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The Baroque Solo Cantata: Infinite Possibilities, Part II.

THIS IS THE SECOND OF A TWO-PART ARTICLE, the first having appeared in the previous issue of Journal of Singing. If the reader has not already read Part I, it would be beneficial, although not necessary, to do so before continuing with this one. The article is a much condensed version of this writer's doctoral dissertation, which can be located in the University Microfilm International's Dissertation Abstracts, #3073495, Vol. 63, Issue #12. (1) The study focuses on three baroque cantatas for the alto voice: Alla caccia dell'alme e de' cori, RV 670, by A. Vivaldi; Vergnugte Ruh,' BWV 170, by J. S. Bach; and O Numi eterni (La Lucrezia), by G. F. Handel. The goal of the study is to guide the singer in a process of intense searching--searching in the scores, the primary sources for both information and inspiration. While written literature, lectures, and coaching are valuable aids, nothing is more inspiring than getting into the score. Such study affords the singer a personal and direct experience that can inspire her interpretive creativity with an air of authority. The goal, as well as the reward, is a performance with inventive flare--a quality that is endemic to the Baroque style, and that surpasses mere correctness.

Part I offers an overview of the study and an analysis of the cantata texts. Those disparate texts were the primary motivators for the composers' choices of style and form. The fusion of text and music--the musico-dramatic relationships--magnifies this disparity. Consequently, the cantatas require vastly different approaches from the singer in every conceivable way. Part II examines how form, melody, rhythm, and harmony meld with the text and develop the drama. Performance practices discussed are primarily deductions drawn from the cantata scores, including issues of instrumentation and vocal style.


The dissertation gives a rather detailed analysis of each cantata, diagramming relationships between text, section, vocal period, and harmonic change. Only a small sampling of the musico-dramatic directives implied by these elements is offered here. Including music examples in this article--enough to be meaningful--is impractical. However, the scores are easily attainable and are duplicated in the Appendix of the dissertation. The editions used for the Vivaldi, Bach, and Handel cantatas respectively are the following: A-R Edition; (2) Barenreiter Edition; (3) Chrysander Edition. (4)

One of the hallmarks of works by great composers such as Vivaldi, Bach, and Handel, is the multiplicity and layers of compositional elements that contribute to a full-bodied product. In vocal music, the introduction of a text exponentially expands the descriptive palette, creating a wide array of emotional colors and images. For the singer who is attuned to this resource, it provides dramatic fuel but requires a bold willingness to be swept away with it.


Introduced in the early seventeenth century, the germinal cantata form was a sectionalized, nonstaged operatic-like dramatic work with alternating recitative (R) and aria (A). The most common form written after 1650 was R-A-R-A. Neither Vivaldi, Bach, or Handel used this form in the pieces under scrutiny; each chose, instead, a form that best served his musico-dramatic purposes. Without specific forms, the cantata had infinite possibilities for expression, as suggested in the title of this article.

Vivaldi's overall form is R-A-R; Bach's is A-R-A-R-A; Handel's is R-A-R-A-R-Arioso-R-A-R-Arisoso. All three use principles of the ritornello form and da capo aria form, but none are without unique modifications, often to the point of defying description or categorization. The internal structures, both aria and recitative, are equally disparate.

Influences of Vivaldi's prolific instrumental music are apparent in his vocal music. Traces of his instrumental style found in RV 670 include the harmonic sequence, homophonic/polyphonic mixture, rhythmic vitality, expansive melodies, central tonalities, and occasional large intervals. Vivaldi spent forty years in Venice, the birthplace and home of opera. It is clear that the pervading opera culture there affected his instrumental music, but instrumental music also affected his operas. His cantata writing was influenced by both. Just as Vivaldi favored the violin because of its singing style, he gave melody a high priority in his cantatas for voice. Even his accompaniments often function melodically as a result of their contrapuntal activity.

Form is the least imaginative and quite predictable aspect of Vivaldi's RV 670. Two da capo arias frame a very short recitative. However, Vivaldi's creative use of music elements, particularly rhythm and melody, combine with the singer's embellishments to prevent monotony, create spontaneity, and dramatize the text.

Bach produced an enormous output in both instrumental and vocal genres, but a singular and defining influence on his cantata writing is the sacred rhetoric from the pietistic Lutheran tradition. Pulpit rhetoric, with its distinctive drama, influenced both the form and the dramatic development of BWV 170. Bach was very imaginative with form; for example, the first aria is a combination of binary, ternary, and da capo in a ritornello format, an ambiguity that was common for the composer. Because cadences are often passed through without pause, this virtual lullaby flows like a through-composed piece with little sense of sectionalization.

