Bach’s Motets in English Translation

Last night I attended a performance of six motets by J. S. Bach, performed by the superlative Georgia Tech Chamber Choir, Jerry Ulrich, director, with Timothy Hsu, Baroque organ and Erin Ellis, Baroque cello.

So once again I’m revisiting a series I’ve done here that’s been quite popular; I’m providing my own translations of the texts, in this case from Bach’s German into modern English. I should restate my purpose:

My translations are intended only for English-speaking singers who are rehearsing and studying these pieces for performance in the original German.

My translationsare not for singing the piece in English. They are also not translations for printing in a concert program to be read by an audience during a performance.

What they are is more of a word-by-word translation to help singers who do not speak German to study the lyrics they are singing, and to find the emphasis of specific words within each line of melody. Therefore many grammatical structures in my translation will sound strange to a speaker of English, because German word order and modern English word order are very different.

If you are a music listener and you want a smooth-reading, easily-understood translation of the lyrics of these Bach motets, you can find those online in other places. If, however, you are a singer who is rehearsing and studying these pieces for your own performance, you might find my translations very useful.

I have labeled the Bible verses and source material in Bach’s texts. They are either from Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible (circa 1522) and are therefore un-rhymed, or they are rhyming lyrics from hymns; in that case I have identified the lyricists.

I encourage you to look up each of the Bible verses in the translation or version of the Bible to which you are accustomed. When there are Bible verses being used, I have not simply copied-and-pasted text from one particular English translation of the Bible, as many would do; rather, I have attempted a word-for-word translation of the German text that Bach himself set. My approach will necessarily sound awkward, but it will help the singer identify the important words according to the German sentence structure; that’s why I suggest that you look up the verses in your own Bible to get a more coherent understanding of the meaning.

Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV 225

Sing to the Lord a new song

Hymn texts by Johann Gramann (1487 – 1541). Movement 3 is from “Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren” (“Now praise, my soul, the Lord”), which is based on Psalm 103.

1. (Psalm 149:1-3)
Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied!
Die Gemeine der Heiligen sollen ihn loben,
Israel freue sich des, der ihn gemacht hat.
Die Kinder Zion sei’n fröhlich über ihrem Könige.
Sie sollen loben seinen Namen im Reihen,
mit Pauken und Harfen sollen sie ihm spielen.
1. (Psalm 149:1-3)
Sing to the Lord a new song!
The congregation of the saints shall him praise,
Israel rejoices itself in him, who has created it.
The children of Zion are joyful over their king.
They should praise his name in dances,
with drums and harps should they play to him.
 2.
Gott, nimm dich ferner unser an!
Denn ohne dich ist nichts getan
mit allen unsern Sachen.
D’rum sei du unser Schirm und Licht,
und trügt uns unsre Hoffnung nicht,
so wirst du’s ferner machen.
Wohl dem, der sich nur steif und fest
auf dich und deine Huld verläßt!
 2.
God, take you from now on us (to you)!
For without you is nothing to be done with all of our belongings.
Wherefore be you our protection and light,
and if deceives us our hope not,
So will you us happier make.
Happy is one who strictly and tightly
to you and your mercy submits!
3.
Wie sich ein Vat’r erbarmet
Üb’r seine junge Kindlein klein:
So tut der Herr uns Armen,
So wir ihn kindlich fürchten rein.
Er kennt das arme Gemächte,
Gott weiß, wir sind nur Staub.
Gleichwie das Gras vom Rechen,
Ein Blum und fallendes Laub,
Der Wind nur drüber wehet,
So ist es nimmer da:
Also der Mensch vergehet,
Sein End, das ist ihm nah.
3.
As a father has mercy
upon his young children small:
so does the Lord does with us poor ones,
So we respond to him with childlike fear pure,
He knows his poor creations,
God knows, we are but dust.
Just as the grass that is mowed,
a flower and a falling leaf,
the wind only over it blows,
So is it no longer there;
So the person passes away,
His end, it is is near to him.
 4. (Psalm 150:2, 6)
Lobet den Herrn in seinen Taten,
loben ihn in seiner großen Herrlichkeit.
Alles was Odem hat, lobe den Herrn,
Halleluja!
4. (Psalm 150:2, 6)
Praise the Lord in his works,
praise him in his great lordship.
Everything that has breath, praise the Lord,
Hallelujah!

Der Geist hilft unsrer Schwachheit auf, BWV 226

The (Holy) Spirit helps our weakness

Movement 2. Hymn text by Martin Luther (1483-1546)

1. (Romans 8:26-27)
Der Geist hilft unsrer Schwachheit auf.
Denn wir wissen nicht, was wir beten sollen, wie sich’s gebühret;
sondern der Geist selbst vertritt uns aufs beste mit unaussprechlichem Seufzen.
Der aber die Herzen forschet, der weiß, was des Geistes Sinn sei,
denn er vertritt die Heiligen nach dem, das Gott gefället.
1. (Romans 8:26-27)
The Spirit helps our weakness.
For we know not, for what we should pray, what we should pay (in fees);
rather the Spirit itself intercedes for us in the best way with unutterable sighs.
He, however, who his heart examines, he knows, what the Spirit’s intention is,
because it intercedes for the saints according to that by which God is pleased.
2.
Du heilige Brunst, süßer Trost,
Nun hilft uns fröhlich und getrost
In dein’m Dienst beständig bleiben,
Die Trübsal uns nicht abtreiben!
O Herr, durch dein Kraft uns bereit
Und stärk des Fleisches Blödigkeit,
Daß wir hier ritterlich ringen,
Durch Tod und Leben zu dir dringen.
Halleluja, halleluja!
2.
You holy fire, sweet comfort,
Now help us joyfully and confidently
In your service firmly to remain,
Trouble to us is not aborted!
O Lord, through your strength us prepare
And strengthen the flesh’s bashfulness,
So that we here like knights may wrestle,
Through death and life to you can penetrate.
Hallelujah, hallelujah!

Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227

Jesus, my joy

Hymn text by Johann Franck (1618 – 1677)

1.
Jesu, meine Freude,
meines Herzens Weide,
Jesu, meine Zier!
Ach wie lang, ach lange,
ise dem Herzen bange
und verlangt nach dir!
Gottes Lamm, mein Bräutigam,
außer dir soll mir auf Erden
nichts sonst Liebers werden.
1.
Jesus, my joy,
my heart’s pasture,
Jesus, my treasure!
Ah how long, ah long,
has my heart feared
and longed for you!
God’s lamb, my bridegroom,
besides You should I (hold) on earth
nothing dearer.
2. (Romans 8:1)
Es ist nun nichts Verdammliches an denen,
die in Christo Jesu sind,
die nicht nach dem Fleische wandeln, sondern nach dem Geist.
2. (Romans 8:1)
There is now nothing damnable in those,
who in Christ Jesus are,
who do not after the flesh walk,
but rather after the Spirit.
 3.
Unter deinen Schirmen
Bin ich für den Stürmen
Aller Feinde frei.
Laß den Satan wittern,
Laß den Feind erbittern,
Mir steht Jesus bei.
Ob es itzt gleich kracht und blitzt,
Ob gleich Sünd und Hölle schrecken,
Jesus will mich decken.
3.
Under your protection
Am I from the storms
And all enemies free.
Let Satan rage,
Let the Enemy fume,
By me stands Jesus.
Whether it now crashes and flashes,
whether now sin and hell terrify,
Jesus will me protect.
 4. (Romans 8:2)
Denn das Gesetz des Geistes, der da lebendig machet in Christo Jesu,
hat mich frei gemacht von dem Gesetz der Sünde und des Todes.
4. (Romans 8:2)
For the law of the spirit, which alive makes in Christ Jesus,
has me free made from the law of sin and death.
 5.
Trotz dem alten Drachen,
trotz des Todes Rachen,
trotz der Furcht dazu!
Tobe, Welt, und springe;
ich steh hier und singe
in gar sichrer Ruh!
Gottes Macht hält mich in acht;
Erd und Abgrund muß verstummen,
ob sie noch so brummen.
5.
Defy the old dragon,
defy death’s vengeance,
defy fear as well!
Rage, world, and attack;
I stand here and sing
in altogether secure peace!
God’s power holds me in watchfulness;
Earth and abyss must fall silent,
However much they might rumble.
 6. (Romans 8:9)
Ihr aber seid nicht fleischlich, sondern geistlich,
so anders Gottes Geist in euch wohnet.
Wer aber Christi Geist nicht hat, der ist nicht sein.
6. (Romans 8:9)
You, however, are not of the flesh, but rather of the Spirit,
since otherwise God’s Spirit in you lives.
Anyone, however, who  Christ’s Spirit does not have, is not his.
 7.
Weg mit allen Schätzen,
du bist mein Ergötzen,
Jesu, meine Lust!
Weg, ihr eitlen Ehren,
ich mag euch nicht hören,
bleibt mir unbewußt!
Elend, Not, Kreuz, Schmach und Tod
soll mich, ob ich viel muß leiden,
nicht von Jesu scheiden.
7.
Away with all treasures,
you are my delight,
Jesus, my desire!
Away, you vain honors,
I want to you not to listen,
remain to me unknown!
Poverty, misery, torture, shame and death
shall to me, although I must suffer much,
not from Jesus part me part me.
 8. (Romans 8:10)
So aber Christus in euch ist,
so ist der Leib zwar tot um der Sünde willen;
der Geist aber ist das Leben um der Gerechtigkeit willen.
8. (Romans 8:10)
So however if Christ is in you,
so is the body indeed dead indeed for sin’s sake;
the Spirit, however, is life for righteousness’s sake.
 9.
Gute Nacht, o Wesen,
Das die Welt erlesen!
Mir gefällst du nicht.
Gute Nacht, ihr Sünden,
Bleibet weit dahinten,
Kommt nicht mehr ans Licht!
Gute Nacht, du Stolz und Pracht!
Dir sei ganz, du Lasterleben,
Gute Nacht gegeben!
9.
Good night, nature,
that the world cherishes!
You please me not.
Good night, you sins,
Stay far away,
Come no more to light!
Good night, you pride and glory!
To you utterly, you corrupt life,
Good night be given!
 10. (Romans 8:11)
So nun der Geist des, der Jesum von den Toten auferwecket hat,
in euch wohnet, so wird auch derselbige,
der Christum von den Toten auferwecket hat,
eure sterblichen Leiber lebendig machen,
um des willen, daß sein Geist in euch wohnet.
10. (Romans 8:11)
Therefore now the Spirit of him, who Jesus from the dead raised,
in you dwells, so will therefore that same one,
Who Christ from the dead has raised,
Your dead bodies alive will make,
for the sake, that his Spirit in you will dwell.
 11.
Weicht, ihr Trauergeister,
denn mein Freudenmeister,
Jesus, tritt herein.
Denen, die Gott lieben,
muß auch ihr Betrüben
lauter Zucker sein.
Duld’ ich schon hier Spott und Hohn,
dennoch bleibst du auch im Leide,
Jesu, meine Freude.
11.
Hence, you Spirits of sadness,
because my Master of joy,
Jesus, comes here.
Those, that God love,
must even their troubles
(seem to be even moreso) pure sugar.
Endure I already here mockery and shame,
nevertheless you stay with me even in suffering,
Jesus, my joy.

Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin bei dir, BWV 228

Fear not, I am with you

Hymn text in Movement 3. by Paul Gerhardt (1607 – 1676)

1. (Isaiah 41:10)
Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin bei dir; weiche nicht, denn ich bin dein Gott; ich stärke dich, ich helfe dir auch,
ich erhalte dich durch die rechte Hand meiner Gerechtigkeit.
1. (Isaiah 41:10)
Fear you not, I am with you;
recoil not, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you also,
I sustain you through the right hand of my righteousness.
2. (Isaiah 43:1)
Fürchte dich nicht, denn ich habe dich erlöset; ich habe dich bei deinem Namen gerufen, du bist mein.
2. (Isaiah 43:1)
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name, you are mine.
3.
Herr, mein Hirt, Brunn aller Freuden!
Du bist mein,
ich bin dein,
niemand kann uns scheiden.
Ich bin dein, weil du dein Leben
und dein Blut,
mir zu gut,
in den Tod gegeben.
Du bist mein, weil ich dich fasse
und dich nicht, o mein Licht,
aus dem Herzen lasse!
Laß mich, laß mich hingelangen,
wo du mich, und ich dich
lieblich werd umfangen.

