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Women in Bach’s Vocal Works
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Hades, the Ladies!

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 22, 2004):
Donald Satz wrote:
< Females are foreign elements? In that case, I'll go foreign every time. >
Frankly, I think that a female soprano can approximate the sound of a 16 yr old 18th c. treble better than an English countertenor can a boy alto of the same period. Some things just ain't gonna happen. Händel's soloists regularly sang in the choruses of his oratorios, but today, except for the Victorian tradition of soloists singing in the Hallelujah Chorus, you will never hear a performance or recording of a female soprano soloist singing with boy trebles or a female alto soloist singing with male countertenors.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (February 22, 2004):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Frankly, I think that a female soprano can approximate the sound of a 16 yr old 18th c. treble better than an English countertenor can a boy alto of the same period. >
How do you know? As Peter Philiips has often pointed out (admittedly in the context of slightly earlier repertoire) we have no idea what singers sounded like 300 (or 400 or 500..) years ago. Also it is by no means certain that male falsettists (rather than boy altos) were never used by Bach....

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 26, 2004):
[To Douglas Cowling] He, however, did use females in his vocal works. In fact, he was one of the first (outside of operatic composers) to do so.

Another thing, I would (if I were in charge) do away totally with Counter-Tenors. If an Altstimme is required, I would use (in the case of a Bach Vokalwerk) a boy Altstimme. In other words, Alto for Alto and Soprano for Soprano. To me, a Counter-Tenor smacks of something that someone like Mahler would use. I could be wrong here, but I have not heard of many places in Baroque German Sacred Vokalwerke that uses a Counter-Tenor as one of the Vocal parts.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (February 26, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< To me, a Counter-Tenor smacks of something that someone like Mahler would use. >
Except that he didn't!

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 26, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] The point was that Baroque composers (or Bach, in this case) would not have used a Counter-Tenor. That seems to me to be a product of the latter 19th century, when people were testing boundaries in music like vocal ranges, instrument colors, etc. It was here, too, remember that we get the Saxophone, the English Horn, etc.

Craig Schweicker wrote (February 26, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] Um. Henry Purcell was a countertenor. I have read and heard that his heyday was slightly before the latter 19th century.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 26, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] Actually, the male alto singer had strong national characteristics in the 17th and 18th centuries. The English (Purcell to Händel) used the counter-tenor for the "alto" part in liturgical music (Händel also used women), the French used a houte-tenor who sang in an upper tenor range, the Germans (Bach especially) used older teenager boys, while the Italians (Monteverdi onwards) used both falsettists and castrati.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (February 26, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] Well the point is simply wrong. Why do you continue to claim things which just aren't true?

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 27, 2004):
[To Craig Schweickert] OK. Point taken. Let me rephrase. There is no evidence of German composers using Conter-Tenors at least before the latter 19th century.

 

Excluding female performers

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 23, 2004):
< Right, the Bible says "Thou shalt not suffer thine ears to hear the sound of a female alto", I guess.
The Bible has passages that were used to justify slavery in the United States, and other passages that can be used to justify either side of most disputed issues. The fact remains that the practice of excluding female performers, no matter how rationalized was abominable sexism in Bach's time and it hasn't improved with age. >
On this specific issue of women making not a sound in church, the standard rationalization (historically) has been based mostly on a shallow and selective reading of 1 Corinthians chapter 14, specifically verses 34 and 35. It ignores the wider context of the passage.

(And that's as literalists were and are wont to do, whenever they need a "proof" text to justify some point they wanted to make: yank it out of context and make it appear set in stone, instead of allowing any nuances of interpretation. Anything can be made to support just about any point, in appearance, when pulled far enough out of cultural and textual context, then quoted as if it's normative for all times and places exactly as it stands, in isolation. That process itself is an irresponsible one, but some people are convinced by it anyway: believing only what they wish to believe, and then searching for any possible justification for themselves. Is anything in the evidence inconvenient to one's own point? Just carefully leave it out and invent some excuse why it wasn't important, and/or why it was wrong! Such rationalizers are quite good at fooling themselves, and defending themselves against any evidence they would rather not confront. They convince themselves that they are the only people who take the material seriously; and that assumption gives them license to ignore anything they wish to ignore.)