Clearly the most creative use of form is found in Handel's La Lucrezia, the primary influence of which is obviously opera. Except for the admixture of recitative and aria, it has very little resemblance to the standard Baroque cantata. It is a complex scena in a complex form that fits no norm--a non-norm, so to speak. (Readers of Part I understand the author's refusal to use the word abnormal here since the implication is that something is not right!) The complexity of this form is integral to the development and poignancy of Lucrezia's radical responses to being betrayed--pain, rage, and revenge. Such a grand drama, unlike the Arcadian fantasy of Vivaldi's cantata, could not be restricted by a more static form.

As was detailed in Part I, Handel used both madrigalian texts (poetry of irregular line lengths and rhyme schemes) and aria texts (simpler, strophic poetry). Although these poetic forms suggest the recitative and aria respectively, Handel did not limit himself to those pairings. Transitions from one style to another or from one form to another are unpredictable, often jarring. The singer must maximize these shifts as they reflect the gamut of Lucrezia's vacillating emotional states.


Vivaldi's RV 670 is characterized by asymmetry of antecedent/ consequent phrasing. Melismatic writing and word repetition extend the expected thematic response. Although there is much musical repetition, it is rarely exact and often contributes to unexpected imbalances. Successive thematic entrances that begin on different beats of the measure provide additional surprise and contrast. Along with Vivaldi's appoggiaturas, grace notes, and trills, these unpredictable extensions and lopsided phrases create wonderful programmatic effects, such as the melismatic and sequential writing on the words va (goes) and volo (flight). The compositional freedom requires the singer to go and fly with equal abandon! Distinctive melodic intervals provide focus and framing: the shepherdess's name, Clori, is often preceded by a variety of large skips, and the word empia (wicked) is introduced by a variety of dramatic leaps. Vivaldi's melodies often pour out over pulsating sixteenth notes, a technique reminiscent of his symphonic style and which is apparent in the vocal line as well as the ritornellos.

Inventive manipulation of relatively simple themes and harmonies in RV 670 lends some rewarding complexity and interest. However, because the notation is relatively simple, the singer must accept the responsibility of dressing the piece with vocal display with entertaining authority. Vivaldi's musico-dramatic techniques depict the woes of the lover's entrapped soul, but always in a light-hearted spirit--the singer must have unabashed fun with it!

Bach's melodies are more difficult to classify. The phrases are even more irregular than Vivaldi's, but the melodies are securely anchored by the ritornelli. Diminution in melodic repetitions gives a sense of ongoing motion even in slow movements. Bach leaves little room for the singer's own embellishment, but the interjected improvisatory sections lend spontaneity to the drama. Although the singer can make Vivaldi's cantata virtuosic, Bach's writing is innately more virtuosic than Vivaldi's. This is true of his recitatives as well as his arias, for which he uses a full spectrum of styles, including secco, accompagnato, and arioso. From three to eighteen measures in length, the recitatives occupy more than a third of the total number of measures in the cantata (compared to Vivaldi's single recitative of five measures) and express some of the most acute emotions.

As in his instrumental works, Bach often uses pictorial root themes that lend literal dramatic value. The addition of text to music heightens this effect and to a great degree affects both the vocal style and choice of vocal tone. The contrast between the first two arias of the Bach cantata demonstrates this. The first aria has the character of a lullaby, suggested by a calming pulsating continuo under a gently arching legato melodic line, all of which assures the longed-for eternal rest. Prominent words in this context are beliebte (beloved), vergnugte (satisfy, be content), and Ruh' (peace, rest). Both text and music quietly demand a warm, free-flowing tone. In contrast, the second aria is despairing and sorrowful and emphasizes words such as jammern (lament, pity), verkehrten (perverted), and zitt're (tremble). Fugal chromatic writing, with pairs of slurred notes, describes lamenting and wailing. To accomplish clarity of texture in this context, a relatively straight tone is essential. Such a tone fits the numbing, dark mood of this aria. Fioritura in a free improvisatory style, also found in this aria, surrounds the phrase Rach und Hass erfreun (rejoice in vengeance and hatred) and is both threatening and frightening. The frenzy in the vocal line is menacingly reinforced in the organ part. The text aside, the voice acts as an instrument in this aria, and as such, demands symbiotic dialoguing between organ and voice.

As in the other cantatas, word painting is abundant, although more dramatic in Bach's. One of the more poignant examples is the rising melisma on the word nimm (take) in the third aria. Referring to the desire to be taken by Jesus, it paints a literal upward deliverance and virtual joyful exhilaration.

The inner musical complexities of BWV 170 point up the dualities and conflicts in the message. The juxtaposition of contrasting musical elements depicts the struggles between good and evil, heaven and hell, before the resolution in final deliverance. As much as possible, the voice and instruments must punctuate and define these complexities for the listener. They clarify and electrify the text.

