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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

Mass in B minor BWV 232

General Discussions - Part 11

Continue from Part 10

Smend's guess at the BMM duration

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 6, 2004):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< (...) But, as Brad explicilty stated, he extracted that PDF file from the NBA's vocal score. A vocal score contains all the vocal parts (soli and choir), and a solo keyboard part which represents the entire orchestra. It is intended for use in choral rehearsals and, perhaps, for performances where the organ plays instead of the orchestra (I understand such performances do happen from time to time -- though I have never attended one myself). A vocal score is, explicitly, an editor's reduction. It doesn't pretend to represent an Urtext (at least insofar as the instrumental parts are concerned). I don't think that such an edition is seriously liable to confuse anyone: normally, it would not be used in a full choral-orchestral performance (except, as I said, in the choir's separate rehearsals -- before it is joined by the orchestra). In any case, no-one but the most ignorant musician would confuse the reudction contained in such a vocal score with the composer's intentions. I mean, do you really believe that any musician would pick up such a vocal score and conclude from it that Bach intended the B minor Mass to be accompanied, from beginning to end, by a single keyboard instrument with no orchestra whatsoever? Which is exactly what a vocal score would look like. >
Well said.

One other tidbit, from looking at this NBA/Baerenreiter vocal score by Friedrich Smend: on the Contents page Smend suggested that the duration of the piece is 135 minutes. 135!

Looking through all the timings at Aryeh's site: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV232-Rec1.htm
and its companion pages by decade, I see only two recordings that are within one minute of 135. Those are the 1959 Scherchen remake at 135 and the 1967 Klemperer at 136 (both of which I have here, coincidentally). Shaw's 1960 remake is the next closest, at 133, and Enescu in 1951 at 132. The only one here longer (i.e. slower) than Klemperer's is the 1952 Karajan at 148(!). [And admittedly, quite a few other entries in that discography don't have a timing listed yet; nothing can be concluded from blank values.]

The average of the most recent recordings (past 20 years) is approximately 105 minutes: that is, Smend's estimate from 1955 has missed it by half an hour according to current practice. (Intermission between the halves? <grin>) Uri will surely have more intelligent things to say about this than my informal glance at it here today.

Anyway, this is just to point out casually that everything--even the supposedly authoritative Neue Bach-Ausgabe--is a product of its own time in some details, and not a timeless prescriptive document for performance practice. This NBA vocal score is copyright 1955.

Brad Lehman
(...who did first learn the piece as rehearsal pianist for a chorus: 2.5 hours once a week for about three months, playing out the voice parts as needed and the orchestral reduction otherwise...a good practical way to get to know the music from different angles. Then switched to improvising from the continuo part for those orchestral rehearsals and performances, on organ. That was a performance where as I mentioned we didn't have any bassoons, so it fell to me to play their "Quoniam" solo parts on the organ also. Always an adventure.)

Neil Halliday wrote (April 6, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
"One other tidbit, from looking at this NBA/Baerenreiter vocal score by Friedrich Smend: on the Contents page Smend suggested that the duration of the piece is 135 minutes. 135!"
The 1st Rilling (1977) is 129 mins, 1st Richter (1961) 123, Münchinger 119, 2nd Rilling (1999) 112, Hengelbrock 109 mins.

My impression is that both the last two recordings contain individual movements that are much too fast; and considering that they both have slow (and very effective) 1st Kyries (over 11 mins), I do not feel inclined to part with any more of my hard earned in order to sample the current crop of 105 minute BMM's.

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 6, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
"Looking through all the timings at Aryeh's site:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV232-Rec1.htm and its companion pages by decade .... [And admittedly, quite a few other entries in that discography don't have a timing listed yet; nothing can be concluded from blank values.]"
If any member of the BCML has information about missing TT in a recording of the MBM, please inform me (to my private e-mail address) and the relevant page will be updated.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 6, 2004):
'Reasonable' times for the BMM.

I have just seen from the BCW that Hickox's 1992 BMM has a TT of 108 mins. I have an almost complete recording of this on tape; I would not have believed it is actually shorter than Hengelbrock's reading of 109 mins duration and Rilling (1999) of 112 mins.

The explanation is that Hickox's 1st Kyrie comes in at close to 9 mins, compared with 11 minutes for Hengelbrock and Rilling (1999); even though it lacks some of the gravitas of these latter two, it does not sound rushed, and, by avoiding extremes in the other movements, Hickox can claim reasonable tempos in all the movements of the Mass.

(By contrast, from memory, Hengelbrock is ridiculously fast in the Cum Sanctu Spiritu, and Rilling (1999) trivialises the 'Et in Terra Pax' with an overly fast tempo).

So it seems I have to allow 108 minute BBM's as being possible contenders for the reasonable tempo stakes; but since Hickox is brisk enough in all the movements, anything faster probably only works with OVPP (not my cup of tea).

