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The reconstructions, reconsidered

Harry J. Steinman wrote (April 15, 2000): 22:59
In the last several days, I've waxed rhapsodically about the Koopman Markus Passion and the McCreech Epiphany Mass. Regarding the Koopman Passion; since I don't hear the shortcomings in the reconstruction that the more studied members of the list do, I still have very good memories of the performance. Maybe someday I'll know enough about the music that I won't like it! ;-)

Ditto for the McCreech. With the passing of time (two-and-a-half days!) I find myself listening less to most of the hymns and more exclusively to the Bach. I agree that the recording doesn't sound as crisp as, say, Herreweghe, and while I understand what McCreech was trying to do, I'd have preferred a recording approach that is more clear. But I still very much enjoy the recording and find myself listening to the hymn, "Puer natus in Bethlehem" and to the Kyrie and Gloria of the F major Mass over and over and over-enough so that I don't get to the 2nd disc enough.

Well, I get excited by new music. I listened to the Mass (and considered my memory of the Passion) in light of the observations of others and I guess I still like 'em both a lot. Go figure.


Missing Bach cantatas under Leusink

Pieter Pannevis wrote (February 16, 2001):
It's even "worse", but there remains a lot! Leusink "skipped" BWV 53, BWV 141, BWV 142, BWV 160, BWV 189, BWV 190, BWV 191, BWV 193 in my opinion enough for a new box !

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 16, 2001):
(To Pieter Pannevis) Indeed, but BWV 53, 141, 142, 160 & 189 (and also BWV 15) are non-Bach Cantatas. List of those cantatas and some discussions about them could be found in the page:
BWV 190, 191 & 193 need some reconstruction and that is why some conductors omitted them from their cantata cycle.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (February 17, 2001):
Reconstructions, reconstructions... I have mixed emotions about them...

While some works can be "saved" with "a little" reconstruction, which I think is right, because 95% of the stuff IS Bach, some others make me feel that we have to get used to the idea that they are LOST, gone forever with JSB.

I don’t get the point of taking a nude text and create music on it. That is not Bach. Fellows: Markus Passion is lost, unless we admit it as the first Bach/Koopman collaboration.

On the other hand, thank you, God, for choosing an inspired person's pen to make us feel that Mozart's requiem is Mozart's from tip to toe.

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 17, 2001):
(To Pablo Fagoaga) I have two answers for your reconstruction issue.

a. Cantatas BWV 190 and BWV 193 were survived in incomplete form and need small reconstruction. In BWV 190 a number of parts in the opening movement are missing but the instrumentation for this movement is known (3 trombones, 3 oboes, strings, continuo). The sections that require reconstruction in BWV 193 include the continuo part, the recitative No.6 and two of the choral parts in the opening chorus. Therefore, a skilful and knowledgeable hand can do the reconstruction and do justice to the works and this tempting task has indeed been done more than once. I believe that these two cantatas should be performed, and IMHO their omission from the H&L and Leusink cycles is not justified.

b. A reconstruction of a musical work by a master like J.S. Bach, Mozart (Requiem), Mahler (10th Symphony) or Berg (Lulu) is a challenging task, which requires lot of research and hard work and is very risky. I dare to say that is even more demanding than composing your own original works, because you do not have the freedom. You have to walk in the exact steps of the composer, and sometimes these footsteps are only guess work. And when the task is finished your work is exposed to heavy criticism from the musical community and all the other experts around. For the music collectors the willingness of somebody to do a reconstruction and of somebody else to record it is a bless. We have more works to hear, we can compare versions,
we can enjoy the reconstruction on its own terms and we can judge for ourselves how true to aims of the original composer the reconstruction is. And, of course, we have always the option not to buy it, but we do not have the right to prevent it from others!

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (February 17, 2001):
[To Aryeh Oron] Of course I'm not trying to ban reconstructions. But in the end I endorse your idea of judging them on their own terms, which can be seen as admitting them as "collaborations".

You're right when you tell about "collector's blessing". When I first saw Koopman's Markus Passion, I grabbed it from the shelf in a second.

But my relation with this works is more "intellectual" than what I would like. That is what I mean when I say they're "lost and gone with JSB", and that is why I try to put some limit not in fact to the right to make or listen to reconstructions, but to the right to call the "Bach". Of course this "breakpoint" in which you stop considering a work a reconstruction and start thinking of it as a "new" opus, is extremely personal. In this point you'll see we agree more that we thought.

Not only I'm not against the artists who work on reconstructions, but I also think Teldec's Bach 2000 would have been "the perfect project" if it came with a 13th "Black Box", in which they put all the works the scholars say (after so many years of the contrary belief!!) that this or that work is "non Bach", and with all the reasonably possible reconstructions. Just to let ME choose the "breakpoint"!!!!

It's only a wish, because, as you wisely observe about BWV 191 the reasons behind an act is not artistic.

