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Handel, Messiah: Double dotting



Dear Listers,

Many thanks to those of you who were able to respond to my question of
double dotting in light of the Leonard Van Camp assertion that the technique
is based on faulty research techniques (a la Frederick Neuman), referring to
it as "Messiah Myth Number Eleven" in "A Practical Guide for Performing,
Teaching and Singing Messiah" (Roger Dean, 1993).

Below is a compilation of answers I've received. I hope this compilation
will be helpful to those of you who are still perplexed by this issue. Thanks
again to all who offered their thoughts and advice!

Sincerely
Bill McIntosh
Mt. San Antonio College
Walnut, CA
email:McIntoz(a)aol.com

I can offer a simple observation. I have conducted uncountable
performances
of the Messiah (the first in 1970), everything from the Mozart edition to
double
dotting with some of the finest Baroque specialists in the Los Angeles area.
I
now live and teach in the San Francisco area, and when I conduct the piece, I
always use the double dot sequence. I find it creates a result that is
consonant with my impression of the era, and feeling of the dance movement of
the time. It is well known handel would have been familiar with this rhythm
from his times in France. And completely within the realm of imagination he
would have desired this for his music (even though not notated as such, but a
technique which would have been familiar to all musicians of the time). I
think
Leonard van Camp's research was probably very accurate for its time, but many
years have passed since then. I am really a little surprised there still is
significant discussion about this. Additionally I would be a little suspect of
anyone being this critical of Robert Donnington. Hope this helps a little
bit.
Dennis Keller
...................................................................

Hi, Bill! Double dotting was a standard French procedure, imitated by
composers in other nations, in certain specific situations. The Lully-type
"French Overture" happens to be one of those situations, although not the
only one. The writers at the time gave instructions to "delay the short
note as long as possible and play it as short as possible." There's simply
no question on the matter of style, just the question of whether you choose
to observe it or not.

The overture to Messiah IS a French overture. Handel knew exactly what he
was doing. In my opinion we should respect that. Besides, it simply
sounds and moves properly when played with style.

Personal opinion, of course. Forget appealing to authority (unless it's
18th century authority, of course); interpret it as you prefer it.

John

...................................................................

I don't know the Van Camp book you speak of, but I have never, EVER
heard anyone make the claim that Robert Donington didn't know what
he was talking about or that the Watkins Shaw edition was flawed. I
had the privelege of studying with Robert Donington for a whole semester
during graduate school. During that time Heniz Holliger (world-renowned
oboist) came and gave a masterclass. Nothing he said contradicted
Donington at all. In fact, everything I've ever heard and read has
supported Donington.

Similarly, while in graduate school I wrote a paper comparing the
Watkins-Shaw, G. Schirmer and Coopersmith editions. The Watkins-
Shaw is the best by light years. The very fact that Mr. Van Camp
dismisses it, shows he has no clue what he is speaking about IMHO.

I don't know what Mr. Van Camp is basing his claims on, but I would
view his opinions with great suspicion, until other "authorities" come
forward and agree with him.

I don't know Mr. Neumann's name or article either, but I believe the
overture should be double-dotted. As far as I know, the early music
gurus (Pinnock, Parrott, Gardiner et al) haven't refuted Donington or the
Watkins-Shaw edition. Until they do, I would stick with what they
say, rather than Mr. Van Camp.

Finally, does it really matter what I or anyone says? None of us
can really know for sure. All any of us can do, even the best
scholars, is to make educated guesses. The "rules" weren't
applied in any universal fashion. They varied from town-to-town.
Besides many of the "rules" weren't even written down until
later.

One thing Donington used to stress to us was to do our
homework as best we could, but in the final analysis we
should allow our own musicianship and taste to guide us. I
believe that's the key. We have to believe in whatever
approach we take if we are to sell it to the performers
and the audience. 100 years from now, what difference
will it make anyway? To me, the most important thing
is for it to be an inspiring, moving performance for all
concerned.

Regards,

Craig Collins
ccoll67202(a)aol.com

.........................................................................

Dear Bill,

Research aside. I always double dot the overture. I find that the even
eighth notes don't give the "Grave" enough energy for my tastes. I don't
know how much of the work you're doing, but I like to set up a strong beginnin
g (for the three hour evening). I make the pick-ups in "Behold the Lamb of
God" and the string parts in "Surely, He hath borne our griefs" short also.

Good luck on your concert.

Tom Tobin

.........................................................................

I recall considering this question a good number of years ago, probably
around the time the Newman article came out. I have a vague recollection of
reading it. Certainly Watkins Shaw's edition has stood the test of time as
one of the most consistent and reliable editions of Messiah, and although I
am not as familiar with other more recent editions as I should be, it is
quite clear from listening to most recent recordings of the work by people
like Christie and McCreesh, that double dotting is the most commonly
accepted interpretation of this opening section of the overture. I am not
familiar with Leonard van Camp, and what his credentials are, so can't
comment on his thesis about not double dotting. I think in the final
analysis, you may well have to choose to go with your instincts on the
question. I'm sure that if you are working with strong musicians, they will
make either solution sound convincing.