At the other extreme (of performances I know), Rilling (1977), with almost 130 minutes, is grand in the choruses and spacious in the arias; I do recall once feeling that the tempo in one of the choruses (or was it an aria?) was too relaxed, but subsequent hearings have failed to confirm that impression. Nevertheless, I would put this (130 mins) as the reasonable maximum time for the Mass.

Uri Golomb wrote (April 6, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrtote:
< Looking through all the timings at Aryeh's site http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV232-Rec1.htm
and its companion pages by decade, I see only two recordings that are within one minute of 135. Those are the 1959 Scherchen remake at 135 and the 1967 Klemperer at 136 (both of which I have here, coincidentally). Shaw's 1960 remake is the next closest, at 133, and Enescu in 1951 at 132. The only one here longer (i.e. slower) than Klemperer's is the 1952 Karajan at 148(!). [And admittedly, quite a few other entries in that discography don't have a timing listed yet; nothing can be concluded from blank values.]
The average of the most recent recordings (past 20 years) is approximately 105 minutes: that is, Smend's estimate from 1955 has missed it by half an hour according to current practice. (Intermission between the halves? <grin>) Uri will surely have more intelligent things to say about this than my informal glance at it here today. >
For the moment, although I listened to over 70 recordings of the Mass, I do not have reliable timing data on all of them (in some cases, I listened to LPs and measured their timing by stop-watch; and scratches on the surface sometiems spoiled the timing anyhow). However, I will soon respond to Aryeh's request, and send him whatever timing data I have which could complement what appears on his website.

Generally speaking, I doubt if there would be many other performances -- besides the two already mentioned by Brad -- that would have an overall timing of 135 minutes or more. But overall timings are, of course, deceptive. I don't know how Smend arrived at his, but I'm guessing he had some speculation as to how long each movement should be, and 135 is the overall result (another option, however, would be that that he simply based on his estimation on the overall duration of a performance. It can't be Scherchen or Klemperer, since both of them were issued after his edition had been published).

Klemperer's timing reflect a performance which features slow tempi all the way throuhg. Scherchen's, on the other hand, has some rather fast movements -- such as the "Domine deus" -- but his First Kyrie is ever slower than Klemperer's. To cite a more recent example, Hengelbrock approaches the slowest tempi on record in both Kyries and in the Crucifixus -- but his overall timing is under 110 because he also has some of the fastest movement on record.

So: an overall timing doesn't tell you what the tempi of specific movements would be. And don't forget the possibility of tempo flexibility within movements.

But most importantly -- as I already said in: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/7288 -- tempi themselves can be deceptive. I don't have much to add, at the moment, on what I said there -- except to say that I think Neil is making a mistake in refusing to sample more performances based solely on their own overall timing. Even if you know in advance the tempi or durations for each and every movement, you still cannot conclude from this how the performance will sound: there are effective ways to play a movement in a fast tempo, yet prevent it from sounding pressured and hurried.

 

Tempi and Junghänell's Mass

Uri Golomb wrote (April 6, 2004):
PS to my previous message:
I recently listened to -- and reviewed -- Junghänel's version of the B minor Mass. I had some reservations, but on the whole I enjoyed it very much. Junghänel's performance features fast tempi for the most part; its overall timing is 100 minutes. Yet I rarely found it rushed. (Rarely, not never: his Gratias and Dona nobis, in particular, struck me as rather glib and superficial). For the most part, the combination of beautiful sound and detailed, sensitive phrasing made the music sound more expansive, giving a sense of natural flow which one would not expect just by glancing at the timing. Neil is probably right, though, in his assumption that such an effect is easier to achieve in one-per-part. (strictly speaking, Junghänel is not one-per-part -- like Parrott, he alternates between one-per-part and two-per-part. However, I found his purely one-per-part movements to be the most convincing; among other things, he has perhaps the most convincing "Qui tollis" on record).

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 7, 2004):
Uri Golomb writes:
< Junghänel's performance features fast tempi for the most part; its overall timing is 100 minutes. Yet I rarely found it rushed. (Rarely, not never: his Gratias and Dona nobis, in particular, struck me as rather glib and superficial). >
Heretical I know, but I wonder if Bach is partly to blame here - the Dona Nobis always seems a slightly lame conclusion (because, effectively, we've heard it before) and it's hard to give it the weight needed to make of it an effective final movement without overly monumentalizing it.

John Pike wrote (April 7, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] Goodness! I have always found it the most remarkable and spiritually uplifting end to a most extraordinary work.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 7, 2004):
[To John Pike] "Goodness! I have always found it the most remarkable and spiritually uplifting end to a most extraordinary work."

Might I suggest Mr. Jackson has been listening to the wrong musicians?

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 7, 2004):
< Might I suggest Mr. Jackson has been listening to the wrong musicians? >
Who might the wrong musicians be?

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 7, 2004):
John Pike wrote:
< Goodness! I have always found it the most remarkable and spiritually uplifting end to a most extraordinary work. >
Fair enough. But the fact that it is a reworking of material already heard, and is pretty short, means that, for me, it is slightly (and I did say slightly before!) unsatisfying as a conclusion to a piece of this scope and scale.

