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Systematic Discussions of Bach’s Other Vocal Works
Mass in B minor BWV 232 - Part 1: Kyrie

 

Discussions in the Week of February 29, 2004

Francis Browne
wrote (February 29, 2004):
[snip]
I have to admit though that if I were sent to a desert island and had a choice of taking the motets or the next work scheduled for discussion – the Mass in B minor - I would not hesitate for a second to leave the motets behind.

Listening again to this supreme masterpiece after a long time spent exploring the cantatas I have had the feeling that I am only beginning to appreciate the beauty and complexity of the music. But when I turned to the cd notes in the hope of gaining some insight into the music I was generally most disappointed. The reissues I have of Jochum (1980) Rifkin and Parrott have totally inadequate notes; Herreweghe (1996) and Gardiner are better, but most of the information is about the complicated origins and disputed purpose of the work. These are of course important topics, but their detailed discussion means that the music itself is cursorily mentioned. As an ordinary, very inexpert listener I have found most helpful the comments of Alec Robertson in an LP set of Klemperer's recording that I came across very recently. Robertson's comments on the cantatas are always illuminating, and in the hope that others may find them useful I shall add to this post what he says about the kyrie.

But the real answer to my ignorance has been John Butt's handbook on the mass which in turn refers to Tovey's analysis of the Kyrie as 'a masterpiece, showing how the listener's expectation are fulfilled (by the use of a hidden ritornello) but in a way which is not superficially evident.'

Since this was published in 1937 there are probably many, many people on the list who have known about it for years, but such is my ignorance I found it revelatory and again in the hope others may also find it useful I shall add what I can of his discussion to this post.

The cantata list does seem to have been somewhat dormant recently. I hope the opportunity to discuss what ( with the Art of Fugue) can be regarded as Bach's crowning achievement will bring it back to vigorous life.

Alec Robertson

Kyrie

1. Kyrie eleison
The urgent, full-throated cry of "Kyrie eleison" that bursts out at the start of the movement, and makes such a vivid impact on the ear, prepares the listener for the vast design that is to be unfolded. The first "Kyrie eleison" takes the form of two fugal expositions, the first one preceded by an orchestral ritornello. The subject of the five-part choral fugue makes three entries in the ritornello, beginning with the first flutes and oboi d'amore, then the second group of these, and fmally the bassoons and string basses. Violins add a beautiful melody of their own. The pleading rise and fall of the fugue subject, after the dotted figure with which it begins, becomes most poignant with the entry of the chorus, and continually mounts in emotion. A short ritornello precedes the second exposition and, when this is complete, Bach wonderfully rounds off the design by recapitulating, in the choral parts, the material of the first ritornello.

2. Christe eleison
The duets and arias are in the personal, intimate manner familiar to us in Bach's church cantatas and Passions, but there are no da capos in any of them. In the melodious chain of thirds and sixths, after the Italian style, in this D Major duet for the two sopranos (or soprano and alto) with violins and continuo accompaniment, Bach expresses the tender devotion always awakened in him by the name of his Saviour.

3. Kyrie eleison
Bach could not have contemplated a repeat of the music of the first Kyrie. The duet, with its prayer to Christ, has relaxed the painful tension and this second Kyrie, a strict fugue in F sharp minor in four parts with the orchestra, save for the basses, supporting the voices, breathes man's confidence in the divine mercy. The chosen key makes the break into the D major of the Gloria most effective. D major now becomes the prevailing key of the Mass.

Donald Francis Tovey

The first K yrie of the B minor Mass is so vast that it seems as if nothing could control its bulk; yet the listener needs no analysis to confirm his instinctive impression that it reaches its last note with an astronomical punctuality. The foundation of this im-pression is that the form is such as will seem ridiculously simple when it is correctly described. Helmholtz has prettily illustrated the capacity of the ear to analyse into component sounds the inextricable complexities of the waves that reach it. All depends on the point of view. If you are bathing in the sea you will not have much success in analysing the corrugations of the wave-fronts that break over your eyes. But if you are looking down on Brodick Bay from the shoulder of Goatfell you will be able to see all the interlockings of waves from wind, tide, steamers, down to the circles radiating from the diving-bird. Bach's ritor-nello gives us just such a hill-side view of the wave-system of his Kyrie. After setting the standard for scale and style in four mighty introductory bars for full chorus and orchestra, the ritornello begins. Its theme is a fugue-subject, confined at first to the upper voices. The whole matter of the ritornello is entrusted to the wood-wind, oboes d'amore in two parts doubled by flutes, until, towards the end, the basses enter with the subject. Meanwhile the strings have accompanied the whole with a beautiful harmonic halo. (He quotes the 25 bars of the ritornello)

The voices enter in the next bar. What will they do with this material? Well, the theme is a fugue-subject; so the five-part chorus begins with a five-part fugue exposition, which necessarily coincides with the ritornello for the first five bars. After this, how-ever, it must diverge, so as to lead to the entries of other voices. The accompaniment is reduced to the two oboes d'amore and the con-tinuo. The last voice to enter is the bass, after an anomalous entry of the first figures in the second soprano. As the bass finishes, the second soprano makes a true entry of the whole subject in the dominant. The orchestra supports this and henceforth the other entries voice by voice until it is supporting the whole chorus. This sixth entry proves to be the beginning of a choral recapitulation of the whole ritornello in the dominant, so that the F sharp minor cadence in bars 9-10 becomes a close in C sharp minor. In the episode the voices add entirely new counterpoints to bars 11-14; a fact which shows the danger of supporting large choirs by small orchestras; for unless the orchestra can assert itself here, the form is lost. At the bar corresponding to 15 the voices reunite with the orchestra and remain reunited until the end of the ritornello. Now the orchestra has an interlude in which portions of the theme drift in short sequences through various keys, including A major, the only major harmonies in the whole movement. Within eight bars there are four changes of instrumentation. Then the bass enters in the tonic at extreme depth as the beginning of a second exposition of the fugue. The orchestral bass necessarily supports the voice, but the rest of the orchestra is independent, the strings being also independent of the wind. The fugue rises from voice to voice, the tenor being unsupported by the orchestra. But violas support the alto, and violins the first soprano. The last voice to enter is the second soprano; and by entering in the subdominant it inclines the harmonic balance of the whole towards firmly establishing the tonic. The joints of this second fugue are larger than those of the first, and their rhetorical point consists in the advancement of the step marked * in Ex. I. In the first fugue that step has been pathetically flattened as in Ex. 2 (i). Now it is heightened as in Ex. 2 (ii) and (iii).

{Examples}

The natural result of bringing the fifth entry into the subdominant is that the sixth entry follows in the tonic. It thereupon initiates a final choral recapitulation of the whole ritornello. No wonthis huge movement seems after all to end punctually. Notice that though this form is so absurdly simple, it is so poised that no human ear can detect the moments when recapitulation begins. One fugue entry is exactly like another, and, even when marked by the support of the orchestra, the sixth entry does not immediately give away its secret.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 1, 2004):
I did a search of the number of entries of the fugue subject, and its instrumentation/vocalisation, in the opening Kyrie Eleison; here are my findings:

Opening ritornello:

Bar 5: given by flutes 1, oboes 1.
Bar 7: flutes 2, oboes 2.

Entry of chorus:

Bar 30: given by tenors.
Bar 32: altos.
Bar 37: sopranos 1.
Bar 39: sopranos 2.
(Bar 44: sopranos 2, with the initial part of the subject).
Bar 45: basses, with bassoon, violas, continuo.
Bar 48: sopranos 2, with violins (unison), oboes 2.
Bar 50: sopranos 1, flutes 1, oboes 1, violins 1.
Bar 65: basses, bassoon, continuo.

