||A Conductor's Guide to the Choral-Orchestral Works
of J. S. Bach by Jonathan D. Green.
||Lanham, Md. & London: Scarecrow Press, Inc. (Feb.
2000), ix+622 p. Hardback. US$56
Inc. The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing, 15200 NBN Way, Bldg.
B, Blue Ridge Summit, PA 17214, USA
||A reference book for ‘community’ conductors, providing
all the information necessary for their considering if their groups can
perform a particular choral-orchestral works by Bach.
||BWV 1-249; the works no longer considered as Bach's original
(i.e. BWV 15, 53, 141-2, 160 and 189) are not discussed, however.
||Amateur conductors and concert organisers who are looking
for a convenient guide to choose Bach’s works for their concert programmes;
local community libraries should keep this book on their shelf.
|Discussion of performance issues from a conductor's perspective
is both unique and valuable
This is the third volume of his “Conductor’s
guide to the Choral-Orchestral Works” series. His preceding volumes deal
with the 20th century repertoire, and with this he effectively makes his
début as a writer on J. S. Bach. In terms of volume, this contains
twice as much information as either of these preceding volumes; obviously
Green is not only an able writer on music but also a very committed artist.
From time to time, I find such phrases as “conductor’s guide to..” or
“conductor’s analysis of ..” in the title of D.M.A. dissertations submitted
to American universities; with this connotation in my mind, I first thought
that this book was a serious study of Bach’s cantatas aimed at professional
conductors like Ton Koopman, Andrew Parrott and Joshua Rifkin. My guess
was wrong. It became apparent within a minute of browsing the book that
Green sets his readership more widely: he seems to be thinking of someone
like music teachers at secondary schools or college, or even highly committed
music lovers who coach choirs and ensembles at their local community. For
this particular audience in mind, Green discusses all the choral-orchestral
works by Bach, telling his readers all the essential information so that
they can decide which pieces to pick for their future concerts.
Even though some of his readers may be less well-informed about Bach’s
life and works than he is, his brief introduction of “Bach’s life and family”
(in five pages) leaves much to be desired. His straightforward manner of
writing is clear enough; yet I cannot help thinking that he gathered information
from various sources without due care, as many errors, however small, caught
my eyes frequently: for instance, he writes that Bach was appointed in
1736 as ‘kapellmeister and composer’ to Friedrich August II; what I know
is that Bach was Kapellmeister to Duke Christian of Saxe-Weißefels
(1682-1736), and after the Duke’s death, he received the title of Royal
Polish and Electoral Saxon Court Composer; C. P. E. Bach was not ‘organist’
to the court of Frederick the Great in Berlin but ‘harpsichordist’; the
BG edition is called Johann Sebastian Bach’s Werke, and not Johann
Sebastian Bach: Werke, to name but a few. Also, it is just a matter
of convention in recent Bach literatures in that the middle names of Bach’s
families are quoted fully so as to avoid confusion: ‘Johann Gottfried’
should read ‘Johann Gottfried Bernhard’; likewise the so-called ‘Bückeburg
Bach’ is generally known as ‘Johann Christoph Friedrich’, and not ‘Johann
|Chapter 2 is the main body of this book, occupying from
page 7 to page 532; this is the place where each work is discussed in the
order of BWV from 1 to 249, effectively covering all the cantatas, motets,
masses, passions and oratorios (excluding a few works no longer considered
as Bach's original).
Each work is systematically described under eleven headings, as follows:
small but stout, measuring
Obviously, much of the information is widely available elsewhere (such
as BWV and BC) except the section “Performance Issues” which is his major
and original contribution: his readers should consider his view carefully
before deciding whether or not their performing forces can cope with the
technical demand of the piece. I find his comments very informative. By
using only a very limited number of abbreviations, the readers should be
able to comprehend Green’s discussion easily without referring to the introduction
Duration: given in minutes, presumably taken from Helmuth Rilling’s
Occasion: on which the work was performed.
Text: origin, e.g. author(s), biblical reference(s). In the case
of the former, Green could have provided more precise information if taken
from published sources. Nothing about the text itself was discussed.
Performing Forces: are described under two sub-headings “Voices:”
First Performance: date and venue.
Editions: NBA and BG editions with further information about the
editor, volume number and page numbers; other publishers are also mentioned
Manuscript Sources: information about the existence of score, performing
parts in autograph or copy, copyists and holding libraries. He could have
provided further details, e.g. shelf-mark and the availability of facsimile
Notes: extended description of the work, including the hymn tunes
used, early versions, and the organisation of the movements.
Performance Issues: much extended discussion of the work from Green’s
(=conductor’s) point of view, addressing various issues such as texture
of each movement, vocal and instrumental demands, potential pitfalls in
performance, etc.; there are three subheadings “Soloists:”, “Choir:”
and “Orchestra:” where he describes vocal range, tessitura and technical
difficulty it poses.
Discography: a short list of artists who recorded the work.
Selected Bibliography: the same three works are always quoted, i.e.
Whittaker, Dürr and Young, with page numbers.
The remainder of the book (i.e. page 533 to the end) is consumed by
various indices—text sources, copyists, liturgical index, occasions, works
by duration, type, solo voices, choral voices, instruments—as well as glossary
of instruments, concordance of chorale tunes, chronology of first performances,
and bibliography. Although his list of bibliography looks quite out of
date, his targeted readership will be happy with the information he provided.
Various indices he painstakingly compiled are all well conceived. No doubt
they will be very useful.
In sum, it is an excellent reference book written for non-professional
conductors who are eagerly looking for a piece by Bach suitable for their
performing groups, even though the quality is slightly marred by the hastily
Published online on 30 March 2000