2 LP - 6.35716 EX - (p) 1986

2 CD - 8.35716 ZA - (p) 1986

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Messe in h-moll, BWV 232

17' 42"
- Kyrie - Molto Adagio/Largo
10' 31"
- Christ
5' 16"
- Kyrie - Alla breve
2' 55"
36' 00"
- Gloria - Vivace
6' 38"
- Laudamus 4' 07"
- Gratias - Alla breve 2' 37"
- Domine Deus
5' 56"
- Qui tollis - Lente
3' 01"
- Qui sedes
4' 47"
- Quoniam 5' 14"
- Cum Sancto Spiritu - Vivace
4' 18"
31' 30"
- Credo - (Alla breve) 1' 53"
- Patrem
2' 05"
- Et in unum
5' 06"
- Et incarnatus est 2' 58"
- Crucifixus
3' 33"
- Et resurrexit
4' 27"
- Et in Spiritum
5' 12"
- Confiteor - (Alla breve)
3' 55"
- Et expecto - Vivace et Allegro
2' 20"
4' 21"
- Sanctus
4' 21"
Osanna, Benedicstus, Agnus Dei et Dona nobis pacem

15' 24"
- Osanna 2' 36"
- Benedictus 6' 42"
- Agnus Dei
5' 15"
- Dona nobis pacem - Alla breve
2' 51"

Angela Maria Blasi, Soprano I
Delores Ziegler, Soprano II

Jadwiga Rappe, Alto

Kurt Equiluz, Tenor
Robert Holl, Bass

Arnold-Schönberg-Chor / Erwin G. Ortner, Leitung

Concentus Musicus Wien
- Friedemann Immer, Richard Rudolf, Hermann Schober, Naturtrompeten in D
- Kurt Hammer, Barock-pauken
- Robert Wolf, Leopold Stastny, Traverflöten
- David Reichenberg, Marie Wolf, Sem Kegley, Oboe, Oboe d'amour

- Erich Höbarth, Alice Harnoncourt, Anita Mitterer, Andrea Bischof, Peter Schoberwalter, Walter Pfeiffer, Violine

- Karl Höffinger, Helmut Mitter, Iwan Dimitroff, Gerold Klaus, Silvia Iberer, Peter Schoberwalter jun., Violine

- Johannes Flieder, Kurt Theiner, Josef de Sordi, Viola

- Herwig Tachezi, Mark Peters, Violoncello

- Eduard Hruza, Andrew Ackerman, Violone

- Milan Turkovič, Andrew Watts, Fagott
- Herbert Tachezi, Orgel

- Andrew Joy, Corne da caccia

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Gesamtleitung
Luogo e data di registrazione
Konzerthaus, Vienna (Austria) - aprile 1986
Registrazione live / studio
Producer / Engineer
Prima Edizione CD
Teldec "Das Alte Werk" - 8.35716 ZA - (2 cd) - 55' 29" + 53' 33" - (p) 1986 - DDD
Prima Edizione LP
Teldec "Das Alte Werk" - 6.35716 EX - (2 lp) - 55' 29" + 53' 33" - (p) 1986 - Digital

