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On-line Book Review


Dimension: 23.8 x 16 x 0.95 cm
TITLE Zur Aufführungspraxis der Vokal-Instrumentalwerke Johann Sebastian Bachs von Karl Hochreither.
PUBL. DETAILS Kassel: Verlag Merseburger Berlin GmbH, 1983. xv + 208p. Price: DM 38. Paper back
ISBN 3-87537-194-1
TO ORDER Merseburger, Postfach 10 38 80, D-34038 Kassel, Germany
DESCRIPTION Despite being 17 years old, it is probably the only monograph currently available which systematically discusses in depth the performance-practice issues of Bach's vocal works.
WORKS COVERED BWV 2-4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14-6, 18, 21, 23, 24-5, 27-30, 33-5, 38, 40-2, 44, 46, 48-53, 55, 60-3, 65-8, 70-1, 73, 76-80, 82, 85, 89, 91, 93, 95-6, 100, 103, 106, 109-10, 115, 117-118, 121, 124, 127-8, 130-7, 139-44, 146, 153-4, 160-1, 167, 170, 172-3, 175, 177, 179, 180-85, 189, 191, 193-4, 198-200, 202-3, 208, 210, 213, 215, 232, 233, 236, 243, 244-245, 248-249, 528, 599-650, 715, 722, 726, 729, 1033, 1046, 1047, 1066, 1069, 1080..
READERSHIP Scholars working on the historical performance practice; serious performers at professional level
Systematic and in-depth discussion of historical issues relating with the performance practice of Bach's vocal works.

The study of the Baroque performance practice involves the search for the lost tradition. In reconstructing their performance practice, we need to examine many issues, such as instruments and orchestration (esp. continuo), as well as such stylistic matters as tempo, rhythm, dynamics and vibrato. The primary sources for the study are the 18th-century treatises (such as the Versuch by C. P. E. Bach and Quantz) but the study also involves the research into something that is not written about, e.g. the notational convention used in those days; yet perhaps the most crucial part is the evaluation process, as it is us who in the end judge the aesthetic value of the performance with certain degree of subjectivism.

In discussing the performance practice of Bach’s vocal works, Hochreither is certainly aware of the complexity of the subject. His approach is systematic: he first divides his discussion into six main chapters (marked by *) and assembles under them various topics for discussion, as shown in the "contents in brief" below:

Contents in brief
* Einleitung
* Die Continuopraxis
Die Generalbaßinstrumente; Die Continuoinstrumente; Die Generalbaßpraxis; Die Wiedertgabe des Rezitativs
* Zum Instrumentarium
Grenzen heutiger Aufführungspraxis; Historische Instrumente und ihr möglicher Ersatz, Besonderheiten; Zur Frage der Austauschbarkeit und Ergänzung von Instrumenten
* Zur Frage der Besetzung
* Das Verhältnis von Chor und Orchester im Leipziger Ensemble; Folgerungen für die heutige Praxis; Das vokale Konzertprinzip.
* Randbemerkungen zum Vortrag
Zur Dynamik; Zum Tempo; Zu Verzierung, Artikulation und Spielart; Zum Affektbegriff; Über die Wechselbeziehung zwischen Vokalem und Instrumentalem; Über Vortrag und Auszierung des Rezitativs; Von der romantisierenden zur objektivierenden Interpretation; Über barocke Spielpraktiken und Notationseigentümlichkeiten
Der Choral in Bachs Vokal-Instrumentalkompositionen und seine Interpretation
Choralbearbeitungen als Schwerpunkt der Vokal-Instrumentalkompositionen; Zur Wiedergabe der Choräle und Choralbearbeitungen
Namenregister; Sachregister; Werkregister; Quellen- und Bildnachweis
Systematic approach in Performance Studies
Note that Hochreither provides a further level of headings in the contents page under the subheadings as the summary of his discussion: for example, under the first subheading “the thorough-bass instruments”, he lists the following topics: “the lute”, “harpsichord and/or organ” (the issue which was debated more powerfully by Laurence Dreyfus in his monograph Bach's Continuo Group), “Seiffert’s influence” (i.e. his theory that an organ should be used for a larger performance setting (e.g. in choral movements), whereas a harpsichord should be used for a smaller chamber setting (e.g. in recitatives and arias)) and “the organ was used as a regular continuo instrument in the sacred works”.
In this way, the book is very clearly laid out from the outset; by examining the four pages of the contents, you can navigate the book easily even for the first time of reading it.

As expected from the nature of topics covered, Hochreither resorts to a host of eighteenth-century sources, including those by Kuhnau, Heinichen, Telemann, Walther, Quantz, Agricola, Emanuel Bach, Johann Samuel Petri, Christoph Gottlieb Schröter, etc., often using the good-quality facsimile reproduction of the original, which are very useful. In addition, he provides amply the secondary source references, including NBA and BGA. His discussion is thus very neat and scholarly; he certainly gives his readers various pieces of practical advice on performing Bach’s vocal works, esp. on performing the continuo parts, early instruments, orchestration, dynamics, ornamentation, notation, and the treatment of fermatas.

This is a convenient guide for performers who are looking for ideas for ‘authentic’ interpretation; but be warned: it is not a guide in which you will find a model interpretation of individual works. Apart from a handful works by Bach that are discussed fairly extensively (which are indicated in bold in the summary above), there is little that you can actually find about a particular piece being discussed systematically. The book demands that you read it through thoroughly first; digest all the ideas therein before making attempts to find an answer as to how to interpret a particular vocal work by Bach.

Published on-line on 11 October 2000

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