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Solo parts sung by more than one vocalist

Mehrfach besetzte Soli (Solo parts sung by more than one vocalist)

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 3, 2006):
I have discovered with Schweitzer's help a key source for the issue being discussed recently:
[the spacing between the letters of a word in German means special emphasis - I have not attempted to render this in the English translation]

>>Mehrfach besetzte Soli

Es ist schon vielfach gefühlt, daß die Soli bei Bach nur selten Empfindungen E i n z e l n e r ausdrücken, im Gegensatz zu a l l g e m e i n e r e n Empfindungen, welche die Chöre aussprechen; noch seltener sind sie b e s t i m m t e n e i n z e l n e n P e r s o n e n in den Mund zu legen. Fast alle lyrischen Stücke sollen in gleicher Weise dem H ö r e r aus dem Herzen gesungen werden, und nur musikalische oder poetische Erwägungen haben den Komponisten dazu geführt, einmal den Chor, einmal eine einzelne Stimme als Organ hierfür zu wählen. Demgemäß hat man bereits vielfach Soli den bezüglichen Chorstimmen (gelegentlich in reduzierter Zahl) zuerteilt. In „Gottes Zeit“ (Nr. 106) werden zumeist das Baßsolo „Bestelle dein Haus“ und der Alt=Choral „Mit Fried’ und Freud’“ vom Chor gesungen, in „Christ lag in Todesbanden“ (Nr. 4) alle ein= und zweistimmigen Stücke. Dies ist ein innerlich durchaus begründetes Verfahren; das dynamische Gleichgewicht zwischen den Chören und den Soli wird dadurch nur gebessert und dem ursprünglichen, wo jede Chorstimme nur drei= bis vierfach besetzt war, angenähert. Natürlich eignen sich zu einer mehrfachen Besetzung nur Soli von ganz bestimmtem Charakter. I m m e r wird ein einstimmiger C h o r a l dadurch an Wirkung gewinnen. Gewisse Baß=Ariosos über Bibelworte, wie z. B. in „Gottlob, nun geht das Jahr zu Ende“ (Nr. 28) oder „Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot“ (Nr. 39), empfehlen sich gleichfalls für eine solche Behandlung. Endlich wirken einige Duette und Terzette großen Stiles sehr schön, ja g ü n s t i g e r, bei mehrfacher Besetzung, z. B. die betreffenden Nummern aus: „Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn“ (Nr. 23), „Wer da glaubet und getauft wird“ (Nr. 37), „Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu Dir“ (Nr. 38), und „Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesus Christ“ (Nr. 116).

Diese Bemerkung kann Vereinen, die nicht in der Lage sind, bei jeder Aufführung v i e r Solisten zu stellen, vielleicht über manche Besetzungsschwierigkeit hinweghelfen.<<

pp. 19-20 „Die Kirchenkantaten Johann Sebastian Bachs: Ein Führer bei ihrem Studium und ein Berater für ihre Aufführung“ written by Prof. Dr. Woldemar Voigt (Göttingen), published by the „Württembergischer Bachverein“, originally printed by Breitkopf (in the Bachjahrbuch for 1906 as indicated by Albert Schweitzer (1911) when he refers to this article/book in his „J. S. Bach“), issued in my copy with a paste-over slip in 1918 by Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig, 1918.

(“Many people have already sensed that the solo [vocal] parts in Bach’s music [Voigt’s book is devoted solely to Bach’s sacred cantatas] seldom expresses the feelings of an individual; this contrasts with those expressed by choirs representing the public at large [the congregation as a whole]. Even less frequently can these feelings represent the expression of named individuals [i.e. Christ, etc.]. Almost all lyrical compositions should be sung in the same manner to the listener from the [bottom of the singer’s] heart. Only musical and poetical considerations have led the composer to use the choir at times and at other times a single voice as the vehicle for accomplishing this. Accordingly, in many instances, these solo parts were given to singers from the choir having same voice range although occasionally in reduced numbers. In BWV 106, “Actus tragicus: ‘Gottes Zeit’”, the bass solo (“Bestelle dein Haus”) and the chorale for alto (“Mit Fried’ und Freud’”) are, for the most part, sung by the choir [members of the same vocal range]. In BWV 4, “Christ lag in Todesbanden”, all one and two part movements are performed likewise. This method is completely based upon emotional considerations; that way the dynamic balance between the choruses and the soloists can only be improved and an approach begin to be made towards emulating Bach’s original vocal forces which had only 3 or 4 singers per part. Naturally, only such solo voices [here: members of the choir] of a very specific type are suitable for singing together [such a solo part as alluded to above]. A chorale melody designated to be sung by only one vocal range will always have a much improved effect [upon the listener when sung with more than one voice singing the same part]. Also recommended for this type of treatment are certain ariosos for bass voice using biblical citations as found in BWV 28Gottlob, nun geht das Jahr zu Ende” or in BWV 39Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot”. Finally, some of the [vocal] duets and trios in the grand style have a very beautiful effect, perhaps an even more favorable effect when performed with more than one voice per part, for example, those found in BWV 23Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn”, BWV 37Wer da glaubet und getauft wird”, BWV 38Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu Dir”, and BWV 116Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesus Christ”.

This commentary can perhaps prove to be helpful in overcoming some difficulties in filling positions [as required by the score/orchestration] for such choral groups that cannot afford to hire 4 [special] soloists for every performance.”)

Another quotation from Schweitzer’s (1911) book “J. S. Bach”, E. Newman translation, Dover, 1966, pp. 420-421:

>>“On the other hand it may be argued that not all the movements which we regard as solo numbers were allotted to soloists by Bach himself. For him solo singing and choral singing passed over into each other in a way to which there is no parallel now. We must remember that his choristers were soloists, and his soloists choristers. The best of them were skilful in “coloratura”. Perhaps it is not too hazardous a view to take that, as boys’ voices blend so well, he did not scruple to have solos sung by two, and if necessary three, of this choristers. We sometimes wonder how he could orchestrate an aria or a duet in such a way that the best singers cannot hold their own against the orchestra. Is the solution of the enigma to be found, perhaps, in the doubling of the solo voices? Anyone who has happened to hear boys’ voices in a church, without seeing the singers, will have observed that it is almost impossible to say whether solo passages are being taken by one or two voices. Voigt rightly remarks, when discussing, from the practical standpoint, the possibility of allotting the solo numbers to more than one voice, that Bach’s solos “do not express individual sentiments, as opposed to the general sentiments of the chorus”, and that “they should not be allotted to definite individual singers”.
It will not be denied that the opening duet of the “Easter Oratorio” (BWV 249) presupposes a choral performance; that a number of simple duets and trios in the latest cantatas give one the same impression, and are certainly more effective when sung by several voices, has already been argued in connection with the discussion of these works.
Footnote: See, for example, the simple but splendid duets and trios in the cantatas BWV 33, BWV 38, BWV 116, BWV 79, BWV 124, BWV 125, BWV 10, BWV 113, and BWV 78.<<

There is one recording by Günther Ramin which has two or three boys singing the same solo part. Most of the time it is difficult to discern that more than one singer is performing. I believe that I had commented on this, but am unable to retrieve this comment on BCW. This reference would give you a specific mvt. of a cantata in one of Ramin's recordings (from radio) made in the 1950s.


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