Len Ratzlaff

.........................................................................

I'm afraid that as far as I can see, there are no definitive answers to

performance practice questions. Personally, I tend to fall into the Neumann

camp. Besides, I think that double-dotting just makes the overture sound

neurotic! The turning point came when I conducted 'Alexander's Feast' when

Handel indicates double-dotting effect himself using a dotted

crotchet/semiquaver rest/semiquaver. I decided that if he could write it

there, where he wanted it, he probably would have done the same in other

works. Anyway, I'm sure my comments will just fan the flames of uncertainty,

but I hope that your concert goes well.


Best wishes,


Stefan Reid

Dept. of Music

Royal Holloway, University of London

Egham

Surrey

United Kingdom

.........................................................................



Don't lose sleep over the over-dotting question. Lots has been
published on both sides of the issue. Use what YOU like. Handel was a
practical person (most of the time) and you perform what you, the
conductor, think sounds best and is practically do-able. When I study
the chorus "Surely he hath borne our grief" and the rhythmic conflicts
between the parts, I am swayed to alter (overdot) and normalize the
rhythms to enhance ensemble "harmony." But if you want ensemble
"conflict," then perform "Surely" as written. That chorus helps me to
feel confident about overdotting other movements. And please keep in
mind how quickly Handel assembled MESSIAH and think about how you,
working quickly, might notate rhythms in a hurry! Some things were
obviously left up to live instructions; and Watkins-Shaw studied the
actual parts USED in Handel's time, for what they're worth, etc.

Read the balanced article on notes inegales in NEW GROVE for a better
perspective on things. Good luck!

Bruce MacIntyre
Brooklyn College/CUNY

.........................................................................

Bill...

Most of us, I believe, try to place the composer within the historical
performance practices of the period in which s/he was working. The
various forms carried basic conventions with them, whether from England,
Germany, France, Italy, etc. Today, detached by the intervening years
as we are, we can only look to the conventions of the earlier periods
as they have come down to us in original sources (Rameau's writings, for
instance, or Couperin's, etc). Generally, musicologists do this; if they
decide that "surely this (or that) composer meant *this* (meaning: the
way we do it in our own time), they will then have to defend their
position. In the early part of this century, Edmund Fellowes was
trapped by this thinking regarding the false relationships he was
finding in the manuscripts of Byrd, Tallis, Gibbons, etc. So he
"corrected" them. We now know better. But we shall always pay homage
to Fellowes for his work in bringing to light that great corpus of music
for us, in the 20th century.

Bottom line: Go with Donington and Watkins Shaw. I believe they are
representative of the best of contemporary research into original
source writings. If you need to listen to recordings, there're those
by Hogwood, Parrott, et al.

And, for heaven's sake, take the Pifa ('Pastorale Symphony') at a light,
brisk tempo! #8-)

Have a great performance...

Herb Tinney
Director, Western New York Chorale
Buffalo NY
.........................................................................

I would highly recommend Dr. Alfred Mann's book "Bach and Handel Choral
Performance Practice" Hinshaw Music Inc. Chapel Hill North Carolina 27514.
Page 70-71 deals with this exact problem. As is Dr. Mann's way, he does not
tell you right or wrong. He presents the historical background for both
ideas and allows the performer to make an informed artistic decision. I feel
his final idea that this is an issue of "articulation" (hooking with the
bow) and not a rhythmic issue is correct. It must be noble & stately.

Don Richardson
.........................................................................

Mr. McIntosh:
The people you want to contact are harpsichordists who are Baroque
scholars. The best person I can think of is in your back yard: Malcolm
Hamilton. He was on the faculty at USC (or UCLA) for many years, and I
know he still lives in southern California. He recently did a
performance with William Hall; you could probably get Mr. Hamilton's
number from Dr. Hall. I think Bill's number at Chapman University is
714.997.6891; if not try information. Actually, Bill himself would be
an excellent source of this information--but Malcolm Hamilton is an
internationally acknowledged Baroque authority.

Best wishes.

Thomas Sheets
UMS Choral Union
Ann Arbor, MI
.........................................................................


>I am also conducting my first Messiah with a community chorus. I have

>decided not to do the overture in the double dotted style because I think

>the other way is fresh and new to our ears. You can find plenty of sources

>to back your decision either way, but I think you should do what you like.

>I highly respect the late Robert Shaw, and his most recent recording of

>Messiah is done as written, without double dotted rhythms. This also

allows

>some extra time to add ornaments on some of the notes. Good luck.

>

>Alin Cass

>Director, Warsaw Community Choir

>Warsaw, Indiana
.........................................................................

