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Bassoons, violins and voices: a response to Ton Koopman.

Little as I wish to take public issue with a fellow musician, I cannot really let some portions of Ton Koopman's recent musings about the performance and recording of Bach's cantatas pass without comment.

Addressing what has become the seemingly unavoidable question of choir size in Bach, Koopman writes,

I am of the opinion that there should be three or four vocalists to a part. Rifkin's view, that no more than one person sung or played from each part, is not only contradicted by the iconography of the period ..., but also by Bach's own Dresden material for the Kyrie and Gloria of the B minor Mass. In the bassoon part we suddenly see that bassoons 1 and 2 are sharing the same part, with their respective lines being written one above the other.(1)

These remarks in effect ask me to tell readers when I stopped beating my wife. For I have never made the blanket assertion that Koopman lays at my doorstep. Accordingly, the possibility that the engraving from Walther's Lexicon reproduced as Koopman's illus.2 (see also illus.1 in Andrew Parrott's observation above) may show two violinists reading from the same music--although I hardly find this picture as unambiguous as Koopman seems to--neither troubles me nor refutes anything I have actually said.(2) As for the bassoons in the `Quondam', I discussed these as long ago as 1982 in my notes to the Bach Ensemble's recording of the B minor Mass and have had occasion to refer to them again in two more recent publications.(3) So if I persist in the belief that Bach's singers and at least some of his instrumentalists read individually from their parts, I must presumably have some evidence that I feel overrides Koopman's putative indications to the contrary. Some of this evidence, in fact, comes from the very parts that Koopman cites--those of the Missa that Bach submitted to the electoral court at Dresden in 1733.(4) For not only has Koopman failed to read me but, more important, he has failed to look very closely at this informative set of materials.


Take for instance the `Quondam' as it appears in the bassono partbook. As Koopman observes, Bach's score notation, not to mention the words `a 2 Bassoni' in the notice at the end of the preceding movement, certainly implies that he expected two bassoonists to read from this music. But elsewhere in the Missa, we encounter a very different situation.(5) Illus.1 reproduces the start of the `Laudamus te' from Bach's autograph score. Readers will notice three violin lines--a solo part labelled `Violino Concertato' and two supporting parts called simply `Violino 1' and `Violino 2'. In a typical modern violin 1 part for the B minor Mass we find the music presented in the same score notation that Bach employed for the bassoons in the `Quondam'; the part thus enables two players to read from it, one performing the solo, the other taking the ripieno line--the conventional arrangement in modern orchestral practice. Given Koopman's assertions, we might expect Bach to have laid out his own first-violin part in much the same fashion. But when we turn to the part in question, we get a surprise.

The Dresden materials include three violin parts in all: two copies of violin 1 and one of violin 2. When Bach wrote the start of the `Laudamus te' in the first copy of violin l, rather than notating both the solo and the ripieno lines, he included only the concerted part. The rubric `solo' makes it clear that only a single violin plays here. But if, as Koopman would evidently have us believe, Bach meant a further violinist to share this part in the other movements of the Missa, we must wonder why he did not trouble to include the ripieno line in the `Laudamus te' or even leave a cue telling the player to look for it in another location--on an inserted sheet, for example, or in the second copy of violin 1.(6) Yet this part also contains nothing to suggest a player migrating from one set of notes to another.

As Bach wrote out the entire first copy of violin 1himself, he presumably put in it everything he felt necessary to ensure a smooth performance of his music--especially if, as appears overwhelmingly probable, he meant these parts for use by musicians not working under his leadership.(7) Hence unless we wish to accuse him of carelessness or plain indifference, we have little choice but to conclude that he copied violin 1 under the assumption that only one player would read from it. Certainly, the `solo' marking in the `Laudamus te' does not imply otherwise. Bach, after all, sprinkles both this term and `tutti' in the soloists' parts of the concertos BWV1041 and 1043, obviously with no other purpose than to make clear where the featured player steps forth from the ensemble and where he plays with it--no one yet has suggested that Bach meant more than one violinist to read from each of these parts.(8)

