Cover image for The essential Bach choir
The essential Bach choir
Parrott, Andrew.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK ; Rochester, NY : Boydell Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xi, 223 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML410.B13 P29 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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What type of choir did Bach have in mind as he created his cantatas, Passions and Masses? How many singers were at his disposal in Leipzig, and in what ways did he deploy them in his own music? Seeking to understand the very medium of Bach's incomparable choral output, Andrew Parrott investigates a wide range of sources: Bach's own writings, and the scores and parts he used in performance, but also a variety of theoretical, pictorial and archival documents, together with the musical testimony of the composer's forerunners and contemporaries. Many of the findings shed a surprising, even disturbing, light on conventions we have long taken for granted. A whole world away from, say, the typical oratorio choir of Handel's London with which we are reasonably familiar, the essential Bach choir was in fact an expert vocal quartet (or quintet), whose members were also responsible for all solos and duets. (In a mere handful of Bach's works, this solo team was selectively supported by a second rank of singers - also one per part - whose contribution was all but optional). Parrott shows that this use of a one-per-part choir was mainstream practice in the Lutheran Germany of Bach's time: Bach chose to use single voices not because a larger group was unavailable, but because they were the natural vehicle of elaborate concerted music. As one of several valuable appendices, this book includes the text of Joshua Rifkin's explosive 1981 lecture, never before published, which first set out this line of thinking and launched a controversy that is long overdue for resolution. ANDREW PARROTT has made a close study of historical performing practices in the music of six centuries, and for over twenty-five years he has been putting research into practice with his own professional ensembles, the Taverner Consort, Taverner Players and Taverner Choir.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

For almost 20 years, the number of musicians necessary for the performance of Bach's vocal music has been a matter of scholarly controversy. The reader of Parrott's volume should start with appendix 6--a 1981 paper by Joshua Rifkin, heretofore unpublished, that posits a quartet of soloists for the majority of these works. Parrott supports Rifkin's position and in this book amasses the evidence for his argument from contemporary documents, visual evidence, and Bach's "outline" of 1730 to the town council in Leipzig. Dozens of articles and letters have fueled this debate, and Parrott's footnotes and bibliography will lead the reader to both supporting and dissenting opinions. It is interesting that the best contemporary Bach scholars are divided on whether or not to accept Parrot's evidence as guidelines for the "authentic" performance of Bach. Parrott has done an excellent job of presenting one side of this important issue, and his fine recordings demonstrate the possibilities of this chamber-music approach. Whether or not one agrees with the musical results, all students of Bach will want to read this major contribution to the continuing debate on how Bach's music would have sounded in his own time. Undergraduates through faculty; general readers. J. P. Ambrose; University of Vermont