Dear Bill,

When I was a choral conducting student at Eastman, I had a discussion on

this topic with Bach/Handel scholar, Dr. Alfred Mann. He told me in fact

that Robert Shaw had contacted him with the same question prior to Shaw's

most recent Messiah recording. I believe Alfred Mann also has an article

about this in the American Choral Review, but I'm not sure. Anyway, Mann

felt that the double-dotting was not appropriate. I'm sure he would be glad

to discuss this with you. You could contact him through the Eastman School

of Music in Rochester, NY.

All the best,

Doug Mears

.........................................................................

My opinion is that you need to make your own informed decision. I tend to

lean toward the double-dotting in the French Overture tradition. As you

know, Handel was international in his scope of music. He was well aquainted

with this tradition.


You are going to find differences in opinions from learned men on this

issue. What you will find in common among these men is that they would all

tell you that you are the one who must make your own scholarly decision.

The undergraduate thing to do would be to simply perform the work and copy

someone else's interpretation.


D. Brown, d.m.a.

.........................................................................

I looked into this whole mess whilst in Doctor School at CUNY, including
reading Neumann's articles, and surmised the following:

Folks tend to take the openings of French overtures *way* too slowly. Grave
simply means "heavy," not "barely moving" in terms of a tempo continuum. They
should be at the pace of a stately high step (imagine a company of dancers in
Louis XIV garb), which translates to half note = c. 48-52. The 8ths following
the dotted quarters should be staccato & hooked (by the strings), with
accents on the long notes and 16ths slurred. Following this tempo, you need
only hold the last measure before the Allegro 2 beats (in other word, exactly
as written; *no* fermata!), after which, in the allegro, what was the Grave
quarter note becomes the Allegro half note, in perfect proportion. You can
even conduct the Allegro in one in this circumstance.

Listen to the Hogwood recordings of the Bach Orchestral suites for an
excellent demonstration of these tempo proportions and dotting principles.
(Which of course, Neumann would call irrelevant, because we're talking about
*Handel*, not Bach. Oy. . .Grain of salt, please. . .)

Hope this helps,
Robert Ross, Artistic Director
Voces Novae et Antiquae
Philadelphia, PA

.........................................................................

Bill:

Of course, musicologists make a living by contradicting each other, so
it is not surprising that there is controversy surrounding Messiah.

My suggestion would be to follow what is practical for you and your
orchestra. I assume you are using a pick up group with limited
rehearsal time, so you are not looking to make the definitive
performance of Messiah. Without period instruments, the idea of trying
to recreate Handel's performance practice is a moot point to me anyway.
So, if double-dotting will help keep the orchestra more rhythmically
accurate, I would do it. I have found this to be true. Double-dotting
can help keep an orchestra from cheating the dotted rhythms and
performing them as sloppy triplets.

On the other hand, since so many people perform the overture with double
dots and there is no concrete evidence either way, try it without them.
Put your stamp on the work, and perform it the way you feel it should be
performed.

Good luck with the performance. CWH
--
Dr. C. Wallace Hinson, Chair
Department of Fine Arts
Piedmont College
P.O. Box 10
Demorest, GA 30535
.........................................................................

There were articles on this issue in 1994 in the journal _Historical
Performance_, which was the title of the journal of Early Music America
until 1995 or so (The journal is now simply called _Early Music
America_). The articles were in vol 7, no.1 and vol 7, no. 2, which
were Spring and Fall 1994.

The articles were by F. Neumann and Stephen Hefling. I believe Hefling
is a pro-double-dotter, (or is open to the possibility, at least), and
Neumann, of course, takes the opposite view. It was quite a spirited
exchange. Neumann reviewed a book by Hefling with a fair amount of
criticism, and Hefling responded in the next issue.

Anyway, this is an example of more recent writing on the subject. The
book by Hefling is _Rhythmic Alteration in Seventeeth and Eighteenth
Century Music: Notes inegales and Overdotting_, (Schirmer, 1993). What
made this exchange even more interesting is that Hefling was a former
student and teaching assistant of Neumann's!

I can't remember the content of the articles, but one issue it raised
for me was that of solo vs. ensemble performance. It's easy enough to
double-dot if you're playing solo, but I think one of Neumann's points
is about the difficulty of doing that in an ensemble setting, especially
back then.

Anyway, I'm directing Messiah Part One in a couple of weeks (yikes!),
and we're not double-dotting. Best wishes on your performance.

Brian Bailey
School of Music
Appalachian State University
Boone, NC 28608

.........................................................................

I would love to know what you get back re this perplexing issue!!

For the record, I proudly double dot, not only the overture, but also
the Pifa and Behold the lamb of God!! Perhaps a bit excessive, but that
way it does provide consistancy and a srtructure to the work.

I suppose itys a matter of taste. We do know for sure that handel
himself conducted the work in many diofferent ways, depending on the
situation and quality of performers. Therefore I suppose its our right
to interpret the owrk as conductors!

Best wishes,

Andrew Wailes
Musical Director
Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir