Deconstructing the Genius of Bach

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Seán
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Deconstructing the Genius of Bach

Post by Seán » Sun Sep 08, 2013 10:02 am

This article appeared in the August 2013 issue of Limelight Magazine.
http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/Art ... -bach.aspx

You might find it interesting.
By Philip Clark on Sep 7, 2013

How the Baroque master used maths, physics and the power of God to create music of stunning complexity.

To deconstruct the genius of Bach, to fathom how the cold math of line plotted against line, note riding against note, voices knitted into voices, can translate into sounds often held up as the very pinnacle of Western music, to explain the whole history of a composer who the history books insist “invented” musical grammar but whose reputation evaporated from view for a hundred years after his death in 1750 – the name “Bach” meaning a famous teacher and organist to most people living in the early 1800s – to view Bach not through the prism of our 21st century minds, where we might mistakenly assume that the lifestyle, function and expectations of a composer were the same as today, but to place Bach in the right historical context, could take some kind of genius in itself.

Or perhaps not. Wrapped up in the mystery of Johann Sebastian Bach is his very familiarity. Once you’ve internalised the lessons of harmony and counterpoint that Bach formalised in the near-200 chorale harmonisations he wrote throughout his life and in works like the The Well-Tempered Clavier – the so-called 48; two books each made up from a prelude and fugue in all 24 major and minor keys – practically every note he composed can be slotted neatly into his rational and consistent system. Familiarity is bred from an early age. Every night my two- year old son goes to bed, his music-box offers two choices: sounds of nature or Bach, the inference being that at some deep human level they have become interchangeable. And if, one day, my son goes to music college, those same Bachian principles of harmony and counterpoint will be hardwired into his consciousness like, at primary school, the alphabet, or the reliable simplicity that one plus one is always going to equal two.

Theoretically interpreting and making sense of Bach ought to be as straightforward and user-friendly as assembling an Ikea bookcase: begin with the component parts, follow the manual, and you can’t go far wrong. And a door opens on perhaps Bach’s most profound enigma. Musicians can actively hear the harmonic processes of Bach clearly and unambiguously functioning in front of their ears – unlike Haydn, Beethoven or Bruckner there are no blots from the blue. These harmonic patterns are deeply woven inside our cultural DNA. Where would the Scherzo from Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks, The Kinks’ Village Green, the forward-thinking jazz of Dave Brubeck and Lennie Tristano, or The Beach Boys’ Lady Lynda have been without Bach? And yet it’s entirely possible to play all the notes devotedly and still get the music wrong. There’s a part of Bach we can’t have. One plus one might always make two, but Bach’s music is interested in the mysteries of why.

The leading British conductor and Bach scholar Christopher Hogwood, who in 1973 founded the Academy of Ancient Music with its mission to play Baroque music on period instruments, tells me that he’s puzzled by students coming his way who, for instance, play minuets every day of their lives without knowing how to dance a minuet. “That doesn’t mean they don’t play a charming minuet,” he says, “but trying to make sense of Bach without knowing what was in his world is a compromise. I understand that students who practise their instruments for eight hours a day are unlikely to want to go to the library to learn about 18th century theology. But there’s no point in playing a choral prelude without knowing the chorale. And if you know the chorale you might as well know the words that were sung to the chorale; and then you might as well know a little bit about 18th century theology, Lutherism and Calvinism, and you’ll be a little closer to what was in Bach’s world.”

And Hogwood is keen to press another distinction about the distance between then and now which knocks back on the sort of compositional material Bach generated and worked with. Interpreters take note. “All music then was contemporary music,” he explains. “You wrote to be played tomorrow and you forgot about it the day after. It was very immediate and if there was no performance, or the opportunity suddenly collapsed, you simply stopped writing. People didn’t want to hear something that was a year old, certainly not ten years old, and never a century old. Composers were workers, employed on the same terms as the cook, or the coachman, or the gardener. You didn’t always require to know the name of the gardener, but if you became a well-known gardener people might come to look at your garden in the same way people came to Venice to hear Vivaldi. But very few people came to hear Bach. He never got a top job and was isolated – and knew it.”

Hogwood talks about the pressure on Bach to crank out a fresh cantata every Sunday. And with his wife and sons lined up to copy parts and fill out Bach’s harmonies – applying those forever internally consistent harmonic procedures – the sheer industry of his art becomes clear. The bottom drawer was regularly and unapologetically plundered. Up against an impossible deadline? The Brandenburg Concerto No 3, with added chorus, becomes that Sunday’s cantata. (“You don’t have any sense that a chorus is ‘missing’,” Hogwood muses, “but Bach certainly had a sense that one could be added.”) Practicality, recycling, the brutal craft of needing to have his cantata ready each Sunday was everything.

Which means Bach needed his material to be bulletproof; self-generative processes, like canons and fugues, once triggered, had to slot together and move forward with the architectural logic of a subway map. No time for unpicking, correcting or finessing. Bach was a servant writing music for the greater glory of God. Move forwards a century and Beethoven’s Missa solemnis is a dialogue with the divine, albeit an essentially God-fearing one. Beethoven’s great works – the Fifth Symphony, the Violin Concerto, his Opus 111 Piano Sonata – are dialogues with a world that has Beethoven and his obsessions at its centre. The techniques of harmony and counterpoint he inherited from Bach are re-sculpted, re-constituted, thought through afresh. Each piece requires a new solution, part musical and part philosophical, that could not be turned around on weekly cycle. Which doesn’t mean Beethoven couldn’t have worked under pressure. But he opted not to – patronage had switched from the church to wealthy individuals and secular organisations. Beethoven was no servant; he was an “artist” in a sense Bach would not have understood.

The modern construct supposes that Bach himself was divine, which on some level may or may not be true, but it’s not an idea that would have pleased him. His work was an attempt to deal with, give voice to, offer some humble explanation for, worlds beyond this one. The personalities and experiences of Beethoven and Mahler understandably became part of the story: the frustrations of a deaf composer, the terror of heart disease makes good copy. But Bach as physical, living presence was unimportant to the notes he put on the page. A cool, emotionally objectifying distance exists between Bach and his material; beauty and emotional resonance, rather like in the music of Varèse or Xenakis, is found in the high-intelligent design of structure, proportion and inner-order.

Bach’s Goldberg Variations, a sequence of 30 variations on the bass line of an aria, written near the end of his life in 1741, has been endlessly analysed, line by line, note by note, voice by voice, as music object, mathematical phenomena and cultural icon. The work that haunted the eternally haunted Glenn Gould and bookended his recording career – cue Romanticised, rock-star idolatry – has also been reversed-engineered by musicologists with the plucky determination of scientists trying to whistleblow the formula for Coca- Cola. Bach’s proportional arithmetic, apparently, proves an irresistible draw. Certain features reoccur, structural markers in time. Every third variation is a canon, and each canon progressively imitates at a step further along the scale. The surrounding variations alternate between generic forms – dances, arias, a fughetta and at the mid-point a stately French Overture – and quick, freer form variations. How deeply performers need to grasp these underpinning numerical relationships is an ongoing point of discussion.

Christopher Hogwood is surprisingly phlegmatic. “What’s helpful to a student composer might not be helpful to a player,” he counters as I express some half-baked opinion that he must devote lots of time to counting bars. “You can’t play proportionally, you play what’s in front of you. In music, some mathematical things fall out by default – the Goldberg theme is in a regular number of bars, every variation is the same number of bars, and a mathematical matrix is imposed. More complicated relationships I suspect, yes, were artificial constructs. A number system is a tremendous aid to composers who don’t want to spoil the form of something; artists and architects rely on golden means and Fibonacci series calculations, and composers are no different... apart from in one way. Pure proportion with nothing else would be a dull piece of music. You don’t “see” a fugue in one moment, like a painting or a building; music is temporal. It’s pleasing to realise something so well proportioned that it is aesthetically a work of art. But if a piece were to overshoot the Fibonacci series by one bar I’m not certain that would worry most people.”

