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01 January 2017

11. Dart’s Brandenburgs

...which is the second installment of the Settling Scores

I am never in Manhattan over New Years, but years of following the concert listings in The New Yorker and The New York Times indicate that in NYC there is a holiday tradition of programming all six of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos.  (Okay, so thats a nineteenth century name for these works, but I think were stuck with it, so Ill dispense with the scare quotes.)  Somebodythe Chamber Music Society of of Lincoln Center, the NY Phil, or St Lukes, or a visiting group at Bargemusic, Symphony Space or somewherepresents these six exquisite pieces as an essential secular holiday event.  With that in the back of my mind, this seems like as good a time as any to look at textual issues relating to these works.

Bachs 1721 fair-copy dedication manuscript survives to this day, and one might assume that it should settle any textual questions about the music.  It served as the sole source for Wilhelm Rusts 1871 Bach Gesellschaft edition, except for the fifth concerto, for which Rust also consulted an autograph set of parts.  Rusts edition is readily available in inexpensive reprints, and that is a good thing:  with really just one source, the edition is quite faithful to that dedicatory manuscript.  In one important respect, the BG edition is closer to Bachs notation than that of the Neue Bach Ausgabe (ed. Heinrich Besseler in 1956):  the BG preserves the transposing notation, not converting everything to concert pitch as the NBA does (although determining concert pitch in Bach is an issue I must return to later this year).  This affects not only the brass:  importantly, it affects the violino piccolo (conc. no. 1), whose triple-stops appear completely unidiomatic when rendered in concert pitch.  (Granted, the BG changes the clef of the recorders (if thats what they are, in nos. 2 & 4), which the NBA does as well.  The NBA goes further, and changes the clef of the violas da gamba in no. 6 from tenor to alto.)  Its nice when the cheap and convenient editions are also good ones.  The Dover reprint even includes an English summary of Rust's preface, which at least makes users aware that there are textual issues to consider.

I describe Rusts edition as good because it is so close to the reading of the dedication score, although Besseler was right to question what value that source should have:  The numerous errors show that Bach was careless.  As only some have been corrected, the dedication score does not have the value that a manuscript made for his own use would have.”  [NBA Krit. Ber. p. 12.]  This would mean that the dedication score is authorized (i.e., in Bachs hand) while not really being authoritative (i.e., his intentional definitive presentation of the text)an interesting distinctionalthough, as I discussed last monthdefinitive is not the most useful term in such contexts.  The search, then, is for the parent texts from which Bach (carelessly) prepared the dedication score.  That search led Besseler to some manuscript copies made by Christian Friedrich Penzel some ten years after Bachs death.  Penzel was one of Bachs very last studentsnot quite 13 when the old man died in 1750.  As the readings differ a bit from the dedication score (and, as that score would not have been available to Penzel in Leipzig anyway), these sources seem to be a useful point of departure in understanding a first versioneven if, at best, Penzels source postdates Bachs re-use of some of the material in cantatas (BWV 52, 207, and 207a), and it cannot be regarded as an uncontaminated earliest [i.e., Ur-] text.  Other Leipzig copyists transmit material we associate with the Brandenburg Concertos, but these too are disconnected from the dedication score, and so also likely transmit early readingsmost famously, perhaps, the much shorter version of the harpsichord solo in concerto no. 5, transmitted in only one source.  Indeed, that source is eccentric in other ways, for example its description of the concerto as a “Concerto Quadruplo,” elevating the cello into the concertante group:
SOURCE:  Bach Digital, detail of title wrapper for parts of  Concerto no. 5 copied by J. C. Farlau.
To my eye, the word Quadruplo is clearly a later addition, as is the insertion Violoncello Concertato,
but even then it's not clear that both of those are written in the same hand:  look at the r in each.
(The cello part transmitted with that setbut in the hand of yet another copyistis rather different than the traditional reading, adding it as continuo in the second movement, and doubling or adapting the left-hand harpsichord part in other places.  If you want to see something crazy, look at the first movement, bb. 95ff., where this cello is included with the six-bars of trills from the soloists.)

SOURCE: The Music Parlour blog
The most powerful way to become aware of musical textual variants is to hear them, and no one brought these audibly to our attention more than the short-lived but remarkable English musician and musicologist Thurston Dart.  Already in 1959 he released a recording of the Brandenburgs which was a veritable shot across the bow of conventional musical wisdom.  These recordingsavailable for download via this interesting post on The Music Parlour blogseem  to borrow the rhetoric of the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard it said..., but I say unto you....  You think Bachs corni da caccia are horns?  Dart says they should be Jagdhörner sounding an octave higher, so he does the first concerto using trumpets instead.  He inserts the slow movement of BWV 1021 to provide the Phrygian half-cadence between the two movements of the third concerto.  It is a provocative recording.

