||The Essential Bach Choir by Andrew Parrott.
||The Boydell Press (Woodbridge, 2000); xi, 223 pp; £15
||Boydell & Brewer
Ltd, PO Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 3DF.
||Detailed discussion of Bach’s choir from historical perspective—its
size, character and effect in performance—attempting to prove that it was
one singer per part, and not 3 per part.
||BWV 8, 21-4, 29, 55-7, 59, 63, 69, 71, 75-6, 84, 95,
106, 109-10, 117, 169, 172, 182, 191, 195, 198, 201, 207-8, 211, 213, 232,
234, 243-5, 248-9, 1046-7, 1066
||Scholars and dedicated lovers of Bach’s vocal works.
|Critical re-examination of historical evidence, some
widely known but not studied in depth.
Bach’s Choir is undoubtedly one the
hottest topics for scholarly debate in recent years. Parrott is one of
the key participants in this debate, whilst being a busy conductor of an
international reputation. In it he expands his original thesis first published
in an article ‘Bach’s chorus: a “brief yet highly necessary” appraisal’
(Early Music, 1996), which effectively revived heated arguments
originated in 1981 by Joshua Rifkin.
It is not a summary of what has been debated so far; rather, it is a
powerful representation of Rifkin’s thesis, attempting to dispel the scepticism
that still surrounds Rifkin’s original theory, i.e. that nearly all of
Bach’s concerted ‘chorus’ writing was designed to be performed with just
one good singer in each part, and not three per part proposed by Arnold
Schering in 1920. Parrott’s primary task is to disprove Schering’s theory,
which still has strong support from some of the best known authorities,
namely Ton Koopman and Christoph Wolff.
|His argument is clear: by dividing it into eleven chapters
(in addition to introduction, epilogue and seven appendices), he covers
many controversial issues, such as Bach’s use of ripienists, the question
of copy-sharing, and the interpretation of the Entwurff (Bach’s
lengthy memorandum to the Town Council of Leipzig in August 1730). He discusses
all this convincingly and with an air of authority. He supports his discussion
with much supporting material—numerous facsimile reproductions for his
iconographical evidence, well-laid out music examples, tables of historical
records and other illuminating documents.
full of illuminating illustrations
and useful tables
Is he winning the battle? I think he is, although there are still many
loose ends due to the lack of definitive evidence for Bach’s own performance
(i.e. the evidence from contemporary musicians in other towns is not good
enough) as well as the issue of stamina (i.e. whether or not a 17-year-old
boy could cope with such a demand—a question which we can no longer answer).
There are also places in the book where I became frustrated and unconvinced.
Perhaps the most irritating aspect is the way he handles source evidence
too strictly. I would naturally suspect that there are many more possibilities
than he listed. Index is another; it is particularly pity because it is
difficult to find a specific argument in the book via index. It is fair
to comment, however, that this is effectively compensated by ample cross-references,
which make it very easy to follow when reading the book for the first time.
The good collection of illustrations, informative tables and well-defined
structuring of chapters all warrant it to be used also as a reference book
on the subject. I would recommended this book highly for anyone interested
in Bach’s vocal works.
Published online on 8 May 2000