The jazz pianist, free improviser, composer and onetime classical organist, Oxford-based Alexander Hawkins – who earlier this year premiered a major Bach-inspired commission for jazz musicians on BBC Radio 3, One Tree Found – is clearly more entranced, perhaps even slightly spooked, by the symbolism of Bach’s numerology than Hogwood. As we sit down with the score of the Goldberg Variations, Hawkins turns human calculator. “I’ve always liked,” he reflects, “that the second book begins with a French Overture. It’s nicely perverse having an overture in the middle. And it subtly breaks the regularity of Bach’s maths. This is piece that isn’t 64, or 32, bars long. How long is it? With the repeats it comes out at 95 bars – 9 plus 5 equals 14; BACH – B is two, A is one, C is three, H is eight, add those numbers together and it comes to 14. Bach has embedded his own musical signature into the middle of the mathematical architecture, surely no coincidence.”

By extension, Hawkins tells me, the number 5 (1+4) always has significance in Bach, while the number 3 invariably symbolises the holy trinity. But Hawkins and Hogwood are in agreement about a wider point: these numerical markers are buried way too deep for performers to communicate their specifics to audiences. “As a performer,” Hawkins says, “you treat the Goldberg Variations with care because you admire the craft and realise things happens for a reason. The maths works on so many levels, but at the same time, the piece wears the arithmetic very lightly. You never listen with the mathematics at the forefront of your mind.” Hogwood draws an analogy with Schoenberg’s serialism. “If it helps a performer to trace the tone rows through a piece of Schoenberg, or reach an understanding of how the maths operates in the Goldbergs then, fine, analyse away. But those relationships will not be audible, and your audience is only interested in what is audible.”

Hawkins’ One Tree Found makes you take notice, quenches your thirsty ears, via its thoughtful riffing off Bach’s palette of techniques and its refusal to go for the easy option – hello Jacques Louisser – of aping Bach’s style. Here’s a performer who has arrived at an understanding of how Bach operated by filtering his fingerprint techniques through other preoccupations.

And the spur to write – or recycle – the Brandenburg Concerto No 2 for trumpet must have coincided with Bach encountering a top-notch clarino virtuoso? “That’s difficult to say. Trumpeters usually had some sort of municipal role, playing fanfares in court and the like, and the good ones were selected to play concert music. What is key, and actually creates the difference in sound in the second Brandenburg Concerto between the modern and old trumpet, comes down to the mouthpiece they used – a considerably larger mouthpiece than today. Their approach to articulation and strength must have been formidable because, today, if we feel a little insecure about high notes we put in a mouthpiece that is slightly shallower, which means you can hit the high notes a little bit easier. In Bach’s day trumpeters must have had something in their diet, or perhaps a special technique, because they played high nots with these huge mouthpieces. We don’t know who Bach had in mind for the second Brandenburg; but he must have had considerable chops.”

Then we dive into the score, Freeman-Attwood pointing to notes that natural trumpeters would have needed to lip down, or double-tongue, plucking notes out of the chromatic ether. The effect, he says, of hearing a natural trumpet play the second Brandenburg rather than a piccolo trumpet – the modern day alternative – is that you hear a “clucking” rather than a “symphonic” attack. The sound is more coppery than brassy. “Bach is so ingenious that all the notes he uses are in the harmonic series. And here – look! He even dares to go into a minor key. There’s one other piece, by Biber, that has a natural trumpet play in a minor key.”

As a writer whose usual terrain is New Music and jazz, I feel strangely at home discussing a composer who pursues instruments to the very limits of their capability. As we’re wrapping up, Freeman-Attwood discusses the insolvable balance problems that inevitably exist between trumpet, oboe, violin and recorder; Christopher Hogwood goes even further. “It contains some grand music but it’s a failure; I defy you to hear the recorder part when the other three instruments are playing. It looks good on paper but, short of close miking every instrument and falsifying the balance, it’s impossible to bring off in a concert hall.”

