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Rehearsing
Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 14, 2007):
Canyon Rick wrote:
>>Is there a section of Ordnungen concerning supernumerarii?<<
No, there is not. But it was a long-standing tradition documented by Kuhnau, who refers to them this way and the accounting books that list the stipends that were paid by the City Council to performers who were not officially part of the Thomaner first choir. These payments continued under Bach's cantorship, but Bach really needed more than the City Council was willing to grant (hence the "Entwurff").

CR: >>"group singing lessons" mean what? Was this in addition to the 7 hours per week of music classes? Was Bach expected to have all 150 TS students (externi and interni) up on the stage together for some kind of group sing along?<<
In German, these "Singestunden" were the singing or music classes that lasted an hour each day. Sometimes a similar second hour-long class was added in the afternoon. All of these 'singing classes' had to be coordinated/scheduled by the Rector so that no conflicts with other classes/subjects would occur. The complaint lodged against Bach (in a document available to us today) was that Bach himself never taught/conducted any of these "Singestunden", a clear violation of the Schulordnungen. Were these "Singestunden" conducted with all students present or divided into separate groups according to the age-level class they were part of? I still do not know. Were these "Singestunden" conducted in the largest room available to them in the school building (I believe it was called an auditorium)? Probably, but again, this is only a reasonable assumption on my part.

Richard Mix wrote (March 15, 2007):
Thomas Bratz wrote:
< No, these payments were for the performances, not the rehearsals. Nowhere are any rehearsals ever mentioned. Please supply documentation for your reading/interpretat ion of this section of the "Entwurff" and indicate where you think that this notion of "curtailing of paid rehearsals" might even be implied. >
Performances don't seem to be expressly mentioned either; I was making a suggestion (subject to a lower standard of proof than a tentative conclusion ;_P) that "benefice" might be interpreted as a paid call rather than a position; this was in reply to Alain's suggestion (or more, as he said) that reducing a players salary might make them sightread more poorly than they would if they could quit their dayjob to practice (am I oversimplifying?). It is clear in any case that beneficia are being curtailed instead of reduced; if they are sightread performances I can only imagine the quality being affected by the substitution of amateurs for professionels, which indeed I understand to be your opinion. But how do you interpret "completely withdrawn?" There were after all some musicians being paid for performances (out of a different account?) I wonder if "increased rather than reduced" refers to numbers or amounts?

"...the few beneficia, which should have been increased rather than reduced, have been completely withdrawn from the chorus musicus.... "

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 16, 2007):
Richard Mix wrote:
>>I can only imagine the quality being affected by the substitution of amateurs for professionels, which indeed I understand to be your opinion.<<
I was referring to the extremely well-paid professional musicians such as those in Dresden. As for the "substitution of amateurs" which you suggest was the only alternative left to Bach for assembling his roster of musicians for his cantata performances in the Leipzig churches, I would kindly remind you that Bach drew his performers from the Leipzig Collegia musica which consisted primarily of university students who were not at all what we would consider 'amateurs' today. It is from the Collegia musica that Kuhnau and Bach drew some of their best performers/musicians for their sacred music in the churches. In this group of student musicians who performed in the coffee houses of Leipzig, you will find such 'amateur musicians' as:

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758)
Georg Melchior Hoffmann (1679-1715)(composer of BWV 53 "Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde")
Johann Georg Pisendel (1687-1755)
Christoph Graupner (1683-1760)
Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel (1690-1749)
Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729)

Many other musicians who performed with these Collegia musica during Bach's tenure, or even under Bach as a conductor of one of these musical groups, became cantors and organists in various churches throughout Germany when they left Leipzig.

Could these musicians (in their unprofessional capacity as performing members of the Leipzig Collegia musica) sight-read accurately and musically all the music placed before them without engaging/enduring any prior rehearsals? I believe so.

Telemann was completely an autodidact. Unlike Handel who had an inspiring music teacher in Zachau and unlike Bach who was born into a long family line of musicians/composers, Telemann could not point to any teacher who taught him music directly. He began to study law at the University of Leipzig, but soon gave it up in favor of composing and performing music. Based upon assumptions commonly made today, he may be considered a self-taught 'amateur' without a university education, but considering his abilities in playing instruments and composing music, he could easily outshine the likes of a highly paid professional musician in Dresden like Johann Joachim Quantz (1697-1773).

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 16, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Could these musicians (in their unprofessional capacity as performing members of the Leipzig Collegia musica) sight-read accurately and musically all the music placed before them without engaging/enduring any prior rehearsals? I believe so. >
"Enduring prior rehearsals"

I hear Bach laughing in the background.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 16, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I hear Bach laughing in the background. >
No, it's only me.

But consider this logic: if one take's pride in sight-reading skills, rather than striving for the best possible performance, then a rehearsal would indeed be an imposition to endure, a failure to advance one's reputation.

Not to mention the extra work.

Richard Mix wrote (March 17, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< I was referring to the extremely well-paid professional musicians such as those in Dresden. >
Dresden? You seemed to state that the "beneficiae" in the Entwurff were paid only for performances in the churches of Leipzig. If they were to be totally withdrawn then the performers would be unpaid and, in the strict sense of the word, amateur, yes?

If Bach's musicians took the same delight in sightreading that moderns take in reading amongst themselves, surely it would be the later performance that had to be 'endured'. If the opportunity to work with Bach induced them to play for free, wouldnt more insights be gained by detailed rehearsals? Or was the handshake after the service/readthru enough?

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 17, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< I was referring to the extremely well-paid professional musicians such as those in Dresden. >
Richard Mix wrote:
< Dresden? You seemed to state that the "beneficiae" in the Entwurff were paid only for performancesin the churches of Leipzig. >
I charitably gave this a 'no comment', but as long as you pointed it out.....

< If they were to be totally withdrawn then the performers would be unpaid and, in the strict sense of the word, amateur, yes? >
Indeed.

< If Bach's musicians took the same delight in sightreading that moderns take in reading amongst themselves, surely it would be the later performance that had to be 'endured'. >
What? You don't enjoy listening to 'modern readers', amongst themselves? For shame. My clarinet is warm.

