Joseph Friedrich Bernhard Caspar Majer, Neu-eröffneter Theoretisch- und Practischer Music-Saal (Nürnberg 1741)
Below you will find the conclusions of the published chapters in the form of questions and answers. These answers are, of course, very general. Arguments and details can be found in the chapters themselves.
II. The Thomaskirche
What did the exterior and interior of the Thomaskirche looked like at the time of Bach?
The Thomaskirche was a Gothic hall church, which measured approximately 40 x 25 m inside. Since the end of the 19th century, the interior of the church has been completely different from what it used to be. At the time of Bach the interior was Baroque, with many wooden elements in addition to the still existing stone Renaissance gallery, including even higher galleries and private chapels. There was room for about 2,500 churchgoers. On the north side the light was taken away by a large ‘Vorbau’.
How was the Musikchor structured?
The music choir (the ‘Musikchor’) was located on the western side of the church, on the stone gallery and between the two rows of columns. It was more than 9 metres wide and almost 10 meters deep. The singers stood at the balustrade, to which lecterns were attached. The organ stood against the west wall, on (possibly ca. 2 m high) pillars. To the left and right two small galleries (side galleries) were placed transversely, which could accommodate up to two times ten instrumentalists. The organ and side galleries were accessible by stairs.
How can the acoustics of St. Thomas Church be described?
Due to the many wooden interior elements in the Thomaskirche in Bach’s time, the reverberation time must have been lower than today. Measurements and calculations show a reverberation time of slightly less than 2 s. The low tones in particular must have been softer than nowadays. The sound was transparent, and the acoustics offered the possibility of rapid changes in harmony.
III. The Nikolaikirche
How was the Nikolaikirche built up, both externally and internally, at the time of Bach?
The Nikolaikirche was about 30 meters long, so it was shorter than the Thomaskirche., but it could hold at least as many people. The church has been described as one of the most beautiful and luminous churches in Germany, partly due to its symmetrical construction with two galleries, painted in light colours. Like the Thomaskirche this church also had a Vorbau on the north side.
How was the Musikchor structured in this church?
The Musikchor of the Nikolaikirche was also located on the west wall, but its structure differed from that of the Thomaskirche. Singers and instrumentalists were located centrally in a recess in the tower on the second gallery. They had limited space there. The singers stood behind the balustrade again, the instrumentalists behind them; they did not have their own galleries. A vaulted ceiling projected the sound into the church. The organ was also located at the west wall, but much further to the south.
What were the acoustics like in the Nikolaikirche?
The acoustics of the Nikolaikirche probably differed little from those of the Thomaskirche. However, the position of the musicians in an alcove in the tower with a small balcony in the church may have had a great influence on the sound. On the one hand it was less direct, but on the other hand it was clearly audible because of the reflection from a vaulted ceiling.
IV. Bach’s musicians
What roles did the first Sunday choir play at the Thomasschule?
The ‘Erste Cantorey’ in Leipzig was famous throughout Germany. The eight best singers at the Thomasschule were called in to collect a great deal of money by singing, especially around New Year, at the homes of prominent families, and at weddings and funerals. This first ‘Cantorey’ almost certainly formed the core of Bach’s first Sunday choir, which probably consisted on average of seventeen schoolboys. Its primary task during the services was to support congregational singing and to sing liturgical responses and a cappella motets.
Who were Bach's singers in his cantatas and passions?
Soprano and alto parts in concerted church music were sung either by young schoolboys, or by older (over 18 years old) with falsetto. Adjuvants – students or private pupils of Bach – were often needed as bass and tenor.
Who were Bach's instrumentalists?
Instrumentalists in concert music were town musicians, Thomasschule-pupils and ‘Gesellen’ of the town musicians. Adjuvants – students or private pupils of Bach – were often employed as violinists and traverso players.
V. The number of instrumentalists
What was the point of using multiple instruments or voices?
The utility of multiple instruments and voices does not primarily lie in an increase of sound intensity, but in a change of sound character and a masking of defects of individual voices. When vocal ripienists were placed separately from vocal concertists, the arrangement may have been experienced as an increase in splendour.
How many players were used by Bach?
Multiple string and continuo players were very common in Germany at the time of Bach, also in Leipzig. It was possible – but not a matter of course – for more than one player to play from a single part. There is no reason to assume that the instrumentation of Bach’s orchestra in Leipzig differed from that in his Memorandum (1730). The violin parts were double or triple, the viola, cello and sometimes bassoon parts were double, possibly as well as sometimes those for traverso and recorder; all other instrumental parts were single. Pupils and students often had to read from one part together, but not together with the city musicians, who usually seem to have had their own parts; possibly because of status considerations, or because they might have been positioned separately. The continuo players probably sometimes even played with three musicians from one part simultaneously.
VI. The number of singers
How many singers sang the same part in chorus in German church music?
In the German church music of the 18th century a distinction must be made between (1) motets in 16th century style, which could be performed singly or plurally, with or without instrumentalists, (2) music in 17th century style with singly manned vocal and instrumental choirs of concertists and often in addition optional Capellas with ripienists, which could be singly or plurally manned, and (3) music in ‘modern’ 18th century style, without Capellas, in which single manning per part was not uncommon. Even a large instrumental cast was often combined with a small vocal cast.
Did Bach's vocal ripienists read along with concertists?
There are no indications that Bach allowed ripienists to sing along from the concertists parts, but there are indications to the contrary. It seems plausible that in Bach’s case ripienists were a separately positioned group, as was customary in the 17th century.
How many singers sang Bach's vocal parts in Leipzig?
From the wording in Bach’s 1730 Memorandum it can be deduced that Bach did not have enough good musicians at his disposal to employ vocal ripienists frequently. He only used them for his very first cantatas in Leipzig, for his passions and for a limited number of cantatas for large ensembles on special occasions. It is possible that Bach used ripienists more often than the fourteen cases in which traces of them have been preserved. This may especially have been the case when the violin and continuo doublets were lost; the same fate may then have befallen any ripieno part as well. The question whether Bach would have worked more often with ripienists, if he had had the right opportunities to do so, cannot be answered. Apparently he applied a number of rules on the basis of which he decided with the necessary flexibility what ripienists would or would not sing.
VII. Bach’s direction
How was conducting done in the 18th century?