Bachs Messe in h-moll: Nikolaus Harnoncourt im Gespräch mit Manfred Wagner
Mr Harnoncourt, you first recorded Bach's Mass in B minor 18 years ago - are there any significant differences in your interpretation, not in detail, but in your overall conception of the work?
I am often asked about differences in interpretation, because we have been making music for a very long time with the same orchestra, and our listeners always find it interesting if we return again to a work that we recorded many years ago. They often spot very pronounced differences and I am questioned about them. Well, there is bound to have been some physical and musical development as far as both I and rny orchestra are concerned - we have, after all, been actively engaged in music-making for the past 40 years - and because we have never lapsed into routine, because we have always attempted to discover the origins of our ideas, a good deal has in fact changed. We ourselves are unable to explain or pin down these differences because they are organic. After all, ifone looks in the mirror every day one does not notice the changes in one’s face. I do notice it when I listen to old recordings, but this only happens occasionally because we are still very much orientated towards the future. But there certainly are some elements which are basically different: Before the first recording we involved ourselves very thoroughly in the work. At that time the new edition had just been published and, in the sweat of my brow, I read every single line of the extensive critical commentary. We also studied most thoroughly Ehmann’s writings on the subject of Concertante and Ripieno performers, i, e, the large and small choirs, because he repeatedly quotes examples from the Mass in B minor. As early as 1968 we experimented with certain distinctions between different sizes of choir. Ar that time we were already very deeply involved in the Cantatas. But in the case of the Mass in B minor we felt that this was not music for the Sunday Service, written for the routine Lutheran liturgy in Leipzig. Even though one should never use the word routine in connection with Bach, his Cantatas for Sundays were composed for a purpose which recurred every week. The Mass in B minor is a work that is a stumbling block both from an artistic and a religious point of view; it does not really fit into any liturgy; nor, with its sensuous piety, is it a piece of Protestant church music. This is why, on this occasion, we used women soloists instead of boys. It is, after all, known that Bach did this, even though it was frowned upon, that he was interested in the attractiveness and the difference between a fine boy’s voice and a female voice, and that he prefered to have women rather than boys to sing certain works. We therefore deliberately departed from the boys’ choir in this performance and used a mixed choir, because we take the view that women’s voices are just as accurate, that they reproduce the rhythmical structures and coloratura just as clearly, but that they also contribute the sensuous flair of adults to the music. As far as I am concerned - and probably also today’s listener - this is an essential element in the work and it is no longer all that important whether the ideal, historically accurate rendering is by a boys’ choir a mixed choir. One also has to bear in mind that the average age of boys’ choirs at that time was three to four years older: 17 years old boys still sang treble or alto; consequently a modern boys’ choir is not the same as it was in Bach’s day.
This is surely the most sigificant change since that day, and I suspect - since we made both decisions, first to opt for a boys’ choir, and now for a mixed choir, of our own free will - that this reflects a development within ourselves.
But you stuck to boys' choirs in your recordings of the Cantatas?
You must not imagine that we were not content with the boys’ choirs. It is precisely because of our increasing experience with boys’ choirs that it became easier to achieve works quality with them. We would have had no difficulty in producing an excellent performance of the Mass in B minor with boys’ choirs. If we do not do so, the reason is not that we consider a boys’ choir to be limited and think that we ought to change over to mixed choir for that reason. The reason is that there are two conflicting approaches from the point of view of the warmth of sound, and we are of the opinion that the “injection of Catholicism” justifies a mixed choir. When I say “Catholic”, I am really speaking more generally of “mediterranean” countries, where the zest for life is closely linked to religion: in Italy there is rejoicing in church; even when church architecture and paintings display martyrdom or other sad themes, there is always rejoicing; in my view this extends, albeit not as strongly, right into the Alpine regions. I think Bach’s Hungarian ancestor had an influence on him, but also that his intense study oi Vivaldi may well have instilled in him a longing for the South, as did the occasional journeys from Leipzig to the Catholic Court at Dresden. Bach repeatedly advised his sons to visit Dresden to hear the Italian operas that were performed there.
Friedrirh Smend who supervised the Urtext of the New Baeh Edition, in particular, and other musicologists have expressed the opinion that the Mass in B minor comprises individual works written between 1733 and 1739, which Bach himself had compiled into an autograph anthology, but that the notion that it is unified work resulted from a romantic attitude. You, on the other hand, take the view that the argument founded on sensuousness applies not merely to individual parts, but to the whole work, so that it can all be bracketed togheter.
