Recordings/Discussions
Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Viola da Gamba in Bach's Vocal Works

Bach's Viola da Gamba (VDGB)

Teddy Kaufman wrote (May 13, 2005):
The Viola da Gamba (VDGB) gained extensive popularity during the Baroque , especially in Italy, France, England, Spain and Germany. Over 9000 musical pieces were composed for this magnificent string instrument .

Bach composed the 3 Sonatas for VDGB and Harpsichord - BWV 1027 - 1029 ***, which added a remarkable delightedness and beauty to the VDGB lovers. To my modest knowledge and as far as I could recall, the VDGB has seldom been employed in JSB vocal works.

I wonder if Bach deliberately ignored this rich and versatile instrument or, whether it did not "match" with the orchestration of his Cantatas, Passions and Oratorios and hence in had been put in the back.

--------------------------------------------

*** My collection consists of:

- Hille Perl - VDGB, Michael Behringer - harpsichord
- Paolo Pandolfo - VDGB, Rinaldo Alessandrini - harpsichord
- Jordi Savall - VDGB, Ton Koopman - harpsichord
- Jaap ter Linden - VDGB, Richard Egarr - harpsichord
- John Dornenburg - VDGB, Malcolm Proud - harpsichord
- Yo Yo Ma - Cello, Kenneth Cooper - harpsichord
- Wieland Kuijken - VDGB, Gustav Leonhardt - harpsichord

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 13, 2005):
Teddy Kaufman wrote:
>>I wonder if Bach deliberately ignored this rich and versatile instrument or, whether it did not "match" with the orchestration of his Cantatas, Passions and Oratorios and hence in had been put in the back.<<
Bach composed for the viola da gamba throughout his entire lifetime:

Mühlhausen: BWV 106
Weimar: BWV 152
Köthen: BWV 199 RP; BWV 1027-9; BWV 1051
Leipzig (early): BWV 76, BWV 205; BWV 245; BWV 198
Leipzig (middle: BWV 244a; BWV 244; BWV 245 RP; BWV 205a(?); BWV 247(?)
Leipzig (late): BWV 244 RP

RP = repeat performance

Bach used a 7-string viola da gamba in BWV 244 and BWV 1028.

At the time of his death, Bach had in his possession a viola da gamba (maker unknown).

The only viola da gamba player known by name to have played under Bach's direction is Christian Ferdinand Abel (1682-1761). There is no firm proof that his son Carl Friedrich Abel (the famous virtuoso on this instrument) had a Bach connection, although he was an alumnus of St. Thomas School and possibly could have been a music pupil of his.

Bach personally copied out the viola da gamba part from the revision of the score for BWV 244 (1736).

Doug Cowling wrote (May 14, 2005):
Teddy Kaufman wrote:
< I wonder if Bach deliberately ignored this rich and versatile instrument or, whether it did not "match" with the orchestration of his Cantatas, Passions and Oratorios and hence in had been put in the back. >
I think it is relentless stranglehold of the Romantic concert hall orchestra which decrees that recorders, gambas and the like are "non-standard" instruments. That incidentally was the reason given to a very talented recorder play who applied for a university bursary!

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (May 14, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] First of all I am not aware that Bach ignored the Gamba--you find it in all of his scores. The Cello had not been invented then and came along much later in time for Mozart and Haydn when it was then beginnning to fade out. Bach wrote a large body of work for solo Gamba which these days has been taken over by the Cello (YoYo Ma plays these in one of his recordings) which is like playing harpsichord pieces on the piano---no excuse when Gambas and Harpsichords are still being made. Ok Glenn Gould fans I hear your yelling but sorry Bach never saw nor heard a Piano until he was almost dead and buried at Potsdam and even then he did not write for the Piano.

When speaking, writing English please do not use the word "recorder' as it records nothing and does not rehearse or practice anything. Your usage is almost 30 years out of date for the musical instrument of the flute family. "Recorder" never was and never will be a proper English word for the musical instrument of the flute family although the Society for Anachronisms would like you to believe that. There are a number good reasons not to use the word "Recorder" in refering to the musical instrument of the flute family ---

(1) IT is very confusing as what one is speaking of especially to foreigners who may not be as versed in Rnglish as you are.

(2) the name makes absolutely no sense applied to a musical instrument. The word came into the English Language from Lating verb "recordare" meaing to write down something for posterity (which Court Recorders do) and to practice. The Blockflute does none of these.

ON the other hand Blockflute---is a good name for the instrument----because it says that its constructed on a block, which it is , like an Organ Pipe and it is a flute which tells us the kind of sound to expect if one has ever heard a flute before.

If you are in Canada as I suspect--- you may use the French form " Flute douce" or the correct English forms---Fipple FLute or Blockflute to refer to this instrument of the flute family. Fipple Flute is found in most 19th century Orchestration books and this usage is much older than Walter Domethsch in Enlgand trying to confuse the language.