The conductor of church music in Bach’s day was responsible for optimal performances. The most important work took place during the preparations and especially during the rehearsals, during which the conductor gave instructions about the positions, the balance and the desired affects; moreover, he had to correct mistakes. During the performances he could maintain the tempo and manipulate it by striking the beat or playing the harpsichord.
How did Bach conduct?
Bach’s tasks as a cantor have been described fairly accurately, but how he conducted his cantatas and passions has remained unmentioned. He will often have conducted from the harpsichord, but especially in his last years he probably had private pupils play the harpsichord, so that he could indicate starting points himself and beat the tempo in parts for large ensembles.
VIII. The positioning of the musicians in both churches
What was the positioning of the musicians in 18th-century German churches?
From the limited number of treatises in which the positioning is written the picture arises that, seen from the audience, the singers were in front, with the continuo group behind them. The strings were usually placed on the left, and the wind instruments on the right, with the trumpets at the back.
What was the arrangement of Bach's musicians in the Thomaskirche?
A probable positioning in the Thomaskirche looked like this: Bach was usually seated in the front centre as conductor at the harpsichord on the Schülerchor. The other continuo instruments were placed around him, in front of the ‘Rückpositiv’ of the organ. The singers stood in the middle or on one side at the desks near the balustrade, with their faces towards the church; when ripienists were singing along, the singers were standing on the left- and righthand side. Upstairs, viewed from the church, the strings were on the left and the wind players on the right in their side galleries. Among others places, there was room for timpani on the organ plateau, near the trumpeters.
What was the positioning of Bach's musicians in the Nikolaikirche?
The positioning for a large ensemble in the Nikolaikirche was probably as follows: the singers stood at the balustrade of the Schülerchor. Directly behind them Bach sat as conductor at the harpsichord, probably on a raised platform. Together with the singers he occupied the balcony. To the left and behind the harpsichord were the strings; to the right of the harpsichord were the other continuo instruments. At the very back, on one of the steps, stood the oboists and flautists. The trumpeters and the timpanist may have stood on the high passage at the back of the Schülerchor. The organist played at the main organ, which was several metres away from the Schülerchor. In this church a number of singers exceeding eight during the performance of the Music was practically impossible.
IX. The organisation of the Music and the conditions during church services
How was the organization of the Music in both main churches in Leipzig?
The long Sunday morning services were liturgically abundant and well attended. However, members of the congregation often came especially for the one-hour sermon. Before and after that, also during the cantata, there were comings and goings of visitors. Partly because of this it was restless in the church.
The motet, accompanied only by organ, sounded at the beginning of the service. It was conducted by the prefect. After the reading of the gospel the cantata was performed, conducted by Bach himself. After the sermon and during the supper concert music could be played again, for instance the second part of a cantata.
Under what conditions did the performances of cantatas and passions take place?
The larger part of the congregation sat with their backs to the performers. Despite a lot of disquiet in the church, they listened carefully.
Especially in winter it could be very dark in the churches. The musicians had to sing and play by a limited number of candles. The cold was also a problem: the churches were unheated.
In the Nikolaikirche the Schülerchor was smaller than in the Thomaskirche, and the location of the organ was more unfortunate.
From Bach’s own complaints, from remarks by his contemporaries, and from the inadequacy of the parts, it is evident that the quality of Bach’s performances of his church works in Leipzig was generally not very high.
X. Pitch, tuning and intonation
At what pitch did music sound in the two main churches in Leipzig at the time of Bach?
The pitch of Bach’s church works in Leipzig was the normal chamber tone, with a1 = 413-415 Hz. The organ and trumpets played a full tone higher in ‘Chorton’, and were therefore given parts that were notated a tone lower. Only during his first year in Leipzig did Bach make sporadic use of the ‘low chamber tone’, which was a semitone lower.
What was meant by just (natural) tuning?
In the natural tuning (almost) all intervals were ‘just’. There were differences between the sizes of successive major seconds and between diatonic and chromatic semitones. Leading tones were low. In the 18th century singers and instrumentalists mainly used variants of the natural tuning.
How was tuning achieved on keyboard instruments?
The pure tuning was practically impossible to use on keyboard instruments. The Pythagorean tuning could be used on these, but it had many less pure intervals, and also a number of definitely false ones. Leading tones were high.
In 17th century Germany the meantone tuning was the most common tuning on organs, with slightly lowered fifths, but pure major thirds. Disadvantages were some sharp thirds and an unusable false ‘wolf fifth’ Gis-Dis.
In the 18th century, especially on harpsichords, equal temperament and other ‘well tempered’ tunings came into fashion, published by Andreas Werckmeister and Johann Georg Neidhardt, among others. On organs, however, meantone tuning was still the standard until well into the 18th century, whether or not modified to soften wolfish intervals.
What were the tuning conditions in the two Leipzig main churches Bach had to deal with?
Although apparently Bach preferred a circular (well-tempered) tuning, in his churches he had to deal with organs that were not only in ‘Chorton’, but in all probability also in (possibly modified) meantone tuning.
The result was that a common intonation was problematic. Avoiding off-pitch chords on the organ in keys with flats was sometimes impossible. By limitating the registration during accompaniment to only a Gedackt stop the problems may have been reduced for the ear.
How was intonation done in the 18th century, and in Bach's churches in particular
The harpsichord and bass instruments were probably tuned to the organ in meantone temperament by Bach in Leipzig. Singers and players always strove for a just intonation on the bass notes of these instruments. Playing perfectly in tune was therefore not possible, but apparently this was considered acceptable, even by Bach.
XI.1 Tempo 1: Basic tempi and the factors that could influence them
What factors determined the tempo in Bach's time?
It is well documented that in the first half of the 18th century tempo also depended on the time signature that was used. Sometimes the term tempo ordinario was used for the normal tempo of the meter.
The tempo of a certain piece of music, considered to be ‘right’, could be higher or lower, depending on the style (church, theatre or chamber), the most frequently used minor note values, tempo indications, the text or the affect and the genre. The tempo indications vivace, largo and andante had in Bach’s time a different meaning than nowadays.
In the first half of the 18th century, fast and slow tempi in Germany were more moderate than in Italy and also more moderate than later in the century. Extreme tempi were to be avoided.
What were Bach's tempi like in general and in relation to meter?
Nothing is known with certainty about the tempi Bach used. He probably took the tempi in his church music more slowly than in his secular music. Bach knew the concept of tempo giusto and applied it.
He used tempo words mainly to indicate deviations from the expected tempo (basic tempo). In this he was quite careless.