And now that we know the world – from macrophage blood cells, to our genetic code, to fractal geometry – is constructed from systems evenly balanced between the rational and chaotic, the science and the acoustics and the intelligent design of Bach has become part of a wider argument. Published in 1979, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by the American mathematician and computer scientist Douglas R. Hofstadter refracted Bach’s techniques through the maths of Kurt Gödel and the optical illusion art of MC Escher. “Every aspect of thinking,” Hofstadter writes, “can be viewed as a high-level description of a system which, on a low level is governed by simple, even formal, rules...The image is that of a formal system underlying an ‘informal system’ – a system which can make puns, discover number patterns, forget names, make awful blunders in chess and so forth.” Meanwhile, another scientist, Albert Einstein, left the world in doubt about where he stood in regards to Bach.“I feel uncomfortable listening to Beethoven. I think he is too personal, almost naked. Give me Bach, rather, and then more Bach.”The first section of Hawkins’ piece revisits the idea of canons, but working with improvising musicians required a shift of focus.

“I’m interested in giving musicians leeway,” he elucidates. “There would have been no point in writing a canonic piece – and telling everyone in the programme note, hey, my piece is about Pi – if no one could hear Pi. And I asked myself what exactly is the essential idea of a canon? The first time I felt a sense of wonder about canons was in my teens when I played the Canonic Varations and realised, despite everything I’d been taught about parallel and consecutive 4ths and 5ths being an absolute no-no, here was Bach – Bach! – writing canons at the 4th and 5th and it sounded beautiful. The essential feature of a canon is that material occurs consecutively, out of phase. And in my piece the musicians can move through the material I give them as they wish, improvising their entries. The basic melodic modules are arranged additively (1; 1+2; 2+3+4; 3+4+5+6) and effectively you hear canons both vertically and horizontally, because your ear never quite knows where you are in the process.”

Hawkins projects Bach into the future as a creative going concern; Hogwood tries to strip away layers of accumulated misunderstandings and outmoded ways-of-doing to reach an historically informed view of how Bach can be played most authentically today, while a musician like the natural trumpet specialist Jonathan Freeman-Attwood has toiled at the coalfield of hard, exploratory, instrumental trial-and-error. Top of the agenda when I meet Freeman-Attwood is Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 2 with its fleet, chromatically devil-may-dare, trumpet writing designed with a clarino trumpeter in mind – a trumpeter who found, lipped and tongued notes without the safety net of valves or holes.

Valve technology would not evolve for another century and Freeman-Attwood continues to be pulled towards what he terms “the raw Pythagorean science” of making music through what amounts to a 4-foot length of metal. “The perpetual conflict between pragmatism and idealism is a composer’s lot,” he says, “and we know that Bach regularly wrote music that was too difficult for the forces he had. At times he must have said this makes absolute sense compositionally; I am going to take this fugue to this place, knowing full well that a couple of top trebles aren’t going to be around next Sunday.”

There’s more than a suggestion, Freeman-Attwood says, that the Brandenburg 2 concertante group might originally have consisted of violin, recorder, oboe – and horn rather than trumpet. “The trumpet part was so high, much higher than anything else he’d written for the instrument. Bach never wrote a trumpet part in F [the pitch of the horn] in any other context. It could well have been played an octave lower during Bach’s time. Having said that, some of the concertante dialogues don’t make as much sense without the crystalline spacing of the solo quartet with the trumpet in the stratosphere.”
Seán

"To appreciate the greatness of the Masters is to keep faith in the greatness of humanity." - Wilhelm Furtwängler

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Re: Deconstructing the Genius of Bach