Fürchte dich nicht, du bist mein.

3.
Lord, my Shepherd, fount of all joy!
You are mine,
I am yours,
no one can us part.
I am yours, since you your life
and your blood,
for my sake,
in your death have you given.
You are mine, since I hold to you
and you (I do) not, O my light,
from my heart let go!
Let me, let me attain unto,
where You to me, and I to you
lovingly will embrace.

Fear not, you are mine.

Komm, Jesu, komm! BWV 229

Come, Jesus, come!

Hymn text by Paul Thymich (1656 – 1694)

1.
Komm, Jesu, komm, mein Leib ist müde,
die Kraft verschwindt je mehr und mehr,
ich sehne mich nach deinem Frieden;
der saure Weg wird mir zu schwer!
Komm, komm, ich will mich dir ergeben,
du bist der rechte Weg,
die Wahrheit und das Leben.
1.
Come, Jesus, come, my body is tired,
the strength wanes more and more,
I long for your peace;
the sour path becomes for me too hard!
Come, come, I will to you myself yield,
You are the true path,
the truth and the life.
2.
D’rum schließ ich mich in deine Hände
und sage, Welt, zu guter Nacht!
Eilt gleich mein Lebenslauf zu Ende,
ist doch der Geist wohl angebracht.
Er soll bei seinem Schöpfer schweben,
weil Jesus ist und bleibt
der wahre Weg zum Leben.
2.
Therefore enclose I myself in your hands
and say, World, to you good night!
Hurries my life’s run to its end,
is certainly my spirit fully prepared.
It shall with its Creator soar,
because Jesus is and remains
the true path to life.

Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden, BWV 230

Praise the Lord, all heathens

(Psalm 117)
Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden,
und preiset ihn, alle Völker!
Denn seine Gnade und Wahrheit
waltet über uns in Ewigkeit.
Alleluja!
(Psalm 117)
Praise the Lord, all heathen (nations),
and extol him, all peoples!
For his grace and truth
rule over us for eternity.
Hallelujah!

 

Please write to me and let me know if you have found this translation helpful. Let me know where in the world you live, and tell me about the choir that you sing with or the school where you study.

New Trinity Baroque performs Bach’s B minor Mass

Posted Sunday, March 6, 2011. Some corrections have been added since.

The stars aligned in Atlanta last week for something that will certainly never be repeated again.

On Sunday, February 27, the Atlanta Sacred Chorale, with a 22-piece modern orchestra, performed Bach’s B minor Mass at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts at Emory University. Then five and six days later, the New Trinity Baroque orchestra and the Georgia Tech Chamber Choir performed Bach’s B minor Mass with period instruments and Baroque tuning less than three miles away at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church. Today the New Trinity Baroque performs again in Birmingham, Alabama.

I attended the February 27 performance of the Atlanta Sacred Chorale and the March 5 performance of New Trinity Baroque. I’ve seen both a modern and a historically-informed production of the full B minor Mass in the same week in the same town. That will never happen again in my lifetime, anywhere.

Now I volunteer with the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra, the other Baroque orchestra based in Atlanta, Georgia. New Trinity Baroque and the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra don’t view each other as rivals, since they share so many musicians, both those who live in Atlanta and those who are flown in from out of state, to fill out their rosters. And the B minor Mass requires more players in the orchestra than just about any other work in the Baroque repertoire.

Here are my personal impressions.

What can you say about the greatest magum opus of the Baroque era and a lasting member on the short list of the greatest orchestral and choral musical compositions of all time? And to hear it played and sung in the authentic Baroque manner, rather than with a “modern” interpretation with modern tuning and instruments? It was a landmark experience for this armchair musicologist. Bach is deeply spiritual, and as a believer myself, this music speaks to me on such a deep level that I feel like I’m right in tune with what Bach was thinking and feeling in 1749.

Martha Perry, based in Bloomington, Indiana and affiliated with the Indiana University School of Music, was the concertmaster. Other Atlanta Baroque Orchestra regulars performing were: Elena Kraineva, viola; Anna Marsh, bassoon; Martha Bishop, bass; Janice Joyce flute; Ute Marks, violin. Our friend Wanda Yang Temko was the soprano soloist.

(Martha Bishop and Ute Marks are considered regular members of the New Trinity Baroque.)

Last Thursday, New Trinity Baroque director Predrag Gosta reported that they had sold 500 advance tickets to the first two shows. Tickets were $29 per person. Reports are that they had 220 paying audience members, not counting guests and comps, on Friday, March 4 at St. John United Methodist Church in Atlanta. Last night, Saturday, at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal, they had an audience of around 350; the place seats 400. Today, March 6, they are performing at Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama, and that concert is free to the public.

The performers report that rehearsals commenced on Tuesday, March 8, and that they were all flying home on Monday, March 14.

Atlanta music critic Pierre Ruhe was there, and before the concert I spoke with him to thank him for the interview with the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra’s new Artistic Director Julie Andrijeski that he published. He said, “I’ll come and review the next Atlanta Baroque Orchestra concert that features dance.” Hmm.

As for the performance, the conductor on this night was Predrag Gosta, yet each concert is being performed under a different director(!) and so far it seems that Georgia Tech Chamber Choir director Jerry Ulrich and Mr. Gosta had considerably different styles and tempos. Before the concert, Ute Marks commented, “Ulrich was more labored and drawn-out. Predrag is going to be more direct and quicker.”