(while writing this, listening to Koopman's Recitatives in Mk. P.) :o)

Reconstructions, reconstructions…

Matthew Westphal wrote (February 17, 2001):
Pablo Fagoaga wrote:
< Fellows: Markus Passion is lost, unless we admit it as the first Bach/Koopman collaboration. >
Well, just because Koopman's Markus-Passion is a "collaboration" doesn't mean that Bach's Markus-Passion is completely lost. I, for one, find the theory that Bach re-used the Trauer-Ode (BWV 198) to make up the bulk of the Markus-Passion pretty compelling. So many chorale harmonizations survive that it's easy to plug them into
the Markus-Passion. That's almost the entire thing right there. Yes, Bach's recitatives for the Markus-Passion are lost, but I have no problem myself with using the recitatives from Keiser's setting of the Markus-Passion (as two other reconstructions have done.)

Pablo, if you're interested in a somewhat credible reconstruction of Bach's Markus-Passion, try the one by Dr. Simon Heighes. There's a good recording of it
(conducted by Roy Goodman) on the Musica Oscura label - that label is now defunct, but you can usually find a copy available at Berkshire Record Outlet (

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 17, 2001):
And for $4.00 USA (or $3.95), 2 CDs as memory serves.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (February 18, 2001):
Is the Roy Goodman's Markus Passion now included in the Brilliant Classics complete Bach Edition?

Leo Ditvoorst wrote (February 18, 2001):
(To Riccardo Nughes) yes,

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 18, 2001):
(To Leo Ditvoorst) But don't they also include the "Lucas Passion"?

Leo Ditvoorst wrote (February 18, 2001):
(To Yoël L. Arbeitman) Also, but this "Lucas passion" has nothing to do with Bach.

If you buy the "passions" box from Brilliant you can replace it by something else, eg. some St. Mathew recording you own already.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (February 18, 2001):
(To Matthew Westphal) How would you rate the version you tell me about, in comparison with Koopman's work??

Matthew Westphal wrote (February 18, 2001):
(To Pablo Fagoaga) Well, here's a link to what I think about the (along with two customer reviews which are worth reading):

The Heighes version (conducted by Goodman in a performance that's gorgeous at its best and never less than acceptable) is much more credible. Some people may find a chorus in quick-ish 6/8 time inappropriate for the closing of a Passion, but it doesn't bother me (and its use as the final chorus of a mourning cantata on the death of a widely-loved monarch didn't bother Bach, for what that's worth). In the Heighes reconstruction, the music and text scan together properly, and there are no turns of harmony or choices of musical material that made me turn my head, frown quizzically and say, What is THAT doing there?" (Neither of these things is true of the Koopman.)

Hope this helps.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (February 18, 2001):
(To Matthew Westphal) What a great review !!! Your accuracy and depth of analysis just fulfil the main objective I had in mind when I joined the group: LEARNING.

Going back to Koopman, finding him being a bit "too personal" is no surprise. I will NEVER forget my consternation while listening to his interpretation of the "improvised character" of the plus quam famous Toccata & Fugue in D minor. He drops the bomb from the beginning with his "politically incorrect" ornamentation. I give him credit for the guts to manipulate one of the few pieces of music that almost EVERYONE on the face of the Earth can recognise from the very first bar. However, sometimes I would like him to be more "conservative".

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 18, 2001):
(To Pablo Fagoaga) I am glad that you know such persons as your human company ;-), but a very small proportion of the persons on the face of the earth recognise any Bach, no matter how plus quam famous a piece may be; even "the air on the g string". Maybe everyone who has ever listened to classical radio. But the vast majority of persons, even in countries of Western European culture, do not recognise any Bach and we must be aware of that.

I love your posts. Your enthusiasm and expression are invigorating.

Chris Walley wrote (February 18, 2001):
(To Yoël L. Arbeitman) Your thesis is true for the UK. Today's UK newsites carries the following supporting evidence.

"A university graduate became only the third person on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire to leave without a penny. Michelle Simmonds used up two of her three lifelines in the first four questions and then got the £1,000 question wrong. The 30-year-old hotel clerk from Luton, Bedfordshire, who graduated with a business degree from St Andrews University in Scotland - where Prince William will study - had trouble with the very first question. She was asked: Which is the popular title of a musical composition by JS Bach? A) Air on a G string; B) Breeze in a bikini; C) Waft up the Y-fronts; D) Gust up a gusset. After some hesitation, she correctly chose A."

(The italics are mine). Is further comment needed?

By the way can any of our Dutch colleagues find a way to buy Aryeh his missing Leusink discs? For completeness sake it would be nice to have his opinion on them.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 18, 2001):
[To Chris Walley] Since I have chosen not to receive posts in stylised text, but only in
plain text AND since I cannot access the Yahoogroups web site today at all, I assume that it is "after some hesitation" that you have italicised. But you gotta realize that "Air on the G string" does sound very suggestive. She probably thought it was music for a bachelor.

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 18, 2001):
Chris Walley wrote:
< (Snip) By the way can any of our Dutch colleagues find a way to buy Aryeh his missing Leusink discs? For completeness sake it would be nice to have his opinion on them. >
Thanks for your concern. Pieter Pannevis (from Holland) in his kindness bought for me the 4 missing Leusink' cantata volumes and they are already on their way to Israel.

BTW. You are invited to contribute to the weekly cantata discussions. Judging by your (few) other posts you have opinions and you know how to express them.