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Sep 08, 2013 10:43 am

That article is all over the place and deserves to be commented on in pieces.
Hogwood talks about the pressure on Bach to crank out a fresh cantata every Sunday. And with his wife and sons lined up to copy parts and fill out Bach’s harmonies – applying those forever internally consistent harmonic procedures – the sheer industry of his art becomes clear. The bottom drawer was regularly and unapologetically plundered. Up against an impossible deadline? The Brandenburg Concerto No 3, with added chorus, becomes that Sunday’s cantata. (“You don’t have any sense that a chorus is ‘missing’,” Hogwood muses, “but Bach certainly had a sense that one could be added.”) Practicality, recycling, the brutal craft of needing to have his cantata ready each Sunday was everything.
I know that Bach used his family and maybe students to copy parts, but I am unaware of any scholarship that has informed us that anyone else "filled out" his "harmonies." The only filling-out Bach ostensibly left to someone else was the realization of the figured bass, and no one committed a "filling out" of that to paper in his lifetime. It is Bach's signature on every note he wrote that makes the works, even the chorales, special.

Also, the term "bottom drawer" is invidious and can't be what Philip Clark really meant. "File cabinet" would be a much better metaphor. He doesn't seem to notice that the fact that music did indeed get re-used and repeated (not to mention saved in the first place) partly contradicts his and Hogwood's assertion that what was written for today was forgotten tomorrow.

I may come back to comment further, but I have always been dubious of attempts to explain Bach in reductionist or utilitarian terms.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Deconstructing the Genius of Bach

Post by John F » Sun Sep 08, 2013 11:14 am

Philip Clark wrote:There’s more than a suggestion, Freeman-Attwood says, that the Brandenburg 2 concertante group might originally have consisted of violin, recorder, oboe – and horn rather than trumpet.
This is old news. Thurston Dart argued for it generations ago and prepared a performing edition recorded by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and Neville Marriner in 1971-2, in what was billed as the first recording of the "first version" of the concertos. In a copy made for himself by one of Bach's successors in Leipzig, Christian Friedrich Penzel, the part in question is marked "Tromba o vero corno da caccia." Erik Smith writes in his jacket notes, "Thurston Dart believed that Bach's original conception was for horn. In performing this part on the horn a fifth lower than written, instead of a fourth higher as played on the trumpet, we immediately change the character of the work." Indeed! Barry Tuckwell plays it in the recording, but I'm too used to the trumpet version to give this one an unbiased hearing; it sounds dull. The set is available on Philips CDs for those who are curious.

For what it's worth, Thurston Dart's own recording of a decade earlier for Oiseau-Lyre, with the Philomusica of London (formerly the Boyd Neel Orchestra), uses the standard edition, based on Bach's presentation copy, and the trumpet is played.
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Re: Deconstructing the Genius of Bach

Post by RebLem » Sun Sep 08, 2013 11:17 pm

John F wrote:
Philip Clark wrote:There’s more than a suggestion, Freeman-Attwood says, that the Brandenburg 2 concertante group might originally have consisted of violin, recorder, oboe – and horn rather than trumpet.
This is old news. Thurston Dart argued for it generations ago and prepared a performing edition recorded by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and Neville Marriner in 1971-2, in what was billed as the first recording of the "first version" of the concertos. In a copy made for himself by one of Bach's successors in Leipzig, Christian Friedrich Penzel, the part in question is marked "Tromba o vero corno da caccia." Erik Smith writes in his jacket notes, "Thurston Dart believed that Bach's original conception was for horn. In performing this part on the horn a fifth lower than written, instead of a fourth higher as played on the trumpet, we immediately change the character of the work." Indeed! Barry Tuckwell plays it in the recording, but I'm too used to the trumpet version to give this one an unbiased hearing; it sounds dull. The set is available on Philips CDs for those who are curious.

