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Schubert, Gott ist mein Hirt

What an amazing resource is Choralist, and what generous people you are
to share your thoughts! Forgive this compilation’s length, but I wanted
to do justice to each person’s responses.

QUESTION: should one adhere strictly to the dotted rhythms throughout
Schubert’s “Gott ist mein Hirt,” or should one allow the singers to
align with the triplets in the accompaniment?

More than half the responses said stick with the rhythms exactly as
notated. The other 40% suggested various sources calling for softening
into the triplet feel. Several people indicated their own “feeling”
about how they might interpret something, but then sometimes were quite
firm about the Schubert. My own feeling is that there are some places
where the text is simply too pastoral to need the pull of triplets
against dotted rhythms, or even to allow it, and the singers will
communicate the spirit of the Psalm more profoundly by a triplet feel.
Perhaps the variety of responses have given me the courage to experiment more.

There were more responses than I have listed below, but many said simply
“Good question. I have no idea. Let me know the responses.”

And so I am.

Thanks to all for your wisdom and opinion.

Joel Pressman
Beverly Hills High School
Wilshire Boulevard Temple
South Bay Ballet
Pressman Press


I feel personally that making a musically satisfying performance comes
first, while still trying to honor the composer's intent - so I think
you should try to get them to stick to the dotted rhythm, and perhaps
back the accompaniment off so it's not competing with the singers
I reject No. 2 one way or the other, since I don't think it makes much
of a difference what somebody did historically. If you are into
authentic or period performance practice, you would certainly disagree
with me
My ten cents

John Helgen
Do not allow them to alter the rhythm; the richness of the three
against four is a key component of the texture. It's your job to teach
it. A Patrick Gardner technique which works beautifully is this: have
singers tap the pulse of the dotted rhythm on their collarbones as they
sing. Be sure you have taught them on which pulse to move. You may need
to drill it this way minus accompaniment at first. When they're solid,
add accompaniment, but keep them tapping until it's locked. Use this
technique to refresh anytime it needs to be cleaned up. Years ago I
queried a fine conductor with whom I did a practicum, "Do you think
they'll be ready to perform this?" His response, "Can you teach it to

Constance Chase
Director, Cadet Glee Club
US Military Academy
West Point, NY 10996
When I accompanied it as a high school student, my director (himself a
good pianist) insisted that I play the dotted rhythms distinctly apart
from the triplets. And the first couple of times I conducted it as an
adult, I made sure my accompanist did the same.

I no longer feel that way. It sounds much less stilted if the dotted
rhythms are done like secondary forms of the triplet--like "Jesu, Joy
of Man's Desiring" in the G. Schirmer edition.

This question was posed last year on this list. As I recall, the end
result was that it was left "up in the air" as a matter of opinion.

I HAVE heard world-reknowned lieder singers say that the triplet
version should be used--that microscopically accurate dotted rhythms
sound "silly." I now agree. The piece flows so much more smoothly
that way.

So, I would say, do it the way it sounds best to YOU.

David Tovey
Associate Professor
School of Music
Ohio State University
I think you've asked a great question. Why would someone in Schubert's
time go to the trouble of writing it different ways, yet at the same
time, why would he want to hear it distinctly dif ferently?

I'd love to hear what you find out.

Micki Gonzalez
There is no reason for not following the path of least resistance in
this case. Schubert often used this method of notation (as Bach did) to
notate triplet rhythms. I did some research into this a number of years
ago (I can't remember what sources I used for the life of me) as I was
running into problems with the Schubert Fantasia for piano duet...what
do you do with the notation??

In other words, I believe your singers are on the right track. In
other words, capitulate and use the K.I.S.S. principle.

Norman I.Reintamm
Estonian National Opera
Chairman, Dante Alighieri Society in Estonia
I have had the same concern for years, everytime we have done this. I
try valiantly to separate the two as in Schubert's day, those kinds of
cross rhythms were common. Look at Brahms, for example, although more
"Romantic," it has many examples. Some of the Schubert and Schumann art
songs do as well.

What your singers are doing is natural but I am always resistant to
"give in" - eventually mine have mostly succeeded by singing what they
see instead of resorting to singing by ear.

Have you checked on some CD's to find out what others do?

Hilary Apfelstadt
This is a hard one, but..... ask this question of yourself. Did
Schubert know the difference between triplets and dotted rhythms?
Whatever answer you give here will probably answer your question IMHO.

Douglas L. Jones
University of Houston

{my reaction: That's a good question, but jazz musicians do too, yet
they save time and ink by writing 2 eights when they mean a
triplet/swing feel. With all the discussion about "swinging" the dotted
rhythms in some baroque music, I wonder if it is as clear as just
reading the ink on the page.}

Doug’s response:
Schubert knew nothing of Jazz. Furthermore, why would he write
triplets in one part and dotted rhythms in another voice? Bach has the
same problem. I think he knew the difference..... It is like taking
fast 4/4 in two. Composers know the difference.
My Women's Choir learned this piece this semester and, like you, I
stayed with the dotted rhythm as opposed to relaxing into triplets.
I'm afraid I can offer no answer to your very good question, other than
that's the way Schubert wrote it. To me, maintaining the dotted rhythm
offers a certain accent to the vocal text at that point when set
against the constant triplet accompaniment.