The tempo in pieces with many small notes was probably usually slower and the text could also give rise to a different tempo.
XI.2 Tempo: Basic tempi in double and triple meter
How fast were the basic tempi in duple time signatures?
The basic tempo of the measure C (tempo ordinario) was applicable when sixteenths were the smallest notes and tempo words were absent. It was considered especially applicable to church music, and in Bach’s time probably lay at crotchet = 60 to 70.
The usual tempo of the key of ¢ with quavers as smallest notes (alla breve) was about the same. With semiquavers as smallest notes, the tempo was somewhere between crotchet = 60 and crotchet = 140. The meter of ¢ had more heavy accents per unit of time than C.
The key of 2/4 had a similar (beat-)tempo as ¢, but was performed much lighter.
How did Bach use basic tempi in pieces in duple meter?
What was written about two-part time signatures in tracts seems to have applied unabatedly to Bach’s church music.
In the meter C Bach probably used either a slow basic tempo or a faster tempo when music and text were cheerful or excited. This was not always indicated by tempo words.
The meter of ¢ with quavers as smallest notes (alla breve) probably had a (note) tempo of about two times as high as the meter of C. When semiquavers were the smallest notes, the (note-) tempo was slower, probably not much faster than in C.
The 2/4-measure was rare, and had about the same tempo as C, or slightly faster.
How fast were the basic tempi in triple meter?
During Bach’s lifetime the information about the triple time signatures introduced around 1700 is unclear, inconsistent and incomplete. What is clear is that a larger denominator went hand in hand with a faster tempo. The 12/8-measure was fast by nature, but was often performed slowly.
After Bach’s death Kirnberger and his pupil Schulz
came up with a more comprehensive description of the meter system and the various time signatures. From this, and the factors already discussed in § 1, the basic tempo of a piece of music could be determined. Duple time signatures and their triplas (in which the numerator was multiplied by 3 and the denominator by 2, e.g. C next to 12/8) were beaten in the same way according to Kirnberger; they probably had about the same tempo too.
How did Bach handle the basic tempi in pieces with triple time signatures?
Equally in triple time signatures, Bach seems to have adhered to what was written about them in the treatises of his time, as summarized in § 3. Whether he used basic tempi for this is uncertain once more but not unlikely. If he did, it would have been in 3/2 about minim = 60, in 3/4 about crotchet = 60, and in keys with 8 in the denominator and with semiquavers as smallest notes quaver = about 120. With quavers as smallest notes the tempo might have been quaver = about 180, or dotted crotchet = 60.
What do contemporary authors write about basic tempi?
Mäser’s system from 2000 is purely rational, mainly applicable to harpsichord music and based on principles, some of which are mere assumptions.
Von Gleich and Sonnleiter’s 2002 system is more practical in nature, but often arbitrary.
The basic tempi formulated earlier in this chapter show that the tempo ordinario may have had a wider application than only for the key of C.
However, it remains uncertain whether Bach’s musicians worked from basic tempi.
XI.3. Tempo 3. Time changes, dance forms and French overtures
How did Bach deal with tempo during changes of measure?
A change of measure need not have been accompanied by a proportional tempo-relationship.
What tempi belonged to dance forms?
For stylised dance forms it is good to get acquainted with the tempi used in France for such dances. There are measured values available from Bach’s time.
(Beat-) tempi apparently did not usually deviate from the tempo ordinario with crotchet = 60.
To what extent were dance forms in Bach's church music determinative of tempo?
Various dance rhythms are probably to be found in Bach’s church work.
Most of the dance forms (bourrée, gavotte, rigaudon, sarabande and loure) had – in our opinion – moderate tempi in France, but minuets and passepieds had rather fast tempi.
In many pieces in 12/8 metre a pastoral character can be recognised without the characteristic siciliano rhythm; they were probably performed at a fairly slow tempo.
How fast were the entrées of French overtures played?
The entrées of French overtures usually seem to be struck in fours, in ¢ with a tempo of about crotchet = 90, in C possibly slower.
De 2/4-maat kwam weinig voor, en had ongeveer hetzelfde tempo als C, of iets sneller.
XII. Articulation en sychronisation
What was the theoretical basis for a standard articulation in 18th century German church music?
The musical articulation was based on the pronunciation and on the verse feet in poetry. In music, the emphasis in these verses were translated into strong and weak parts of the bars. Accents could be either agogic (shortening of unstressed syllables or notes inégales) or dynamic (the stressed syllables were given a slight accent). The resulting standard articulation was imitated by instrumentalists. Musicians could refine this or depart from it, composers could indicate that with articulation marks.
What practical directions were available for articulation in 18th century German church music?
Singers derived the articulation from the text and from the affect. Legato suited better with slow and gentle music and with moderate melismas. Melismas in runs (passagios), however, were sung and played lightly and non-legato. Instrumentalists could articulate in the same way by means of fingerings, tongue and stroke techniques. Notes under a bow were played legato; the first ones with some emphasis, the last ones briefly. Cantabile, often desired by composers, probably did not mean legato as such, but articulation similar to that of singers.
When different time signatures or rhythmic patterns occurred
simultaneously in different voices, synchronisation was often necessary, sometimes in the form of overdotting, e.g. in the French overture style.
What is known about articulation in Bach's church music?
Bach wanted his instrumentalists to express a detailed articulation, which he specified by means of slurs and dots, especially in later years. As a result, different instruments could sometimes articulate similar patterns in different ways.
The extent to which Bach wanted synchronisation remains a matter of debate. The French overtures in cantata choruses have some identical features, such as dotted rhythms, but always different detailed features. Synchronization of quavers after a dotted crotchet with semiquavers was standard; other rhythmic patterns were probably not modified.
Bach’s keyboard and organ style was characterized by contemporaries with words like gebunden (‘tied’) and ‘a flowing lightness’. These terms may very likely have applied to Bach’s vocal works as an overall impression.
What are characteristics of the dynamics in German church music at the time of Bach?
In large churches at the time of Bach it was a standard way to play and sing music forte (loud).; piano was used as a special feature. The entire dynamic range from ppp to fff was familiar, but the extremes were exceptions.
Although the concept of ‘terraced dynamics’ was not rigidly applied, it should be assumed that a fairly fixed dynamic level was the starting point. However, for various reasons this level could be changed abruptly (affect, contrast or solo/tutti) or gradually (affect).
