Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bach's Raw Material

"It's often said that because Bach requested 16 singers for his choral establishment, he must have wanted at least that number for the St Matthew Passion. But that's a selective reading of the appropriate document because he goes on to say quite specifically that the reason he needs this number is because he has to provide music for services in four churches, each with very different musical requirements. Bach is very frank when he talks about his singers. He says he's usually got four good singers who can sing his more elaborate music, for who are a bit rough but who he can work with most of the time, and several who can just about manage a chorale if he's lucky. The idea that he had 16 virtuoso singers who could sing all his most demanding music goes against all the evidence.... We have to get ourselves out of the mentality of a genius working for posterity and realise that at the end of the day Bach was also working as the head of a school's music department!"

"Bach was above all a pragmatist. He had a small team of more or less talented individuals, but they were trained by one composer in one style over a long period of time. Of course there were moments of frustration, but the image of Bach writing music way beyond the abilities of his players and singers is patronising and far from the truth. Leipzig was no provincial backwater, but the very epicentre of a progressive Lutheranism which proved the most fertile ground for Bach's musical genius."

- Paul McCreesh

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