I would describe the sanctuary at St. Bart’s as intimate and close, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s not a traditional sanctuary space at all. The sound is good, but I’d characterize it as warm, meaning that it lacks some high-end definition and clarity. The orchestra ensemble sounded on the lush (for Baroque) side as a result. The choir was arrayed in a blended formation, not divided into four sections, which I found quite surprising given the needs of the demanding contrapuntal texture throughout Bach’s work.

According to the program, this was the Southeastern United States premiere on period instruments of the new 2006 Joshua Rifkin edition of the Mass in B minor.

The Georgia Tech Chamber Choir had about 40 voices. Most all are undergraduates and none of them are music majors. Given that, they performed very well; Jerry Ulrich must be a formidable director indeed. I must say, though, that I saw the Atlanta Sacred Chorale perform Bach’s B minor Mass just six days earlier at Schwartz Hall at Emory University, and this extremely accomplished amateur chorale of older, more mature singers is better, with a more even sound but also with excellent articulation and clarity of those startlingly difficult contrapuntal sections.

With regard to the orchestras in the two concerts, I’m reminded that I’m making a comparison between a choir and orchestra with “modern” instruments and a choir and orchestra with “period” instruments and performance practice, which are totally different musical approaches that cannot be directly compared. I will add as a footnote that one of the performers in the “modern” orchestra with the Atlanta Sacred Chorale was Atlanta Baroque Orchestra Resident Director Daniel Pyle, who brought his portable Baroque acoustic pipe organ, transposed up to modern tuning to match the other instruments in that ensemble.

Vocal soloists:

Wanda Yang Temko is widely known and beloved in Atlanta, and always expresses joy and vitality in her solos. This was unfortunately in contrast to tenor Adam Kirkpatrick. He sang adequately but with a rather heavy Romantic-sounding tone, and just did not look like he was having a good time doing it. Afterwards, I was told “This is the first time that Adam has ever performed in Baroque tuning.” That says to me that he is, although possessing quite a pedigree as a soloist, not experienced in historically-informed performance in the Baroque period at all, and it showed in his singing style. Contrast this again with well-known Terry Barber, countertenor, who was revelatory. His Agnus Dei was the high point of the entire concert, and he used his ease and facility across the entire alto range to beautifully express everything Bach gave him to say. I don’t have much to add about Paul Max Tipton, young and up-and-coming baritone. Nothing against his fine singing; it’s just that in my opinion, compared to the other solos Bach wrote for this piece, I don’t think the bass-baritone solos offer as much opportunity for vocal expression. Faint praise, I know; but when you’re tapped to sing bass in one of the greatest musical compositions of all time, what’s not to like about that?

One thing I’d like to commend Predrag Gosta on is his decision to take the time to bring individual instrumental soloists to stand in front for each movement, despite the crowded conditions and the need to keep everything moving forward due to the extreme length of the piece. This enhanced the connection between the instrumental soloists and vocal soloists in the exquisite duets, and brought out the individual instrumental characteristics against the tendency of the hall to blend the ensemble sound together a bit too much. Somehow nothing seemed labored or drawn-out in Gosta’s direction. Gosta also transported things from movement to movement and section to section often without any breaks at all, and somehow there were only a couple of stops to retune in the entire presentation.

Instrumental soloists included: Martie Perry, concertmaster; Karolina Bäter, flute; Mariane Pfau, oboe/d’amore; and Paul Hopkins, corno da caccia.

After the concert, Martie Perry was calmly triumphant, yet visibly exerted. “It’s a lot of extra work for the orchestra to deal with three different conductors–especially for the concertmaster,” she said.

Things were wrapping up at St. Bart’s around 10:45 pm, and the orchestra and choir had to depart for Alabama at 10:00 am. I wish I could road trip out to see them again, but hopefully somebody will post a review online.

Conclusion, Comments, and Upcoming:

It’s one for the record books. The Atlanta Sacred Chorale gave their performance of Bach’s B minor Mass at Schwartz Hall at Emory University on Sunday, February 27, while New Trinity Baroque gave their performance of the same work on Saturday, March 5 less than three miles away at St. Bartholomew’s. Pierre Ruhe commented to me “Atlanta’s fine arts scene is more fragmented than any other city. Nobody knows what anybody else is planning to do.” I know that these things have to be planned far in advance, but I hope that local leaders of the various performing ensembles could make a better effort to communicate and plan together and not remain in their own separate spaces with only a vacuum between them.

The Atlanta Baroque Orchestra intends to book their next concert on the same weekend as the next New Trinity Baroque concert. New Trinity are performing “Mozart meets Haydn” in one performance only on Saturday, May 21 at 8:00 pm. The Atlanta Baroque Orchestra concert, whose title is as yet unannounced, is the next afternoon, at Roswell Presbyterian. Martha Bishop commented on how she wished that she could work with the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra this time, but had to make a prior commitment to New Trinity. Well, I hope that any sufficiently motivated concertgoers will attend both concerts. St. Bart’s and Roswell Presbyterian are an easy 30-minute drive apart, mostly a straight shot on Georgia 400.

I should add that on Sunday, March 13 at 3:00 pm, I’m singing tenor with the Michael O’Neal Singers at Roswell United Methodist Church in their production of Brahms’ German Requiem (in a newly-prepared English translation by the late Lara Hoggard). This concert will feature 150 singers and a 42-piece orchestra. There are some parallels between Bach’s B minor Mass and Brahms’ Requiem. Both are landmarks of Christian music on the concert stage, and both are considered the magnum opus of their respective composers, each of whom are considered among the most important and influential composers not only of their own style period but also in the entire history of Western music.

Triple Harpsichords, Cross-Staff Beaming, revisited

This is a substantial re-write and clarification of a post made January 4, 2010.

Daniel Spreadbury, Sibelius Senior Product Manager and writer of SibeliusBlog.com, kindly posted about my story on using PhotoScore and Sibelius to produce a new edition of Bach’s Triple Harpsichord Concerto, BWV 1064.

In my post, I mentioned problems I had with cross-staff notes in keyboard parts. Daniel explained that I was going about it the wrong way.