What advice was given in terms of dynamics?
Singers in large churches were required to sing loudly, but not excessively so. In addition they were not allowed to sing louder than the other singers. In principle all notes should sound equally strong. The singers could apply a mezza di voce on long notes. Instrumentalists always had to play so softly that singers were not drowned out.
What is known about the dynamics of Bach's church music in Leipzig?
For Bach too, forte was the basic dynamic, although it was rarely indicated. Instrumentalists would play softer when one or two singers joined in, but not in choruses. In secco recitatives the accompaniment was forte, but in free accompagnato recitatives piano. Singers basically sang forte .
Bach made very little use of a dynamic level between piano and forte, and never of a level louder than forte. Perhaps for Bach piano was moderately soft.
Dynamic changes were usually abrupt, and often involved contrast (such as echo effects) or the emphasis of affects. Crescendo and decrescendo appear extremely rarely in Bach’s notations.
How were ornaments in vocal-instrumental music performed in Germany in the 18th century?
Ornamentation in 18th-century German vocal-instrumental church music was borrowed mainly from the Italian 17th-century style; less so from the French. The most important ornamentations were the unstressed forefalls, which were “formed in the throat” and quickly “dragged” to the main tone; the slide, a two-note forefall over a third; and the trill, in which two notes separated by a second were alternated rather quickly and lightly as perfectly in tune as possible. In the 18th century trills often started on the top second, and the mentioned ornaments usually started on the beat. Because forefalls were short and unstressed, resulting parallel fifths and octaves, if any, were considered less disturbing.
Accented forefalls (also for trills) with a length of two thirds of the main note probably only came into use after 1750.
To what extent were ornaments written out or improvised by Bach?
Bach wrote out many of his ornaments in standard notes. Apparently he also did this when he wanted longer forefalls, for example. The manner of performance was therefore fairly fixed.
It is clear from a critical review of the musician and composer Bach by Johann Adolph Scheibe in 1737 and from Bach’s answer, given by Johann Abraham Birnbaum, that Bach wrote out (the majority of) his ornaments because he did not want his ‘main melody’ and harmony to be violated by improvising ornaments.
How did Bach indicate ornamentation with symbols?
Bach also indicated ornamentation with symbols: graces with a small note (usually a quaver), sharps with a custos-symbol or two small notes, and trills with the letters tr or t.
Generally speaking, each ornamentation symbol will have been performed by one standard way, because Bach’s musicians could not possibly tell from their parts when they should deviate from the standard interpretation. If Bach wanted a different interpretation he could write out the ornamentation.
The standard interpretation of the grace was probably short, unstressed and on the beat; that of the schleifer two short notes on the beat starting a third below the main note (together half the length of the main note at the most) and that of the trill starting on the beat, possibly on the top second, but also possibly on the main note, unless Bach wrote a grace on the top second, or when the previous note was at the same pitch.
XV. The Art of Singing
What is known about the art of singing in German church music in the 17th and 18th centuries?
17th century German treatises show that a small, natural vibrato was appreciated by singers. In church music they usually sang sweetly, full and clear, and without falsetto technique. High notes had to be sung softer than low ones, in order to achieve that all notes sounded equally strong, while text and affect could influence the sound level in singing. Consonants had to be pronounced very sharply in church, and the pronunciation of vowels had to be clear and constant. Singers had to be able to perform (simple) Italian ornaments smoothly and clearly articulated; this was not required of basses and polyphonic vocal ensembles.
In the 18th century the rules of the 17th century remained in force: the aim was to sing as gracefully and pleasantly as possible. New was the use of the falsetto register as a way to increase the range of the voice. The transition between the natural register and the falsetto register had to be as gradual as possible. High tones were sung lightly and smoothly. The messa di voce became part of the standard repertoire; rubato was new. Vibrato as an embellishment was probably only applied to long notes.
What is known about Bach's singing technique in Leipzig?
Bach evidently favoured the Italian style of singing that was common in his day. His singers had to have a good, pleasant, clear and loud voice.
XVI. The performance of recitatives
What forms of recitative are important in 18th-century German church music?
In the 18th century recitative became a regular feature of church music. A large degree of rhythmical freedom was expected from singers of recitatives (ordinary or free recitatives), except in parts with their own instrumental themes (ariosos).
A composer could have the continuo accompany a recitative (secco), but he could also use more instruments (accompagnato).
What instructions have been handed down for singers of church recitatives?
Singers had to deal very freely with the rhythmic notation in free recitatives (whether or not accompanied), but not in ariosos. They had to sing as if they were speaking. In cadences they could make simple ornamentations. A moderate tempo was required for an adequate understanding.
What instructions for continuo players have been handed down in tracts?
Besides the organ, the harpsichord could be used to accompany a recitative at the same time; the latter had to be played ‘full-voiced’, with various forms of arpeggio. Organ accompaniment was soft. According to a widely known convention, the long accompaniment notes in free secco recitative were shortened, approximately to quarter notes; only at a change of harmony was the next chord played. According to some authors, the organist’s left hand could lie on the keys permanently.
The organist played the chords of free accompagnatos also briefly with his right hand. The bass line probably was sustained on the organ, at least after Bach’s death.
In church recitatives the final chords were played in cadences after the singer had sung his last note.
What specifics apply to the recitatives in Bach's church music?
Probably Bach’s free recitatives were sung rather slowly in church. Ariosos, however, could have very different tempos. Bach’s singers were apparently free to determine the note values of the individual syllables.
In free secco recitatives Bach required an accompaniment in short chords by all continuo instrumens. New chords without changes to the bass line were played by the organ and harpsichord in the right hand only.
In free accompagnato recitatives the bass line was probably sustained, but the right hand of the organ was not. Sometimes, however, Bach wrote short accompaniments for all instruments in such recitatives; this appears to be a different method of accompaniment.
XVII. Tempo and fermatas in the performance of Chorales
What was the tempo of congregational singing at the time of Bach in Leipzig?
At the time of Bach’s life the chorales were sung by the congregation to melodies with largely identical note values. Many tracts indicate that the chorales were to be sung slowly by the congregation. During Bach’s lifetime the tempo per syllable may have been about 60. Cheerful hymns were sung only slightly faster, sorrowful hymns slightly slower.
How fast were chorales sung in Bach's cantatas and passions?
There are good reasons to assume that the chorales in Bach’s cantatas and passions were also performed quietly, with an average tempo of about crotchet = 60. It seems unlikely that the congregation sang these chorales along.
