In this essay I will respond to Rifkin and Marshal debate regarding “St. Mathews Passion” by J.S. Bach by explaining their positions about this piece and the way of how modern instruments influenced the sonority in the performance of Baroque Music. To sustained my arguments I will use two articles from “The Musical Times,” the first is called “Bach’s Chorus. A Preliminary Reply to Joshua Rifkin” by Marshall and the second one is named “Bach's Chorus: A Preliminary Report” by Rifkin.
Johann Sebastian Bach was one of the most important composers from the Baroque period who wrote hundreds music pieces of the most well know we can note “The Brandenburg Concertos,” ”Goldberg Variations,” “Missa in B minor,” and the two “Passion”, “St John Passion” and “St. Mathews Passion.”
Going further, Rifkin talks about the size of the ensemble that performed “St. Mathews Passion.” Normally the chorus consisted of twelve singers, divided into three singers for a part. For this affirmation to be proved we have a documented dated from the year 1730 and also the surviving performing materials from the singers with the original parts, and also the autograph scores.
The piece “St. Mathews Passion” was part from a testimony that kept the German title “Entwurff einer wohlbestallen Kirchen Music” and was set in the famous memorandum from 23 August 1730. Mr Rifkin made here another observation that the “Entwurff” which is translated in English as “Draft” should be read in original German, along with the English translation.
Bach talks about how this piece could be properly performed depending on the vocal forces that is necessary for a round sound and solo gives an example of how the voices should be divided for the church music “the vocalist must be divided into two sorts, namely Concertists and Ripienists.” (Marshall, p. 3) Going further he also talks about each part, for the Concertists should be four singers and for the Ripienists should be at least eight singers divided into two people for each part. This will represent a total of twelve singers assigned as three for each part. Although for the ideal performance Bach would preferred to have sixteen singers, divided in four for each part but at that time it was difficult to have this amount of people singing on the choir and it was almost a problem of precipitation in writing this piece at the beginning. Even the Leipzig Council interfered whit financial assistance to help finding performing forces.
For sustaining his arguments regarding the size of the choir, Rifkin makes a historical review from the 17th century to 19th century regarding the chorus number of participants that was invariable but always had provided different singer for each part. Rifkin makes this comparison with other composers like Mozart and Haydn which had also different arrangement in their pieces. Mozart for example had in his masses twelve singers like Bach but Haydn for the other part had already eighteen.
Rifkin also studied how many singers were playing from the same sheet but this wasn’t the important thing it was rather important how many soprano, altos, tenor and basses had the choir in his structure singing the same line of the score. He compared this element with Mozart and Haydn but he couldn’t have a relevant response because in the Classicism composers had a number of copyists that made their parts for each singer and had the amount of time to duplicate for individual score for each person in the choir. We can tell the same about the Bach period. Because the amount of time that Bach had between composing and performing his cantatas was really short. We was composing from one week to another a new cantata which I was sing in the church every Sunday and for providing copies of parts for the choir in such a short time marshaled a crew of his pupils and with the help of their family managed to have a minimum set of parts that could share to his players and singers. The difference of the parts from modern professional performing parts and Bach performing parts was the size. Bach’s parts were two times in large and two times as length than the modern score nowadays so more players could watch it thru performance.
Bach was more explicit in writing details in the earliest works than later, providing prepared ripieno parts. The most obvious example of that was the notation of the solo and the tutti performance of the chorus. When he was elaborating choral movements in fuga style, and this was always represented by a cantata, followed by the first fugal exposition which was accompanied by continuous alone that was always sing by a soloist, for the next part thru the beginning of the second exposition the music was held only by the voices that entered before and doubled by instruments which were playing at unison with the sung parts together. Also the soloist should play alone the recitative and arias and the simple normal setting for the choir was sung by the full chorus. This style maintained also in the following cantatas composed by Bach, the beginning remain a capella and the second part was doubled by the players and that has one of the reason that we can assume that Bach didn’t changed his practice of performance.
In conclusion, Bach itself didn’t prove such a historically correct performance but he provided a changing of acceptance of the interpretation during the years out lighted by the musical gained. For the “St. Mathews Passion,” he used a choral ensemble formed from twelve people that it was typical for that period but the orchestra ensemble was unexpectedly bigger. The new experiences on trying to performance and record the “Missa in B minor” from the Bach ensemble brought in the new light some issues of the Bach’s vocal scoring. The good side it is that the length of the ensemble set at the proper size and with proper instrument didn’t affect the problems of balance but from the other side some difficulties remained and it was linked to the performance virtually but this gave the piece a new clarity and immediacy. Another interesting fact is that it was discovered that music itself created on the fully scored passages an impression of an aural illusion by the solo voices that exist in the ensemble accompanied by the instruments become a typical example for the larger chorus ensemble. The music presented slightly differences on performing by the evolution of instruments and singing technique but the music in it meanings remained the same.
Marshall, L. R. “Bach’s Chorus. A Preliminary Reply to Joshua Rifkin.” The Musical Times, Vol. 124, No. 1679 (Jan., 1983), pp. 19+21-22, Musical Times Publications Ltd. Web. 27 November 2014. Available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/963884
Rifkin, J. “Bach's Chorus: A Preliminary Report.” The Musical Times, Vol. 123, No. 1677 (Nov., 1982), pp. 747-751+753-754, Musical Time Publications Ltd. Web. 27 November 2014. Available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/961592