In the first half of the chapter, here in 1 Corinthians, the writer points out that things in church have to make sense and be clear; it's a waste of effort if the people don't get it. Then in verse 20, setting up the next section, he tells them to grow up and start thinking like adults. He then quotes back at them some of their own historical restrictions which he thinks are childish and something to get over: including verses 34 and 35, the ones about women hushing up. He explodes in verse 36 with the sarcastic remark that they [childishly/naively] think they already know everything there is to know, but they're wrong; he amplifies that in 37-38. That is, he's here explaining the better way where women (along with anyone else who could have something worthwhile to contribute) should be allowed to do so, just so the message that gets presented is a clear one...they should leave their naive restrictions behind, their way of pre-judging and categorizing people, and get with the better new program. The writer here points out that, to think like adults and grow up spiritually, they simply cannot keep ignoring things they didn't wish to deal with.

[And in the broader Christian message of that era, to "grow up" and get past the way society treated women as mere property of men. Earlier in this same letter to the Corinthians, chapters 12 and 13, the writer has already explained that the new spiritual message they're talking about makes everybody a lot more equal than they had been, and that all the parts of the body have important functions. Everybody should focus on what they're good at, and be allowed to do it, for the common good of the whole body of believers.]

Not to turn this into a theological discussion: but that's the way I've heard it explained, both with those historical restrictions (based on selective verse-quoting) and then that broader interpretation that takes the passage more seriously than merely lifting convenient quotes out of it. That's all still being debated now, especially by those who would still not wish women to be pastors, and who believe they have biblical justification for such a restriction.

I agree with the comments above: this sort of thing (the rationalized practice of excluding women from participation) was "abominable sexism in Bach's time and it hasn't improved with age." But, for better or worse, the music is based upon that assumption.

Johan van Veen wrote (February 23, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Interpreting passages from the Bible should indeed take the context into account, but not only the immediate context - in this case the letter to the Corinthians, but also other writings by St Paul. In 1 Timothy 2, 12 he writ: "And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence." And he explains that view by referring to the fact that Adam was created first, and then Eve (2, 13).
The opponents of women pastors have much stronger Biblical arguments at their disposal than the supporters.

And I consider characterising the practice in the 18th century as 'sexism' still as anachronistic, imposing a 'modern' - and ideologically coloured - view upon a time with different ideas and values.

Donald Satz wrote (February 23, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] I don't mean to argumentative, but there is no fact concerning Eve being born after Adam; it's only speculation.

Uri Golomb wrote (February 23, 2004):
< I don't mean to argumentative, but there is no fact concerning Eve being born after Adam; it's only speculation. >
Not quite. If the Genesis story is correct, then neither Adam nor Eve were born -- they were created; and Eve was definitely created after Adam. The question is, rather, whether Genesis itself records historical facts, or just a myth. In my view -- and Don's -- it is the latter. But in this case, the question is not whether Adam came before Eve, but rather whether either of them actually existed...

Robert Sherman wrote (February 23, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote:
< And I consider characterising the practice in the 18th century as 'sexism' still as anachronistic, imposing a 'modern' - and ideologically coloured - view upon a time with different ideas and values. >
I'm old enough to remember hearing exactly that argument made here in the US in favor of racial segregation: We in the North didn't "understand" the happy situation in the South, we were imposing an outsider's view on it, and all that claptrap. The one consistent thread in all this, whether it's 18c sexism, 20c racism, or whatever, is that those who defend it are never in the demographic group that got the short end of the stick.

So, Johann, come up with some current female singers who think it was a great idea to ban female singers from Bach's choir.

Uri Golomb wrote (February 23, 2004):
[To Robert Sherman] Not entirely accurate, I'm afraid. There have been women who endorsed at least some male-chauvinist claims, and some Jews who found truth in anti-Semitic views. I don't know about black people who endorsed slavery, but perhaps those existed as well. That does not, of course, justify chauvinism, anti-Semitism, slavery or any other form of racism, disctrimination, etc. -- but perhaps it does say something (not enitrely flattering) about human nature.

Robert Sherman wrote (February 23, 2004):
[To Donald Satz] Since men can't bear children, it's even more implausible. But we're
getting way OT.

ohan van Veen wrote (February 23, 2004):
[To Uri Golomb] No, that is not the question.

