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Rehearsing
Part 1

Why rehearse?

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 12, 2007):
< To my mind there is an issue here that no-one has yet addressed fully i.e the two aspects of musical practice:
1 there is rehearsal fpr the purposes of learning and practising your own part i.e. learn to play the bloody notes musically and in time.
2 there is rehearsal in order to surmount the challenges of playing with other people--i.e. in ensemble. This involves matters of balance, keeping together, knowing other peoples' parts etc. etc. >
To this fine list I'd add:

3 When keyboard players are given unfigured parts to play from, or incompletely figured parts, or wrongly figured parts (disagreeing with the rest of the score): the rehearsals help us figure out what harmonies we're supposed to be improvising with, as part of building a suitable interpretation. A lot of it can be faked through, sure, like any other aspect of sight-reading; but there will still be spots where there is no possible substitute to hearing what the other sung/played parts are really doing...which presupposes that they're playing/singing the right notes on their part.

4 Not just harmonies, for the keyboard continuo improvisation: but rehearsals also help us to gauge how many or how few notes to play, and a suitable registration, by listening sensitively to all the other parts. Some of this requires rehearsal in the hall or church where the performance will be; not in other venues like practice rooms or home, where the acoustics are different. Rehearsal is the time to build up a mental library of improvisational ideas that might be useful in the given piece, at performance time. It's also the time to figure out which other players/singers in the ensemble are going to need more or less help from the continuo realization, as to the confidence they put forth in their own parts.

5 Basic keyboard setup, a hardware commitment requiring some 15 minutes of work, to prepare/select a temperament that will be suitable and beautiful for the music that's to be played. Show up for some sight-reading gig, set up a normal meantone (or nearly so) when expecting a session in easy keys, but then get handed some piece in E major or F minor or B minor: you're stuck. Not because the keys are hard to read or to improvise in, but because they sound like crud unless one has tuned for them ahead of time. Music in E minor (only one sharp) can even be a problem, if you haven't been warned ahead of time that the session is going to have a bunch of D#s and few Ebs.

6 If the written-out parts (like Bach's) for any of the instruments or voices don't have any notations in them for ritards, phrase breaks/lifts, tempo changes, hemiola emphases, or any similar things that keep normal tonal music (like Bach's) from being absolutely steady in time: sight-reading ensembles barrel right through it and such musical nuances are lost. Rehearsal is the time to work such stuff out, i.e. learning the music as opposed to simply reading undifferentiated notes: whether it gets marked into the parts or not. Every ensemble comes up with different things that are possible and workable; and one doesn't know this until going through the piece at least once or twice to try it out, to gauge the flow of the whole thing.

7 Even the most spectacularly gifted conductors who ever lived (and let's grant charitably that Bach was one) can't know ahead of time which ensemble members/parts are going to need clearer cueing--or none--to deliver an accurate performance. Or, for that matter, what manner or size of cue/beat is going to be necessary, at any given spot, to get the right balances and phrasing and articulation. Or, what types of changes or substitutions might become apparently necessary through the important process of rehearsal. Conductors have to make dozens (or let's say "hundreds") of practical decisions, immediately and differently in every occasion, to help the music go better...and without the luxury of unlimited practice time to prepare any of it. There are a couple of chapters about this type of thing in Bruno Walter's classic book on conducting: that instrumentalists and singers get to spend years of work in private with their instrument, but conductors only get to have their whole instrument (the ensemble) together for extremely limited time to work on any technique. A conductor can study a piece as far ahead as he/she wants to, even if he/she is the composer or has every single note and intended nuance memorized: and it's still going to be different in ways that one can't anticipate, at every rehearsal and performance. Conductors have to respond to, and shape, other people's musicianship in addition to their own.

Nessie Russell wrote (February 13, 2007):
Those of you who like to picture Bach's musicians being so brilliant that they do not need to rehearse are missing the obvious. A musical performance is So Much More than hitting correct notes. When sight reading, a musician is concentrating on the notes, rhythm, articulation, dynamics, blending in with his neighbours and watching the leader. Do conductors not take time to discuss what the words mean? How can we best convey the spirit of the music? I could go on and on, but I guess those of you who are satisfied with a sight read performance wouldn't care.

Some one mentioned losing self expression from over rehearsing. Is a choir the place for everyone to express their own interpretation? For the record, jazz musicians practise. Only one person at a time improvises. When it is not your turn to improvise you are playing harmony or rhythm.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 13, 2007):
Nessie Russell wrote:
< Some one mentioned losing self expression from over rehearsing. Is a choir the place for everyone to express their own interpretation? For the record, jazz musicians practise. Only one person at a time improvises. When it is not your turn to improvise you are playing harmony or rhythm. >
Thanks for bringing this up, I meant to make a relevant comment, and forgot. First, a response. You are mostly correct, but there have been some instances of successful simultaneous 'improvisation' (but see below). The original Gerry Mulligan quartets, with two horns and no piano come to mind. Also the 'free jazz' movement, which endorsed chaos as music in some cases.

Going in the other direction, which is what I had meant to note, you can find live recordings of the Ellington Band where the 'improvised' solos are precisely the same, note for note, from one performance to another. This is not the rule, but it certainly happened. Incidentally, the audience enthusiasm is audible and undiminished, so any loss of expression must have been offset by 'giving the people what they want.' I think Ellington was the supreme master of maintaining fresh creativity in that context. I have never heard or seen a single comment expressing disappointment in an Ellington performance. If you know an example, please correct me, so I won't repeat the error.

Thank you for posting, it is always good to hear from our scarce ladies (dare I say Babes?)

Alain Bruguières wrote (February 13, 2007):
To begin with, I wish to stress the fact that I have no strong opinion on the issue of rehearsals, I am just asking myself questions.Those questions certainly sound silly to anybody with a practice; I consider it one of my qualities that I'm not afraid of asking silly questions in the presence of the learned ;)|

While I'm at it, I should also clarify one point : I made the foolhardy claim that I found 'Thomas' theory not implausible'. And naturally my friend Ed didn't miss that one. If you take the phrase 'Thomas' theory' in its widest acception, this can take me further than I mean to go... I simply meant that I found the idea that Bach could have performed without a rehearsal not as crazy as everyone seems to think it is. In fact, I mostly meant that I wished the idea to be explored further before I could form an opinion.

I can also add that a priori I would have thought the idea of performing a Bach cantata without a rehearsal completely grotesque. But then Xavier told us of his fascinating experience. Apparently a smallgroup of gifted musicians, who have not been formed specifically for this, can:
1) feel like giving it a try (so it must not have seemed that grotesque to them);
2) in little time and apparently little effort, develop the ability to sing/play and derive pleasure from the output;
3) consider playing in that way in public.
This shattered my a priori, even if Xavier concludes against the No-Rehearsal-Thesis.

So now I can come to the point of the present post : thank you very much, Julian and Brad, for providing answers to my silly question. Your answers do help me clarifying matters.

Here are a few further suggestions.

Some participants have mentioned the practice of improvisation in Jazz. What is the relation between sight-singing and improvisation? (Does sight-singing turn into improvisation when the light is turned off?).

What do we know about the practices regarding rehearsals in the past? If we assume that rehearsals were not systematic then we also must assume that a musical education gave a priority to the abilities which allow one to sing/play without rehearsals. Such is not the case today.

Also, the repertoire in Bach's Leipzig was very homogeneous; it is a matter of almost always the same people singing almost every week a cantata by the same dude who happens to be here in the flesh. Isn't it conceivable that in such circumstances, the adjustments are done almost unconsciously, and the performers come to know the composer/conductor so well that they can guess what he thinks before he himself is aware of it?

That'll be enough for this once, I am well beyond my quota of silly questions today.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 13, 2007):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
< To begin with, I wish to stress the fact that I have no strong opinion on the issue of rehearsals, I am just asking myself questions. Those questions certainly sound silly to anybody with a practice; >
Not at all. Not even to those of us with a praxis.

< I consider it one of my qualities that I'm not afraid of asking silly questions in the presence of the learned ;) >
;) indeed! No question is silly in the presence of the learned, I hope. I have yet to find that presence (OK, that is an exaggeration, but only a bit).

