brackets shown below are my own...these portions of his text that I've quoted here are all original to the 1973 version). The main set of changes for this book was his updating of all his footnotes, and inserting a few new footnotes between the existing ones. For example, his new note 20 is a remark that Dreyfus' new book about the Bach vocal works has filled an important void, being "precisely the study called for here."

- That is, Marshall's comments here about Harnoncourt and Leonhardt doing the right thing with recitatives were written 14 years before the publication of Dreyfus' book. And no, he doesn't say what his conclusion is based on; he is merely stating (in passing) the common knowledge that the bass notes in secco recitative are subject to this performance convention. [Tom, would you therefore assert that Marshall has been duped by Schering and/or Schering's minions?]

After some specific complaints about a few other aspects of the performances, Marshall's review concludes:

"It would be unfair to conclude on such a disapproving note; for this essay is intended as a strongly favorable review of the Telefunken project. The astounding accomplishments of both the Concentur Music and the Leonhardt Consort in the light of formidable difficulties have been so highly praised so often, however, that it would have been rather patronizing and pointless to issue further mere compliments here. Moreover, I feel compelled rather to append a somewhat embarrassing confession: for pure enjoyment I would prefer to listen to the Bach performances of, say, Karl Richter or Helmuth Rilling, with their straightforward phrasing and articulation, their impeccable intonation and familiar timbres, and their admittedly loose approximation to authenticity. But I must add at once that my delight in the Telefunken performances has grown with each hearing. Like so many new and unfamiliar experiences, they obviously demand a lot of getting used to. There can be little doubt that beauty, its recognition, and its delectation are direct functions of familiarity and that we must be on our guard not to judge the aesthetic validity--much less the historical authenticity--of any rendition of an artwork by our first (or even ultimate) response to it. The notion that 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty' may be a poet's profound wisdom, but it is a seductive, if splendid, fallacy for the historian."

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (February 26, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] I really think we need to break down the evidence here. What I mean is that surely some evidence has more weight than others. Are Mattheson, Neidt and Heinichen the only people from Bach's time who have written anything about this issue? Surely there must be more, and surely this is the strongest evidence, as whatever convention was around, these people were there when the convention was in use (I think I was the last person to ever compose a recitative with the possible exception of Koopman...).

As well, I remember hearing some stuff about the laziness of Bach's copyists, but Brad, can you please refresh us of your sources for this? Preferably you could present more than just the fact that there were occasional mistakes in copied music. This really is the issue that causes me to oscillate between Tom's side and uncertainty.

ps. Thanks for trying to take out the personal attacks-please continue doing
this more. Thanks again

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 26, 2003):
One more Marshall clarification; and Dürr

< I wrote: A few clarifications on this citation from Marshall: (...) He also has an example where he praises the performers: "This instinct for capturing the essence of a convention is on one occasion so acute that the performers permit themselves to disregard what Bach allegedly wrote down himself (assuming they were aware of it) in order to play a variant that he would surely have approved...." [And then he explicates that example: the bass aria "Empfind' ich Hoellenangst und Pein" from cantata BWV 3, third movement, as recorded by Harnoncourt.] >
On the portion of Marshall's essay/review that mentions the cantata BWV 3 (see
above), I have erred as to its current relevance, and I apologize for not having read the footnotes carefully enough the first time.

The issue here is the existence of a 15-bar fragment of the beginning of this aria, in a continuo realization, supposedly in Bach's own hand. Marshall indeed praises Harnoncourt (and the organist) for playing something musically superior (in his estimation...and I agree, listening to it here tonight) than is shown in the right-hand part of the extant fragment. However, as clarified by his new footnotes: between 1973 (when Marshall first wrote this article) and 1989, the manuscript has been authenticated as being by someone else c1770, and not by Bach after all.

Therefore, this point becomes moot, except for Marshall's enthusiasm for the of this part of the performance. (Sorry, Tom, there's no fodder here with Harnoncourt disregarding what Bach wrote to play a variant...I could almost see you licking your chops on this one as a "Paradebeispiel" against Harnoncourt!) Marshall still makes the same point about the effectiveness of the passage, and did not excise this paragraph from his essay for the reprint....

