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Magnificat BWV 243
General Discussions - Part 5

Continue from Part 4

BWV 243 or 243a Mvt. 10 Suscepit Israel

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 12, 2003):
Brad recently stated:
>That is, in my empirical analysis from playing the inventions/sinfonias in various temperaments: Bach in these little pieces used exactly the 15 keys of the meantone and modified-meantone "galaxy" and he explored that galaxy right to its outer limits, but still respecting those limits.<<
and: >>These are the kinds of questions I find fascinating, and would wish to see addressed more fully in serious musicological inquiry. (Maybe by me.) It's like my recent comments here about the Magnificat's movements, and what happens to them when the piece is moved overall from E-flat to D.<<
In preparation for the eventual discussion of Bach's Magnificat early in 2004, I am preparing what I hope to be a rather thorough summary of background and commentaries for this work. This could serve as a basis for additional comments, opinions, and discussions.

Right now I could use some help in corroborating a comment made about the incredibly beautiful, extremely sublime 10th mvt. 'Suscepit Israel.' Without revealing the source for this comment by one of the eminent Bach scholars at this time, and the eventual significance that may issue from researching this item, I would like to enlist the help of anyone on this list with some musical knowledge of harmony and access to a score of the Magnificat. I am afraid that my own analysis may too easily be biased because I already know what the outcome ought to be according to the commentator. I need some independent verification.

Here is the problem:

The mvt. contains 36 measures of which 29 ms. consist of the cantus firmus from the 9th Psalm Tone, a c.f. played by either trumpet or oboes, depending upon which version you are referring to.

Concentrating only upon the 29 measures of this c. f., while excluding the 4 introductory ms. as well as the 4 intermediary measures (14 through 17) where the cantus firmus is not being heard, what are the (key) tonalities which Bach traverses/uses in this little 'universe' of sound? [Indicate whether you are using the Eb or D major version.] Where, in which measures, do the changes of (key) tonality occur? How many such tonalities ["Tonstufen" in Schenkerian analysis?] are there in these 29 measures?

I would be most appreciative of any help that anyone would wish to offer.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 12, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] A picture is worth more than 1000 words.
http://www.vaix.net/~bpl/suscepit.pdf

In this sketch to present a harmonic analysis, I've added the implicit figured-bass symbols the organist would use for the improvised realization. [That's just the way we continuo players think about thoroughbass, to grasp the harmonic structure of a piece...the bass line plus the figures.]

I've marked with (*) all eight of the spots that are out of tune in meantone temperaments, here in the D major version (i.e. this movement in B minor). That is: an organist playing the continuo chords on a meantone-based organ would "set people's teeth on edge" at all those spots...including the final chord of the movement!

By contrast, in the E-flat version (i.e. C minor for this movement) everything is in tune except the already-startling leap to the Neapolitan in measure 27, where Bach briefly hits a wolf major 3rd Ab-C (really G#-C in the temperament) and then quickly resolves into G minor. This movement lands on F-minor chords frequently (and especially in the plagal cadencing of the last few measures); but that's not a problem, as I explained at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/11173
Similarly, the two occurrences of Bb-minor (i.e. in measures 20 and 22) also work just fine, for the same reason.

To hear all this as illustration: set up a keyboard in a meantone temperament, and then play through this sketch savoring all the harmonies. (Presuming a basic level of basso-continuo skill here.) Then play through the whole thing again, transposing up a half step. All these harmonic observations about the tuning are immediately obvious in this exercise....

I also noted the way Bach dodged the parallel fifth motion between cantus firmus and bass, going from measure 12 to 13. He simply suspended the bass briefly....

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 12, 2003):
Also, I forgot to mention: play through this sketch also down a whole step, i.e. in A minor. That catches the Chorton/Cammerton situation where the organ part would be notated a whole step lower than everybody else, since the organ played a whole step higher.

And, sure enough, it works in meantone. Everything here is in tune that way (played down a whole step) except the D#-F#-B in measure 28, i.e. the dominant going into E minor in the next measure. Gives a nice bit of tension there, then resolves it.

Transposed down like that, the progression of measures 27-29 is identical to measures 121-122 of the D major keyboard toccata (912). F major (first inversion) - B major - E minor. A straightforward cadence into E minor: Neapolitan, dominant, tonic. Neap-V-i.

For anybody needing a refresher on that "Neapolitan" chord and this typical behavior of it, these explanations might help:
http://www.teoria.com/reference/chords/18.htm
http://www.tonalityguide.com/xxn7.php

To sum up: the D-major version of the Magnificat works better when we're in a transposing Chorton/Cammerton situation, than if the [meantone] organ would be playing at pitch. The original E-flat version, on the other hand, works great exactly where it is, at pitch, with the organ and the other wind instruments playing in meantone.

This is another occasion to be "awed by the combination of creativity, inspiration, and craft that constitutes the genius of Bach's compositional methods" (as Steve Benson put it).

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 12, 2003):
The Neapolitan progression

I wrote: < For anybody needing a refresher on that "Neapolitan" chord and this typical behavior of it, these explanations might help:
http://www.teoria.com/reference/chords/18.htm
http://www.tonalityguide.com/xxn7.php >

That first one there, the progression shown at teoria.com, just leaps off the page to a fan of the Schumann piano quintet and piano concerto (first movement of both, where this same progression makes nice climactic points in the development section).