Alain Bruguieres wrote (March 17, 2007):
Richard Mix wrote:
< If Bach's musicians took the same delight in sightreading that moderns take in reading amongst themselves, surely it would be the later performance that had to be 'endured'. >
Some time ago, Xavier R. told us how he used to meet with friends once a week to sightread a Bach cantata:

X. R. I will finish with a personal memory and that will be my final word on the subject.

When I was 20 or so, we decided with a group of a dozen friends to gather every Tuesday night and sight read Bach's cantatas, just for the fun of it. One of us would sit at the harpsichord and sight read (from the orchestral score usually), while the rest of us would sing. There was no conductor. We didn't need one really, since we were all good musicians with excellent ear, superior reading abilities (that was a prerequisite to be part of the group) all of us major (or soon to be major) in harmony or counterpoint or fugue or the three of them, in addition to playing one or several instruments. Some of us, less at ease with German language would sometimes sing "la la la" but the majority was able to sing directly with words. I can assure you that, after a few weeks of this training, you could count the wrong notes or accidents with the fingers of a single hand. Being one of the youngest and far from the best at this exercise I was in admiration at what my comrades could do. Did I mention we changed cantata every week? After a few months of this regime and having great fun, one of us, Jean-Claude Raynaud (harmony teacher at Paris Conservatory, now retired), who was the appointed organist in a protestant temple in Paris, suggested that every once in a while we choose a cantata that didn't need too many instruments and sing it in his church, from the tribune, during Sunday morning service.

Then Xavier explained how they gave public performances, with rehearsals, but that is not to the point here. Xavier's testimony clearly contradicts the idea that a performance without rehearsal has to be 'endured' by modern performers.

< If the opportunity to work with Bach induced them to play for free, wouldnt more insights be gained by detailed rehearsals? Or was the handshake after the service/readthru enough? >
I must confess that I have had little time to follow all the detours of the current discussion and I'm not sure I understand what one is talking about here.

Is this about performances at the Zimmermann Cafe? If so, how does one know for sure that performers were not payed? Sorry if I fall off the mark.

Thomas' initial mail about the preparation for BVW 214 brings forth more evidence pointing in the 'no rehearsal' direction. So far I have seen little in subsequent postings to weaken the strength of Thomas' arguments, and I have a feeling that the discussion has diverged considerably (and consequenly my interest in it has declined as I no longer understook what where we were trying to get).

Richard Mix wrote (March 18, 2007):
< What? You don't enjoy listening to 'modern readers', amongst >themselves? For shame. >

Sorry Ed; strictly a participation sport for me.

Alain Bruguières wrote:
< Then Xavier explained how they gave public performances, with >rehearsals, but that is not to the point here. >
Haha! Not quite so fast! Of course I recall Xavier's post, and I think he mentioned that as soon as they were asked to perform for others there was quite a scramble to find a rehearsal time.

< Xavier's testimony clearly contradicts the idea that a performance without rehearsal has to be 'endured' by modern performers. >
My point concerned performance with a prior rehearsal; if first time reading without any responsibility to others not in the same boat with yourself isnt as fun as first reading for an audience, it at least has some of the novelty that some might think lacking at a well prepared runthrough. 'Endured' is of course not my own expression.

>> If the opportunity to work with Bach induced them to play for free, <<
< I must confess that I have had little time to follow all the detours ... >
Well, I sympathise! But we're still talking about the churches of Leipzig. In a different thread on more than one singer per part it was argued some time ago that the difference of paid performers was made up by such disciples.

 

Rehearsals, again [was: Bach's faith]

Neil Mason wrote (March 4, 2007):
You wrote:
< In Bach's time, the loss or rare opportunities for rehearsals were compensated for by the strong demand for musicians to be able to sight-sing or sight-read whatever was put before them. They also knew that they would probably not play the same music again in the future (exceptions: the Passions and possibly a few of the cantatas). >
For Thomas and others:

What exactly is different here (talking about JSB) from what happens today?

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 4, 2007):
[To Neil Mason] First off, I want to emphatically state that I am responding as an 'other'!

There are a couple new music groups in Boston who are courageous (or foolhardy) enough to commissions and perform many premiers, along with muchother unfamiliar music. I can assure you, they would not even remotely consider a sight-read public performance, unless this were specifically requested as a special effect by a composer. I do not recall ever seeing this happen, although there have been clever uses of improvisation.

I have seen, not commonly but more than once, a section of a new work omitted because a satisfactory performance quality could not be achieved in the available rehearsal time. This is done with apologies, out of respect for both the composer's intentions and the performers dignity. It is also a courtesy to the audience, as it certainly would be no problem to fool us by letting us believe what we were hearing was well prepared and intentional.

I doubt if Bach had the option of skipping an opening chorale fantasia for similar reasons. So perhaps he occasionally just put one over? When the lads, despite the cuffing, just sounded terrible?

 

Bach's Lack of Rehearsal [was: Turnabout]

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 6, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>>Immediately following, in Whittaker :<Works hurriedly prepared just in time for performance, parts speedily copied out by Bach himself, his wife, his family (some of them just learning to write and so prone to error), and his pupils, devoid of expression marks . . .><<
The part that immediately follows this is extremely important as well:

...devoid of expression marks, full of inaccuracies, words and notes frequently almost illegible, copies shared by two or more singers or players, could scarcely have made possible a high standard [of performance]. A modern choir will rehearse a chorus for weeks before allowing it to be heard in public. This could not have been the case at Leipzig. Then think of the difficulty of the music, and how it taxes the abilities of our soloists and in some cases highly skilled obbligati players today. One's wonder at the miracle of the composition of this immense mass of music is increased when one remembers the conditions of production, and one marvels that Bach schould have continued, year after year, to pour out these immortal workds under such circumstances.<<

Whittaker succumbs to the same type of erroneous thinking as many present-day practitioners of Bach's music do: "If it takes a modern choir weeks of rehearsal before actually performing a cantata in public, then it is incomprehensible just how Bach was able to accomplish this with so l(if any) preparation time at his disposal."

Whittaker correctly assesses Bach's last-minute copy process, but fails to see how Bach might have accomplished this unless his resulting performances were anything but on a high standard (in other words 'mediocre'), unless the performers, as our present-day musicians, were able to rehearse for weeks beforehand. Whittaker's astonishment at how Bach accomplished this is transformed into a bewilderment that is incapable of seeing as a solution the 'sight-reading' abilities of Bach's musicians who were well-acquainted with the type of music they were being asked to perform from one Sunday to the next.

Whittaker also offers the excuse to be reechoed many times in the decades following his description of another problem:

In essence Whittaker says, "If highly skilled vocal soloists and instrumentalists find Bach's music taxing and requiring a lot of preparation, then it must logically follow that Bach's musicians encountered the same difficulties and, without proper preparation of their parts, the resulting performances in church must have left much to be desired by both performers and listeners." I quickly refer here to the recent thread, one which keeps reappearing on this list, about some trumpeters who find Bach's trumpet parts very difficult to play on reconstructions of original instruments and who then insist on perpetuating the myth that Bach's trumpeters could not play these parts cleanly either and that Bach actually found good reasons (perhaps even pleasure) to deliberately make these parts unplayable to a certain extent.