Charles Francis wrote (April 7, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Might I suggest Mr. Jackson has been listening to the wrong musicians? >
Quite so! For me, the greatest movement ever penned!!! May I suggest a competent performance, such as Rilling (1977) may reveal the light.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 7, 2004):
Gabriel asks:
"Who might the wrong musicians be?"
Those musicians who have left you with the impression that the 'Dona nobis pacem' is a "slightly lame" conclusion to the Mass in B minor -)

(From my point of view, I am quite amused by period instrument enthusiasts coming onto this board and telling us how 'ugly' or 'lame' Bach's music is!).

Seriously though, have a look at the score. Beginning with a large orchestra of strings, oboes, flutes and continuo, Bach adds the three trumpets, one at a time, and finally the timpani, in the manner of an organist adding stops, for a rousing and grand conclusion. The rhythmic intensity of the drums increases in the last bars. A double forte dynamic at the end is obviously appropriate. This is the whole world enthusing "Give us peace!" (Have you heard Hengelbrock?)

Your objection (but it's not mine) that all this has happened previously (in the 'Gratias') can be dealt with by the simple expedient of using larger forces and/or stronger dynamics in the concluding movement (or rather, smaller forces/quieter dynamics for the Gratias).

If you are saying that a performance of Bach can never be "monumental", I reject that proposition out of hand.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 7, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
< Quite so! For me, the greatest movement ever penned!!! May I suggest a competent performance, such as Rilling (1977) may reveal the light.
>
You might, but I doubt you would be right. What would be an incompetent performance, in your judgement?

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 7, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
< May I suggest a competent performance, such as Rilling (1977) may reveal the light.
>
I wonder who you are to judge whether a performance is competent or incompetent, given that you apparently cannot tell the difference between a full score and a vocal score (with keyboard reduction) as you have previously demonstrated.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 7, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Those musicians who have left you with the impression that the 'Dona nobis pacem' is a "slightly lame" conclusion to the Mass in B minor -) >
This is actually quite an interesting question. For just as you propose that the "Dona nobis pacem" is "a rousing and grand conclusion" and it only the wrong musicians that fail to create that impression, one can equally argue that the conclusion actually is slightly lame but the performers can overcome the problem.

"(From my point of view, I am quite amused by period instrument enthusiasts coming onto this board and telling us how 'ugly' or 'lame' Bach's music is!)."
Suggesting a movement might be slightly lame as a conclusion is hardly the same as describing Bach's music as "lame" full stop! And I never said it was ugly....

"Seriously though, have a look at the score."
I don't need to look at the score to hear what is happening in the music. Incidentally, the gradual increase in registration to effect a general crescendo during the course of a section of music is not something that Bach or any other organist of his time would do, since both hands are fully occupied.

And no, I haven't heard Hengelbrock, but I would like to.

"Your objection (but it's not mine) that all this has happened previously (in the 'Gratias') can be dealt with by the simple expedient of using larger forces and/or stronger dynamics in the concluding movement (or rather, smaller forces/quieter dynamics for the Gratias)."
This rather supports my argument that one has to "do" something to the music to make it work.

"If you are saying that a performance of Bach can never be "monumental", I reject that proposition out of hand."
Fair enough. But I object to the monumentalising of any music, particularly Bach.

Charles Francis wrote (April 7, 2004):
Gabriel Jackson wrote:
< I wonder who you are to judge whether a pis competent or incompetent, given that you apparently cannot tell the difference between a full score and a vocal score (with keyboard reduction) as you have previously demonstrated. >
The vocal score with keyboard reduction differs from the Urtext (it is, after all, a transcription). It is unlikely to reflect Bach's intentions for a hypothetical performance (particularly with regard to the mirroring of vocal parts in the keyboard reduction). These points are self-evident, so I am somewhat surprised at the hostile reaction and hurt feelings of some.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 7, 2004):
[To Charles Francis] Indeed they are, which is the whole point! It is not just unlikely, but quite impossible that a keyboard reduction represents Bach's intentions for performance. Why are you now asserting something as if others didn't already know it, when it had to be explained to you in the first place? It is this sort of silliness that has provoked the reaction which now suprises you.

Ehud Shiloni wrote (April 7, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] Without getting into the huge battle which have erupted here, I'd like to lend some support to Gabriel's observation about the "weight" of the Dona Nobis. When I heard the Mass for the first time, I too had the feeling that this grand creation is ending on a somewhat diminutive note. While practically every other movement is a chock-full-of-surprises, with incredible and ingenious development of each musical "plot", the Dona appeared to me as a rather straightforward, almost predictable piece, not laden with strong emotions as the others.