This Mass has a rnost varied history. In the 19th century it acquired the soubriquet “High Mass” and it was customary to view it as a monolithic block, a sacrosanct unity. Then research discovered that the manuscript was composed of several pieces. In my opinion, when the New Bach Edition reached the volume “Mass in B minor”, they overstepped the mark by referring to the work as the “so-called” Mass in B minor, while laying particular stress on the fact that it was pieced together in 1748/49. It could not be disputed that Bach had made the compilation himself, but it was looked on as a kind of “gathering together” at the end of his long life.
As far as I am concerned, the truth which I have gathered from the work itself lies somewhere in the middle: It is quite obvious that parts of it were written separately; it is equally obvious that some parts, e. g. the so-called “Missa”, the central portion, and the Sanctus as well, were entirely appropriate to the Leipzig Lutheran church service and were indeed composed for it. The very people who discovered the separate pieces and the compilation of the Mass have repeatedly accused Bach of having no thorough appreciation of the words, of having set secular cantatas to other words with a certain degree of unconcern. They also claimed that the Christmas Oratorio had seen the light of day in the same way. Parts of the Mass in B minor are indeed reworkings, for example the Gratias originated in “Wir danken dir”, or the Agnus Dei in “Ach bleibe doch, geliebtes Leben”. As far as the Christmas Oratorio is concerned, I could not agree with these musicologists: the material that Bach used was of high quality, he just changed the texts with a certain lack of concern. In “Herkules am Scheidewege” (Hercules at the cross-roads) a passage in which the two sensual ladies attempt to deflect him from the path of righteousness was used for “Prepare thyself Zion” in the Christmas Oratorio. From this I have coneluded that Bach made use of two similar emotional situations, with an exceptionally sensual one being equated with one that is both sensuel and religious, even though the texts differ. But I do not believe that Bach already had only one valid use in mind when he set the secular text. The pairs of works - German and Latin in the case of the Mass, secular and sacred versions in the case of the “Christmas Oratorio” and the Cantatas - came close together chronologically. I have concluded from the music that Bach was working on both texts at the same time.
Once he had used a theme for a certain “secular” purpose, it was immediately adapted by him for what was for him its final purpose. I think the work may have come into existence in the following manner: A nucleus which took shape gave Bach the idea of expanding this nucleus into a great Mass. One suspects that he used the musical models of the individual elements of the Missa tota in South German, Austrian and Italian Mass compositions (Christoph Wolff), which he may well have got to know in Dresden. There is
also strong evidence that Bach did all he could to forge the Mass into a coherent whole. For example, the Gratias adapted from the Cantata “Wir danken dir, Herr” was reworked to become the core of the work, and he related the figure which introduces the chorus so closely to number symbolism, associating it with the total number of bars in the whole work, that I am led to the conclusion that the Mass was conceived as a whole. Then there is the conceptual link: In the Gratias a very pronounced gesture of gratitude is to be observed, and the same setting is used for the final movement of the Mass after the Agnus Dei, miserere nobis (Lamb of God, have mercy upon us), the Dona nobis pacem (Give us peace). There is an immediate and obvious correspondence between the two: peace and thanksgiving are intimately linked. To my mind this gives a different significance to peace in the final movement: thanks are given not merely for the Glory of God, but also for Peace. There is also another unusual and interesting treatment of the word “Peace“ in the Gloria. There is always an element of the heroic in the Gloria, and the use of trumpets produces a kind of dominating attitude. But the “Et in terra pax” produces an entirely new sound: not only is it centred on “peace” (pax), but the word “pax” is always cried out or shouted, suggesting the ardent call of men who have not yet received that which has been promised to them. The combination of a most unusual way of setting the words of peace with the Gratias and the Dona nobis pacem indicates a very strong connexion.
Your arguments also indicate that you do not agree with the nusicologists who claim to have observed uneven qualities or indeed a lowering of quality towards the end of the Mass.
I cannot accept that there is a lowering of quality. I get quite annoyed when such arguments are produced, since nobody who employs them has the equipment required to judge the presence or absence of quality. In the final analysis it is a judgement on one’s own quality as a listener. That also applies to the individual movements of this work: I can only look for the qualities which the composer has introduced. For example, you cannot apply to a movement with the ultimate in polyphonic compactness or to one with a theme that anticipates the romantic period the criteria of “absolute” quality; that is a question of standards. But before one engages in such serious accusations one ought to posess those standards.
I noticed during the rehearsals for the Mass in B minor, that you take quite a critical view of the New Bach Edition. You consider it to be incomplete in many respects, and sometimes even to proceed from false premises. Could you give us a few concrete examples? The layman thinks of collected works as a kind of immutable edition, a bible which is not to be doubted in any way, and now you, as an interpreter, express your doubts about it.