Let's see: that's Bach's D major toccata 912, "Suscepit Israel" of the Magnificat, and these two Schumann pieces. And measures 129-130 of the f# toccata BWV 910, and 159-160 of the g minor toccata BWV 915...and the big stuff in the finale of Weber's F-minor clarinet concerto.... And who but Bach would use it as a fugal subject?! (The second Kyrie of the B minor mass!)

OK, I'll shut up about this nifty chord progression now. But it's so cool! :)

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 12, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thanks, Brad, for all your marvelous input and interesting digressions.

I have posted, for study purposes, the NBA versions of both variants of this mvt. from the Magnificat at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/

It is interesting that the 1st Eb version has no true continuo part (this is one of a number of 'Bassetchen' mvts. from Bach's oeuvre).

Brad, your observations and discoveries in these versions are all quite interesting, but could you now come down to the level of amateur understanding and simply answer the question that I had originally posed: How many (key) tonalities does Bach traverse during the 29 measures of the cantus firmus? What are these (key) tonalities (example: This Invenis in D major, that Sinfonia in B minor, etc. = This measure 23, or part thereof, is in the key of ???) Does this give evidence of a 'galaxy' or 'cosmos' in Bach's concept of tonalities that can be played/sung/used?

Compared to a flute concerto by Quantz, for instance, is Bach's traversal of this number of keys, in a short piece as this, rather unusual or not? If the cantus firmus is taken as a chorale/hymn, don't we find just as many changes of (key) tonality in just about every other Bach 4-pt. chorale setting?

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 12, 2003):
Having realized that not everyone will easily have available the musical score for this mvt., I have posted under Files at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/

the two versions of mvt. 10 of Bach's Magnificat from the NBA for study purposes.

I would be very interested in receiving responses to the questions which I had posed.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 12, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< I have posted, for study purposes, the NBA versions of both variants of this mvt. from the Magnificat at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/ >
Thanks, Tom; but we non-members of BachCantatas can't get there. It would be great to see it, though; could another location be used, perhaps?

I've been working from the Bach-Gesellschaft scan to .PDF from Aryeh's site: C-clefs and all. Fun! http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/IndexScores6.htm

As for compiling a list of the key areas visited during that movement, sorry, I'm not in the mood. The keys and modulations are plain as day in my sketch, to anyone with at least a beginner's knowledge of thoroughbass and functional harmony. So, I'll "sit on my hands and let someone else have a chance" (as they say on the radio).

Besides, I'm not going to have you "correcting" me from some list you found in a book, over the exact moment when a modulation happens. Pivot chords are often just a judgment call anyway, + or - a measure or two, when analyzing passages that have two keys going simultaneously for a bit.

p.s. Just thought of another nice Neapolitan progression: measures 39-42 in the E-major invention. And I love the way he Dances With Wolves in the G# minor section of it, measures 29-42. Wolves from the outer rim of the galaxy.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 13, 2003):
Brad stated: >>Thanks, Tom; but we non-members of BachCantatas can't get there. It would be great to see it, though; could another location be used, perhaps?<<
I tried to post them on the BachRecordings Group, but no permission is granted for me to do so. This is why I used the BachCantatas Group for uploading the scores. Perhaps Aryeh will be able to take them from there and make them available on his site?

Brad stated: >>Besides, I'm not going to have you "correcting" me from some list you found in a book, over the exact moment when a modulation happens. Pivot chords are often just a judgment call anyway, + or - a measure or two, when analyzing passages that have two keys going simultaneously for a bit.<<
There is no trickery involved in my question, nor do I desire to embarrass you or anyone else with this inquiry. At this point, I do not know if I should agree with this eminent Bach expert on this matter. If I receive a few independent results to the contrary, the findings might cause those who ponder his statement (myself included) after I reveal it to treat it with greater reservations than they might have previously done, or otherwise, if the results are confirmed, perhaps the expert will be vindicated in his explanation of what might be a truly amazing aspect of this mvt.

Aryeh Oron wrote (November 13, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
<< I have posted, for study purposes, the NBA versions of both variants of this mvt. from the Magnificat at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/ >>
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Thanks, Tom; but we non-members of BachCantatas can't get there. It would be great to see it, though; could another location be used, perhaps? >
Brad, you are always invited to re-join the BCML. Anyhow, I have put Tom's examples at the following page of the BCW: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV243-Sco.htm

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 13, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
>> There is no trickery involved in my question, nor do I desire to embarrass you or anyone else with this inquiry. At this point, I do not know if I should agree with this eminent Bach expert on this matter. If I receive a few independent results to the contrary, the findings might cause those who ponder his statement (myself included) after I reveal it to treat it with greater reservations than they might have previously done, or otherwise, if the results are confirmed, perhaps the expert will be vindicated in his explanation of what might be a truly amazing aspect of this mvt. <<
So it doesn't bias or mislead anybody who's planning to do one, I've put my harmonic analysis over here off-list: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/suscepit.txt

I still have some trepidation, Tom: are you hoping to discredit further (in your own mind) some writer you already don't like, or to see if one of your heroes (perhaps Chafe or Duerr) is really up to snuff? What kind of "eminent Bach expert" are we dealing with here?