What did the fermatas on the end of chorale lines in congregational singing signify?
Fermatas could have different meanings: 1. as an ‘end sign’, where the note with the fermata did not necessarily have to be extended (with or without a subsequent rest), and 2. as a ‘rest sign’, where the note did have to be prolonged.
In chorales as congregational singing it seems that the last note before every line ending was extended as a standard practice. A strong indication for this is that the organist often played unison virtuoso interludes (passagios) on the final notes. Such interludes, with variable lengths, had already been composed by Bach at the beginning of the 18th century.
Were the last notes of a line in chorales in cantatas and passions extended by Bach?
Bach appears to have notated the melodies of the chorales in such a way that they could be fitted into a C or 3/4 time scale as logically as possible. This does not automatically mean that they were also performed that way.
Bach probably wanted the last note of every line to be long, whether they were notated short or long. It is not known how long these last notes and rests lasted. As with the congregational singing, the beat was probably interrupted after each end of the line, even if it would have been easy to continue beating on.
XVIII. The organ
How was the organ in German church services used at the time of Bach?
For concerted music, the organist provided an accompaniment based on a – usually – figured bass part. In registration advice given by Bach’s contemporaries, it was often remarked that the accompaniment should not drown out the solo voices. For small ensembles a Gedackt 8′ was sufficient; for larger ensembles more stops were required, including a Principal 8′. After 1700 the bass part itself was usually played on the pedal with at least an 8′ and a 16′ stop, or, in the case of runs, with the left hand on a strong manual, also with at least an 8′ and a 16′ foot stop, while the accompaniment was played on a weaker manual. Solo parts were played on a separate manual; registration recommendations from Bach’s time are missing.
What is known about he organs in the two main churches in Leipzig?
The organs in the Thomaskirche and the Nikolaikirche were basically Renaissance organs, only partially adapted to the taste of Bach’s time. They had three manuals (Oberwerk, Rückpositiv and Brustpositiv) and a free pedal; couplers to the pedal were probably absent. The small organ in the Thomaskirche was probably of little significance for Bach’s music. In special cases, perhaps one of the organ positives could be used; the Nikolaikirche and the Thomasschule possessed such instruments.
How was the organ used in Bach's church music?
In principle Bach had the resident organist take care of the accompaniment. He gave no written instructions for the registration of the accompaniment. The registration possibilities for the accompaniment seem to have been greater on the Thomaskirche organ than in the Nikolaikirche. The organ was only rarely silent, and then only in the case of very small ensembles; in such cases it appears that the accompaniment was limited to the harpsichord. Only virtuoso organ solo parts were probably played by Bach himself from his score; other solo parts were played by the organist from the organ part. Only three times did Bach give directions for the choice of manuals and/or stops. During organ solos, the accompaniment was played on the harpsichord, occasionally (also) on a positiv, and sometimes – simultaneously with the solo – on the main organ. In those cases the organist must have played the bass line on the pedal, taking into account that the (presumed) lack of a link to the pedal must have been problematic on both organs.
XIX. The harpsichord
What is known about harpsichords in German 18th century churches?
The organ was the standard continuo-instrument in German church music, but in several places, including Leipzig, the harpsichord was used in addition to the organ. It was often played by the conductor himself. In the midst of his musicians he could keep them in tempo with his clear touch; furthermore he could clearly indicate possible tempo changes with his accompaniment. The organ did not possess these advantages.
In 18th century Germany harpsichords were used which were mostly built by organ builders. Their tone was probably piercing, and the attaque sharp. The sound character of the stops could be very different. For accompaniment purposes mainly large two-manual instruments were used.
Was the harpsichord also used by Bach as a general-bass instrument?
An analysis of the scores and parts of Bach’s church music in Leipzig, and the arguments presented in publications against and in favour of ‘double accompaniment’, leads to the conclusion that Bach had the organ and the harpsichord play together as general-bass instruments.
To what extent did Bach have the harpsichord play in his church music in Leipzig and who played the instrument?
Both of the main churches in Leipzig contained ‘large’, probably two-manual harpsichords. They were usually played by Bach himself from the scores, judging by scanty figures therein. In later years one of Bach’s private pupils often played from a figured, partly figured or not figured continuo part. From the parts and scores of Bach’s church music it can be deduced that the general bass was probably nearly always played by organ and harpsichord simultaneously (‘double accompaniment’), in all parts of the cantatas and passions. The parts of the harpsichordist and organist differed only in exceptional cases, for instance when one of them played a solo. Solo parts for the harpsichord are missing; the two surviving parts which can be considered as such are rather elaborate accompaniments.
XX. The General Bass (figured bass)
What did Bach's contemporaries in Germany write about the general bass?
The general bass consisted of the bass line, filled up with chords. In Bach’s church music in Leipzig the general bass was usually played on the organ and the harpsichord simultaneously. Bach’s contemporaries were often forced to play the general bass from an unfigured part.
In continuo tutorials from the time of Bach, the rules for playing the general bass were described extensively. The General-bassist usually accompanied in four parts and adopted a subservient attitude. He did not indulge in runs and wild embellishments, but mainly played legato, gracefully and cantabile with many tied notes. He limited self-invented melodies to ritornellos. The harpsichord could be played ‘full-voiced’ in recitatives and when the ensemble was large, and, particularly in recitatives, arpeggio and with broken chords.
How did Bach's organist and harpsichordist in Leipzig play the general bass?
Bach wanted his organists and harpsichordists to adhere to the rules of the General-Baß-Schulen of his day. The voicing of the predominantly four-part accompaniment was always melodic, but simple, with many transitional notes and ties. The playing style was cantabile, legato rather than staccato. The harpsichord was the only instrument that could accompany ‘full-voiced’, especially in the case of large ensembles and recitatives; arpeggios and broken chords were appropriate, particularly in the slow movements.
XXI. The violoncello
What is a violoncello, when was it introduced in Germany and how could it be played?
A violoncello is a bass instrument from the braccio family, usually with four strings tuned as C-G-d-a. By using the lowest strings wound with metal wire, the instrument could be relatively small and still produce low tones with sufficient eloquence. In the first half of the 18th century the violoncello could be played both horizontally and vertically, depending in part on its size.
What is known about the size and playing style of the cello in Germany at the time of Bach?