As I said, this was my instinctive, "first heard" experience. Later on, after many hundreds of listening sessions, the Dona had found its place, and it now definitely sounds to me as a most sublime and appropriate way to conclude the amazing journey. And, incidently, it does the trick for me even without grandioze dynamics. Anyway, that's my personal two cents here.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 8, 2004):
I think the fuss here about Junghänel's BMM tempos is the proverbial "tempest in a teapot."

The man followed a reasonable interpretation of the score's instructions: all the alla breve movements of the Mass really are played here alla breve. What does that mean? Literally, that the breve (white note with no stem) gets the beat. It's a brave and admirable interpretive choice. Why lambast the man for following instructions?

Who's objecting to it here? People who have heard it some other way (half-speed or less) too many times, for whom the slow tempo with a different level of the beat is therefore "correct" since it's so much more familiar.

I feel that Junghänel's interpretation in this matter sounds terrific. It takes the music seriously in an area of interpretation that is usually overlooked. It also brings out Bach's contrasts between stile antico (these movements) and the more modern styles, the universality of this mass setting. The music is still grand at quicker tempos, due to the rich orchestration and Bach's surface decoration written into the composition, and the clear motion of the harmony. Brilliant.

Really, the only tempo of Junghänel's I'd personally object to is the middle section of the "Confiteor", where I don't think it has to slow down that much. I believe the word "Adagio" is more a mood-word than a tempo-word, and that "at ease" character could be brought out just as well without slowing down so much. The surface speed of the note-values has slowed down there anyway: slower harmonic motion, the different texture of the bass line, and only one pair of quavers in the voice parts where they were much more frequent in the first section: it's not necessary to overdo it by slowing down that much more. That character of "Adagio" would also work just fine, done approximately twice as fast as Junghänel takes it there. (At least it's not as extreme a change there as in Richter's 1961, in the sample Charles provided! EX-TREEEEE--MMMM-ELY slow!) It seems to me that the word "Adagio" there is just a caution that the music's character is changing: as indeed it's a new section of the sung text: not necessarily calling for a huge lurch of tempo change.

I wonder how Junghänel's performance sounds to people who come to it having never heard the piece before: therefore with no expectations about the way it "should" go, or would more typically go.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 8, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< I think the fuss here about Junghänel's BMM tempos is the proverbial "tempest in a teapot."
The man followed a reasonable interpretation of the score's instructions: all the alla breve movements of the Mass really are played here alla breve. What does that mean? Literally, that the breve (white note with no stem) gets the beat. It's a brave and admirable interpretive choice. Why lambast the man for following instructions?
Who's objecting to it here? >

John Pike wrote (April 8, 2004):
[To Ehud Shiloni] "Dona Nobis Pacem" does actually mean, of course, "Give us Peace". It is surely appropriate, therefore, that there is some element of understatement.

John Pike wrote (April 8, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Such a helpful contribution. I thank God that Brad is still on this list and has not been persuaded to leave by the constant barrage of ill-founded criticism.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 8, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< I think the fuss here about Junghänel's BMM tempos is the proverbial "tempest in a teapot."
The man followed a reasonable interpretation of the score's instructions: all the alla breve movements of the Mass really are played here alla breve. What does that mean? Literally, that the breve (white note with no stem) gets the beat. It's a brave and admirable interpretive choice. Why lambast the man for following instructions? >
Absolutely! It's interesting that my doubts about the effectiveness of the "Dona nobis pacem" (as music) have only been countered with, effectively, "you need to hear it performed slowly and then any reservations you have will disappear". Not very convincing....

Neil Halliday wrote (April 8, 2004):
Bradley Lehman writes:
"The man followed a reasonable interpretation of the score's instructions: all the alla breve movements of the Mass really are played here alla breve. What does that mean? Literally, that the breve (white note with no stem) gets the beat."
Am I correct in saying that there are two semibreves to the bar in these 'alla breve' movements, and that therefore the semibreve gets the beat? (I think this is in fact what you are saying; but I believe a 'breve' is a rectangular white note of a whole bar's length, an example of which can be seen at the very beginning of the Credo).

Indeed, I do find Hengelbrock's 'fast' performance of the first two 'Credo' movements to be more acceptable, and at least listenable, when viewed in this light (two beats to a bar). (Thanks, Brad!).

However, in comparison with other versions I know, they remain to me, somewhat glib, and lack a certain - 'monumentalism'. (Perhaps this is one of the major fault lines between the tastes of the contributors to this board, namely, an ability or willingness to experience 'grandeur' or 'monumentalism' in Bach's music. Just a thought.)

While I concede Brad has successfully made the point that Junghänel is "following directions" (I am assuming similar speeds to those in Hengelbrock's fast 'alla breve' movements), I must also point out the fact that so are Richter, and Rilling, and others, in these same 'alla breve' movements; as is Hengelbrock, in the 'Dona nobis', and it is this last example that makes my point: Hengelbrock is almost half the speed in the 'Dona nobis' (c.f. his 1st two 'Credo movements), despite the fact of the same time signature (of two semibreves to a bar) applies in all of these movements. Needless to say, the effect of this is a very grand performance from Hengelbrock of the 'Dona nobis', progressing as it does with two 'huge' (slow) beats to a bar.

