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Dafydd y Garreg Wen

Eighteenth century English voluntaries: filling in harmonies

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Another thread has alluded to the question of "filling in" the texture of eighteenth century English organ music.

As everyone knows, when this repertoire was first revived in the late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century (by John E. West and Co.) the music was both filled in and arranged for the contemporary instrument with pedals.

When it was re-revived in the post-War period (by Gordon Phillips and Co.) this approach was abandoned in favour of leaving the original text as it was and playing on manuals only.

Now, the question that interests me is: "What evidence is there for abandoning the idea of 'filling-in'?" John West and Co. combined this with arranging for the pedals (inevitably) but the notion is a separate one. One could conceive of the possibility that whilst this music was (obviously) intended to be played on manuals only, nevertheless the composers expected the texture as printed/written to be filled out in performance.

Did the re-revivers dismiss this possibility because it was so contaminated by the earlier revivers' adding of pedals?

Did they simply observe that the music works perfectly well as written, so filling-in was superfluous? Or did they have positive evidence that filling-in was not intended by the original composers?

The only evidence I can think of is the negative one that if extensive filling-in had been expected the composers would have provided appropriate figuring.

Denis Stevens in his 1957 edition of Stanley opines that "the flow of melody is sufficiently engaging to require very little harmonic addition." But "very little" is not none. Thus, whilst rejecting wholesale harmonic completion, he  does seem to envisage some filling in.

Similarly in his notes for his 1999 Chandos recording of Stanley Richard Marlow states:

"In keeping with Baroque performance practice, additional embellishments have been added, some final cadences elaborated and Stanley’s partwriting filled out from time to time."

"In keeping with Baroque performance practice", however, is rather vague as evidence.

Finally - and here we move away from the question of evidence into a more subjective area - quite a lot people do feel that this music sounds "thin" on romantic instruments. It is sometimes suggested (as mentioned on the other thread) that this thinness is not apparent on eighteenth century instruments (or copies thereof), because of the the livelier voicing (more harmonics) and purer tuning.

If this is true, perhaps John E. West and Co. were more musical in their intuitions than they are given credit for, despite their ill-advised addition of the pedals to this repertoire. And if some amount of in-filling is indeed acceptable, possibly the player should do more of it on a romantic instrument, whilst reducing it when fortunate enough to have an appropriate instrument to hand.

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Surely anyone is free to fill in, alter, embellish or otherwise re-arrange any work from the past which is no longer copyright. After all, that’s what 18th century composers did, with both their own and others’ work. We’ve become so afraid of the HIP thought police that we feel guilty about the slightest change to the sacred “original” score (good luck with Buxtehude!). Thus the fraud perpetrated by so-called Urtext editions (very often no-one has a clue what the “Urtext” was).

Surely there should be only one golden rule: tell us what you’ve done (e.g. Handel arr. Mozart or Bach arr. Mendelssohn). 

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22 hours ago, Dafydd y Garreg Wen said:

Did they simply observe that the music works perfectly well as written, so filling-in was superfluous? Or did they have positive evidence that filling-in was not intended by the original composers?

The only evidence I can think of is the negative one that if extensive filling-in had been expected the composers would have provided appropriate figuring.

But this would be the negative evidence argument. You can't say that because there is no evidence for X it is evidence for Y. Absence of evidence is exactly that.

I don't claim any expertise in this repertoire - it's not my period. I am quite sure there will be people reading this who know far more about it than I do (and I wish they would chip in). However, I do have some observations, so let's try to pick this apart a bit.

First of all I think we have to be clear on what type of "filling in" (if any) might have been practised by English Baroque composers. The evidence I have found - such as it is - points to a practice very different from that of the likes of John E. West & Co.  Handel supplied extensive figuring in his organ concertos and, although he sometimes did so where it is superfluous, I can't see what else it can mean other than instructions to fill in - or fill out - the harmony - unless, I suppose, the figures were guides to the underlying harmony to be observed when embellishing the solo part, but that's pure speculation. Handel, however, appears to be exceptional. For one thing, he wasn't English and, more importantly, he was writing the solo parts principally for himself to play, so his practice might or might not reflect that of his English contemporaries.

Francis Linley's An Introduction to the Organ (c.1796) has five sections: 1) a description of a 'complete organ' and advice on registration; 2) fifteen preludes; 3) eight voluntaries; 4) eight 'full pieces' and fugues; and 5) thirty-seven psalm (i.e. hymn) tunes with interludes. The psalm tunes consist of treble and bass lines with extensive figuring and, oddly, small note heads to show the harmony, which rather defeats the object of the figures, but that may be because the book was intended for students. The other music is completely devoid of figures and thus no indication that Linley expected any filling out of the harmony. That might (or might not) be significant.