I contend that I was going about it in a way that makes sense to a keyboard player or a composer. I have read the reference manual. In the process, I revealed what I think is a bug or deficiency in Sibelius. Setting aside the the age-old “it’s not a bug, it’s an undocumented feature” argument, let me explain how I did it and how Daniel recommends doing it. At the end, I’ll explain why I wish that Sibelius would handle this situation differently.

Let me use a new, more simple example.

Above are two bars from the grainy PDF of the urtext.

The two hands play an unbroken melodic line an octave apart, in parallel. There are no rests in the line played in either hand. Because the melodic figure goes through some low notes, it’s properly notated by having the right-hand part move down to the bass clef and then back up again, following the arc of the melody. There are cross-staff notes in this example, but there is no need for cross-staff beaming, due to the particular note groupings.

Example One

How I did it

I chose to notate this in Sibelius by entering all the right-hand notes in Voice 1 in one unbroken line, and then selecting certain notes and applying the “Cross Staff Notes” commands to move those from the treble staff to the bass staff.

I entered all the notes in Staff 1 in Voice 1 (blue noteheads). Then I entered all notes in Staff 2 in Voice 1 (blue noteheads), and flipped the beams and stems in Staff 2 down, below:

Next I used the “Move Down a Staff” command on the notes that needed to cross staves. This includes two notes that are not only cross-staff, but also cross-beamed. [Postscript: Yes, I realize I’m moving one note that was not moved in the Urtext. You go to all the trouble to make nice canned examples and then at the end you realize you overlooked one little detail.]

The only problem, below, is funky beams on the cross-staff notes in the second bar:

This is not an error: sometimes it’s the shape you want. In my case, I wanted to adjust them like this, below, which can easily be done by selecting each beam and dragging:

And that’s all there is to it. But the problem, as I will detail below, is that in more complex and dense examples, Sibelius does nothing automatically about collisions in many elements: noteheads, accidentals, stems, beams, and slurs. Here is my example from the previous post:

2. What happens when you tell Sibelius to cross staves

The recommended method

This involves setting things up very differently, like this:

In Staff 1, create notes in Voice 1. Enter 8 16th notes, then a half-note rest, then in Bar 2, a half-note rest, followed by 4 16th notes and 2 8th notes.

In Staff 2, create notes in two Voices. In Voice 1, enter a half-note rest, followed by 8 16th notes, a dotted-eighth, 4 16th notes, and a half-note rest.

Move to Voice 2 (green noteheads) in Staff 2, Bar 1. Enter the line shown below.

Next, select only the two notes highlighted in red, and use the “Move Down a Staff” command on those two notes alone.

See below:

Once the notes are moved, just as in the previous example, drag those funky beams into place:

One remaining problem: This is a convenient fiction. What we’ve notated in the recommended method is three voices and a bunch of rests, whereas in what J. S. Bach actually wrote, there should be only two voices and no rests anywhere. To complete the illusion, we have to find the half-note rests and use the Hide command. Below you can see them greyed-out.

Unfortunately, outlined in red above, Sibelius has spontaneously flipped the stem directions on two beam groups as soon as you use the “Hide” command to conceal the half-note rests that were visible before. So in the last step, below, I have manually flipped the beams back where I want them:

When you print out the score, all the note heads will be black, and there will be no indication to the performer that you have performed a little slight-of-hand by using three voices where there should be two.

Evaluating the recommended method, you can imagine that under certain circumstances it would take more work than my method. Mapping out extra voices, switching note input to different staves, lots of extra rests that have to be hidden after the fact, and problems with beams and stems flipping where you don’t want them. So why did Daniel recommend this method? One more example, and then my conclusion is below.

Collisions: Example 2

Here is another example from the Bach Triple Harpsichord Concerto. In these two bars, there are notes that cross staves inside of every beam group.

How I did it

It makes musical sense to me to enter Staff 1, Voice 1, four groups of four eighth notes, and then go to Staff 2 and create Voice 1, four groups of four eighth notes.

Then, in Staff 2, select the last three notes in each group of four:

Apply the “Move Up a Staff” command. You get this mess:

Flip the beams in Staff 1 Voice 1 where you want them, drag on each of the Staff 2 beams to get the correct orientation and adjust their angles, move the staves closer together, and maybe do some more dragging to optimize things:

The recommended method

Create two voices in Staff 1 and no voices at all in Staff 2.

Hide the whole-note rests in Staff 2.

In Staff 1, Voice 2, select only the first notes in each four-note grouping.

Apply the “Move Down a Staff” command, and the result is this:

Now you can drag the beams into position and move the staves closer together.

Conclusion

I now know the recommended method to use Sibelius in order to get the desired results with cross-staff notes. But I don’t like it. That’s why I’ve gone to all the trouble to document this. Software gets improved when users express their opinions about features.

Sibelius advertises collision avoidance as a major feature that make life easier for you when you create scores. It does. But those features are not implemented at all on cross-staff notes. If you actually use the cross-staff note commands where it makes musical sense, you may create further problems that you have to fix manually. My interpretation of the recommended method boils down to this: avoid using the cross-staff commands whenever possible. Only use them on individual notes when there is no alternative.

In the absence of Sibelius addressing this issue, you need to use the recommended work-around of entering notes in the score in a different order than a keyboardist would play them, creating extra rests and extra voices, and then hiding them after the fact.

The Atlanta Baroque Orchestra Brings Ancient Music Back to Life with Sibelius and PhotoScore

L-R: Daniel Pyle, Michael Bauer, Peter DeWitt, rehearsing the score I edited. Photos by Rich Nuckolls.

Lots of musicians us the Sibelius notation program to compose and publish new music. But what you may not know is that some people use it to re-create music that’s hundreds of years old. This is a technical essay written for musicians and scholars on how I worked with the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra to prepare a piece of music by J. S. Bach that is rarely performed anywhere. This may also serve as a helpful tutorial for users of any music notation software.