Apparently the horizontal way of playing (‘da spalla’) was the oldest in Germany. The vertical way of playing changed in the course of time: first standing, with the cello on a peg or a table, later sitting, clasped between the legs. The oldest cellos had four or five strings; this number evolved to four with the fixed tuning C-G-d-a. Only after 1730 overhand bowing came into fashion.
What is known about Bach's violoncelli in the two main churches in Leipzig?
The celli Bach used for his continuo were probably vertically played instruments with four strings C-G-d-a and a body length of about 76 cm. The cellists were supposed to be able to play virtuoso on these instruments from C to g1. Bach possibly had only smaller instruments at his disposal in the early years up to around 1730. For obligatory cello parts he usually used the much smaller violoncello piccolo, which was almost certainly played horizontally.
How did Bach use the violoncello in his church works in Leipzig?
It is most likely that Bach always had two cellos playing, and if possible, also a violone. The cellists nearly always played in every movement. Only very rarely did Bach give the cellists a part that differed from the other continuo instruments.
XXII. The violone
What was meant by a violone?
In Bach’s time Violone meant the lowest stringed instrument of the continuo. Violones could have characteristics of the braccio-family with four strings as well as of the gamba-family with five or six strings; hybrid instruments also occurred. Most violones sounded in 8′ position, others an octave lower. Large instruments were best suited to reproduce low notes, small instruments for high notes. The lowest strings were thick, difficult to press and dull in sound. Since about 1700, smaller bass instruments with wound strings had been coming to Germany that were called violoncelli. From this time on, a violone was generally understood to be a larger instrument.
What types of violone were described at the time of Bach in Germany?
Which kind of violone was used in the two main churches in Leipzig?
Of the seven types of violone discussed, five cannot have been used by Bach in Leipzig. On his arrival there he found large instruments, which still exist. From some of their characteristics it can be deduced that they were probably reverted into double basses at a later stage, but were originally G-violones. They could play all the notes Bach prescribed, unlike four-string double basses tuned in fourths. Because the range of Bach’s violone extends in depth to C, the G-violones must have been played in 8′ level; probably the organ provided the 16′ sound, if desired. Therefore the lowest string for the notes G1 – B1, which was difficult to play and sounding poor, was not needed. Probably it was missing: this type of violone was called five- or six-stringed. The advantage of the violone over the violoncelli that also played was its fuller sound in depth. Perhaps Bach had a double bass in E1 (Violono grosso) at the end of his life, but there is little evidence of this. After Bach’s death G-violones were mostly replaced by, or converted into double basses in Germany.
How did Bach use the violone in his cantatas and passions?
Bach wrote few parts that were assigned to the violone; normally a violonist played along from a continuo part. Special violone parts were generally only necessary for a special reason, like differentiation. In a number of scores of works for large scale, the appearance of differentiation in the continuo bar shows that a violone played along. Presumably Bach liked to use a violone whenever he had a suitable player at his disposal; according to the memorandum, this was always a Thomasschule pupil. If there was no suitable player, Bach may have been satisfied with only violoncelli.
XXIII. The bassoon
What types of bassoons were described in the 17th and 18th centuries?
In the first half of the 18th century, also in Germany, the 15th century bombarde was known (although it no longer played an important role), the 16th century German bassoon or dulcian (in choral tone) and the 17th century French ‘basson’ (in chamber tone).
Which kinds of bassoons were available to Bach in Leipzig?
In Leipzig there were also bassoons of the old dulcian type in choral tone, including a Quart-Fagott in G1, but Bach almost exclusively used ‘bassons’ in chamber tone. The bassono grosso that Bach used as a ripieno instrument in the St John Passion in 1749 was probably an 8′ instrument too, possibly a Quart-Fagott.
How did Bach use the bassoon in his church music?
It seems likely that Bach generally had one or (in the case of large ensembles) two bassoonists play along in the continuo if he had players available for that purpose (such as a Geselle of a Stadtpfeiffer), even when a bassoon part was missing or not mentioned in the score. Bach nearly always had the bassoonist play all parts in Leipzig, including recitatives and arias performed at piano volume. The bassoon never sounded without the cello and/or violone, not even in arias with oboes. Only in a limited number of opening choruses with a large cast did Bach treat the bassoon as the bass instrument of the oboes; the bassoon could then have an obligatory part. Differentiation is rare.
XXIV. The viola da gamba
What is known about the viola da gamba from tracts dating from Bach's time?
Viols were built in various sizes, with five to seven strings; but only the six-string bass viol in D was described by authors at the time of Bach. It was not until 1738 that the viol with a seventh string in A1 was mentioned, although it had appeared much earlier in Germany. The viols in Bach’s time were larger than those of today.
What role did the viola da gamba play in Bach's church music in Leipzig?
In Leipzig Bach rarely wrote viola da gamba parts in his church music. Possibly a seven-string bass viol in A1 was always used, but in the first years in Leipzig a six-string bass viol in D may also have been used, whose lowest string sometimes had to be tuned to C. Only once, in the Trauerode BWV 198, did Bach prescribe two viols. He treated the viol mainly as a solo instrument in mourning music; he rarely had the viola da gamba player play along with the continuo, and then exclusively when the instrument was already assigned an obligatory part.
XXV. The lute
What types of lutes were described in Germany at the time of Bach?
Lutes in Bach’s day and environment generally had eleven to thirteen courses, each consisting of two strings; only the lowest courses were single-stringed. The second string of a course was always tuned an octave higher. The lower courses were played almost exclusively as loose strings; other keys often required retuning. In Bach’s time the lute was considered to be a general-bass instrument merely suitable for small ensembles. The calichon and the theorbo, both variants of the lute, could be used as continuo instruments for larger ensembles, but they were always referred to by their own name. An advantage of these instruments was that they were easier to transport than a harpsichord; disadvantages were that they soon lost their tuning and had to be retuned for different keys.
What was the role of the lute in Bach's church works in Leipzig?
In Leipzig Bach rarely used the lute, and then only in mourning music; apparently the instrument used was twelve- or even fourteen-course. Although Kuhnau mentioned the use of calichons in his church music, there is no evidence that Bach ever used a calichon or theorbo in the Thomas- or Nikolaikirche. As far as is known, Bach never had the lutenist play along as continuo player in these churches. Bach replaced the lute as a solo instrument with other instruments in later performances.
XXVI. De violin and the viola
What is known about the construction, characteristics, players and use of the violin in Bach's cantatas and passions in Leipzig?
In Bach’s day violins were built differently compared to modern instruments; the same applied to bows. Between 1723 and 1729 there were probably not enough violins in either of the two main churches for the four or six instruments Bach wished to be played; this number could be achieved by borrowing instruments from the other main church or from the Thomasschule, or by city musicians bringing their own violins. In 1729, a new string quartet by Johann Christian Hoffmann was purchased for both churches; two of its violins still exist, albeit in a modified form. The city musicians, in particular the three Kunstgeiger, played the violin; in order to achieve Bach’s desired number of four or six violinists, pupils or students were needed.
In Bach’s cantatas and passions a full chromatic range up to e3 is required, and higher notes, up to a3, occur occasionally as well. Sometimes he prescribed (metal?) sourdines, or directions such as pizzicato. The parts for first violinists are often more difficult than those for second. Double stops occurred almost exclusively in solo violin parts.
What is known about the construction, characteristics, players and use of the viola in Bach's cantatas and passions in Leipzig?
The divergent construction of violas and bows in Bach’s time is comparable to that of violins. It is possible that in Bach’s time two violas were always available in both main churches. In 1729 a new viola was acquired for both churches from Johann Christian Hoffmann; one of these instruments still exists, albeit in a shortened and modified form. Bach always had two pupils from the Thomasschule play the viola together from one part. In Bach’s cantatas and passions, a full chromatic range of up to d2 is required, but higher notes, up to g2, are also occasionally found. Solo viola parts are rare, and were probably played by a city musician who usually played the violin. Bach rarely required double stops.
XXVII. Special string instruments
What was meant by a Violino piccolo in Bach's day, and when did Bach use this instrument in Leipzig?
The body of Bach’s violino piccolo was probably the size of a modern ¼ violin, but the neck was relatively long, wide and thick. Bach prescribed the instrument at least three times after 1730 for cantatas, partly as a replacement for a traverso. The parts are transposed: they are notated a minor third lower than they sound.
What was meant by a violetta in Bach's time, and when did Bach make use of this instrument in Leipzig?
Bach only once wrote a part for a violetta. Presumably this meant a viola with a small body length, or perhaps a soprano or alto viol.
What was meant by a viola d'amore in Bach's day and when did Bach use this instrument in Leipzig?
Viole d’amore were characterized by a shape like a viola da gamba, a size like a violin or a viola, flame holes and strings that were at least partly made of steel or brass. It is not certain which of the two possible types of viola d’amore was used by Bach in the first version of his Johannes-Passion: a type with five or six mostly metal strings, or a type with six or seven partly wound, partly metal and partly gut strings, and as many all-metal sympathetic strings.
What was meant by a violoncello piccolo in Bach's day, and when did Bach use this instrument in Leipzig?
Especially in the period 1724-1725, Bach assigned at least eight instrumental solo parts to the violoncello piccolo. It is unknown whether these small cellos, which were probably played horizontally in front of the chest, were existing instruments from Kuhnau’s time or had been newly built. They almost certainly had a fifth string in e1. Bach’s parts for the instrument often contained broken chords and leaps.
XXVIII. The flutes
What is known about the construction, characteristics, players and use of the recorder in Bach's cantatas and passions in Leipzig?
Bach frequently prescribed recorders in his first year in Leipzig, but from the second year onwards, when traversos made their appearance, much less so. Given the required range of f1 to g3 (in a cantata from Weimar once to a3), he always used treble recorders, usually in pairs. Apparently, the parts were mainly played by oboists, but in the Matthäus-Passion by violinists.
Although scores do not usually show that recorder players amplified the soprano parts in the final chorales, surviving parts of similar cantatas show that they did so, whether or not playing at the higher octave.
What is known about the construction, characteristics, players and use of the flauto piccolo in Bach's cantatas and passions in Leipzig?
Bach only prescribed the flauto piccolo twice; in a third cantata he probably replaced the instrument before the first performance. Three differently sized flutes, all of them playing at the higher octave, were probably used as Bach’s flauto piccolo: in f2, in d2 and in g2). Bach replaced these instruments with a different instrument at every reperformance.
What is known about the construction, characteristics, players and use of the traverso in Bach's cantatas and passions in Leipzig?
The traversos in Bach’s time usually had d1 as the lowest tone. They consisted of three or four parts, were conically bored and had a valve to open the lowest hole for the dis1. Bach prescribed this instrument mainly in the first half of the second year of cantatas, prescribing all chromatic tones from d1 to g3. During the first years in Leipzig the flute parts were probably played by university students. Bach used the traverso in all sorts of ways, mostly as an obligatory instrument in arias and choruses. In addition, he repeatedly had traversos play along with other instrumental parts in unison or the higher octavo.
XIXX. The oboes
What is known about the construction, characteristics, players, and use of the oboe in Bach's cantatas and passions in Leipzig?
The oboe was developed in France in the seventeenth century from the shawm; in the first decade of the eighteenth century, the instrument quickly became popular in Germany as well. The best-known builders lived in Nuremberg and Leipzig. From his first appearance in Leipzig, Bach had one or two oboists play along in almost all cantatas, often colla parte with the violin parts. This often involved notes in the parts that were unplayable on the oboes with their smaller ambitus; Bach did not correct these notes in all cases. Possibly to achieve a milder tone, he preferred not to prescribe sharp keys in solo parts. Bach’s oboists were the city musicians Gleditsch and Kornagel; the former in particular must have been a particularly good oboist.
What is known about the construction, characteristics, players and use of the oboe d'amore in Bach's cantatas and passions in Leipzig?
The oboe d’amore stands a minor third lower than the ordinary oboe; the holes are placed lower, and the bell is spherical or pear-shaped. Bach prescribed the instrument with its mild tone especially in sharp keys. The sounding tone b-flat/a-sharp was virtually unplayable, but is nevertheless prescribed a number of times in colla parte parts. Early and late oboe d’amore parts were often written in fingering notation (transposition to c1), other parts mostly in sounding notation.
What is known about the construction, characteristics, players and use of the straight tenor oboe in Bach's cantatas and passions in Leipzig?
Bach prescribed a taille in 22 cantatas and 2 motets, especially from 1725 onwards. Although in France a straight tenor oboe was meant by this instrument, in Germany a tenor oboe in F in general seems to have been meant; as such the oboe da caccia may also have been used. Bach’s taille is always a third oboe; therefore, the player was not one of the two regular oboists. Often, but not always, the taille duplicated the vocal tenor or viola part; in doing so, again, going beyond the playable range easily occurred, both upward and downward. The taille is especially prescribed in pieces written in flat keys. The parts are always written transposed to C and notated with the alto key.
