...which is the second installment of the Settling Scores
I am never in Manhattan over New Year’s, 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 that’s a nineteenth century name for these works, but I think we’re stuck with it, so I’ll dispense with the scare quotes.) Somebody—the Chamber Music Society of of Lincoln Center, the NY Phil, or St Luke’s, or a visiting group at Bargemusic, Symphony Space or somewhere—presents 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.
Bach’s 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 Rust’s 1871 Bach Gesellschaft edition, except for the fifth concerto, for which Rust also consulted an autograph set of parts. Rust’s 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 Bach’s 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 that’s 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.) It’s 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 Rust’s 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 Bach’s hand) while not really being “authoritative” (i.e., his intentional definitive presentation of the text)—an interesting distinction—although, as I discussed last month, “definitive” 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 Bach’s death. Penzel was one of Bach’s very last students—not 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 version”—even if, at best, Penzel’s source postdates Bach’s 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 readings—most 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.
|SOURCE: The Music Parlour blog|
Dart expended a lot of scholarly energy on Bach’s description Fiauti d’Echo 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 can’t 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. Dart’s approach—if not precisely his conclusions—has 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 Dart’s ideas, as well as some new departures (particularly regarding the choice of instrument for the bass line). The Dart attitude is clear in Hogwood’s liner notes:
[Bach’s] 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]
In his recording, Mr Hogwood has rectified Bach’s 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 performer’s 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 alternative—and even a preferable one—because 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 Bach’s Brandenburg works. Was ist das? The alternative texts really ought to be called something different. “Dart’s Brandenburgs” don’t exist.