Bach Cantatas, what pitch?

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harrisonreed
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Bach Cantatas, what pitch?

Post by harrisonreed » Sat Nov 23, 2019 9:21 pm

For Bach, I have read that sometimes the organ was tuned to A465, as were the violins, but the orchestra played at A415, or had different key signatures to account for other tunings of A (example, oboes at A390).

If handed a part, what tuning is usually used for the trombones in a "historic" performance? Or if I was going to just transpose a part so that I was playing the correct pitches at A440, what would the transposition be?
Basbasun
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Re: Bach Cantatas, what pitch?

Post by Basbasun » Sun Nov 24, 2019 4:26 am

The pitch has been all over the plays. The church organs was indeed tuned at different pitches. In modern times there are mainly three pitches used in renaisance, baroqye and classical performances. 465, 415 and 430.
That is why I have three sackbuts. Those tunings are note really true historic correct, but it is what is used today.
Sometimes I think to myself, why?
harrisonreed
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Re: Bach Cantatas, what pitch?

Post by harrisonreed » Sun Nov 24, 2019 4:22 pm

Basbasun wrote:
Sun Nov 24, 2019 4:26 am
The pitch has been all over the plays. The church organs was indeed tuned at different pitches. In modern times there are mainly three pitches used in renaisance, baroqye and classical performances. 465, 415 and 430.
That is why I have three sackbuts. Those tunings are note really true historic correct, but it is what is used today.
Sometimes I think to myself, why?
Three sackbuts? Then basically those are tenor sackbuts in modern B (A465), A (A415), and modern Bb (A430, with the slide pulled). I don't think many historic trombones have been found in B or A, so that sounds suspect to me. Like you say, likely not historically accurate.

I've read elsewhere that most sackbuts that have been found as historic examples were basically Bb instruments, with A-440 tuning, or Eb altos also around A440. If that's true, and I don't know if that's actually true, then musicians must've learned the instruments as if they were pitched a half step higher, in B or E. That way, when they played a written "A" it would sound a half step lower, as a modern G#. Likewise, in areas where the organ was tuned to 465, it'd be a Bb or Eb Trombone learned in "A" or "D". You'd play what you learned was an A, and a modern A# would sound. Maybe the handful of historic altos pitched in modern D or F are related to these differences in pitch standard, especially for players who had learned one system or another and then moved.

But still, my question is still sort of unanswered. What is the generally recognized tuning pitch for Bach? A-415, except for pre-Leipzig cantatas, which are A-465?
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Re: Bach Cantatas, what pitch?

Post by bcschipper » Sun Nov 24, 2019 7:32 pm

Bach didn‘t write much for trombone. Obviously he did not have many good trombone players on hand. There are only a few cantatas that use trombones. The trombone parts are collected in

Bach-Studien für Posaune, Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach, edited by Holger Eichhorn and Rolf Handrow, Breitkopf & Härtel No. 8614, Leipzig, 1998.

In their introduction, the editors write about pitch:

“There was not one sole tuning pitch in Bach’s day, but at least two - the choir pitch and the chamber pitch - and they were both found at the same place. In general, there is a difference of one whole tone between them. Thus in a performance involving instruments tuned in the low chamber pitch (e.g. 421 Hz) and others tuned in the high choir pitch (e.g. 472 Hz), some instruments (e.g. the strings and woodwinds) would have to play a second higher or, what happened more frequently, the others (organ, cornet, trombone) had to transpose downwards. This is why the trombone parts in the original (and partially autographic) performance materials are always notated one tone lower than, for example, the string parts. In this edition, we have notated the parts in the “chamber” or concert pitch which is used by all instruments today; when performing with instruments in the “historically” low chamber pitch, the original transposition would have to be taken into account again.”
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Re: Bach Cantatas, what pitch?

Post by harrisonreed » Sun Nov 24, 2019 7:35 pm

Sounds like a half step down then, right? Thanks for the resource!
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LeTromboniste
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Re: Bach Cantatas, what pitch?

Post by LeTromboniste » Mon Nov 25, 2019 3:06 am

Trombones always had more or less the same length of tubing as a modern Bb trombone*, but for a long time because the pitch was about a semitone higher (470 in Venice for example), it was conceived as an instrument in A (alto in D but the length of a modern Eb, basses could be in many different keys). All the treatises that describe trombones until the late 18th century give A as the fundamental with the slide in for tenor. For practical reasons in modern time we define this high pitch as a=465 (exactly one half step about modern standard concert pitch)

