When are initial consonants articulated in choral performance? Cases studies of choral works sung in German

Caiti Hauck, University of Bern

Music Performance Research ISSN 1755-9219
Vol. 10, 57-83
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, December 2020
The process of rehearsing and performing a choral piece involves numerous decisions by the conductor. One part of this decision-making is related to the sung text and includes aspects of diction that are not indicated by Western musical notation, for instance the exact instant of articulation of initial consonants. Although choices related to diction have consequences for elements such as clearness of enunciation, rhythmic precision, or intonation, only a few writings on choral conducting are explicit about them. This paper aims to discuss conductors’ choices concerning the instant of articulation of initial consonants in choral performances of works sung in German. It compares conductors’ theoretical suggestions with analyses of six recordings of Johann Sebastian Bach’s movement Trotz dem alten Drachen, BWV 227/5, and four recordings of Franz Schubert’s part-song An die Sonne, D439. Methods include analyses of writings on choral conducting, interviews with conductors, and analyses of recordings using the software programme Sonic Visualiser. Similarities are observed between the theoretical suggestions of conductors and the analysed recordings, however there are some striking differences, including conductors’ underestimations of the actual duration of consonants. Analyses of the recordings reveal that initial consonants are nearly always anticipated (i.e., articulated ahead of the beat to which they are assigned). Exceptions to this concern the plosive [kʰ] and the second consonant of a cluster on occasion. Analyses of recordings also point to the impact on timing anticipation due to the consonant’s surroundings and from the ability or otherwise for the sound of a consonant to be lengthened (i.e., its “lengthenability”). Evidence from the recordings is discussed in relation to conductors’ varying theoretical suggestions on the articulation of consonants, flagging up inconsistencies as well as considering practicalities, and providing insights for choral conductors into the nuances of consonant articulation with ramifications for conducting pedagogy and future research.
choral performance
German diction
initial consonants
recording analyses
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