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Praises Bach as ‘most eminent of the musicanten’ (derogatory term)

'This great man would be the admiration of whole nations if he had more amenity [Annehmlichkeit], if he did not take away the natural element in his pieces by giving them a turgid [schwülstig] and confused style, and if he did not darken their beauty by an excess of art. '

Turgid = swollen/congested; tediously pompous/bombastic



1. Artifice is in the very nature of music; the more artifice, the more beauty

 true Annehmlichkeit is found in the alternation of consonance and dissonance, i.e. harmony

 ‘the idea that melody must always be in the upper one for which I have been able to find no sufficient grounds...the exact opposite flows from the very nature of music. For music consists of harmony’

 cites older composers – very possibly at Bach’s suggestion – in support of his argument

2. Takes great exception to Musikant, referring to Bach as ‘the Honorary Court Composer’ after his (new) Dresden title



Bach can compose ‘entirely in accordance with the latest taste’ when required

o Admitted that Bach often took music from 20-25 years earlier as models

o [Mizler unreliable: Bach’s friend; represented small strain of musical thought (Musical Society) already predisposed towards Bach’s style]


Bach’s 1730 memorandum to Leipzig town council

‘taste has changed astonishingly, and accordingly the former style of music no longer seems to please our ears’

[Shows awareness of taste]


Forkel 1802 biography

The main tendency of his genius [was] to the great and sublime

1. Sublime creates conditions for reassessment of Bach’s music

 Difficulty/artifice (schwulstig) become most celebrated characteristics (from lectures)

2. Links to Dreyfus’s point about late Enlightenment hermeneutic model for art


Spitta’s 1880 biography

labelled Bach ‘culmination of an era’ and ‘beyond history’


Bach’s Inventions & Sinfonias

Title page 1722-3

‘Straightforward Instruction, in which amateurs of the keyboard, and especially the eager ones, are shown a clear way not only

(1) of learning to play cleanly in two voices, but also, after further progress,

(2) of dealing correctly and satisfactorily with three obbligato parts; at the same time not only getting good inventions, but developing the same satisfactorily, and above all arriving at a cantabile manner in playing, all the while acquiring a strong foretaste of composition’


Bach’s Leipzig context

1. Trade centre: cosmopolitan

2. Three annual trade fairs

3. Leading centre for German book industry: new ideas on music would have been familiar

4. Vibrant culture of musical criticism

o Journals produced by Scheibe (1737-) and Mizler (1739-)

o Success of music based on reception by galant homme in journals

o Bach’s music became ‘entangled in the aesthetic debates of the day’ (Yearsley 2002)


Yearsley 2002

Bach’s music became ‘entangled in the aesthetic debates of the day’


Bach 1713-4

1. Assimilation of Venetian concerto style via Vivaldi transcription effected decisive stylistic change

2, Characteristics of Venetian concerto style:

 Unifying motifs

 Motoric rhythmic character (driving)

 Modulation schemes

 Form articulated by solo-tutti contrast

3. Influence on Bach
 Some preludes and fugues have quasi-ritornello form
 Soloistic figuration of episodes


Bach 1717-23

1. Moved to Cothen: revised and organised pieces due to growing family’s pedagogical needs

2. 6 English Suites (possibly begun at Weimar, revised/grouped at Cöthen)

 Earliest group of Bach-assembled keyboard suites

 Preludes adopt Venetian concerto style (Vivaldi influence)

 Other movs show French influence (Bach copied out Grigny/Dieupart at Weimar)

 Imitative counterpoint of gigues shows German influence (Froberger/Reinken)

 Invertible counterpoint


Bach after 1723

1. Move to Leipsig in 1723

2. Change of style: French suites and CU I/II (Partitas, Italian concerto/French ouverture)

3. French suite 6 prelude uses WTC1 E maj Prelude

4. Abandoned English suites’ prominent invertible counterpoint

5. Adopted galant style elements; prominence of
• Sigh figures
• Singing melodies with parallel third/sixth accompaniment
• Long appoggiatura ornamentation
• Stile brisé (broken chords)



1. Clavier-Übung [keyboard-practice] series

2. First amalgamation of published works

3. Shows deliberate lightening of touch and appeal to popular taste

o ‘for music lovers, to delight their spirits’

4. More technically challenging than works by contemporaries

5. In 4 parts (1731, 1735, 1739, 1741-2)



1. CU1 = collection of 6 partitas in 1731

2. Originally appeared in instalments between 1726-30

3. Tribute to Kuhnau’s CU volumes (1689, 1692) comprised of suites

4. Keys in “wedge” [increasing-interval] pattern: (Bb-c-a-D-G-e)

5. Continuation: Kuhnau covered diatonic maj/min keys respectively


CU1 Partita 1

1. Prelude

2. Jones: violinistic figuration of Praeludium encapsulates emphasis on smooth cantabile melody throughout

3. Published first, despite 3 and 6 appearing in Anna Magdalena book


CU1 Partita 2

1. (more French) Allemande

2. Subject alludes to Handel’s Suite 3 (1720)
Handel’s suites were international bestsellers

3. Bach’s version differs:
• Uses 2/4 bar units (unconventional for allemande)
• Opening: canon at the octave


CU1 Partita 3

1. Altered exemplars of 1731 print make inversions more literal, but no changes in Bach’s Handexemplar

2. Jones: composition exercises

3. Me: betrays Bach’s private contrapuntal rigour. Kuhnau CU2 preface (1692): if he had been completely strict in the voice leading as for a sonata/concerto, the Annehmlichkeit of the Suite would have suffered and much that was forced or unnatural (gezwungen) would have slipped in