By the way: in the E-flat version, in the scores you've supplied, how are the violins (in unison with the violas) expected to play the low F?

Warily,

Arno Klomp wrote (November 13, 2003):
Brad Lehman wrote:
< By the way: in the E-flat version, in the scores you've supplied, how are the violins (in unison with the violas) expected to play the
low F? >
I can think of three practical solutions:
* Scordatura: detune the G-string, so that the low F is playable. I have seen this in more music from the baroque era.
* Leave out the low F: I don't take this seriouss, you'll get a gap. But if the last measures are played with a decresendo, it can work.
* Jump up an octave e.g. at the C' upto C" in the last but one measure, and end at the same final note. If the violins don't play too loud, they will blend well with the viola sound: the violins are playing a natural harmonic of the viola notes.

Arno.
(amateur viola and violin player)

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 13, 2003):
Brad asked:
>>By the way: in the E-flat version, in the scores you've supplied, how are the violins (in unison with the violas) expected to play the low F?<<
[I had written this before viewing Arno Klomp's response when I came on line. His response is also worth considering from a performance standpoint.]

Good question!

In BWV 243a (the earlier, original Eb version of the Magnificat), mvt.10 ‘Suscepit Israel’ ms. 35, the penultimate measure, the final 8th note in the measure played by violins and viola is a low F, a note normally unplayable by violins that normally have their range end with the lowest string sounding a G.

As you may probably know, only Bach’s ‘composing’/’working’ score is available to us for inspection. This score has combined violins and violas on one musical line/staff [they are frequently separated into 2 lines (violins vs. viola, or even Violin I, Violin II, and Viola) in other Bach autograph scores.

Dispelling, for the most part, the notion that the violins here may have the possibility of playing ‘scordatura’ (a la H. Biber, C. H. Abel, G. Arnold, Johann Fischer, J. E. Kindermann, Pachelbel, H. Schmelzer, N. A. Strungk, and J. P. von Westhoff) by lowering, usually the lowest string (there are, of course many variations of ‘scordatura’ available here historically) even when violins are playing in an ensemble and even in the middle of a mvt., it is much more likely from the evidence gleaned from a study of Bach’s autograph scores to assume the following scenarios:

1) Bach did not always compose ascore with one musical line/staff for each instrument part. Sometimes the instruments, such as the violins and violas are notated together, because, for the most part, they play the same notes [why should Bach impose a greater burden upon himself all this effort by increasing the number of lines/staffs on a score – he was an inveterate ‘paper-saver’ at a time when paper was very expensive – unless these parts frequently diverged into independent parts in the course of a given mvt.?]

2) When the parts were copied from the original score under Bach’s directions [in this instance, these original parts are not extant], with the greatest probability there would have to be separate parts/copies for Violin I, Violin II, and Viola, with both violin parts being copied once again as doublets. Bach would most likely instruct the copyists to change the penultimate measure by having the both violins hold the same dotted half note together with the alto voice before descending to the final C, or to add more jarring sounds to the final cadence, possibly even have the violins play with the violas until they arrive at the low G (the 5th 8th note) which would be changed to a quarter note G while the viola continues to descend to the low F.

3) Dürr surmises that no harpsichord [or organ] would have been used at all in this mvt. There would be absolutely no bc of any kind used here! This agrees with a number of similar mvts. from Bach’s sacred music output where a ‘bassetchen/bassetgen’ of this type is also used. Some time ago Marie Jensen commented on an interpretative connection between this technique and the feeling/significance it creates as it underlines the text which Bach is illustrating musically.

4) Dürr also points out that by transposing this mvt. a whole tone lower, Bach was forced to use a full-fledged bc accompaniment as seen in the 2nd, later version of the Magnificat. The ethereally floating effect of the 1st version is lost, or seriously undermined with the addition of a true continuo consisting of at least an organ or harpsichord and ‘violoncelli’ [notice the plural!] even without the bassoons [plural again] and the violone playing who would most likely duplicate the lower octave. Possibly the organ would already duplicate the lower octave here.

Thanks, Brad, for your harmonic analysis!

I realize that there are ‘judgment calls’ in harmonic analysis and I believe that your harmonic analysis is very likely a reasonable one. Unfortunately my source does not indicate which type of harmonic analysis is being used. It appears to me that the term “Tonstufen” may not mean ‘key’ tonalities as I had thought, but rather the ‘degree of the scale’ whatever that may mean.

I just found an article by William Drabkin in the New Grove (Oxford University Press, 2003)-- here is an excerpt:

>>Stufe (Ger.: ‘degree,’ ‘scale step,’ 'harmonic degree’)
In Schenkerian analysis, a harmony of structural significance; the Degree or scale-step on which that harmony is based. The term appeared in Schenker’s Harmonielehre (1906), where it was used for basic harmonic occurrences as opposed to chords of secondary significance. In the ritornello of the aria ‘Buss und Reu’ from Bach’s St Matthew Passion, a complete C major triad appears at the point marked with an asterisk (the example does not print out and the asterisk is not visible.) In Schenker’s terms, the listener is prevented from hearing this triad as a ‘fifth Stufe’ (V) by the harmonic rhythm of the preceding passage, where there is consistently one change of Stufe per bar (I–IV–VII–III–VI). It would be superfluous, moreover, to accept a fifth Stufe at this point since one arrives in the very next bar; all three notes in the triad can in any case be explained in linear terms. The triad is therefore merely a passing configuration of the three parts and does not have the importance of a Stufe.<<
Perhaps you might be able to explain from this what a ‘Tonstufe’ really is. I have no clear idea about this, nor have I studied Schenkerian analysis.