=====

As for Alfred Dürr being (allegedly) unhappy about Harnoncourt's treatment of secco recitative: how unhappy could Dürr be, really, if he himself was the writer of the program notes in this inaugural volume of the Telefunken cantatas series?! Would he lend his well-respected name and work to this project if he didn't believe it had some merit?

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 26, 2003):
Answers to the other questions

< Thomas Braatz wrote:
Questions that need to be resolved:

1) What’s wrong or incorrect about my reading of the ‘Paradebeispiel‘ (Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus’exhibit)? Was this prime example insufficiently researched by Schering and then simply “believed as true” by other scholars who followed in his footsteps? This sort of thing can happen. I am only asking you to step outside of your established persona to view this more objectively; or, perhaps, with a quick e-mail or phone call to the experts that you know personally, ask them to look into a matter which could affect directly just how listeners will continue to hear Bach’s secco recitatives performed. I would not trouble you with something like this, if it did not seem significant to me. I have absolutely no connections with institutions of higher learning, but you do. >
I agree with you, Tom, it COULD happen; Schering COULD HAVE been wrong. (But to prove that, you would need to show that ALL of this thread goes back to Schering alone, and that everyone has been misled by his "mistake," and that everyone has been academically careless. I believe the burden of proof there is yours, not theirs, to show that they are ALL wrong! You'd also have to prove that ALL the sources Dreyfus cites are irrelevant, beyond your pet project to discredit Niedt.)

Since you care about this point much more than I do, I would invite you to contact the relevant people directly and ask them; I don't really have any better "inside" track to them than you do, currently, except for being a friend and colleague of a scholar at the Univ of Virginia, one who specializes in fugue, not recitative. (Maybe I'll pop him an e-mail about it, but don't hold your breath.)

< 2) Is my interpretation of the Heinichen quotation a realistic and feasible one, contrary to the strained approach that Dreyfus uses to interpret this important quotation? >
Yours is feasible, in my opinion, but I wouldn't characterize Dreyfus' interpretation as "strained" any more than yours is. You are obviously eager to use it to prove the opposite of his conclusion, and that motivation might be coloring your own judgment. I can't say for sure.

< 3) Any reaction to Alfred Dürr’s statement regarding the performance of secco recitatives? >
I think Dürr's comments as you have quoted them
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Recitatives-3.htm
have some validity, but I think that in your own explication of it you are (again too eagerly) drawing the wrong conclusion from them, and reading your own foregone conclusion into this evidence. Is Dürr not arguing for Telemann's approach (see Dreyfus), rather than the 20th century (pre-"HIP") approach you wish to convince us of?

[There's a corrected passage for your composition, Herr "Beethoven". Enjoy!]

< 4) Is quality better than quantity in the selection of evidence (f.i., ‘Ist Niedt wirklich eine Niete’ = do you still believe that Dreyfus, or previous scholars, chose this quotation by Niedt wisely? Did they really believe as you do, that the association between Bach & Niedt is a valid connection to make?) >
Quality is important, of course; the source has to have some credibility. Obviously, if they included Niedt, they believed he was OK. Would a reputable scholar bring in quotations from somebody irrelevant or unqualified (say, Bach's next door neighbor's grocer's brother)? No!

< 5) Can ‘good’ questions only be raised by persons who have a proven track record (sufficient degrees in musicology and sufficient experience in performance)? >
No, the questions can and should be raised by anyone who cares enough to ask intelligent questions. And this IS an intelligent question. The QUESTIONS can be raised by anyone. As for coming up with reasonable answers and hypotheses (especially if the results are to be preached with a missionary zeal by enthusiasts who mean well, such as yourself), should that task of finding the answers not fall to the recognized experts?

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 26, 2003):
Brad, you stated: >> Another of my favorite scholars, Robert L Marshall, (1973,1989) has this to say…<<
Another of my favorite scholars, Alfred Dürr, (1988) has just the opposite to say…

How do you reconcile these statements? I, for one, consider Alfred Dürr, who has definitely contributed more to research (including KBs) on the Bach cantatas than Marshall (only one: NBA KB (I/19) has, as the more significant authority in this matter with greater insight and experience than Marshall, or do you, Brad, have evidence to the contrary? Aren’t you selectively choosing Marshall because he happens to agree with your way of thinking? Why don’t you have an opinion on Dürr’s contribution to this field?