Handel's melodies are of the Fortspinnung type: they develop through continuation in asymmetrical elongated lines rather than by simple repetition, and often move from long to shorter lines. The melodies are richly ornamented and often require no more embellishment than simple trills, except for the standard da capo arias that appear only twice in this cantata. It should be noted here that in the Leppard edition two arias, numbers 2 and 3, have been transposed down from the original key, suggesting that the cantata was originally written for a soprano. For either mezzo or soprano, the demands are great in terms of range/tessitura, long and sustained legato lines, disjunct lines with large intervals, conjunct lines with challenging chromaticism, and speedy sixteenth note melismas. Vocal tone needs to be adapted to each style and emotion as part of the dramatic portrayal--a straighter tone for the chromatics, bel canto sweetness for the empathic and introspective nature of Lucrezia, and operatic bravura for her fury-inspired outpourings. Throughout, the melody provides abundant descriptive tools for dramatic word painting.


Rhythm plays an important role in dramatic depiction in all three cantatas. To generate playfulness, Vivaldi often favors anapestic patterns such as two eighths and one quarter, or two sixteenths plus two eighths, especially at the opening of phrases. (5) This becomes a germinal feature of the first aria. The opening theme of the A section mimics hunting calls with two strong sixteenths followed by an eighth in triadic outlines. It sets the scene for a certain robustness and requires a vocal tone in kind. A slightly detached vocal style in this section is appropriate and contrasts nicely with the legato suggested by the minor key of the B section. Although syncopation continues to be important in the second Vivaldi aria, the more lyric text and music require a more legato approach.

The singer must maximize lively rhythms and syncopated style whether legato or detached. Even rests can be active, such as those that occur on downbeats and act as virtual springboards for the upcoming phrase. Rhythmic clarity is always desirable, and in this piece the playful quality makes it essential.

While rhythms are not so critical in Bach's melodic lines, they are crucial in the supporting structure, especially the pulsing bass line. The pulsation provides both stability and direction to the melody, especially in the first aria. The technique of moving through cadences without ritard is used in this aria for the sake of momentum, but Handel also used the technique to build up dramatic tension. Fugal writing creates structure for the second aria and is not rhythmic in character. The third aria brightens in spirit with its bouree dance form and retains considerable dialoguing between voice and instruments. In contrast to the two other arias, this one has a much more sectionalized character, indicating some joyful resolution and comfort, but not without pathos.

For Handel's cantata, the predominant rhythmic underpinnings are in the continuo. They are descriptive of the various emotional states of Lucrezia. Therefore, the need for dialoguing--even mirroring--between continuo and voice becomes very important. In Handel's first aria, a rhythmic ostinato-like figure in the continuo provides the musical materials for the voice; it propels the voice's resolve, providing energy and unity with short bursts of sixteenth notes and dotted figures. In the second aria, sixteenth note groups in broken-chord patterns with wide intervals lend a frantic and desperate character consistent with Lucrezia's vengeance-seeking curses. The 3/8 meter of this aria sharply contrasts with the triple meter of the third aria with its radically different harmonic and melodic figurations in both voice and accompaniment. The rhythmic pace of the third aria slows in contemplation of punishment by sword.


Of Vivaldi's instrumental music Marc Pincherle (1888-1974) reminds us that "not only are the majority of the themes in the first movements generated from the tonic triad or the tonic scale, but many among them use only these elements." (6) The tonic insistency is apparent throughout RV 670. Keys other than D major occur in less than thirty percent of the A sections and they relate closely to the tonic. Although short, the recitative is the most daring harmonically. It passes through three different keys in five measures and utilizes a diminished seventh on the word infida (unfaithful), a painfully expressive intrusion. Although pain in this cantata is always momentary and touched with sweetness, this is a moment for some melodrama that should not go unnoticed. In the next breath, however, the words Oh, Dio mi piace (something similar to "O God I love her!") show a remarkably quick recovery from the passing pangs.

Bach's overall key schemes are not particularly daring even though there is much complexity within. The fugal writing of the second aria treats subjects and countersubjects in a variety of styles: free, sequential, chromatic, canonic, stretto, and cadenza. (7) Even with this complexity, the actual harmonic analysis is very simple. Occasionally key changes will be reserved for a particular word to motivate its entrance, such as at the word Hollensunden (hell's sins) in the first aria. Here, a brief F-sharp minor appearance is ushered in, never to be employed again in the aria. In that same aria the word allein (alone) lands on a dissonant appoggiatura, dramatizing loneliness. The recitatives are similarly expressive but with more harmonic activity. The secco recitative after the first aria is supported and colored by the continuo's constant shifting between borrowed dominants and diminished seventh chords, not settling in any key for long. As usual, special words take special treatments. For example, the diminished seventh chord is used to heighten the drama on the words Sundenhaus (house of sin), Neid (envy), Satans (Satan's), Ottergift (viper's poison), Racha (unspeakable evil), kund (known afar), Schuld (offence), schwerlich (scarcely), and verbeten (prayed). These loaded words and images require more expressive emphasis from the singer for the pathos they bear.