Second orchestral interlude:

Bar 72: oboes 2.
Bar 76: flutes 2, violins 2.

Second entry of choir:

Bar 81: basses, bassoon, continuo.
Bar 83: tenors.
Bar 88: altos, violas.
Bar 90: sopranos 1, violins 1.
Bar 97: sopranos 2, violins 2, oboes 2.
Bar 102: sopranos 1, violins 1, oboes 1, flutes 1.
Bar 104: sopranos 2, violins 2, oboes 2, flutes 2.
Bar 119: basses, bassoon, continuo (this is the final entry
of the subject).

Bar 126. End.

This means there are 21 entries of the fugue subject (or 20 if we discount the entry at Bar 45).

Notice how Bach realises increasingly powerful expositions of the fugue subject, as the movement progresses, by doubling it with more and more instruments.

Tony wrote (March 1, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] What is odd at first is the unevenness of the spacing of the entries.

Uri Golomb wrote (March 1, 2004):
< What is odd at first is the unevenness of the spacing of the entries. >
This is partly related to the fact that some of these entries belong to the choral repeats of the ritornello -- see Tovey's analysis as reproduced in Francis's message: (http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/7242). For convenience, here is a summary of the movement's structure:

1. Introduction: bars 1-4
2. First ritornello (orchestra only), in B minor: bars 5-29
3. First fugal exposition, in B minor: bars 30-47
4. Second ritornello (choir and orchestra), in F#-minor: bars 48-72
5. Interlude (orchestra only): bars 72-80
6. Second fugal exposition, in B minor: bars 81-101
7. Third ritornello (choir and orchestra), in B minor: bars 102-126

However, as Tovey points out, we do not really hear it like that: the entries that signal the beginning of each ritornello are not that different from those that are part of a fugal exposition.

The spacing of the fugal entries does relate to this, however: the ritornello does begin with two fugal entries, but afterwards the fugal subject does not appear again until it is brought back in the bass, towards the end, to confirm the return to the tonic.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 1, 2004):
Tony wrote: "What is odd at first is the unevenness of the spacing of the entries".
Something more to notice, if one considers that the fugue subject is exactly two and a half bars long, is that the following statements of the subject occur 'back to back' ie, immediately following on the previous one, in the case of the entries in bars 5,7 (instruments); 30(T),32(A); 45(B),48(S2),50(S1) - 45, because, unlike the other entries, the subject starts half way through bar 45; 81(B),83(T); 88(A),90(S1); 102(S1),104(S2).

But I don't think you need to find any numerical order in Bach.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 2, 2004):
I see my list omits the entry for continuo and bassoon, in bar 22 (in the opening ritornello). Sorry.

This brings the total number of entries of the fuque subject (where it occurs in reasonably complete form) back up to 21.

This study of the score has, surprisingly, raised my opinion of Richter's 1961 recording (the one with Maria Stader as soprano).

This recording features a monumental start for the full choir and orchestra, but there follows a sudden drop in the loudness level of the recording (from the start of the fugal exposition), with much apparent loss of 'presence' of the orchestra. Bob Sherman has said this is due to the LP to CD transfer.

However, in following with the score, I notice that most of the detail is present, and Richter, or rather, the recording, certainly regains some monumentality as the movement progresses. (How many recordings manifest the trills in the strings in the second half of the opening orchestral ritornello? I can hear them a couple of times in this recording).

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 3, 2004):
< For my part, I've always had a big problem with Richter's approach to this particular movement -- >
Me too. I have the single LP of excerpts from the 1961 recording, including this first Kyrie, and I can hardly bear to listen to it. I did today anyway, dutifully, several times.

I think the fundamental problem is: it's unrelentingly weighty, even in the quiet parts, with too much uniformity within phrases. The notes are given a pretty much equal importance to one another, as if that's a worthy goal...not allowed to have a natural rise and fall within them, like speech. The tempo is a trudge. Things are lightened up only by Richter's imposition of large-scale dynamic contrasts (which, fortunately, break up the monotony somewhat...he had to do something!). So much more could have been done with articulation, but there's that uniformity again.

And I quickly get weary of the way he made the principal subject louder than everything else, like shining a spotlight onto it. It reminds me of the way some pianists bash out the subject in fugues. The entrances of a fugal subject are only the bare structure on which to hang a piece, the principle of organization. It's all the other stuff, the COUNTERpoint, the unpredictable bits along the way, that gives the music some life. Not in this performance, though, IMO.

In strategy I think they have it all backwards: they get it to be all the same (as they see on the page) and then impose some contrasts into it artificially. A top-down organization. Rather, I think they should let all the phrases take their distinct little shapes, the parts perpetually jostling against one another, each having its own integrity; with the conductor then imposing only enough unity to keep this delightful conversation of the parts gently organized.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 5, 2004):
I have the Richter, Münchinger, and Hickox recordings.

General observations:

1st movement:

Richter: If one is prepared to enter into the world Richter is creating with this slow tempo (over 12 minutes), this is an arresting performance - but it demands one's total concentration. Those unable or unwilling to do so, will probably find this version to be unsatisfactory or unbearable. The various sections of Richter's choir have the ability to sing as with one voice, which promotes accuracy and clarity in the choral sound.

Münchinger: this rendition has a more usual tempo, (under 10 mins), but the large choir suffers from a 'fuzzy' sound, with vibratos from various sections of the choir. Not as arresting as Richter.

Hickox: This performance, at a speed similar to Munchinger, has greater articulation of the elements within the different lines, as you would expect from a period performance, and is more engaging than the Munchinger. This is a good 'middle of the road' period performance.

2nd movement.

Richter: this version is the best of the Christe Eleison's, with a beautiful orchestral sound, and pleasing (vocal) soloists.

Münchinger has an obtrusive continuo chamber organ, playing an uninteresting part in a very confined range of notes around middle C; Richter's approach, in which the continuo organ is barely audible (and what is heard is interesting), shows that this duet already has enough interest, with its two vocal lines, unison strings, and cello/double bass accompaniment.

(Another example of an unsatisfacorycontinuo keybord realisation I have heard recently is in Rilling's bass aria of cantata BWV 122, where the harpsichord imitates the rapid movement of the (notated) cello part, whereas what is needed is a keyboard part that offers a structural contrast, such as block chords.)

Hickox, (with harpsichord in the continuo), is satisfacory, but light-weight and matter-of-fact (lacking depth) in comparison to Richter.

3rd movement; This powerful motet-like movement is effectively in 4 parts (plus continuo), with the instruments doubling the voices, and therefore presents fewer problems than the 1st, to perform; all of the above three recordings are quite effective, although I am not enamoured of the non-legato treatment of the first three notes of the subject, as performed by Hickox.

Robert Sherman wrote (March 5, 2004):
I never cease to be thrilled by the first movement of the 1961 Richter b minor. If anyone finds it difficult to maintain concentration, I recommend using a first-class sound system and turning the volume up to full concert "Row A" level. You will find yourself drawn into it, submerged, unable to think about anything else.

That said, I regret that the transfer from vinyl to CD (it has been released twice on CD, but the issue arises both times) loses some of the orchestral bass depth and some of the clarity throughout the range. Hopefully some day it will be done again, and this time done right.

Charles Francis wrote (March 5, 2004):
Robert Sherman wrote: < I never cease to be thrilled by the first movement of the 1961 Richter b minor. >
I agree! With this performance, the profundity of the opening declamation is self-evident and the fugal exposition a beauty to behold. But concerning "attention deficit", is the trend towards faster tempi in substantial movements indicative of the general "dumbing-down" of serious music or is some other factor at work?

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 5, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote: < But concerning "attention deficit", is the trend towards faster tempi in substantial movements indicative of the general "dumbing-down" of serious music or is some other factor at work? >
Charles, why would faster tempi (faster than what....?) be evidence of "dumbing down"?! How does velocity equate with dumbness I wonder?!

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 6, 2004):
<< I never cease to be thrilled by the first movement of the 1961 Richter b minor. >
< I agree! With this performance, the profundity of the opening declamation is self-evident and the fugal exposition a beauty to behold. But concerning "attention deficit", is the trend towards faster tempi in substantial movements indicative of the general "dumbing-down" of serious music or is some other factor at work? >
I don't know anything about "dumbing-down" in that regard, except perhaps (not necessarily apropos to music) slow-witted people need to have things explained to them slowly, carefully, and repeatedly until they get it; and with any potentially distracting detail minimized. Slow-motion might also help, and perhaps Richter assumed the listeners to his records would not get it unless he slowed things down? That's just a guess. There could have been other reasons.

If "dumbing-down" of serious music is the topic, apart from tempo, what are we to make of the way Richter brings out the principal subject in this fugue more loudly than everything else around it, whenever it comes up? Did he think we perhaps were not intelligent enough to notice it without this extra emphasis? Or that we don't/shouldn't care to hear the other, less familiar and predictable, parts at those moments?

As I pointed out here at: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/7257
recently, it's the free stuff in fugues that gives them life: not the bashing out of a subject like the triumphant circling of letters in a word-search puzzle. (This is not intended as a slam of those who enjoy such puzzles--as several members of my immediate family do--; but the solution of a word search puzzle is a relatively mechanical pastime, not requiring much beyond persistence.) The fun in a fugue is the contrary motion, and the little whirlpools of decoys, and the voice-crossing giving different timbres, and the journeys to unexpected keys or rhythmic repositionings. That is, the quirks instead of the dependable infrastructure.

My favorite spot in this Kyrie is the section from bar 96 to about 103. Four of the voices have already entered with a regular tonic/dominant alteration in B minor, but the second soprano is held silent until it sneaks in at 97, in E minor, a bar before a cadence into E minor! All four of the other voices continue to develop other motivic material there. The tenor drops out in 99 and re-enters in 100...but not with the subject! Then the soprano 1 has the subject in 102, but again a bar before we might expect it, running right through the cadence into the downbeat of 103. A lesser composer would have made all these entries much more predictable, and after the cadences instead of through them, and with less interesting stuff in the other voices at those times, i.e. a "dumbed-down" composition.

In performance? It's so much more effective (to this listener, anyway) to have those entries sneak into an already-multifarious texture, instead of dominating it as Richter has them do. Richter's way overrules Bach's subtlety. Richter's choral texture is so thick, anyway, that the crossing of the voice parts (as Bach does so often throughout this piece) is obscured: just big blocks of sound, instead of contrapuntal lines that are easy to follow individually. What's the point of it being a fugue if those interesting free parts are going to sound merely like homophonic accompaniment to a subject? The dimensionality of the music is drained out of it. The texture is dumbed-down to only the most obvious effects, at a large scale. The music deserves better than that, IMO.

But, back to tempo: perhaps most of the more recent conductors who deliver this particular Kyrie have taken a look at Bach's meter marking, C, and noticed that it means four beats per bar instead of Richter's subdivided 4 (i.e. 8). Just because Richter has chosen a half-fast and bizarre interpretation of the meter--eight equally weighted quavers trudging through every bar--doesn't mean everybody else after him has to do so also.

So, I find this Richter performance of this Kyrie quite an ordeal to listen to: not so much because of the lumbering tempo alone, or the oppressive thickness and the de-emphasis of free material, but (more fatally) because there is hardly any articulative variety, and hardly any dynamic shaping at smaller levels within phrases. What is "thrilling" to some is portentous and overblown to others. If the music is going to delivered in slow-motion like this, at least it doesn't have to be like a steamroller flattening the macadam.

Even the notorious Klemperer (13'40"!) and Scherchen (14'46"!!) recordings, which are slower yet than Richter's here, are more palatable to me...both of these fine conductors allowed a more natural shape to the lines, and a stronger aura of stillness, within their extremely spacious and eccentric conceptions of the piece. The momentum builds up so nicely in these two: unfolding (seemingly) under the music's own steady motion, not muscled along by an autocratic subdivided beat from the conductor. Richter's, by comparison, just moves along from one artificially terraced dynamic to the next...it's so tense, except where it's forced so self-consciously to relax! The impression I get is that Richter was trying too hard to put across this music that doesn't need so much top-down management from the director.

Ehud Shiloni wrote (March 6, 2004):
I listened today to 23 [gasp.] different versions, and here are some thoughts:

This is one incredible piece of music. I cannot say if the tenors enter in the dominant or on what bar - this technical stuff is all Greek [or Chinese] to me - but I felt 23 consecutive times a tremendous sense of elation. I guess this is as cas an atheist or an agnostic can come to feel that there might be something "up there" after all.

Funny enough, I did not find any version which I did not like. This came as a surprise, because the motivation to purchase yet another performance comes partly from the wish to find a "better" one. Certain versions which I remember as not liking [e.g. King with the boys' choir] sounded highly likeable this time around. Go figure - the wonders of Bach!

HIP versus Modern - each tradition has its own special qualities. Though the effect may be different, each serves the music itself in its own "way": The modern instruments are brighter - the "period" ones sweeter. The large choir is powerful - the compact choir is clear and focused - and the soloists' ensembles have the intimate, individual presence of the singers [at least the good ones.]. I alternated old and new and found them all fascinating on their different merits.

For Richter - who was discussed here - I reserve the term "Impressive", and that goes to both the '61 version and to the Tokyo TV concert as well. However, I sensed an over emphasis on the "metronomic" accentuation of the "beat", which I found to be less then desired. Peter Schreier's version had the same slight problem.

I was pleasantly surprised with my encounter with both Herreweghe's versions. I remembered #1 as too mild and anemic, and #2 as "nothing special", but now I discovered that both are very fine, with the older one quite intimate and even more moving.

My #1 pick from the 23 is Hengelbrock [on DHM]. A notice to all timekeepers: Hengelbrock, who is as HIP as you can get, takes the Kyrie at a very slow 11:32 mins, a time more typical of the older, "modern" conductors.

Another special notice goes to the not-very-popular recording by Harry Christophers and the Sixteen - very effective.

One last thought is dedicated to Friedrich August II, elector of Saxony. Imagine yourself for a moment in his place - you are the king, you have just been presented with a piece of music, and all it takes is one word from you and its creator will be sitting in your court, composing music of such caliber just for you, at your wish. Ha? Just Imagine! And to think that this dumbo "king" passed on such an opportunity.

Cheers

Ehud Shiloni
[Who is a certified Bach "nut" , and owns six additional versions to the 23.:-)]

Charles Francis wrote (March 6, 2004):
Bradley P Lehman wrote:
< I don't know anything about "dumbing-down" in that regard, except perhaps (not necessarily apropos to music) slow-witted people need to have things explained to them slowly, carefully, and repeatedly until they get it; and with any potentially distracting detail minimized. Slow-motion might also help, and perhaps Richter assumed the listeners to his records would not get it unless he slowed things down? That's just a guess. There could have been other reasons. >
Right, so better to do the British Museum in an hour, than spend a week with a guide?