On the quote from Marshall’s book:
>>"The artists participating in the Telefunken series demonstrate to a remarkable degree not only their knowledge of the conventions associated with Bach performance but in addition their empathetic grasp of the spirit informing these conventions. “<<
There are two things here that should not be confused with one another:

1)‘The artists…demonstrate to a remarkable degree…their knowledge of the conventions associated with Bach performance.’

It is highly likely that these artists did not bother to check out the original sources, but rather, just as you do, accepted unquestioningly the current thinking promulgated by a certain group of scholars that not every expert agreed with. It was a ‘bandwagon’ effect that simply took off, and if you weren’t on it, you were considered ‘out of it’ or 'old-fashioned.' [now perhaps even having unsavory connections with a certain political mvt.] Every effort was made to keep this bandwagon going. Marshall’s comment was just another effort of that kind.

2) ‘The artists …demonstrate…their empathetic grasp of the spirit informing these conventions.’

This is another matter entirely. There must be flexibility (which does not force the conductor begin thinking first of the shortened secco recitative accompaniment which then is occasionally ‘bent’ (allowing some notes to sound a bit longer than a simple quarter note), but this flexibility should be as described by Heinichen (my interpretation – you still have not pointed out to me where I misinterpreted Heinichen’s original statement) and Agricola. Of all the places in a Bach cantata, the voice has the greatest freedom in rhythmic presentation (deviations from the established tempo – actually this is entirely in the singer’s hand), but the foundation bass plays the notes as written, of course, following along with all the tempo variations that the voice may produce in singing the recitative.

So I do agree with this statement as long as ‘these conventions’ refers to playing the bc notes as they appear in Bach’s score. This would still allow all the freedoms and reasons to not doing so as indicated by Heinichen. It is just a matter from which end you approach this matter. If you listen to the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt secco recitatives, you will notice how rigidly they adhere to the idea of playing just a short quarter note where a note that is held for 4, 8, 12 or even more beats appears in the score. This has changed to confusion in recent years as I have explained before:

For those who have not read Dürr's statement regarding the accompanimeof secco recitatives, I will repeat it here (although it is also available on Aryeh’s site):

>>"Ich halte es daher persönlich für sinnvoller, die Rezitative (he is referring to the secco recitatives) entweder durchweg wie notiert -- also ausgehalten -- zu begleiten oder aber durchweg kurz, allenfalls mit ausgehaltenen Baßnoten." ["For this reason I personally think that it makes more sense to perform/accompany the recitatives exactly as written from the beginning to the end, which means holding out each long note for its entire value; or possibly, as another option, to play them only with shortened (chords - not mixing both shortened and held chords), but, in any case, the bass notes are always held out for their full value."] In other words, Dürr wants to retain the tradition that had existed before the HIP mvt. began confusing the situation with theories that are not adequately and comprehensively documented. At most, Dürr concedes that the figured chords (which on the harpsichord die away very quickly anyhow) played on an organ might be shortened in length, but not necessarily; however each bass note (perhaps in the pedal of the organ) should be held out for its full value no matter what.

Essentially Dürr is reacting against the politically astute methods that conductors such as Herreweghe, Leusink, and Suzuki (there are probably others - I would have to go back and listen to other recent (past 10 years) recordings to find others) have employed whereby they mix both styles of secco recitative accompaniment, thus having it both ways: they are committed to HIP, but then they are also 'free enough' to occasionally play the secco recitatives the way that they had always been performed for the last 250 years.<<

BL: >>That is, Marshall lauds Harnoncourt's approach of capturing the spirit of the work, and the unwritten but real conventions, so well that they are able to present performances of artistic merit, going remarkably far beyond any restrictive modern methods of reading notation.<<
This comes back to just what the level of artistic merit is, if the main criteria are concerned only with ‘bending’ notes, and not with all the basic musicianship that should be present before daring innovations are attempted. The artistic freedoms that Marshall and you are speaking about only make real sense, if everything else ‘is in place’ before the ‘dessert’ is served. Then these artistic extras become thrilling, as for instance, when in a repeated section a solo instrumentalist or singer is able to expand tastefully on what was hear the 1st time through (the notes as written by the composer.) These experiences for me (in my humble opinion) are few and far between in the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt cantata series.

