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Topic: How did Bach get notation playback without GPO?

  1. #1
    Well, the thread on primitive instruments by Gary reminded me of a research paper I did a while back for the PDQ Bach Festival at the University of Northern Southern Dakota, on live notation playback in the time of Bach.
    Apparently, PDQ kept numerous records of days spent in wonderment and awe at watching his Father achieve his own Bach Personal Orchestra [BPO] in his time. So, in my research, the question for me was "How did Bach achieve notation with live playback when there was no GPO around in his day?"

    After combing through piles of PDQ Bach's Personal memoirs, I found out how...

    Bach was suspended from the ceiling with a large ink pen over a floor made completely of glass. Underneath the glass, there are permanent lines that he can write the score on from on top of the glass.
    Underneath the glass was a room with a real orchestra of real musicians who have, as part of the audition process for this orchestra, been chosen for their ability to read notation backwards. Bach scores his music on the large glass floor....
    "Ready boys?...system 3, bar 4, I want to hear the oboe by itself...
    Not too bad, Ok, all together now!!

    When he liked the score, an engraver quickly took down the details. A lady with large mop then came in, and cleaned up for the next page.
    What then if Bach wanted to continue scoring without the mop up?
    Well, there were several rooms with glass floors. The orchestra were actually all sitting on a movable cart. There were a few donkeys with harnesses, and when they needed to play the next score, the donkeys pulled the orchestral cart forwards so they moved underneath to the next room, and they kept playing.

    Apparently, the donkeys didn't like moving sometimes, so Bach had to quickly input a symbol for the musicians to toot, scratch, and hit their instruments as loud as possible to get the donkeys moving again - Bach had accidentally started off a technique that we call "tone clusters" in our day.

    Sforzando's were accomplished by the orchestra through a special lever that suddenly jolted the cart up in the air by a few inches, which, when it fell back down, gave a sudden jolt and everyone gave a real, natural playback of that articulation.

    Ritardando and Accelerando were naturally produced by having the donkeys move faster or slower....faster meant the musicians had to squeeze more notes in, and the faster they moved on the cart, they had to play faster so they didn't miss playing any notes in the score, and vice versa for rallentando.
    Glissando was sometimes produced by a sudden slight tip forward or backward of the cart, not enough to have them fall off, but just enough to upset their intonation. A forward tilt produced an upward glissando, and a backward tilt made a downards glissando.

    A crescendo is a special effect, and, it was rather fun to be on the cart [well, not all regarded this fun], when this happened.

    With a crescendo, the cart was picked up by special levers and moved closer to the underneath of the glass floor, so that it sounded louder to Bach, and lowered back to make it further away - hence softer.

    That's the reason why there was terraced dynamics in Bach's day only.
    Experimentation with hairpin playback, meant the cart could be pulled up and down regularly, causing motion sickness with some of the musicians, which means the lady with the large mop had to go underneath the scoring glass, and clean up the mess below, as well as the score above. The musicians decided that they probably would stick to just two types of dynamics, as the continual up and down meant some of the musicians on the sidelines had to step in to replace others while they recovered, so Bach was stuck with that for playback. Hence, terraced dynamics were around for quite a while for live playback with BPO.

    Well, there was a lot more I could include here from my research into this fascinating area of musicological histologicality, but, maybe I may post more on this later. I would also invite others interested in researching this area, to post some of their discoveries also!

    best to all you GPO'ers out there,

    Last edited by steve martin; 04-01-2007 at 08:38 AM. Reason: Not really relevant

  2. #2

    Re: How did Bach get notation playback without GPO?

    How did Bach get notation playback without GPO?

    He didn't. Hence the origin of this quote.

    “Bring me A bowl of coffee before I turn into a goat.” -JSB

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