The challenge

Ever heard an orchestra with a real harpsichord? How about a concerto with three harpsichord soloists? Johann Sebastian Bach wrote one, and the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra (hereinafter the ABO) performed it on November 21, 2010.

Here’s how I described it in the concert press release:

…[It is] a rarely-heard, dazzling showpiece for three harpsichords and strings that J. S. Bach performed with his sons W. F. and C. P. E. Bach. “I call it the Grand Prix of keyboards,” says Wheat Williams, music copyist and volunteer. “It’s a dizzying display of spirited shredding by three virtuosos that would leave today’s rock guitarists in awe. You won’t believe how many notes they can pack into 16 exuberant minutes.”

I had just signed on as a volunteer working with the orchestra in October 2010, intending to provide them with a new Web site, marketing through email and Facebook, and services like receiving online donations and online advance ticket sales. Then Resident Director Daniel Pyle told me about Bach’s Triple Harpsichord Concerto in C, BWV 1064. “A lot of the music we do is long out of print, and we have to go looking for scores,” he said. “Even when a score is commercially available, it is usually an old printing from worn-out old engraving plates, and the legibility is quite low. So sometimes I create a completely new edition of a score in Finale.”

Bach’s Triple Harpsichord Concerto, BWV 1064, frontpiece

I stepped up. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, I’m a musician and consultant working with Roberts Creative Systems out of Franklin, Tennessee, and we are a Sibelius dealer among other computer music and audio services. I offered to create a completely new score for this piece for three harpsichords and string orchestra. It’s 16 minutes long, in three movements, and according to Sibelius’ note-counting plug-in, when I was done, there are 23,828 notes. It was a challenge.

Sibelius 6

Sibelius-certified expert Dave McKay, with Roberts Creative Systems, estimated that my Bach score would cost the ABO $2,500 if they hired an AFM (American Federation of Musicians) union copyist. No chamber group could afford that much for a piece that makes up only 20% of the music performed in a single concert, which is why I’ve discovered that a lot of early music performers are already doing their own work in Sibelius or other notation programs. When Daniel Pyle saw my work, he upgraded his old copy of Sibelius to 6.2 and joined in with the proofreading on his 27-inch iMac.

It goes without saying that virtually all the repertoire of a group like the ABO, which performs the music of not only Bach but all sorts of European composers from roughly the years 1625 to 1750, is in the public domain.

Bach never published any of his scores in his lifetime. It’s safe to say he never expected anybody other than himself and those he hired to perform most of them. Fortunately a lot of hand-copied scores survived. What we have today in published form was mostly engraved and printed in the late 1800s, over a century after Bach died. And his output was so vast that there are plenty of pieces that don’t get performed often, so making modern editions of more obscure pieces is not of much interest to sheet music publishing companies.

So what is a baroque orchestra?

The ABO is an “early music” chamber group, part of the “historically-informed performance” or “authentic performance practice” revival movement, which started in Europe in the late 1970s and has caught on worldwide. The ABO has been performing since 1998, and calls itself the oldest such orchestra in the Southeast of the US. They perform the music of the late Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods on replicas of the actual instruments used by the composers.

Members of the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra rehearse

Modern symphony orchestra instruments are often easier to play and always louder and harder in their sound, and when a symphony orchestra plays Bach, Handel or Haydn, it’s usually with many more players than the composer would have used. In contrast, in the authentic Baroque ensemble, “sections” are often only one player to a part. Violins and other string instruments use the original sheep gut, not steel strings, and old-style bows and bowing techniques that enable more subtle articulations. Vibrato is used minimally. The fretted, six-string viola da gamba often joins the cello. The lute, theorbo, harpsichord or tracker pipe organ play continuo. Baroque “natural” horns don’t have valves, flutes are made of wood and don’t have keys, recorders are used a lot, and don’t get me started on Baroque bassoons and oboes. As far as performance, much to the astonishment of symphony orchestra players, Baroque-specializing musicians are expected to improvise and embellish their parts according to certain historically-researched guidelines. Everybody tunes down to A-415, not 440, and keyboards don’t use equal temperament, because it hadn’t been invented yet. Overall, the sound that an authentic Baroque orchestra makes is startlingly different than the modern symphony orchestra. You can find many famous examples on iTunes, although the ABO has to date never released any recordings.

Getting started: where to find the music

With regard to finding free copies of sheet music in the public domain online, there are a few excellent resources. Music enthusiasts all over the world have taken old scores, scanned them, made PDF files, and contributed them to Wiki-like sites including:

Here you can find thousands of scores from all sorts of composers from antiquity to the 1920s, presented as PDFs. In addition to the original scores, you may also occasionally find modern arrangements of classics by the great composers whose contemporary editors have released them into the public via the Creative Commons License or some such. I needed to avoid modern arrangements, because I was looking for the authentic original work of the composer.

What I hoped to find was an urtext; that’s a German term that means a professionally-engraved edition that is recognized as authoritative, as close to the composer’s original manuscript as possible. At the IMSLP, I found a grainy PDF of the urtext of the Bach Triple Harpsichord Concerto, published by Breitkopf & Härtel in the late 1800s.

Page One of the original, scanned

Happily, there are lots of folks around the world who are already doing what I’m starting out to do–they’ve already found old scans, they’ve redone the piece in Sibelius or another commercial notation program, and they’ve donated those scores back to the Internet archives mentioned above–sometimes in the source files of the various notation programs, sometimes as PDFs you can print, or if you’re really lucky, the MusicXML format, which can be parsed and converted into the formats of many different notation programs. But there were no such files for the piece I needed.

If you can’t find the score you need in the above sources, there are commercial sites like Sibelius Music where, among the new music, enterprising copyists sell scores they’ve created from old scores. That’s a legitimate thing to do, as you can copyright your own edited edition of a composition in the public domain even though the underlying musical composition belongs to no one.

Finally, there’s scouring Alibris.com or Amazon.com looking for used copies of printed scores from bookstores, purchasing them, and getting them shipped to you. I might add that commercial publishing companies sell new, contemporary printed scores of music that’s in the public domain due to its date of composition, and even if there’s a copyright notice on that printed edition, you are generally free to make your own version of the notes on the page and do with them as you will, without restriction.