BL: [continuing to quote from Marshall’s book]:
>>But I must add at once that my delight in the Telefunken performances has grown with each hearing. Like so many new and unfamiliar experiences, they obviously demand a lot of getting used to. There can be little doubt that beauty, its recognition, and its delectation are direct functions of familiarity and that we must be on our guard not to judge the aesthetic validity--much less the historical authenticity--of any rendition of an artwork by our first (or even ultimate) response to it.<<
Isn’t it interesting that my experience was just the opposite of what Marshall describes: My initial experience with this series, before occupying myself so intensively with recordings of the Bach cantatas, was one of “Isn’t this a wondrously strange, unusual sound? It’s so new, fresh and different than anything I have heard before.” I even regretted not being able to record some of these cantatas when the entire series was presented on the radio at all hours of the day and night all within the course of one month. This series was the first series that I purchased on CD (I had not collected recordings as such and had no cantata recordings at all before this. Probably because I was actually hearing most of these cantatas for the 1st time, I may have been concentrating more on the wonderful music than on all of the finer details of performance practice. If I were at that point, just beginning to seriously listen to the Bach cantatas, I would be reporting much more favorably on this series, believe it or not! Perhaps there is a curse as well as a blessing attached to this – a matter of beginner’s luck – a child-like wonderment which is difficult to recapture once it is lost. And lose it I did when I began seriously to do some comparative listening and had to return to the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series again and again in the reports that I wrote for the BCML. More and more imperfections became apparent and more and more I also wanted to find out why they did things a certain way. It is just my personal experience that these cantata recordings do not always ‘wear well.’ When Aryeh reports that there are certain recordings which stand out above all the others, you may be astounded by the fact that true excellence is very difficult to find once you have listened to a group of recordings of the same cantata for a number of times. This has been my experience and I only report honestly what I feel and think about these cantata performances. I have no reason to even hope that others will have to feel exactly the same way. I am also trying to get to the bottom of these things regarding certain performance practices. Perhaps there are others as well who might be interested in finding out the answers to the questions that I have been raising since they affect how we hear Bach's cantatas.

Finally, Brad asked:
>>That is, Marshall's comments here about Harnoncourt and Leonhardt doing the right thing with recitatives were written 14 years before the publication of Dreyfus' book. And no, he doesn't say what his conclusion is based on; he is merely stating (in passing) the common knowledge that the bass notes in _secco_ recitative are subject to this performance convention. [Tom, would you therefore assert that Marshall has been duped by Schering and/or Schering's minions?]<<
No, Marshall simply believed, as you do, in the experts, in this case in Schering who first proposed this and gave the same examples that Harnoncourt uses in his books later on, so it would be no surprise if a Bach scholar such a Marshall would have accepted Schering’s examples ‘on faith’ [Schering was an important figure in Bach scholarship – read all about this in the “Oxford Composer Companions: J.S.Bach (Boyd)”] Unfortunately, Schering did not have access to all the detailed work of the NBA (published later) which necessarily had to report in great detail regarding the prime example that Schering and his followers always hold in the highest regard. For this reason, someone besides me ought to check out if my observations can be independently confirmed. It was only after I found what I take to be a shaky assumption regarding the key evidence presented that I began to investigate further. This is where the Dreyfus presentation became very important to me, but I was astounded at the manner in which the other items of evidence were interpreted and presented. It did not have the ‘ring of truth’ about it that you perceived when you first read it. This has left grave doubts in my mind, all of which are confirmed by hearing statements being made about the existence of an esoteric tradition which is extremely difficult to document. I love to delve into esoteric traditions associated with Bach, but this one strikes me as being strained and unnatural. Reading the Heinichen quote properly makes it quite clear to me that he explained that such a tradition did not exist, and that there were some extenuating circumstances when the bc long notes were not performed as written on the organ, but that the other members of the bc group would continue to play the notes as written (that is, they would, of course, follow what the vocalist was singing.)