Whittaker's final sentence in the above quotation is marvellous indeed and should cause us to contemplate along with Whittaker just why Bach would continue to compose these cantatas week after week with very little (or, as I contend, no) prior practice or rehearsal time before the two performances on a Sunday or Feast Day and with little hope that the performances would be good ones. Would Bach, under these conditions, really have continued week after week, month after month, composing such music, deemed as being very difficult to sing/play by performers today, if his musical ensemble continued to offer mediocre or sub-standard performances? The key to this riddle lies not in the unabashed proclivity of present-day performers to project their modern performance practice methods on Bach's performers without considering sufficiently the differences between that culture (Leipzig in the 1720s and 1730s) and our musical culture today, but rather in assessing properly historical sources which have until now been overlooked. These sources, along with a reasonable interpretation, should help to provide some of the evidence we need in order to obtain a better understanding of how Bach accomplished the apparently impossible task of providing very good performances of his cantatas without resorting to methods concurrently employed in France or those which have become extremely commonplace today.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 6, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Would Bach, under these conditions, really have continued week after week, month after month, composing such music, deemed as being very difficult to sing/play by performers today, if his musical ensemble continued to offer mediocre or sub-standard performances? >
He kept this up for a couple years (1723-25). He remained in his post for another 25 years.

If I were still in the business of developing scenarios (not to be confused with forecasting, or in this case, precasting), I could certainly spin plenty which would include Bach being totally unsatisfied with the performances in 1723-25, hence the change in operations for the succeeding 25 years.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 6, 2007):
< ...devoid of expression marks, full of inaccuracies, words and notes frequently almost illegible, copies shared by two or more singers or players, could scarcely have made possible a high standard [of performance]. A modern choir will rehearse a chorus for weeks before allowing it to be heard in public. This could not have been the case at Leipzig. Then think of the difficulty of the music, and how it taxes the abilities of our soloists and in some cases highly skilled obbligati players today. >
And then think of the armchair critics: poised to slaughter every such top-level professional performance with their own nit-picking and fault-finding, and to post this venting of their own spleens on the internet.

Meanwhile, the same armchair critic (self-appointed!) makes it clear that somehow Bach's standards were obviously much lower than his own, if Bach put up with having mere students attempt this stuff -- and without rehearsal, too, and with these erroneous or illegible parts to work from. Bach must have been an absolute slob at his job (a TERRIBLE music director), judging from the double standard that is presented here. Either that, or (more likely) the critic himself is a [phrase deleted] without any clue about the work required in musicianship, or the risks associated with putting out any public performance for scrutiny.

Last week's cantata, from the previous round of discussion in February 2002: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV92-D.htm
Witness the carnage, where every performer attempting this piece falls under the blade of the self-appointed critic asserting that they're not fit for the assigned duty. Not only slaughtered, but belittled as well. One of the mildest sentences there is: "It sounds really silly for her to engage in special flourishes and embellishments as a great artist might, when she should be thankful that she can get the notes right."

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 6, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>And then think of the armchair critics: poised to slaughter every such top-level professional performance with their own nit-picking and fault-finding, and to post this venting of their own spleens on the internet.
I do not consider the Leusink recordings (referred to below) "top-level professional performances". Better than the ordinary, run-of-the-mill church choir in English-speaking countries, yes, but certainly not performances/recordings by 'top-level professionals who have prepared their performances sufficiently. The favorite argument by the Leusink group was: "We sound just like Bach's choir did because he also did not have very much time to rehearse the cantatas." This is the same lame argument used by trumpeters who claim that "because we have trouble playing Bach's parts on original instrument reconstructions, Bach's trumpeters would likewise have experienced the same difficulties."

BL: >> Meanwhile, the same armchair critic (self-appointed!) makes it clear that somehow Bach's standards were obviously much lower than his own...<<
Here is Brad Lehman, the master at twisting my words so that the results will appear to make my standards for performances of Bach's music today higher than Bach's own. Have our expectations for the quality of musicianship changed from that which Bach was able to obtain from his musicians? Yes, very likely. While we are able to attain performances today with machine-like precision or rubato-laden musical lines or even deliberately imprecise, ugly sounds, what we may be missing, with all our emphasis on long preparation times and rehearsals, is a 'soul' quality which can only originate when there is a complete identification between the singers/players and the written and musical text. This quality is sometimes achieved in performances and recordings available today, but it is almost always a haphazard occurrence where everything seemingly jells in such a way that most listeners will be truly deeply moved by the performance. One main purpose of the BCML is to select such outstanding mvts. through consensus (rarely does an entire cantata recording succeed in this).

BL: >>Bach must have been an absolute slob at his job (a TERRIBLE music director....<<
I cannot imagine Bach selecting and/or allowing a Ruth Holton, with her demi-voice and unsuccessful attempt
to ea boy soprano, to sing his arias, much less have to listen to her attempts at variation as if Bach's music would be boring without such over embellishment. Remember what Birnbaum (Bach's proxy) said about this matter: Bach knew what he wanted. His sense of good taste in music was far superior to that of any of the musicians he worked with. As a result, Bach indicated precisely what he wanted to hear -- he did not want to allow vocal soloists or instrumentalists to perform their 'mannerisms' (which meant adding variations/embellishments to the part as Bach had composed it.)

For this reason I still hold the same opinion regarding Ruth Holton's performance that I expressed in 2002:

"It sounds really silly for her [Ruth Holton] to engage in special flourishes and embellishments as a great artist might, when she should be thankful that she can get the notes right."

The last part of this statement refers to the fact that in the low range, Ruth Holton's voice lacks sufficient support. She is unable to sing these lower notes properly so that they might be heard from a balcony in a larger church. As for great artists, they would most likely realize the importance of Bach's intentions and would feel no need to improve with additional mannersims what Bach presents in the score.

In a way, Holton's 'special flourishes and embellishments' are more of a distraction than an improvement. One main characteristic of her singing is a decided lack of expression. She should rather be working on this aspect while improving the production of her low notes rather than succumbing to using these "Firlefanzen" (added fancy bits) which were probably prompted by her acquaintance with Handel's music.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 7, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< The favorite argument by the Leusink group was: "We sound just like Bach's choir did because he also did not have very much time to rehearse the cantatas." >
Please provide the documentation where anyone in Leusink's ensemble ever presented such an argument. Documentation not made up by you, in formulating a straw-man argument, please. Real documentation.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 7, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< One main purpose of the BCML is to select such outstanding mvts. through consensus (rarely does an entire cantata recording succeed in this). >
Says you: in defining for yourself what "one main purpose of the BCML" is.

I've always thought, by contrast, that the BCML has no such clear purpose of building any sort of consensus. Rather, it's apparently simply a bunch of music fans posting their personal opinions about things they like (or in your case, dislike). If some people happen to fancy various movements from various performances, fine; but there's no need for any other members to agree with that. Opinions are opinions.