So on the basis of the bassoon end `violin parts, the Dresden materials send a mixed message: bassoons may have shared--although we still cannot say for sure whether this applies to the movements before the `Quoniam'(9)--but at least some of the strings did not. Concerning the voices, I shall say no more here than to remind Koopman of the evidence I have already presented elsewhere, some of which illus.6 in Andrew Parrott's recent article on Bach's chorus will perhaps have made it easier to comprehend.(10) At the risk of becoming still more self-referential, I must observe that the parts to the Missa merely reinforce something I wrote on an earlier occasion when a writer looking to score easy points fell prey to the same misconceptions as Koopman:

It takes no great insight to recognize that what goes for instruments might not go for voices--indeed, that what goes for one instrument or instrumental group might not even go for every other instrument or instrumental group. With instruments no less than voices, we must examine parts carefully and comprehensively, with an eye both to the details of each particular case and to the larger context in which any given part or set of parts might move.(11)


I would urge Koopman--and those inclined to his position--to consider this advice.

I would urge Koopman as well to give more reasoned attention to a handful of further issues that he raises. These begin with the survival of Bach's vocal parts. In Koopman's words, `Rifkin bases his numbers on Bach's extant original parts. We seldom find extra parts, but do we know how much has been lost?(12) Once again I must enter a small demurrer before tackling the problem itself. If, suddenly, a sheaf of vocal ripieno parts from Bach's cantata performances should come to light, it would not disturb me greatly. Throughout my work on Baroque vocal practice I have sought first and foremost to clarify the relationship between singers and parts; strictly speaking, the performance numbers, whether four singers or 40, represent only a by-product of my findings. Hence the discovery of new ripieno parts would not overturn my argument but, ironically, provide further confirmation for its central point: that ripienists did not read from the same music as concertists. Nevertheless, I have not, as Koopman implies, simply taken it on faith that the number of parts surviving today corresponds to the number of parts available to Bach's singers. On the contrary, we have good reason to doubt that vocal parts have suffered any meaningful losses. Consider, for example, that when Bach's Leipzig sacred music comes down to us in both score and parts--when, in other words, we have reunited material that the composer divided between two heirs--the parts invariably include duplicate copies of the violins and the continuo.(13) Often, too, we have multiple versions of instrumental obbligatos, reflecting changes in scoring made from one performance to another. For instance, in the cantata Ihr werdet weinen und heulen, BWV103, Bach replaced the `flauto piccolo' originally used in two movements with a new part for violin or traverso; yet the older part remains in the set alongside the new one.(14) If instrumental materials have managed to withstand the ravages of time this well, can Koopman explain why vocal parts should have vanished in radically disproportionate numbers?

In his desire to increase Bach's forces to the point where they meet his own personal `limit'--the `minimum under which I do not want to work'(15)--Koopman also takes a rather fanciful approach to documentary evidence. At the very least, for example, he creates a misleading impression when he writes, `In Leipzig Bach could choose from more than 50 boys.'(16) Whatever difficulties of interpretation the relevant archival materials may present, scholars from Spitta to Siegele have recognized without exception that they in no way point to a conclusion even remotely similar to this.(17) By the same token, Koopman's remarks about trebles and falsettists at Weimar evoke an image of massed voices for which the documents offer no support.(18) For one thing, the sole falsettist recorded at Weimar, Adam Immanuel Weldig, left the court before Bach embarked on his series of cantatas in 1714.(19) Nor does it appear that the `eight boys' to whom Koopman refers could have had very much to do with the performance of these works.(20) As William Cowdery has emphasized, their role in the service consisted of singing hymns or chant, which by the very layout of the court church would have made it all but impossible for them to join in the cantata(.21) In chapel registers and similar documents from the 17th and 18th centuries, moreover, the word `boy' itself usually has the connotation of someone used in supernumerary functions but not yet in a proper musical capacity--trebles employed in concerted repertory typically appear together with the rest of the performing group under the rubric `Discantisten'.(22) The distinction all but certainly applies to Weimar: a roster of musicians and trumpeters from 1714 or 1715 refers summarily to a group of six unnamed `Capellknaben' at its close but lists two teenage `Discantisten', Johann Christian Gerrmann and Johann Philipp Weichard, among the singers of the chapel.(23)

Needless to say, Koopman, no less than Karl Richter or Helmuth Rilling before him, has every reason to perform Bach any way he sees fit. But if, as his article suggests, he wants to persuade us that his choices reflect Bach's practice and wishes, then he or his scholarly advisors should do their homework more carefully.