I take a critical attitude towards any interpretation ofa work. I would prefer to get hold of as much as possible without anyone else’s interpretation and to work out my own interpretations - but always remaining aware of the fact that the results of this interpretation are only valid for myself, and that others may come to different conclusions. Every edition is also an interpretation by its editor. The greater its claim to objectivity, the more it annoys me when the edition clearly indicates the interpretations of its editor My critical view of the Bach edition is due to the fact that it contains very serious errors. The Scotch snap rhythm of the Domine Deus is mentioned neither in the volume nor in the critical commentary, yet the piece has an entirely different character depending on whether it is executed in that way or not. ln the autograph parts this rhythm is quite clearly notated. In the old Bach edition it was retained at least for the flute part, though not in the string parts. Apart from that, it is an imposition on the interpreter to have to read and study a vast amount of material in order to discover how the editor arrived at his text. ln this edition the parts - i, e. the performance material which was either written out by Bach or else by his closest associates and corrected by him - have been virtually disregarded, That
is unforgivable, since the tempo marks and articulation are indicated on the parts. The argument that the user can glean this information from the critical commentary is of doubtful value, because I know of no user other than myself who does this. When I have read a critical commentary I am usually in need of a holiday. It should surely be possible to incorporate the information required for the Aufführungs-praxus in the main volume and to dispense with the highfalutin’ padding.
May we examine this with the aid of a concrete example, the "Domine Deus" to which yon have already referred? This is essentially a question of the Scotch snap rhythm which, as you have stated, was indicated, at least in part, in the old Bach edition. As far as I am concerned, it its a serious corroboration of the fact that a piece ok knowledge which, albeit only in part, is accepted as being definite, can be omitted without any reason being given for its omission.  What is the pratical significance of this?
Here I should say that in the old Bach edition it was not in the body of the text either, but there is a reference in the critical commentary to the effect that in the first bar the flute has an inverted Scotch snap.
In terms of practical execution this means the following: If I knew nothing about this so-called Scotch snap, I would play the descending semiquavers in the second half of the bar specially long; they would express a kind ofintensitied sigh, because the underlying main rhythm, the quavers, represent an inverted sigh. This means that long sighs would be subdivided into short sighs, and these sighs would, according to all knowledge of Aufführungspraxis and our musical inclination, be played particularly weightily, so that the resolution of the sighs would be particularly light and short. But here exactly the opposite is the case: The sighing note is written short and the resolution is weighty. This has the result of making the sigh more aggressive. In the nomenclature of Bach’s day the appropriate affects were described as varying from “pert” to “very intense”; certainly there is a hightening of intensity, but at the same time a lightening of the mood; it is rather less tragic; the sigh assumes an element of merriment. But as it is only written in one bar one has to ask oneself who is going to play it and when is it to played? I have reached the conclusion that it is intended for all parts, including the second violin and the viola, even when it is not indicated in the flute part or any other part, e. g. in Bar 27. In this bar the rhythm of the first violin is written without the Scotch snap, the only parts in this edition for which it is written are the second violin, which plays this rhythm for the first time, and the viola. I think that in rising chains of sighs, as with the flute part in Bar 10, this rhythm is not appropriate, but only where a restricted ascent is attempted. In the second half of Bar 8 and in Bar 9 there are sighs in the orchestra - first and second violins and viola - that are quite obvious; they recall the end of the flute phrase in Bar 2. In the following bar these sighs are continued in diminution, as it were, by the flute (Bar 10). At the beginning the sighing figure of the flute is almost a chain,and this gives considerable variety to the vocabulary of this movement, which makes great use of sighs or - without wanting to imply any interpretation - of grace notes or suspensions and, in my view, makes the rhythm much more colourful and pronounced.
Variety is one of your key words, because there are a number of passages in your interpretation where concords which occur in the same articulation are resolved or changed in the spirit of Bach.
A tendency has developed during the last 150 years for orchestras, and indeed string quarters or even duos, in a word right down to the smallest combination possible, to play in a completely unified style, just as though four musicians or one hundred musicians were all saying exactly the same thing at the same time. “Parallel passages” or “analogous passages” - the existence of which I dispute - are played in exactly the same way as a matter of principle; if the composer, as is often case with Bach, but also with Mozart, writes these passages with differing dynamics, rhythm or articulation, this is considered an “error” or a mistake on the part of the composer, and there is a tendency to correct such passages. There are some examples of this in the New Bach Edition. It is my view, which I derive from the musical aesthetics of that period, and from the music, the texts, the autographs of the 17th, 18th and sometimes even the 19th century, that composers were concerned to give each part the maximum individuality, that is to say to have as little uniformity as possible, but as much as was necessary. On occasion that goes as far as producing an impressionist form of notation, i. e. every part, taken on its own, looks illogical, and only when they play together does the superimposition of differing articulations produce a superior articulation which the listener cannot fully take in, but which is felt to be rich and complex, even though it cannot be understood in detail.
