Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Bach Books: Main Page / Reviews & Discussions | Index by Title | Index by Author | Index by Number
General: Biographies | Essay Collections | Performance Practice | Children
Vocal: Cantatas BWV 1-224 | Motets BWV 225-231 | Latin Church BWV 232-243 | Passions & Oratorios BWV 244-249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Lieder BWV 439-524
Instrumental: Organ BWV 525-771 | Keyboard BWV 772-994 | Solo Instrumental BWV 995-1013 | Chamber & Orchestral BWV 1014-1080

Bach Books

Bach and the Patterns of Invention

by Laurence Dreyfus





Bach and the Patterns of Invention


Laurence Dreyfus

Harvard University Press


HC & PB / 270pp

Patterns of Invention

Douglas S.A.
wrote (December 2, 2003):
I was interested to read Brad's comments on Prof. Laurence Dreyfus's book, Bach and the Patterns of Invention, and looked it up on While the hardback edition is expensive (38 pounds), it seems that a paperback edition will be published in March 2004. It's very handy to have this kind of advance warning on Amazon.

I am currently reading Dreyfus's book on Bach's Continuo Group and will report on this.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 3, 2003):
[To Douglas S.A.] This evening I read the chapter where he compares the Allemande of the G major French Suite against a D minor allemande by Marchand. Well done! And I played through the Marchand musical example and found it to be a gorgeous, very well-composed piece for harpsichord—giving the lie to the bad rap Marchand has received (due to the famous anecdote about the contest). [Now, why did Dreyfus include only the first half of the Marchand piece?! I want it all! It seems there is less need for him to include all of the Bach piece in the parallel example, since readers will much more likely have the Bach score already handy than the Marchand.]

Dreyfus has now whetted my appetite to go buy the scores of Marchand's works, and learn them, just from the presentation of the example here. Well done!

I also applaud his stance of showing that Bach's music is not automatically superior (as so many other commentators do, promoting The Hero), but that it is perhaps Bach's "surly" response (Dreyfus' term!) to the influences around him.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 3, 2003):
[To Douglas S.A.] Late last night I was reading more of it: the section where Dreyfus sets up the appeal of Vivaldi's concertos, with description of the legendary performances by Vivaldi's all-girl orchestra.

"An English traveler, Edward Wright, reports on his visit there around 1720: 'Every Sunday and holiday there is a performance of music in the chapels of these hospitals, vocal and instrumental, performed by the young women of the place, who are set in a gallery above and, though not professed, are hid from any distinct view of those below by a lattice of ironwork. The organ parts, as well of those of other instruments, are all performed by the young women. They have a eunuch for their master, and he composes their music. Their performance is surprisingly good, and many excellent voices are among them. And this is all the more amusing since their persons are concealed from view.'

"The mention of a eunuch as master of the girls, though comically absurd, reveals an often underplayed element in the touristic experience of hearing music at the Pieta. That is, at least some foreign listeners perceived the event as no less than a kind of exhibition at a harem, with all the forbidden pleasures that attend such a fantasy; hence it 'is all the more amusing,' as Wright puts it, 'since their persons are concealed from view.' From the vantage point of the Pieta authorities, of course, the concealment of the musicians with a grille was there to 'discourage mere visual admiration of feminine charm,' as Eleanor Selfridge-Field has put it. On the other hand, the authorities were powerless to discourage visitors from drawing their own conclusions."


"I mention these worldly associations not to suggest that the young women of the Pieta or the commodity value of Vivaldi's concertos secretly play a tacit role in Bach's concertos--no one has ever hinted at any such association--but rather to say that these factors may have accounted for the lightning-quick popularity of Vivaldi's works among 'consumers' and partons of music such as Bach's young employer, Prince Johann Ernst of Saxe-Weimar. At the very least the texts connected with Venice and Vivaldi suggest that the reception of the Vivaldian concerto in northern Europe lacked a distinctly high-minded profile, but rather profited from travelers' accounts of the experience of hearing the works in their native venue."


And bringing that into the present, right there is some of the appeal of Vanessa-Mae, and Bond (string quartet), and The Eroica Trio, and Ofra Harnoy, and...OK, I'll stop listing examples. There is some effective musicianship there, granted. But, from reports by people who have seen the live shows, and by looking at album covers and other promotional materials where the musicians are glamourized, I can't help wondering: would the adulatory reception be so great if these performers played behind screens, as Vivaldi's young women did?

This is not meant to be sexist AT ALL; there are also male performers in the classical-music world who go a long way on their looks and the marketing thereof. (And, some stereotypically gorgeous people really can play phenomenally well by any standard, e.g. Lara St John's "Gypsy" album; or Tiger Woods in golf.) But, with the CD in the player and nothing to look at, listen to the music-making devoid of any visual attractions. The music should come through strongly, clearly, interestingly, on its sound alone, if the performers really are doing a great job. Does it? Something to ponder. (The same can also be done in a live concert: close your eyes now and then, and check if the music still seems as vivid--or even more so--as it does
with eyes open.)

Consumer popularity of classical musicians: based on the physical appeal of the performers...that's ad hominem (and/or ad feminem) judgment! The performer looks hot, putting on a sexy show, and therefore must be a great musician. Bzzt. Sells a lot of records and tickets, anyway, and that's something. The fashion designers even get credit in the CD packaging! But in a great performance, the attention of the listeners should be on THE MUSIC, not on the performer's physical appeal or visual quirks; the visual elements should certainly not be the central appeal of the program. The visual stuff can too easily sell the music short, just a facile appeal. Right?

Once more, musical criticism veers (in part) into areas of sociology and it should do!

Brad Lehman
(...on the evidence of their recordings alone, definitely not a fan of The Eroica Trio! Much more a fan of Jacqueline duPre, not because she was A Hot Babe, but because she played the daylights out of the music...her post-Bach music, that is. I'm not so fond of her Bach solo suites 1 and 2. Anybody here like her Bach? I do like her early recording of the BWV 1028 and 564 excerpts.)

Zev Bechler wrote (December 4, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] If music is entertainment then why not bring in sex and much more ( background movies on a huge screen and what not), as much as the creative imagination of the business manager can conjure up ? so long as it entartains and sells. You must accept it all if you fall for that entertainment view of music. But I don’t see how you can avoid it.

Biographies of Performers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Explanation | Acronyms | Missing Biographies | The Sad Corner


Back to the Top

Last update: Tuesday, May 30, 2017 08:27