Joshua Rifkin and the Bach Ensemble have devoted their last two Academies for Early Music at Brixen/Bressanone to Bach's Weimar cantatas; their recordings include the early cantatas BWV12, 106, 131, 172 and 182

(1) T. Koopman,`Recording Bach's early cantatas', Early music, xxiv (1996), pp.605-19, at p.614.

(2) See, for instance, the observations on the sharing of violin parts in my articles `The violins in Bach's St. John Passion', Critica musica: Essays in honor of Paul Brainard, Musicology, xviii, ed. J. Knowles (Amsterdam, 1996), pp.307-32, at p.29, n.39, end `Bach's chorus: some red herrings', Journal of musicological research, xiv (1995), pp.223-34, at pp.225-6.

(3) See Nonesuch D-79036 as well as `Bach's chorus: some red herrings', p.224, and `The violins in Bach's St. John Passion', pp.317-18.

(4) For facsimiles of the Dresden partbooks see Johann Sebastian Bach: Missa h-Moll BWV232(1), ed. H.-J. Schulze (Stuttgart-Neuhausen, 1983).

(5)The following discussion expands on a briefer reference in the record commentary cited in n.3 above.

(6) For a case study of such sheets and their cues, see `The violins in Bach's St. John Passion'.

(7) See my review of the facsimiles Johann Sebastian Bach: Messe in h-Moll . BWV232, ed. A. Durr, Documenta musicologica, 2/xii (Kassel, 1983), and Johann Sebastian Bach: Missa h-Moll BWV232(1), ed. Schulze, Notes, Ixiv (1987-8), pp.787-98, at p.792.

(8) See Christoph Wolff's introduction to the facsimile edition Johann Sebastian Bach: Concerto a 6. Concerto in D minor for two violins, strings and continuo BWV1043 (New York, 1990).

(9) See the recording cited in n.3, above, as well as L. Dreyfus, Bach's continuo group: players and practices in his vocal works, Studies in the History of Music, iii (Cambridge, MA, 1987), p.246, n.18.

(10) See J. Rifkin, `Bach's chorus: a preliminary report', Musical times, cxxiii (1982), pp.747-54, at p.753, and the review cited in n.6, above, pp.797-8, as well as A. Parrott,`Bach's chorus: a "brief yet highly necessary" reappraisal', Early music, xxiv (1996), pp.551-80, at p.576. I might note, incidentally, that recent archival discoveries by Janice Stockiat and Wolfaang Reich have affirmed both the content and the implications of my remarks about the Dresden choir in `Bach's chorus: a preliminary report', p.753; the qualification in the revised German version, `Bachs Chor: ein vorlaufiger Bericht', Basler Jahrbuch fur historische Musikpraxis, ix (1985), pp.141-55, at p.153, n.42, no longer applies.

(11) Rifkin, `Bach's chorus: some red herrings', p.224.

(12) Koopman, `Recording Bach's early cantatas', p.614.

(13) See A. Durr, Zur Chronologie der Leipziger VokalwerkeJohann Sebastian Bachs, Musikwissenschaftliche Arbeiten, xxvi (Kassel, 1976), p.9, as well as the survey of Bach's parts in Dreyfus, Bach's continuo group, pp.183-207.

(14) See, among other sources, Johann Sebastian Bach: Neue Ausgabe samtlicher Werke (Kassel, 1954-), 1/xi.2, Kritischer Bericht, pp.47, 55-7.

(15) Koopman, Bach's early cantatas', cantatas', p.614.