< While I'm at it, I should also clarify one point : I made the foolhardy claim that I found 'Thomas' theory not implausible'. And naturally my friend Ed didn't miss that one. >
Friend is the operative word, mon ami! Your claim was not foolhardy, simply implausible.

< In fact, I mostly meant that I wished the idea to be explored further > before I could form an opinion. I can also add that a priori I would have thought the idea of performing a Bach cantata without a rehearsal completely grotesque. >
You have plenty of company on that point.

< But then Xavier told us of his fascinating experience. Apparently a small group of gifted musicians, who have not been formed specifically for this, can
1) feel like giving it a try (so it must not have seemed that grotesque to them);
2) in little time and apparently little effort, develop the ability to sing/play and derive pleasure from the output; >

Hold on a second! (Salieri said). X's crew were not sight-reading new, cuttting edge compositions. They were sight reading 200 year old music. Less of a challenge than Bach's boys sight reading Schütz, about equivalent to a Luther chorale?

< Here are a few further suggestions.
Some participants have mentioned the practice of improvisation in Jazz. What is the relation between sight-singing and improvisation? (Does sight-singing turn into improvisation when the light is turned off?). >
Depends how far ahead you are sight-reading. Wasn't that the original premise? BTW, we don't do that in USA. France, perhaps, if there is a strike? Ba-da-bing! (ACE)

< What do we know about the practices regarding rehearsals in the past? If we assume that rehearsals were not systematic then we also must assume that a musical education gave a priority to the abilities which allow one to sing/play without rehearsals. Such is not the case today. >
Aha! The emphasis on sight reading results in the perpetuation of mediocrity. The quick B+ survives in music while the patient A- goes to engineering school. But I am back to haunt you, sight reading music majors.

< Also, the repertoire in Bach's Leipzig was very homogeneous; it is a matter of almost always the same people singing almost every week a cantata by the same dude who happens to be here in the flesh. Isn't it conceivable that in such circumstances, the adjustments are done almost unconsciously, and the performers come to know the composer/conductor so well that they can guess what he thinks before he himself is aware of it? >
If Bach was a step ahead of himself, would he have stumbled on a boy who was also a step ahead of him? Shades of the time travel thread.

< That'll be enough for this once, I am well beyond my quota of silly questions today. >
Au contraire, mon ami! There are no silly questions, only silly answers. See you on the stoop.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 13, 2007):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
>>What do we know about the practices regarding rehearsals in the past? If we assume that rehearsals were not systematic then we also must assume that a musical education gave a priority to the abilities which allow one to sing/play without rehearsals. Such is not the case today.
Also, the repertoire in Bach's
Leipzig was very homogeneous; it is a matter of almost always the same people singing almost every week a cantata by the same dude who happens to be here in the flesh. Isn't it conceivable that in such circumstances, the adjustments are done almost unconsciously, and the performers come to know the composer/conductor so well that they can guess what he thinks before he himself is aware of it?<<
Thanks for posting these observations. I had not thought about your second suggestion which appears to be very reasonable indeed.

Regarding your first point, I have just found the type of evidence that will help to resolve some of the lack of knowledge about Bach's rehearsal practices. After having read a fairly good amount of original documents as well as secondary literature regarding Bach and his musicians, I cannot remember any specific, solidly based upon original sources, references that make a clear statement about rehearsals for sacred or secular music. Now I think I have one that at least points in the right direction. It is something that will surprise most readers, particularly those who adamantly insist that rehearsals, particularly a number of them before a public performace, were an absolute necessity in Bach's time: There was a difference in attitude towards and general acceptance of rehearsals that was dependent upon the national culture that you were part of. Read on:

Johann Mattheson "Das Neu-Eröffnete Orchestre" from "Die drei Orchestre-Schriften I", Hamburg, 1713, Part III, Chapter 1, §16 p. 226:

>>With this I want to say that generally French instrumental music is something quite special which puts it ahead of other nationalities in this regard. No matter how hard the Italians try to compose and play Sinfonias and Concertos (which, to be sure, are beautiful), a newly composed French Ouverture is to be preferred over any other kind [of instrumental music]. For with the inclusion of a typically French "Suite à la Françoise", the performance/execution of music of this type by French musicians is so admirable, so unified ["unie"] and so firm/confident/secure ["ferme"] that nothing can surpass it in this world. However, they [the French musicians] learn to play their music by heart almost entirely and they are not at all ashamed, the way the German musicians are, to rehearse and repeat playing a piece a hundred times before playing it publicly. They do this so that every aspect of the music will be very precise ["accurate"] during a performance. This is something that some of us [the German musicians] (to speak the truth, this is partially due to a principle of laziness which we abide by) find it difficult not topoke fun of despite the fact that this is entirely inappropriate.<<

Now, for me at least, it is beginning to make a little more sense to understand Gesner's description of Bach conducting one of his cantatas as an actual performance, and, secondly, Bach's performances may not have been quite as perfect as some would like to believe. He held everything together through his expertise and the force of his personality. The exciting experience of the musicians must have been a bit like skating on thin ice, but always managing not to break through. Compare this with a well-oiled orchestral machine of the French where everyone recognized the greatness of the music as well as the superb playing of it during which there certainly would not be any surprises. I can see in my mind Gérard Depardieu in "Tous les matins du monde" as an old Marais listening and commenting on the performance of a band of musicians (one keeping time with a pole or stick - the kind that did poor old Lully in). Here then is a realistic picture of performance practices and how they differed from country to country, from culture to culture. As much as the Germans revered and tried to emulate certain aspects of French music, they did not adopt their practices in regard to rehearsals. An interesting point indeed! It is even more dangerous to assume from our present-day views regarding rehearsal practices that every musician in the 18th century would have thought likewise about those things which we accept unquestioningly as the only way of doing things.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 13, 2007):
Another interesting historical snippet coming from the Prussian capitol, Berlin:

>>Über tastende Anfänge eines Berliner Konzertlebens hört man zuerst um die Mitte des 18. Jahrhunderts. In den 20er Jahren hatte der Domorganist Gottlob Hayne zur Erhaltung des Chorwesens aus Schülern und Musikfreunden einen Singkreis gebildet. Durch seinen Nachfolger J.P. Sack entstand hieraus 1749 die Musikübende Gesellschaft, die in dessen Haus ohne vorherige Proben kleine Konzerte mit Opern- und Instrumental-Musik der Zeit veranstaltete.<<
MGG1 [Bärenreiter, 1986] article on Berlin by Dietrich Sasse

("The first time you hear about the initial, tentative attempts to establish public concert activities in Berlin is around the middle of the 18th century. During the 1720s, Gottlob Hayne, organist at the Berlin Cathedral had formed a singing group devoted to preserving choral traditions. It was made up of students and music lovers. Through Gottlob Hayne's successor, J. P. Sack, this group was further developed into a 'Music Practitioners' Society' in 1749. This group [of singers and instrumentalists] gave public concerts in Sack's house consisting of contemporary operatic and instrumental music without having any prior rehearsals."

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 13, 2007):
Different century, different culture:

Henry David Leslie (1822-1896)
His A Cappella Choir in London beginning in 1855 was able to achieve unusual accomplishments in performance of music. He once stated that a difficult composition needed at least 80 rehearsals.

Julian Mincham wrote (February 13, 2007):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
< Some participants have mentioned the practice of improvisation in Jazz. What is the relation between sight-singing and improvisation? (Does sight-singing turn into improvisation when the light is turned off?). >
far from being 'silly questions' yours are usually very penetrating. Do I detect a slightly disengenuous corner of your mind?

Having worked for some years in a university department which ran courses for'conventional classical' and jazz students side by side it was interesting to note differences.

In summation they were

1 if you entered the music block at weekends or in the evenings the proportion of the students practising were of the order 4.1 i.e. four times as many jazz students. Jazz students practice incessantly and seem to have developed more of a sense of FUN about their practice and less of it being a CHORE.