Klaus Langrock wrote (November 19, 2003):
[To Thomas Brtaatz] I dare to try it:

the harmonization of "Suscepit Israel" in the D-version of "Magnificat" (according to Klavierauszug, Bärenreiter 5103a) is -in my opinion-

bm / f#m / bm / F# //
bm / A / D / B / em / D / G em / A / D7 G em //
A7 D / bm A / A7 D bm / G A //
D / A / am / E7 / E (am) E7 / E / A7 / F# / bm / bm G B / C#7 / F# B34 / B7 / em / B7 em B / em B7 em // B7 c#7 em / em B em / em / B //

So we start in bm. In bar # 7 D appears the new tonal centre, in bar 8 B is alteration of bm as dominant of following em, that belongs to the new tonal centre D, so this key is confirmed (until bar # 20). Again alteration A – a and the new tonal centre is A (until bar # 24). In bar 25 the F# is lower mediant of A as well as dominant of bm, the tonica in bars # 25 to 27. In bar # 27 the last quarter without the third is to be seen as B in the function of subdominant of following tonica F#, in bar #29 B34 counts as dominant of em, and the end is on the dominant B.

So I think there are tonal centres as bm - D - A - F# - em - (B) what makes the only 2 bars lasting F# the real centre of this set.

Sorry for my poor English, but I'm sure you will understand.

Hope it helps

 

Magnificat D-Dur, BWV 243

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 9, 2004):
Jason Marmaras wrote:
< Excuse the way I put it, but Could somebody please explain to me page 31 of the BA score of BWV 234 (Magnificat D-Dur)!??!?! >
You mean that nifty spot where Bach passes the same solo riff through four different obbligato instruments, during a bass solo?

I presume you're looking at the PDF from the bach-cantatas web site, where that page 31 is shuffled in substituting the page 31 from some other piece: an error in the PDF file! That certainly isn't the correct page 31 of "Omnes generationes".

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 9, 2004):
Jason Marmaras wrote:
<< Excuse the way I put it, but Could somebody please explain to me page 31 of the BA score of BWV 234 (Magnificat D-Dur)!??!?! >>
Brad Lehman continued: >>You mean that nifty spot where Bach passes the same solo riff through four different obbligato instruments, during a bass solo?

I presume you're looking at the PDF from the bach-cantatas web site, where that page 31 is shuffled in substituting the page 31 from some other piece:
an error in the PDF file! That certainly isn't the correct page 31 of "Omnes generationes".<<
This is a 'sexy' aria (very fitting in the middle of the Magnificat!) sung by Phoebus in the secular cantata "Geschwinde, ihr wirbelnden Winde" BWV 201/5 where the bass sings "with (great) desire I (want to) press (myself) against your tender cheeks."

Since this happens to be the incipit to the aria, a good place to look it up is in Appendix 2 (p. 600) of "Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach [Boyd, Oxford University Press, 1999.]

 

Bach's Magnificat in reduced setting [Choral Talk]

Dong Hoon wrote (January 19, 2005):
I'm currently investigating whether it will be financially feasible for my (amateur = no funding) choir to program Bach's Magnificat BWV 243. Probably it won't. Therefore I would like to hear whether someone has ever performed this work with a reduced ensemble? Would this be a good idea, to start with?

Thanks!

John Howell [Virginia Tech Department of Music, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA] wrote (January 19, 2005):
[To Dong Hoon] Well, there are a couple of obvious answers. (1) Perform it with piano or organ accompaniment, which will be an orchestral reduction in the first place. The music won't mind. (2) Perform it with volunteer community musicians, even though they might not be as good as the "pros" who deserve to be paid. We do it all the time around here. Of course we have an active Community Band and an active Community String Orchestra to start with, and two universities' music departments, and some darned good high school musicians. (3) Try to promote support from local businesses (although this takes long-term planning, since budgets are typically in place a year in advance), or local or state Arts Councils. (Hmmm. I can't tellwhere in the world you are, because I don't recognize the .BE in your address.)

A reduced ensemble? Well, there are two versions of it, one without trumpets and drums. (That would be the one in Eb.) i'm not sure what the other differences might be. And you can use a bare minimum of string players. But I'd be surprised if anyone had made a chamber orchestra arrangement, since a good baroque orchestra actually is more of a chamber orchestra to begin with. Bach used no more than about 20 players.

Best of luck!

Susan Noble wrote (January 19, 2005):
[To Dong Hoon] Long ago, I sang the Magnificat in a 24-voice choir that did it with a nice little portatif organ (I think it had about 4 octaves, so it was just portable), and it was very effective. The performances were mostly in modest-size churches or other halls, and our director's wife was the owner of the organ, so we didn't have to rent one. Cartage was by members of the group, as we had no budget ...

Whether doing it that way is a good idea I couldn't say, but it was the only opportunity I ever had to sing the piece, so I was grateful for it!