Bradley Lehman wrtote (February 26, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] At the risk of being tedious, I'll repeat my response on this matter, from earlier this evening, and add a few more comments:

3) Any reaction to Alfred Dürrâ?Ts statement regarding the performance of secco recitatives?

I think Dürr's comments as you have quoted them
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Recitatives-3.htm
have some validity, but I think that in your own explication of it you are (again too eagerly) drawing the wrong conclusion from them, and reading your own foregone conclusion into this evidence. Is Dürr not arguing for Telemann's approach (see Dreyfus), rather than the 20th century (pre-"HIP") approach you wish to convince us of?

I now explain further, because it seems necessary to cross every t and dot every i:

Telemann's approach, as clearly explained in Dreyfus' book which I have read, and which you (Tom) claim to have read, is: the left hand and the other bass line players continue to hold the bass note, while the right hand plays chords briefly (just long enough to establish the harmony) and then lifts off them. (And as Dreyfus notes, Telemann's comments were not about church recitative; Dreyfus mentions them here as a way of being complete, describing all the alternatives, on his way toward recommending and explicating the more widespread 18th century practice where ALL the notes including the bass are lifted.)

If there is confusion here, it is YOUR confusion (Tom) that begins with your words below, your gratuitous explanation that reads your own conclusions into Dürr's words, viz.: "In other words, Dürr wants to retain the tradition that had existed before the HIP mvt. began confusing the situation with theories that are not adequately and comprehensively documented........"

You can set up "the HIP mvt." as a straw man as much as you want to, and pretend that these "theories" are not well documented, and take as many reckless potshots at all this as you want to, but don't blame your hero Dürr. The "other words" that you are putting into Dürr's mouth are just that, other words, YOUR words telling us what you think Dürr wants.

If anybody wants to bash HIP, it's you, not Alfred Dürr. Alfred Dürr is one of the primary scholars for Historical Information; why would Dürr himself want to turn back the clock to a nostalgic time before Historical Information was taken seriously for Performance? What would he have to gain from that? Neither Dürr nor Dreyfus are dogmatically recommending "the one correct way to do this" to limit any performance options; they are both suggesting reasonable approaches from historical evidence. Dürr's recommended method can work well; so can Dreyfus'.

You, Tom Braatz, are the one who says dogmatic things such as (and I quote directly): "Also, this performance innovation was initiated in the late 60s or early 70s as part of the HIP movement; before that time, for about 250 years (I base this time span on a rough estimate beginning with c. 1725,) these secco recitatives were performed according to Bach's wishes as written in his scores."

"According to Bach's wishes" the way YOU read them in the NBA, maybe, until all those nasty clueless HIP people (all blissfully duped by Schering) showed up and ruined society for you. And by the way, as I pointed out earlier, Harnoncourt and Leonhardt together recorded secco recitatives this way in Bach cantatas as early as 1954, not the "late 60s or early 70s": the Vanguard record with Alfred Deller.

"According to Bach's wishes" evidently means, to you, according to what Tom Braatz sees on the paper while willfully ignoring or denigrating any contrary evidence of 18th century performance tradition and notational convention. Is there only one "correct" way to play Bach, who (supposedly) had only one set of "wishes" consistently throughout his life?

Furthermore, you say that Dürr makes this earthshaking pronouncement of his ("finally gives his personal opinion on this matter", according to you) in a book about the St John Passion (BWV 245). Be honest here about the context from which you have lifted his words: is he recommending that approach for ALL of Bach's cantatas, as a general rule, or is he just for the moment writing about how one should play the St John Passion specifically?

Bradley Lehman wrtote (February 26, 2003):
Marshall

Doch! Again with the professional insults, implying that I would "selectively choos[e] Marshall because he happens to agree with [my] way of thinking" !

No, by "favorite" I meant that I have respected and enjoyed his work for many years, and that I chose to spend my money on his book a long time ago because of it. He does good research and presents the findings well, even when the results are surprising or unpopular.