The question was what St Paul really meant when he said that women should be silent in church. He referred to Adam and Eve as if they existed; so whether they really existed is not of any importance to decide what St Paul meant.

And just to make things clear: I do believe they existed, not only because Genesis tells so, but also because St Paul simply takes it as a historical fact that they existed.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 23, 2004):
< I don't mean to argumentative, but there is no fact concerning Eve being born after Adam; it's only speculation.
(...)
In 1 Timothy 2, 12 he writes: "And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence." And he explains that view by referring to the fact that Adam was created first, and then Eve (2, 13). >
I've also heard the opposite argument where something created second is not necessarily inferior to the original, and may well be better. Like the first instance of something being just a practice run or a prototype, while the second one has the bugs worked out of it. Certainly true in some fields other than the creation of life. If we took Paul's reasoning from 1 Timothy 2 (cited below) and applied it to a Bach piece, as an absolutely binding dictum for all time, we should be listening only to the first version of anything. For example, throw out Bach's published version of the B minor partita BWV 831, and play only the earlier C minor draft version. Or the two versions of the Magnificat. Or any other case where Bach did things several different ways on different occasions.

Johan van Veen wrote (February 23, 2004):
[To Robert Sherman] It is not what female singers of our time think. I don't care about that. The only thing I am interested in is how the intentions of a composer come through most convincingly and historically accurately.

The performance of Bach's sacred music with boys' voices comes closer to the historical truth and is stylistically more appropriate than the use of women's voices. It is not what we like that matters but what the composer's intentions were.

Johan van Veen wrote (February 23, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] It is not about 'major' or 'minor', 'better' or 'worse', 'superior' or 'inferior', but about being 'different'. St Paul asks for respecting an order which was given with Creation, and only in regard to a specific function. Therefore any musical application as you give below is nonsense.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 23, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] Point understood.

But as for taking all of "Paul's" writings absolutely seriously, and as equally binding for all time and places, I'm amused by the first chapter of Titus. He has a diatribe there about how foolish it is to listen to twerps, scoundrels, and false teachers who are out to deceive others away from the truth for their own gain. Good advice. But he tries to polish it off by quoting the Epimenides Paradox back at them (Epimenides, a Cretan, asserting that "all Cretans are liars": hence the paradox and irony), and in doing so he makes it clear that he does not understand the paradox or the humor in that which he cites. He's using a proof text himself, yanking it out of context to beat somebody's head with it, while missing the point of it. That's not so good.

Anyway, there has been quite a bit of research and analysis indicating that 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus weren't written by Paul at all, but by somebody later riding the coat-tails of his style. (See, for example, Robert Karris' article "The Pastoral Letters" in _The Oxford Companion to the Bible_.) By this line of inquiry, with the observation it wasn't even written by Paul, the 1 Timothy injunction about women doesn't have as much authoritative weight as the 1 Corinthians one does. [But, as should be stressed: one does not decide first that the Timothy and Titus letters are silly, because one does not like the teachings, and then go looking for any excuse (such as inauthenticity) to blow them away. That would be anti-scholarship, bad philology. The authenticity, or lack of authenticity, is a separate question from anybody fancying the results of the inquiry.]

So, one has to watch out for a fallacious cascade of syllogism such as this one:
- Paul screwed up in Titus 1.
- Paul was therefore demonstrably fallible.
- Therefore we shouldn't bother listening to anything else Paul wrote, either, elsewhere. He can be dismissed conveniently whenever we don't like what we see.

Apologies for being off-topic, but this does have some relevance to the process of taking source material seriously, Bach's or otherwise. At least it preserves the distinction that authenticity and modern taste [deciding the "truth" of something by how well we fancy it, personally] are (or should be) different things.

I like the footnote #14 on page 149 in Parrott's book about the one-voice-per-part topic, with regard to Bach's vocal music. Parrott is commenting about the way people try an invalid dismissal of Rifkin's and his own findings. "As a friend succinctly put it, 'The ploy is familiar: if you don't like it, it's not true; and if it turns out to be true, it's not important.'"