Conclusion?

We are mistaken to argue over speeds, and each listener remains free to choose the performance speed that 'delivers the goods' for him or her.

As fthe level of inspiration of the 'Dona nobis', I'm happy to leave that for the experts to ponder; for my part, I look forward to the exhiliration I experience every time I play Richter, or Rilling, or Hengebrock, or Hickox (all relatively 'slow').

P.S. For those listeners who 'can't get no satisfaction' from the Dona nobis, I can only say - one day, maybe....:-)

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 8, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Needless to say, the effect of this is a very grand performance from Hengelbrock of the 'Dona nobis', progressing as it does with two 'huge' (slow) beats to a bar. >
In other words, it's actually in four......?

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 8, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote:
Brad writes: "The man followed a reasonable interpretation of the score's instructions: all the alla breve movements of the Mass really are played here alla breve. What does that mean? Literally, that the breve (white note with no stem) gets the beat."
< Am I correct in saying that there are two semibreves to the bar in these 'alla breve' movements, and that therefore the semibreve gets the beat? (I think this is in fact what you are saying; but I believe a 'breve' is a rectangular white note of a whole bar's length, an example of which can be seen at the very beginning of the Credo). >
I guess that depends if one takes a pendulum swing as "the beat" each time it hits bottom (half swing), or as each time it gets all the way back to the side where it started (twice as long, a complete swing). See especially the first chapter of George Houle's Meter in Music, 1600-1800 where he presents the 17th century concepts of Tactus (measure) and Tact (beat).

To be clear with nomenclature: a breve is a square white note with no stem, a semibreve (half that long) is a round white note with no stem (the one modern American musicians call "whole note"), a minim (half that long) is a round white note with a stem, and a crotchet (half that long) is a round black note with a stem.

Alla breve here in the BMM's Kyrie II, Gratias, Credo, and Dona nobis -- if taken literally as "at the breve" -- refers to the whole measure. That's eight notes of the bass line (crotchets) in the Credo. Or, all four rising notes of the subject in Gratias/Dona nobis, bouncing off a rest. Or, "Kyrie e-" in the Kyrie II.

If the conductor is beating semibreves, down and up in alternation, those down-strokes at the beginning correspond to the syllables "Cre-, Do, Un-, De-" in Bach's setting here. Then in bar 33, when Bach brings in the bass singer[s] on this subject at half speed, i.e. an augmentation, the whole thing is syncopated, occurring on the up-strokes! This syncopated effect is of course dissipated, and lost altogether, if the conductor is beating smaller note-values than the semibreve.

Why does it matter what level the conductor beats, in a practical sense? Because that's the level at which the players and singers give emphasis and accent, and are most careful to stay together.

Here are Junghänel's tempos in these alla breve movements (my quick checks this morning with a metronome):

Kyrie II, cut-C, "Alla breve": semibreve = 44 (starts slightly slower than that, but that's eventually the average)

Gratias agimus tibi, cut-C, "Alla breve": semibreve = 50

Credo, cut-C, no words: semibreve = 60

Confiteor, cut-C, no words, bars half as long: semibreve = 48; at the "Adagio" it eventually gets down to crotchet = 56, i.e. more than three times as slowly as it started

Dona nobis pacem, cut-C, no words (but the same notes as Gratias...): semibreve = 48

=====

Klemperer's tempos, measured with this same informal technique:

Kyrie II, cut-C, "Alla breve": minim = 60

Gratias agimus tibi, cut-C, "Alla breve": slightly below minim = 63

Credo, cut-C, no words: slightly below minim = 80

Confiteor, cut-C, no words, bars half as long: minim = 60; at the "Adagio" it eventually gets down to crotchet = 44 to 48

Dona nobis pacem, cut-C, no words: minim = 58

If we go by total timings, Klemperer takes 47% longer, 60% longer, 38% longer, 56% longer (before the "Adagio"), and 49% longer than Junghänel.

In the Richter 1961 sample of "Confiteor" that Charles supplied, minim = 92; i.e. almost the same absolute speed as Junghänel's at the beginning, but with equal emphasis at the half bar like a crisp march...suggesting that it was conducted with a beat twice too fast! Then the "Adagio" drags down gradually from crotchet = 52 to crotchet = 42 by its merciful end, that is, going less than 1/4 as fast as Richter started this movement. The value judgment "sentimentalization" comes to mind, but that's just my opinion. I'm not fond of hearing tempos muscled around so severely.

< Indeed, I do find Hengelbrock's 'fast' performance of the first two 'Credo' movements to be more acceptable, and at least listenable, when viewed in this light (two beats to a bar). (Thanks, Brad!). >
Glad to help.