In searching through what facsimiles of this music I could locate I found only one instance of figuring. In a copy of John Stanley’s Op.5 voluntaries someone has added in manuscript some figures to just one bar: see stave four of Voluntary III here (this also appears to be the copy that OUP used for their facsimile edition). The right hand is playing a Cornet solo on another manual, so the added notes could only have been one or two in the left hand. But it does show that at least one player did indulge in a spot of filling out. What the Handel (and Stanley) figurings suggest is that filling out tended to be confined to passages where the bass is not very active, or where the right hand is able to add the extra notes. The over-riding impression I get is that any resulting textures were not burdened with notes. Contrapuntal passages rarely need to be in more than three parts, but some straight chords could easily have been fuller.  Those isolated left-hand crotchets, separated by rests, that often accompany florid right-hand solos would be prime candidates.

As for John E. West & Co. they saw all music through their own, Romantic eyes. They had little if any knowledge of historical practice and would have had no interest in it if they had. The only thing that mattered to them was pleasing their audiences who were similarly innocent. The Plymouth organist Harry Moreton, who was only a year younger than West (although he lived more than thirty years longer), had little time for Bach, whom he thought ‘dry’. I was told how once he was playing Bach’s Fantasia and fugue in G minor BWV 542 as a voluntary. About halfway through the fugue he muttered, ‘Oh, I’m fed up with this,’ and drifted off into an improvisation, culminating in full organ to Trombas and 32’ complete with Tuba fanfares. Cameron Carpenter, eat your heart out! Whether one regard West's ‘edition’ (actually arrangement) of Greene’s voluntary in C minor as musical depends on your viewpoint. Personally I find its thickened textures and stodgy octave doublings misguided on any organ. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it insensitive or unmusical, but it is very much of its time. Knowledge and tastes have moved on and West’s interpretation now appears unsympathetic and no longer passes muster. Few people nowadays would want to play the allegro section as slow as crotchet = 72.

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It’s important to remember that alongside the art of figured bass there was another - that of unfigured bass, or Partimento, as practised by Italian masters and teachers who worked all over Europe in the 18th century This link gives an excellent insight:

09_partimento_02_(2).pdf

By mastering the art of Partimento (requiring many years of study and practice) it was apparently possible to compose extremely rapidly (and presumably improvise complex pieces) - thus explaining the extraordinary output of composers such as Hasse, or Handel himself. The old story about Handel writing Messiah in three weeks may be true, but it was in line with his general practice. 

Even if we confine ourselves to Bach we see that when he wrote out the obbligato parts to, say, his chamber sonatas, the music is far more varied and complex than might be expected from a “normal” figured bass realisation. There is so much that we still have to discover about 18th century musical performance. Thanks to the efforts of scholars and practitioners such as Giorgio Sanguinetti we are beginning to see that there was far more to the performance  of 18th century music than four square figured bass realisation.

 

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Here are some very interesting quotes from the website of the University of Nottingham’s Music Department:

“From 1680 to 1830, the period from Scarlatti to Bellini, professional music-making in Europe was dominated by Italians. Their traditions of composition, performance, and pedagogy were everywhere in vogue. By the middle of the nineteenth century, these traditions had been overshadowed by a new 'classical' music culture, to the extent that they were eventually forgotten in English and German-speaking regions. They survived elsewhere in Europe, however, well into the twentieth century (most notably at the Paris Conservatoire). The theory textbook still in regular use at the Athens Conservatoire in the 1990s consisted of eighteenth-century Neapolitan partimenti.

Until recently, almost nothing was known about the historical traditions of compositional practice which underpinned the work of, among others, Haydn and Mozart. Professor Thomas Christensen, one of the world's leading scholars of eighteenth-century music theory, tells a story of long sessions at the Prussian State Library in Berlin, where, in the hunt for rare treatises, he had to leaf through hundreds of manuscripts containing what appeared to be useless exercises in thoroughbass and counterpoint. These exercises - called partimenti, solfeggi, or disposizioni - turned out to be the core documents in a mostly non-verbal tradition of apprenticeship.

The past decade has witnessed rapid advances in our knowledge of these Italian traditions and their significance. Yet vast collections of archive material remain unexplored and many questions unanswered. This is why the project seeks to uncover the sophisticated techniques of learning to sing and compose in Italian conservatories, with the help of solfeggi. The integral use of sol-fa syllables, derived from Guidonian hexachords, may provide a key to unlock many secrets of eighteenth-century tonality.

Nick Baragwanath is currently finishing his monograph on the history and theory of solfeggi, The Solfeggio Tradition: A Forgotten Art of Melody in the Long Eighteenth Century.”

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Thank you for those interesting and helpful posts, Zimbelstern. I guess all of us who have played continuo parts will have come across unfigured, or sparsely figured, ones and wondered how the original players coped. For some reason your pdf link doesn't work for me.  Could you give a website address for it, please?