For example, he's the one who argues best that the Bach toccatas BWV 910-916 are primarily organ works rather than (as more popularly assumed) harpsichord works. Right there he's carved a major chunk out of every serious harpsichordist's core repertoire and said it doesn't really "belong to" us in the ways we had expected. I appreciate Marshall because he is willing to do this, in his professional quest for historical truth; and his articles teach me things I need to know.

It is not surprising, then, that Marshall also knows about the common 18th century performance convention of shortening the bass notes of secco recitative, and states it so unproblematically in passing. The existence of that tradition is not even up for question. And as you've pointed out, your own "favorite" Dürr also does not question its existence.

Why, then, do YOU question it and keep hectoring us with assertions that it is too "esoteric" and "undocumented" to be true? The only people here in this discussion who say they don't believe it are those who (like young Matthew) simply had never heard of it yet and who are still surprised by it; plus yourself (who obstinately believe the whole scholarly community is full of crap on this issue, being both uninformed and sloppy with scholarship, and that you supposedly know better than all of them do). Tom, you keep saying here that you wish to be corrected if things you say are factually wrong; but then when I do respectfully correct you and point out the clear and simple reasons why you're wrong, you dig in your heels and say my corrections are selective nonsense and misinformation.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 26, 2003):
Brad Lehman's comments:

BL: >> Furthermore, you say that Dürr makes this earthshaking pronouncement of his ("finally gives his personal opinion on this matter", according to you) in a book about the St John Passion. Be honest here about the context from which you have lifted his words: is he recommending that approach for ALL of Bach's cantatas, as a general rule, or is he just for the moment writing about how one should play the St John Passion specifically?<<
TB: Of course I read this very differently from you. You correctly point out that this statement was in a book about the SJP. I suppose that you would not allow this statement to be applied to the SMP as well because it is a different work? It is the SMP which offers the very ‘cornerstone’ proof/evidence of the Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus theory, the evidence first suggested in 1936 which you, along with many others in the HIP mvt. still rigidly uphold. Or do you still deny what Dreyfus so cogently stated about this particular bc part from the SMP? According to you, we should not allow the SMP to give us evidence for *all* of Bach's cantatas nor should Dreyfus' reference to the SMP (it is, after all, just an opinion/view) be allowed to apply, because what Bach does there (and how Dreyfus and others interpret this information) does not relate to the cantatas generally, but only to Bach's application of it in the SMP. You have just destroyed the 'cornerstone' upon which everything in this theory rests! Now the rest of the building will collapse.

BL: >>(And as Dreyfus notes, Telemann's comments were not about church recitative; Dreyfus mentions them here as a way of being complete, describing all the alternatives, on his way toward recommending and explicating the more widespread 18th century practice where ALL the notes including the bass are lifted.)<<
TB: This is exactly where the problem lies: mosof the problems associated with the Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus secco recitative theory come from this ‘smoke and mirrors’ approach to this problem. This involves bringing in much extraneous material which has little or no bearing upon the performance of the recitatives in Bach’s cantatas, passions, and oratorios. The Telemann reference, like many other bits of evidence that are offered in the Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus theory pertain to opera/theater recitatives. Harnoncourt, in one of his few references to historical materials (his books are notoriously devoid of much in the way of any bibliographic references) refers to a book by Baumgärtner, a method for the cello written and published decades after Bach’s death and most likely referring to the bc accompaniment of opera recitatives. This reference was first posited by Schering in connection with and support of his theory. This is a strange phenomenon of ‘folding back,’ that is, of applying pronouncements of a later period, and even in an unrelated realm of the opera, in an attempt to establish the existence of an esoteric tradition. To Dreyfus’ credit, he at least tries to qualify this connection. Since Harnoncourt’s recordings are from an earlier period, he was still under the impression that Baumgärtner offered significant proof of how Bach’s recitatives were supposed to be performed.