"We are all individuals!!!!" - the crowd, in rehearsed unison, in Monty Python's Life of Brian

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 7, 2007):
Brad Lehman wrote:
<< I“m not sure that England and Germany were so different from each other with regard to rehearsals in the 1720s and 1730s. But as you say, there is not much documentation for that period. >>
> Sort of like the lack of documentation that people variously ate meals, wore shoes, had sex, >
some for sure, but not necessarily everyone

< collected firewood, slept, bathed at least once a month, >
ever the optimist, eh?

< or ever bothered to tune their violins. >
in tune with what system? Oops, as soon as I wrote it, I realized that open-string tuning has been standard since long before the origins of the dispute. Or not?

< That lack of documentation doesn't constitute proof that those things didn't happen, whether it was England or Germany or wherever. With little to go on, one simply must assume that normal people went about doing normal things, and didn't bother to write it down. >
There used to be a great comic, Miss Peach, a bit of a Peanuts knockoff. I will recover this reference on my own, promise. But the gist of it was a girl character (not a babe in those days) had an advice booth for those in need of therapy. One day Albert (let's say, subject to confirmation) asked her: 'How do you define normal behavior'

'Find a normal person and follow him around to see what he does.'

I have been following that advice ever since. So don't blame me, blame the normal people I am tracking. One day I will tell you about some more of them.

 

Cloud-cuckoo land

Philip Legge wrote (March 22, 2007):
Pressure of time prevents me from responding at greater length - I am off to conduct a rehearsal!

< His performers may have easily made up for what we might consider necessary today: a nearly perfect performance (such as could be accomplished by well-paid musicians at the major courts of Europe in Bach's time) by performing with a freshness that comes from discovering the profound beauty and expression in Bach's music when it is experienced by sight-reading it for the first time. >
With respect, I believe you are living in cloud-cuckoo land. For the record I was able to sight-read the tenor parts of opening and final choruses of Singet dem Herrn without much difficulty, but the "profound beauty and expression" was found to be reinforced and heightened by rehearsal and practice, not by doing a cold run-through. Some aspects of music practice may indeed be markedly different today, but not all of them, nor to such an extent as you repeatedly claim.

Good day!

Paul T. McCain wrote (March 22, 2007):
Limiting the Conversation to the Bach Cantatas

I'm more than happy to keeping our conversation on this Bach Cantata list to the Cantatas, but when certain persons persist in making anti-Christian comments responses to such remarks are inevitable.

And, of course, it would be more than a little odd that a list devoted to the Bach Cantatas would not at some point involve a discussion of the texts of the Church Cantats, which are distinctively Christian.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 22, 2007):
[To Philip Legge] Cloud-cuckoo land indeed!

For what it's worth on the "Furchte dich nicht" and "Komm, Jesu, komm" motets: in grad school I sang in a chamber choir specializing in "early music", and we worked on those pieces in some of our semesters. We rehearsed for two separate hours every week (Tuesdays and Thursdays), for three months, before it got into performance shape. And these were mostly grad students (20 and older) who had been singing in ensembles for many years, and who were there as 100% music students; not teenaged choirboys just barely reading music or having any other studies. (We also did some pretty tough Gesualdo and Tallis, and 15th century English stuff.) And then at performance time, and dress-rehearsal time, we still had to adjust some things due to being in a hall of different acoustics.

Our first couple weeks sight-reading each of these Bach pieces as a group, in the classroom, we could barely get through it...even though we hit most of the notes, on the first or second go, the ensemble interaction and balances are tricky. And we were all singing from full scores, not merely our individual parts. And we were all instructed to go home and study the music and text carefully, on our own, to get ready for group rehearsals. "Der saure Weg wird mir zu schwer" (in "Komm, Jesu, komm") was indeed: Bach word-painting the difficulty of unaccompanied singing, itself, with bizarre lines.

Yes, there was some delight in sight-reading the stuff for the very first time -- but that's a LEARNING process, not a PERFORMANCE process. The "profound beauty and expression in Bach's music" only shows up after weeks of working on it, when the whole puzzle starts to fit together with a bit of flexibility, and group listening to all of one another's parts.

Somebody here (on the BCML) got on my case, and went all incredulous, several months ago when I mentioned that I needed two or three months to practice Bach's solo harpsichord music in preparation for concerts. It's still true. That much preparation is necessary, figuring out what types of nuances and construction are in each piece, and working out ways to play it clearly and expressively. Sight-rescarcely reveals which spots of harmonic or melodic tension are going to need more or less emphasis, and whatever degree of flexibility in the delivery. Good performance is about A LOT MORE than just hitting the notes accurately on the first or second sight-read through a score. Even for a "quick study" and good sight-reader. Bach's music is so much better and richer than a sight-read "performance" could reveal; why short-change it?

Philip Legge wrote (March 22, 2007):
Further comment:
PL: >> For this reason there must have been usually some minimal amount rehearsal - at the very least a single run-through - prior to performance.<<
TB: >> This is what you believe based on your personal experience and that of others who think likewise because they also are unable to envision any other solution to what they consider to be Bach’s problem of achieving good performances without any rehearsal time.
Excuse me: what utterly sublime arrogance!

The simple result of no rehearsal is inevitably, and frequently: mediocre performance. If you don't acknowledge that fact, then let us forget about having a serious musical discussion based on any semblance of reality, because on the one hand you have praised Bach's performances to the skies, frequently above the many capabilities of modern performers - and this despite the limitations imposed on him by the conditions at Leipzig; yet you simultaneously deny any evidence of him having to work to achieve these ends in the normal way musicians from time immemorial have done so - by rehearsing. Please let us know why anyone should believe you when you attempt to prove that black is white? Or that one is equal to zero?

PL: >>Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!<<
TB: >>The evidence that has been presented thus far points in a direction leading away from the notion you support. Perhaps it is time to rethink or reconsider your current position in this matter.
Perhaps you should rethink your own position!

Good night!

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 22, 2007):
Evolution in Music Performances [was:Cloud-cuckoo land]

Philip Matthew Legge wrote:
>>The simple result of no rehearsal is inevitably, and frequently: mediocre performance. If you don't acknowledge that fact, then let us forget about having a serious musical discussion based on any semblance of reality<<
Bach's reality could easily have been very different and could not easily be compared with ours or even with that which began immediately after he had died. This is an important point to recognize.

PML: >>because on the one hand you have praised Bach's performances to the skies, frequently above the many capabilities of modern performers<<
If you are referring to some of the Bach cantata performances/recordings by H & L or Leusink, then you have assessed my opinion correctly.