Another thing that would have had a bearing on how (and perhaps where) filling out was accomplished was the practice of doubling the bass. John Marsh and Jonas Blewitt, both writing in the 1790s, mention this, although for different purposes. Blewitt recommends that, where the bass has single notes only, it should be played in octaves as much as possible and adds that playing a subject in the bass in octaves sounds very grand. Marsh saw octaves as one of various ways of achieving an accent. He considered that accents at the beginning (and sometimes, in common time, in the middle) of the bar ‘may be in a great measure effected on the Swell of the Organ, by the management of the Pedal, especially in slow movements’ (!) Elsewhere accents might be effected through appoggiaturas or occasionally by doubling the accented bass note at the octave. Where a bass note is repeated in crotchets or quavers for several bars he recommends playing the lower note only at the beginning of the bar and sustaining it. Where a bass note and its octave repeatedly oscillate in quavers the player was to extend the lower note while striking the upper. When the Clarion was drawn, the effect of octaves could be produced by playing the bass an octave lower than written (compass permitting). It would be interesting to know how idiosyncratic Marsh's playing (or, for that matter, Blewitt's) was. One does get the impression that they had rather different styles, although their registration advice (and Linley's too) is broadly in agreement. 

English harpsichord pieces seem to have a tendency to be more fully notated than organ ones. For example, the first movement of Arne's Sonata in G major ( on page 12 here) might well give us a clue as to how Stanley voluntaries were filled out. Note the occasional left-hand octaves and the left-hand chords in e.g. bars 8-9.

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I’m no expert but I was under the impression that most treatises on continuo realisation on keyboard instruments generally indicate that the left hand plays the bass and the right hand “fills in” the harmony. If the right hand is busy playing a cornet or corno or flute obbligato then any harmony notes can only be added by the left hand, which would seem to me to mean that it is not going to be continuous added notes but merely, as Vox Humana says above, occasional left-hand octaves and left-hand chords.

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Thank you Vox Humana. For some technical reason I don’t understand, when I paste the link to the Partimento document it immediately downloads the title page. If you type the name of the document (PARTIMENTO AND CONTINUO PLAYING IN THEORY AND IN PRACTICE) into Google you will find it.

In his Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments (Accompaniment - Performance) CPE Bach says the following:

We shall open the subject of performance by discussing volume. Of all the instruments that are used in the playing of thorough bass the single-manual harpsichord is the most perplexing with regard to forte and piano. To make amends for the imperfection of the instrument in this respect the number of parts must be increased or reduced......The pedal on the last named instrument (the organ) does commendable service when the bass is not too rapid; and it can be made more penetrating by means of a sixteen-foot registration. However, rather than mutilate the melody of the bass, the pedal should be omitted when not all of its notes can be played by the feet, and the lowest part played solely by the left hand...Fortissimo may be attained by duplicating in the left hand all tones of consonant chords, and the consonant tones of dissonant chords when the nature of the bass makes it possible to do so. The low register must be avoided, the doubled tones being placed close to the right hand in a manner that the notes of both hands adjoin, leaving no intervening space. Otherwise, the rumbling low notes will create a miserable blur.  A simple octave doubling of the bass by the right hand also has a penetrating effect....In order to practise these precepts the ear must provide constant assistance, for indications are not always exact; moreover, matters of tonal volume depend on the desires of the performer of the principle part.”

Jakob Adlung is also a mine of information on these matters and 18th century organ registration in particular. Unfortunately, it appears that his “Anleitung zu einer Musikalischen Gelahrtheit” (Erfurt 1758) has never been translated into English (I may do it myself one day). The original in German can be downloaded from the internet. Although it is printed in Gothic type, the German is a pleasure to read - nothing like the obfuscations we get from today’s academics! Should be read in conjunction with Charles Burney! 18th century German is a truly a thing of beauty!

Here’s a flavour of Adlung:

Fourthly, the choice of organ stops often depends on the wind supply, so that there is not a lack of clarity because of too many voices when there is insufficient wind. (Footnote: When I draw the Sesquialtra on my Great and, in addition to the 16’ Quintaton, two or three more 8’ stops, the first mentioned one loses strength, or fails to speak at all. In good quality organs, especially newer instruments, however, such a deficiency of the wind supply does not occur). However, there should be no support for the old rule that one should not draw stops of the same pitch, especially ranks of different scale. Niedt, and before him Werkmeister, hold to such a prohibition and say they have found reasons to bolster their case. I have known organists who, when using the 16’ Posaune, omitted to draw the 16’ Sub Bass, not because of insufficient air, but because of this rule.”

 

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Thanks, Zimbelstern. 

Here's the link - I shall read this later: http://didattica.uniroma2.it/assets/uploads/corsi/37116/09_partimento_02_(2).pdf

To be honest, I think Emmanuel Bach and Adlung are red herrings to the topic under discussion. Bach was very much in the forefront of the Galant.  When you consider those sudden, Sturm und Drang juxtapositions of different moods, one can quite understand why he found the harpsichord wanting in expression. English organ music, on the other hand, carried on in its established, independent way. At the end of the eighteenth century, when England was going nuts about Haydn, his style did influence Francis Linley to some extent, but even Linley's music is still not so very different from that of the earlier generations.

