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Bach Books

Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J.S. Bach
by Eric Chafe



The Book


Tonal Allegory in the Music of J.S. Bach


Eric Chafe

University of California Press


460 pp

Eric Chafe’s book on Bach’s vocal music

Thomas Braatz
wrote (January 17, 2003):
Perhaps someone reading this will know the answer to my question:

Last year I purchased Eric Chafe's very interesting, but quite expensive book, "Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J. S. Bach" At that time I purchased it as a new book from at about $90.00 and received it without a cover (I never even knew it had a cover, but I suppose most new hardbound books do.) Here is the URL on that now shows a cover very different from the plain gray binding that I received:

Notice that the 'new low price' is now $104.50. What really intrigues me, however, is the following item for sale by De La Pena Books on the internet:

Eric Chafe: "Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J. S. Bach" (dust jacket only) which costs $25.50! Once again the bookseller warns: "Dust jacket only, does not include book."

What is going on here?

David Smith wrote (January 17, 2003):
I've never heard of someone selling a dust cover before. Pretty expensive! But I would be interested in peoples' reaction to Chafe's work. I've read as much as I could follow of his second book Analyzing Bach Cantatas and it seems to me one of the best approaches I've seen to the cantatas. He treats the music and the theological message of the text in an integrated way and he really works at understanding the Lutheran theological context. I found his treatment of BWV 77 very illuminating and it has become one of my favourite cantatas.

I think his work seems to promise more than anything else I've seen the fulfillment of what Dick Wursten expressed some time ago - a way of understanding the meaning of the cantatas objectively - "what Bach really meant." With his treatment of the tonal shifts between movements, such as Tom Braatz outlined for BWV 11, and his discussion of the relation between the keys used and the older musical modes and the way they were used to depict the affections, it does seem that we can get closer to an objective reading of the cantatas. Not that this would diminish the value of more subjective impressions of course. However my limited musical knowledge keeps me from fully following Chafe's arguments. How do others feel?

Kirk McElhearn wrote (January 17, 2003):
< David Smith wrote: However my limited musical knowledge keeps me from fully following Chafe's arguments. How do others feel? >
I couldn't even make it through one chapter of his cantata book...

Rev. Robert A. Lawson wrote (January 17, 2003):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I agree that for those of us who have a limited, or even no music theory background Chafe can be real challenging. But it's worth the effort the struggle through. There are gems to be mined along the way in both of his books. I hope he writes another.

I understand that "Lutheran Quarterly" is planning to publish a collected volume of writings by Robin Leaver. It's probably another year or two in the future, but this would be a great help because, like Chafe, he gives Bach's theology more than a passing glance but without getting bogged down in the nuances of the notes.

Dick Wursten wrote (January 17, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] 'Habent libelli sua fata' - all books have their own peculair fate -
the Romans already knew. But Amazon by deliberately separating Thom's copy from its cover created a fata morgana.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (January 19, 2003):
[To Dick Wursten] ummm...I thought English was the standard language on the list.

Seriously, I think Tom's experience is humourous at best (that's almost an oxymoron-ok not really)

One question I have is: I'm sure that Chafe's books are fo very high quality, but why are they so expensive?

Eric Chafe: Analyzing Bach Cantatas | Tonal Allegory in the Music of J.S. Bach

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