Except for particularly woeful passages where shifting harmonies occur, the tonal plan of La Lucrezia is not of particular interest to the overall dramatic value, and the keys do not reflect common affects. Key relationships centering around i/v relationships, although conservative, nonetheless energize the dramatic development with unrelenting movement. Chromaticism provides much drama in this sorrowful cantata along with borrowed chords, diminished seventh chords, secondary dominants, unexpectedly placed dissonances, and deceptive cadences; expected cadences are omitted altogether. Harmonies often shift quickly, reflecting Lucrezia's emotional states.

In the first recitative, a Neapolitan sixth is used on the word orrid (dreadful) just before the shocking mental image of the dreadful arrows of the gods. In the second recitative, a continuous flow of deceptive cadences following secondary dominants shows Lucrezia's tortuous waffling of emotion in a constant forward surge. In the second aria, the word infetti (corrupted) is set over the only unprepared nonharmonic chord, thereby "corrupting" the prevailing harmonies. In the third recitative, bimodal interchange represents the superimposition of vengeance and hopelessness, heaven and hell. In the third aria, descending chromaticism reflects the depressing resignation as Lucrezia asks for punishment. The mood and the chromaticism in this aria suggest a straight, emotionless tone.

The amount of dialoguing between accompanimental parts and voice provides an argument that La Lucrezia was intended for orchestral accompaniment. More typically in Handel's continuo cantatas, the continuo was relegated to a mere accompanimental role.


The study of three disparate cantatas by Vivaldi, Bach, and Handel markedly points up creative differences within the cantata genre that must be realized in performance. Vivaldi's RV 670 is light and frothy, Italianate in its cantabile style, and inspired by the will to please. Bach's BWV 170 is a complex contrapuntal work expressing profound, rhetorical expression of religious belief that stems from the need to instruct. Handel's La Lucrezia is an operatic piece, arising out of a need to touch with human drama and pathos. It is operatic not just because it has drama, characters, arias, and recitatives--the others have these, too--but because of the degree to which these aspects are enlarged, both musically and dramatically. In those telltale differences lie the seeds for effective interpretation and performance.

Suggestions for performance of the three Baroque cantatas that follow include issues of instrumentation, tempo, phrasing, dynamics, articulation, and vocal style. Primarily drawn from the scores themselves, they are supported by other sources as well.


There are no specific directions for instrumentation in Vivaldi's autograph manuscript. It is written on two staves, the upper notated in the alto clef and the lower in the bass clef, indicating that the work was intended for contralto and continuo. The harpsichord and cello would create an appropriate continuo, but other combinations could be considered. The keyboardist is free to realize the basso continuo with as much dramatic creativity as is suggested by the music, text, and singer's interpretation.

The title page of Bach's BWV 170 is in the handwriting of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and lists the instrumentation as follows:

(1) Aria I--oboe d'amore, violino I, II, viola, alto, continuo organo

(2) Recit I--alto, continuo organo

(3) Aria II--alto organo obbligato a 2 clav. [2 manuals], violini e viola in unisono

(4) Recit II--violino I, II, viola, alto, continuo organo

(5) Aria III--oboe d'amore [doubling the violino I part], violino I, II, viola, alto organo obbligato [with either the Flauto traverso stop on the organ, or using the actual flute instrument for the right hand part of the organ notation] (8)

The organ part exists separately from the other instrumental parts. In the second aria the continuo is removed from the soloistic organ part to allow its more prominent role in the extremely intricate contrapuntal texture of the fugal form. The organ part is scored for two manuals, organ 1 and organ 2, each playing only in the treble and providing virtuosic flourishes as a musical commentary to the text. Because of the lack of a sustaining bass line in the organ part, this should be added. Although many Bach scores do not specify the violoncello, including BWV 170, twenty-one of them do suggest it for continuo support. (9) The bassoon was often used as a replacement for the violoncello or in addition to it, but there is seldom any indication as to what Bach intended. (10)

A footnote in the Neue Bach Ausgabe edition mentions a performance by Bach in which he used a transverse flute for the obbligato part in the third aria. (11) If a flute is not being used, it would be appropriate for the organ to play the part on the Flauto traverso stop, an open 8' or 4' Flute on the manuals to simulate a transverse flute. (12)

The alto voice was most frequently used with obbligato organ, and the oboe is the only wind instrument used in alto cantatas. (13) Almost no two cantatas in the entire Bach corpus use the same grouping of instruments. (14)

Handel's Italian cantata output includes continuo cantatas for solo and continuo only, ensemble cantatas for more than one singer, and instrumental cantatas. The instrumental cantatas were accompanied by one or more instruments, up to a concerto-style chamber orchestra. (15) Chrysander's edition of La Lucrezia, with only two staves for continuo, gives the cantata the appearance of being a continuo cantata for voice, keyboard, and bass. However, the fact that Handel used the chamber orchestra for other cantatas gives credence to the speculation that Lucrezia was written as an instrumental cantata. At one point in the score, there is an obbligato part sketched in above the two staves that may be an indication of a violin part. Although the cantata does not have the substantial introduction that one would expect from an orchestrally accompanied work, there is a theme-setting instrumental introduction to Aria I and a somewhat symphonic introduction to Aria II.