I noticed during the recording that you provided two significant, indeed dramatic proofs of this: on the one hand you placed the two sopranos apart from each other which, as far as I was concerned, made yhe different qualities of their voices properly audible for the first time; until then they had always been inextricably enmeshed; on the other hand you argued that Bach always orchestrated correctly. That was said with reference to those researchers who persistr in talking of errors.
Regarding the positioning of the sopranos: Fortunately we started this recording with the first Kyrie. Originally we placed the singers in the traditionalway, that is to say first soprano, second soprano, alto, tenor, bass, that is to say in descending voice parts. But it became clear that whenever the two soprano parts crossed, they combined into a single part. This is particularly obvious in Bars 62/63 or 67/68 of the Kyrie. That is why I tried to make them more distinct, by selecting the voices, by giving each of the soprano parts a discernible colour Then I had the idea of separating them physically, since the soprano voice is the one that is most easily located. We took a risk, but it worked from the word go. Today I cannot understand why I did not think of doing this sooner; I am convinced that it is the right thing to do. Of course theconsequence is that the soloists must be similarly arranged, because that is how one can tell that if in four-part writing the second soprano occasionally has the top line, the first soprano in the preceding solo passages came from somewhere else. This confirmed us in ourview that this is not only beautiful, but that it is also absolutely essential, because it really gives us all five soloists. We have all three female voices and it is important, particularly with reference to the phrases before and after, that the soprano voices should be heard to come from different locations.
Do you think that this was historically the case as well?
I am sure of it, otherwise Bach would not have stipulated in four-part choruses which sopranos should sing. It also emphasizes the fact that it is a dialogue. I can imagine Bach separating them spatially even further apart. We know, for example about the St. Matthew Passion, that with each version of the work he placed the choirs further and further apart.
We also know that he often performed motets with double choirs. Here religious attitudes play a role: the voices came not from one place, but were spatially distributed, so that they seemed to come from everywhere. I even think that what we have done is just a first step by comparison with what was done in historical Aufführungspraxis. Incidentally, in King’s College also the choirs are separated on account of the construction of the nave, and it is staggering how well they sing together simply because they are accustomed to it.
By taking note of this fact and of the question of Bach's orchestration you have lifted the problem of balance, which has also been repeatedly raised in connection with Mozart, to a new level. It is not merely a matter of individual producing sounds at
the same time, but also of balance within the context, such as ornaments in the Domine Deus, which have to be followed up by the other chorus parts.
lt also happens repeatedly in the great choruses that individual groups of instruments such as flutes, trumpets, oboes, high strings, low strings, chorus, on occasion the three high chorus parts are pitted against the three low chorus parts. The material therefore passes from one part to another and it seems to me to be very important that its articulation shoud be maintained and that every single element should be recognizable on its journey, so that all can join in emotionally in executing it.
With regard to Bach’s orchestration: I have always wondered how it happens that when these works are performed today by modern orchestras, some instruments simply get completely lost at certain points and become inaudible. I call it “mush” - all one can hear is a splendid mishmash; it may be harmonious but it is also incromprehensible. The use of historical instruments is a real revelation; there are no trumpet choirs smothering the flutes or oboes; that is a matter of dynamic spread. The old flutes, for example, have two functions in which they are immeasurably superior to modern flutes. One of them is this: whenever they come into contact with the oboes or strings, they make an enormous difference to their tone colour. You get the same effect with certain types of fruit: if you mix raspberries and red currants, their flavour changes. It is similar in the case of flutes: although they cannot be heard, they make the oboes sound quite different. And where they have a life of their own they are audible, no matter how many instruments are playing. When using modern instruments one has to employ artificial means if one wants to achieve anything remotely resembling the effect of historical instruments.
You have always taken an interest in historial instruments, but this is something that you have discovered in practice.
Here one must take account of what has now become the self-evident basis of Aufführungspraxis. A tenuto note must be recognizable as such - more often than not it is indicated as such by the composer or the score makes it clear - but rebounding to long notes in order to create a space for the rest of what is going on is the be-all and end-all of this style of playing, because it ensures clarity.
A not insignificant contribution to this question is made by the performer himself, because in rehearsal you demand a close adherence to the forms of sequences, analogies or figures, which may appear confusing in the score: strangely enough, the instrumentalists have adopted this and play, at least this is how it seems to me, with a different kind of awareness, they play with keener hearng. Does this also apply to the chorus?