What is known about the construction, characteristics, players and use of the oboe da caccia in Bach's cantatas and passions in Leipzig?
The oboe da caccia was a tenor oboe that was mainly produced and played around Leipzig. In contrast to the straight tenor oboe, the instrument was bent to almost half a circle, usually octagonal in diameter, covered with leather and provided with a wide flared bell, which was usually made of wood, but was made of brass by (or for) the Leipzig builder Eichentopf.
Bach prescribed the oboe da caccia not only as a third oboe (taille), but also in solo parts for one or two instruments. Just as for the taille, flat keys were the most suitable.
XXX. The trumpet and the timpani
What is known about the construction, characteristics, players, and use of the trumpet in Bach's cantatas and passions in Leipzig?
Trumpets were played in Bach’s church music in Leipzig by Stadtpfeiffer; the instruments were owned by the churches. Possibly in Leipzig not only the long trumpet was played, but also the circularly wound ‘hunting trumpet’. These instruments were not provided with holes with which off-pitch- and unplayable tones could be avoided.
Bach wrote down trumpet parts in virtuoso clarino style for music in C or D (Kammerton) always in C, often (but not always) taking into account off-pitch natural tones. In general he used three trumpets, or just one instrument. Trills were mostly, but not exclusively, placed on d2, e2 and f2.
What is known about the construction, characteristics, players and use of the tromba da tirasi in Bach's cantatas and passions in Leipzig?
Although Bach explicitly prescribed a Tromba da Tirarsi (slide trumpet) only four times, it is likely that his first trumpeter used this instrument when the trumpet part was notated on sounding pitch, and made little allowance for notes unplayable on the natural trumpet, especially in the octave from c1. The slide trumpet seems to have been used only when Bach explicitly prescribed trumpet parts in the work in question. Because the entire instrument may have had to be shifted around a tube on the mouthpiece, virtuoso playing was not possible, and the slide trumpet was used mainly in chorales and movements with a tempo that was not too fast. In Bach’s surviving church music, 43 such movements can be identified, including 29 chorales. The tromba da tirarsi may also have been used as a clarino trumpet in at least three arias in B flat; in two of the works in question Bach noted the term “da tirarsi” on the score or trumpet part.
What is known about the construction, characteristics, players and use of the timpani in Bach's cantatas and passions in Leipzig?
Special features of timpani in Bach’s time are the sticks with wooden disc-shaped heads, and the presence of resonance cups at the bottom of the instruments; these increased the purity of tone through additional resonance. In combination with mostly three trumpets, timpani in Bach’s church music in Leipzig were notated in c and G; they had to be tuned with the tuning screws always in the requested key of C or D (Kammerton). In combination with two horns in the key of G they were notated and tuned in d and G. The right hand timpani was probably always the largest.
Bach’s timpani were probably played by pupils of the Stadtpfeiffer. Presumably little improvisation was required of the timpanist, as Bach wrote out the ornamentation precisely. It is unclear whether rolls on the final tones were undesirable or a matter of course.
XXXI. The horn and the lituus
What is known about the construction, characteristics, players, and use of the horn in Bach's cantatas and passions in Leipzig?
Horns were played in Bach’s church music in Leipzig by Stadtpfeiffer; the instruments were owned by the musicians themselves. From the second annual series of cantatas, the horn parts notated in C sounded in F1 or G1. The horns used may have been in G1, while the corno da tirarsi was in Bes1 or C. It is possible that there were also horns in D1 or C1. The instruments could be tuned down with crooks.
Bach often wrote his transposed trumpet parts notated in C in virtuoso clarino style, often, but not always taking into account false and difficult to play notes. He usually employed two horns, rarely just one instrument, usually tuned in D, A or B-flat. The corno da tirarsi was possibly used for the latter two, possibly without the use of the slide.
What is known about the construction, characteristics, players and use of the corno da tirasi in Bach's cantatas and passions in Leipzig?
The corno da tirarsi was an instrument mentioned exclusively in a number of works by Bach. Although he explicitly prescribed a Corno da Tirarsi (slide horn) only three times, it is likely that the instrument was used when the horn part was notated on sounding pitch, and made little allowance for notes that were difficult to play on the natural horn, especially in the octave from c1. The slide horn was probably in B-flat or C-alto. The parts are rarely virtuoso. It is possible that Bach had virtuoso horn parts in A and B flat played on the slide horn, assuming that such horns in A or B-flat were not available in Leipzig. The use of the slide was then not necessary.
What is known about the construction, characteristics, players and use of the lituus in Bach's cantatas and passions in Leipzig?
Only in BWV 118 did Bach prescribe two litui. By Bach’s litui, the oblong instruments presented in Basel in 2009 probably cannot be meant. Apparently Bach had two horns in B-flat in mind, but he did not previously prescribe these in pairs.
XXXII. The cornetto and the trombone
What is known about the construction, characteristics, players, and use of the cornetto in Bach's cantatas and passions in Leipzig?
A cornetto was prescribed by Bach about 14 times, always to strengthen the vocal soprano part, and usually together with three trombones to strengthen the other parts. By the cornetto, Bach always meant the ‘Chor-Zink’, a curved instrument of about 60 cm in length with an interchangeable mouthpiece. These instruments were in Chorton, and were therefore often, but not always, notated a tone lower.
What is known about the construction, characteristics, players and use of the trombone in Bach's cantatas and passions in Leipzig?
Trombones were not substantially different in construction in Bach’s day than in the seventeenth century. The instruments, which were built at different keys, had then gone out of fashion; they were still in Chorton. The notation was sounding in different C keys. By 1705, a complete set consisting of a soprano, alto, tenor and bass trombone had been purchased for the Thomaskirche. Bach usually prescribed this complete set of instruments playing simultaneously, although he often replaced the soprano trombone with a cornetto. Presumably the trombones were played by the city musicians. Almost always they played colla parte along with the vocal voices, especially in choruses in ‘stile antico’.
XXXIII. Bach’s performances of the Matthäus-Passion
In this chapter, the conclusions from previous Chapters are applied to the Matthäus-Passion.
Therefore, this chapter has no conclusions of its own.