SOURCE:  discogs.com
Dart wasnt finished with the Brandenburgs.  He prepared an version for the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields for their 1971 recording, conducted by Neville Marriner.  (Although the Phillips release refers to Darts edition it was never published in score. Perhaps version or reading is a more accurate term?)  Here again the same Ill-show-you spirit prevails in Darts interpretations of the evidence, and the album cover has the audacious claim FIRST VERSIONFIRST RECORDING.  He follows Penzel's text for the first concerto, so that the third movement is gone, as is the polonaise (both appear in an appendix) and the accompaniment to the horns in Trio II is a rather different unison line for strings rather than oboes.  In this recording the corni da caccia parts of the first concerto are restored to the horns in their usual octave, but the tromba of the second concerto is allocated to the horn rather than the trumpet, down an octave, no longer at the very top of the texture.  His evidence for this is a copyist’s part annotated (by whom?) ô vero Corno di cacciaand this alters the soundscape in a remarkable way.

Dart expended a lot of scholarly energy on Bachs description Fiauti dEcho in the fourth concerto:
SOURCE:  Bach Digital, cropped page scan from the dedication score, f. 38r
His conclusion was that these were really flageolets, sounding an octave higher than notated, so that on the 1971 Marriner recording these are performed on sopranino recorders.  You cant miss them. Much more could be said here, and this issue has generated a literature of its own.

Dart died before the 1971 recordings were issued; he participated as a continuo player in only six movements (including all of Conc. no. 3, including the interpolated movement from BWV 1021).  Although Philips re-released the 1971 Marriner recording on CD at least as late as 1989, these recordings seem utterly unavailable today through newer releases or streaming/download services (other than Concerto no. 4 as part of a 2004 Marriner tribute collection).  I only ran across them because I married into a copy.  Darts approachif not precisely his conclusionshas become much more widely known through the output of his former Cambridge student Christopher Hogwood, who was also always ready to perform a variant for the sheer excitement of hearing something new.  His 1985 recording of the Brandenburgs retains some of Darts ideas, as well as some new departures (particularly regarding the choice of instrument for the bass line).  The Dart attitude is clear in Hogwoods liner notes:
[Bachs] desire to impress the Margrave with variety above all is apparent, alarmingly in Concerto 1 where the revised version addas a new concertante third movement for the violino piccolo to a work that opens with a strongly ripieno movement; and in Concerto 5, where a harpsichord episode of nineteen bars is inflated out of all proportion to produce what is currently mistermed a cadenza of sixty-five bars.  [Notes to Decca 414-187-1, p. 2]
SOURCE:  allmusic.com
How alarming!  How disproportionate!  How tasteless!  Add to this Hogwoods characterization of the dedication score's specious authority stemming more from its Dedication and calligraphy than from its value as source material, and we may perceive that we are receiving Darts spirit through Hogwoods hands.  At every turn he offers something different.  For the first concerto, Hogwood follows Penzels text strictlyno violino piccolo, no Allegro 6/8 and no Polonaise.  Marriner had conceded to the 1971 public with an appendix, but Hogwoods public in 1985 was ready to be shocked by difference.    To differ from Dart he scraps the idea of interpolating a movement from BWV 1021 as a slow movement to Concerto no. 3; he restores alto recorders as the Fiauti dEcho in no. 4; and the horns and trumpet are back in their usual places (nos. 1 and 2 respectively) at their usual octave.  With admirable restraintor is it marketing savvy?he eschews the lengthy harpsichord solo in no. 5 for the more abrupt version.  I can remember hearing this recording of no. 5 on the radio in about 1987, as I was about to shell out some cash for the Brandenburgs.  Hearing the short variant, I recall reacting Aw, man! No! and buying Trevor Pinnock’s recording instead.  Andmuch as I admire Hogwood and his work over the decadesI cant say Ive regretted that youthful investment.  As well-played as these recordings are, are they (and Dart’s) not just a little too eccentric to become standards?  As Richard Taruskin wrote thirty years ago, after quoting the same Hogwood passages I quote above,
In his recording, Mr Hogwood has rectified Bachs lapse by reinstating the original nineteen-bar solo.  Let me suggest that this conglomeration of shallow fireworks and harmonic barbarities, however in proportion, and however it may conform to the performers idea of the stylistic norms of the day, is poor music by any standard, and that by replacing it Bach judged it so.  As a snapshot of Bach the improviser, it has human interest to be sure, but it is unfinished composition at best.  It is amusing to hear it as a once-only curio, but to offer it as a viable substitute for what Bach offered as representative of his best and most fully elaborated work is manifestly to devalue both that work and the critical sensibility that impelled its revision....  I see here the ultimate perversion of the idea of authenticity:  the elevation of what amounts to a rejected draft to the status of a viable alternativeand even a preferable onebecause it is earlier, more in keeping with ex post facto historical generalizations, and less demanding on the listener.  [pp. 192f; later included in Text & Act, p. 139]
Indeed, as Taruskin goes on to insist, the label Brandenburg on the Hogwood (and Dart) recordings is false advertising, as that can only be used to describe the texts contained in the dedicatory score.  Certainly those Leipzig copyists would have been mystified if someone requested one of Bachs Brandenburg works.  Was ist das?  The alternative texts really ought to be called something different.  Darts Brandenburgs dont exist.