As far as registration goes, German practice has no bearing on England, any more than its organs did. Like the French classical repertoire, but in a totally different way, English registration was quite stereotyped. As I mentioned above, Marsh, Blewitt and Linley broadly agree in their advice (Linley seems to have copied from Marsh to some extent) and what they have to say is consonant with the registration directions found in published voluntaries. Firstly the 8' Open and Stopped Diapasons are always drawn, and remain drawn, on each manual. (On the Choir this would often need to be the Stopped Diapason and Dulciana instead.) Any solo stops were added to these, so one frequently had three 8' stops drawn. There were exceptions to this rule of thumb: the 4' Flute alone; the Choir Stopped Diapason and 4' Flute; and a Stopped Diapason and Principal (the best combination on the organ, according to Blewitt). Blewitt also says that both the Open Diapason and the Dulciana could be used alone, but the former only in slow music since the pipes are slow-speaking. For Marsh the finest Swell (solo?) combination was the Diapasons and Hautboy, with the Trumpet to strengthen it if required; both he and Linley agree that the Principal was not to be drawn without both the reeds as the octave tone would otherwise be too predominant and destroy the effect of sostenuto passages. Full organ, according to Marsh came in five guises: the Great Diapasons plus diapason chorus to Sesquialtera; the foregoing plus the Trumpet, or the Furniture, or both of these; and all of these plus the Clarion. Gapped registrations are not mentioned, indeed both Blewitt and Linley say that the Twelfth and Fifteenth are never used singly, but only in 'full pieces'. Stephen Bicknell's book lists some registration instructions glued to this organ that include 'Diaphasons & Fifteenth' and also 'Diaphasons & Twelfth', although one might question whether the term 'Diaphasons' here was intended to include the Principal.

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The organ referred to is the Byfield chamber organ which was in the Finchcocks Collection in Kent (the collection was sold off in 2015 when the owners retired).  Of all the instruments at Finchcocks, this made the deepest impression on me.  The chorus was broad and singing - a big sound although not excessively loud. It was a complete contrast to the steely brilliance of a Snetzler (e.g. St. Andrew by the Wardrobe, City of London or John Wesley's House, Bristol) or, indeed, the Avery chamber organ in the same collection, which was a good deal less full-sounding.  It gave me food for thought about whether this was the sort of organ upon which Handel played his concerti (I've never met the "Handel" organ at Great Packington) and also how different it was from the continuo organs which lurk around the quires of most great churches these days, beautiful though many of them are.

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“During the earlier years of Greene's tenure of the organistship of S. Paul's an unwieldy figure in a great white wig (well known to musical London) might frequently have been seen at the Cathedral, crossing the empty space under the dome, presently disappearing beneath the organ-screen and entering the choir. This was no less a person than George Frederick Handel, who was extremely fond of rambling down from Burlington House to attend the afternoon service, and of playing upon the organ afterwards. For "Father" Smith's noble instrument Handel had a great liking, gaining access thereto through his friendship with Greene. The main attraction in the S. Paul's organ for Handel was the circumstance of its possession of a set of pedals, at that time quite a rarity in English organs. Burney, in his account of the Handel Commemoration of 1784, says : " On Handel's first arrival in England, from Greene's great admiration of this master's style of playing, he had literally condescended to become his bellows-blower, when he went to S. Paul's to play on that organ, for the exercise it afforded him in the use of the pedals. Handel, after 3 o'clock prayers, used frequently to get himself and young Greene locked up in the church together; and in summer, often stript unto his shirt, and played until 8 or 9 o'clock at night." Think of being alone with Handel at the organ in the solitude of a cathedral! No wonder the composer of the grand Organ Concertos should have delighted to play upon an instrument whose compass not only extended down to the 16-feet C, but whose tone was then by far the most superb in the British Isles.” 

 

Bumpus - History of English Cathedral Music

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On 04/02/2018 at 09:17, Vox Humana said:

As for John E. West & Co. they saw all music through their own, Romantic eyes. They had little if any knowledge of historical practice and would have had no interest in it if they had. The only thing that mattered to them was pleasing their audiences who were similarly innocent. ................ Whether one regard West's ‘edition’ (actually arrangement) of Greene’s voluntary in C minor as musical depends on your viewpoint. Personally I find its thickened textures and stodgy octave doublings misguided on any organ. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it insensitive or unmusical, but it is very much of its time. Knowledge and tastes have moved on and West’s interpretation now appears unsympathetic and no longer passes muster. Few people nowadays would want to play the allegro section as slow as crotchet = 72.

Gosh! You certainly have a very low opinion of West (& Co.)! Certainly knowledge of historical practice was not developed in West’s time but, he would he really “ have had no interest in it”? I read that he was a pioneer in the field of editing, especially choral and organ music from earlier centuries and prepared an edition of the Bach motets. No doubt, of course, this would have reflected the knowledge and taste of his time. 