Chris Walley wrote (February 19, 2001):
[To Aryeh Oron] Good old Pieter!
Thanks for your invitation to contribute. I am still feeling my way both in the group and in the cantatas (60 hours of music is not quickly appreciated!). What I must do though is get the book of the English translations.

Keep up the good work. What an awesome resource you have created!


BWV Anh 193

John Reese wrote (May 22, 2004):
I have a favor to ask...

I would like some brutally honest opinions of my reconstruction of the lost cantata, "Herrscher des Himmels, Koenig der Ehren". The midi files as well as some background can be found at:

I'm still tinkering with it, so if anyone wants to bring (fixable) fundamental flaws to my attention, I would appreciate it.


Arjen van Gijssel wrote (May 22, 2004):
[To John Reese] This is very interesting. I would like to help. On first hearing, I find it somewhat heavy. If your purpose is to boworing from BWV 140, notice that the continuo line is descending (a variation of the melody which is ascending), and for a couple of bars strict in giving the tempo and beat. And then, superbly, the base is going to walk (as if it can no longer be held back in its strict tempo).

If I take that to your composition, I would suppose the continuo to be more the beat-giver, not immediately taking over your theme.

I would like to add more, but I am a little bit distracted by the "organ"-sound in your midi file. Would it be possible to give all instruments a "piano-sound", except for the base? Then it is much easier to get a picture of your melody structure.

John Reese wrote (May 22, 2004):
[To Arjen van Gijssel] Thanks for the feedback. The opening chorus isn't necessarily supposed to have the character of BWV 140; I simply looked to that cantata for clues as to Bach's treatment of the "pomp and circumstance" motif (the dotted rhythms) in his later compositions, as opposed to his early use of the French Overture style.

The text throughout the libretto seemed to suggest a tension between "rising" and "falling", which I know Bach would have had a field day with. I had to constantly remind myself of WWBD -- What Would Bach Do? – and often had to suppress my own tendencies to do things a certain way.

Unfortunately, when creating these MIDI files it is difficult to predict the result on different computers. Attached is a MIDI of the opening chorus with the continuo muted -- does this make it easier to hear?

John Reese wrote (May 22, 2004):
Well, the attachment didn't make it. Here it is by URL:


Singers wanted

John Reese wrote (April 28, 2005):
I have just recently completed (for the most part) my third reconstruction of a lost Bach cantata. I am currently strategizing about getting news of this project out there. One approach I am taking is to make piano arrangements of the arias so they can be performed independently.

One of the arias is a parody of a soprano aria from BWV 208, the rest are original. There are three soprano arias, two alto, one tenor, and one bass.

I've posted four of these to the "Files" folder. If there are any singers out there who would be interested in adding any of these to their repretoire, I can send you a PDF of the voice-piano reduction score. (more information at:


Doug Cowling wrote (April 29, 2005):
John Reese wrote:
< I have just recently completed (for the most part) my third reconstruction of a lost Bach cantata. I am currently strategizing about getting news of this project out there. >
I'd be interested in a brief description of the project and how you tackled rather daunting task

Adam Strange wrote (April 29, 2005):
[To John Reese] I'm interested, very interested.

I would sing the alto arias as I am a countertenor. If you need to hear my voice you can access mp3s of me singing from my briefcase:


John Reese wrote (May 1, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] It's laid out pretty thoroughly on my website: (, but here's a summary.

My goal was originally to find the text of a Bach cantata for which the music was lost and write a speculative reconstruction in the style of Bach, without using any existing music. When I stumbled across Z. Philip Ambose's site (, I realized there were quite a few such texts available, so I decided to do a whole series. The first one, "Der Segen des Herrn Machet Reich Ohne Muehe", was completed in 2000, after which I took a break to complete my school work. By the time I went back to it last year, I realized there were a few basic flaws in this first cantata, making certain aspects of it atypical of Bach. (For example, the structure of the opening chorus was more typical of Bach's organ works than his choral music.) This is because I had written it "by feel", drawing only from my familiarity of the cantatas as absorbed from years of listening.

For the next two cantatas ("Herrscher des Himmels" and "Meine Seele Erhebt den Herrn", I took a more scientific approach. Rather than making assumptions about how Bach had written cantatas, I studied them more carefully to see how it was actually done. Most importantly, I latched onto a number of musical mannerisms Bach frequently used in his cantatas. Strangely enough, the recitatives proved more difficult to duplicate than the choruses and arias. There are several consistent musical practices used by Bach in his recitatives that aren't intuitively obvious to the listener. For instance, in "dry" recitatives, Bach very rarely assigned more than one note to a syllable, unless the word had some special significance. I hadn't paid close enough attention to this in the first cantata, so this was another area where it was atypical.

I haven't really found the project "daunting". It's been exhilerating and a lot of fun. Now comes the hard part of bringing the whole mess to the attention of the outside world...something I have never found to be particularly fun or exhilerating.


Lecture on Concert Reconstructions

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 5, 2011):
Later this month, I'm giving a lecture at the University of Toronto on concert reconstructions of historic liturgies with attention to Bach and his performance context:


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