In contrast to the instrumental cantata, a continuo cantata would normally consist of two to four arias based on the pastoral tradition and sung by castrati where women were banned from appearing on the stage in public theaters. (16) Lucrezia clearly does not meet this description. The extended text and the operatic nature of it far exceed that of a standard continuo cantata. Finally, some recitatives are accompanied, the last one being especially symphonic in scope.

The most current edition of La Lucrezia is Raymond Leppard's offered in two versions, one with continuo only and one with the addition of orchestral instruments. His recording uses a chamber orchestra. In a written communication, Leppard noted that the decision to orchestrate the cantata was a personal one based on the added line in Chrsyander's edition, which he takes to be a violin part, and the large scale of the work. Leppard views his transpositions of two arias for Janet Baker's voice as a "common 18th century practice." (17)

While there are some general guidelines for instrumentation in the Baroque, the demands of the music and the resources of the performers dictate many of the details. Clarity of text and textures must be guarded, the latter dictating the amount of vibrato (generally limited). Lightness of tone is modeled by the actual tone produced by period instruments even when period instruments are not being employed. However, decisions of tone weight and color for a work of this dramatic scale must adapt to the demands of the musico-dramatic totality.


Although no tempo markings appear in Vivaldi's manuscript, the Ricordi edition marks both arias with an allegro. The singer must interpret this as an indication of mood as much as pace. The fact that the meter marking is C rather than alla breve does not indicate a slower tempo, as these signs were often used with no difference of meaning. (18) Johann Quantz (1697-1773) quantified various tempo markings suggesting 120 to the quarter note pulse for an allegro marking. (19) Ultimately, the correct tempo for RV 670 is not so much a metric value as a suggestion of movement--brisk, bright, and playful.

Vivaldi's use of thirteen different qualifying words for allegro demonstrates the importance he placed on a wide range of allegro markings. (20) Tempo changes at certain junctures or dramatic points are very common in arias, and agogic variations are implicit before cadential fermatas even when not written in (as is often the case). (21) The singer would do well to be as expansive and flexible with tempi as Vivaldi was.

Indications of tempo changes do not occur within pieces in the Chrysander edition of Lucrezia and only once in the Leppard edition (in Aria #2). The singer is left to her own devices in this matter, but if she uses the drama of the music and text as her guide, the choices become natural.


Vivaldi's cantata is largely in four and eight bar phrases with occasional unexpected extensions of thematic material. Bach's cantata presents more challenging phrasing, which must be handled artfully by the singer in order to keep the lines alive from beginning to end. This is accomplished through appropriate dynamic swelling as well as with a cantabile style of singing, the latter being especially crucial in the first aria. In that same cantata, however, the third aria, with its instrumental dance-like character, requires a shorter articulation than the other arias. This adjustment in style occurs often in Handel, particularly in the rhythmic and melismatic "rage" arias that also need shorter articulations. At the hands of masterful composers, each cantata possesses an inherent propulsion through melodic, harmonic, and dramatic development. The singer's phrasing is a primary vehicle for relaying this driving energy.


Dynamics are a primary contributor to the shape and direction of phrasing and development of the musico-dramatic elements. Walter Kolneder challenges the theory of Baroque terraced dynamics, which he believes applied only to organ technique at the time. Furthermore, acknowledging Vivaldi's proclivity for many dynamic markings in fine shadings, he does not believe Vivaldi would have adhered to such a static concept. (22) Rising sequential patterns, very common in all of Vivaldi's music, imply a crescendo and are very often marked as f, piu f, ff. The fact that hairpins were not written in the music did not mean they were not intended. (23)

While forte may be a good assumption when dynamics are not marked, mezzo piano might better serve B sections in which the conjunct melodic material, minor tonality, and mood often profit from a softer dynamic. Dynamic phrasing should not be sacrificed for markings such as cantabile. It should be "understood as 'molto espressivo' with free dynamics ... with rich dynamic shading, despite ... [piano singing]." (24)


Unfortunately, little exact information is given in the scores of the period about relationships between notes, such as slurs, dots, and strokes. The manuscripts are often inconsistent themselves, as improvisation was always present and rehearsal time was sparse. (25) Many writers consider this to be a "virtue, part of the fundamental spontaneity of the Baroque." (26) Throughout this article, the singer is urged to participate in this spontaneity, and in so doing, contribute to the infinite possibilities of the Baroque cantata.