If you can find actual printed scores, they’re often enormous. Daniel Pyle provided the original Breitkopf & Härtel scores for three other Bach two-harpsichord concertos that I’m working on. He found them in a used bookstore in London over twenty years ago. These original conductor scores measured about 10-3/4 x 14-1/4 inches (27 x 36 cm). For those, you need a large-format scanner. Daniel and I both own the excellent and affordable Brother MFC-6490CW all-in-one printer-scanner, which can scan and print 11 x 17-inch tabloid or ledger size, and provides a reliable sheet-feeder for scanning dozens of pages at a time. I got mine brand-new last year for only $200.

I do all my work on an Apple MacBook Pro running Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. I use Hamrick VueScan software to process the scans and make PDFs, and I repaginate and clean up the scanned PDFs in Smile Software’s PDFPen. (When you batch-scan printed scores with a sheet feeder, you often find yourself scanning the pages out of order because of the way the book is bound, so a program that lets you reorder the pages within an output PDF file is very useful.)

Getting down to business, and the tools of the trade

Whether you have to make your own scans, or you can find scans ready-made online, the remainder of the process, getting the music into Sibelius, is the same.

However beautiful the original engravings were, the printed quality of what’s available today is usually poor. Stems may not connect to noteheads in places, and clusters of notes in chords may blob together, where accidentals and noteheads are no longer distinct. The people who made the scans may not have been careful: their images are crooked, distorted, or the music on the edges is out-of-focus if they scanned from a bound book and didn’t lay the whole page perfectly flat on the scanner. All these factors can impact what kind of success you have with the next phase.

The process used to get an old score into Sibelius or another notation program is called optical character recognition, or OCR. In this process, a computer program reads a digital bitmap image of a printed page (made with a scanner) and attempts to convert it into notes and words that a music notation program can interpret. Neuratron PhotoScore is the tool I use. It’s designed to work hand-in-glove with Sibelius. You have PhotoScore read a multiple-page PDF file, and then you must edit the results to correct some of the more obvious errors.  Next, you instruct PhotoScore to pass the file off to Sibelius for further work.

Neuratron PhotoScore Ultimate 6.1
Neuratron PhotoScore Ultimate 6.1

The ready-made PDF score that I had to use as the basis of my Bach project was around 72 dpi. The PhotoScore manual will tell you that it won’t handle scores of such low resolution, but it worked pretty well! A 300 dpi scan would be preferable.

PhotoScore screen shot (in Windows)

Re-creating the masterpiece

I have a love-hate relationship with PhotoScore. It did an amazingly accurate job of reading the grainy PDF of the Triple Harpsichord Concerto. Unfortunately, despite the fact that what it does is near-miraculous, after it reads in the score, it’s necessary for the user to do a great deal of editing of mis-read music within PhotoScore before exporting its output to Sibelius–even when working from pristine printed scores. PhotoScore, I’m afraid to say, provides a painfully difficult editing environment. I could write a lengthy blog about all the improvements that I think PhotoScore could make to the user interface. Many functions seem to take many more clicks, key presses, and menu and dialog box selections than are necessary. To give one example, the OCR function frequently makes errors in identifying clefs on any staves that are connected with braces or brackets. The process of manually correcting these errors is onerous. [If you really know what you are doing, before you run the PDF through PhotoScore, you can open the PDF in a program like PDFPen and “touch up” the notation by masking out certain parts like brackets and braces, or filling in broken lines with a pencil tool. But that feels like something you shouldn’t have to do in the first place.]

Howbeit, PhotoScore is still a life-saver. I would be overjoyed if Avid Sibelius would buy Neuratron and its genius programmers outright and integrate PhotoScore directly into Sibelius, with a good user-interface overhaul. Can I get an “Amen”?

Once the PhotoScore output is passed on to Sibelius, there’s much more editing work to be done. In this context, the normal Sibelius workflow gets turned on its head, and you have to re-think things. For one thing, you are not seated at a blank canvas entering a score a bar at a time from start to finish, watching the layout unfold as Sibelius makes automatic decisions about spacing and pagination. PhotoScore hands off to Sibelius, and Sibelius opens up a 24-page score full of music, much of which is necessarily full of errors that you need to correct. The layout of how many bars to each system, and how many systems per page, has been dictated with hard breaks by PhotoScore in emulation of the original printed score, and this may not be optimal. Old scores were optimized to print on the fewest pages possible, and they are often way too crowded for good legibility. You have to find the hard breaks, delete them, and make your own decisions about note spacing, staff spacing, system breaks, page breaks, and other formatting decisions on the fly as you go through the score.

Editing is all after-the-fact and it may not always make sense to start with Bar One and go all the way to the end in order. As you go through and correct errors, you find yourself selecting small passages and using the “Optimize Staff Spacing” and “Reset Note Spacing” commands over and over again, and using Undo a lot as well.

Any text notations present problems, and PhotoScore is not very good at OCR for text in any language, though it purports to support several. If you are working with Baroque scores, you need to think back to music school and remember all your terms in English, German, French, Italian, and whatever else the printed pages may throw at you. Google Language Tools can help.

A useful tip: Set up two monitors, one for Sibelius, and one for Adobe Reader or another program that displays the PDF scan of the score you are re-creating. Using a PDF editing program like PDFPen, number each measure of the original scanned score in the PDF. Old scores from the 1800s don’t use measure numbers at all. Zoom in for detail and work line-by-line. This works much better than having Sibelius on the screen and a printed score sitting on your desk or on a copy stand. Glancing back and forth between the screen and the paper on your desk for hours is fatiguing.

Hairy passages can’t be read correctly by PhotoScore and have to be re-entered by hand (best done in Sibelius, not PhotoScore), which I do using the QWERTY keyboard exclusively. This particular score presented challenges that I do not blame PhotoScore or Sibelius for having difficulty handling. String parts were quite simple, and were a breeze; PhotoScore nailed everything with little manual editing required. However, as you can imagine, Bach wrote the three harpsichord parts for virtuoso showing-off, and the parts are murderously tricky. Cross-staff beaming is everywhere, and the density of runs and trills are dizzying. It’s a breathless roller-coaster ride from start to finish.

