In With the Old: ‘New’ Brandenburgsby Crystal Chan
/ June 13, 2011
Flash version here
Brandenburgs: Irreverent or Authentic Performance Practice?
Haynes and Susie Napper of the Montreal Baroque Festival have come up
with an audacious offering for the ninth edition of the festival: six
‘new’ Brandenburg concertos.
“The theme for the festival is
‘Deadly Sins,’” explained Napper. “And this is a real sacrilege
for some. People think of it as a serious deadly sin to abuse Bach’s
music like this. I think it’ll be a lot of fun to hear!”
These so-called Brandenburgs are
actually instrumentalized groupings of Bach cantata movements. The original
idea was Haynes’s, a Bach expert who had already used Bach cantata
movements to score a concerto for oboe and harpsichord obbligato in
1982, almost thirty years before starting this new Brandenburg project
last year. Tragically, Haynes passed away on May 17, just over a month
before the premiere of what will be the last of his projects.
Of course, there is a long history
of classical music pieces that continue to be performed in their ‘finished’
or ‘improved’ form after the death of a composer: Mozart’s Requiem
and Puccini’s Turandot are two examples. And whether as a timesaving
measure, quick cure for writer’s block, or response to limited available
instrumentation, composers have frequently used ideas or whole sections
of their own music (and occasionally that of other composers) in several
Haynes started by creating a list
of all the concerto movements that were taken from cantatas by Bach
himself. For Bach, the practice turns out to have been a common one.
For instance, the third Brandenburg
concerto is found in a Bach cantata. “He was always using his own
music for different purposes,” said Napper. “Basically that’s
what we’re doing: we’re stealing Bach’s own music and using it
for different purposes.”
Why new instrumental concertos, instead
of vocal or solo pieces? Because the small number of chamber pieces
by Bach that have survived has always frustrated musicologists and musicians.
Bach gave his chamber music to Wilhelm Freidemann Bach, his favourite
child. Unfortunately, W.F. was also a drunkard and lost most of the
music. Compare this to the cantatas, which were bequeathed to another
son, Carl Philipp Emanuel. Those were carefully preserved and indexed.
Today, we know of six Brandenburg concertos and a few other Bach concerti.
There were probably many more.
It was also a very well known practice
in the baroque era to re-score cantatas without singers. “Several
composers and writers mention this,” said Napper. She added while
laughing, “No singer, no problem!”
“Nowadays we tend to be very Catholic
about playing what’s on the page and I think that’s very un-baroque,”
she continued, more seriously. “You take what you’ve got and you
play the music you can find.”
For the Montreal Baroque, this project
was similarly a creative response to limitations. With grants and private
donations at a low, the festival was literally “too poor to afford
singers this year.”
The six new Brandenburgs correspond
to Bach’s six. The first new Brandenburg shares a military feel with
the first ‘old’ one; the second ‘new’ one is for four instruments,
as was the second ‘old’ one; and so on with each new Brandenburg
reflecting its parallel original, often in instrumentation.
The naysayers, according to Napper,
are mostly those from the musicological field. Musicians, on the other
hand, are thrilled or at least curious. “It’s very exciting to have,
as it were, new Bach pieces to play!” she joked—and Napper is sure
that audiences will also love the new Brandenburg set.
ATMA is also convinced. They are
recording the concert and a disc will be issued most likely in 2012.
To those that are outraged, Napper
had this to say: “It was a very common period practice to take vocal
works and play them on instruments. And we’ve lost that.”
“We’re so used to reading what
is set on the page and trying to be authentic in that sense that we’ve
missed being authentic in the other sense of following a common practice,
of creating our own music in the same way that they used to do.”
June 24, 7 p.m at the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours
» Learn about these concepts in Haynes’s book: A Period Performer's
History of Music for the Twenty-First Century
» The festival closes with another recreation of early music: theatrical
performances of excerpts from Macbeth accompanied by John Blow
and John Eccles’s incidental music for the play interwoven with Henry
Purcell’s music; June 26, 7 p.m. at the Marché Bonsecours