Although detached singing is appropriate in some settings, slurring has its place in others. A syllable taking more than one note gives the first note of a two-note pair more weight than the second note and slurs to it, making a legato connection. Strong/weak pairs are common in Baroque music (27)--recall Bach's second aria lament--and would lose direction if done detached. Runs of sixteenth notes in groups of four should give slightly more weight to the first of the four, slurring (singing legato) the rest of them. (28) Dots and strokes were considered similarly, indicating stressed notes that are equally detached and lasting for half of their written note value. (29)

There seems to be "overwhelming evidence from seventeenth-and eighteenth-century sources ... that a detached performance had priority over a 'legato' style." (30) However, while some monitoring of legato seems to be prudent, one needs to recognize that this admonishment lessens in the end of the seventeenth century due to the changing style of vocal writing. Furthermore, when looking at the enormous differences between the three cantatas by Vivaldi, Bach, and Handel, it is clear that flexible articulation is needed to reflect the various texts and musical textures. Whatever achieves this is "correct."

Vocal Style

One of the most important issues of Baroque vocal style is that of ornamentation, a style that was Italianate in its origins. The intent of ornamentation was to show the singer's personality and virtuosic abilities, in order to uniquely express the text and to avoid monotony. So says Marc Pincherle, who goes on to say that "all the masters, with three or four exceptions, which include J. S. Bach ... (who cling to their own ornamentation), lay down as a principle that the performer is free to choose his ornaments, to add some of those the author has provided for, to take some off ..." (31) He comments that good improvisation is "progressively more emancipated: the first ... measures are faithful to the text; then a few added trills intervene, after which decorating gives way to genuine, brilliant variation." (32) Such emancipation, a major thrust of this article, is the key to an authentic Baroque performance when it allows the composer's creation to reinvent itself one more time, free from artificial parameters.

Sympathizing with modern performers who have been taught to be painstakingly true to the score, Pincherle makes a strong case for the eighteenth century mindset by citing example after example of instructions by composers, performers, and theorists of the period who were prescribing more musical freedom; they include permission to substitute instruments, leave out difficult parts or entire movements, speed up the repeats for the sake of interest, consider the audience for tempo choice, and so on. (33) Pincherle expressed the right of the performer "to express a personality--either authentic or invented--by accentuating or modifying the character of the work, to the point of occasionally betraying its spirit." (34) How emancipating that is!

Ornamentation--including diminution, appoggiatura, trill (short and long), and mordent--is most easily executed where lengthier notes create the space to be dressed up with improvised faster notes. Mordents work well where longer note values occur, short trills provide decorative accent, and longer trills enhance cadences. Such adornments can be plentiful, more so in secular music than sacred, and always adjusting its length and weight to the specific character and mood of the text.

The standard ornamentation of a da capo aria should demonstrate the strengths of the singer while providing variety and enhancing the drama. Tasteful ornamentation uses principles of good writing: a balance between upward and downward movement; a free and natural melodic movement that is usually primarily conjunct; and a rhythmic structure that offers some unexpected admixtures, such as inserting a triplet into an otherwise duple cadenza. Trills are from above, and in expressive moments, take time away from the main note. In faster tempos, a trill takes the form of an acciaccatura which robs from the preceding note value. (35)

The most dissonant, longest, and most slurred appoggiaturas are saved for those moments of greatest sorrow or joy as opposed to angry words. (36) Vivaldi's manuscript shows only one lower appoggiatura and three trills, but more ornamentation was expected. With only the bass and voice part being given in the RV 670 manuscript, an enormous degree of freedom is implicit, dictated only by the singer's technique and artistic personality.

Bach leaves little room for ornamentation and there are no standard da capo arias in BWV 170. Where sections repeat, Bach treats the repetition differently, thereby exonerating the performer from most of this responsibility. Added ornamentation that would be expected would include appoggiaturas at cadences, traditional prepared trills, and occasional short trills in brighter pieces such as in Aria III. This treatment is in stark contrast to Handel's standard da capo arias which are incomplete without a full range of embellishments. They serve not only to decorate exact repetition, but enhance and advance the intense dramatic development.

The remaining issue of vocal performance style is vocal tone quality. How much debate one hears about the "correct" vocal tone for Baroque music! In keeping with the nature of this article, it is purported here that there is no single correct tone, but rather a variety of tones that serve a variety of musico-dramatic contexts.

While a common assumption exists that early Baroque singing used little if any vibrato, different authors at the time used different terms about this phenomenon, and we cannot be absolutely sure what they meant. More recently, writers are clearer on this issue, including Barbara Doscher in The Functional Unity of the Singing Voice. Like many other pedagogues, she defines a healthy, beautiful, and fully vibrating tone as one with an oscillation rate of five to seven vibrations per second and a pitch fluctuation between a quarter tone and a semitone. (37) A healthy vibrato does not call attention to itself or cloud the sonorities.