(16) Koopman, Bach's early

(17) See, for instance, P. Spitta, Johann Sebastian Bach (Leipzig, 1873-80), ii, pp.11-15; A. Schering, Johann Sebastian Bachs Leipziger Kirchenmusik, Veroffentlichungen der Neuen Bachgesell-schaff, xxxvi/2 (Leipzig, 1936, 2/1954), pp.16-22; or U. Siegele, `Bachs Endzweck einer regulierten und Entwurff einer wohlbestallten Kirchenmusik', Festschrift Georg von Dadelsen zum 60. Geburtstag, ed. T. Kohlhase and V. Scherliess (Neuhausen-Stuttgart, 1978), pp.313-51, at pp.318-23. Koopman might also do well to consider the analysis in Rifkin, `Bach's chorus: a preliminary report', pp.750-51, or the more easily accessible reformulation in Parrott,'Bach's chorus: a "brief yet highly necessary" reappraisal', pp.569-71.

(18) See Koopman, `Recording Bach's early cantatas', p.614.

(19) For Weldig, see, most conveniently, C. S. Terry, Bach: a biography (Oxford, 2/1932), pp.91-2; Bach-Dokumente, ii: Fremdschriftliche und gedruckte Dokumente zur Lebensgeschichte Johann Sebastian Bachs 1685-1750, ed. W. Neumann and H.-J. Schulze (Kassel, 1969), p.555; and E. -M. Ranft, `Zum Personalbestand der WeiBenfelser Hoflkapelle', Beitrage zur BachForschung, vi (Leipzig, 1987), pp.5-36, at pp.31-2. Ironically, Weldig would probably have sung one of the soprano parts in Bach's WeiBenfels hunt cantata BWV208; see J. Rifkin, `From Weimar to Leipzig: concertists and ripienists in Bach's Ich haste viel Bekummernis' Early music, xxiv (1996), pp.583-603, at p.602, n.58.

(20) Koopman, misquoting Cowdery (see the following note), erroneously places these boys in the charge of Weldig; Weldig's title,`Pagenhofmeister', refers to a different group of youths.

(21) See W. Cowdery, The early vocal works of Johann Sebastian Bach: studies in style, scoring, and chronology (PhD diss., Cornell U., 1989), pp.138, 143-4. Cowdery errs, however, in reading the words `das Choralsingen verrichten'to mean that the boys led the singing.

(22) For a late but by no means atypical example, see the document reproduced in E. Suchalla, Briefe von Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach an Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkipf und Johann Nikolaus Forkel, Mainzer Studien zur Musikwissenschaff, xix (Tutzing, 1985), pp.252-3, and the discussion in J. Rifkin, "`... wobey aber die Singstimmen hinlanglich besetzt seyn mussen ...": zum Credo der h-MoH-Messe in der Auffuhrung Carl Philipp Emanuel Bachs', Basler Jahrbuch fur historische Musilpraxis, ix (1985), pp.157-72, at p.162, n.20.

(23) No complete transcription of the document exists--the best modern version, in Bach-Dokumente, ii, pp.62-3, omits the reference to the choirboys, for which see Spitta, Johann Sebastian Bach, i, pp.854-5. On the date, see Riflkin, `From Weimar to Leipzig', p.600, n.41; for the ages of the Gerrmann and Weichard, see Bach-Dokumente, ii, pp.535. 555. Although R. Jauernig,`Johann Sebastian Bach in Weimar: neue Forschungsergebnisse aus Weimarer Quellen' Johann Sebastian Bach in Thuringen: Festgabe zum Gedenkjahr 1950 (Weimar, 1950), pp.49-105, at p.71, n.59, doubts Spitta's figure of six choirboys, we may reconcile this with the eight normally present if we read the two trebles as haying `graduated' into full-fledged chapel service.
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Title Annotation:in Early Music, vol. 24, p. 605, November 1996
Author:Rifkin, Joshua
Publication:Early Music
Date:May 1, 1997
Previous Article:Bach's chorus: who cares?
Next Article:Papal Music Manuscripts in the Late Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries.

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