For what it's worth, Thurston Dart's own recording of a decade earlier for Oiseau-Lyre, with the Philomusica of London (formerly the Boyd Neel Orchestra), uses the standard edition, based on Bach's presentation copy, and the trumpet is played.
I find the ASMF/Marriner recording the most convincing of all, especially of the second concerto. Its my personal favorite.
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Re: Deconstructing the Genius of Bach

Post by premont » Tue Sep 10, 2013 11:14 am

John F wrote:... I'm too used to the trumpet version to give this one an unbiased hearing; it sounds dull.
Completely agreed. And I do not think the sound of the French horn blends well with the other soloists. But the use of horn may be partly justified, as CF Penzel´s manuscript copy reads "Tromba ó vero Corno da Caccia" for the part in question. And five other recordings using horn instead of piccolo trumpet or natural trumpet have been made since the recording of Tuckwell/Marriner, e.g. Ludwig Güttler made two. However the first recording which used a soloist playing an octave "too low" was made by The London Baroque Ensemble conducted by Karl Haas (Westminster 1952) where Philip Jones played a standard B-flat trumpet instead of a piccolo trumpet.

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Re: Deconstructing the Genius of Bach

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Sep 10, 2013 11:18 am

premont wrote:
John F wrote:... I'm too used to the trumpet version to give this one an unbiased hearing; it sounds dull.
Completely agreed. And I do not think the sound of the French horn blends well with the other soloists. But the use of horn may be partly justified, as CF Penzel´s manuscript copy reads "Tromba ó vero Corno da Caccia" for the part in question. And five other recordings using horn instead of piccolo trumpet or natural trumpet have been made since the recording of Tuckwell/Marriner, e.g. Ludwig Güttler made two. However the first recording which used a soloist playing an octave "too low" was made by The London Baroque Ensemble conducted by Karl Haas (Westminster 1952) where Philip Jones played a standard B-flat trumpet instead of a piccolo trumpet.
I guess they've figured out that playing the part an octave down doesn't create any consecutive fifths. I sure hope so, anyway.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Deconstructing the Genius of Bach

Post by John F » Tue Sep 10, 2013 1:17 pm

premont wrote:the first recording which used a soloist playing an octave "too low" was made by The London Baroque Ensemble conducted by Karl Haas (Westminster 1952) where Philip Jones played a standard B-flat trumpet instead of a piccolo trumpet.
I'm sure that happened often in concert, and I believe it was done that way on an anonymous recording the family had on 78s. Not completely sure, but I remember being startled the first time I heard the first movement with the trumpet part played high.

When Toscanini performed the concerto in 1938 with the NBC Symphony, his principal trumpet Bernard Baker sometimes played high, sometimes low, and sometimes just left notes out:



Two years earlier, in a performance by the New York Philharmonic under Toscanini, the trumpet part is being played on a second flute. I guess the orchestra's principal trumpet Harry Glantz wasn't up for the part. Literally.



No wonder that Toscanini never programmed Brandenburg 2 again.

In Klemperer's Vox recording and Casals's made at the Prades Festival, Marcel Mulé plays the trumpet part on the saxophone.
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Re: Deconstructing the Genius of Bach

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Sep 10, 2013 2:28 pm

Perhaps these pre-HIP trumpet players were afraid of meeting the fate of Bach's trumpeter, Gottfried Reiche.
Reiche died of a stroke, collapsing in the street while walking home one night. A contemporary account attributed the stroke to the strain of having played trumpet the previous evening, with "his condition having been greatly aggravated from the smoke given off by the torch-lights", when he participated in the performance of Bach's congratulatory cantata Preise dein Glücke, gesegnetes Sachsen, BWV 215.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gottfried_Reiche

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Re: Deconstructing the Genius of Bach

Post by Heck148 » Tue Sep 10, 2013 10:05 pm

premont wrote:
John F wrote:... I'm too used to the trumpet version to give this one an unbiased hearing; it sounds dull.
Completely agreed. And I do not think the sound of the French horn blends well with the other soloists.
I like the Tuckwell Horn version OK, but I prefer the piccolo trumpet, if it's played well. Artists like Herseth and Andre handle it beautifully, make it sound almost easy, and it's anything but...the horn version is high, but not as extreme as the trumpet. Works like Symphonia Domestica, Schumann Konzertstuck and Haydn Sym #51 go higher for horn, IIRC.