Either castrati or boys were doing much of the singing in the Baroque period, and those voices did not possess much vibrato by nature. A one-dimensional vocal sound centered on a light adjustment with no reinforcement from the chest voice served the small pitch range of early Baroque music very well. The same kind of tone could execute Bach's sacred cantatas. However, as the aggrandizement of the opera form began affecting the range and dramatic scope of vocal music, such as it does in La Lucrezia, a more reinforced tone is an absolute requirement.

The Vivaldi cantata was clearly written for an alto, not a castrato. Whether the alto was male or female is not clear, except that the text suggests a male narrative. In any case, the frothy character of the Vivaldi cantata negates any languishing vibrato, especially in the first marchlike movement announcing the hunt. Runs for such a piece would be appropriately slightly detached, slurring not relevant to this mood. On the other hand, the second aria would profit from a warmer, more legato tone.

Bach's BWV 170 is a more complicated matter. First, it is sacred. Second, one needs to remember that most probably "all of Bach's treble solos, with the exception of Jauchzett Gott ... were written for boys." (38) Today, if a female alto is performing this piece, true "authenticity" is already compromised, much as it is when modern instruments are used. In a situation such as this, for a female to imitate a boy's voice for the sake of authenticity seems a bit futile. However, it is appropriate to adjust the vocal mechanism to a lighter tone and guard against too much vibrato, just as instrumentalists do when playing in a Baroque style on modern instruments.

In BWV 170, the range is limited enough to allow for a relatively low level of vibrato. The first aria is quite straightforward with a minimum of chromatics and dissonances; a normal vibrato would not hinder the nature and character of this lullaby as long as the result is soothing. A straighter tone is more appropriate for Aria II with its chromaticism and shifting harmonies. Representing distressed wailing, the ambience is almost primal, not cultured. There are very forceful and dramatic moments in the recitatives, and these might very well use a slightly more bolstered tone. Somewhat similar to the light arias in the Vivaldi cantata, the third Bach aria is scherzo-like and would profit from a lighter tone with minimal vibrato and limited slurring.

La Lucrezia certainly is a case in point of Baroque vocal music that anticipates the full height of Italian operatic drama, including expanded pitch range and extreme dynamic contrasts. There is no question that the musico-dramatic context warrants a fully utilized healthy vibrato with reinforced tones in order to meet the musical and expressive demands of the score. A straighter tone could be employed well in moments of stunned grief or in chromatic passages, such as in the first recitative concerning burying Tarquinius in the abyss; the third recitative, again concerning the abyss; and in the fourth recitative as Lucrezia finds herself squeezing the sword in her hand. To sing in a vocal style that simulates grand opera in the context of intricate ensemble with accompanying instruments, all the while maintaining clarity of texture, is no easy calling. La Lucrezia demands expressive piano and forte singing along with a great deal of sensitivity and flexibility to balance the diverse demands of its musico-dramatic message.


It was the word that motivated the Florentine Camerata and ushered in a new way of projecting human emotion in music. Out of these beginnings, Vivaldi, Bach, and Handel developed extraordinarily rich palettes of musical and dramatic expression. Within the three cantatas under study, descriptive musical details that emphasize, exaggerate, elaborate, contrast, repeat, vary, and decorate dramatic ideas with imaginative use of harmony, melody, rhythm, and form are the ultimate guide for the singer in performance.

The composers possessed a common Baroque musical vocabulary, but took it in wildly different directions. Not one of these cantatas follow the early typical R-A-R-A cantata form. The musical means used for dramatic expression are at least as contrasting as the texts standing alone, and probably more so. For each composer, though, the text is the motivator for melody, harmony, and rhythm. The freedom displayed by each composer in his dramatic fusion of text and music is exactly the freedom that the singer must recreate in her performance. It extends to ornamentation, vocal tone, dramatic interpretation, and, for the instrumentalist, continuo realization.

In order to work in the same spirit that motivated Vivaldi, Bach, and Handel, any rigid notions that restrictive parameters are implicit to the Baroque style must be abandoned. The Baroque style is a liberating style. Through a spontaneous and inventive approach that is motivated by the text and music, the singer can intuitively collaborate in spirit with the composer even though separated by centuries of time. It is by tapping into the composer's freedom, spontaneity, and expressivity that the performance will become as fresh and appealing to modern audiences as it was originally meant to be. This article has attempted to extricate the singer from relying solely on generalizations about standard Baroque performance practices and guide her towards a more personal experience of the period. The insights gained in the process can give creative wings to her own musical personality and create a performance that contributes to the infinite possibilities of the Baroque solo cantata.


(1.) Karen Tillotson Bauer, "A Study of Three Baroque Cantatas for Performance: Alla caccia dell'alme e de' cori, RV 670, by A. Vivaldi; Vergnugte Ruh,' BWV 170, by J. S. Bach; and O Numi eterni (La Lucrezia) by G. F. Handel" (Doctoral dissertation, Northwestern University, 1998).

