Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

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slofstra
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Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by slofstra » Sat Nov 09, 2013 9:16 pm

This is quite an interesting article. The author, John Ibbitson, is one of the best political commentators in Canada.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/mus ... d/follows/

John F
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Re: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by John F » Sun Nov 10, 2013 6:13 am

Well, bravo to BIS for undertaking and completing this huge project. Robert von Bahr likes to do surveys - at the other end of the musical spectrum, BIS recorded nearly all of Schnittke except the operas - but despite this, his recordings never have the feeling of being mass-produced.

As for the Suzuki recordings (sorry, I can never see that name without thinking of "Madama Butterfly"), I've heard only a couple of them and can't say they excite me much, though I certainly don't hear anything wrong with them. But that's about taste, and I'm still appreciative of Robert von Bahr that he made the recordings. May he live long and prosper!
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Re: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by barney » Sun Nov 10, 2013 8:29 am

Thanks for posting it. I have quite a few volumes of this collection, but Bach cantatas I probably appreciate less than his other work because I'm more ignorant of the conventions around his writing and now performing. What has HIP done to vocal performance in Bach, can Jbuck or JohnF or someone else provide a quick summary? Presumably not elaborate ornamentation.

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Re: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Nov 10, 2013 9:34 am

barney wrote:Thanks for posting it. I have quite a few volumes of this collection, but Bach cantatas I probably appreciate less than his other work because I'm more ignorant of the conventions around his writing and now performing. What has HIP done to vocal performance in Bach, can Jbuck or JohnF or someone else provide a quick summary? Presumably not elaborate ornamentation.

As a matter of fact, there is a great deal of ornamentation in Bach vocal and choral lines that is more likely to be observed idiomatically or at all by a group like the one from Tokyo. But that is not the same as saying that it was ignored prior to HIP or that all HIP groups do a great or consistent job of it. A choral trill will always be a challenge to perform well.

Other changes HIP brought into the vocal side include use of only males (boys and men), smaller groups, and invariable assignment of arias, duets, etc. in cantatas to solo voices instead of entire choral sections. Of these, only the last has consistently stuck, although the size of choruses is still usually smaller than in the days of the Munich Bach Choir, which had 100 voices. (The Suzuki ensemble is very small indeed.)

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: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by slofstra » Sun Nov 10, 2013 9:44 am

I thought it interesting that Suzuki was a protege of Ton Koopman. Here is a sample:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuNizXXY7t0
At turns reverential or majestic, and always sumptuous sounding, but no surprises. I like it. Comparables would be the choral recordings of Herreweghe or Koopman himself.

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Re: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by slofstra » Sun Nov 10, 2013 9:55 am

jbuck919 wrote:
barney wrote:Thanks for posting it. I have quite a few volumes of this collection, but Bach cantatas I probably appreciate less than his other work because I'm more ignorant of the conventions around his writing and now performing. What has HIP done to vocal performance in Bach, can Jbuck or JohnF or someone else provide a quick summary? Presumably not elaborate ornamentation.

As a matter of fact, there is a great deal of ornamentation in Bach vocal and choral lines that is more likely to be observed idiomatically or at all by a group like the one from Tokyo. But that is not the same as saying that it was ignored prior to HIP or that all HIP groups do a great or consistent job of it. A choral trill will always be a challenge to perform well.

Other changes HIP brought into the vocal side include use of only males (boys and men), smaller groups, and invariable assignment of arias, duets, etc. in cantatas to solo voices instead of entire choral sections. Of these, only the last has consistently stuck, although the size of choruses is still usually smaller than in the days of the Munich Bach Choir, which had 100 voices. (The Suzuki ensemble is very small indeed.)
The light and nimble approach, which I believe is how this music was originally scored, allows for a better polyphonic weave of sound, with no single line predominating. My own listening experience was to encounter HIP first, and the "modern" approach only secondarily. Thus, I fell in love with Tafelmusik's recording of the Brandenburg's in one of my first serious encounters with Bach's music. I was very much disappointed with Menuhin's recording of the same piece which I felt over-emphasized the violin line (his). It sounded fairly horrid to me at that time, although with different expectations that recording might be appreciated.
But on the HIP side, you can overdo the "texture" of those old instruments. Again, with reference to the Brandenburgs, I can't abide the approach of Il Giardino Armonico, in which the instruments show a little too much character for my taste. One BBC commentator described the playing on a very abysmal HIP recording of the Brandenburg's as "rather too much raspberry blowing". LOL. You won't find very much raspberry blowing in Suzuki's Bach.