I’ve gotten in arguments with an unbelieving expert, but I know of no way around this problem: Sibelius 6.2 does not provide any collision avoidance for two voices that are input on separate staves but then put close together on one staff using the Cross-Staff Notes commands. I had to spend a lot of time intricately editing around illegible blobs of overlapping noteheads, accidentals, slurs and ties, stem directions, and beams.

1. Music on two staves, needing to be cross-staff beamed to one staff
2. What happens when you tell Sibelius to cross staves. Note the overlapping sharps and noteheads.
3. How you want it to look, after you manage to get all the collisions removed. I had to manually shift colliding accidentals and noteheads horizontally using the Properties palette.

Because I had to add and delete groups of notes interactively from passages that were already in the score, it could be infuriating: I flip the stems of a voice in a measure one way, move something where I think it needs to go, and Sibelius spontaneously decides to flip the stems back the other way at a whim. I have to tell Sibelius to flip them back again. This may happen several times as I struggle towards making the passage look the way it does in the original score. I dearly wish that if I overrode Sibelius’ stem and beam flipping on a certain selected passage once, that Sibelius would keep it that way, and not try to change it back, no matter what other notes are added or deleted from that bar.

One thing to consider is whether or not engraving conventions from the 1600s to the 1800s should be updated to the modern conventions that Sibelius’ algorithms employ. This has to do especially with things like rules for groups of beaming and the placement of slurs. One wants to improve legibility; that’s always the goal. However, specialists in Baroque performance practice are already accustomed to reading old notation, so you don’t want to defy their expectations too much. I opted to stick with the original engraving and manually override the sub-group beaming that Sibelius automatically created on numerous dense melodic runs of mixtures of 16th, 32nd and 64th notes. I filled in extra beams across all the sub-groups, because Daniel Pyle felt that the modern sub-group beaming might subtly change the rhythmic emphasis that the players would tend to perform, making the performance less authentic.

Modern sub-group beaming the way Sibelius does it by default
I changed the beaming to the older method used in the original

Even though Bach’s music moves to different well-defined key centers for extended sections within a movement, the original notation does not use key changes. Rather, each movement uses only one key signature, and modulated sections rely on lots of accidentals added to the notes in each bar. Initially I thought to improve things by notating key changes in a few obvious places, but Daniel Pyle vetoed the idea. It’s hard to justify messing with Bach’s notation, even though in his time the music theory regarding key changes wasn’t formally worked out, and we have the benefit of hindsight.

Another mechanical issue with Sibelius 6.2 is figured bass notation, the Baroque version of jazz chord symbols for the keyboard, cello and bass (collectively known as the basso-continuo, the all-important Baroque rhythm section). In this concerto, all three solo harpsichords have passages with figured bass. Sibelius 6.2 can produce good figured bass, but the user interface is buggy: you can’t actually see a figured bass chord symbol while you are entering it, which can take numerous key commands. You only see the chord symbol after you finish entering it and move on to the next chord, and going back and fixing mistakes is awkward.

Figured bass

There is no audio playback for figured-bass symbols: there used to be a plug-in for that, but it is no longer available, presumably because it never worked well. That is just as well, because Baroque continuo players are expected to improvise their part in the period-correct style, following the figured-bass chord symbols, whenever the part is not written-out long-hand.

As far as audible playback for proofreading purposes, Bach’s fast, lithe runs in the violins just won’t play back with the slow attack of the string instrument samples provided by Sibelius–and there are no sample libraries of authentic Baroque string sections on the market anyway. So I found it useful to assign all the string parts to a Rhodes electric piano sound, which won’t miss a lick–and there are a lot of licks. Fortunately, the stock Sibelius harpsichord sampled instrument is good enough, although an impossibly dense score with three harpsichords playing six hands at once presents quite a challenge to the ear. Hard stereo panning, left, center, and right, is helpful. Sibelius can only provide equal temperament at A-440, but this is not an issue for proofreading.

Printing It Out

For the individual parts, I formatted everything for US Letter (8-1/2 x 11 inches), and optimized system layout and page turns for each part. I output the parts as PDFs so they could be emailed to each performer for home rehearsal. Because early music specialists are so rare, the ABO works by flying some players in from all over the US only three days before each concert, when they have marathon rehearsals leading up to the performance. Therefore it’s important to deliver parts a month in advance that everybody can print out on common inkjet printers. Custom large paper sizes aren’t practical, and US Letter and A4 are becoming the only sizes that matter. By the way, the conductor’s score isn’t used in the concert–there is no conductor in authentic Baroque ensembles! Usually everybody follows the keyboard player’s head-nods–but there was no continuo player per se in this unusual concerto, since the three harpsichordists are all soloists! Frankly, I don’t know how they pulled it off.

Listen to the live concert recording of the final movement.

I would like to give this piece I’ve typeset back to the world music community, so I’m going to make it available free, with this notice:

© 2010 Wheat Williams Editions for the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra. Permission is granted to copy and distributed freely. http://wheatwilliams.com. Please consider making a donation to the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra at http://atlantabaroque.org if you find this edition useful.

Here are the files for you to examine.

Movement One Conductor’s Score PDF
Movement One in Sibelius 6.2
Movement One separate parts, PDF, .ZIP

Movement Two Conductor’s Score PDF
Movement Two in Sibelius 6.2
Movement Two separate parts, PDF, .ZIP

Movement Three Conductor’s Score PDF
Movement Three in Sibelius 6.2
Movement Three separate parts, PDF, .ZIP

The original scanned score of the Breitkopf & Härtel edition from the late 1800s that I worked from can be found here, at the IMSLP.

At some point I’m going to contribute my score back to the WIMA or the IMSLP.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial. You can thank me by visiting the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra web site, and making a donation.