(2.) Meneve Dunham, ed., A. Vivaldi, Cantatas for Solo Voice, Part II: Alto, in Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era, Vol. XXXIII (Madison: A-R Editions, Inc., 1979), 1-9.

(3.) Johann Sebastian Bach, Vergnugte Ruh,' beliebte Seelenlust (BWV 170), from Neue Ausgabe Samtlicher Werke, Serie I: Kantaten Band 17.2 (Kassel: Barenreiter, 1993), 61-88.

(4.) G. F. Handel, O Numi eterni (La Lucrezia), HWV 145, Vol. 51 (Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Haertel), 32-42.

(5.) Michael Talbot, Vivaldi (London: Dent, 1978), 99.

(6.) Marc Pincherle, Vivaldi: Genius of the Baroque, trans. Christopher Hatch (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1962), 70.

(7.) Sue McGehee Gilvin, "A Study of the Alto Solo Cantatas of J. S. Bach: A History and Analysis" (Doctoral project, Northwestern University, 1970), 84.

(8.) W. Gillies Whittaker, The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach, Sacred and Secular, Vol. I (London: Oxford University Press, 1959), 242.

(9.) Charles Sanford Terry, Bach: The Cantatas and Oratorios, Book II (London: Humphrey Milford, 1928), 23.

(10.) Gilvin, 12.

(11.) Johann Sebastian Bach, Vergnugte Ruh,' beliebte Seelenlust, Neue Bach Samtliche Ausgabe (London: Barenreiter, 1993), 78.

(12.) Gilvin, 14.

(13.) Ibid., 16-17.

(14.) Ibid., 20.

(15.) John Stanford Miles Mayo, "Handel's Italian Cantatas" (PhD dissertation, University of Toronto, 1977), 37.

(16.) Donald Burrows, Handel (New York: Schirmer Books, 1994), 25.

(17.) Raymond Leppard, interview by Karen Tillotson Bauer via mail, 7 September 1997.

(18.) Robert Donington, Baroque Music: Style and Performance (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1982), 14.

(19.) As quoted in Donington, 19.

(20.) Walter Kolneder, Performance Practices in Vivaldi, trans. Anne de Dadelsen (Winterthur, Switzerland: Amadeus Verlag, 1979), 13.

(21.) Ibid., 14.

(22.) Ibid., 15.

(23.) Ibid., 18.

(24.) Ibid., 21.

(25.) John Butt, Bach Interpretation: Articulation Marks in Primary Sources of J. S. Bach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), ix.

(26.) Ibid., 2.

(27.) Ibid., 6.

(28.) Agricola, as quoted in Butt, 14.

(29.) Ibid., 29.

(30.) Ibid., 13.

(31.) Marc Pincherle, "On the Rights of the Interpreter in the Performance of 17th and 18th-Century Music," Musical Quarterly XLIV, no. 2 (April 1958): 156.

(32.) Ibid., 160.

(33.) Ibid., 144-66.

(34.) Ibid., 162.

(35.) Kolneder, 46.

(36.) Butt, 23.

(37.) Barbara M. Doscher, The Functional Unity of the Singing Voice, 2nd ed. (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1994), 200.

(38.) Howard Mayer Brown and Stanley Sadie, eds., Performance Practice: Music after 1600, Vol. II, Norton/Grove Handbooks in Music (New York: Norton & Co., 1989), "Voices" by Ellen T. Harris, 113.

Karen Bauer is Head of the Voice Department and Professor of Music at North Park University in Chicago. She served as the Director of the School of Music for seven years and was the primary author of North Park's Master of Music in Vocal Performance, now in its third year. She is a former President of the Chicago Chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Dr. Bauer has distinguished herself as a voice teacher whose students now sing in opera houses both in this country and in Europe. With early training in opera under Boris Goldovsky and Robert Gay, she directed the North Park opera program for fifteen years. She has soloed with the Chicago Symphony, Rockefeller Chapel Choir, and members of the Chicago Symphony, the Chicago Baroque Ensemble, the Northwest Symphony, and on BBC radio in London. As a professional choral singer she sang under Robert Shaw, Leonard Slatkin, Georg Solti, Carlo-Maria Giulini, and many other notable conductors. Formerly the conductor of the North Park Chamber Singers, she toured in the United States and in South Korea. In 2001 she was invited back to Korea for a solo tour of master classes in voice technique for both the solo and choral singer. She has done numerous other master classes in U.S. colleges and universities. For two seasons, she taught at the Operafestival di Roma, Italy, where she staged opera and taught applied voice and diction. She presented master classes at the Classical Singer Convention and College Expo both in 2005 and 2006, in New York and Philadelphia respectively. Her latest master class on voice technique was presented at the all state conference of the Illinois Music Educators Association in January, 2007.
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Author:Bauer, Karen
Publication:Journal of Singing
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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