The HIP approach, I suspect, makes redundant most Bach recordings before 1960. For example, Mengelberg's recording of the St. Matthew Passion is very dull to my ears, with the single exception of Jo Vincent's arias.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFPCoxwe2-E
The object of those performances seemed to be to impress the audience with a very big sound, whether it was Bach or Mendelssohn (which is better suited to stentorian forces). By comparison to the HIP approach, the sound itself may be impressive, but also muddy and sluggish.

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Re: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by jserraglio » Sun Nov 10, 2013 11:12 am

Image

Thru BIS, Presto Classical is offering a free Susuki Bach Cantatas sampler (76 min-320k mp3) for download thru the end of this month. Not otherwise available, so the promo claims.

http://www.prestoclassical.co.uk/promo. ... &blurb=449

And 20% off all his Cantatas recs till Christmas.

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Re: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by stenka razin » Wed Nov 13, 2013 7:34 pm

I expect a complete box will follow quite shortly and at reduced price hopefully. 8)


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Mel 8)
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Marc
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Re: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by Marc » Fri Nov 15, 2013 5:03 am

Only 1 volume to go then, for yours truly. :)

I'm very happy with this series, even though I find the Leonhardt/Harnoncourt integral more expressive.

Suzuki seems to have grown more mellow in his approach during the years. His first recordings had more 'bite'.
Philippe Herreweghe still remains my favourite vocal Bach interpreter. He offers the ideal mix between the rhythmic expression of Leonhardt/Harnoncourt and Suzuki's beauty of sound. It's a pity he's never done a complete cycle (and never will, either).

In One-Voice-Per-Part (OVPP) performances, it's essential to me that the 4 voices blend well and sound as a unity.
From the OVPP-recordings I have heard so far (including Rifkin, Parrott, McCreesh, Purcell Quartet) I favour the ensembles of Philippe Pierlot (Ricercar Consort) Sigiswald Kuijken (La Petite Bande), Konrad Junghänel (Cantus Cölln) and Eric Milnes (Montréal Baroque).

And now I'm back to the kitchen, to clean up the mess caused by a (small) leak. I'll pick some Bach/Suzuki to accompany the cleaning. :mrgreen:

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Re: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by jbuck919 » Fri Nov 15, 2013 9:16 am

Marc wrote:And now I'm back to the kitchen, to clean up the mess caused by a (small) leak. I'll pick some Bach/Suzuki to accompany the cleaning. :mrgreen:
You have to watch those leaks. All that dirt in them if you don't wash them carefully. :mrgreen:

Egad, are there really that many OVPP performances out there? I'll pass, thanks.

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

jserraglio
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Re: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by jserraglio » Sat Nov 16, 2013 3:32 am

Any opinions on the Rilling 72-disc box?

Image

Bach: The Complete Cantatas [Box set]
Helmuth Rilling (Conductor), Bach-Collegium Stuttgart
$76.99 & FREE Shipping.

John F
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Re: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by John F » Sat Nov 16, 2013 4:52 am

Those that I've heard are more my kind of thing than the Telefunken and other HIP recordings. For one thing, women's voices instead of boys in the choruses and arias. Rilling has long experience with this music, and I don't suppose he needed to learn many of the cantatas just for the recording sessions. If you don't already have one of the complete sets, maybe the Rilling would be a good choice for you, depending on your taste of course. If you do, then you might find it worthwhile to look around for outstanding individual cantata recordings. Such as:



and:

John Francis

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Re: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Nov 16, 2013 8:48 am

I have a lot of the Rilling, which must mean I like his interpretations, but I am annoyed by his unfathomable decision to use harpsichord in some of the accompaniments. It's not exactly un-musical or even necessarily un-HIP in the sense that I cannot envision Bach grimacing over it (he would have had to resort to a harpsichord if a performance were taking place outside a church), but it is not very authentic, and I find it grating. I would not recommend Rilling as a first or only complete recording.

On the matter of women's voices, let's face it, in the good groups they usually do better than the boys. Women were never the problem. Women in the likes of the Westminster College Choir were the problem.

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: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by Marc » Sun Nov 17, 2013 3:31 pm

Considering the harpsichord in Bach's church music: personally, I prefer the organ. Despite that, there are surviving manuscripts and copies of Bach's church cantatas which include specified harpsichord parts, especially in the late Leipzig years. This also goes for the final version of the Johannes-Passion (1749), which also includes a contrabassoon.