< If "dumbing-down" of serious music is the topic, apart from tempo, what are we to make of the way Richter brings out the principal subject in this fugue more loudly than everything else around it, whenever it comes up? Did he think we perhaps were not intelligent enough to notice it without this extra emphasis? Or that we don't/shouldn't care to hear the other, less familiar and predictable, parts at those moments? >
As you note, Richter uses terraced dynamics, so each statement of the subject is necessarily louder than the last as the piece builds to a crescendo.

< As I pointed out here at: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/7257
recently, it's the free stuff in fugues that gives them life: not the bashing out of a subject like the triumphant circling of letters in a word-search puzzle. (This is not intended as a slam of those who enjoy such puzzles--as several members of my immediate family do--; but the solution of a word search puzzle is a relatively mechanical pastime, not requiring much beyond persistence.) The fun in a fugue is the contrary motion, and the little whirlpools of decoys, and the voice-crossing giving different timbres, and the journeys to unexpected keys or rhythmic repositionings. That is, the quirks instead of the dependable infrastructure. >
I hear those details in Richter's performance. You don't?

< My favorite spot in this Kyrie is the section from bar 96 to about 103. Four of the voices have already entered with a regular tonic/dominant alteration in B minor, but the second soprano is held silent until it sneaks in at 97, in E minor, a bar before a cadence into E minor! All four of the other voices continue to develop other motivic material there. The tenor drops out in 99 and re-enters in 100...but not with the subject! Then the soprano 1 has the subject in 102, but again a bar before we might expect it, running right through the cadence into the downbeat of 103. A lesser composer would have made all these entries much more predictable, and after the cadences instead of through them, and with less interesting stuff in the other voices at those times, i.e. a "dumbed-down" composition. >
Very true.

< In performance? It's so much more effective (to this listener, anyway) to have those entries sneak into an already-multifarious texture, instead of dominating it as Richter has them do. Richter's way overrules Bach's subtlety. Richter's choral texture is so thick, anyway, that the crossing of the voice parts (as Bach does so often throughout this piece) is obscured: just big blocks of sound, instead of contrapuntal lines that are easy to follow individually. What's the point of it being a fugue if those interesting free parts are going to sound merely like homophonic accompaniment to a subject? The dimensionality of the music is drained out of it. The texture is dumbed-down to only the most obvious effects, at a large scale. The music deserves better than that, IMO. >
You raise an interesting point here. The trend towards smaller forces presumably increasing accessibility to Bach's music through greater textural transparency.

< But, back to tempo: perhaps most of the more recent conductors who deliver this particular Kyrie have taken a look at Bach's meter marking, C, and noticed that it means four beats per bar instead of Richter's subdivided 4 (i.e. 8). Just because Richter has chosen a half-fast and bizarre interpretation of the meter--eight equally weighted quavers trudging through every bar--doesn't mean everybody else after him has to do so also.
So, I find this Richter performance of this Kyrie quite an ordeal to listen to: not so much because of the lumbering tempo alone, or the oppressive thickness and the de-emphasis of free material, but (more fatally) because there is hardly any articulative variety, and hardly any dynamic shaping at smaller levels within phrases. What is "thrilling" to some is portentous and overblown to others. If the music is going to delivered in slow-motion like this, at least it doesn't have to be like a steamroller flattening the macadam.
Even the notorious Klemperer (13'40"!) and Scherchen (14'46"!!) recordings, which are slower yet than Richter's here, are more palatable to me...both of these fine conductors allowed a more natural shape to the lines, and a stronger aura of stillness, within their extremely spacious and eccentric conceptions of the piece. The momentum builds up so nicely in these two: unfolding (seemingly) under the music's own steady motion, not muscled along by an autocratic subdivided beat from the conductor. Richter's, by comparison, just moves along from one artificially terraced dynamic to the next...it's so tense, except where it's forced so self-consciously to relax! The impression I get is that Richter was trying too hard to put across this music that doesn't need so much top-down management from the director. >
Thanks for bringing the Klemperer and Scherchen recordings to my attention. I have their Matthew Passion performances and particularly like Klemperer's handling of the opening chorus.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 6, 2004):
< Even the notorious Klemperer (13'40"!) and Scherchen (14'46"!!) recordings, which are slower yet than Richter's here, are more palatable to me...both of these fine conductors allowed a more natural shape to the lines, and a stronger aura of stillness, within their extremely spacious and eccentric conceptions of the piece. >
For "Scherchen" here I was referring to the 1959 recording, not the earlier one. Earlier discussion (briefly) is here: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV232-Scherchen.htm
and I will be sending a photo of that MCA Classics "Double Decker" packaging to Aryeh, to add to the site. Brown background, simple graphics, Bach's name in yellow.

=====

Today I've been listening to an old set of records, a performance of BMM that shall remain uncredited here. It's from between 1950 and 1970. (Aryeh's site does list it, with the date.) Awful, and I hope never to hear a worse one in any other professional recording. The problems:

- Fairly large chorus with all kinds of vibratos fighting it out: a thick mess. And they tend to go flat on long held notes or quiet notes, and to rush in fast movements.

- Slow tempos with subdivided beat. (Example: the Kyrie 1 takes 42 seconds for the first four bars, and 12'30" for the whole thing. And the Credo is taken in 8 beats per bar, unbelievably slowly: half note = 62, compared with Scherchen's 96 and Leonhardt's 92. The "Et in Spiritum sanctum" is taken in 6 rather than in 2....)

- Tempo, articulation, and dynamics don't change within movements except for slight conventional ritards at cadences: that is, anything else not explicitly notated by Bach is not allowed to happen. Just big blocks of undifferentiated notes, going on interminably, with nothing ever happening within phrases. And then, in the Confiteor, the "Adagio" marking is overdone and the tempo drags down to almost no motion at all. (All this is literalism of the worst kind....)

- The orchestra's phrasing groups the notes within beats and beams, instead of allowing groupings across barlines, even when the musical figures obviously start off the beat. They hit the right notes but it sounds like sight-reading.

- Corollary to those two: the ends of phrases sound just as loud as the rest of the notes in them...especially in the trumpets. No natural tapering. Well, the trumpets are too loud at just about every place that they're in.

- The soloists sing the unstressed syllables in their texts just as loudly as the stressed syllables. No sense of meaning to the text, the syllables just being arbitrary-sounding vowels on which to hang notes.

- A thick vibrato in the French horn playing the Quoniam!

- Big obvious splice between the Quoniam and Cum sancto Spiritu, where the recording level drops a huge amount to avoid overload. Well, all the solo movements are recorded at a much higher level than the choruses; nothing resembling a natural match from any movement to the next.

- Whenever the chorus is singing fortissimo, it sounds like shouting. Good enthusiasm, poor control. And, since so many of the choruses are fortissimo all the way through (with the trumpets and timpani STILL too loud over it all!) it's tiring to listen to....