CU1 Partita 6

1. Williams 2001: returns to ‘distancing thoroughness’ of English suites due to contrapuntal rigor/austerity

2. [Placed last despite being conceived first]
collection of 6 partitas



1. Italian concerto (for keyboard solo), French overture in 1735

2. More prominent/fashionable styles

3. F-b key scheme
o Represents cliche dichotomy between Italian/French styles
o Continues wedge

4. French and Italian influence overlaps both pieces
o French influence: precise ornament indication and requirement of double-manual harpsichord
o Italian influence: fire/impetuosity; ritornello form



1722 Mixing of free (improvisatory) and strict (composed at desk) forms, first attempted in toccatas.

Variety of Styles

1. Relatively archaic five-part alia breve style: C# min, Bb min 

2. Stile francese: D maj 

3. Modern Italianate manner: G maj



1. (1739): comprehensive/varied group of organ works, comprised primarily of chorale settings

2. Title-page adds: ‘and especially for connoisseurs of such work’ to customary music-lovers

3. Full of Trinitarian symbolism

4. Works paired in Pedaliter and Manualiter (Prelude-Fugue/duetti, Missa/catchetism chorales)

5. ‘Encyclopaedic intentions’
o Coupled large and small pieces (representative of large church vs small home organs
o Variety of contrapuntal methods

6. Work is book-ended by prelude and fugue representing opposite stylistic extremes

Ouverture-infused ritornello opening: blending of styles.
Galant elements
• First episode is particularly galant: repeated V7b-I with trilled melodic appoggiaturas and simple chordal accompaniment
• #7/4—8/3 ending appoggiatura

Second episode is effectively a 3-part fugue

Triple fugue in 3 sections (Trinitarian symbolism)
 Stile antico opening
 Uses stretto and inversion


Schulenberg on CU3

Marked stylistic change away from galant:

1. Canon

2. Avoidance of sequence/periodic phrasing

3. Modal cadences


Butler 1990 on CU3

Demonstrates CU3 was originally just mass and manualiter catchetism chorales (both are difficult/complex)


Jones on CU3

Expansion of work in interests of accessibility: easier to play and in more modern ‘natural’ style


Mizler on CU3

‘a powerful refutation of those who have made bold to criticize the compositions of the Honourable Court Composer’ (1740)

CU3 as provocative critique of new aesthetic


John Butt: Bach's Metaphysics of Music 1997

Bach's Metaphysics of Music

1. Explores hypothesis that Bach viewed ’the very substance of music as constituting a religious reality’, where the more perfectly composition/performance is realised, ‘the more God is immanent in music’

2. Rationalist philosophers Leibniz/Wolff/Spinoza illuminate Bach’s compositional mind

3. Tension between intrinsic God-given properties of music and necessity music be put to good use by setting good text

4. Contemporary conceptions of music were several and conflicting
o Pythagorean
o Styles had connotative significance for certain audiences
o Theological view: unable to express anything without suitable text

5. Mattheson’s 1739 treatise: all styles can serve all levels of public/private devotion

6. Butt argues Bach’s valued music independently for its craftmanship and specifically musical qualities

This contrasts with writings of traditional theologians, theorists (Kuhnau, Buttsett, Fuhrmann) and new breed Enlightenment aestheticians


Butt: Bach's conception of music 1997

1. ‘Few writers, even those comparatively close to Bach, seem adequately
to account for his creative personality’

2. ‘well-sounding harmony results for the glory of God and the permissible delight of the soul’

3. ‘the final purpose of all music and therefore also of the thorough-bass is nothing other than the praise of God and the recreation of the soul. When this is not taken into account, then there is no true music, only a devilish bawling and droning’

4. Secularist title-pages of Clavier-Ubung

5. Butt argues Bach had ‘musico-centric’ viewpoint: ‘the view that the very substance of music both reflects and embodies the ultimate reality of God and the Universe’

8. Examines Bach’s annotated bible, which shows music as a medium through which God becomes imminent
o Controversial among Pietists and Orthodox Christians who believed in supremacy of scripture


Scheibe's criticisms 1737

1. an excess of art’

2. Extremely difficult to perform

3. Every conceivable ornament is present in the notation

4. Voices are equal in partnership, difficulty and hierarchy

5. Uses schwulst (turgidity), deriving from Gottsched’s critique of 17thC literary bombast

6. Calls Bach ‘Musikant’

7. Underlying principles: no awareness of differentiations of style and proprieties of taste


Günther Wagner:

1. Scheibe is primarily concerned with Bach’s vocal music

2. Downplays scale of Scheibe’s attacks: vocal music comprised large part of Bach’s output

3. Butt: attacks nonetheless significant



1. reveals Bach’s attitudes

2. Bach: anyone could match his achievements ‘if one industriously strives to convert natural abilities, by untiring zeal, into perfected skills’

3. Music as timeless art which Bach saw as his responsibility to pass on to all those who were not merely concerned with the contingencies of fashion and taste’

4. Perfections/completeness (vollkommenheiten) is recurring theme in Birnbaum’s essay
Relies on satisfaction of entire potential of musical idea

5. Birnbaum modifies imitation of nature principle: art brings out beauty in imperfect nature

6. Bach’s art for connoisseurs
o Its difficulty/impropriety testimony to its greater significance
o Universal/timeless