Maybe the older Bach switched from first violin to harpsichord to 'conduct' his cantata performances? :?:

AFAIK, there is also a surviving letter of recommendation by Bach, for one of his former students, in which he praises the excellent way the pupil played the harpsichord in church music performances.

On a sidenote: I once read that in catholic churches, f.i. in Dresden, the harpsichord was used only during the Holy Week, when the organ was silent.

Anyway, IMO Rilling isn't off the 'authentic' mark by using a harpsichord in church cantatas. Mind you, the Suzuki recordings include lots of harpsichord playing, too. But his instruments sound far far better. Apart from that: I'm not a fan of either Rilling nor Richter, they don't give me a 'Bachian' feeling at all. Too much sewing machine stuff. From the German 'old school' I prefer Fritz Werner and his Heilbronn and Pforzheim ensembles.

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Re: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Nov 17, 2013 3:51 pm

Marc wrote:On a sidenote: I once read that in catholic churches, f.i. in Dresden, the harpsichord was used only during the Holy Week, when the organ was silent.
A very silly Catholic thing, like abstaining from meat on Friday, supposedly a deprivation, but allowing unlimited feasting on seafood. The spirit of the rubric is that everything is supposed to be a cappella, not that one instrument should be replaced with another. The rubrics for Holy Week also say that the organ and bells, already supposedly silent throughout Lent, remain silent from the Gloria on Holy Thursday to the Gloria at the Easter vigil. In Rome many years ago I heard this interpreted (as it usually is) that there must be organ and bells at the Easter Vigil Gloria. The place was no less than the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls, a Benedictine establishment known for its schola. So the previously wonderful plainchant was displaced by the horrible local mixed choir accompanied by the nothing organ along with altar bells (the kind that used to be rung for the consecration). So much for capturing the spirit of a glorious burst into joyous music.

Well enough of rant. Thanks for your other information. I'm not doubting your scholarship but have not heard that before. Maybe it boils down to what you said: We like the organ better for Bach sacred choral works. Using the harpsichord because we have real or implied authority from Bach himself seems arbitrary. Like the Holy Week rubrics, it may be a matter of permission rather than preference.

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: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by Marc » Sun Nov 17, 2013 4:09 pm

jbuck919 wrote:'m not doubting your scholarship but have not heard that before. [....]
Plz, don't make me blush. I'm not a scholar.

My 'knowledge' as a layman is only based on my personal interest in Bach.
He's by far my fave composer.

Articles/books on the matter of harpsichord in Bach/baroque church music were written by a.o. Laurence Dreyfus, Bradley Lehman and Peter Williams. If I remember correctly, Lehman has found documents about the way the harpsichords were tuned in Chorton, along with the organ, for simultaneous use in Leipzig vocal church music.

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Re: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Nov 17, 2013 4:27 pm

Marc wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:'m not doubting your scholarship but have not heard that before. [....]
Plz, don't make me blush. I'm not a scholar.

My 'knowledge' as a layman is only based on my personal interest in Bach.
He's by far my fave composer.

Articles/books on the matter of harpsichord in Bach/baroque church music were written by a.o. Laurence Dreyfus, Bradley Lehman and Peter Williams. If I remember correctly, Lehman has found documents about the way the harpsichords were tuned in Chorton, along with the organ, for simultaneous use in Leipzig vocal church music.
There was a time when I had a state-of-the-art scholarly knowledge of Bach, or thought I did. I mean, I knew both Arthur Mendel and Christoph Wolff as an undergraduate. A great deal of what has come out more recently, starting with the Rifkin theory of one voice per part, seems to me dubious, but I would have to examine it closely to make an educated judgment. Harpsichord tuning is a special bugaboo of mine. If Bach himself thought that the best tuning was what permitted a composer to be free of considerations of such when deciding what key to write in, then who are all these folks who continue to claim otherwise? Some of them come across as the equivalent of conspiracy theorists. So when you give a long list of scholars whom I have never heard of as you just did, I am bewildered. They may be on to something in whole, in part, or not at all, and I can't keep up to arrive at an educated opinion.

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: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by Marc » Sun Nov 17, 2013 4:46 pm

Bradley Lehman in action:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9IqD_04G0s

Laurence Dreyfus info:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurence_Dreyfus

Peter Williams is mostly known because of his Bach organ 'bible':

http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/su ... nd-edition

Sometimes I read stuff about Bach. It's just that I'm interested in some background information. I admit that in many cases it's too complicated mathematics to me. But I don't believe these people are conspiracy theorists. I'm afraid that guys like Robert Newman sometimes seem to ruin the image of serious scholarship.

For the rest: of course I have my own preferences.
So, if I prefer a chamber choir to a OVPP ensemble, despite historical 'proof', then I feel free to prefer that chamber choir.

The same with organs and harpsichords.

Or girls and boys.

;)

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Re: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by John F » Sun Nov 17, 2013 5:32 pm

jbuck919 wrote:Harpsichord tuning is a special bugaboo of mine. If Bach himself thought that the best tuning was what permitted a composer to be free of considerations of such when deciding what key to write in, then who are all these folks who continue to claim otherwise? Some of them come across as the equivalent of conspiracy theorists.
Bach was an organist, and the organs he played would tell us what he was used to unless they've been monkeyed with in the last 250 years or so. As for harpsichords, he could have them tuned however he wanted, but apart from the Well-Tempered Clavier (which I don't suppose he played often, though surely he played through each of the preludes and fugues before publishing them), he could have had his harpsichord tuned however he wished on the day and we'd be none the wiser. Until someone comes up with a diary with entries like "Up at 6 AM. Equal temperament today!" and "Retuned the cembalo; it sounds better in just temperament."
John Francis

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Re: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Nov 17, 2013 5:56 pm

John F wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:Harpsichord tuning is a special bugaboo of mine. If Bach himself thought that the best tuning was what permitted a composer to be free of considerations of such when deciding what key to write in, then who are all these folks who continue to claim otherwise? Some of them come across as the equivalent of conspiracy theorists.
Bach was an organist, and the organs he played would tell us what he was used to unless they've been monkeyed with in the last 250 years or so. As for harpsichords, he could have them tuned however he wanted, but apart from the Well-Tempered Clavier (which I don't suppose he played often, though surely he played through each of the preludes and fugues before publishing them), he could have had his harpsichord tuned however he wished on the day and we'd be none the wiser. Until someone comes up with a diary with entries like "Up at 6 AM. Equal temperament today!" and "Retuned the cembalo; it sounds better in just temperament."
None of the organs Bach had at his daily disposal survives. He was the examiner for a number of other organs (I'm not sure about their survival, but let's just say that at least one of them was in Dresden), and famously sent raspberries to his friend the great organ builder Gottfried Silbermann by tossing off a hideous-sounding fugue in A-flat minor or some such key to illustrate the wolf inherent in the tuning system. Bach was a famous advocate of being able to play in all keys in relative tune, and that does not mean changing the tuning before each performance, something that is impossible on the organ. I am avoiding the term "equal temperament," which is what we have almost universally today, because there are still people who go ballistic when it is suggested that Bach's well-tempered system is that, or that he didn't favor some mitigation of it to retain the supposed character of specific keys, a notion that I think is a lot of baloney. Composers choose keys based on how the performance falls in the performers' hands, not because the major third is particularly poignant in such-and-such a key under such-and-such a tuning system. They might avoid keys that were otherwise desirable because uf tuning problems, which is precisely what Bach was trying to get around.

Of course Bach wrote the 48 so that each number would sound equally good without having to re-tune the harpsichord. What alternative were you thinking about?

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: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by John F » Sun Nov 17, 2013 6:14 pm

jbuck919 wrote:What alternative were you thinking about?
Sorry, I don't understand what you're asking about.
John Francis

premont
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Re: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by premont » Wed Nov 20, 2013 1:26 pm

John F wrote:......apart from the Well-Tempered Clavier (which I don't suppose he played often, though surely he played through each of the preludes and fugues before publishing them
Why shouldn´t he play it often? One of his pupils, tells (I forgot whom) that Bach played the entire WTC for him all in all three times for didactic purposes, - learning by listening. As Bach had several pupils, he may have played the work many times.

Also the WTC was never published, it only survives in manuscripts.

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Re: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by premont » Wed Nov 20, 2013 1:31 pm

jbuck919 wrote: If Bach himself thought that the best tuning was what permitted a composer to be free of considerations of such when deciding what key to write in, then who are all these folks who continue to claim otherwise?
How do you know? Maybe he preferred a tuning which lends an individual character to each mode, instead of the homogenized all-modes-out-of-tune equal temperature.