Ugh. If this were the only recording ever available, or the only approach to this music, I would hate the piece. Fortunately there are so many better renditions.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 7, 2004):
Regarding the effect of the increase in tempi in performance practice beyond those tempi which could be considered to be within the ‘mid-range’ of choices [I realize that the latter phrase may mean something else to a HIP conductor or to one that tends towards extreme tempi as other non-HIP conductors also sometimes did], here are some interesting quotations that might help to shed some light on this problem:

Friedrich Blume, in an MGG article on Romanticism, takes note of this phenomenon as follows:
>>Eine Vergröberung der Tempi und eine Art Flucht in die Extreme sind in der späten Romantik nicht zu verkennen. Damit hängt zusammen, daß die feineren Mittelnuancen allmählich ihre Wirkung einbüßten und die Tempoempfindlichkeit des einzelnen Satzes abnahm.<<
[„A coarsening {a distortion to an extreme so that fine distinctions are no longer perceivable} of the tempi and what might be termed a kind of flight into extremes can not easily be overlooked {are rather easily noted} in the late Romantic period {this period, as far as performance practices are concerned, can be stretched to include even the late 1950s.} Connected with this process (of coarsening) is the fact that the finer, mid-range nuances gradually lost their effect and the sensitivity {the perception of the finer distinctions of tempo available to the narrower range of available tempi} to the tempo of an individual movement decreased.”

A freer, more easily readable translation would be:
[“As the Romantic period came to a close in the late Romantic period, a noticeable change toward tempo extremes became apparent. These tempo extremes lacked the subtleties and fine nuances that had hitherto been used in the 19th century in performances and that probably gave a closer representation of the composers’ intentions. The extreme tempi chosen by some mid-20th-century conductors gave evidence of the loss of the fine nuances normally available to a more restricted, mid-range of tempo possibilities. As a result of these extreme tempi choices, the normal sensitivity toward the finer distinctions that could be assigned to an individual movement, were gradually decreasing as well.”]

Here Blume is indicating a problematical aspect of performance practice which involves moving toward the extremes in good musical taste. Walther, in his ‘Musicalisches Lexicon….’ (Leipzig, 1732) defines this as “Barbarismus” [“barbarism”] which can mean, among other things, “sich die Freyheit nehmen” [“to feel free to do whatever one wants to with the music”] and “bisweilen etwas Unrechtes mit anzubringen” [“from time to time adding something to the music which is not correct.”]

What could be some of the reasons for a conductor wishing to do the latter (to become a musical barbarian, according to Walther’s terminology?) I can think of a few reasons: 1) to attract attention of the listeners who have lost the ability to make the finer distinctions once perceived by earlier audiences; 2) to avoid personal boredom with the interpretation of a movement or composition which had been performed by this conductor many times before; 3) to assign this personally perceived boredom to all other listeners, many of whom may be hearing this piece for the first time, with the preconceived notion that these listeners would be bored with tempi representing the normal range of possibilities as intended by the composer; 4) to stake out a claim to fame and hopefully ‘beat’ the competition, particularly since the advent of recorded music where careful comparisons can be more easily made, by disregarding the nature and text of the music (sacred music is generally of a more serious nature and ‘serious’ can be equated with slower tempi, not those tempi which become overtly ‘dance-like;’) 5) to place the virtuosity of the players and singers before the content of the music as intended by the composer; and the list goes on….

Some other interesting insights into the problem of overly fast (or slow) tempi can be found in the article on “Tempo” by Klaus-Ernst Behne in the MGG. Behne reports on the findings derived from the research conducted by experts investigating the psychological aspects of tempi:

1) “Schnelle Rhythmen werden durchwegs als schöner und angenehmer empfunden als langsame“ [„Fast rhythms/(tempi of these rhythms) are consistently sensed/perceived as being more beautiful and pleasant than slower ones are.“] and “Kinder, oder allgemeiner, im mitteleuropäischen oder nord-amerikanischen Kulturkreis nicht sozialisierte Individuen scheinen häufig zu einer Bevorzugung schneller Musik zu neigen.“ [“Children, or more generally speaking, unsocialized/uncultivated individuals in the cultural circles of Central Euor North America, seem to tend frequently toward preferring faster music over music which is played more slowly.”] or, in other words, [“Children, but more generally any individual not highly cultivated, will prefer faster music over slower music.”]

This research comes from H. de la Motte – Haber in the article: „Über einige Beziehungen zwischen Rhythmus und Tempo” in Musikforschung 20, 1967, 281-284; and in the same journal: “Ein Beitrag zur Klassifikation musikalischer Rhythmen,” Köln 1968; [“Concerning some relationships between rhythm and tempo” and “A contribution toward the classification of musical rhythms.”]

According to Peter Brömse and Eberhard Kötter in „Zur Musikrezeption Jugendlicher. Eine psychometrische Untersuchung,“ (Mainz 1971) [„On the matter of how young people perceive music. A psychometrical investigation.“] there is “eine Affinität zwischen langsamer Musik und dem Stereotyp »Langeweile«” [„an affinity on the part of young people between slow music and the stereotypical concept of ‚boredom’”] while Roy Robert Hornyak (“The Affective Value of Pitch and Tempo in Music” in the American Journal of Psychology 49, 1937, pp. 621-630) had found that the “musikalischen Präferenzen bei Erwachsenen dagegen unabhängig vom Tempo zu sehen [sind]” [“the musical preferences of adults are, in contrast to the above, independent of tempo.”] In other words, most adults are capable of appreciating slower tempi without associating a slower tempo with the notion of boredom.

Perhaps Charles is right about the ‘dumbing-down’ technique applied by many current conductors of Bach’s sacred music. While they may not be deliberately pursuing such a goal, the end effect of their unremitting increase in the tempi used to perform Bach’s sacred music is that the needs and capabilities of the adult audiences are not being consistently met. On the contrary, the members of the listening audience which are being satisfied by the use of such extremely fast tempi and whose needs are more effortlessly being met without causing them to exert any additional effort on their part so that their expectations might be raised to a more adult level are primarily juvenile. The adult members of the listening public are being short-changed by this continuing tendency towards faster and faster tempi.

It is quite clear from evidence given by Mattheson (I am unable to find the reference now) and others (I will reluctantly use Quantz here because, in this instance, he may still be reflecting the general attitude (1752, Berlin) about the performance dictates that were still being followed after Bach’s death: “Nicht nur ein jedes Stück und eine jede Leidenschaft insbesondere, sondern auch der Ort und die Absicht einer Musik, geben dem Vortrage derselben gewisse Regeln und Einschränkungen. Z. E. Eine Kirchenmusik erfodert mehr Pracht und Ernsthaftigkeit, als eine theatralische, welche mehr Freyheit zuläßt“ p 245 [„The performance practice [in this instance we can imply the proper tempo to be used] is dictated by certain rules and limitations, not only by the nature of every individual composition [and any movement thereof] and each specific emotion/affect contained therein, but also by the physical environment [church vs. chamber or theater] and the intended purpose of the music: church music demands more splendor and seriousness than theatrical music, which allows for greater freedom [in the choice of tempi, among other things.”]

In the past I have outlined some of the other serious problems caused by overly fast tempi:

1) Lack of respect for the seriousness of the subject matter: treating Bach’s sacred music like light, background dance music intended simply to entertain and cause musical delight.

2) Evisceration of strength and nobility that are replaced with a casual lightness that begins to border on meaninglessness.

3) Voices and instruments are forced into a virtuosic mode where lightness (sotto-voce singing) and staccato playing begin to predominate.

4) The text is de-emphasized by the dropping or mumbling of syllables, often in passages where the voice is required to perform a tour de force which sounds overly rushed.