As for the Greene voluntary arrangement: I am grateful to you for the copy – thank you. I enjoy Simon Johnson’s performance of it on the Priory DVD from St Paul’s - a really sparkling performance to my ears. I think it’s a fine arrangement – well, the Allegro, anyway. Certainly the marked speed is very slow, but all Baroque music was then performed much slower than we do today wasn't it, so I’m not sure I’d want to be so critical of West & Co. I think the part writing is excellent and the doubled octaves only occur in 3 bars I think (though that passage repeats a couple of times). This particular movement seems to  me to suit this treatment and I’m going to play it on Sunday - if my feet are confident enough on my 1865 pedal board. I’ll try not to fall into the trap of “pleasing my audience”, though!


In general I do agree with you, though: I’d much rather play or hear the originals than these arrangements. However there are times when a fuller sound is required – those trumpet tunes at weddings for example, and other big occasions.
 

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Clearly West was very knowledgeable about music of the past. He wrote a very detailed and useful work called “Cathedral Organists” which gives detailed information from the Reformation onwards. Even a cursory reading of this book gives an insight into the level and extent of his scholarship. By the way, 18th century composers and organists had little in common with today’s HIP fanatics, obsessed as they are by the idea of “Werktreue” and the sacred original text which must never be altered. A reading of contemporary writers such as Charles Burney gives a very different picture of 18th century practice than that peddled by many of today’s academics. John Marsh even goes as far as to say that the printed works are far inferior to the improvisations of most skilful organists.

 

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4 hours ago, sbarber49 said:

Gosh! You certainly have a very low opinion of West (& Co.)! Certainly knowledge of historical practice was not developed in West’s time but, he would he really “ have had no interest in it”? I read that he was a pioneer in the field of editing, especially choral and organ music from earlier centuries and prepared an edition of the Bach motets. No doubt, of course, this would have reflected the knowledge and taste of his time. 


As for the Greene voluntary arrangement: I am grateful to you for the copy – thank you. I enjoy Simon Johnson’s performance of it on the Priory DVD from St Paul’s - a really sparkling performance to my ears. I think it’s a fine arrangement – well, the Allegro, anyway. Certainly the marked speed is very slow, but all Baroque music was then performed much slower than we do today wasn't it, so I’m not sure I’d want to be so critical of West & Co. I think the part writing is excellent and the doubled octaves only occur in 3 bars I think (though that passage repeats a couple of times). This particular movement seems to  me to suit this treatment and I’m going to play it on Sunday - if my feet are confident enough on my 1865 pedal board. I’ll try not to fall into the trap of “pleasing my audience”, though!


In general I do agree with you, though: I’d much rather play or hear the originals than these arrangements. However there are times when a fuller sound is required – those trumpet tunes at weddings for example, and other big occasions.
 

It's 'horses for courses" - it all depends on the instrument and the occasion.  There are times and organs where an "authentic" performance might not have the presence it deserves and an arrangement could put the music over to best effect.  There are, of course, arrangements and arrangements.  Oxford's versions of The Trumpet Voluntary, "Purcell's" Trumpet Tune (that's by Clarke too, I believe) and Stanley's Trumpet Tune by Willcocks, Hurford and I can't remember the other one have their place. Henry Ley's "Two Trumpet Tunes and an Air" remain popular with some players in the right place and there is a set of Purcell arrangements by Drummond Wolff which one encounters quite often over here. And what does one do with the Handel Concerti when playing without other instruments?  There are lots of arrangements, besides the straight versions and one has to interpret as best one can.  I tend to use the Hinrichsen version and do  varying amounts of re-arranging as I go along, but I'd do it differently on a Snetzler than on a Casavant!

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Well, I didn't actually accuse West's generation of being uninterested in history, only in historical performance practice. Nevertheless, on reflection I'll accept that I was being unfair. After all, West himself supplied the section on interpreting Bach's ornaments for the later volumes in the Novello edition of JSB's organ works. Also, early music practitioners like Ralph Kirkpatrick and a Dolmetsch or two were already active during Best's later lifetime - although even Arnold Dolmetsch had no time for musicologists' opinions on interpretation. Elsewhere scholarship had produced the original Bach-Gesellschaft edition, which IIRC served as the basis for the Novello edition of the organ works. The registration recommendations of Bridge and Higgs for these volumes are more restrained than they might have been. We do occasionally see instructions like "add another diap" followed by "diminuendo", but their markings are reasonably discreet and they left the text of the concertos alone entirely (maybe due to the difficulty of being prescriptive with these). However, I'm equally sure that old Harry Moreton was not untypical in his Romantic approach. The old, Edwardian style of playing Bach is well documented.

7 hours ago, Zimbelstern said:

By the way, 18th century composers and organists had little in common with today’s HIP fanatics, obsessed as they are by the idea of “Werktreue” and the sacred original text which must never be altered. A reading of contemporary writers such as Charles Burney gives a very different picture of 18th century practice than that peddled by many of today’s academics. John Marsh even goes as far as to say that the printed works are far inferior to the improvisations of most skilful organists.