Yes, absolutely, I always ask the chorus to listen to the orchestra and to apply the results in a similar manner to their singing, and the reverse is also important. I always try to link these two aspects as closely as possible together. It makes quite a difference if every player realizes that a figure which occurs throughout the Kyrie is a gesture of supplication, and the fact that this has been recognized as such in Western music for many centuries is probably connected with physical imagery. If one is urgently asking for something one drops to one’s knees, tugs at garments, and this gesture of supplication has an element of tugging, even when translated into music.
This is pratically materialist conception of music: the meaning of something being presented figuratively.
The figurative is an important element of music, which consists not just of notes and sounds or the interpretation of texts; it can also reproduce gestures very graphically.
I have noticed that when you rehearse complex materials you do not refer very often to the subject matter, but if you do, you use powerful imagery, such as "sacred intoxication" (Cum sancto spiritu). This means that you appeal to emotional functional, material of physical awareness, which creates an images for the musicians, so that they do not feel themselves to be encumbered by clichés.
It is very important that everyone involved in this great undertaking should be fully aware of his own role. This could be done on a much more profound spiritual level, but then we would have to take the whole ensemble into a retreat for two month before the performance.
The question is:  would it have this effect? As things are now it can be perceived with the senses and immediately appreciated.
That is correct, and it enables the individual to use his own imagination: it does not limit his own ideas, and although he is guided towards the concept he is not also compelled to interpret it himself.
Can we go back to the written parts? are they of any help? are there any slurs or phrase marks which suggest that Bach jimself was aware of these problems of interpretation?
Certainly. In the introduction to the first Kyrie there is a continuing insistence, and at the same time the symmetry is quite obvious. Bach creates an upper part out of the quavers which are not slurred and continues it, and this upper part employs the gesture of supplication. The symmetry of the lower parts is slightly impaired by the slurs. Bach seems to have felt that was going too far in the long run, because in Bar 19 he wrote in all four parts for flutes and oboes G sharp - D - C sharp, A sharp - B, F sharp - E sharp, and then another slur B - A sharp, which is not to be found in the New Bach Edition, although it is in all parts written out by him, then a slur A - G sharp half-way through Bar 20, which is also contained in all the parts.
In my view this slur has undoubtedly been omitted as a result of a certain schoolmasterly attitude, because it was thought to be an error on Bach’s part. But this is precisely where the strings play the gesture of supplication, and this is suddenly resolved by brilliant inconsistency in that Bach writes slurs in two places where they would not have been expected to occur. I think we can take it for granted that Bach would not have made the same mistake in four different parts. The interesting sequence of events indicates to me that Bach did it quite deliberately. Incidentally, he is historically not the only one to do this sort of thing: throughout the 18th century great composers repeatedly did the same. In that way special attention is drawn to a rnotif.
In this type of inconsistency perhaps also what distinguishes the really great masters from every-day composers? Is it Bach's use of colour that distinguishes him from diligent students of counterpoint?
Yes, precisely. I would even go further than that: good composers can take the listener along very complicated paths without causing him any kind of discomfort. Composers of genius deliberately mislead: each individual note leads consistently to another note or to several other notes. But the listener’s expectations are not met, and that produces a rninor sensation. All composers make some use of this device: interrupted cadences are also used by lesser masters. But the sophisticated way of keeping the listener in suspense even in the smallest phrases or figures and demanding his attention - in a rnanner of speaking “offending” him in a highly intellectual way, by not letting him hear what he expects - only the truly great composers are masters of that art.
The tempi are central to collaboration with the performers and also to the rnaintenance of control which we have already touched upon. The Bach edition is of little assistance in this respect, because the full score contains only very few tempo markings. Are the tempi in the parts correct?
In all probability Bach added the parts for the front desks to the dedicatory copy of the “Missa” (Kyrie and Gloria); these parts are preserved in the Dresden Library and constitute the main source of our recording. He kept the duplicate copies for his performances, and they have got lost.
The reverse happened with the Sanctus: he lent a set of parts to Count Sporck in Bohemia, and they also got lost. But the copies, which Bach had kept in Leipzig, are preserved. The comparatively large number of parts originally prepared gives an indication ofthe comparatively large number of players involved (at least 2 to 3 musicians playing from a single part); the Catholic Chapel at Dresden was well supplied with musicians.