All in all, I view with great sadness (and some disbelief) this trend toward faster and faster tempi as it deprives me of hearing with a sense of wholeness and completeness what might have been some truly outstanding performances by HIP groups. These fast-tempo performances might appear to be exhilarating on the surface upon first hearing, but they do not ‘wear well’ with time and certainly are not suitable for Bach’s sacred music. A correction is definitely needed here! Let's keep the reasonable, sensible and authoritatively recommended and appropriately mid-range tempi (sans extremes)!

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 7, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< 4) to stake out a claim to fame and hopefully ‘beat’ the competition, particularly since the advent of recorded music where careful comparisons can be more easily made, by disregarding the nature and text of the music (sacred music is generally of a more serious nature and ‘serious’ can be equated with slower tempi, not those tempi which become overtly ‘dance-like;’) >
Thomas, why is sacred music generally more serious than secular music? The idea that 'seriousness' can be equated with slow tempi is quite fallacious, although it certainly accounts for the odd (and widespread) idea that conductors like Giulini, who tended (particularly in latter years) to take everything very slowly, produced performances of great profundity. The slowness = profundity theory is very pervasive, but it is a nonsense.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 7, 2004):
Ehud Shiloni wrote: "My #1 pick from the 23 is Hengelbrock [on DHM]. A notice to all timekeepers: Hengelbrock, who is as HIP as you can get, takes the Kyrie at a very slow 11:32 mins, a time more typical of the older, "modern" conductors."

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000001TZO/qid=1078662052/sr=1-2/ref=sr_1_8_2/202-7018783-2087027

Yes, the choruses in the samples sound very impressive indeed.

(IMO, the more spacious Richter remains more impressive in the Christe (duet), c.f. the brisker/lighter Hengelbrock and Hickox approach.)

But it is pleasing to see a relatively slow tempo, one that emphasizes the nobility of the work, for the opening movement, in such a recent (1997) recording.

Bob Henderson wrote (March 7, 2004):
A Kyrie is afterall an invocation. One does not hurry a call to "be with us". And it certainly is not a dance. While I still love my old favotite, the Richter. I do now however a clearer textured and more inflected approach. But there is one thing certain. When the Gloria breaks in after 22 minutes of invocation, one notices!

The contrast is truly glorious! I await the Suzuki for he more than others takes a devotional approach. I suspect and hope that his invocation will be just that. But I fear we will have to wait till 2006 for that release.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 7, 2004):
In response to the message at: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/7271

Obviously the writer has a personal preference against faster performances. Everything else in the message is a rationalization, an attempt to "prove" (especially with selective use of 18th century sources) that choice of fast tempos comes from wrong motivations.

His peroration:
>>All in all, I view with great sadness (and some disbelief) this trend toward faster and faster tempi as it deprives me of hearing with a sense of wholeness and completeness what might have been some truly outstanding performances by HIP groups.<<
That's a gratuitous bash of "HIP groups" as he already (earlier in the message) cited tendencies "towards extreme tempi as other non-HIP conductors also sometimes did". [As if musicians deliberately set out to be "HIP" or "non-HIP" in the first place, as if it's a clean dichotomy like that...but this point has already been beaten to debefore. Some musicians do their homework better than others, while learning pieces. Every musician comes to the task differently from every other musician, and therefore we come up with different interpretive perspectives. So what?]

In the writer's view, everyone who chooses an "extreme" tempo is irresponsible, and disrespectful of the music. He's entitled to this extremist opinion, even though it's mistaken. :)

>>These fast-tempo performances might appear to be exhilarating on the surface upon first hearing, but they do not ‘wear well’ with time and certainly are not suitable for Bachâ?Ts sacred music.<<
How about for listeners different from himself who find that quick tempos sometimes wear VERY well on repeated hearing, and that quick tempos sometimes give better clarity to the music?

>>A correction is definitely needed here! Let's keep the reasonable, sensible and authoritatively recommended and appropriately mid-range tempi (sans extremes)!<<
Yes: the needed correction here is the respect of professional and well-trained musicians who do the work. Why expect performers to shoot only for an average (mediocre) level in interpretation, and take no chances? Why castigate performers on their ability to think freely, and their enterprise? Why assume that the listening preferences of one aging consumer should restrict the work being done by the brightest and best, as if the only goal should be to please that one consumer?

Santu De Silva wrote (March 7, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: >>> Today I've been listening to an old set of records, a performance of BMM that shall remain uncredited here. It's from between 1950 and 1970. (Aryeh's site does list it, with the date.) Awful, and I hope never to hear a worse one in any other professional recording. The problems:

- Fairly large chorus with all kinds of vibratos fighting it out: a thick mess. And they tend to go flat on long held notes or quiet notes, and to rush in fast movements.
>>>
Sounds very much like a Karajan recording that I hate with a passion.

Charles Francis wrote (March 7, 2004):
[To Santu De Silva] Yes, his 1974 recording is not one of the best.

Charles Francis wrote (March 7, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < How about for listeners different from himself who find that quick tempos sometimes wear VERY well on repeated hearing, and that quick tempos sometimes give better clarity to the music? >
Quite so! As a kid, I would repeatedly listen to Lionel Rogg's Metzler organ recordings of Bach at 45 RPM instead of 33 RPM.

< Why castigate performers on their ability to think freely, and their enterprise? >
He didn't. It was rather their inability to think freely.

< Why assume that the listening preferences of one aging consumer should restrict the work being done by the brightest and best, as if the only goal should be to please that one consumer? >
Indeed age might be a factor. Once I reached puberty, Rogg sounded much better at the intended tempo.

Johan van Veen wrote (March 8, 2004):
[To Charles Francis] And who gave you the right to judge whether someone thinks freely or not? What an arrogance :(

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 8, 2004):
A writer, who himself gave a scathing critique of a recorded performance of the BMM without even referencing the specific recording in question (the BCML readers were left with a guessing game as to who the conductor might be,) now wishes to play another guessing game with me and wishes that I should take seriously an implied claim that he actually knows about and has access to pertinent 18th century sources (in the original German, please!) from the time (and general location) when Bach composed and (had) performed the BMM (the Kyrie in the early 1730s)!! These sources, he seems to claim, will state that church music should be played fast and lightly.

He stated:
>>Everything else in the message is a rationalization, an attempt to "prove" (especially with selective use of 18th century sources) that choice of fast tempos comes from wrong motivations.<<

Let this writer, without resorting to his usual bag of tricks (referring to sources inaccessible or difficult to obtain without even deigning to supply even a short paragraph, original-source quotation which pertains specifically to the matter under consideration), reveal which pertinent 18th century sources I have ‘selectively’ overlooked, sources which would make quite clear that the use of faster and faster tempi for Bach’s sacred music is just what Bach had in mind for his performances of such movements as the Kyrie in the BMM.

As a valid participant in a real, serious discussion of such a matter as this, this writer should have fired back with quotes from the 18th century sources, rather than resorting to his infamous smoke-and-mirrors technique which attempts to build up by means of innuendo some kind of vague notion that he really knows what he is talking about.

The writer mused:
>>Every musician comes to the task differently from every other musician, and therefore we come up with different interpretive perspectives. So what?<<

In regard to the speeding up of tempi over a few decades, we are discussing a clear trend here. This observable trend (even with a few exceptions here and there) subsumes all the individualities with their ‘different interpretative perspectives.’