Jeremy Thomas wrote (February 23, 2004):
[To Donald Satz] And I don't mean to be pedantic, Don (really). But I suppose - taking the Bible at face value - neither of them was "born". They were both created spe.

As to whether this is "fact" or not, of course it all depends on whether you believe the Bible or not. I understand that you don't, whereas I find numerous reasons for doing so - though I appreciate this might not be the best place to do so.

Finally, just to add to Johan's later post:

< And just to make things clear: I do believe they existed, not only because Genesis tells so, but also because St Paul simply takes it as a historical fact that they existed. >
...we also have the authority of Jesus Christ himself:

"...from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." Mark 10:6-9

So it seems to me that Christ's whole teaching about Christian marriage is based squarely on the assumption that the early chapters of Genesis are literally true.

Jeremy (struggling now to keep this relevant to Bach - apologies)

Dave Harman wrote (February 23, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote:
< And just to make things clear: I do believe they existed, not only because Genesis tells so, but also because St Paul simply takes it as a historical fact that they existed. >
Although that may support Paul's belief, it is hard to see how it could support yours.

Once explorers believed in the existence of a Northwest Passage - even to the extent of explaining the racial makeup of people they met on their travels as evidence that a Passage existed and allowed speedly passage to the Orient. So convinced were explorers of the existence of the Passage that they printed it on their charts.

Like Paul, they were as convinced of the Passage's existence as Paul was of the truth of the Adam and Eve myth. But through continued travels and study, explorers learned there was no northwest passage and this left them free to interpret the people and customs they encountered in a more useful way.

The story of Adam and Eve is a myth. It is an attempt to reconcile and explain our often contradictory nature as human beings as well as to explain the separation that causes us to create and live in an often choatic and contradictory world. Maybe Paul thought he was justified in his opinion about women - although some of his other opinions about women indicate a certain - shall we say - lack of appreciation for women. But we have the advange of advanced biblical scholarship and so, like it or not, our innocence has been shattered ( as was the innocence of "Adam and Eve" in the Eden also shattered) and we no longer have the luxury of using a flawed historical view to excuse our mistreatment of others.

You may look on Paul as a "saint". I think he was a prick.

 

Some OT, some OnT excluding female perform


Matthew Neugebauer wrote (February 24, 2004):
[To Jeremy Thomas] okay-since I like to tie everything together, and add my own thoughts all in one post-here it is-

now before we kick anyone off the list-

Johan-your "On Topic" view is great-if we are looking for an authentic sound, then we use the forces that Bach used/heard-we are not trying to duplicate the reasons for the sound, nor do we neccessarily agree with them, just the sound itself.

However Johan, and I say this without any hostility (as that would completely contradict the point), but have you read the gospels? I mean really read them as if Jesus' words and actions were beng done right in front of you and He was speaking directly to you? Remember the woman at the well in John 4? She had three cultural things against her-a woman, a Samaritan (whom Jews didn't associate with), and was sexually promiscuous. Does he tell her to be quiet? Not at all. Well you know the story. My point is that Jesus, being one with the Father, was the guy who wrote the Bible in the first place-and if God is unchanging, then logically it stands that if He couldn't care less what sex or race she was (her sin is of course a different story) in one part of the Bible, wouldn't He have the same tolerance and love everywhere else (at least under New Testament law-but that's an entirely different issue)?

Now I personally prefer women to children (unless the children's choir has a specific dramatic purpose), and I also prefer at least 3 voices to a part. At the same time however, I prefer clear, crisp vib-free choirs, gut strings, flatter fingerboards, etc., for the exact same reason I like women's voices and 3+vpp-it's more musically satisfying to me. But if someone disagrees and can make a convincing performance out of their preferences, then "power to them". (Parrot, Rifkin, Richter, Karajan and Marriner are good examples of this, and I do in fact purchase their recordings. Unfortunately, Solti, Menuhin and especially Israelevitch do not craft convincing performances with the forces they use-so I just don't buy their recordings or attend their concerts-but I don't complain...too much...about it all)

that's my toonie's worth-which comes to about a euro or so!

Johan van Veen wrote (February 24, 2004):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] It is not about being quiet in general, it is about teaching in church, which is a completely different matter.