If you are implying that Bach's performances are being compared to what was humanly possible during his tenure in Leipzig, then I believe that other court chapel choirs and court orchestras with additional time spent practicing and rehearsing Bach music would have given a better performance that Bach could muster with the musicians he selected in Leipzig.

PML: >>yet you simultaneously deny any evidence of him having to work to achieve these ends in the normal way musicians from time immemorial have done so<<
But here is the erroneous notion that the conditions for performing music have remained fixed, petrified as it were, and unchanging 'from time immemorial. This contradicts everything that I personally believe, based upon observation, that evolution means that everything that we do and think undergoes change. There are different times and different places where things were done differently. If you assume an unchanging world, specifically in regard to how music is rehearsed and performed, then I believe that this is the point where it is best for both of us "to agree to disagree" and terminate this fruitless discussion/exchange so that it does not end in personal attacks which do nothing to further a better understanding of this matter.

You have obviously rethought your ideas in this regard, but it will be left to others to decide which method of coming to terms with this issue is more valid. There is in no way any implication in all of this that using Bach's possible methods of achieving his ends under the conditions he faced is to be emulated by anyone today. On the contrary, rehearsals are absolutely necessary today. Consider the difficulty for performers today in understanding and expressing the text properly, particularly when many of them do not understand German properly, let alone understand what Baroque German verse is trying to say. Today some difficult decisions (difficult unless the well-trained musicians believe that they know precisely how Bach would have performed his music) need to be made in advance of every performance. These were things which were "selbstverständlich" ("self-understood", 'that which goes without question') to Bach's performers who were guided and directed by the power of Bach's awesome musical abilities. There is no way to recapture such a relationship today. Everything must be done the hard way with much guesswork involved. Despite all of this, there are some worthy recordings and most likely current performances which can recapture a glimpse of what Bach may have experienced in his performances. We should be thankful that we have the opportunity to experience such Bach 'moments' which can speak to us directly and personally. On the other hand, depending upon the level of music appreciation we happen to be at, this list is also the place to point out specifically where certain performances have not reached anywhere near the level that we can presume Bach had attained with his young performers (up to age 30).

Tom Dent wrote (March 22, 2007):
Rehearsal

I believe that most Baroque concerted music was performed quite adequately (which means without necessarily 'short-changing' any vital aspect of the music) with very little rehearsal; though certainly not NO rehearsal! And most keyboard music likewise could virtually be sight-read or played after one or two trial runs by experienced players with no injury to the musicality of the result.

Sight-reading in this context doesn't mean getting the notes right, it means reading the music, and knowing what the notes are going to sound like momentarily before you play or sing them, and being able to anticipate what nuances would be artistically desirable, and keep the evolving state of the musical structure in your head. Sounds difficult, but most Baroque music is simple enough, in the ways that matter, that it is entirely possible.

I think there are many harpsichordists alive today who would be able to sight-read a perfectly musical performance of much of (for three) Chambonnieres or d'Anglebert or Louis Couperin.

For a historical (but perhaps not entirely relevant) example, I think it is correct to say that most of Mozart's symphonies were performed with one or two rehearsals, and in most cases successfully.

Liszt's sight-reading was well-known: the Grieg concerto, for example. He was exceptional - but not superhuman!

Professional song accompanists nowadays perform with very little rehearsal on a regular basis, as do very many orchestral players in London. They aren't superhuman either.

Bach's music is certainly exceptional in its complexity and difficulty compared to almost all Baroque music. However, it does not follow that it necessarily requires huge amounts of rehearsal or practice to be successfully heard.

Here in Heidelberg I have heard and/or participated in some cantatas performed without much rehearsal: specifically, numbers 18, 95, 127. Say, a first choir rehearsal to check the notes are there and put in some basic ideas of expression; a second to get the details straight; and a 'dress rehearsal'. Probably the solo sections were rehearsed once before the 'dress'. No. 39 was also done without extensive rehearsal, but requisomewhat more work. At Dartington Summer School no. 25, another one with a particularly taxing opening chorus, was put together on 4 short rehearsals. And without being suspected of speaking too much in my own case, I would say the results were far from terrible and more than served their function in the liturgy.

Of course there were problems - but some problems are such that either they take ages to solve, or if carefully worked around never exist in the first place. E.g. if some don't know how to sing choral music in tune: either it takes months of dedicated work to teach them, or you just throw them out and make do with fewer.

Philip Legge wrote:
<< I was able to sight-read the tenor parts of opening and final choruses of Singet dem Herrn without much difficulty, but the "profound beauty and expression" was found to be reinforced and heightened by rehearsal and practice, not by doing a cold run-through. >>
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< For what it's worth on the "Furchte dich nicht" and "Komm, Jesu, komm" motets: (...) We rehearsed for two separate hours every week (...) for three months, before it got into performance shape. >
I'm sure these were excellent performances, but I don't think it's likely that the experience bears much relation to Bach's practice. (Not that Brad is claiming that it does; but he must believe there is some relevance to the question how much Bach rehearsed.)

< even though we hit most of the notes, on the first or second go, the ensemble interaction and balances are tricky. >
Yes, balance is a generic problem. But if a conductor knows each singer individually, could he or she not choose which singers would naturally balance against each other?

< "Der saure Weg wird mir zu schwer" (in "Komm, Jesu, komm") was indeed: Bach word-painting the difficulty of unaccompanied singing, itself, with bizarre lines. >
I'm not sure if that makes sense: Bach is, surely, word-painting the difficulty of life without Jesus. But I think it does make sense to see the composition as using vocal difficulty to induce a particular type of expression, by which I mean not mistakes, but, say, wariness. If one rehearses up to the point where everything is technically easy, one has to then re-insert the expression of wariness (or whatever) so that it sounds difficult anyway.

< The "profound beauty and expression in Bach's music" only shows up after weeks of working on it >
If this were true for Bach's own forces in the cantatas (not that Brad is saying so), what kind of rehearsal schedule would be needed during 1723-6?

< group listening to all of one another's parts. >
That's nice to do, if you have the time - but I don't think it likely any Baroque motet performers did.

< two or three months to practice Bach's solo harpsichord music (...) figuring out what types of nuances and construction are in each piece, and working out ways to play it clearly and expressively. >
That is something I can believe might take so long, for the most complex and technically challenging pieces. But I highly doubt any experienced player would need more than a week to find a successful way to play a French Suite or two.

< Sight-reading scarcely reveals which spots of harmonic or melodic tension are going to need more or less emphasis, and whatever degree of flexibility in the delivery. >
Why not? If you think of sight-reading as 'hitting [!] the notes accurately' then by definition it doesn't include expressive aspects. But I don't see any reason why people should be unable to deal with expressive aspects, up to some level (which may or may not be enough!) at the same time as getting the notes. Or if not immediately, at least within an hour or two. Again it depends on the piece. If the musical invalidity of sight-reading is being advanced as a general argument, then I think there are many pieces which can easily be played perfectly musically within an hour of first sight.