(too humble to let me use her name, but I quoted her anyway)
If you look at the accompaniment, there are many spots where one hand
plays 8th-note rhythms against the other hand's triplets, which seems to
carry over between piano/vocal. Piano literature from this period also
has triplet vs. 8th-note patterns, Brahms in particular.

Vicki Wilson
This is a question I've warred with for several years - however, last
year when I conducted the work with the ACDA's Women's Honour Choir in
Chicago (200 women all trying to match 16th notes?), I knew I had to
have a definitive answer. I conferred with my trusted university
Schubert scholar, vocal coach and accompanying expert in lieder - she
said to go with what would be the most musical solution....hence I told
the women to use the triplet. It worked beautifully and I don't think
Schubert would have minded at all. There were a few spots that I
insisted on rhythm as written - eighth note pick-ups, etc. where the
musical sense or text dictated it - otherwise we 'went with the flow'
and it sang most convincingly. I also had to defend this same decision
last year at the IFCM World Symposium on Choral Music in Rotterdam. No
one huffed and puffed their way out of the room when I started
explaining fact, there seemed to be a real sigh of relief and
accord about the 'more musical' decision and I think most of the
scholarly types who were there agreed that my solution was acceptable.

Hope that helps. Not that I knew him, but I think Schubert would want
you to do what's most musical, too...:)

Diane Loomer
This is a topic for which I have considerable interest. I have
collected some information that I feel would prove to be a fruitful
opportunity for an "internet seminar." What I would like to do is post
the question, supply some copies of some source material on a web site
and then announce a time for people to share thoughts over a 24-48 hour period.

Some of the pertinent information - in the Peters edition of
"Winterreise" edited by Fischer-Dieskau and musicologist Elmar Budde
talks specifically about songs No. 5, 6 and 9 which have the same
triplet accomodation problem, i.e., "Wasserflut" where the voice sings
triplet 1/8ths against a dotted 1/8th and 1/16th in the piano. Budde
suggests that these should be rhythmically aligned.

While this makes for a simple and easy solution - to consider that
this should become some universal rule in the early Romantic period
would mean that we must then accept the triplet vs. dotted figure at
the opening of the "Moonlight" sonata of Beethoven would then need to
be assimilated. This is something which I do not advocate. While I
think that the musical context should have a great deal to do in making
this as a judgement call...I, too would like more specific and reasoned
opinions from the musicologists before I go much further.

Evidently there was some discussion in Early Music or another journal
a couple of years ago regarding the new complete works of Schubert
which centered on this very topic. ... I will see if I can locate the citation.

David Otis Castonguay
Director of Choral Activities
Radford University
As I understand it (from a class with Erich Leinsdorf):
1. Change the dotted notes to triplets in a folk idiom
2. Change the dotted notes to triplets at any time instead of wasting
hours of reahearsal time on getting it right --
boy, have I mellowed in my old age!
Ron Kean
My understanding, for which I have no actual authority, is that the
dotted rhythms in the voice parts are supposed to accommadate
themselves to the triplets, not "fight" them. I have performed the
piece this way, and it works well, although it's difficult for me as a
singer to read the "intent" of the rhythms instead of their reality on
the page. It seems to me that John Rutter, in his "European Sacred
Music" collection, has given some guidance on this piece, but my copy
of it is at school, not home.

Ann Foster
I'm not familiar with the Schubert piece but I would think that as a
classical composer Schubert intended that it be 3 against 4. I just
rehearsed the second word of "Seven Last Words of Christ" by Dubois and
all through that movement the pianist is playing 2 against 3. In the
first measure of that movement on the 3rd beat there are triplets in the
left hand and a dotted eighth-sixteenth in the right hand. The effect
would be lost if the pianist changed that rhythm to triplets, especially
since the tenor solo echos that rhythm in measure 18.

Maybe it's because I am primarily an instrumentalist, but I expect my
accompanist to play that rhythm accurately. Yes it is harder but the
effect is terrific when done accurately. Any conductor of a group of
classically trained instrumentalists would expect them to play that
rhythm accurately. Why do we expect less from our singers?

The dotted-eighth is probably the most difficult rhythm to teach and
.spend a good bit of time teaching my flute students how to subdivide
and think sixteenth notes so that they can play it accurately in
classical music. However, I also teach them that in jazz and pop styles
the rhythm is played like three triplets with the first two tied. Why
can't we do the same for our singers?

Debbie Gilbert
Music Director
Manassas St. Thomas UMC
I'd be interested in your responses, because I have fought the same
tendency myself. I have never heard a performance of the piece in which
the choir did not sing the triplets with the piano, including the ACDA
National Children's Honor Chorus directed by Anton Armstrong. If
possible could you compile the responses and post to the list? THanks.

