The Bach choral dilemma (Luc Rousseau )

Subject: The Bach choral dilemma
From:    Luc Rousseau  <LRousseau(at)NICKEL.LAURENTIAN.CA>
Date:    Wed, 22 Jan 2003 21:03:55 -0500

Dear Auditory Listers, Listening carefully to BWV 363 (Jesus Christus, unser Heiland), or BWV 364 (Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, der den Tod), I hardly hear it streaming, if streaming at all. Same for my Sensation & Perception class. A collegue of mine, who owns a huge collection of Baroque music, told me that BWV 363 is not a so good instance of polyphonic music. So why Bruce Goldstein presents it as such in his Sensation & Perception textbook? (4th ed., 1996, p. 397; 5th ed., 1999, p. 360) The author provides a musical notation in Figure 12.11 (p. 360): four measures of (what is probably, according to title) BWV 363. The notes clearly stream (VISUALLY, I mean). I am not a musician, but the musical notation seems to me quite simple for a so complex musical piece. Can someone confirm that the notation is the original? Goldstein notes: "When this passage is played rapidly, the low notes sound as if they are a melody played by one instrument, and the high notes sound like a different melody played by another instrument. This effect [...] is an example of auditory stream segregation [...]." (p. 360). First, BWV 363 is refered to as an instrumental piece, while the only instrument is the human voice (choral). The fact that the human voice is also a musical instrument should probably be emphasized to musically naive students. Secondly -- and more critically --, why whould we have to play it rapidly, while the composer's intent was to provide a polyphonic experience at the written tempo? An e-mail sent to the author at bruceg+(at)pitt-edu on Nov. 30, 2001, has not been answered yet. A legal (30 sec.) excerpt of BWV 363 may probably be made available on the Auditory List Home Page, if someone can provide it. Are more salient examples of Baroque polyphony known? I have a great respect for Goldstein's S&P textbook, and I hope Auditory Listers will provide clues into (what my S&P class and I are now refering to as) the Bach choral dilemma. Luc Rousseau, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Department of Psychology Laurentian University Sudbury, Ontario, Canada

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