Again, the writer stated:
>>In the writer's view, everyone who chooses an "extreme" tempo is irresponsible, and disrespectful of the music.<<

And here I thought this writer would have enjoyed the quote from Quantz’s ‘Versuch;’ but, unfortunately, this writer, who has quoted large sections from this work in the past, has selectively overlooked, or has not taken seriously, what Quantz stated quite clearly in his book:
“church music demands more splendor and seriousness than theatrical music”

If the writer insists upon equating splendor and seriousness with extremely brisk tempi (a continuing trend in recent performances), he may have an extremely unrealistic view regarding musical matters. He may thus even disqualify himself from speaking meaningfully on other aspects of the performance of Bach’s music since a normally-assumed basis of common understanding seems to be lacking in his case.

The writer also asked:
>>Why assume that the listening preferences of one aging consumer should restrict the work being done by the brightest and best, as if the only goal should be to please that one consumer?<<

Why assume that the listening and performing preferences of one iconoclast and ego-centric musician who refuses to reflect upon and incorporate evidence seemingly unknown to him should restrict the variety of non-extremist performances and recordings that become available to the listening public?

Suggestion to the writer: he should simply admit that he does not know the answer or can not contribute meaningfully anything more on the specific subject under discussion. Really, it won’t hurt, and he might even learn something from someone who does not have all his degrees and diplomas.

Awaiting the information which was missing in the first response from this writer....

Dismayed, but not angry,

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 8, 2004):
<< Why assume that the listening preferences of one aging consumer should restrict the work being done by the brightest and best, as if the only goal should be to please that one consumer? >>
< Indeed age might be a factor. Once I reached puberty, Rogg sounded much better at the intended tempo. >
One wonders what you would think of 19th century music played at eccentrically slow tempos. Personally, I think it can be very effective that way sometimes, especially if the music is about (or can be forced to be about) altered states of consciousness. Favorites include Wunderlich/Giesen in #12 of Dichterliebe, S Richter's Schubert 960, Glenn Gould's two recordings of the Siegfried Idyll, Klemperer in the Symphonie Fantastique (have an execution and going to hell ever taken so long?), and of course some of the Furtwangler recordings of the 9th. On the other hand, these are 19th century works and have nothing to do with Bach. In conclusion, perhaps eccentrically slow tempos work better in 19th cemusic than they do in Bach.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 8, 2004):
< A writer, who himself gave a scathing critique of a recorded performance of the BMM without even referencing the specific recording in question (the BCML readers were left with a guessing game as to who the conductor might be,) >
OK, it was Fritz Werner. But the points to be made were musical ones, and the omission of the conductor's name helped readers to focus on the musical points instead of conductor's reputation, did it not?

< now wishes to play another guessing game with me and wishes >
No, you have no idea as to anyone else's wishes than your own....

< that I should take seriously an implied claim that he actually knows about and has access to pertinent 18th century sources (in the original German, please!) from the time (and general location) when Bach composed and (had) performed the BMM (the Kyrie in the early 1730s)!! These sources, he seems to claim, will state that church music should be played fast and lightly. >
I don't know about that writer, but this writer has already pointed out that the Kyrie 1 of BMM is notated in C, not something to be conducted in 8 beats per bar. Not a difficult concept, taking seriously Bach's choice of meter notation, and leading readily to a performance of approximately 8 to 9 minutes: not 12 or 13 or 14.

This writer has also already referred readers to George Houle's book for matters of this type (meter signatures as they determine tempo), a book where those relevant 18th century (and 17th century) sources are conveniently spelled out and analyzed.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 8, 2004):
>> this writer has already pointed out that the Kyrie 1 of BMM is notated in C, not something to be conducted in 8 beats per bar. Not a difficult concept, taking seriously Bach's choice of meter notation, and leading readily to a performance of approximately 8 to 9 minutes: not 12 or 13 or 14.
This writer has also already referred readers to George Houle's book for matters of this type (meter signatures as they determine tempo), a book where those relevant 18th century (and 17th century) sources are conveniently spelled out and analyzed.<<
Between all the ‘this writers’ referred to above, one thing seems to be clear: that one of these writers, who usually chastises anyone who would take anything that Bach wrote too literally, is now, in this instance of personal selective choice on his part, “taking seriously Bach’s choice of meter notation.” This should give cause to wonder! Particularly when the most recent research reveals that ‘Bach’s choice of meter notation’ can not easily be used in determining the tempi of his pieces. At most, the use of Bach’s mensural notation in determining tempo is, according to Geoffrey Chew and Richard Rastall in the New Grove article on notation (Oxford University Press, 2003), for the most part ambiguous and unreliable:
“With this increasing variety of augmentation and diminution, especially from the 18th century, any note value could theoretically function as the beat, independent of considerations of tempo”

“Parallel with the partial emancipation of the time signature from tempo, there were two developments tending to make the determination of tempo and time easier: the increased use of bar-lines and of verbal specifications of tempo.”

“The increasing unreliability of time signatures as indicators of tempo is also reflected in the adoption of Italian (and later German, English and other) terms for this purpose.”

“The associations of numerical (fractional) time signatures, taken in isolation, are seldom unambiguous. No consistency exists in the music of the last three centuries even in the relationship between the note values chosen to function as beats and tempo.”

“Theorists continued to expound the significance of vertical bars in time signatures (as in C), and of the reversal of symbols … [symbol unable to print] as signifying diminution; but even when distinctions can be drawn between C meaning 4/4 and …[missing symbol] (‘alla breve’) meaning 2/2 or 4/2 (the latter, for example, in the Credo of Bach’s B minor Mass), it is by no means clear that the tempos of the beats were intended to be equivalent.”

So let the writer place his hand on his Houle bible which he believes gives him the authority to make such pronouncements about Bach’s tempi; however, in the real world there are voices of other experts who have taken into account Houle’s efforts (1960) along with many more recent investigations into this matter of mensural notation. They have presented their expert opinion as related above.

Tony wrote (March 8, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thanks for your message. I can understand why some members remain attached to one of the slow interpretations of the Kyrie that were produced in the mid-twentieth century, perhaps because these members are sentimentally grounded in the first recording of this movement they heard. One's first exposure is typically a powerful and conservatising memory.

I know that ultimately such a variable as tempo is subjective, but I can't help feeling that such slow interpretations belie the dance-paradigm that appears to govern all other Baroque music. Let's not confuse grandeur and profundity with slow tempo.

Uri Golomb wrote (March 8, 2004):
Not just one factor

I know we're supposed to be moving to the Gloria now, but still...

In the current feud over appropriate tempi for the First Kyrie -- the impression created was that tempo is, by itself, the single most important factor. I don't believe this to be the case. Brad did try to make this point earlier, when he cited his relatively favorable reaction to the Scherchen and Klemperer recordings (two of the slowest recordings of the First Kyrie ever -- though, I should add, not that eccentric by the standards of their time, i.e., the 1960s). His main gripe -- and mine -- with the Richter recording had less to do with tempo, and more to do with accentuation, articulation and phrasing.

Even such an issue as "is this movement in 4/4 or in 8/8" is not just a matter of tempo: it's also a matter of where you place the accents. If you take a slow tempo, and accentuate every quaver/8th-note, the result will sound 8/8. If you take the very same tempo, but accentuate the crotchets/quarter-notes -- and especially if you do so, for the most part, in a strong-weak-strong-weak pattern, rather than with equalised accentuation -- it will sound more like 4/4. (BTW, an interesting article on the issue of tempo and notation, originally published in Early Music, can be read on: http://homepages.kdsi.net/~sherman/bachtempo.htm).