< Bach's music is so much better and richer than a sight-read "performance" could reveal; why short-change it? >
A conclusive and resounding argument - Brad seems to have moved from simply recounting his own experience to laying down universal truths. But why didn't Bach think of it himself, before starting on his way in Leipzig to compose and perform one cantata a week? What tragic lack of foresight!

By the way, the Buxtehude and Schütz I am doing on Saturday will be on 2 rehearsals. I've learnt the parts, not that they are technically difficult; last week was the vocal rehearsal, and tomorrow is the 'dress', where we get the balance and expression sorted out.

Philip Legge wrote (March 23, 2007):
[To Thomas Vraatz]
PML: >>The simple result of no rehearsal is inevitably, and frequently: mediocre performance. If you don't acknowledge that fact, then let us forget about having a serious musical discussion based on any semblance of reality<<
TB: >>Bach's reality could easily have been very different<<
With respect: no.

No one on this list would deny you have at your command an impressive knowledge of the documentary facts of Bach's working life.

However, you have cobbled together various of these facts - not all of which necessarily agree to point in the single direction you submit that they do - to propose an unverifiable theory and forcibly push it on this list as an unquestionable conclusion, when scholars with much greater erudition than yourself would rightfully hesitate to advance it as anything but one possible interpretation of centuries-old data that by its incomplete nature admits multiple possibilities.

Such non-falsifiable theories are not only unscientific, in addition they are contrary to the practical experience of professional musicians everywhere. From your reiterated and tiresomely longwinded and frequently condescending missives, one gathers that your theory of "evolution in music performances" presumes a development to an unsurpassed peak of performing skill in Bach's lifetime followed by an abject decline for the following two and a half centuries - that is not borne out by either music history or the reality of any musicians who have actually performed Bach's music to high standard.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 23, 2007):
Tom Dent wrote:
< I believe that most Baroque concerted music was performed quite adequately (which means without necessarily 'short-changing' any vital aspect of the music) with very little rehearsal; though certainly not NO rehearsal! >
But this is the crux (our old friend) of the discussion: is it credible that in the early Leipzig years, 1723-25, it was Bach's routine working method to finish copying parts at midnight on Saturday for performance the next morning, sight read? There is only the tiniest bit of actual evidence (unsullied parts), and even that subject to interpretation, which leaves plenty of room for all the words spilled here. Fortunately, no trees downed, just a few spare electrons sent spinning.

< And most keyboard music likewise could virtually be sight-read or played after one or two trial runs >
Well, now we are getting fuzzy. 'Virtually' sight-read? Trial runs? Care to rephrase? It is only with great difficulty that we agree on the meaning of words, let's keep this one precise. Sight-reading means playing it the first time you see the score, to me, and that seems to be the way it is used throughout the discussions of Bach's performance practice.

< by experienced players with no injury to the musicality of the result. >
There has been some suggestion that sight reading of scores by a choral and instrumental ensemble might add to the spontaneity of performance. There has also been suggestion of train wrecks. I don't see that we have much hard information to suggest that one or the other is more likely, that both are not possible, and did not in fact occur in first performances of Bach's cantatas. The less rehearsal, the greater the 'spontaneity', and the more likely a train wreck. Maybe the musicians would just regroup and start over, providing the long sought opfor listeners to use the loo (no waterclosets yet, for the questioner re indoor plumbing)?

Regarding spontaneity, I have heard many of the best jazz musicians play their signature tunes numerous times. I'll bet I heard Dizzy Gillespie play 'Kush' several dozen times if I heard it once. I can assure you, there was no loss of spontaneity in that instance. Alas, I was not around for the first run through (although I will have to search the memory banks to be sure of that). I'll bet it was special in its own way, false starts and all. But that is composition, not performance, according to my understanding of the words.

All you guys who want to say 'close enough for jazz'? Get over it.

A final thought: isn't it curious that it is much easier in English to say 'several dozen' than 'several tens'. Go figure.

Philip Legge wrote (March 23, 2007):
[To Tom Dent]
< Rehearsal
I believe that most Baroque concerted music was performed quite adequately (which means without necessarily 'short-changing' any vital aspect of the music) with very little rehearsal; >
I believe likewise. The bone of contention on this list is that Bach could perform to better standard, without any rehearsal at all, on a first-run through of freshly composed music that no one other than himself had before heard - and do so better than any number of modern, rehearsed performances - arguments that are certainly unverifiable, whatever one thinks about its relationship to reality...

< though certainly not NO rehearsal! >
- on which it appears we agree.

< Sight-reading in this context doesn't mean getting the notes right, it means reading the music, and knowing what the notes are going to sound like momentarily before you play or sing them, and being able to anticipate what nuances would be artistically desirable, and keep the evolving state of the musical structure in your head. Sounds difficult, but most Baroque music is simple enough, in the ways that matter, that it is entirely possible. >
You are correct in that Baroque music often falls into recognisable patterns at first sight that can aid the performer to anticipate and create music, rather than just spinning notes. I don't think anyone would argue that much of the Baroque repertoire rarely poses challenges of the kind which Bach's most difficult works possess.

For example, I have vivid memories of the first time I sang Singet dem Herrn - which I subsequently performed along with all of the other motets (along with the putative early-JSB motet from the Anhang, "Ich lasse dich nicht") in concert with one of the best early music choirs in Australia. I did not find it a difficult read, except for the fact that the complexity in Bach's music doesn't arise from the structure which is logical enough, but from the minute local changes in familiar patterns that make for unpredictability and require nuance.

Then there are simply technical problems: despite hearing the soprano and alto before it came to my turn, I didn't anticipate the length of the fugue subject and semiquaver run at "Die Kinder Zion sei'n fröhlich...", and so had to breathe in awkward places. Bach often requires a higher level of technique on the part of his performers than other Baroque composers (this shouldn't be isn't a surprise to readers of this list). One comes quickly to the conclusion that a practiced rendition will normally tend to surpass one that happens on-the-spot.

< Professional song accompanists nowadays perform with very little rehearsal on a regular basis, as do very many orchestral players in London. They aren't superhuman either. >
Indeed most professional musicians already have established the works in their repertoire to a sufficient level of polish allowing them to return with ease after a considerable period of time and pick the piece up again, already close to performance standard. (I myself could do so for a sizeable subset of the many hundreds of works I've performed.) This is separate however from the ability of being able to pick up an unfamiliar work with which one has no prior acquaintance and do justice to it at a first sight-read - but of course it is not uncommon to have the technique to be able to accomplish both of these scenarios with equal facility, and I know plenty of musicians who do exactly this.