Not every performer who pays lip-service to HIP is actually that historically informed. I once lambasted here a performance by a well-known early musician (held to be a God by some) whose performance of an English voluntary (musical and engaging as it was) was thoroughly inauthentic in style as could readily be seen by reading the three authors I have been quoting. Academics are actually much more likely to know what they are talking about - for obvious reasons - but it is only sensible to allow that they are entitled to differ in their opinions and interpretations in the same way that historians can differ about the interpretation of things in their domain. (Incidentally, I am not, nor ever have been, an academic, although I have known a few, most of whom are - or were - very highly rated performers.) The purpose of so-called "Urtext" editions (a poor term: 'critical' is better) is to present the player with what, according to best current understanding, is the most reliable version of any given piece recoverable from the sources - although the route to achieving that will often differ from editor to editor. No edition can ever be regarded as definitive. Even if, as one hopes, it is state of the art at the point of publication, knowledge will inevitably advance and the edition will eventually be superseded. The Neue Bachgesellschaft edition of JSB's organ works is a case in point. Actually it's still perfectly adequate, but the new Breitkopf edition offers new knowledge, alternative views and many textual refinements and deserves to be the choice for any first-time buyer. The job of a modern critical edition ('Urtext' if you must) is to avoid misleading the performer, by offering (hopefully) what the composer actually wrote, or something as near to it as the editor can achieve, so that the performer can then make his/her own, informed decisions about interpretation.

The logical result of the non-Urtext copy is all too readily encountered on CPDL, the most depressing site on the web that I ever visit. (To anticipate the inevitable riposte, it's just masochism.) To be sure, there is some good work on there, but it is very hard to have confidence in most of it. It is full of so-called "editions" that have been simply copied without acknowledgement from someone else's work, often with an ugly layout, with mistakes (I noticed an atrocious copy of Walmisley in D minor some months ago) and, sometimes, with added - but not always acknowledged - additions such as dynamics and tempo indications. Editorial suggestions, originally carefully signalled, may be merged indistinguishably into the text (musica ficta is a favourite). With these "editions" there may be no way of distinguishing what the composer wrote from what the modern copyist has added.*  I have certainly come across performers who have no interest in drilling down into the whys and wherefores and who prefer all interpretative decisions to be made for them. That's fine. One function of musicology is to serve performers and, as one publisher said to me a very long time ago when I suggested that an edition might give the performer a choice between two valid options, "It's an editor's job to edit." However, as an (ex-)performer I do like to know what my options are.

The comment by Marsh that you quote is saying no more than what was also said about S. S. Wesley (or was it Sam?), viz. that his improvisations were far superior to his notated compositions.

When copying from public domain sheet music that is still commonly in use - Stanford is a case in point - why on earth don't these people just upload scans of the originals, as is the norm on IMSLP? We would all be far better off! 

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26 minutes ago, David Drinkell said:

It's 'horses for courses" - it all depends on the instrument and the occasion.  There are times and organs where an "authentic" performance might not have the presence it deserves and an arrangement could put the music over to best effect.

That's true, of course. Obviously a performer's job is always to make music - in the deepest sense of the word. However, if the choice really were so stark, my personal preference would be to choose some other piece. Maybe I'm just unmusical, but I don't believe I have ever encountered a situation where a filled-out arrangement would be preferable to the original texture. Even on the Foghorn - not exactly the world's most Baroque instrument - the original textures can sound well enough so long as you avoid Cornet voluntaries. It even has a French Horn stop (even if it is a bit loud for Corno voluntaries).

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My objection to the HIP movement is that it is in fact an ideology, rather than a truly scholarly or critical approach to performance. Its thinking runs along these lines:

A piece of music by a composer of the past is intended to be performed without deviation from the notes exactly as they were written down and according to a very strict set of rules which are however subject to constant change as this or that “discovery” is made by a select group of “experts” whose word is final. There is essentially no difference ideologically in approach to the music of any particular period - so, for example, the type of instruments used, the size and quality of the band or choir, the tuning system, the tempi, etc. are seen in essentially the same ways - they are either “correct” or “incorrect”. 

The problem with this approach is that it does not take account of the real cultural practices, concerns and ideologies of each musical epoch. The almost exclusive focus on the written and printed text does not take account of the role that those texts played in the musical world of the period concerned or in the mind, beliefs and intentions of the composers.

The notion of “correctness” is, it seems to me, a rather modern concern. I personally do not believe that Bach would have been shocked and outraged by a well rehearsed choir of, say thirty singers performing one of his sacred cantatas in an electrically lit, heated concert hall accompanied by an orchestra of forty or fifty with a continuo part played by an electrically blown organ tuned to the same pitch as the instruments by an organist who had a full printed score rather than from a single line of music hurriedly written out by hand (although Bach might have thought it all a bit odd!).

We live in an age in which the slightest infringement of copyright, real or imagined, can result in extremely costly court action, and the potential ruination of the infringer. Copying, parodying or re-arranging other composers’ work was common in the 18th century, (Handel the Plagiarist!) and although outright deceit in passing others’ work off as your own was considered to be not the done thing, there was little that could be done about it. The trick was to keep writing - there was little interest in yesterday’s music. That’s why so much of it has been lost or remains undiscovered.