Cheryl Dupont, Artistic Director
NEw Orleans CHildren's CHorus and Youth Chorale
Interim Director of Choirs, University of New Orleans
If you were talking about 18th century music, I'd say that rhythms
weren't wrtitten as performed but I doubt very much that if Schubert
wanted triplets, he would have written
dotted rhythms. Could be that it's the original German language itself
that sounded good ti Schubert in the dotted rhythms. I wouldn't change them.
Maybe you have the pianist play for a few rehearsals in the dotted
rhythms to match the singers, and then once the singers have caught on,
the pianist could revert to the triplets.

Joan Yakkey
Florence, Italy
I've sung under a number of choral conductors, including Robert Shaw,
who drilled interminably and insisted that we sing the 4 against 3 with
mathematical precision. I could never see why it was so important. It
drives the singers cross-eyed and doesn't impress anyone in the
audience, other than the occasional incognito choral conductor.

Did the composers really expect the singers to render these complex
cross rhythms with conscientious accuracy, or were they just taking a
notational shortcut and assuming the performers would know to smooth
things out?

Jazz singers know better than to adhere slavishly to what's printed on
the page in front of them. Why must classical singers be so anally precise?

With sincere curiosity,
Nick Jones
Program Annotator
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
I'm working on this piece right now with a group and I am having them
work on the 2 against 3. I know that there is controversy about it, but
I believe Schubert, unlike Bach and Baroque practice, really meant what
he wrote. Brahms writes this situation many times and we wouldn't mesh
them together. In the Schubert, I believe it creates a certain tension
that maybe Schubert intended to express the tension between life and
death, between the "valley of death" and "fear no evil", between pain
and comfort. Just some thoughts.

Dr. Carroll J. Lehman
Director of Choral/Vocal Activities
Keene State College
I feel the comparison of jazz to "classical" music in a discussion of
written notation and performance practice to be somewhat weak. I am a
practitioner of both forms of music. Jazz is at its essence
improvisatory, the other tradition, with notable exceptions (continuo
work, cadenzas and ornamentation) is not. The battle rages on in
baroque music over double dots and triple meter short hand in the
chorus. I just conducted Israel in Egypt and made the chorus parts
"agree" with the orchestral triplets under them. I also double dotted
the chorus in similar situations, against the opinion of great
musicologists like Alfred Mann--my own teacher. However, in Schubert,
I think we should execute the rhythm as notated. His piano literature
is filled with 2 against 3 as is his song literature. I'm sure there
is a dissertation out there which explores this phenomenon and its use.
In jazz compositions these days, I'm seeing more exact notation of the
composer's precise intentions. I think the same evolution which took
place in "classical" music is taking place in jazz as the repertoire
and language of jazz continues to expand; there are too many options of
interpretation to leave it open to "tradition". Two of my favorite
balancing quotes; "The sin against the spirit of the work always begins
with a sin against its letter" Igor Stravinsky "It would be an
illusion to think that one can set down on paper the things that
constitute the beauty of the performance." Liszt

A "precise" 2 against 3 is not so difficult as to dismiss it as
unplayable/singable. The Schubert Psalm 23 has two characters the
flowing water (triples in the piano) and the sheep and shepherd walking
beside the stream. Teach the chorus the larger rhythmic pulse and make
sure the piano in "flowing" not beating out the pattern. Rehearse the
chorus unaccompanied (and without text, as text will finitely alter the
rhythm) so they can be in their rhythm. Then put it all together. So
long as the conductor indicates the beat and not subdivisions of the
beat, it should be an enjoyable walk beside a stream. I don't think
the listener will be impressed, just affected by the mysterious
emotional response to the genius of Schubert's gift.

Don Richardson
Washington, DC
Agreed completely, Gott is mein Hirt is a wonderful piece. I would
avoid both battles fighting with the singers for a 1-e-+-a exactitude,
OR letting them iron out the dotted patterns into triplets. Instead, as
I consider the score, Schubert clearly wants a 2 vs 3 effect at times.
I see the dotted patterns as either an "ornamentation/intensification"
of the eighth motion, or as a very gentle passing-tone motion. So I
tell the singers to go for the long note of the dotted pattern, and to
pass quickly and lightly over the short note. That way, they don't
thump the short note, or do it in an exaggerated "double-dot" fashion.
The tempo is marked adagio, but I usually go for a kind of "andante non
troppo" -- keeping it moving, so that it sounds like lines, not like
block chords. There seems to be a "groove" where the piano triplet
motion complements rther than fights with the vocal dotted patterns.
Maybe I do it too fast, but if so, only a little. Anyway, give this
approach a try.

Brooks Grantier, The Battle Creek Boychoir, Battle Creek, MI


I have been instructed that "protocol interaction rule number ten on the
welcome sheet you received when you subscribed to Choralist" requires me
to sign here and include my email address.
I guess I only memorized the first nine protocal interaction rules. My apologies.

Joel Pressman
Beverly Hills High School
Wilshire Boulevard Temple
South Bay Ballet
Pressman Press