< However, in comparison with other versions I know, they remain to me, somewhat glib, and lack a certain - 'monumentalism'. (Perhaps this is one of the major fault lines between the tastes of the contributors to this board, namely, an ability or willingness to experience 'grandeur' or 'monumentalism' in Bach's music. Just a thought.) >
Klemperer's performance has (ironically?) a faster beat, but it's on smaller note-values. Therefore in some sense Junghänel's performances here seem slower--at least to me. If this is a "grander and more monumental" sweepstakes, I'd say Junghänel's have more claim to that: the big picture of the composition's structure is clearer with those larger note-values getting the beat, and flowing at a moderate-to-slow tempo as they do.

The telling phrase there is "in comparison with other versions I know". Your expectations were set by those others, and therefore something different strikes you as surprising.

Don't forget that it works both ways, as a matter of perspective. If the normal frame of reference is the listening level of breve and its half-division the semibreve, those "other versions" conducted at the minim can be seen as going at half speed, the wrong level of beat, and therefore just as surprising and anomalous: the words "overblown and pretentious" come to mind! Half-speed distortion, while interesting in its own way, is still a distortion (viewed from this frame of reference). It focuses the listener's attention on the wrong level of detail.

Such a listener, conditioned by hearing it too many times at half speed, would then naturally think the normal speed seems "glib" by comparison. Quite understandable: it's that expectation of too much and too beloved detail to be focused on, which can't be done at the faster speed. The value judgment of superficiality is then assigned.

From the opposite perspective, a too-slow performance misses the forest for the trees. (And the branches on the trees, and the leaves on those branches, and the veins in those leaves.) I can't see the atoms in my sandwich at lunch, but they are there in the right places and the whole thing functions as a sandwich. So it is with notes within taps and pulses and beats and measure. The music, heard at the flowing level of the measure, is like one satisfying bite of sandwich after another. The individual notes are all in there, to be sure, but don't have to be perceived as separate notes: the bigger shapes are more important than the notes.

No one's ability or willingness to experience 'grandeur' or 'monumentalism' in Bach's music should be questioned; different levels of metrical perspective are valid for different people. Just a thought.

< While I concede Brad has successfully made the point that Junghänel is "following directions" (I am assuming similar speeds to those in Hengelbrock's fast 'alla breve' movements), I must also point out the fact that so are Richter, and Rilling, and others, in these same 'alla breve' movements; as is Hengelbrock, in the 'Dona nobis', and it is this last example that makes my point: Hengelbrock is almost half the speed in the 'Dona nobis' (c.f. his 1st two 'Credo movements), despite the fact of the same time signature (of two semibreves to a bar) applies in all of thmovements. Needless to say, the effect of this is a very grand performance from Hengelbrock of the 'Dona nobis', progressing as it does with two 'huge' (slow) beats to a bar. >
I don't have Rilling and Hengelbrock, but Richter's 1961 "Dona nobis" goes at the same speed as Klemperer's: minim = 58. If he had beat it at the same level as Junghänel's, that would be 29 vs Junghänel's 48.

< Conclusion?
We are mistaken to argue over speeds, and each listener remains free to choose the performance speed that 'delivers the goods' for him or her. >
So, Bach's input in this matter doesn't count, namely his markings of cut-C and the words "alla breve"? Along with any way the meaning of the phrase "alla breve" might have changed between Bach's time and ours? And any deliberate archaism on his part, writing music in stile antico?

Here's a quote from probably the most famous "speeds literalist" of our own time, Roger Norrington, in the booklet of his recording of Beethoven symphonies 2 & 8 [which I bring up, even though the Beethoven 2nd was from 50 years after the B Minor Mass]:

"The point about playing Beethoven on old instruments, of course, is to make him sound new; to recapture much of the exhilaration and sheer disturbance that his music certainly generated in his day. (...) Orchestra size was not a crucial factor. Orchestras played equally in very small and very large formations (though when more than about 10 first violins were playing the wind would normally be doubled). Pitch was not crucial either: it varied all over Europe, and even within one town. We play at A=430, which is one of a number of historical possibilities. What were absolutely crucial were speeds, note-lengths, bowing and phrasing. Beethoven inherited a whole series of traditional speeds, including an Allegro which was not very fast and an Andante which was by no means slow. He was most insistent on the importance of using a metronome (partly, no doubt, because his deafness prevented him from directing performances). In virtually every case his metronome marks tally with an eighteenth century understanding of tempo indications. (...)"
< As for the level of inspiration of the 'Dona nobis', I'm happy to leave that for the experts to ponder; for my part, I look forward to the exhiliration I experience every time I play Richter, or Rilling, or Hengebrock, or Hickox (all relatively 'slow').
P.S. For those listeners who 'can't get no satisfaction' from the Dona nobis, I can only say - one day, maybe....:-) >
I can report that the first time I performed the piece all the way through, playing organ continuo with orchestra and chorus, the "Dona nobis" was overwhelmingly thrilling for me. I felt moved, and could hardly keep playing at that point. Here was this grand two-hour piece coming to an end, after several months of hard work by all of us, with this noble and antique-style concluding movement. Really thrilling. One of those timeless experiences one never forgets. It's never been as thrilling for me, merely listening to anybody's recording of the piece, as actually MAKING this music from start to finish.