We have used 6 each of first and second violins, 3 violas, 2 cellos, 2 doubles basses (violone). The tempi are Bach’s own, as they are taken from the parts. If I did not know that Bach had written “adagio” and “molto adagio” against the four introductory bars of the Kyrie, which is sung by a large number of voices, I would probably take it at a much faster speed. These wonderfully slow bars are like the threshold of a gigantic building, they put me in mind of the gates of a baroque palace four metres high, although the people who walk through them are only 1.80 m tall. The first tempo indication to be found in the score is “largo” in Bar 5, at the beginning of the great Kyrie movement. It is very helpful to have “adagio” or “molto adagio” preceding it, because it enables me to see the relationship to the movement which follows it. The tempo in the Sanctus has always presented great problems, particularly with regard to its mood. The heavenly choir of angels, announced in the Preface, the prayer which precedes the Sanctus, a “never-ending Amen”, is portrayed in two movements. (The Gloria, too, is the song of the angels on Christmas Nights) The three upper choral parts and the three lower choral parts constitute two separate choirs which are clearly distinct from one another. But it is very difficult to discover the tempi at which the Sanctus is to be expressed: is it to be a song of rejoicing, or is it to be, as it were, spoken? A further element contributing to uncertainty is the fact that many of the parts bear the mark “alla breve” (though, it should be noted, not in the score, not even a hint of it), because many of Bach’s works have been handed down both with and without “alla breve” markings. This is the case here, just as it is in the first movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1. There is a tendency to take these passages too slowly. I get the impression that what Bach intended by the Alla breve sign was “in the sense of andante, certainly not too slowly”. I take it to be a word of warning, of encouragement, concerning the speed, but not of emphasis. Movements headed with the Alla breve sign fall within the stylistic sphere of Palestrina: even during the baroque period works in the old polyphonic style were notated in minirns, but they were marked “alla breve”; this old style managed to hold its own by the side of the “modern” style, because it was the “official” style of Catholic Church music. Of course it was often by - passed - fortunately, I am inclined to say; here I am not talking of the instruction “Alla breve”, but of the sign,which was obviously not used for alla breve but which was merely intended as a warning against being too slow.
But such conclusions are only arrived at through practice...
...and by comparing many works, the tempo markings of which have been thoroughly studied. In Mozart’s works this marking has a much more precise function as an indication of speed than it has with Bach.
Could this be connected with the fact that Bach war writing for the Church, that for his rnusicians he had to write comparatively; he did, after all, know his musicians and their habits; he knew where they tended to drag.
Yes, this also explains why it is marked in certain parts. This might be connected with the positioning of the musicians; they frequently stood where the acoustics were poor and where it was well known that they had to play briskly in order not to seem to be dragging.
So this is worked out from the point of view of Aufführungspraxis...
...absolutely. In addition, when I have a fiery tempo written in crotchets, which is what the Alla breve sign suggests to me, there must be no thought of its relationship to the “Pleni sunt coeli” at all. The tenor entry in Bar 48 is a wellknown source of anxiety, yet no tenor has ever asked me about the speed, because it arises quite naturally from the crotcbets of the Sanctus. That is the strongest musical argument, as far as I am concerned. Many complicated relationships have been produced out of thin air, for example the triplets in the Sanctus were turned into quavers in the Pleni.
That proves once again that a sensible edition which satisfies the demands of practical musicians can only be provided after great practical knowledge acquired over a long time.
Yes, of course. In any case practising musicians, who are after all also concerned that musicological information should be provided, should be given a better hearing when such editions are being prepared.
In other words, what causes the complications is not you yourself or your interpretation, but essentially the demands of the composer, because he uses a different logic from that of the pedantic musicologist.
Yes. I merely obey the composer’s instructions, if I am able to do so. It may also happen that I cannot understand something; then I will do the sarne as those whom I criticise - but I cannot go against my own convictions. But I do not reach this stage until very late in the day, I try for as long as I can to allow myself to be convinced that the composer was right in his instructions.
In other words, the composer is right as long as there are no counterarguments.
That’s it. But when he has really convinced me, then I will be his champion and will go to the barricades for my convictions, if I have to.
And the rnusicians will follow suit, since the thread of the argument by which the composer has convinced you is similar to the steps which you will take to convince your players.
Yes, it is comparable. And the harder it is for me to be convinced, the easieris it for me to convince the players, because all arguments that they present to me are those which I have already countered in myself.
This proves that this partnership also acts as a control.
Yes, and it may also happen that, while we are working, I am myself corrected by the players.

Professor Manfred Wagner is a present Head Professor for the History of Culture and Ideas at the Academy of Applied Arts in Vienna. Bruckner specialist and an expert ou interpretation, he is involved at the moment with the development of objectifiable methods in reception research. Manfred Wagner has written many books, radio broadcasts and television films.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929-2016)
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