2 whilst the 'classical' students almost always practised singly the jazz students frequently practised in groups (thereby increasing the 'fun element'???)

3 while the classical bods almost always had a copy of music in front of them, the jazzers almost never did.

4in the one case the music tended to go into the brain throught the EYE, in the other through the EAR.

5Classical students are used to working from scores which have details not only of every note to be played but also very often HOW they are to be played. Jazz musicians, when they work from 'the dots' at all, use very minimal scores.

Finally, I don't think it's quite true that only one jazz musician in a group improvises at a time---maybe only one player SOLOS at a time but that's not the same thing. The bass player, for example, may still be improvising from the chord sequence and playing a different line in support of each solo.

Not sure I have answered your question Alain--both the skills and the practice and performance cultures of these groups are very different--as, indeed, is that of a rock group rehearsing perhaps less for a public performance than for a CD.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 13, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< However, they [the French musicians] learn to play their music by heart almost entirely and they are not at all ashamed, the way the German musicians are, to rehearse and repeat playing a piece a hundred times before playing it publicly. >
There is a mile (perhaps even 2 km?) between sight reading and 'playing a piece a hundred times'.

Apologies to anyone left on BCML who is offended by concise statements.

Alain Bruguières wrote (February 13, 2007):
I find the information provided by Thomas significant.

In Bach's times, germany was a poor country. France was the superpower.

Victorian Britain was the superpower.

The Europe which developped the current tradition of classical music training and practices was the richest and most powerful area in the world.

We are rich and we have a musical practice for the rich.

Let me quote Xavier

"good musicians don't rehearse "because they need to" they do it because it's worth it and BECAUSE THEY CAN!".

"BECAUSE THEY CAN", this is the key phrase. Take it in a wider sense : because our society can afford it (or, more precisely because the society which set the standards could afford it).

Mind you, I'm not saying this as evidence that there were no rehearsals in Bach's practice, just to try to shift the point of view away from current practices. Being immersed in one's practice and training doesn't make it easy to fully realize that other practices exist, especially if one's practice is very atypical (such as ours is).

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 13, 2007):
< Johann Mattheson “Das Neu-Eröffnete Orchestre” from “Die drei Orchestre-Schriften I”, Hamburg, 1713, Part III, Chapter 1, §16 p. 226:
>>With this I want to say that generally French instrumental music is something quite special which puts it ahead of other nationalities in this regard. No matter how hard the Italians try to compose and play Sinfonias and Concertos (which, to be sure, are beautiful), a newly composed French Ouverture is to be preferred over any other kind [of instrumental music]. For with the inclusion of a typically French “Suite à la Françoise”, the performance/execution of music of this type by French musicians is so admirable, so unified [“unie”] and so firm/confident/secure [“ferme”] that nothing can surpass it in this world. However, they [the French musicians] learn to play their music by heart almost entirely and they are not at all ashamed, the way the German musicians are, to rehearse and repeat playing a piece a hundred times before playing it publicly. They do this so that every aspect of the music will be very precise [“accurate”] during a performance. This is something that some of us [the German musicians] (to speak the truth, this is partially due to a principle of laziness which we abide by) find it difficult not to poke fun of despite the fact that this is entirely inappropriate.<<
What English translation is that taken from? The German would be useful there,please....

As for Mattheson? Here's a small bit from his _Der vollkommene Capellmeister_ of 1739; translation from a 1958 _Journal of Music Theory_ article by Hans Lenneberg. Part of his advice for composers in fashioning their material:

"The most important and outstanding part of the science of sound is the part that examines the effects of well-disposed sounds on the emotions and the soul. This, as may be readily seen, is material that is as far-reaching as it is useful. To the musical practitioner it is of even more importance than to the theoretician, despite its primary concern with observation. Of much assistance here is the doctrine of the temperaments and emotions, concerning which Descartes is particularly worthy of study, since he has done much in music. This doctrine teaches us to make a distinction between the minds of the listeners and the sounding forces that have an effect on them."

"What the passions are, how many there are, how they may be moved, whether they should be eliminated or admitted and cultivated, appear to be questions belonging to the field of the philosopher rather than the musician. The latter must know, however, that the sentiments are the true material of virtue, and that virtue is nought but a well-ordered and wisely moderate sentiment. Those affects, on the other hand, which are our strongest ones, are not the best and should be clipped or held by the reins. This is an aspect of morality which the musician must master in order to represent virtue and evil with his music and to arouse in the listener love for the former and hatred for the latter. For it is the true purpose of music to be, above all else, a moral lesson."

(Other paragraphs follow, pointing out how various types of intervals, figures, and musical gestures may be deployed to suggest the appropriate sentiments: a compositional task to put all the right things into the music, so the listeners will be appropriately moved by a resulting performance.)

And now I'll add another item to yesterday's "Why rehearse?" list. Items 1 and 2 were pointed out by Julian, the others by me:

(1 Learn your own part)

(2 Ensemble balances, awareness, give-and-take)

(3 Keyboard players learning the un-notated harmonies or correcting mistaken harmonies in the part)

(4 Improvising continuo players developing a suitably supportive and full improvisation, according to the needs of other ensemble members -- with regard to balances, stylistic ornamentation, cueing, etc as part of that improvised accompaniment)

(5 Knowing what music is to be played ahead of time, so an appropriately useful tuning can be set up: a hardware and time commitment. Not only for keyboards, by the way, but also for lutes, trumpets, horns, tympani, scordatura string music like Biber's, etc -- all cases where some intonation scheme has to be set up or adjusted, ahead of playing a passage or a piece. Any changes have to be figured out and tried out, and that's what rehearsal allows.)

(6 Everybody working out suitable nuances that aren't written on the parts, with regard to timing, phrasing, articulation, dynamics....)

(7 Give the conductor some working time with his/her "instrument" - which is the whole ensemble of disparate personalities and abilities)

8 If -- as Mattheson describes -- the supreme goal is to provide/stir appropriate emotions and moral lessons in the listener (and I do agree with him on this!), there has to be time for all the players and singers to understand all these features that have been composed into their parts, and to bring them out as lucidly as possible. The composer's job of putting them there, and the performers' job of revealing them among the forest of notes, both require time for reflection, not merely reading the notes straight off and having emotions or moral lessons magically appear. Ensemble rehearsal and individual practice time are the opportunities for musical analysis, explanations, mental grouping of the notes into figures, discussion among the musicians, and trial-and-error to find the best ways to reveal the composition's content. Good fingerings, articulations, phrase breaks, dynamic nuances aren't always intuitively obvious as to the optimal ways to bring out the piece. Even in passages that look easy, and especially in passages that look easy!, there are always choices to be made about grouping the notes appropriately. This is not just about the technical issues of altering dynamics or inserting little pauses or whatever, not shown in the score. It's about having the whole ensemble understand what they're doing, and why, beyond all the technical issues of hitting the notes accurately.

MY OPINION: A cultivation of slick and facile sight-reading ability downplays such a process of serious work and lessens the effects of the music, cheapening it. I write this as a person who spent too many years doing glib sight-reading at lessons and performances, and actually getting praised/encouraged for it up to a point!, instead of working on the music hard enough between them. I now consider that an excellent sight-reading ability is actually somewhat of a liability against playing really well, because it encourages laziness and superficial facility. The music can be grasped quickly, sure, but that's not the same thing as grasping it well or deeply. Despite the clean results as to hitting the notes accurately as it says on the page, sight-read music doesn't mean very much along the lines that I believe Mattheson's quote here encourages! It's just a bunch of notes, whose purposes aren't clearly discernible enough. Thoughtful and well-focused performance requires weeks of serious work and reflection time, both at and away from the instrument, to find and practice the appropriate reasons for every single given note, and to fashion a clear delivery.

Or as CPE Bach put it: one can't move the listeners without first being moved oneself. Play from the soul (i.e. a deep understanding of the material and task), not like a trained bird. CPE's whole book is about going way way way beyond the given notes, to discern and bring out a composer's intentions as to musical effect. And this is especially hard to do on CPE's favorite instrument: clavichord. If any keyboard instrument militates against sight-reading facility, it's this one. Every little thing, if not thought out and actively intended ahead of time, is going to sound like an ugly bump or a careless bit of crud. The motions are that small, and the instrument is that unforgiving with tonal production and balances. Personally, I've found that every hour invested in practicing on clavichord is worth two or three on the other instruments, even if the performance isn't going to be on clavichord. The clavichord immediately reveals every spot that wasn't prepared well enough yet...and that's in music by Bach that I've "known" and worked on for years, let alone merely sight-reading it cleanly at first or second go.

My daughter just spent more than an hour making a handmade valentine for Grandma. The thing is beautiful and makes its appropriate emotional effect because she put so much time and care into the selection and placement of every little element in it. She hasn't read Mattheson, but she knows how to compose and perform and improvise (musically and otherwise): put serious time and effort into whatever you're doing, so it will mean something.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 13, 2007):
Bradley Lehman <bpl@umich.edu> wrote:
>>What English translation is that taken from? The German would be useful there, please....
Some significant new proofs offered recently by Rifkin in support of his theory would be useful as well, but..

BL: >>(1 Learn your own part)<<
The singers and musicians were in constant practice. Their skills were more than adequate to sight-read musically any music that Bach set before them.

BL: >>(2 Ensemble balances, awareness, give-and-take)<<
This is another skill acquired by constantly singing or playing with others (not the newest cantata that was completed on Saturday night before the Sunday morning performance(s).

BL: >>(3 Keyboard players learning theun-notated harmonies or correcting mistaken harmonies in the part)<<
Bach provided the necessary figures that were needed in one of the continuo parts. There was still room for improvisation above and beyond that.

BL: >>(4 Improvising continuo players developing a suitably supportive and full improvisation, according to the needs of other ensemble members -- with regard to balances, stylistic ornamentation, cueing, etc as part of that improvised accompaniment)<<
This was learned by playing other ensemble music throughout the week. For the cantata performance, the text for recitatives was included so that the continuo player could follow the lead of the singer, not the other way around.

BL: >>(5 Knowing what music is to be played ahead of time, so an appropriately useful tuning can be set up: a hardware and time commitment.<<
Retuning the church organs in both churches where the cantata was performed just because Bach used a different key/tonality than the one he had used previously the week before! Let's get realistic here..

BL: >>(6 Everybody working out suitable nuances that aren't written on the parts, with regard to timing, phrasing, articulation, dynamics....)<<
Good musicianship and constant 'practice'/'playing' of other music throughout the week ensured that these would not be a problem. Also, very importantly, Bach provided all this information on the parts, the singers and players did not have to 'guess' what Bach intended.


BL: >>7 Give the conductor some working time with his/her "instrument" -- which is the whole ensemble of disparate personalities and abilities)<<
Bach realized that such an ideal was not possible with the composing and performing schedule he was on.

BL: >>8 If -- as Mattheson describes -- the supreme goal is to provide/stir appropriate motions and moral lessons in the listener (and I do agree with him on this!), there has to be time for all the players and singers to understand all these features that have been composed into their parts, and to bring them out as lucidly as possible.<<
Because Bach's musicians were well-trained and acquainted with his style, they knew in advance, what Bach expected from them. They understood and could 'speak' his musical language without having to learn the rudiments of his language all over again each time they had to perform a new cantata.

BL: >>MY OPINION: A cultivation of slick and facile sight-reading ability downplays such a process of serious work and lessens the effects of the music, cheapening it.<<
This may not at all be the viewpoint of Bach or any one of his performers where sight-reading ability did not carry the negative connotation that you and others seem consider that it has.

BL: >>Or as CPE Bach put it: one can't move the listeners without first being moved oneself. Play from the soul (i.e. a deep understanding of the material and task), not like a trained bird.<<
It is just those ensembles who have rehearsed a single piece many times who may become more like a trained bird rather than the sight-readers whom Bach had at his disposal. Their experience in performing this music for the first and second times in their lives must have been quite exhilarating, particularly since they were 'speaking Bach's compositional language' and not repeating over and over again a practice piece where demands are made to keep the music sounding fresh so that it can move the emotions of the listener.

BL: >>CPE's whole book is about going way way way beyond the given notes, to discern and bring out a composer's intentions as to musical effect. And this is especially hard to do on CPE's favorite instrument: clavichord. If any keyboard instrument militates against sight-reading facility, it's this one.<<
Clavichords were not used in the performance of Bach's cantatas.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 13, 2007):
BL: >>(5 Knowing what music is to be played ahead of time, so an appropriately useful tuning can be set up: a hardware and time commitment.<<
< Retuning the church organs in both churches where the cantata was performed just because Bach used a different key/tonality than the one he had used previously the week before! Let’s get realistic here…. >
Nobody has said or even implied such a thing as retuning the organs week by week! There's no need to chide me with "Let's get realistic here" on something that I didn't say, and that I obviously could never believe either (because it's absurdly impractical).

It should have been perfectly obvious that my postings yesterday and today have been about playing gigs on continuo harpsichord, which has to be tuned or touched-up freshly at every session anyway no matter what music is to be played. As I also said directly today, in the part you've omitted, it applies also to lutes, trumpets, horns, tympani, et al: tuning at or before the start of a music-playing session to accommodate the repertoire that is going to be played. This does go by the choice of keys in compositions, and therefore one needs to know the keys before doing the tuning.

For keyboards, one can either deploy a whole collection of systems and adjustments (like the way golfers pick a club for each separate stroke); or work out systems that can simply be left on there virtually all the time for all music, needing only minor touch-up for weather drift. I believe that Bach, being so busy, tended to take the latter approach. It's also a necessary approach when working daily with organs and fretted clavichords, rehearsing and performing with them, because they can't be retuned per piece.

A nice side effect of having a fairly consistent temperament is that each key can have its own distinctive character, and the music can be written to take advantage of this expressive resource. Which I also believe Bach did, "in spades." Not just a bunch of times over and over for keyboard repertoire (two books of WTC, sets of inventions/sinfonias, Orgelbuchlein, sets of suites, etc) but in the vocal works as well: picking his keys and taking all the transposing-instrument situations into account, such that the resulting musical character in its expression matches the texts to be set to music. Gonna bring in the oboi d'amore today, as opposed to the other oboes, for their tone color? Well then, since they transpose by a minor third, there's also more tendency to write music in higher sharp keys for them. Gonna bring in the trumpets and drums, which always play in C major (from their perspective)? Cammerton's D-major character it is, for everybody else. Gonna write music about atonement, sorrow, despair, or related topics? It'll be somewhere around F minor, which is G minor for the Cammerton players. And the keyboard's layout of key colors reinforces these same moods. Good thing to have, not only on at least a few of the organ stops for cantata-accompaniment purposes, but on the practice-room keyboards too: so the students working on their music will more easily prepare the right characters, and be ready for Sunday.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 13, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Nobody has said or even implied such a thing as retuning the organs week by week!<<
So the church organs remained tuned to their own temperament while other instruments made adjustments in their temperament from week to week? Or do you simply mean that other instruments checked to see that they were in tune with a given church organ (the one in St. Thomas on any given Sunday may not have been exactly in tune with the other in St. Nicholas Church). Checking to see if your instrument was in tune with the organ would, I assume, be done before any performance. What does this have to do with shifting tonalities, mainly E major one week and mainly B minor the next, let's say? Normal tuning is normal tuning, but changing the temperament of each church organ every week and asking other instruments to adjust accordingly to Bach's changing tonalities in each new cantata is another problem altogether, one which seems quite unrealistic.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 13, 2007):
< Normal tuning is normal tuning, but changing the temperament of each church organ every week and asking other instruments to adjust accorto Bach's changing tonalities in each new cantata is another problem altogether, one which seems quite unrealistic. >
Which, once again, nobody here has recommended (that is: touching or retouching the temperament of each church organ, week to week). I agree that it's unrealistic. That's why I didn't say it, or even think it.

Chris Kern wrote (February 13, 2007):
< What do we know about the practices regarding rehearsals in the past? >
There's a quotation from a letter by Haydn in 1789 reproduced in Charles Rosen's book The Classical Style that says "Now I would humbly ask you to tell the princely Kapellmeister there that these three symphonies [ 90-92 ] because of their many particular effects, should be rehearsed at least once, carefully and with special concentration, before they are performed."

If that quotation is indeed accurate, the phrasing seems to indicate that it was not uncommon for performances to proceed with no rehearsals. It does depend a bit on the context of the "performance" -- for instance, I've read that chamber music was often composed not to be performed in public, but to be played by small groups of friends (perhaps creating an effect like the one Xavier talked about in his very interesting description of his Bach group).

Someone referred to Wolff's comment that the concertists had keyboard instruments to "learn their cantata parts," but this does not necessarily mean there was a group rehearsal. It does seem, though, that Bach would have needed some kind of practice time, especially when he first came in. By Bach's own admission his pieces were harder than the ones the musicians were used to, and it's hard to imagine him coming in and immediately performing BWV 75 and BWV 76 in successive weeks with no rehearsals whatsoever -- unless the standards of perfection were much lower at the time than they are now (however, this notion has been specifically attacked by Thomas Braatz, who would apparently have us believe that perfect performances were carried out with no rehearsals?)

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 13, 2007):
Chris Kern wrote:
>>There's a quotation from a letter by Haydn in 1789 reproduced in Charles Rosen's book The Classical Style that says "Now I would humbly ask you to tell the princely Kapellmeister there that these three symphonies [ 90-92 ] because of their many particular effects, should be rehearsed at least once, carefully and with special concentration, before they are performed."<<
Thanks for sharing this and your comments on it. Last night I also found a comment about the fact that the late symphonies by Haydn were rehearsed. All of this makes sense in that the size of vocal groups and orchestras kept increasing and also 'music lovers' were allowed to join these organizations. The latter are not professionals. They may be very good amateurs who simply could not devote the same amount of time to practicing and playing together as the Thomaner and its orchestra did. Such 'music lovers' in greater numbers certainly did need rehearsals more than Bach's groups did.

CK: >>Someone referred to Wolff's comment that the concertists had keyboard instruments to "learn their cantata parts," but this does not necessarily mean there was a group rehearsal.<<
Wolff could easily have surmised this, but I am still waiting to see some clear evidence from original sources that actually support this contention.

CK: >>...unless the standards of perfection were much lower at the time than they are now (however, this notion has been specifically attacked by Thomas Braatz, who would apparently have us believe that perfect performances were carried out with no rehearsals?)<<
Since I am still troubled by the evidence emanating from Bach's copy procedure and from the lack of normal wear and tear on the individual parts, I have come to the tentative conclusion that rehearsals of the cantatas themselves were non-existent and that the music was sight-read at the performances in the main churches of Leipzig. For this reason, I do not currently support the notion that Bach's cantata performances were absolutely flawless in every aspect of precision, expression and ensemble singing and playing that would normally result from the type of rehearsals and performances that the French during Bach's time were able to achieve. Whatever Bach's performances may have lacked in absolute precision, they may have made up for this with a fresh, unstudied expressivity that comes from experiencing the music for the first time but still knowing precisely what Bach wanted to achieve (this is why Bach marked the parts so carefully to include articulation, dynamics, embellishments, etc.). This does not mean that a group like Leusink's can claim that their renditions are as good as Bach's must have been, because they were performed/recorded under similar conditions with little or no rehearsal time.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 14, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Checking to see if your instrument was in tune with the organ would, I assume, be done before any performance. >
Any practicising musician knows that intruments have to be retuned perdiocally especially if playing with an instrument which has a fixed pitch like an organ. Bach's services were upwards of four hours long often is a cold building, and, despite the lack of documents, there must have been specified points at which the instruments tuned. The modern concert practice of ostentatiously tuning after nearly every movement may not have been the norm during Bach's services. Paul McCreesh posits that that the organ chorale-preludes before concerted works were used as a cover for discreet tuning. He points to examples of preludes in which sustained notes correspond to the open strings.

On the other hand, there is the 18th royal wedding in England during which the musicians decided that the Archbishop of Canterbury had preached too long and began to tune their instruments during the sermon!

Alain Bruguières wrote (February 14, 2007):
Douglas Cowling a écrit :
< On the other hand, there is the 18th royal wedding in England during which the musicians decided that the Archbishop of Canterbury had preached too long and began to tune their instruments during the sermon! >
Wait, wait, Doug, can you tell us more about this anecdote?

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 14, 2007):
[To Alain Bruguières] I encountered it in study of Anglican Church music. I'll try to track down the exact source. Hanoverian services were often an extraordinary comedy of errors.

Alain Bruguières wrote (February 14, 2007):
Chris Kern wrote:
< There's a quotation from a letter by Haydn in 1789 reproduced in Charles Rosen's book The Classical Style that says "Now I would humbly ask you to tell the princely Kapellmeister there that these three symphonies [ 90-92 ] because of their many particular effects, should be rehearsed at least once, carefully and with special concentration, before they are performed." >
Thank you very much for this information. Apparently the question is worth pursuing after all!

< Someone referred to Wolff's comment that the concertists had keyboard instruments to "learn their cantata parts," but this does not necessarily mean there was a group rehearsal. It does seem, though, that Bach would have needed some kind of practice time, especially when he first came in. By Bach's own admission his pieces were harder than the ones the musicians were used to, and it's hard to imagine him coming in and immediately performing BWV 75 and BWV 76 in successive weeks with no rehearsals whatsoever -- unless the standards of perfection were much lower at the time than they are now (however, this notion has been specifically attacked by Thomas Braatz, who would apparently have us believe that perfect performances were carried out with no rehearsals?) >
Apparently, Thomas has somewhat altered his point of view on this question, as a consequence of the current discussion about rehearsals. I'm rather proud of myself for contributing a weebit to t. ;)

The phrase 'the standards of perfection were much lower' sounds a bit strange to me. In our musical culture, we expect perfection from a performance. Musicians are trained in such a way that they come as close as possible to perfection. A technically imperfect public performance is a downright scandal. As Julian noticed, learning to play classical music is not supposed to be a pleasant experience, more a matter of self-sacrifice on the altar of Great Art. The star is the virtuoso, not the composer. Performances are recorded and played over and over again; a false note in unthinkable on a CD.

In Bach's time there was no objective reason to make such a fuss about a performance which was in any case a one-time event. Bach's cantatas were played usually only once, sometimes two, perhaps three times. But the standard was once. If Bach had been so keen on perfection of interpretation, agreed, he would have insisted on a rehearsal, but he could also have played the same cantata the next year : this would have saved him the time of composing a new cantata, and the time so saved would have made it possible to have 3, 4 rehearsals and achieve a much better 'standard of perfection'. Apparently, during the two years currently under scrutiny, he was not interested in that. He was more interested in composing something entirely original from scratch.

One additional remark : it is often noticed, and no small source of wonder, that Bach's music is very 'robust'; it works well even when performed in the most incongruous ways. Perhaps it had to be robust, considering the hardships of the times...

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 14, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>Paul McCreesh posits that that the organ chorale-preludes before concerted works were used as a cover for discreet tuning. He points to examples of preludes in which sustained notes correspond to the open strings.<<
Perhaps this is where McCreesh got this idea:

Michael Praetorius "Syntagma musicum", Wolfenbüttel, 1619, p. 151-2

>>N.B.
Finally I have to take this opportunity tell all organists in a friendly manner, that when you set up for a musical presentation with several choirs (figural music with voices and 'choirs' of instruments) in a church or for a banquet, you should emulate an excellent orator who wishes to say something important and begins with an introduction with his conclusion already in mind, but this introduction seems to have little in common with his goal. He does this in order to get the attention of the listeners so that they will remain attentive and listen docilely to what he has to say. Likewise, by playing their preludes, the organists should attempt to get not only the interest of the listeners, but also to call together the entire consort of instrumentalists, so that they can find their parts [notice: this sounds like the parts are waiting for them when they arrive, they simply have to find the right part to play from; they do not have their own parts which they bring along with them] and begin to tune their instruments to the organ [while the organist plays the prelude!]. In this way they can prepare themselves to be able to give a good performance.

Because the lutenists and and 'Violisten' [this term seems to include all string instruments] usually have to begin tuning their instruments from a G, the organist must first play the G octave with both hands and hold this for a few moments; then he should play a D, then an A, then an E and finally fall back to a C and an F. These notes should be held for at least 2 or 3 measures, while at the same time the organist, with his right hand plays all sorts of runs, diminutions, the kind often found in toccatas. This should be done as long as necessary until all the lutes, viols and violins, etc., have adjusted their strings to be pure (in tune with the organ) and have tuned them properly with the other strings on their instruments. When this is completed, the organist can play a little fugue, a pleasant fantasia, or a toccata, after which he should stop abruptly ['kurz abbrechen'] and modulate very gradually and cleanly to the key in which the first composition to be played with the orchestra will begin. Now the instrumentalists, playing as a consort, will be able to get/catch the key very easily and, with God's help, the entire 'crowd' of musicians will begin to perform a good "Concert, Mutet, Madrigale" or "Patuanam".

A very terrible condition and cacophony arises, when the organist is playing his "Praeambulum" and the bassoonists , trombones, cornetti begin making their high-pitched sounds so that your ears begin to ache and you begin to shudder. Since this sound is so bad and makes so much noise that you would not know if some animal is being stabbed or beaten to death, it is appropriate for these instrumentalists to tune (warm up) their instruments at home before coming to church or wherever else they are supposed to play. They should do whatever is necessary for their mouthpieces (reeds, etc.) before coming to play so that such dissonance and awful sounds do not disturb the ears and souls of the listeners. The sounds they make should delight their ears more than they offend them.<<

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 14, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Perhaps this is where McCreesh got this idea:
Michael Praetorius ³Syntagma musicum², Wolfenbüttel, 1619, p. 151-2
Likewise, by playing their preludes, the organists should attempt to get not only the interest of the listeners, but > also to call together the entire consort of instrumentalists, so that they can find their parts [notice: this sounds like the parts are waiting for them when they arrive, they simply have to find the right part to play from; they do not have their own parts which they bring along with them] and begin to tune their instruments to the organ [while the organist plays the prelude!]. In this way they can prepare themselves to be able to give a good performance.
A very terrible condition and cacophony arises, when the organist is playing his ³Praeambulum² and the bassoonists , trombones, cornetti begin making their high-pitched sounds so that your ears begin to ache and you begin to shudder. >
Praetorius is always a delight to read because he is such a practical musician and provides such wonderful vignettes of the foibles of performers. His suggestion to play a prelude to alert the musicians is so painfully familiar to any conductor who has tried to get the attention of inattentive performers. Even with the high level of discipline in Bach's choir loft, he may well have had to deal silently with giggling choirboys and dozing timpanists.

And lest we think that great performers are always professional, take the case of that paragon of ensembles, the Sistine Chapel Choir. On one great occasion, a singer missed an entry and his neighbour called him a "fat pig". Whereupon the singer turned and punched him in the face. And all in the presence of the Pope and the Blessed Sacrament. The pontiff, who had already chewed out the choir in Holy Week for arguing in the loft about who was to sing which part, sent the two to the papal dungeons to cool off. They were levied heavy fines for their misbehaviour.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 14, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Michael Praetorius "Syntagma musicum", Wolfenbüttel, 1619, p. 151-2 [...]
The sounds they make should delight their ears more than they offend them.<<
A very (VERY) modest performance standard, don't you agree? Just so everyone knows I read to the end.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 14, 2007):
Rehearsals, again [was: Bach's faith]

Bradley Lehman wrote:

BL: >>And therefore (IMO), those of us who do have training and experience in the subject matter here -- Bach's church music and performance practices -- have some responsibility to stand up in the name of reason, and in defense of hard-earned professional expertise (our own and that of our colleagues and superiors).<<
"Pray tell me why a professional like Ross Duffin can allow himself to be so irresponsible as to claim in print that Brad Lehman has discovered Bach's temperament, with no 'if's', 'but's', or 'why's' about it? Should not aprofessional 'clean up his own house' before he goes about asserting that others are blind to the reality of any situation that comes up for discussion and that others must accept unquestioningly theories which are presented in their books and articles as facts? Perhaps 'righteous indignation' is what needs to be expressed here regarding the type of information which is being foisted upon the unsuspecting, lay, reading public?!

>>BL: Frankly, it doesn't seem fair to me that people with no stake in the field.<<
Oh, but we truly have a big stake in this field: we have to pay to listen to the performances of these professional musicians, some of whom have based the way the music should sound upon some untenable, certainly highly questionable theories by musicologists. While every listener should welcome diversity of interpretations of Bach's music (this is a given, if you consider the individuality of the conductor and each musician involved as well as the circumstances (venue) in which the performance takes place), nevertheless the grotesque distortions caused by the extreme exaggerations that these musicians sometimes employ (disregarding completely, in some instances, the indications that Bach supplied in his score and his parts which he had carefully revised) gives the non-professional listeners good reason to investigate and comment on these matters. Valid criticism and commentaries (not always favorable) can come from these listeners just because, as receivers on the other end, they have a right to find meaningful interpretations with good musical performances. They also have a right to attempt to uncover the validity of the reasoning behind changes in performance practices, changes that always purport to represent what Bach might have had in mind or which emulate the conditions which Bach encountered when he performed his music.

>>BL: That is, the concept of expertise is reduced to mean nothing<<
True expertise is able to withstand criticism by engaging in a meaningful discourse which does not assume that the non-experts are incapable of understanding what the experts are talking about.

BL: >>And these are not received gracefully, leading toward any noticeable change of opinion; rather, they are fought against with increasing bull-headedness and the pretense that it's all "tentative".<<
No one is disputing that what you and other professional musicians have experienced and have empirically found to be true: the need for rehearsals. What is in question here is whether Bach, working under very different conditions, would have had the same experience at a different time in a different culture.

BL: >>"What Would Bach Do" as a composer interested in having his creative work go well, putting forth best effort in public performance? He would grab every available five minutes to coach or train or rehearse bits of the upcoming gig; rehearsal time is a precious commodity for any too-busy person.<<
Perhaps this is precisely the reason why Bach who was busy with teaching, composing and performing music almost continually found that rehearsal time was an all too precious commodity, one that he could dispense with because the other activities had a higher priority and because he felt that he could rely upon his musicians to come up with a good performance because they could sight-read well, had significant daily ensemble practice with other music, and were attuned to Bach's performance practice requirements.

BL: >>As educator and administrator, his job was to teach the boys the music, and to prepare them both vocationally and in personal character to be able to deal with difficult tasks. Difficult tasks, challenging tasks, not deliberately impossible tasks in which they're constrained to fail week after week!<<
But his boys and other musicians did not 'fail week after week' because they were in almost constant training musically and instrumentally. They were fully capable of sight-reading whatever cantatas Bach put before them on a Sunday morning.

BL: >>Musicians, to learn anything worth taking away from the experience, need time to grapple with and digest their material.<<
This is dependent upon the time (century) and culture and is not applicable to all times and places as this generalization were want to put it.

BL: >>What Would Bach Do, if confronted with the idea that non-rehearsal is a viable option, or even somehow a preferred option?<<
This is what we are attempting to find out without resorting to the notion that 'one shoe must fit all feet' or where the notion of required rehearsals becomes a veritable Procrustean bed.

BL: >>Shortly after (or maybe "instead of"?) righteously losing his temper at the professional insult, he [Bach] wouldn't even stick around long enough to listen to the made-up reasoning;<<
Consider that Bach might have 'righteously lost his temper' if he were told that he had to have a certain number of rehearsals, more like the French musicians did in his time. The made-up reasoning' would go like this: "French musicians spend an enormous amount of time repeating and memorizing their music before giving a performance, so why don't you have many rehearsals of your cantatas before you perform them?"

BL: >>Professionals (experts) worth their salt don't let tosh slide through as if it were serious work worth equal consideration. Life and working time are too short and precious, to waste on absurdities.<<
Whoever said the Bach, in his cantata performances, 'let tosh slide through'? Although his performances may not have achieved ultimate perfection, there are very few verifiable reports indeed that found fault with Bach's performances of his own music. To waste time on numerous rehearsals would more likely seem to Bach as an absurdity since all of his time was already blocked out.

BL: >>Expertise is the ability to recognize these differences, and to do something positively constructive about it: like to recognize that good music always rewards further study and practice, and to go do so.<<
Bach's attitude towards music (his own included) may have been quite different: the emphasis appears to be not on intensive study by very frequent repetition and performance of any single composition, but rather on creating and performing quickly "Gebrauchsmusik" (occasional music), which, in regard to his sacred cantatas, simply puts them on a somewhat higher level where the marriage of text and music becomes more significant and the venue is an extremely serious one: the church. Nevertheless, it appears in a number of instances, as if some of these cantatas were performed only once (yes, no one can preclude the possibility that a repeat performance may have taken place, but there simply is no evidence that the score or parts were changed in any way - Bach usually undertakes some changes when a cantata is reused). Essentially then, it is possible that some of Bach's cantatas may have been performed only once (although he had planned various cycles with the plan in mind to reuse them over and over again). With this strong emphasis upon improvising and the creation of new music, rehearsals, as such, begin to lose the significance that we and some other cultures have placed upon this preparatory activity. 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).

Chris Rowson wrote (February 15, 2007):
Maybe Bach played it himself

Chris Rowson wrote:
< The more I think about this, the more this piece appears to be clear evidence that there were rehearsals. >
Julian Mincham wrote:
< But less clearly evidential if Bach himself played the continuo part? >
Yes, I wondered about this too. But then I wonder if the continuo part would then be entirely unnecessary, and thus (in the last-minute, no-rehearsal model) omitted.

Because the reason for Bach to take the harpsichord here is that he (and only he) could handle those chord progressions without rehearsal,due to having the harmonies clear in his mind. But would he then not be able to play the whole thing from his head?

However, it is certainly a (speculative) possibility.

Alain Bruguières wrote (February 15, 2007):
[To Chris Rowson] Bach always played during performances, so we should expect one part to be systematically missing; such is not the case.

Even if Bach played the continuo himself (a possibility which didn't occur to me, but now seems completely obvious), I think he would have written all the part for the sake of completeness, because the cantata could be played again by him or someone else, and out of consideration for his own work which certainly deserved to be recorded in full form.

Julian Mincham wrote (February 15, 2007):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
< Bach always played during performances, so we should expect one part to be systematically missing; such is not the case. >
I think there may be several points here. Certainly Bach provided complete scores---but it is generally assumed that the 5 (or 4 or 3?) sets of cantata cycles would have been repeated as the staple repertoire over the years. even if he intended playing a particular part himself, when the cantata was brought back 10 or more years later it is unlikely that he would recall every detail of it and even he would need to re-aquaint himself with the score.

I guess I was thinking more of the first performances which would have been the real 'rush jobs' especially in the first 2 Leipzig years. Peter Williams (in the book I mentioned earlier) says some interesting things e.g. that Bach overestimated his musical resources when he started at Leipzig and gradually had to adapt to what he had command of. He also claims (although with no more evidence than has recently been offered on list) that 'choruses generally needed extensive rehearsals, especially for the boys'

Whether there were some or no rehearsals is a matter of debate but one thing is clear to me---there cannot have been a lot of them. If you look at Wolff's dating of the last 8 cantatas of the second cycle you see that they were performed in a month!! That's two new works a week, not one! (108-176). I guess that Bach took every opportunity of efficient music making which almost certainly involved playing difficult continuo parts, the later organ solos and string parts as appropriate (he is known to have like to play the viola).

I also guess that he snatched whatever moments he had in the course of the week to coach his soloist as appropriate.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 15, 2007):
[To Alain Bruguières] If I recall correctly, CPE Bach wrote that his father conducted as "concertmaster" in the first violins.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 15, 2007):
[To Alain Bruguières]
Two key points:

(1) Your comments are eminently sensible (and so, by that very nature, a bit out of place). They seem to me to be yet one more argument making the 'Saturday night scramble' implausible as the 'normal' or 'routine' working method, even for a time as limited as the first two years in Leipzig.

(2) SDG (Soli Dei Gratia) referred not to the performance, but to the composition itself. Completeness was not merely for convenience or pragmatism, rather SDG!

Alain Bruguières wrote (February 16, 2007):
Practices regarding rehearsals, sightreading, improvization

Ed Myskowski wrote::
< Sure, but there are two quantum discontinuities here:
(1) An individual improvising is much different from an individual sight-reading.
(2) An individual sight-reading is much different from an orchestra and chorus sight-reading. >
Thank you for your benevolent, if critical, remarks. Indeed, this is a point I wished to explore and didn't have time so far.

The general trend of my recent posts has been to suggest that musical practices, and the very definition of the profession of a musician, were very different then (by then I mean Bach's Leipzig) from what they are now; as a consequence, it is difficult for one who has had professional training now (by which I mean late XXth century, early XXIst?) to conceive what the conditions then may have been. Therefore I believe also that the point of view of a 'naive (if admittedly well-meaning)' (Copyright Brad Lehmann) bloke such as I may be of some help, somehow.

Here is a list of ideas which I have already put forward for scrutiny, but which I find convenient to sum up in a single post, and which I think should answer Ed's remark :

1. Now, there exists a quantum leap between the virtuoso giving recital, the fiddler who plays at a wedding, the jazz pianist who plays in a honky-tonk bar, the lad or lass who (taking 'now' in a larger sense) accompanied Buster Keaton's pranks on the screen. Then, it was the same guy.

2. Now, a classical musical education aims essentially at producing the virtuoso type; then a musical education aimed at producing a general-purpose musician, able to adapt to circumstances, and to produce a level of quality adapted to the circumstances.

3. Now, a classical musical education prepares for performing all sorts of classical music, which includes a lot of academic learning, then one learned to actually play the music of the time. A matter of apprenticeship, not study. What was to be played, or how it was to be played, was no mystery. People were immersed in that music from the cradle, so to speak. So there was no question of 'what', or 'why', just 'how'.

4. In particular I doubt if the techniques of improvization, sight-reading, were learned in a course about improvization or sight-reading. I suggest, rather, that there was a continuum between playing a piece one had rehearsed thoroughly, sight-reading the piece, improvizing on the basis of the score, or from memory, of from scratch. Now we need to classify, to hierarchize, to define courses with syllabuses, then I guess it was more a matter of : jump right in the water and swim! (charybdus versus syllabus?).

Now I wish to make a new suggestion. Telepathy has been mentioned twice recently on the list, by Chris - I think - to discard the No-Rehearsal-Hypothesis, and by Doug, in his amusing quotation which I now quote in turn :

< the precise mental attributes that make a great musician ‹ notably a highly developed, almost telepathic, sense of empathy with colleagues also contribute greatly to sensitive lovemaking (or so I'm told). >
Leaving aside the matter of lovemaking, it is true that when a closely-knit group works together for hours on end and for a long stretch of time, they develop a capacity for tacit mutual understanding which, seen from the outside, looks like telepathy. What are the limits of this type of 'telepathy', especially under the direction of one such as J. S. Bach? (and consequently how sexy was Bach?).

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 16, 2007):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
< Now I wish to make a new suggestion. Telepathy has been mentioned twice recently on the list, by Chris - I think - to discard the No-Rehearsal-Hypothesis, and by Doug, in his amusing quotation which I now quote in turn: >
<< the precise mental attributes that make a great musician ? notably a highly developed, almost telepathic, sense of empathy with colleagues ? also contribute greatly to sensitive lovemaking (or so I'm told). >>
< Leaving aside the matter of lovemaking, it is true that when a closely-knit group works together for hours on end and for a long stretch of time, they develop a capacity for tacit mutual understanding ?
I suppose, but you should hear what some of the them have to say to each other from time to time, when in non-tacit mode.