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Re: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Nov 20, 2013 1:50 pm

premont wrote:
jbuck919 wrote: If Bach himself thought that the best tuning was what permitted a composer to be free of considerations of such when deciding what key to write in, then who are all these folks who continue to claim otherwise?
How do you know? Maybe he preferred a tuning which lends an individual character to each mode, instead of the homogenized all-modes-out-of-tune equal temperature.
The Wikipedia articles on equal temperament and well temperament are informative, but it is impossible for any system but equal temperament to allow for a polyphonic keyboard work to sound in tune by any reasonable standard in the remotest keys on the circle of fifths. Bach, who like Mozart must have had an ear with a direct line to God, surely heard the flatness of intervals other than the octave but accepted them as a necessary compromise. The expressiveness of all his keyboard works is dependent on their rich composition and owes nothing to the tuning, and though I cannot prove that, I would stake everything on that supposition.

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: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by premont » Wed Nov 20, 2013 3:10 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
premont wrote:
jbuck919 wrote: If Bach himself thought that the best tuning was what permitted a composer to be free of considerations of such when deciding what key to write in, then who are all these folks who continue to claim otherwise?
How do you know? Maybe he preferred a tuning which lends an individual character to each mode, instead of the homogenized all-modes-out-of-tune equal temperature.
.... but it is impossible for any system but equal temperament to allow for a polyphonic keyboard work to sound in tune by any reasonable standard in the remotest keys on the circle of fifths.
I understand well your point and the at-the-time emerging need for mudulation into remote keys, but there is no evidens to assume, that Bach preferred the equal temperature, and I may as well assume, that Bach didn´t accept the general out-of-tuneness of the equal temperature, which is evident to any sensible ear, and certainly also to Bach´s ear.

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Re: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Nov 20, 2013 4:41 pm

premont wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:
premont wrote:
jbuck919 wrote: If Bach himself thought that the best tuning was what permitted a composer to be free of considerations of such when deciding what key to write in, then who are all these folks who continue to claim otherwise?
How do you know? Maybe he preferred a tuning which lends an individual character to each mode, instead of the homogenized all-modes-out-of-tune equal temperature.
.... but it is impossible for any system but equal temperament to allow for a polyphonic keyboard work to sound in tune by any reasonable standard in the remotest keys on the circle of fifths.
I understand well your point and the at-the-time emerging need for mudulation into remote keys, but there is no evidens to assume, that Bach preferred the equal temperature, and I may as well assume, that Bach didn´t accept the general out-of-tuneness of the equal temperature, which is evident to any sensible ear, and certainly also to Bach´s ear.
Please don't presume on "what is evident to any sensible ear." I flatter myself that I have one, and equal temperament on keyboard instruments does not bother me. It is far more likely that a piece played on an instrument tuned otherwise in a key not necessarily that remote will sound out of tune, something I have experienced, though I cannot find a YouTube example. (Everyone promoting other tuning systems chooses a piece and key to flatter their choice if they're going to post it on YouTube.)

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: Suzuki completes the Bach cantatas ...

Post by premont » Wed Nov 20, 2013 6:17 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
premont wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:
premont wrote:
jbuck919 wrote: If Bach himself thought that the best tuning was what permitted a composer to be free of considerations of such when deciding what key to write in, then who are all these folks who continue to claim otherwise?
How do you know? Maybe he preferred a tuning which lends an individual character to each mode, instead of the homogenized all-modes-out-of-tune equal temperature.
.... but it is impossible for any system but equal temperament to allow for a polyphonic keyboard work to sound in tune by any reasonable standard in the remotest keys on the circle of fifths.
I understand well your point and the at-the-time emerging need for mudulation into remote keys, but there is no evidens to assume, that Bach preferred the equal temperature, and I may as well assume, that Bach didn´t accept the general out-of-tuneness of the equal temperature, which is evident to any sensible ear, and certainly also to Bach´s ear.
Please don't presume on "what is evident to any sensible ear." I flatter myself that I have one, and equal temperament on keyboard instruments does not bother me. It is far more likely that a piece played on an instrument tuned otherwise in a key not necessarily that remote will sound out of tune, something I have experienced, though I cannot find a YouTube example. (Everyone promoting other tuning systems chooses a piece and key to flatter their choice if they're going to post it on YouTube.)
Never-the-less equal temperature bothers me, but there is certainly no ideal temperature. I consider the different character of the different modes in unequal tuning a kind of musical palette which can be used by the composer to express the affect he wants. Of course we talk largely about music written before 1750. And of course middletone temperature will not do in Bach´s music, where a modified meantone temperature e.g. 1/6 comma is better.

Concerning organs I am bothered by the "white" high frequency noise of the equal temperature, which results when the upper partials are in disharmony, and which detracts from the character of the sound of the organ, so you get this universal "generic" organ without stylistic properties.

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