To avoid any misunderstanding: I believe the conclusion from what St Paul writes - that women are not allowed to sing in church - is a wrong one.

Robert Sherman wrote (February 24, 2004):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] Matt, I generally agree with you on this post, but let me enter one exception: Solti's performance of the overture and the Pastoral Symphony from Messiah. They're extremely well done and sound like a very good baroque-specialist chamber orchestra. I sometimes have fun playing them for fellow baroque enthusiasts and asking them to identify the conductor. They always name various baroque specialists, and are stunned when I tell them it's Solti. (The rest of his Messiah is junk, though.)

 

Bach’s Female Singers

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 5, 2004):
Female Singers Envisioned by Bach for His Choral Works?

I have spent quite a number of hours studying mainly Johann Gottfried Walther’s ‘Musicalisches Lexicon….(Leipzig 1732), but also other musicological reference books hoping thus to discover some credible evidence to resolve to my satisfaction, if possible, the much discussed issue whether Bach ever used female singers for his choral works, most of which were sacred and intended for performance in a church or church-like setting.

What I have discovered at this point is that the Bach’s use of boys’ voices for soprano and alto and male voices for the tenor and bass parts for performances in the Leipzig churches during his tenure there seems to be rather well established as an almost unshakable assumption that we have to make based upon statements made by experts, such as Arnold Schering, who have investigated this matter thoroughly. However, we must also allow the possibility that Bach may have used female voices which were generally hidden on one of the balconies/organ lofts not very visible to the congregation seated below. Perhaps, however, Bach had become quite careful in this regard after his Arnstadt, 1705 experience where he had invited a “frembde Jungfer” [“unfamiliar maiden” – an out-of-town singer and probably not, according to Christoph Wolff, p. 88 of “J.S. Bach: the Learned Musician” {Norton, 2000}, Maria Barbara, later to become his first wife a year later] into the organ loft to ‘make music there.’ For this he was unfairly called to task even though he had requested permission from the pastor beforehand. Wolff’s comment regarding female singers in churches is quite pertinent here:

“Female singers were traditionally barred from performing at churches with Latin school choirs, although in many smaller churches in towns and villages throughout Thuringia women participated in choirs as helpers, so-called ‘Adjutanten.’”

We have to assume that Wolff is referring here generally to the situation that existed during Bach’s lifetime, but what about the ‘churches with Latin school choirs?’ Even in these instancthere were efforts to reform/remedy the situation by allowing the use of female singers where only male voices were heard traditionally singing figural music up until this time.

George J. Buelow in the New Grove (Oxford University Press, 2003) reports on the significant changes in attitudes (and practices?) that were taking place at a critical point in Bach’s tenure (the early Leipzig years) as the director of music in Leipzig. It is very hard to imagine that Bach was not aware of or did not read any of the works by Gottfried Ephraim Scheibel (1696-1759), who was also listed in Walther's "Musicalisches Lexicon...." with an entry that summarizes some of Scheibel's ideas. [Scheibel, nota bene, is not to be confused with Johann Adolph Scheibe (1708-1776) who was a participant in the infamous ‘Scheibe-Birnbaum’ controversy that affected Bach directly in his later Leipzig years]

Here is Buelow's entry in the New Grove:
>>Scheibel, Gottfried Ephraim (b Breslau, 1696; d Breslau, 1759). German theologian. According to Eitner, he studied theology in Leipzig and became a teacher at the Elisabeth-Gymnasium, Breslau, in 1736. He had previously lived in Oels (now Oleśnica), Silesia, where he wrote his most important music treatise, “Zufällige Gedancken von der Kirchenmusic” (1721). This significant book presents a clear statement on the value of music in the Protestant church service at that time, particularly its role in moving the emotions of the congregation in harmony with the word of God. Scheibel defended the place of music in the church against the attacks of those he called ‘Zwingelianer’. He was one of the first to suggest that women deserved admission to church choirs, and that the ever-growing scarcity of good boy sopranos made the need for women critical. He also supported the parody practice, giving examples showing the substitution of sacred texts for secular ones used in opera arias by G.P. Telemann. He urged that the theatrical style be used to enliven church music, adding: ‘I do not understand why the opera alone should have the privilege to move us to tears, and why this is also not appropriate to the church’. Scheibel's work was warmly praised by Mattheson in Critica musica (Hamburg, 1722), and there seems to have been a close professional relationship between the two. Scheibel dedicated his “Musicalisch-poetische andächtige Betrachtungen” to Mattheson, and the latter reciprocated by dedicating “Der neue Göttingische … Ephorus” (Hamburg, 1727) to Scheibel. (EitnerQ)

