Bach, continued

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SDR
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Re: Bach, continued

Post by SDR »

Just heard this performance of the Triple Concerto in A minor on the radio---and found the recording on YouTube, praise be.

This is as good a rendering of this joyous gem as I have heard. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dF6YE7lrODs

Image Papa Bach, with family and/or friends, gathered around the household harpsichord, batting this out and smiling wide all the while . . . Johann having given himself a starring role at the keyboard, in the outer movements at least !

S

SDR
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Re: Bach, continued

Post by SDR »

If you're wondering what equal temperament is, and have 17 minutes that you're willing to sacrifice to the prospect, here's a video explaining the subject---briefly---with a demonstration of the same short piece played on an instrument that's been re-tuned twice, to present three variations of temperament. And if you can tell the difference between the three different tunings, let me know; I couldn't.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRui9apjWAY

S

peterm
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Re: Bach, continued

Post by peterm »

Each temperament has its own character. I find the Kirnberger lll to be the closest to what we are used to hearing, but I’m not sure that the scholar would agree? The Rameau had some beautiful vibrations, without as much of the bizarre “out of tune” occurrences of the first quarter-comma mean tone temperament.

The important thing is that “well-tempered” is not the same as “equal temperament”. With Bach’s well tempered, there still was an emphasis on making the key of c major a home base, where the notes c and e are close to perfect thirds, thus sacrificing that same satisfying resonance when other major thirds would be played together.

Equal temperament is a compromise which solves the problem of modulation to many different key centers while sacrificing the purity of “just” intervals.

The subject reminds me of a story I was told about the making of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors” album. The band members were notorious cocaine users. They got a bit too high and spent two days torturing the piano tuner, never being satisfied with the tuning. They might have been suffering from the same dilemma that early composers experienced. If the song is in the key of E, then that g# needs to sound like it does on the guitar! (Guitarists tune the g string string slightly flat in order to get that open e major chord to sing.)

Black Country blues guitar players would always tune to the key they were playing in. No equal temperament for them, though the frets sort of request it, no digital tuners existed, and they would have been thrown away had they!

SDR
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Re: Bach, continued

Post by SDR »

I certainly learned things I hadn't known before. I remain puzzled by the part of the discussion---starting at 1:25---where octaves, depending on tuning, could be "too narrow" or "too wide." Doesn't this imply that the five octave range of the harpsichord would actually grow at each end, or shrink ? By how much ?

S

peterm
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Re: Bach, continued

Post by peterm »

It’s strange- the emphasis on attaining those perfect 3rds, while sacrificing the octave. That would be unthinkable nowadays. You can mess with any interval but not the sacred octave!

Since the range (from low to high) of early music was not as great as in contemporary, it probably was only off by a few cents. Still, that would be terribly annoying, I think.

SDR
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Re: Bach, continued

Post by SDR »

Odd. There's more to learn there. (I wonder how long it took to re-tune the harpsichord for each of those short demonstration performances !)

Here's the Christmas Oratorio in a 1999 recording. (An ad interrupts the video only at the breaks between the three sections of the piece.) Excellent performances by all, including a Black soprano soloist---a real rarity in Baroque performance, sadly. I think of John Eliot Gardiner as of the old school---he's been at it for a very long time---but he's kept up nicely with the evolution of Baroque interpretation, wherein we have more ancient instruments---wooden rather than metal flutes, various brass and woodwind and stringed instruments nearly extinct in the last century. And his readings include brisk tempi where appropriate, keeping performers and listeners alike on their toes and upright in their seats, respectively. A nice non-nonsense performance . . .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpaNo4mWRBE

S

SDR
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Re: Bach, continued

Post by SDR »

Christmas week---a good time for some uplifting music ?

More from John Eliot Gardiner: four cantatas, any of them worthy of a hearing. If you have twenty minutes, take just the longest one, # 127, starting at 32:00 . At the end of the tape there's an alternate version of the buoyant and lilting opening chorale for that cantata, which Bach used in a Passion.

The instrumental and vocal forces are first-rate; the oboist deserves special mention.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIHs9Atq6vw

Anyone who wishes to know what they're singing about can find the libretto for any of Bach's cantatas quite easily online: just type in the BWV number and several choices for supporting material, including translation of the German libretto, will be found.

http://www.uvm.edu/~classics/faculty/bach/BWV127.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herr_Jesu ... t,_BWV_127 Gardiner's comments about BWV 127 are included here.


Yes, that's Kings College Chapel as the illustration on the YouTube video. Quite the barn !

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King%27s_ ... _Cambridge

If SOM had gotten the job in fifteenth century England, would they have made something like this ?

S

SDR
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Re: Bach, continued

Post by SDR »

In support of the idea that Bach is writing music "for people who want to know what's coming next" (to paraphrase one of our readers), here is the suggestion that he enjoyed applying rules and prescriptions to the art of composition, constraints which, one self-imposed, challenge the artist to make listenable and enjoyable sound despite and around those strictures.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMJ1B5bHp6Q

S

SDR
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Re: Bach, continued

Post by SDR »

Have just begun John Eliot Gardiner's "Bach -- Music in the Castle of Heaven" (2013; Vintage/Random House).The book promises to be a good read. He will concentrate on what he knows best, the works for human voice. A sample from the preface, wherein the author addresses the paucity of biographical (personal) information we have, from the composer's hand or from other contemporary sources:

"A nagging suspicion grows that many writers, overawed and dazzled by Bach, still tacitly assume a direct correlation between his immense genius and his stature as a person. At best this can make them unusually tolerant of his faults, which are there for all to see: a certain tetchiness, contrariness and self-importance, timidity in meeting intellectual challenges, and a fawning attitude towards royal personages and to authority in general that mixes suspicion with gain-seeking. But why should it be assumed that great music emanates from a great human being ? Music can inspire and uplift us, but it does not have to be the manifestation of an inspiring (as opposed to an inspired) individual. In some cases there may be such a correspondence, but we are not obliged to to presume that it is so. It is very possible that 'the teller may be so much slighter or less attractive than the tale.' "

Wrightians who despair of Wright's personal faults, take note ?

I can hope that at least one other reader here will find a copy of Gardiner's book, to read and compare. At 558 pages of text, this will not be an overnight project---but I am looking forward to fresh information and insight, of the music if not of the man.

S

Roderick Grant
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Re: Bach, continued

Post by Roderick Grant »

I certainly agree with Gardiner's comments on Bach. Personally, I care little about FLW's private or intellectual life. Only the work interests me.

SDR, a high school friend of mine, Rev. John S. Setterlund (ret.), has written 2 books on Bach: "Bach Through the Year: The Church Music of JSB and Revised Common Lectionary" (2013), and "Bach Chorale Service of Holy Communion" (1984). The former is still available at Amazon. I have no idea what's in them, but obviously leaning toward the religious end of things.

SDR
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Re: Bach, continued

Post by SDR »

Gardiner is at pains to convey, in this book, "what it is like to approach Bach from the position of a performer and conductor standing in front of a vocal and instrumental ensemble, just as he himself habitually did"--and as Mr Gardiner himself has habitually done.

It appears to have been Gardiner's idea to perform an entire year's worth of cantatas, in the order and on the liturgical calendar for which they were originally written and performed. This was timed to coincide with the birthdate of Martin Luther and 250th anniversary of Bach's death, in the year 2000, and it led ultimately to the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, in which an ensemble traveled on "a journey [Bach] could theoretically have made (though of course in actual fact he traveled far less than, for example, Handel). It would need to begin in Thuringia and Saxony, where he spent his working life, and encompass those places and churches where we know he sang, played and performed, then fan out north, west and east, following the dissemination of the Reformation and retracing the old trade routes of the merchant adventures and the Hanseatic League.

"Out of this choice came the idea to perform only in churches of exceptional architectural beauty, often in venues well off the beaten concert track, and to take the music to communities showing a particular enthusiasm for Bach's music, with whom we could connect by inviting them to sing in the closing chorales of the cantatas."

S

SDR
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Re: Bach, continued

Post by SDR »

In a note on page 71 of his book Gardiner evokes Bach's Cantata 67, which we have heard in other performances but hear anew with this one---unlikely to be bested for the remainder of my time, I would say:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-61ml-Qz8aU

Anticipate that, if you will . . .!

http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV67-Eng3P.htm

In this section of the book the author is speaking of what the younger Bach might have learned from his considerably older cousin Johann Christoph, a composer and organist. After examining in detail an example of the unusually rich expression found in Christoph's choral writing---as contrasted to "the pattern of a family of musicians in which 'a robust mediocrity held sway' "(quoting musicologist Christoph Wolff)---Gardiner writes:

"We do not know exactly when Sebastian became aware of Christoph's music, but it is possible that he was infected at an early age by his cousin's burning desire to communicate through music. Christoph might have shown him how . . . it can be a receptacle in which to pour all of life's anguishes, one's faith and one's passion and act as a proto-Romantic vehicle for self-expression."

S

SDR
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Re: Bach, continued

Post by SDR »

I'm more than half-way through the Gardiner book; he commits to the page some rich prose on the meaning and content of Bach's work, in the Cantatas in particular and of the corpus in general. I'll share soon; in the meantime there's another sterling performance on YouTube, this time of a familiar triple concerto, executed and recorded to perfection, I think.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHq_hTFshEU

S

SDR
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Re: Bach, continued

Post by SDR »

Gardiner brings us to the Mass in B Minor, in a chapter titled "The Habit of Perfection." "Perfection is achieved, it seems, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." ---after Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Terre des Hommes (1939), reads the epigraph.

Here is an exemplary contemporary performance of the work, for those to whom Thanksgiving---not a religious holiday, granted---is nevertheless a solemn yet uplifting observation ?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FLbiDrn8IE

Not all of the vocal lines can be clearly heard in an early movement given to the core quartet (or quintet, actually: two soprani). This could be a simple matter of microphone placement---or performance nerves; lack of breath control. But alto David Erler's singing, enhanced by or in sympathy with the acoustic characteristics of the performance venue, makes for an unforgettable experience during his solos and duets.

Conductor Jos van Veldhoven: "It's his last will and testament: the best music he ever wrote, is in the Mass in B Minor."

S

Roderick Grant
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Re: Bach, continued

Post by Roderick Grant »

I have had the pleasure only once of singing (in the chorus) the entire Mass. It was great fun! I know of no piece more sublime than the Dona Nobis Pacem. That performance was on a much grander scale than this recording, over 120 in the chorus and a full contingent of the Minneapolis Symphony. It is a huge piece that I believe suffers somewhat at the tiny scale of this offering, like comparing a thatched cottage to a cathedral.

Being in the chorus, in the thick of it, the experience was thrilling, but I wonder how magical it was to the audience. We performed in the massive, five-thousand-seat Northrop Auditorium on the university campus, a mammoth hall that has defied all attempts to control its acoustics. When the old Symphony Hall was demolished to make way for a new central library, the orchestra moved to Northrop. So furious was the conductor, Antal Dorati (1949-1960), that he quit. Now the orchestra resides in the 1974 Orchestra Hall (Hammel, Green & Abrahamson), with a seating capacity of 2,089, and considered to have among the best acoustics of any such auditorium. I cannot find the name of the engineer, but he is the same one who finally figured out how to fix the acoustics in the New York Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center.

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