I agree with Richard Taruskin that we cannot experience 18th century music as it was performed then because our circumstances are so different. For one thing we cannot hear a Bach cantata as it was heard in Bach’s time because we don’t go to church for four hours on a Sunday morning in the company of several thousand other devout protestants, none of whom has ever heard a piece of recorded music at home or anywhere else. Our world could be a million miles away. 

Ironically, the very technology which has given rise to and bolstered the HIP movement, is now threatening the text worshipping community. A leading music journal specialising in “Early Music” (does that come before Music While You Work?) recently opined that the days of monumental editions like Musica Britannica look to be numbered, both because of cost and because of sites such as CPDL. Interestingly, the same journal refers to our understanding of early music as “evolving away from notions of textual fixity”. Perhaps we’re moving into a new era of musical common sense.

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Zimbelstern, I agree with pretty much everything you say, although with a few reservations. As I understand it, the term HIP (Historically Informed Performance) came into being as a result of disquiet about the word "authentic", a word that has become almost toxic. It is now acknowledged that a truly authentic performance of, say, Bach is unachievable. We do not think, dress or live like eighteenth-century Lutherans, so how can we possibly receive and understand the music that Bach wrote for them in the way that he envisaged? The best we can ever hope to do is to deliver a performance that takes into account such historical information as we have - musical, social, whatever.* We can never know how close to the original our result might be. HIP is not an ideology but simply an acknowledgement - surely common to musicologists and performers alike - of the limits of our comprehension. The term may well be misappropriated by performers and we should not assume that a performance is HIP just because it uses original instruments and eschews Romanticism in favour of moderns fads about tempo, articulation etc. Much as man makes God in his own image, so HIP performers mould early music in theirs.

From the existing Bach documentation, it would be eminently reasonable to assume that he would have welcomed a larger choir than he ever managed to muster, but this is an assumption nonetheless. This road leads to the old "Bach would have used a swell box had he had one" argument. Of course he would. And if he had lived in the Romantic era he would have written Romantic music too, no question. But the result wouldn't be the Bach we know, would it?

* I'm inclined to think that learning how to achieve historical reception is more important than delivering historical performance.

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I have found this exchange and the other current one on the Corno stop riveting, and a credit to the forum as well as to those who have posted.  As only an amateur musician, I would not presume to enter the debate on the musicological or performance aspects though I've learnt a lot from it.  Many thanks for that.  However I should like to raise a not unconnected thread concerning tuning and temperament from the physics point of view because there are some parallels in HIP here to what has already been discussed.

Temperament and pitch often figure in the musicological debates which dance around HIP, and the main point I should like to make is that a significant proportion of the assertions and conclusions are unfortunately misinformed or in some cases simply wrong.  This is because, to form a proper judgement in these areas, it is necessary not only to know about musical history but the history of physics as well (a non sequitur in itself because our term 'physics' only began to assume its current meaning c.1830, and of course temperament studies take us back well before that).

An example of the problems one finds is that some modern authors seem to assume that people in pre-Enlightenment times knew as much about the physics of music as we do, and that they were able to undertake the most involved calculations without the aid of computers or even calculators.  By 'people' I mean not only the theoreticians who wrote the early texts on temperament, but tuners, composers and performers as well, and it is somewhat unlikely that these knew much about physics.  These unwarranted assumptions pour out of certain books and papers.  Not only that, but some work has assumed the status of tablets of stone when in fact it is riddled with errors.  One embarrassing example is Charles Padgham's widely-quoted book 'The Well-Tempered Organ'.  I'm sorry, but it needs to be made clear that this contains so many numerical errors that it is actually an inexcusable travesty, and it should only be used with the greatest circumspection.  Inter alia, it has resulted in some well known authors using Padgham's results in their own work with the predictable consequences, but I won't name them here.

As to the history of musical physics, one frequently finds confident statements today relating to the pitch standards adopted in the 16th century or even before.  Yet on what basis, one asks?  The mere concept of absolute frequency was only vaguely understood at that time (pre-Galileo) and it was not until a century later (the late 1600s) that musical pitch was shown to be related to the frequency of vibration.  Admittedly, Mersenne had done it (inaccurately) prior to 1650, but another more definitive experiment, seemingly trivial from today's viewpoint, consisted of holding a piece of card against a rotating toothed wheel.  Lo and behold, it emitted a musical note, and this was considered so important that it was demonstrated to the intellectual bigwigs of the Royal Society.  Subsequently it became possible to measure the absolute frequency of this 'siren' reasonably accurately using a modified clock mechanism, and shortly thereafter in the early 1700s the tuning fork arrived on the scene.  But this was some 200 years later than some of the assertions made today about pitch and tuning standards in certain quarters!