< Bach's music is certainly exceptional in its complexity and difficulty compared to almost all Baroque music. However, it does not follow that it necessarily requires huge amounts of rehearsal or practice to be successfully heard. >
Neither do I believe in huge amounts of rehearsal - but there is a absolute minimum limit that is required to ensure that proceedings don't degenerate into farce, owing to the members of the ensemble lacking foreknowledge of how the performance will proceed.

I've done segments of BWV 232 - everything from Sanctus through to Dona nobis pacem - with not much more than one rehearsal prior to the Sunday and then a run-through at 8 am before the "gig". (Which incidentally, was part of the Bach cantata series held at the Lutheran church at St John's Southgate, which I alluded to in a previous message as being the place recently visited by Georg Christoph Biller).

To give one example - the junction from Sanctus to Pleni sunt caeli in BWV 232 is one example of a potential danger spot which is worth "topping and tailing" to ensure the gear change occurs smoothly in performance.

Again, I could reply to some points you raise against Brad's comments, but I don't think we are actually in profound disagreement on many of them!

< By the way, the Buxtehude and Schütz I am doing on Saturday will be on 2 rehearsals. I've learnt the parts, not that they are technically difficult; last week was the vocal rehearsal, and tomorrow is the 'dress', where we get the balance and expression sorted out. >
On Sunday I'm doing a program including Antoine Brumel's twelve part Missa Et ecce terraemotus (which intrepid Googlers will soon discover I have edited in part, and for this particular performance I have finally gotten around to editing the entire work from facsimile). The choir has done this on six rehearsals - which is overkill for those familiar with the work, but not enough for the less able sight-readers in the ensemble who had not encountered the work before. It's a complicated Renaissance work - certainly on a par with the level of difficulty encountered in some Bach - and not a work liable to succeed at a first read-through without prior agreement between the performers on the interpretation of the signs used in the older style of white mensural notation.

John Pike wrote (March 23, 2007):
[To Ed Myskowski][ I have been following this discussion with some amazement. The idea that Bach would be prepared to perform any of his highly intricate cantatas without rehearsal strikes me as absolutely unbelievable. I don't doubt that he had excellent singers and instrumentalists at his disposal but even world class musicians have to rehearse, both alone and in ensemble, before a performance. Anything less would lead to one's job being on the line, quite apart from the risk that things may go wrong and not end up being a fitting tribute to the greater glory of God.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 23, 2007):
< I think there are many harpsichordists alive today who would be able to sight-read a perfectly musical performance of much of (for three) Chambonnieres or d'Anglebert or Louis Couperin. >
Of course; my classmates and I had to do such things all the time. French harpsichord music, especially, is so fully written-out (as to ornamentation anyway) that the sight-reading of it is actually easier to do stylistically well, than some other repertoire. Get these cliches and formulas down pat, and they flow pretty easily as to delivering the notes accurately in dance-based music. (Other than unmeasured preludes, obviously, since convincing rhythmic groupings have to be puzzled out; always the exception.)

And last year, to enrich my understanding of the repertoire, I sight-read straight through all four books of Francois Couperin,over some months. It's easily possible. So what?

But, I'd disagree vigorously with your other sentence that set this up, which was: "And most keyboard music likewise could virtually be sight-read or played after one or two trial runs by experienced players with no injury to the musicality of the result."

No injury to the musicality of the result?!?!? None? How low are these performance standards, anyway? The above-mentioned repertoire (along with some German and French and English stuff, too) can certainly be played straightforwardly enough on first or second go, to fool non-harpsichordists into believing something difficult or even "great" is being done; but it will not fool connoisseurs.

So, the question sort of flips back to: were the famous dead guys really connoisseurs, along with the people they played for, or was music merely done to mediocre standards (well enough to fool the plebes)?

< By the way, the Buxtehude and Schütz I am doing on Saturday will be on 2 rehearsals. I've learnt the parts, not that they are technically difficult; last week was the vocal rehearsal, and tomorrow is the 'dress', where we get the balance and expression sorted out. >
Well, have a good time with it. How did Wednesday's performances go, the ones you mentioned?

Tom Dent wrote (March 23, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< the crux (our old friend) of the discussion: is it credible that in the early Leipzig years, 1723-25, it was Bach's routine working method to finish copying parts at midnight on Saturday for performance the next morning, sight read? There is only the tiniest bit of actual evidence (unsullied parts) >
Why, please, is this the, or a, 'crux of discussion'? Why do people think this is an interesting question, if there is basically no historical evidence, and no way for the question to be meaningfully answered? It sounds like a mere excuse to contradict one another endlessly.

For me the most important distinction is whether the music feels new to the performer, or throughly familiar. Modern recorded performances of choral music (though perhaps not cantata cycles) lean heavily towards the latter, in that they mostly are made after long and extensive rehearsal. The historical situation was the former.

What does 'unsullied' mean? Anything to do with the fingerprint-testing that was bruited for the how-many-people-per-part question? No scribbles or doodles? No 'added expression' marks? Well, one might attribute this to Bach writing out exactly as much as necessary to produce the expression, given the probable reaction of the performers. But I don't see any way to link this to the amount of rehearsal. I believe most surviving Baroque music manuscripts are fairly devoid of obviously superadded dynamics, fingerings, articulation marks etc. - it's only with the 19th century that the enthusiasm for marking every last thing in beforehand started to take root.

Chris Rowson wrote (March 23, 2007):
Tom Dent wrote:
< What does 'unsullied' mean? Anything to do with the fingerprint- testing that was bruited for the how-many-people-per-part question? >
Apparently there are virtually no fingerprints whatsoever, and in fact "none of the usual wear and tear associated with parts which we know were used in performance" (Thomas Braatz). The NBA editors are described as being amazed at the absence of virtually all signs of use.

This is not just an absence of dynamics etc., it is the absence of smudging, candle-wax, traces of breath/condensation, wear to the edges of the pages, etc. The parts seem not to have been used at all.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (March 23, 2007):
[To Tom Dent] What is the basis for saying that Bach was up midnight copying parts. Who believes this needs to get real or go back to school and learn your basic History of a time in which most people lived on or engaged in farming of some sort. Evem Merchants usually did some sort of farming.

Hey folks this was not the day of the electric light---this was the day of candles oil lamps 170 years before and candles and oil(whale Oil??) were very expensive because the source of wax from these candles was chiefly Bees Wax unless bayberry wax was brought in from British North America--which is doubtful since most of wax collected was used locally in Carolina etc. Even Monks who observed the hours only burnt candles for a short time during their offices.

Church service was an all day affair so it is unlikely that Bach stayed up all night long copying parts and bingo do a service without any sleep---as he would have probally fallen asleep and he also had to teach Monday Morning.

Most people went to bed somewhat afteror before sundown. They arose sometime between 4-5 am, milked the cow, collected eggs, fed the pigs(if they had them) and in Germany may have had some breakfast after the chores were done. A person of Bach'stature may not have kept a cow or chickens as other did but the routine was the same. Only the wealthy could afford to stay up late nights and while Bach made todays equivalent of 100K a year--he was by no means wealthy with all those 20 kids being a financial drain on him and like most parents of the day---he put them to work for him.

According to the labor practices of the day---this is most likely what happened---parts were copied by family members and his students. There was NO midnight oil work. We must remeber that Bach's singers and instrumentalists were amateurs albeit talented ones. It is doubtful that the could have sung everything at sight and on key without instruction and rehearsal by Bach epseically with the composition of the chorus changing often as well as instrumentalists.

Canyon Rick wrote (March 24, 2007):
Ludwig wrote:
< What is the basis for saying that Bach was up midnight copying parts. >
I regret all that I've missed out on. Consequently, if this quote has already been dissected, forgive me.

p.194 of Geck (hardback) Re: Copying of BWV 174:

"...on 6 June [1729], the second day of Whitsun, he performs... BWV 174 with a really large ensemble. Up to the day before the performance, the copyists are busy writing out the parts for at least 22 voices, and Bach himself is working at the last moment to revise the introductory movement of his third Brandenburg Concerto to serve as an initial sinfonia..."

True, it doesn't say he was composing at midnite, but it does seem in this case, at least, there was something of a last minute rush. Could the fact this occured in 1729, presumably when Bach was not rushed week after week after week as in the 'cantata per week' years, be indicative of his work habits then?

Would be interesting to know, I suppose.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 24, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
<< the crux (our old friend) of the discussion: is it credible that in the early Leipzig years, 1723-25, it was Bach's routine working method to finish copying parts at midnight on Saturday for performance the next morning, sight read? There is only the tiniest bit of actual evidence (unsullied parts) >>
Tom Dent wrote:
< Why, please, is this the, or a, 'crux of discussion'? Why do people think this is an interesting question, if there is basically no historical evidence, and no way for the question to be meaningfully answered? It sounds like a mere excuse to contradict one another endlessly. >
I think the main participants in the discussion would agree that there is little historical evidence, but that is not exactly the same as 'none'. Perhaps the intensity and amount of the discussion will lead to a better evaluation of the scanty evidence?

In any case, it is far from the only point of controversy on BCML. At least it is directly relevant ot Bach and his working methods. As to why people think it is an interesting question, I suppose that is the answer. Those not interested need not bother to read.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 25, 2007):
Canyon Rick wrote:
Regarding the lack of rehearsal time:
>>p.194 of Geck (hardback) Re: Copying of BWV 174: "...on 6 June [1729], the second day of Whitsun, he performs... BWV 174 with a really large ensemble. Up to the day before the performance, the copyists are busy writing out the parts for at least 22 voices, and Bach himself is working at the last moment to revise the introductory movement of his third Brandenburg Concerto to serve as an initial sinfonia..."<<
I have found the original German text by Martin Geck in a paperback (Hamburg, 2001) which reads as follows: "Am 6. Juni, dem zweiten Pfingstag, führt Bach in der Thomaskirche die Kantate "Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte" BWV 174 mit stärkster Besetzung auf. Noch am Tag zuvor sind die Kopisten damit beschäftigt, die mindestens 22 Stimmen auszuschreiben; und Bach selbst hat kurzfristig daran gearbeitet, um den Kopfsatz seines dritten Brandenburgischen Konzerts als einleitende Sinfonia dieser Kantate zu
präparieren,...
."

Detailed confirmation of Geck's statement can be found in the NBA KB I/14 (prepared by Alfred Dürr and Arthur Mendel) in a footnote on p. 99:

"Wie spät das Material fertig geworden ist, zeigt der Vermerk des Schreibers 1 am Ende der Altstimme (B 19): "Fine d. 5. Junii 1729. Lipsiae"; die Aufführung fand am 6 Juni statt. Auch die Aufteilung der Schreibarbeiten - und zwar die Partitur auf Bach und Schreiber 1 sowie der einzelnen Stimmen auf Schreiber 2 und die übrigen Schreiber -- ist höchstwahrscheinlich durch die Zeitnot verursacht."

("The note written by Copyist 1 [this is probably JAK who had not yet been clearly identified when this KB was published] at the end of the Alto part (B 19) 'Concluded on June 5, 1729, Leipzig' shows just how late the performance materials were completed; the performance took place on June 6th. Also the manner in which the work of the copyists was distributed (even the work on the score was shared by Bach and Copyist 1, and also the individual parts copied by Copyist 2 and the remaining copyists) was in all probability due to running out of time.")

Let me elaborate this statement as follows:

The note written at the end of the Alto part by Copyist 1 gives the date on which the copy process was completed. That day was the 1st Day of Pentecost, an important Feast Day during which Bach would be performing his figural music possibly in both churches (St. Thomas and St. Nicholas Church) in the morning and into the early part of the afternoon. Very likely Bach assembled his copyists in the afternoon of June 5th, 1729 (no private music lessons would be given on an important Feast Day such as this) and continued working into the night to complete this task. In addition to JSB and CPEB, there were 6 other copyists involved. I have not yet seen such a fractured copy regime as demonstrated by what took place here. The rule here appears to be demonstrated that the greater the pressure of time, the more copyists are involved in copying only parts of mvts. as Bach finishes composing them. Bach even enlists the help of Copyist 1 in composing the score in mvt. 1 which is based upon the 1st mvt. of the Brandenburg Concerto 3. As you probably know, this version adds 2 Corni da Caccia and 1 Taille which Bach adds as some violin parts are copied from an existing score for this mvt. by Copyist 1. This is one of the most complicated copy procedures that I have ever seen thus far (and not one from the years in which Bach composed cantatas most intensely) and gives evidence of the method that Bach used when he was under great pressure of time. Once again we see that the final chorale had not yet been composed for the last two persons copying out the vocal parts for mvt. 5 (the final chorale) are JSB and Copyist 1 (probably JAK) with Copyist 1 finishing last and thus affixing the date of completion to the end of the Alto part only.

I am grateful to Rick for bringing this item to the table to provide yet more detailed information to support the notion that sight-reading such cantatas as this at their first performances in church, in this case even those performed on festive occasions when more people were in attendance, appears to be a more reasonable explanation of how this music was prepared for performance rather than imagining, based upon today's practices, that the primary choir and orchestra, populated to a large extent with excellent vocalists and instrumentalists derived from university students, Bach's private music students and the City Pipers, engaged in private study of their parts and took part in sectional and/or entire ensemble rehearsals before their first performance of such newly composed figural music.

 

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