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Thread: Bach cantatas: are female voices acceptable?

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    Member kiwipolish's Avatar
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    Default Bach cantatas: are female voices acceptable?

    Hello, my first post in this nice forum.

    Can someone tell me what would be historically correct for Bach's cantatas: all male voices (i.e. the Harnoncourt recordings from the 70ies and 80ies, with young boys as sopranos etc.), or are some female sopranos / altos acceptable?

    I see that almost all modern recordings have female voices, and I wonder how unfaithful that is to the original intentions of the composer?

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    i don't think bach would care. i prefer the female voices.

    dj

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    Member fox_druid's Avatar
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    It's said that Bach had once resisted against the Church authority about female in choir. He's said to support the idea of havind female as part of the choir.

    But for me, I prefer the male because female voice for a baroque piece is somewhat annoying for me.

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    Senior Member BuddhaBandit's Avatar
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    Historically, using young boys as sopranos is probably correct. However, I believe that using female voices is better: as Bach contains much contrapuntal writing, it is important for the separate lines to be heard as distinctly as possible. As female voices have different tonal qualities than young boys' voices, using female voices thus ensures that the lines are distinct.
    Take a look at the Bandit's blog, Americana Avenue.

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    Senior Member opus67's Avatar
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    Re: Being unfaithful to the intentions of the composer.

    Is this not isomorphic* to the issue of using pianos for the keyboard works of the same composer?
    (Or just about every other performance of any work of most pre-20th century composers?)


    *That's just my quasi-geekiness showing.


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    Member kiwipolish's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BuddhaBandit View Post
    Historically, using young boys as sopranos is probably correct. However, I believe that using female voices is better (...)
    I was looking for a good excuse to buy myself the complete set of cantatas by Harnoncourt, and you just gave it to me !

    Of course, I agree that female voices outperform young boys'... but Bach's music is not about performance. In fact, most of his vocal works sound better when sung by amateurs or second-rank singers... simply because they were designed with that in mind, I think.

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    Senior Member BuddhaBandit's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kiwipolish View Post
    I was looking for a good excuse to buy myself the complete set of cantatas by Harnoncourt, and you just gave it to me !
    You're very welcome! That must be a HUUUUGE set...
    Take a look at the Bandit's blog, Americana Avenue.

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    Far more interesting to look for castrati sopranos and altos.

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    Member kiwipolish's Avatar
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    Good try, but the last castrato died in 1922. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castrato where there is an amazing recording of him (not a Bach cantata, though).

    Here is an extract of the wikipedia article:
    (...) the limbs of the castrati often grew unusually long, as did the bones of their ribs. This, combined with intensive training, gave them unrivalled lung-power and breath capacity. Operating through small, child-sized vocal cords, their voices were also extraordinarily flexible, and quite different from the equivalent adult female voice,

  10. #10
    Andante
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    Quote Originally Posted by kiwipolish View Post
    I was looking for a good excuse to buy myself the complete set of cantatas by Harnoncourt, and you just gave it to me !
    I have 5 or 6 of the set and they are worth getting, BTW Concert FM played the whole set on Sun Mornings a few months ago, the Warehouse had them for about NZ$4 each

    Whoops, got the wrong set, I should have referred to the Helmuth Rilling set, with the Bach-ensemble. Sorry
    Last edited by Andante; May-05-2008 at 02:14.

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    Member fox_druid's Avatar
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    Too bad there arent more castrato nowadays, and maybe there's going to be no more forever. It just doesn't make sense for anybody now to sacrifice his masculinity just for music, particularly classical, which also is not so popular.

    Since castration should be done before the age of 13 or even younger than that, of course it would be hard to find anybody who is willing to be a castrato. He must have discovered his talent by that early age, and willing to enter a new life, and there's no turning back.
    Last edited by fox_druid; May-05-2008 at 15:44.

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    Member kiwipolish's Avatar
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    Did Bach use castrati? - It seems it was rather a catholic thing.

    There are natural castrati still nowadays. Extract from Wikipedia article about castrati:
    So-called "natural" or "endocrinological castrati" are born with hormonal anomalies such as Kallmann's syndrome, or have undergone unusual physical or medical events during their early lives that reproduce the vocal effects of castration without the surgeon's knife. Javier Medina and Jorge Cano are examples of this type of high male voice. The case of Michael Maniaci is somewhat different, in that he has no hormonal or other anomalies, but for some unknown reason, his voice did not "break" in the usual manner, leaving him still able to sing in the soprano register. Other uncastrated male adults sing soprano, generally using some form of falsetto, but in a much higher range than the more common countertenor. Examples are Aris Christofellis, Radu Marian, Jörg Waschinski, and Ghio Nannini. All these are gifted performers, but it must be remembered that, having been born in the twentieth century, they and the few others like them have not undergone the type of rigorous training through adolescence endured by the castrati of the eighteenth century. Thus their technique is distinctly "modern", and they lack the tenorial chest register that the castrati possessed. (...)

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    Well, there are many arguments either way, but I think the real question is can we ever re-create Bach's environment, and, with that, Bach's listener?

    It would be BEAUTIFUL if we could find boy sopranos who are schooled in Bach's music to the point that his own choristers were, but that is simply not possible. Those young men lived with Bach's tuttledge every day of of their lives -- there is no way to recreate that.

    In addition, we have no idea what sort of tone was created by those young men. I think it is particularly harmful to think that they created the typical "English" chorister tone -- this is a non-continental creation which has no relation to Leipzig in the 18th century. Listen to contemporary German Knabenchors (Windsbacher, for one). VERY different tone.

    As an example of using women to GREAT effect in Bach, try this YouTube link. QUITE magnificent:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7lWXRUwdXrk

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    It is a classic case of the lunacy of those Historically informed players the use of countertenors to sing Bach. It is unknown if he ever LISTENED to such a technique, and surely he never used them in his music. So using them so widespreadly in Bach's (or Handel, or pretty much any baroque) music is a classic case of a modern invention, and a pretty bad one considering the shallowness of the falsetists voice. On the other hand, Bach used often female voices, even in church settings, the case of his first wife is well documented.

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    Member gurthbruins's Avatar
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    Female voices - my choice any day.

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