Theoretical Works: “Zufällige Gedancken von der Kirchenmusic, wie sie heutiges Tages beschaffen ist“ (Frankfurt and Leipzig, 1721)
Musicalisch-poetische andächtige Betrachtungen über alle Sonn- und Fest-Tags Evangelien durchs gantze Jahr“ (Breslau, 1726, 2/1738)
Die Geschichte der Kirchen-Music alter und neuer Zeiten“ (Breslau, 1738)<<

Scheibel’s reference to ‚Zwingelianer’ [the adherents/proponents of Zwingli’s reformist proscription against music in the church (services)] is of great interest here, particularly because Huldrych (Ulrich) Zwingli (1484-1531), a reformer contemporaneous with Luther, is mentioned at a time when Pietists in Bach’s day were beginning to think the same way: Hans Engel in the MGG makes this connection in the following manner:
>>Calvin, Zwingli, der Pietismus haben die Musik, die instrumentale ganz, den Gesang z.T., aus der Kirche verwiesen.<< [„Calvin, Zwingli, and Pietism have banned from the church instrumental music entirely and singing partially.“ (Congregational singing was just barely tolerated and figural music banished entirely.)]

The heated discussion regarding the inclusion of operatic elements and techniques in the figural music performed during church services was in no way restricted only to the Scheibe-Birnbaum controversy. On the contrary, there are many works (books, essays, etc.) published during Bach’s lifetime that treat this subject and that prove that a battle was being fought to open up church music to influences originating with the opera, including the use of female singers.

It seems reasonable to assume that Bach wanted to use female singers although a stricture against their use in the Leipzig churches may have existed. This inference can be deduced from the musical circumstances which prevailed at the Dresden court where some of the best European musicians had been assembled to perform operatic as well as sacred music. Bach was well aware of the musical excellence of the musicians who performed in Dresden and was personally acquainted with many of them. Specifically, in regard to female musicians (singers), there were, of course, the extremely well-paid divas such as Faustina Bordoni whom Bach heard perform in Hasse’s ‘Cleofide.’ But since Bach also performed on the Silbermann organ at St. Sophia’s Church, the court chapel [‘Hofkapelle’] as it were, he would have heard there performances of sacred works by the Hofkapelle [now referring to the ensemble of musicians with salaried positions who were members of the group primarily assigned to perform there ] According to Wolff, pp. 367 ff. in “J. S. Bach: the Learned Musician” (Norton, 2000), this was the likely venue for the performance of the Mass in B minor BWV 232 in Dresden in July, 1733. Wolff also states: “Conceivably, the Magnificat [BWV 243] in its new version was first performed at the Vespers service on July 2, the Marian feast of the Visitation and also the fourth Sunday after Trinity, when public performances were permitted to resume after relaxing the state mourning period.”

Who would perform the soprano and alto parts (SSA) that are required for both the Magnificat and the Mass in B minor? Castrati? Boy sopranos and altos? No! Johann Gottfried Walther’s “Musicalisches Lexicon….” (Leipzig, 1732) provides the answer from a listing in the ‘Dresden Hof- und Staats-Kalender’ (1729) : There are at least 3 females listed there who were employed by the court for performing in the Hofkapelle: Louise Dimanche, a French singer, [possibly a soprano], Margherita Ermini, an alto, and Ludovica Seyfrid, a soprano [‘female soprano’ is specially noted here by using italics.] It is not clear whether a famous diva [or any other salaried female singer] from the Dresden Opera such as Faustino Bordoni, might also have joined in when important sacred works were being performed in the court chapel In any case, it appears that both BWV 243 and BWV 232 could have been performed without taking recourse to boy sopranos/altos or castrati.