Meanwhile a second, lower pitch appeared in the same places in the mid to late 17th century, that was used simultaneously, and was usually a whole step lower, used to tune the strings and woodwinds. Oboes in particular came from France, where the pitch was quite a bit lower (and where trombones were no longer used). Also a lower tuning for violins means the strings don't have to be as thin and are thus easier and cheaper to make and/or the instrument doesn't have to hold as much tension. This pitch, also for practical and standardization reasons, is defined for modern day performances as a=415, exactly a half step below 440 (but at the time it varied a lot from one place to the next. I don't think Bach ever worked in a place where 415 was the pitch. IIRC it was around 409 in the Thomaskirche and 420 in Weimar but don't quote me on that)

Churches and courts weren't going to acquire new trombones and, more importantly and expensively, new organs with longer tubing - transposition was a cheaper and more practical solution. Hence this system of the high Chorton and low Kammerton, a whole step apart. Also cornetts kinda need the higher pitch to function well. So indeed, in the Bach cantatas, the trombones, cornetts and organ are almost always notated originally a whole step lower than the strings, woodwinds and harpsichord (yes, different parts in different keys for the harpsichord and organ!), for example C minor for the brass and D minor for the strings and woodwinds. Essentially, the trombones, organ and cornetts were treated as Bb transposing instruments (they didn't think of it that way at the time of course). Note that this is in no way unique to Bach and is true basically accross the board until shortly before 1800 when a middle ground was finally established with a common pitch in the 430-440 orbit. Mozart's masses in Salzburg either had transposed trombone parts or they were transposing at sight. Also the L. Mozart and M. Haydn "concertos" would have been transposed down a step by the trombone player. The exception is Vienna and its direct orbit, where the switch to a common pitch around a=435 seems to have happened as early as the first or second decade of the 1700's.

One more thing about Bach cantatas, some of them have parts in more than two keys simultaneously and there is sometimes still debate over what key they are actually in!

About performances in modern times : many performances even in the HIP scene are still at 440, for a bunch of different practical reason. It's often an acceptable compromise with regards to the continuo instruments that are available, or the skill of amateur choirs, for example. When Bach cantatas or other works from that period are played at a more historic pitch level, the pitch is usually 415. There are two ways of dealing with this for trombone players. One is to do as they did back then and play from transposed parts or transposing at sight (thinking trombones in A and D at a=465 and reading a whole step down), the other is to use extensions or crooks to lower your instrument to a=415. Most people then use half step extensions and think Bb or Eb trombone at a=415, which is not super historical (but frankly at some point people just do what they need to do and that's okay). A version of this that is at least conceivable historically would be to use a whole-tone crook (also called G crook) to play in A at a=415 without transposing – such crooks are described in many treatises and some examples survive, although they are most likely meant to make a trombone in A into a trombone in G, and it's unclear if they were also used for situations requiring transposition (they do change the feel and sound a lot and make the instrument quite a bit more "bassy". I've done that for transposition purposes at times but mostly for solo or chamber music that is in the baritone range. I wouldn't want to do that for a high tenor part, for instance).



*I said at the start that surviving trombones are all more or less the length of a modern Bb trombone. "More or less" is used here liberally, and it varies quite a bit actually, because the pitch varied so much between places. In the most extreme cases it means they are not actually the same length at all. At least two of the surviving trombones in Verona for example (which are among the very oldest extant trombones) are almost a half-step sharper/shorter. That fits the pitch of the historical organs in that city, which is around a=480.




Whew. Sorry for the long post, but there is no way to give a remotely complete answer to these questions that is also short...
Last edited by LeTromboniste on Mon Nov 25, 2019 4:59 am, edited 3 times in total.
Maximilien Brisson
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LeTromboniste
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Re: Bach Cantatas, what pitch?

Post by LeTromboniste » Mon Nov 25, 2019 4:03 am

A really good resource on the evolution of performance pitch (with a good chapter on Bach specifically) is Bruce Haynes' A History of Performing Pitch: The Story of 'A'
Maximilien Brisson
Basbasun
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Re: Bach Cantatas, what pitch?

Post by Basbasun » Mon Nov 25, 2019 4:12 am

Maximilien know it all.

Why do I have three sackbuts? Well for one thing, playing sackbut for so many years (from 1966) you sometimes like to by new things and to make some things easier. One is tune to 440, the bell does not have a tunig slide, you can use a tuning bit between the slide and the bell, the bell rim come closer to your nose then and the horn becomes very unsecure. In Sweden 440 is not very common for old music though. Anothe horn is in 430, it can crooked down to 415, but that happens very rarely. It used for bass parts in some Mozart music like the Requiem, also Hayd´n lik the Creation. One is in low F using crooks to E, Eb and D, it works best in D withch is actually the original from the horn it was copied from. When the is 465 I use the D tuning and play as in Eb.
I used more sackbuts in the past, but you know how it is, sometime you like to try something else.
harrisonreed
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Re: Bach Cantatas, what pitch?

Post by harrisonreed » Mon Nov 25, 2019 5:08 am

Thanks for all these great posts. Especially Maximilien, thank you. You have confirmed my thoughts, and added tons of info that is easy to digest!
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