Perceptions of time, emotional ambience, structure etc. are obviously affeced by tempo -- but not exclusively so. Take the following list of performances of the First Kyrie -- listed by year of recording: Jochum 1957, Richter 1961, Klemperer 1967, Hickox 1992. Which of these is the "odd man out"? Well, obviously, in some respects, it is Hickox: all the others are on "modern" instruments, they are considerably slower, employ broader articulation much of the time, etc.

And yet, in one crucial respect, Richter is the odd man out. All the other three -- Jochum, Klemperer and Hickox alike -- seem to care much more than Richter about the movement's overall shape. They all, in their different ways, create a sense of rising tension in the second part -- underlining the crescendo which begins with the bass entry in the second fugal exposition, reaching something like a climax around bar 102 yet also maintaining tension afterwards. Richter, on the other hand, has his basses enter in a forceful forte, which means that he has nowhere to go from there: instead of a crescendo, we get a constant, monumental, unyielding and inflexible forte.

And no, Hickox is not unique among so-called "HIP" performers in this respect. I could also have cited René Jacobs, Thomas Hengelbrock, Jeffrey Thomas, John Eliot Gardiner and Frans Brüggen (in no particular order).

Also, a point about subject-highlighting. The subject of the First Kyrie is one of Bach's more dynamic subjects --it has its own internal patterns of rising and falling tension. If you shape it accordingly, then bringing it out in fugal expositions can assist in creating an overall pattern of fluctuating tensions (several of the conductors named above -- e.g., Hengelbrock -- opt, not for a single continuosu crescendo in bars 81-102, but rather for an intermittent crescendo). However, if you subscribe to the idea that, in a fugue, a subject is always the point of stability, and treat it more harshly than other parts of the texture -- allowing flexibility, growth and development to occur only when the subject is not present -- you create something rather stilted. Something along those lines might be hapenning in Richter, though the worst offenders are perhaps Georg Solti and Peter Schreier.

Robert Sherman wrote (March 8, 2004):
When I was about 12, somebody gave me the Karajan recording for Christmas. Since it had Dennis Brain doing the horn solo, I presumed this recording was as good as it gets. But it was so turgid and boring that I couldn't force myself to listen to anything other than the Brain bit. I think it delayed my appreciation of Bach by about six years. So I agree with all your negative comments on this one.

Santu De Silva wrote (March 11, 2004):
People said: >> Indeed age might be a factor. Once I reached puberty, Rogg sounded
much better at the intended tempo. >>
Bradley Lehman writes: < One wonders what you would think of 19th century music played at eccentrically slow tempos. Personally, I think it can be very effective that way sometimes, especially if the music is about (or can be forced to >be about) altered states of consciousness. >
Age is, indeed, a factor.

We live in a time when, having bought a particular recording, we are able to modify it while we listen. In fact, we have the means to modify it permanently, if we have the right software.

In the context of a recording as a finished product, I suppose THE TEMPO of the work matters. What is the "right" tempo? What was the "intended" tempo? What is the best tempo for a particular instrument and venue? These questions have different answers. The answers have implications for the value of the recording to the potential consumer.

I, like someone, used to play E. Power Bigg's recordings of BWV 565 and 543 at 45RPM instead of 33+1/3 RPM. The harmonic rhythms made more sense to me at that age (around 18).

But now I am grown up, and though I can't claim to have put away childish things, I can see the wonderful waltz that the A minor fugue is. My clock ticks only half as fast as the clock of a teenager, so I can see the wood(s) in spite of the wonderful, wonderful trees!

The fugue of the passacaglia (BWV 585?) is a case in point. There are so many little notes that make the shimmering texture, it seems that it sounds best at a deliberate tempo. After a while, you're swept away with the momentum of the thing, provided you can feel, in your body, the sway of the huge beat of the thing. But I doubt if i could feel it if I were a kid.

Jef Lowell wrote (March 11, 2004):
[To Santu De Silva] I was interested to see that other people have experienced such dramatic differences in music by changing tempo and (as in the case of LP records)pitch. All my life, I have experimented with the fascinating changes in the music one can hear by applying these variables. I own an ancient Lenco turntable with a continuously variable speed control. This will go into my coffin with me!

Alterations in KEY tend, to my ear, at least, to bring other aspects of the music into focus than can be heard in the nominal key. When I was a youngster, I also played 33s at 45, and vice-versa. But not for the tempos! For the illuminations of details in the music.

Then, over thirty years ago, when I discovered Bach for myself, I found myself applying the same techinques.

If anyone feels crazy enough to do it, try this: Get ahold of an LP of the Walter Carlos' (it was still "Walter" then) BY REQUEST, and play the G minor "Little" fugue on 45. Yes, the tempo jumps, but the key changes and new things seem ot emerge. I have gotten so used to hearing it this way that I can hardly stand to play it the "right" way anymore. Also, the Carlos version of the Brandenburg Concertos (the LP two disc set)offer a plethora of treats to any Bach freak with turntable capable of playing 16 RPM. You just can't hear all the amazing stuff the Master built into these pieces whin the fly by at the original tempo, and the synthesized performances do not get muddy at the slow speed if you roll off the bass a little.

Thanks for reading this.

Pieter Pannevis wrote (March 11, 2004):
[To Jef Lowell] This is a great idea!

I still have my Luxmann turntable with a very nice element And I've got Walter Carlos

Thank you for reminding me that 33-rpm vinyl is perhaps nicer than the CD dots we have now I'll have the experiment

thank you Jef !

Have Bach each day of your life !


Mass in B minor BWV 232: Details
Recordings:
Until 1950 | 1951-1960 | 1961-1970 | 1971-1980 | 1981-1990 | 1991-2000 | From 2001 | Individual Movements
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10
Systematic Discussions:
Part 1: Kyrie | Part 2: Gloria | Part 3: Symbolum Niceum | Part 4: Sanctus | Part 5: Osanna, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, Dona Nobis Pacem | Part 6: Early Recordings | Part 7: Summary
Individual Recordings:
BWV 232 - Abbado | BWV 232 - Biller | BWV 232 - Brüggen | BWV 232 - Corboz | BWV 232 - Eby | BWV 232 - Ericson | BWV 232 - Fasolis | BWV 232 - Gardiner | BWV 232 - Giulini | BWV 232 - Harnoncourt | BWV 232 - Hengelbrock | BWV 232 - Herreweghe | BWV 232 - Jacobs | BWV 232 - Jochum | BWV 232 - Junghänel & Cantus Cölln | BWV 232 - Karajan | BWV 232 – King | BWV 232 - Klemperer | BWV 232 - Kuijken | BWV 232 - Leonhardt | BWV 232 - Ozawa | BWV 232 - Pearlman | BWV 232 - Richter | BWV 232 - Rifkin | BWV 232 – Rilling | BWV 232 - Scherchen | BWV 232 – Schreier | BWV 232 - Shaw | BWV 232 - Solti | BWV 232 - Suzuki | BWV 232 - J. Thomas & ABS
Articles:
Mass in B Minor, BWV 232 (by Teri Noel Towe) | Bach’s B minor Mass on Period Instruments (by Donald Satz) | Like Father, Like Son [By Boyd Pehrson]

Recordings & Discussions of Other Vocal Works: Main Page | Motets BWV 225-231 | Mass in B minor BWV 232 | Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242 | Magnificat BWV 243 | Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 | Johannes-Passion BWV 245 | Lukas-Passion BWV 246 | Markus-Passion BWV 247 | Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 | Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-523 | Quodlibet BWV 524 | Aria BWV 1127

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Last update: ýMarch 31, 2004 ý23:07:47