Some of the early trumpet versions on recording are really quite awful - performers using the wrong equipment, or not used to playing the smaller trumpets - whatever - some of them are embarrassingly bad. Missed notes, out of tune, strained tone, the whole range of problems. One pretty well-known performer tried to played it on clarino trumpet, natural, no valves...aaaaarrrggghhh...what a mess. early original instrument stuff. virtually unlistenable.
interesting follow-up to the Reiche story - Casals even recorded it once using soprano saxophone - the story is that he conducted it with piccolo trumpet, and the poor trumpeter blew a gasket and died of a stroke!! Casals vowed not to risk anyone else's life playing this piece. :shock: :roll: :? :|

B-berg 2 still presents a tough challenge to the trumpeters....
However the first recording which used a soloist playing an octave "too low" was made by The London Baroque Ensemble conducted by Karl Haas (Westminster 1952) where Philip Jones played a standard B-flat trumpet instead of a piccolo trumpet.
I think Toscanini may have performed it even earlier, with Bernard Baker - the original first trumpet of NBCSO. that would have been 1937-1942 [octave lower]

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Re: Deconstructing the Genius of Bach

Post by John F » Wed Sep 11, 2013 3:16 am

Heck148 wrote:I think Toscanini may have performed it even earlier, with Bernard Baker - the original first trumpet of NBCSO. that would have been 1937-1942 [octave lower]
See (and hear) above.
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Re: Deconstructing the Genius of Bach

Post by premont » Thu Sep 12, 2013 12:46 pm

Some further reading about the second Brandenburg and trumpetists:

http://abel.hive.no/trumpet/bach/brande ... V1047.html

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Re: Deconstructing the Genius of Bach

Post by John F » Thu Sep 12, 2013 12:59 pm

Is there truly a trumpet player named Blackadder?! So it seems, unless it's a nom de disque.

Interesting article. Though supposedly updated yesterday, it doesn't mention the EMI Références issue of Cortot's complete Brandenburg #2, in a 2-disc set including all the Brandenburgs and some other Bach.
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Re: Deconstructing the Genius of Bach

Post by premont » Thu Sep 12, 2013 1:12 pm

John F wrote:Is there truly a trumpet player named Blackadder?! So it seems, unless it's a nom de disque.

Interesting article. Though supposedly updated yesterday, it doesn't mention the EMI Références issue of Cortot's complete Brandenburg #2, in a 2-disc set including all the Brandenburgs and some other Bach.

Being the owner of approximately 150 recordings of the second Brandenburg concerto, I can tell that the list is somewhat incomplete and that some of the information is wrong.

Yes, David Blackadder is a well known British trumpeter. http://www.londontrumpetchoir.com/Membe ... index.html

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Re: Deconstructing the Genius of Bach

Post by John F » Sat Sep 14, 2013 4:48 am

This is as good a place as any to put something I just came across: Dan Tepfer's "Goldberg Variations Variations." Tepfer is a jazz pianist, and the piece alternates straight Bach with Tepfer's improvisations on each variation, with Bach and Tepfer merging in the final statement of the theme. Here's a sample from Youtube:




This was stimulated by a review in today's NY Times of Tepfer's performance at Le Poisson Rouge:
Anthony Tommasini wrote:...Bach’s keyboard masterpiece is written in the form of an alluring aria with 30 variations. In Mr. Tepfer’s riveting and inspired version, after performing each Bach variation, he follows up with his own improvised one that becomes a musical commentary and takeoff on the Bach. “It’s always an adventure,” Mr. Tepfer told the audience.

Adventure was the right word for the brilliant performance he gave. Naturally, each time he plays his improvised takes on Bach’s variations, the music turns out differently. He has a basic concept of each one in mind, he said during a brief interview after the concert. But the resulting notes are different, sometimes very different, especially in the slow variations, when “I have more time to think,” he said.

