Gazeta Musical

Sobre música, da música, para a música!

terça-feira, abril 11, 2006

Paixão II

A propósito dos corais, encontrámos este pequeno apontamento de Bernard D. Sherman, na Gramophone Early Music, Verão, 1999.
At the end of each phrase in the typical Bach chorale, the last note is under a fermata. How did Bach want these final notes performed?
Most Bach performers (early-music or mainstream) believe that the fermatas should barely be acknowledged. These performers do not hold the fermatas longer than their written note value. But a few early-music maestros, notably Joshua Rifkin, Kenneth Slowik, and Rene Jacobs, have come to the opposite conclusion. They hold these fermata-notes for about three times their written value. A good case can be made for their approach.
For one thing, Robert Marshall's monumental study The Compositional Process of J. S. Bach shows that in the final chorale of BWV 65 the rebarring in a second draft makes sense only if the note under the fermata is to be held longer than its written value.
Also, as Joshua Rifkin points out in a forthcoming publication, the chorales that Bach used in his sacred works were, of course, used by numerous other German composers, but many of these composers notated the chorales differently than Bach did. Telemann and Graun, among many others, did not use fermatas at the ends of the phrases. Instead, where Bach wrote fermatas, these other composers wrote out three beats. Specifically, they wrote out the phrase-ending notes at twice the value of the prevailing motion (a whole note, when the prevailing value is half notes, or a half note when it is quarter notes), followed by a written-out rest of a single note. Bach uses the same notation, by the way, in a chorale he added to a St. Mark Passion he attributed to Reinhard Keiser.
It is possible that Bach notated most of his chorales differently from his contemporaries because he performed them differently. But it is unlikely. These were traditional sacred works, and Bach probably did not perform them in a radical way. A more plausible explanation, Rifkin points out, is that Bach used fermatas to avoid the notational mess that is caused by writing out these final notes with two extra beats; the extra beats throw off the normal barring of the tune. It is probable, then, that he held these notes-under-fermatas for about two beats followed by an extra beat of rest--just as is suggested by the notation of many other composers.
I certainly don't want to dismiss conductors who take other approaches. But it is always interesting to observe how a belief about performance practice that becomes an orthodoxy among historical performers may lack definitive historical support.