Georges Van den Broeck [tenor, Brussels] wrote (January 26, 2005):
We've sung this piece last year as part of three benefit concerts for Handicap International in Belgium.

We reduced the music settings to organ, bassoon, percussion and trumpets (the other piece on the program being Purcell's Funeral Music for the Queen Mary).

The more motivated (often the more exprienced) choir members reharsed the solo parts in small groups, separately from the choir.

The tenor air Deposuit potentes was dropped, too heroic for our present capabilities.

But the final set was quite an achievement, soundig very 'professional' in its way, thanks to a demanding choir leader, who's also a very good voice teacher.

More concerts with Bach's Magnificat are under discussion presently.

It is certainly the effort worth... but breath control, intonation, energy, style... all these aspects are a real challenge for a choir, but what a pleasure in the end.

Go for it, but not bindly.

 

Magnificat in Regina

Jeremy Vosburgh wrote (June 1, 2006):
I have been travelling and happened to be in Regina, Saskatoon (Canada) this past week (and next week). I was driving around after the work day had ended today and discovered that the "village" choir was putting on the performance of Bach's Latin Magnificat tonight in the Knox-Metropolitan United church. It was an amateur performance but quite a nice surprise to have a Bach performance right under my nose in a place I least expected it. The basses sounded like tenors, I couldn't hear the altos, and the soloists just couldn't project their voices (with the exception of one soprano); but the music was lovely and the whole choir was really excited to perform it, and there wasn't anything that severely marred the performance. The orchestra also performed Bach's Suite in D #3 (always a generic crowd pleaser), Telemann's Concerto for Two Flutes (yet another one of Telemann's virtually ignored pieces), and one of Handel's organ concertos (I found it very dull).

Cheers to "The Village Orchestra and Choir," and their conductor Hart Godden, for their effort. I wish them luck and hope that they will continue to challenge themselves.

 

Parrott's recording of the Magnificat

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 28, 2007):
< Andrew Parrott's April 1989 recording of this, with a grand total of five singers, sounds terrific to me. Emily van Evera, Evelyn Tubb, Caroline Trevor, Howard Crook, and Simon Grant. Wow, this excellent 2-CD set is now down below $7.00 these days?! Amazon.com
I paid a lot more for it, years ago.... >
...twice. The first time around, it was a single CD with the Magnificat coupled to Handel's "Dixit Dominus" recorded 1997. That's on EMI, and it has a more detailed booklet than the Virgin Veritas budget reissue. Nice listing of all the orchestral players, and the musicologist who prepared their performing edition.

I also found it interesting, looking at this, that Parrott had the same oboists and most of the same trumpeters from Gardiner's Philips recording. And the same writer of the booklet notes. And Andrew Manze, back when he was a section player but not yet concertmaster.

 

Finally gettin' to sing the Magnificat & a question about diction

Jeremy Vosburgh wrote (July 17, 2008):
I'm finally going to get the joy of singing Bach's magnificat in a summer festival choir this August. Its always great to get the opportunity to sing good music. So far the choir director hasn't pigeon-holed me in any voice part yet (although bass seems to be the more desired), but soon I'll know whether its gonna be tenor or bass. So for now I get the joy of being able to sing both at the rehearsals.

Now; for a more important subject. I would like to know from any scholar who would deign to answer: what is the deal with German diction of Latin? Would Bach really have desired Latin to be spoken with a German accent? A perfectionist like he was? Where do the "authenticity" police get the idea that imperfect pronunciation of Latin is the preferred way to sing a German composed Latin based piece? I have to admit its "fun" to listen to a French recording of a Latin piece or the German sister, but I've often wondered, musically, what is the purpose behind trying to mimic these accents with American or British choirs?

I realize there may be a good reason and this is why I'm bringing this question to you.

Thanks!

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 17, 2008):
< Now; for a more important subject. I would like to know from any scholar who would deign to answer: what is the deal with German diction of Latin? Would Bach really have desired Latin to be spoken with a German accent? A perfectionist like he was? Where do the "authenticity" police get the idea that imperfect pronunciation of Latin is the preferred way to sing a German composed Latin based piece? >
Aren't the vowel and consonant sounds as much a part of the piece as intonation and instrumentation are? And more to the point in Masses by German-speaking composers: is "eleison" a three-syllable word, not four? Maybe the allegedly "perfect" way to pronounce Latin is to reconstruct (if possible) what the original performers actually did, and not to impose some other anachronistic or spatially-displaced standard onto it?

I don't think it's so much about being "authenticity police" as practicality. By reproducing the sounds and motions from the original conditions, if possible, we can get a more direct understanding why the pieces were written the way they were...and performance becomes easier, too. It's about being inside the style and then behaving naturally within that language.

If someone wanted to get inside Nat King Cole's vocal art/delivery, they should probably Americanize his phonetic German and Spanish in the same way he did. (Not sure anyone should recommend ruining the throat with chain-smoking, though, as Cole did deliberately to keep the edge on his sound.) Or to reproduce Doris Day's sound, one would need her special R vowel. The musical line is shaped in part by the pronunciation...even if it's "wrong" by some other standard.