=====

As for the "Adagio" section of the Confiteor, as I mentioned yesterday, I'd like to hear a performance where somebody keeps it going at minim = 66 (preferably continuing to beat semibreves = 33) or faster, while still giving the "Adagio" (laid-back, "at ease") character. The harmonic motion is still mostly at the level of the whole bar, and there aren't any quavers except the decorated soprano II suspension in bar 134. The continuo bass also changes from quick stepwise motion to repeated crotchets, i.e. slower motion, less decoration. Bach has already written a slower effect and a contrasting effect into the music here, which can be brought out without dragging it down to 1/2 or 1/3 or 1/4 of the previous tempo. As I sing and conduct through them here, the vocal lines have such exquisite tension against one another and still sound like lines (instead of chord-components) when it's not too slow. Such a flowing tempo also makes the basso continuo transition at bar 146 much less problematic than is usually is.

In the bigger picture, that means the "Vivace e Allegro" where the trumpets enter is merely a resumption of the [implied] speed and character from the beginning of the Confiteor; and the "Adagio" interim is just a slight dip of speed, more a change of character than of speed. The change of key from F# minor to D major, along with the instrumentation, makes plenty of contrast!

This is like the opening movement of the D minor English Suite: where there's an Adagio dip at bar 37, then an Allegro marking -- which I believe means to resume the previous tempo...now seeming faster than before because of all the semiquaver motion. But, the way this movement is often played, the opening section is sentimentalized much slower with a lot of rubato (as if this is the Mozart D minor fantasy K 397?!), and then the Allegro takes off like horses out of the gate. Why such extreme tempo contrasts from section to section?

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 9, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< We are mistaken to argue over speeds, and each listener remains free to choose the performance speed that 'delivers the goods' for him or her. Of course they are, in one sense. But there are speeds that are simply wrong! If a piece has a tempo of crotchet = 60, and you perform at it crotchet = 120, it might sound great (to you and to others) but the tempo would be wrong.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 9, 2004):
John Pike wrote:
< Dona Nobis Pacem" does actually mean, of course, "Give us Peace". It is surely appropriate, therefore, that there is some element of understatement. >
Indeed so, but in that case it is curious, perhaps, that in this movement Bach chose to rework material previously heard with th words "We gaive thanks to thee for thy great glory". Or was it the other way round.......?

Neil Halliday wrote (April 9, 2004):
Re Hengelbrock's Dona Nobis, Gabriel Jackson asks:
"In other words, it's actually in four......?"
Well, I enjoy conducting it in two. I understand you may have a problem with this, as you have already stated your disinclination to enjoy 'monumentalism' in Bach's music.

(Perhaps you need to ask Hengelbrock whether he conducted it in two or four).

But I do note Brad's remarks on this point:

"No one's ability or willingness to experience 'grandeur' or 'monumentalism' in Bach's music should be questioned; different levels of metrical perspective are valid for different people."
I hope Brad really does mean what he says, with these words:

"...different levels of metrical perspective are valid for different people."

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 9, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< (Perhaps this is one of the major fault lines between the tastes of the contributors to this board, namely, an ability or willingness to experience 'grandeur' or 'monumentalism' in Bach's music. Just a thought.) >
Except that 'grandeur' and 'monumentalism' are not the same thing, by any means.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 9, 2004):
<< Dona Nobis Pacem" does actually mean, of course, "Give us Peace". It is surely appropriate, therefore, that there is some element of understatement. >>
< Indeed so, but in that case it is curious, perhaps, that in this movement Bach chose to rework material previously heard with th words "We gaive thanks to thee for thy great glory". Or was it the other way round.......? >
The German version "Wir danken dir" was first: cantata BWV 29, 1731.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 9, 2004):
Gabriel Jackson writes:
"Except that 'grandeur' and 'monumentalism' are not the same thing, by any means."
OK. Stick with 'monumentalism' (I'm using that word because you first mentioned it at the beginning of this thread), have a listen to Hengelbrock, and let me know what you think.