Once again, as in the Agricola/Tosi quote that I shared, there is a world of difference between church and operatic recitatives. Why does Dreyfus insist on sharing all this rather irrelevant information in a book purportedly devoted only to the bc in Bach’s vocal works? Did Bach write any operas? Is the person less knowledgeable in these things than Dreyfus, who can make this distinction, supposed to believe that references pointing to a tradition of playing operatic recitatives offer some kind of supporting evidence for Bach’s vocal works? Why include them in the first place, if they can only serve to muddy the understanding of what truly pertains to the church recitative performance practices which were very different from every other kind of recitative?

BL: >> And by the way, as I pointed out earlier, Harnoncourt and Leonhardt together recorded secco recitatives this way in Bach cantatas as early as 1954, not the "late 60s or early 70s": the Vanguard record with Alfred Deller.<<
TB: So I was correct after all in pointing to the Harnoncourt as the originator on recordings of the shortened recitative accompaniment. Now I only need to expand this back in time to 1954, to a recording that I did not know existed until you had brought this up. It even seems likely that Leonhardt may have played a more important role than Harnoncourt in establishing this custom on recordings. Is this true? Then I can call this one aspect of the Leonhardt/Harnoncourt HIP doctrine beginning in 1954. Thanks for this information. Have you listened to this recording recently with a score in hand to determine just how rigidly the shortened secco-recitative accompaniment was ‘enforced’ in this recording?

BL: >> You, Tom Braatz, are the one who says dogmatic things such as (and I quote directly): "Also, this performance innovation was initiated in the late 60s or early 70s as part of the HIP movement; before that time, for about 250 years (I base this time span on a rough estimate beginning with c. 1725,) these secco recitatives were performed according to Bach's wishes as written in his scores." <<
TB: This was based on the limited information that I had before me at the time. Now that you have kindly corrected this with your observations, I will gladly correct the time when this innovation was first introduced, but I still have serious doubts that an esoteric tradition for playing the shortened secco recitative in church compositions by Bach ever existed, other than what Heinichen (not Dreyfus’ strained interpretation) so aptly describes as exceptions to the rule that the notes are to be played as written. The other rare and unusual evidence that Dreyfus offers from the Bach cantatas seems to point in the same direction as Heinichen: these are extenuating circumstances that arose under special performance conditions, often on the occasion of a repeat performance of an original work toward the end of Bach’s life.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 26, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Brad Lehman's comments:

BL: >> Furthermore, you say that Dürr makes this earthshaking pronouncement of his ("finally gives his personal opinion on this matter", according to you) in a book about the St John Passion. Be honest here about the context from which you have lifted his words: is he recommending that approach for ALL of Bach's cantatas, as a general rule, or is he just for the moment writing about how one should play the St John Passion specifically?<<
TB: Of course I read this very differently from you. You correctly point out that this statement was in a book about the SJP. I suppose that you would not allow this statement to be applied to the SMP as well because it is a different work? It is the SMP which offers the very “cornerstone” proof/evidence of the Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus theory, the evidence first suggested in 1936 which you, along with many others in the HIP mvt. still rigidly uphold. Or do you still deny what Dreyfus so cogently stated about this particular bc part from the SMP? According to you, we should not allow the SMP to give us evidence for all of Bach's cantatas nor should Dreyfus' reference to the SMP (it is, after all, just an opinion/view) be allowed to apply, because what Bach does there (and how Dreyfus and others interpret this information) does not relate to the cantatas generally, but only to Bach's application of it in the SMP. You have just destroyed the 'cornerstone' upon which everything in this theory rests! Now the rest of the building will collapse. >
Tom, you may wish it would collapse, but it doesn't. It seems you have ignored the whole section before Dreyfus brings up the SMP. He introduces this with:

"The vast majority of Bach's Leipzig continuo parts [N.B., Dreyfus here is talking about PARTS copied out for the players, as opposed to the full score!] do not distinguish between the notation of basses in secco movements and that in accompagnato movements and hence do not constitute evidence pointing to short accompaniment. The absence of a marked distinction may, of course, merely indicate that bass players invoked the convention whenever they accompanied the singer alone. Nonetheless, evidence from secco recitatives notated in short values as well as verbal clues found in the parts suggest that, given certain circumstances, Bach found it advantageous to clear up any ambiguity between the intended renditions of the secco and accompagnato genres. Ultimately, it is the strict consistency of method characterizing these exceptional instances which suggest that Bach's orchestra followed the mainstream practice."

