"One who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; one who does not ask a question remains a fool forever."
Chinese proverb

Welcome. There isn't space this month for purple prose about our particular decisions in Historically Informed Performance (HIP) and why our instruments, "set-ups" and other performance practices are "special" (although actually quite normal in the early 18th century). Later, you can read on our website about why it may sound "new". Now, we ask you simply to listen with an open mind, drift back 300 years and let the music work its magic.

Current trends in HIP are against the use of choirs, conductors and 16' (double) bass instruments, yet these things appear on the stage before you today. Why?

There is no doubt that church choirs were officially all male. 300 years ago, puberty began later in life than it does now and voices broke later - boys, or young men, were able to sing with high treble voices into their late teens or early twenties. There was also repertoire for female sopranos (such as in opera and Graupner's cantatas) and not impossible that sometimes, a chorister would mime to the voice of a hidden lady singer. (Our soprano, Lauren, will be visible at all times during the concert.)

     ..OVPP.. is not an "absolute". What if all boys were fit and the orchestra filled with "regulars?


One Voice Per Part (OVPP) was proposed by Joshua Rifkin in the 1980s. There is a strong argument that, in general, liturgical performances in the 16th - 18th centuries involved one singer and one instrumentalist for each written part. Although lists of choir members often involve four or more singers for each "voice" - much like a football squad from which a team is selected - some would sing and the rest would be assigned to other duties, such as organ pumping or playing the viola. Other boys may have been be absent because of illness, as Rintje will confirm - Roden Jongenkoor prepares three singers for every solo part for this reason.

De Swaen has performed OVPP since 2001, so we know it works but also understand that
Well, maybe they all sang! That's what you will hear today: a small all-male choir with their indispensable director. We "adults" normally perform without a conductor but the boys do not. Rintje has prepared the choir to sing this repertoire and now he's here to keep it all together.

Which leaves, from our list of today's sins, the much-maligned 16ft (double) bass. There is still much to learn about the violone and exactly when which instruments were played where but we do know that the starting point of most Baroque composition is the continuo- a bass line from which the upper parts are developed. It is common sense to have a strong bass, appropriate to the desired texture.
Problems generally occur because the main continuo instrument (usually a small cello) is not clear enough and needs constant reinforcement from below. This can sound "muddy". The bass violin (big 'cello) that we prefer is strong enough on its own, so the option of "extra" 16ft bass is employed selectively, to extend our "pyramid" of sound.

Mike Diprose
February 2010

 

Programme:

Chr. Graupner
Wo gehet Jesus hin, GWV 1119/39

J.S. Bach
Sehet, wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem, BWV 159

Chr. Graupner
Die Furcht des Herrn ist Zucht zur Weisheit , GWV 1119/33

J.S. Bach
Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott, BWV 127

Sat 27th & Sun 28th February 2010
Groningen and Amsterdam