Uri Golomb wrote (April 9, 2004):
Brad Lehman wrote:
< The telling phrase there is "in comparison with other versions I know". Your expectations were set by those others, and therefore something different strikes you as surprising.
Don't forget that it works both ways, as a matter perspective. If the normal frame of reference is the listening level of breve and its half-division the semibreve, those "other versions" conducted at the minim can be seen as going at half speed, the wrong level of beat, and therefore just as surprising and anomalous: the words "overblown and pretentious" come to mind! Half-speed distortion, while interesting in its own way, is still a distortion (viewed from this frame of reference). It focuses the listener's attention on the wrong level of detail.
Such a listener, conditioned by hearing it too many times at half speed, would then naturally think the normal speed seems "glib" by comparison. Quite understandable: it's that expectation of too much and too beloved detail to be focused on, which can't be done at the faster speed. The value judgment of superficiality is then assigned.>
Since I was the one who initially used the words "glib and superficial", I feel I should clarify my position. I have certainly done my best not to allow my hearing to be unduly prejudiced by previous experiences; in any case, I got to know the Mass through Klemperer, Harnoncourt and Parrott simultaneously, so I don't think I have a single frame of reference... My primary objection to Junghänel's reading of the "Gratias" and "Dona nobis" -- which I stil feel are weak points in an otherwise fine performance -- has less to do with his tempo, and much more to do with his approach to phrasing and dynamics. I found him too smooth -- the music didn't seem to go anywhere. I didn't feel that way about his reading of the other alla-breve/Cut-C movements. It might also have to do with my feeling that, on the whole, Junghänel's one-per-part are choruses are more detailed, more alive, more gestural than his two-per-part choruses. (This is not a general preference for one-per-part, BTW, only an observation about one specific performance). And, incidentally, the adagio "Et expecto" is one of my favourite bits in Junghänel's performance (alongside the "Qui tollis" and the central triptyich of the Credo -- especially the "Crucifixus").

< From the opposite perspective, a too-slow performance misses the forest for the trees. (And the branches on the trees, and the leaves on those branches, and the veins in those leaves.) >
Not necessarily. Several slower performances of this music (I'm thinking specifically about Gardiner's "Dona nobis") give a more palpable feeling of "the bigger shapes" -- the ebb-and-flow of the movement as a whole -- than Junghänel's. In this respect, I'd place Gardiner and Harnoncourt together, even though Harnoncourt's tempo is much closer to Junghänel's. Jacobs, too, employs a simialr tempo to Harnoncourt (in both readings, the Gratias's length is about 2:30), but I prefer his reading to Junghänel's, not because it's slower, but because it's more detailed. I guess this means that, for me, the handling of phrasing and dynamics is at least as important as the choice of tempo.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 9, 2004):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< My primary objection to Junghänel's reading of the "Gratias" and "Dona nobis" -- which I stil feel are weak points in an otherwise fine performance -- has less to do with his tempo, and much more to do with his approach to phrasing and dynamics. I found him too smooth -- the music didn't seem to go anywhere. I didn't feel that way about his reading of the other alla-breve/Cut-C movements. >
Agreed, these two movements sound somewhat more bland and generic in his performance.

< Jacobs, too, employs a simialr tempo to Harnoncourt (in both readings, the Gratias's length is about 2:30), but I prefer his reading to Junghänel's, not because it's slower, but because it's more detailed. I guess this means that, for me, the handling of phrasing and dynamics is at least as important as the choice of tempo. >
I agree, in principle, not having heard the Jacobs recording yet. Any charges to anyone about superficiality "should be" more about the careful (or not) handling of detail and sensitivity to the sung text, than any direct result of tempo, anyway.

That's always a tough thing to balance in any performance of anything: getting enough detail along the way, within any flowing tempo. And there will always be listeners who want to hear more detail, and other listeners who would wish to hear less detail (finding it fussy at the expense of flow/drive), ...and other especially finicky listeners (including myself) who wish to hear several levels of interest/attention all operating simultaneously, revealing the music's multi-dimensionality. Whom should we serve?

Ehud Shiloni wrote (April 9, 2004):
[To John Pike] A little something for the "Dona" thread:
Quote
The musical setting of the final chorus, Dona nobis pacem, is the same as the Gratias found in the Gloria. The repetition links the texts of these two movements, as if Bach considered the plea for peace to be a thanksgiving. Bach might well have used the musical idiom in the closing of this Mass as a personal message, that in the eve of his own life, he was grateful to have attained an almost mystical depth of inner peace, both within himself and with the rest of the universe.
Unquote
I found it here: http://www.bcg.org/Program_Notes/bach_1103.html

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 9, 2004):
Ehud Shilonui wrote:
< A little something for the "Dona" thread:
Quote
The musical setting of the final chorus, Dona nobis pacem, is the same as the Gratias found in the Gloria. The repetition links the texts of these two movements, as if Bach considered the plea for peace to be a thanksgiving. Bach might well have used the musical idiom in the closing of this Mass as a personal message, that in the eve of his own life, he was grateful to have attained an almost mystical depth of inner peace, both within himself and with the rest of the universe. >
Interesting - I wondered if there might be a theological point to it, but this is a bit speculative isn't it?

Ehud Shiloni wrote (April 9, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] "Speculation" often ignites the imagination. I see no harm there [though the quote was not mine...:)]

John Pike wrote (April 9, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] Indeed. I once heard András Schiff describing Bach as being a very "generous" composer in that his music can sound great played at many different speeds and in many different ways, but that doesn't mean that anything is CORRECT. One must observe the directions that are there.

 

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Mass in B minor BWV 232: Details
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