Dreyfus then goes on to illustrate with examples (yes, including the SMP but by no means limited to it, as he also has the Ascension Oratorio and some cantatas here...).

His point, in case you missed it, is: there exist examples where Bach conventionally wrote whole notes in the full score, but then the copyist (sometimes Bach himself) when making performance parts changed the notation to short notes and rests, to make sure that the players would get off the notes rather than hold them all the way through.

THAT IS: Bach's score sometimes uses the shorthand convention (written in long notes) but Bach quite clearly wanted the shorter sound, as evidenced by the parts. Dreyfus then in the rest of his chapter comes to the reasonable conclusion that this same convention (long notes in the score, conventionally notated) also could apply to the other cantatas where the parts do not disagree with the scores. When Bach had players who would not be confused, and/or when he himself would surely be there to give spoken instructions, there was no need to make the copied parts more "precise" than the score is.

This is one of the strongest features of Dreyfus' whole book, not only in this chapter on recitative:he has scrupulously compared the extant PARTS for Bach's vocal works against the extant SCORES to see what we can learn from any differences. This is Dreyfus' specialty, and what makes his whole book so valuable. THAT whole process, my friend, is Dreyfus' cornerstone: not any mere reliance on the St Matthew Passion evidence, as your remarks here would suggest.

=====

And what do you think of Dreyfus' facsimile examples (in Bach's hand) on pages 92-93? He has compared two different manuscript parts for the same bass line of cantata 18 (one for cello, the other for bassoon) and it is very clear that the differently notated passages of secco recitative are supposed to sound the same: long notes (in this case with wedges above all of them) in the cello, and short notes (with rests interspersed) in the bassoon. Obviously, Bach changed his mind between the times that he wrote out those two parts, and these are two ways (among others) of getting the same sound in practice; in other performance circumstances he wouldn't have even needed those wedges on the cello part to clarify this same sound of normally separated notes in secco recitative.

[Matthew: if you want evidence of long notes being easier to read than quarter notes with rests, here it is: get Dreyfus' book from a library and look at pages 92-93, middle of the page, side by side. It is much easier at a glance to read the rhythm of the cello part than the bassoon part, where one must pay closer attention to those rests and their placement!]

=====

Also, Tom, you haven't answered the question above about Dürr. Instead, you tried to distract us with a potshot at Dreyfus. Instead of trying to defend your own hero, about whom I asked a direct question, you try to denigrate my hero. Nice try. Now please answer the question about Dürr.

=====

Also, here's another of your little "triumphant" crowing bits where you draw an untenable conclusion:

< BL: >> And by the way, as I pointed out earlier, Harnoncourt and Leonhardt together recorded secco recitatives this way in Bach cantatas as early as 1954, not the "late 60s or early 70s": the Vanguard record with Alfred Deller.<<
TB: So I was correct after all in pointing to the Harnoncourt as the originator on recordings of the shortened recitative accompaniment. Now I only need to expand this back in time to 1954, to a recording that I did not know existed until you had brought this up. It even seems likely that Leonhardt may have played a more important role than Harnoncourt in establishing this custom on recordings. Is this true? Then I can call this one aspect of the Leonhardt/Harnoncourt HIP doctrine beginning in 1954. Thanks for this information. >
Tom, this proves nothing one way or the other about that Deller record (with H & L) being "the originator on recordings of the shortened recitative accompaniment." It is merely the earliest one that you now know of, and convenient that your favorite villain is involved. Now you're threatening to switch villains and blame Leonhardt; and (horrors!) "Bach's wishes" (in your view) were violated 15 years earlier than you had thought they were.

Golly, what a play.



Continue on Part 5


Articles: The “Shortening of the Supporting Notes” in the Bc of Bach’s ‘Secco’ Recitatives [Thomas Braatz] | Playing Plain Recitative in Bach's Vocal Works [Bradley Lehman]
Discussions of Recitatives:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Continuo in Bach’s Vocal Works: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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Last update: ýJanuary 29, 2005 ý15:30:54