As he also explained to the audience before playing, Bach’s work is a set of variations not on a melody, but on a bass line and series of chords (a harmonic pattern). This is close to what jazz musicians do when they play improvisations on a standard, Mr. Tepfer said. They improvise variations over the “changes,” that is, the chord patterns of the theme...
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/14/arts/ ... rouge.html

There's a little more of it on YouTube, but I guess I'll have to get the CDs.
John Francis

Marc
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Re: Deconstructing the Genius of Bach

Post by Marc » Sun Sep 22, 2013 2:47 am

John F wrote:
Philip Clark wrote:There’s more than a suggestion, Freeman-Attwood says, that the Brandenburg 2 concertante group might originally have consisted of violin, recorder, oboe – and horn rather than trumpet.
This is old news. Thurston Dart argued for it generations ago and prepared a performing edition recorded by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and Neville Marriner in 1971-2, in what was billed as the first recording of the "first version" of the concertos. In a copy made for himself by one of Bach's successors in Leipzig, Christian Friedrich Penzel, the part in question is marked "Tromba o vero corno da caccia." Erik Smith writes in his jacket notes, "Thurston Dart believed that Bach's original conception was for horn. [....]
But Dart was wrong. There is no such earlier version.
The 'original' (and commonly known) version by Bach only mentions 'tromba'. Penzel, who's considered one of Bach's most reliable copyists btw, probably added the 'corna da caccia' possibility either for his own forces or because the trumpet in F got more and more obscure/rare in the 18th century.
In the official BWV catalogue, there is no mentioning of the 'corno da caccia' because this version was never authorized by Bach.
(Which doesn't mean one isn't allowed to use one, of course. It offers an interesting comparison.)

John F
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Re: Deconstructing the Genius of Bach

Post by John F » Sun Sep 22, 2013 3:25 am

It really isn't as simple as that. What could Penzel's purpose have been for falsifying Bach? As you say, he's considered one of Bach's most reliable copyists. But whether or not the ossia for horn is authentic, the trumpet version certainly is, and it's better. That's good enough for me.
John Francis

Marc
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Re: Deconstructing the Genius of Bach

Post by Marc » Sun Sep 22, 2013 7:59 am

John F wrote:It really isn't as simple as that. What could Penzel's purpose have been for falsifying Bach? As you say, he's considered one of Bach's most reliable copyists. But whether or not the ossia for horn is authentic, the trumpet version certainly is, and it's better. That's good enough for me.
Yes, I prefer the F trumpet, too.
But I wasn't accusing Penzel of 'falsifying' Bach.
I tried to make clear that there is no authentic earlier version for corno (da caccia).
This instrument is only mentioned as a 2nd possibility in a later version, by Penzel, who wasn't falsifying, but (probably) merely being pragmatic, because the F trumpet had gone out of fashion and the corno provided a good alternative, maybe even for Penzel's own forces.

Mind you: there are loads of copies of Bach's works, made by his pupils and other (more or less reliable) copyists in the 18th century, and many of them aren't without mistakes, yet without any falsifying purpose.

premont
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Re: Deconstructing the Genius of Bach

Post by premont » Sun Sep 22, 2013 11:29 am

Marc wrote:
I tried to make clear that there is no authentic earlier version for corno (da caccia).
This instrument is only mentioned as a 2nd possibility in a later version, by Penzel, who wasn't falsifying, but (probably) merely being pragmatic, because the F trumpet had gone out of fashion and the corno provided a good alternative, maybe even for Penzel's own forces.
We can not know if Bach also used the corno as a secundary option (emergency solution), when an apt trumpeter was not at hand, and Penzel just refers to this practice.

While we are at supposed original versions of the second Brandenburg concerto, there is also this recording, which is scored only for solo quartet and continuo.
The performance is musically very convincing, and the idea of an older version scored without ripieno strings does not seem quite unlikely.
But who knows for sure?

http://www.jpc.de/jpcng/classic/detail/ ... um/4927436

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