Of course, it's probably also a good idea to understand what one is singing about. Understanding guides diction. Exhibit A, Ken Lee: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RgL2MKfWTo

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 17, 2008):
Historic Pronunciation

Jeremy Vosburgh wrote:
< Now; for a more important subject. I would like to know from any scholar who would deign to answer: what is the deal with German diction of Latin? Would Bach really have desired Latin to be spoken with a German accent? A perfectionist like he was? Where do the "authenticity" police get the idea that imperfect pronunciation of Latin is the preferred way to sing a German composed Latin based piece? I have to admit its "fun" to listen to a Frrecording of a Latin piece or the German sister, but I've often wondered, musically, what is the purpose behind trying to mimic these accents with American or British choirs? >
Latin was sung with regional pronunciations throughout history both in Catholic and Protestant churches until 1903 when Pius X tried to impose Italian pronunciation on the whole Catholic church. Even then German choirs retained their historic pronunciation in the face of pressure to conform. The Regensberger Domsptazen recently sang a concert for Pope Benedict XVI and they used their usual pronunciation for "Oremus" - "Or-EE-mus" rather than the Italianate "Or-AY-mus".

There are strong differences in the national prinunciations of Latin in English, French, Spanish, German and Italian music. Bach would have grown up speaking and singing Latin with traditional German pronunciation: "ek-say" for "ecce" and "kvee" for "qui". The only time he would have heard the "Pope's Latin" may have been in Dresden where there were Italian singers.

In the last 20 years, most professional choirs have returned to using historical pronunciation, arguing that we should try to use the phoetic sounds which composers intended for their music.

A biblography for historic pronunciation can be found at: http://www.music.princeton.edu/~jeffery/pronunc.html

J. Laurson wrote (July 18, 2008):
< Now; for a more important subject. I would like to know from any scholar who would deign to answer: what is the deal with German diction of Latin? Would Bach really have desired Latin to be spoken with a German accent? A perfectionist like he was? Where do the "authenticity" police get the idea that imperfect pronunciation of Latin is the preferred way to sing a German composed Latin based piece? >
Bach would undoubtedly have thought Latin in the "German" diction to be the correct and indeed only way of pronouncing it properly.

Nor is it any less proper than the Anglo way to pronounce Latin (though to my ears, that shall always sound funny, bordering ridiculous). Latin was, for some time, a rather living language and thus changed. What was common (or "proper" if you wish) in one part of Italy some time BC was not common in some part of Germany a thousand years later, or seventeen-hundred years later.

Unless one's ears don't react well to one way of pronouncing it, or another, I suggest the matter is a trifle. The character of the (musical) sound is changed only slightly by not using the German way of pronouncing it (it becomes somewhat emasculated, Italianate), so that the vast majority of listeners will neither care nor notice. So long as it is done consistently, of course.

Jeremy Vosburgh wrote (July 18, 2008):
Latin Diction

Thanks for the responses guys (Doug and Bradley).

I still find it hard to believe that a musical scholar like Bach wouldn't have know how Italian Latin was pronounced. And I would think, given the relative rarity of pieces he composed for Latin Libretta, he had special feelings for the few he did. Today, every professional choir conductor has taken years of diction classes. Am I to assume that diction was any less important in Bach's day? Maybe it was.

In addition, Latin seems like it was the unifying language back then. Educated people must have had to study it (I could be way off base here; please correct me if I'm wrong)

Does anyone know the history of Latin schools in Germany? Did they actually teach Latin with a German accent? That sounds preposterous; but stranger things have happened.

Thanks again for you patience.

Jeremy Vosburgh wrote (July 18, 2008):
Thanks for the vid Bradley. :)

Evan Cortens wrote (July 17, 2008):
[To Jeremy Vosburgh] I think what Doug and Brad are saying is that the very idea of a single, "correct" Latin pronunciation is quite new. Before the twentieth century the way to pronounce Latin was determined by your region.

Yes it is certainly true that for many things, especially science and math, Latin was the universal European language in the eighteenth century. (French was probably the standard language for things of a more political nature, hence "lingua franca.") Not only did Bach study Latin it was actually part of his job description to teach it in Leipzig, though how much he actilly did it is up for debate. Nevertheless, as I said above, though Bach could read and write Latin, this doesn't mean that it ever would have occurred to him to pronounce it in an Italian manner... I suppose it would be like an Englishman telling an American that he was pronouncing English incorrectly.

Hope this helps!

J. Laurson wrote (July 19, 2008):
Jeremy Vosburgh wrote:
< Does anyone know the history of Latin schools in Germany? Did they actually teach Latin with a German accent? That sounds preposterous; but stranger things have happened. >
Without knowing the "history" of Latin schools in Germany (what's a "Latin School", anyway? Until the 50s or 60s, it was probably the first and most widely taught "foreign" language in German Gymnasiums) I can tell you that as late as 1990, Latin was still taught with what you call a "German Accent" but which Germans steadfastly consider to be perfectly proper Latin.

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 19, 2008):
Jeremy Vosburgh wrote:
< Does anyone know the history of Latin schools in Germany? Did they actually teach Latin with a German accent? That sounds preposterous; but stranger things have happened. >
The Copeman book is very thorough on not only regional pronunciations of Latin, but changes within those national patterns. For instance, modern German choirs sing "Kyrie" as "Kür-ie" -- the same as in "Walküre". But recent scholars have discovered that there was a vowel shift at the end of the 18th century so that Bach and Mozart sang "Kee-rie", while Bruckner and perhaps Beethoven san "Kür-ie".

Copeman's account of English pronunication of Latin is fascinating. In general, legal Latin retains the old pronunication that we should use in Reniassance music: "ipse dixit" is a good example of the difference between English and Italian pronunciation. At the end of the 19th century, Classical scholars revised the pronunciation of Latin and Greek to be reflect what they thought was the pronunciation of Homer and Virgil. Until that time, the "caelis" in "Pater noster qui es in caelis" was pronounced "Say-liss". The classical pronunciation was reconstructed as "kay-lees". You will hear this in English academic convocations which have Latin prayers and orations.

Perhaps sometime we should go back to the discussion which caused a nuclear flameout on this list: Since there was no universal standardized German pronunciation in Bach's time, did he and his musicians sing their German with a Saxon accent? Even those of us who are not fluent in German notice regional differences in the way Berliners and Bavarians pronounce word like "ich". I'm still waiting for a scholar to investigate if all those recitatives should have a Saxon accent.

At this point, the Germans faint away in horror, the Saxon accenet today being the butt of humour in the way West Country is to Brits, the deep South is to Americans and Marseilles is to Parisians.

 

Performance of Magnificat BWV 243

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (December 23, 2008):
I was encouraged by Ed to write about our performances of Bach's works, thus here a few words about the Magnificat that the Chapelle des Minimes performed last Sunday: http://www.minimes.be/images/concerts/2008-12-21_affiche_concert.pdf

For the last concert of the year, the Chapelle des Minimes is sponsored by the Robus Foundation, which allows us to perform works which require many soloists (here five singers, three trumpet players + oboe da caccia, flutes, drums,...). The concert attracted a huge number of persons. The concert was at 10:30, and at 10:10 there were no seated places left. By 10:30 there was almost as many persons who had to remain standing as seated ones. I had never seen such ausince our performance of the XO two years ago.

The concert went on well and the audience seemed very pleased.

Benoît Jacquemin, our conductor, insisted on German pronunciation of Latin, which makes the work sound passably different from versions such as the one by Herreweghe (which I was used to listen to). I feel that this gives even greater rythm and energy to the music (for example, singing "ma-g-ni-fi-cat" with the "g" and the "t" clearly souding, or pronunciating "fé-tsit" for "fecit"). We noticed at the general rehearsal that also some soloists had to get used to sing it this way!

Other features I appreciated were lively tempi and contrasts in intensity. For example the "Omnes generationes" went straight on from beginning to end (with the exception of pauses of course), but with marked contrasts of intensity (after the last pause, the words are almost whispered, then the next sentence is sung again loud). This is really a lot of fun to sing!

The work is not easy for the choir, and I met an additional challenge as one week before the concert, the conductor asked me if it would be OK for me to move from alto to soprano 2 (they were fewer singers in the latter section). But once I had learned the new part I really enjoyed it.

I heard from a friend that in addition to the 5 choral movements, some choirs also perform the trio "Suscepit Israel", which amazes me. It is so beautiful with three soloists (Bruce, is it the trio you speak about? It is indeed not easy, especially for intonation and breathing...).

Also my best seasonal wishes to all list members... I just thought that if we wish to have peace on earth, we'd better involve all humans, not only the "bonae voluntatis" ones!

Terejia wrote (December 23, 2008):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/29589

Congratulations and very well done for your choir!!

Indeed we both are Catholic but whenever I read your post, it reminds me of how "Catholic" church culture is different in Japan from that in Europa. As I said in my previous post, our choir used to perform "Suscepit Israel" in communio, until the Father changed the way. Overall, in Japan, Catholic church is much popularity oriented and original solemn flavour which might be retained in Europa or USA Catholic churches is almost lost-they gave way to popularity.

I do my best to perform Bach's organ pieces to the best of my humblest ability.

< Also my best seasonal wishes to all list members... I just thought that if we wish to have peace on earth, we'd better involve all humans, not only the "bonae voluntatis" ones! >
I concur! Peace be unto you and your beloved ones, Therese!

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (December 23, 2008):
[To Terejia] Maybe I did not make myself clear... I would never criticize singing "Suscepit Israel" with a choir, as this is a wonderful piece of music. I just find that, when the choice exists, it is even more enjoyable sung by soloists (and the score seems to indicate that such was Bach's intent).

Having said that, I would have loved hearing "Suscepit Israel" during church offices. The only time I did was last summer... when I sung it with two friends during a Mass in a retirement house!

I wish you much pleasure and success for your Christmas organ performances.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (December 23, 2008):
Terejia wrote:
< Indeed we both are Catholic but whenever I read your post, it reminds me of how "Catholic" church culture is different in Japan from that in Europa. As I said in my previous post, our choir used to perform "Suscepit Israel" in communio, until the Father changed the way. Overall, in Japan, Catholic church is much popularity oriented and original solemn flavour which might be retained in Europa or USA Catholic churches is almost lost-they gave way to popularity. >
Well all churches in Europe have some of the lowest attendence figures in the world, so I don't believe the "solemnity" or lack of it that's a factor. Personally I grew up with the Vatican II changes, and believe they were sorely needed. I have no desire to go back to a Renassiance style liturgy, despite the best efforts of the current pontiff to do so, while claiming he's a firm adherent of the Vatican II reforms.