< which, seen from the outside, looks like telepathy. What are the limits of this type of 'telepathy' >
In my experience, musicians are far better at non-verbal communication (if not telepathy) than the general population. Sometimes I feel like musician friends can read my mind. You should hear what they say to me from time to time.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 16, 2007):
< The general trend of my recent posthas been to suggest that musical practices, and the very definition of the profession of a musician, were very different then (by then I mean Bach's Leipzig) from what they are now; as a consequence, it is difficult for one who has had professional training now (by which I mean late XXth century, early XXIst?) to conceive what the conditions then may have been. >
Well, take that reasoning to an obvious next step. I would suggest that it's even more difficult (orders of magnitude more difficult!) for those who haven't had any professional training as organist and harpsichordist to conceive what the conditions then may have been (by not having a clue what actually works in practice!), and then to lecture in public about the proper methods to play or sight-read continuo.

(...)
< 1. Now, there exists a quantum leap between the virtuoso giving recital, the fiddler who plays at a wedding, the jazz pianist who plays in a honky-tonk bar, the lad or lass who (taking 'now' in a larger sense) accompanied Buster Keaton's pranks on the screen. Then, it was the same guy. >
It's still "the same guy" -- musicians doing their various jobs. I don't see any quantum leap there. It's all practical musicianship, simply wearing a series of different hats. If some (hypothetical) virtuoso can't do anything but spin through the most difficult solo repertoire of his/her instrument, he/she probably isn't going to get many well-paying and regular dependable jobs within music. For a job requiring musical dependability and resourcefulness, try church organist.

< 2. Now, a classical musical education aims essentially at producing the virtuoso type; then a musical education aimed at producing a general-purpose musician, able to adapt to circumstances, and to produce a level of quality adapted to the circumstances. >
Sorry, but I believe that that stereotype is simply mistaken and therefore a red herring. As I observed my classmates both undergraduate and graduate, in music, I saw them all working on themselves to develop a broad range of adaptable and marketable skills (teaching, writing, research, radio, etc); not merely some ability to play Liszt or Paganini cleanly. (I might make one small exception for the guy who practiced "Porgy and Bess" xylophone excerpts over and over for hours, right next to the harpsichord practice rooms, every day.) Students are not stupid; they know they're going to go on to seek all kinds of jobs that are not touring virtuoso. This is also a reason why classical music students are required to take a full load of course work, and not merely performance lessons. There are also whole degree programs that used to be called "Piano Accompanying" (Lieder, chamber music, etc), now called things like "Collaborative Piano" and similar.

One of the required undergraduate courses I and all my classmates had, first year, was sight-singing with solfege. Really elaborate stuff in the harder exercises, and it didn't matter if it fit our voice ranges or not: we had to eke it out. From this book: Amazon.com

In the first two undergraduate years we also had to take courses focused on aesthetics, composition, history, counterpoint, orchestration, and theory -- both on paper, and as "practical keyboard theory" in being able to improvise accompaniments and figure out chord progressions by ear. And melodic/harmonic/contrapuntal dictation: the teacher plays something, and all the students have to write down in musical notation what they heard, translating sound back onto paper. The same types of things that Bach's students would have had to know (except maybe less emphasis on history, for them!); not necessarily learning it in classrooms with the same divisions, of course, but the material overall covers these "different" areas. It has to be addressed somehow.

Bach himself dictated textbook-type materials for practical keyboard theory lessons. A copy still exists, and has still-applicable principles and exercises. And, one of his own sons went on to write a 300+ page book about that topic, addressing the intermingled skills of technique, performance, improvisation, accompaniment, harmony, and composition. The true art of playing keyboard instruments (synthesizing the son's own law training into the thing, too, to present it as a systematically organized book; excellent).

Hopping back up to the first comment above, again: it seems clear (at least to me) that the people in possession of these similar skill sets today are the best placed to envision what it might have been like 280 years ago. The professional training now makes it easier to do so, not harder (as apparently some non-musicians would believe!). To understand what the conditions might have been like, it's necessary first to understand what the workload entails: which comes from having and nurturing those same practical skills that are required to do that job well.

For any who would prefer to speculate instead of acquiring those skills, I believe it's just a fox-and-grapes thing: accusing those of us who have done the work of being somehow blinded or lessened by the acquisition of those experiences and skills. As if it's some liability to know one's topic thoroughly! And as if it would somehow be better not to take lessons with qualified teachers, but rather to speculate from books. Feh! Too bad for the value of hard work. (Somebody asked Bach how he achieved all the things he did, and he replied that's it's merely necessary to do all that hard work to get as far. Not to skip it or guess around it.)

< 3. Now, a classical musical education prepares for performing all sorts of classical music, which includes a lot of academic learning, then one learned to actually play the music of the time. A matter of apprenticeship, not study. What was to be played, or how it was to be played, was no mystery. People were immersed in that music from the cradle, so to speak. So there was no question of 'what', or 'why', just 'how'. >
Some students still do that now. I knew somebody who had learned that way, from her mother (a professional musician), and working on harpsichord and clavichord instead of modern piano first; she turned out very well as a musician. Similarly I give my four-year-old harpsichord and clavichord lessons regularly now, in technique and improvisation, and we'll start with music reading soon. She picks all that stuff right up, improvising her own evocative music and playing it with a fine touch; and she hears me practice, and bring colleagues into the house for rehearsals. Music is a language to be picked up by immersion, like any other, as an easy and efficient way to get it long before schoolwork. Just make it a fun game like playing at anything else.

And the graduate level of study is largely an apprenticeship, working with one major teacher for guidance far beyond simply taking performance lessons with him/her. It's a process not only of acquiring skills, but teaching it to others at the same time (being on staff to teach accredited lessons), and doing guided research into fresh topics.

< 4. In particular I doubt if the techniques of improvization, sight-reading, were learned in a course about improvization or sight-reading. I suggest, rather, that there was a continuum between playing a piece one had rehearsed thoroughly, sight-reading the piece, improvizing on the basis of the score, or from memory, of from scratch. Now we need to classify, to hierarchize, to define courses with syllabuses, then I guess it was more a matter of : jump right in the water and swim! (charybdus versus syllabus?). >
Or simply learn it as kids, when it's relatively easy. As I mentioned yesterday, I was sight-reading everything at 7. So are zillions of others. Are you familiar with the Suzuki-method programs for violin, piano, etc? I wasn't in those, but friends and colleagues were (both as students and teachers): they start kids at 3, 4, or 5 working on everythinby rote and memory, for a few years, before they get into reading. The method is based on Suzuki's pedagogical observation that Japanese is a very difficult language, yet Japanese children pick it right up by immersion; and so is music.

< Leaving aside the matter of lovemaking, it is true that when a closely-knit group works together for hours on end and for a long stretch of time, they develop a capacity for tacit mutual understanding which, seen from the outside, looks like telepathy. What are the limits of this type of 'telepathy', especially under the direction of one such as J. S. Bach? >
Sometime take a look at the two Teldec DVDs featuring "Great Conductors of the Past". Various of them (and their orchestral musicians who played under them) remark that it is quite a bit like telepathy. There's also an interview on there where John Eliot Gardiner quips about the word "conducting" as aptly chosen, since it's like conducting or transmitting some current that didn't necessarily originate with oneself.

During the couple of years that I was a choral-rehearsal accompanist for a big community group, the conductor remarked several times (and sometimes in front of the choir!): "How did he [you] read my mind on that?" We had developed such a working rapport over the months of weekly rehearsals, that I simply did the things he wanted before he bothered to ask for them, in helping to play out whatever parts needed to be. It's just a matter of being sensitive to the way the rehearsal is already going, and to know when the conductor will or will not be satisfied with the things he just heard, and what he will say to correct it. All to get the rehearsal going efficiently, and the singers learning the music correctly, which is the task to be performed. Such pseudo-telepathy from the accompanist saves hours of explanation and rehearsal time: just automatically do what the boss wants, by knowing his goals and tendencies. But that's within rehearsal time! Not instead of rehearsal time!

 

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Last update: ýAugust 11, 2007 ý13:22:18