Another, more generic, problem concerns the culture and zeitgeist of science itself.  Prior to the Enlightenment (to be more precise, until well into the 1700s as far as we are concerned here), physicists investigating tuning and temperament were in fact philosophers.  They believed that problems could be solved merely by sitting and thinking about them, and after that they wrote their books.  On the whole, what they did not do was to confirm their conclusions by experiment as an intermediate step.  Not only would this have not occurred to most of them, but it was frowned upon when it did.  So the early texts on the subject have to be read and interpreted in this social and intellectual context. Relatively little of what one reads from that era was actually tried for real, and this is as true for, say, medicine as it is for physics.  Consequently there was a massive intellectual disconnect between the non-empirical theoreticians (even when they happened to be right) and that great army of tuners, composers and performers out there who had to actually get their hands dirty and make music.

Yet another topic concerns accurate tuning, which of course lies at the very heart of temperament.  There are two issues.  One is that the instruments of the day (particularly the harpsichord and organ) would not stay in tune very well even if tuned accurately.  The other concerns tuning practices.  Tuning which is accurate enough to highlight the differences between, say, fifth (Syntonic) comma and sixth (Pythagorean) comma meantone tunings has to be very precise. In terms of the tempering (beat rates) of the fifths, these are almost identical and very careful beat timing is necessary to set either of them up properly by ear.  Yet the practice of timing beats itself had to wait for two things to happen: firstly, a practical source of portable time (desirably at the keyboard) had to become available to the tuner, and secondly there needed to be a culture shift within the tuning community so that they came to accept the need to tune more accurately.  Not until the 19th century dawned did this really begin to happen.  Prior to that, tuning instructions (when available at all) were typically of the form "let this fifth be purer than the last tho' not quite"!

All this is only a small part of a story quite the equal of the musicological complexities.  Like HIP itself, one has to understand that knowledge and its acceptance by practitioners happened differently in Britain compared with continental Europe, and that is true of the historical evolution of many other intellectual pursuits.  But I've already said (more than) enough here.

CEP

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I’m afraid I’m no expert on the physics of acoustics and pitch. What I find fascinating about such discussions, however, is how information about such aspects of musical performance can help to inform us about so many aspects of musical life and practice of earlier centuries. I’d like to give a rather complex example.

J.S. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B minor BWV 544 exists in a fair copy in his hand. There are no earlier drafts extant to our knowledge. Peter Williams dates the manuscript to 1727-31. Both Williams and Christoph Wolff speculate that Bach played this piece for the memorial service for Queen Christiane Eberhardine at the University Church of St. Paul in Leipzig in October 1727 at which Bach’s Trauerode BWV 198 was performed, also in B minor. There is a contemporary record  that a prelude and fugue was played. An important purpose of such a prelude was to enable the orchestral players to tune their instruments to the organ.

So far so good. Except for one thing. We know that the organs in Bach’s churches were tuned to Chorton, a tone above the instruments which were tuned to Kammerton. The reason for tuning organs higher was apparently to save money because the pipes were shorter, although Wolff says it was because of the greater brilliance of the higher pitch. But this meant that if the organ was used for continuo, the organ had to be played a tone lower, the evidence for which is found in the organ continuo lines in many of Bach’s cantatas and other choral works. Thus, if a movement was in the key of F minor, the organ continuo had to be played in Eb minor!

Christoph Wolff claims that the organ of the University Church in Leipzig, unlike those in Bach’s churches, was tuned to Kammerton, but does not give any evidence for this - I have certainly not been able to find any. So the situation is this: if Bach did indeed play BWV 544 at this service and if the organ was tuned to Chorton, he would probably have played it in A minor! No doubt this wasn’t too much of a problem for Bach (although one of the key pedal notes would have had to be transposed up an octave) but does this mean he might have originally written it in A minor and later made a fair copy in B minor? The question also arises as to when he wrote it, because he was so busy with the composition and performance preparations of the Trauerode in the days leading up to the service. Might he have improvised a prelude and fugue in A minor and later have made a written copy in B minor? Given the importance of the service and the dignitaries attending this service, it seems unlikely.

We are told that Bach favoured the key of B minor for big choral works because of its association with melancholy and mourning. Yet I wonder whether there was a more mundane reason. First, it is obviously easier to transpose into and play a continuo line in A minor than a key with five or six flats or sharps. But as well as the pitch problem there was also that of temperament. Just how did a work sound when an organ tuned in unequal temperament was played at a different pitch from the orchestral instruments, and in which keys did this sound better or worse?

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it is worth adding that sound musicological principles were not unknown in the Victorian period. E.H. Thorne in the preface to his edition of Six Organ Pieces by his teacher S.S. Wesley [n.d. but Thorne's own dates were 1834-1916] states, "The first duty of an editor is to preserve the Author's text."

He then discusses the problem of rendering pieces written for an F Organ on a C organ, and makes modest suggestions on the basis of Wesley's own instructions.

Finally he says:

Quote

With the exception of these necessary alterations of octave in the Pedal part, Wesley's text has been scrupulously preserved. The editor's suggestions as to stop are in brackets, to distinguish them from Wesley's scant indications, and it is open to the player to modify them to suit his organ, or to reject them altogether.

 

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