Doug Cowling wrote (May 14, 2005):
Ludwig wrote:
< If you are in Canada as I suspect--- you may use the French form " Flute douce" or the correct English forms---Fipple FLute or Blockflute to refer to this instrument of the flute family. Fipple Flute is found in most 19th century Orchestration books and this usage is much older than Walter Domethsch in Enlgand trying to confuse the language. >
"Fipple Flute"? This is utter nonsense. "Recorder" is the accepted term in English-speaking countries -- learn to live with it! There's even an early music ensemble in Toronto which calls itself "Recordare".

I'm not even begin to unravel how you've completely misunderstood my comments about the modern orchestra. May I suggest that after you've read a posting you pause to make sure you've understood before embarking on a retort which borders on the offensive.

Vladimir Skavysh wrote (May 14, 2005):
Bach and Beauty: Transpositions are Not Inherently Wrong

Ludwig wrote:
< Bach wrote a large body of work for solo Gamba which these days has been taken over by the Cello (YoYo Ma plays these in one of his recordings) which is like playing harpsichord pieces on the piano---no excuse when Gambas and Harpsichords are still being made. Ok Glenn Gould fans I hear your yelling but sorry Bach never saw nor heard a Piano until he was almost dead and buried at Potsdam and even then he did not write for the Piano. >
Salutations, Bach lovers!

I sometimes find myself contemplating, which of my most beloved composers - Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin - contributed the most to music. Usually, those discourses with myself end in a deadlock - that is, unless I am concurrently listening to a composition by one of them, as then I tend to give (a temporary) preference to that composer.

However, for as long as I can remember, I regard Bach as the most capable of the four to discover the true Beauty (capital "B"), the quintessence, of any instrument. For example, the quintessence of the harpsichord is revealed in such compositions as the Italian Concerto and the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto. Yet, I would not say that this is sufficient reason to claim that Bach's musical pieces for one instrument must not or should not be played on other instruments. Bach himself frequently transposed his own compositions - perhaps because he wanted to find greater Beauty or because he sought to explore all ideas pertaining to a given melody that cannot be realized on only one instrument.

Accordingly, it is not inherently incorrect to try to play compositions for the viola de gamba and the harpsichord on the cello and the pianoforte, respectively. This is especially so for the harpsichord-pianoforte pair, because of the greater similarity between the two instruments. In addition, the piano is a significantly better instrument than the harpsichord in that it has greater technical and dynamical capabilities.

That said, the above does not mean that greater Beauty will necessarily be attained once the piano entirely supplants the harpsichord. Quite the opposite! For example, I would not replace the harpsichord for any other instrument in the Italian Concerto. However, from my personal experience of a non-professional musician, when Goldberg Variations are concerned, Beauty is spelled "the pianoforte."

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Tranposing [General Topics]

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 14, 2005):
< First of all I am not aware that Bach ignored the Gamba--you find it in all of his scores. The Cello had not been invented then and came along much later in time for Mozart and Haydn when it was then beginnning to fade out. >
The cello hadn't been invented yet? Orwellian revisionism here?

If you want to read something rather humorous, check out Hubert LeBlanc's 1740 Defense de la basse de viole contre les entreprises du violon et les pretensions du violoncel. He was a viola da gamba connoisseur decrying the way the violin and cello had pretty much taken over the repertoire and gigs of his favorite instrument, by then. And the imagery he used in this written defense (he was a lawyer, by the way) has some hyperbolic accusations of sexual improprieties and such, against the violin and cello.

According to Bach's estate inventory, in 1750 he owned two cellos and a viola da gamba. And three violins, three violas, etc.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 14, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>According to Bach's estate inventory, in 1750 he owned two cellos and a viola da gamba. And three violins, three violas, etc.<<
The violoncello is specified by name in more than 50 compositions by Bach, beginning with the earliest being BWV 71 from 1708 until the latest compositions BWV 241 (c. 1747/8) and BWV 195 (c. 1748/9.) In countless other works where it is not specifically indicated in the score or parts, it can be assumed to be present as part of the continuo group.

From the bills paid for instrument repair in Weimar for the Court Chapel Orchestra (1715-1716,) a 'Violoncell' is also listed among them. In Köthen Bach had at his disposal: "Ein Violon cello' made by Jacob Steiner in 1650 and "Ein Viol. Cel:' made by J.C. Hoffmann in 1715." The inventory of the "New Church" in Leipzig in 1721 lists an entire quartet of strings (including the violoncello), while among the instruments under Bach's jurisdiction at St. Thomas Church in 1729 a quartet of strings newly acquired included "dergleichen fein 'ViolonCello' mit Bogen von 'Ferman'bock" ["of the same quality of string instruments a fine example of a violoncello with a bow made of pernambuco wood."]

 

Introduction | Cantatas | Other Vocal | Instrumental | Performers | General Topics | Articles | Books | Movies | New
Biographies | Texts & Translations | Scores | References | Commentaries | Music | Concerts | Festivals | Tour | Art & Memorabilia
Chorale Texts | Chorale Melodies | Lutheran Church Year | Readings | Poets & Composers | Arrangements & Transcriptions
Search Website | Search Works/Movements | Terms & Abbreviations | Copyright | How to contribute | Sitemap | Links



 

Back to the Top


Last update: ýFebruary 27, 2010 ý12:27:27