The court chapel in Vienna (1721-1727), as a somewhat comparable musical organization, had 5 female singers [‘Sängerinnen’] {not opera singers} listed according to rank. Here are their names: Anna Elisabetha Badia (married), Maria Continin (married), Rosa Borosinin (married), Anna Perronin (married), Maria Anna Schultzin (married), and Maria Regina Sconianzin (married.) [The marital status of each is noted quite explicitly. The significance of this is left to the reader to decide.]

Of course, Bach must have read all about the female singers mentioned in Walther’s ‘Lexicon’ and probably was even acquainted personally with those in Dresden. How Bach must have read with envy in the Lexicon about Domenico Scarlatti’s ‘Hofkapelle’ in Portugal (1728) which boasted in addition to a large number of instrumentalists a choir consisting of 30 to 40 voices (mostly Italian)! Based upon the descriptions of the court chapels in Dresden and Vienna, one can easily assume that females would also have been used for the soprano and alto parts in Portugal as well.

Allowing our imagination to be inspired by Bach’s careful reading of all these details in Walther's 'Musiklexikon', it is possible to come to the conclusion that Bach envisioned a mixed choir of larger proportions than simply OVPP with female voices for the SSA parts. This dream of a mixed choir consisting of females and males, already existing elsewhere in Europe while Bach was still alive, would be realized relatively soon with the appearance of pchoruses which often performed oratorios in the decades that followed Bach’s death. Bach was able to perceive a foretaste of the possibilities offered by a mixed choir when he heard his Magnificat and Mass in B minor performed in Dresden, and perhaps even one of these works performed in Leipzig, if Wolff’s suppositions would prove to be correct.

 

Hades, the Ladies!

Doug Cowling wrote (January 22, 2005):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote: < From what 'ludwig' writes, it seems that the use of all-male choirs in Bach's time had absolutely nothing to do with the sound, and everything to do with views concerning women. Why would we want to perpetuate such views (and practices thereof) today? Quite frankly, that sounds like something I (and I hope no one else on this list either) would not want to have any part of! >
If it's any consolation to you -- men and boys only choirs are still a thriving industry in the Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches -- it appears that in the church music written by Vivaldi for the all-girl Pieta school, the tenor and bass parts were sung by the girls, as it would have been scandalous for men to sing with unmarried girls. We get some notion of the social restrictions of women in the 18th century when we read the accounts of musical tourists attending the Pieta concerts and being scandalized at the sight of virginal young women blowing brass instruments and womping timpani!

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (January 22, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
< If it's any consolation to you -- men and boys only choirs are still a thriving industry in the Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches -- it appears that in the church music written by Vivaldi for the all-girl Pieta school, the tenor and bass parts were sung by the girls, as it would have been scandalous for men to sing with unmarried girls. >
Well, Vivaldi at least had his priorities straight :D So maybe that's what Brad was referring to in connection with the scandal of Bach allowing a lady to sing in his choir?

< We get some notion of the social restrictions of women in the 18th century when we read the accounts of musical tourists attending the Pieta concerts and being scandalized at the sight of virginal young women blowing brass instruments and womping timpani! >
LOL Fall Off Chair!!!

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 22, 2005):
< Well, Vivaldi at least had his priorities straight :D So maybe that's what Brad was referring to in connection with the scandal of Bach allowing a lady to sing in his choir? >
I didn't say anything about singing in the choir; young Bach's infraction for which he was punished was that a woman was in the balcony at all.

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 22, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
< If it's any consolation to you -- men and boys only choirs are still a thriving industry in the Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches -- it appears that in the church music written by Vivaldi for the all-girl Pieta school, the tenor and bass parts were sung by the girls, as it would have been scandalous for men to sing with unmarried girls. We get some notion of the social restrictions of women in the 18th century when we read the accounts of musical tourists attending the Pieta concerts and being scandalized at the sight of virginal young women blowing brass instruments and womping timpani! >
I will stand correction, but as I understand it the male and female singers in a Mozart Opera did not touch each other. Obviously the composer of Don Giovanni didn't have anything against the ladies, but the kind of physical expression of sexuality that is common in Mozart today was a "no-no." (Even Robespierre was a bit of a prude now that I think of it. Maybe the world had to wait for Kinsey.)

 

Continue on Part 4

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Last update: ýJune 24, 2014 ý22:55:25