Terejia wrote (December 24, 2008):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/29593
> Maybe I did not make myself clear... I would never criticize singing "Suscepit Israel" with a choir, as this is a wonderful piece of music.<
Oh, I knew(and we know ) you would be the last person to express any unkind thought!! No worry.

> I just find that, when the choice exists, it is even more enjoyable sung by soloists (and the score seems to indicate that such was Bach's intent).
Having said that, I would have loved hearing "Suscepit Israel" during church offices. The only time I did was last summer... when I sung it with two friends during a Mass in a retirement house! <
The piece is beautiful on CD, on concerts, during church liturgy, by soloists or by choir, in its own context in its own way.

> I wish you much pleasure and success for your Christmas organ performances. <
Many thanks. Including you in my holiday prayer.

Time for preparing for the mass. Many thanks for all the posters and I will come back tomorrow evening in Japan time.

with peace and love,

Bruce Simonson wrote (December 24, 2008):
[To Terejia] I read with interest your description of the Magnificat performance in Japan, and especially your observation on "German Latin". I chose to use German pronunciation of Latin (Mag - nee - fee - cat, and not Ma - nyee - fee - cat; and tsay -- lee, and not chay -- lee; for two examples). Initially, my group rebelled, but eventually they came around.

Funny thing is, as I am now preparing for a Monteverdi Vespers 1610 performance in 2010, I can't read these texts without the German pronunciation in my head. Go figure.

Sounds like it was a great concert; thanks for sharing it with us.

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (December 25, 2008):
[To Bruce Simonson] Actually this performance was in Brussels, Belgium, I should have specified it...
Our ensemble performs Bach's cantatas (or other vocal works) once a month:
http://www.minimes.be/cdm-hist.php
http://www.minimes.be/saison.php

Yes I can imagine the problem with different Latin pronunciations. I am quite surprised myself when I hear performances of French composers (such as Charpentier or Mondonville by William Christie) in "French" Latin. It is different from what I have learned in school (or in church services when I was a kid), though I am a native French speaker!

We have several German native speakers (from all parts of Germany, and also from Austria) in our group. There were controversies when we worked on the Magnificat about the way to pronounce Sicut (with a S or a Z in the beginning). As there was a majority of German speakers for S, we choose to pronounce S...

On the other hand all of them agreed that "coeli" had to be prounounced "tseu-li" (very unusual for us...).

For me, these different pronunciations remain a mystery - how can we know how it was done as there were no recorders (machines ;-)) in these times?

Good luck with the Vespers, one of my favourites of all musical works (especially in the version of Rinaldo Alessandrini). I can listen in loop to "Nisi Dominus"...

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 25, 2008):
Bruce Simonson wrote:
< Funny thing is, as I am now preparing for a Monteverdi Vespers 1610 performance in 2010, I can't read these texts without the German pronunciation in my head. Go figure >
The Tallis Choir of Toronto has a concert of early 16th century music coming up. The first half will be Flemish pronunciation Latin, the second will be English pronnciation.

Terejia wrote (December 25, 2008):
Latin pronounRe: Performance of Magnificat BWV 243

Bruce Simonson wrote: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/29625
(.. )
< Funny thing is, as I am now preparing for a Monteverdi Vespers 1610 performance in 2010, I can't read these texts without the German pronunciation in my head. Go figure.
Sounds like it was a great concert; thanks for sharing it with us. >
I know you are among those who are concert performers - so is Therese as a chorurist. My performance has been limited within church liturgy recently. The two Christmas mass, during which I played several Bach organ pieces as prelude, postlude, during communio(I just played my regular choices of J. S. Bach as usual), went without major accident, if not perfect level.

About Latin pronounciation, I do not know whether I should envy or feel sorry for Europeans for having their own method of pronouncing a certain combination of alphabet letters. As you know, we Japanese don't use alphabet in the first place. We can simply accept whatever is told by the conductor without rebel nor applause, generally speaking.

Now, as I said, my performance in recent years has been only limited within the church liturgy but next year I'm going to do a charity concert with a professionally trained soprano singer who is also a member of my church. Outside of my church and in my profession field, one of my senior veteran legal collegeau is very active and keen in the area of helping homeless people and he has fund he established for that particular purpose. We have yet to work out the detail including program but I am exciting about the idea of donating something to his fund to help him-I respect him very much.

As to Monteverdi Vespers, once I took part in the chorus. Beautiful masterpiece, which seems to have different aethetic standard from that of J.S.Bach.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Pronunciation - Part 3 [General Topics]

 

Continue on Part 6

Magnificats BWV 243 & BWV 243a: Details
Recordings: 1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019 | BWV 243a | Individual Movements
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Systematic Discussions: BWV 243 | BWV 243a
Individual Recordings:
BWV 243 - E. Haïm | BWV 243 - N. Harnoncourt | BWV 243a - T. Hengelbrock | BWV 243 - P. McCreesh | BWV 243 - J. Rifkin | BWV 243 - H. Rilling | BWV 243 - R. Shaw | BWV 243 - M. Suzuki | BWV 243a - P. Herreweghe

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