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Bach and Religion
Part 5

Continue from Part 4

Bach and religious perfection

Jack Botelho wrote (May 6, 2004):
"Friedrich Nietzsche could not resist referring to Bach in a thoroughly unorthodox way: 'In Bach there is too much crude Christianity, or Germanism, crude cholasticism. He stands at the threshold of modern European music, but he is always looking back toward the Middle Ages.'
(p.373-374).

"When Johannes Tinctoris, the musical cyclopedist of the fifteenth century, wrote his book on the effects of music, he began with the words: 'Deum delectare, Dei laudes decorare' ('To please God, to embellish the praise of God'). This description of the function of art reflects a conception prevalent throughout the Middle Ages. Tinctoris added a commentary that is worth remembering: 'For it is proper to any artist that he be most satisfied with his work if it be perfect. Wherefore it must be held that God, who has not known a work of imperfection, must be most pleased with the most perfect art since he has created most perfect work himself.' Such thoughts were still deeply rooted in Bach's mind, as they had been in the minds of his predecessors."
(p.32)

The idea that Bach wrote music to glorify God is widely accepted, but in our age of 'listener pleasure', Bach himself probably would be appalled with certain modern secular attitudes toward his music. From a historical perspective, it never ceases to amaze me the arrogance of some musicians and critics (the latter category in which I would include myself - not as a music critic, but a critic of history) in their claims of 'knowing the true Bach' without reference to his religious faith, which is responsible for the high quality, indeed the striving for a certain perfection 'to please the Creator', which is characteristic of what is known of Bach's world view.

The (above) quoted passage continues:

"That his church music was designed to deepen the worship of God and to embellish His service need not be emphasized. Bach expressed his attitude clearly enough by regularly inscribing his scores of sacred music with the letters J.J. ('Jesu, Juva': 'Jesus, help') at the beginning, and S.D.G. ('Soli Deo Gloria': 'to God alone the glory') at the
end. Even in an unpretentious little volume of pieces for the musical instruction of his first-born son, the 'Clavier-Büchlein' for Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, he opened the
first page of music with the letters I.N.J. ('In Nomine Jesu': in the Name of Jesus). He did not shed his religion when he composed for instruction or other secular purposes.

"The feeling that all music was in the service of God went even further. When Bach dictated to his pupils excerpts from Niedt's book on thorough bass, he reworded thoughts expressed by Niedt as follows: 'The thorough bass is the most perfect foundation of music, being played with both hands in such manner that the left hand plays the notes written down while the right adds consonances and dissonances, in order to make a well-sounding harmony to the Glory of God and the permissible delectation of the spirit; and the aim and final reason, as of all music, so of the thorough bass should be none else but the Glory of God and the recreation of the mind. Where this is not observed, there is no real music but only devilish hubbub.'

"These sentences reveal that by both men even the realization of a figured bass - the most rudimentary element of musical craft, used in instrumental as well as vocal performance and secular as well as sacred music - was considered an act of homage to God. Quite clearly, it had to be proper if it was to be useful at all; and if it was perfect it necessarily - as Tinctoris' words imply - pleased God as well as the player or composer himself. In his secular work Bach without doubt strove for perfection as earnestly as in his compositions for divine service. Secular and sacred music were used with different texts and in different surroundings, but evidently Bach did not recognize a difference in principle between the two. For this reason he did not hesitate to make double use of originally secular works by adapting them to sacred texts, or to include movements from concertos and other instrumental compositions in his cantatas. The Osanna in the B-minor Mass was originally a movement in a 'dramma per musica', a secular choral cantata performed as a serenade during a visit of the king and queen to the city of Leipzig, but in its later position within the mass it forms as glorious a piece of religious praise as any music written specifically for the purpose could have been. The fact is that we, though we live in an irreligious age, have come back to the realization that there is no essential difference between religious and secular music, since, as we would put it, any fine music can serve to intensify the emotional content of any text that is at all similar in mood. And often the music Bach wrote for secular festivities rose so far above its text and the occasion for which it was composed that it fairly cried out to be refitted to words more appropriate to its sublime qualities."
(p.32-33).

David, Hans T. and Mendel, Arthur: The Bach Reader.
A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and
Documents. Revised Edition.
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1966.

Speaking even as a non-religious person, it is clear to me from reading the above that blatantly secular attitudes towards Bach's music would certainly make Bach's blood 'boil' if he were alive today. I post this message as an example of exploring a subject on its own terms - a 'sympathetic' approach while minimizing one's own modern biases which could prejudice the subject matter.

Bart O’Brien wrote (May 9, 2004):
Jack Botelho wrote:
< snip
"That his church music was designed to deepen the worship of God and to embellish His service need not be emphasized. Bach expressed his attitude clearly enough by regularly inscribing his scores of sacred music with the letters J.J. ('Jesu, Juva': 'Jesus, help') at the beginning, and S.D.G. ('Soli Deo Gloria': 'to God alone the glory') at the end. Even in an unpretentious little volume of pieces for the musical instruction of his first-born son, the 'Clavier-Büchlein' for
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, he opened the first page of music with the letters I.N.J. ('In Nomine Jesu': in the Name of Jesus). He did not shed his religion when he composed for instruction or other secular purposes. >
On the first day at secondary school we were told to begin every piece of homework by writing JMJ (to dedicate the work to Jesus, Mary and Joseph) at the top of the left margin; and the date at top right (with the numbers separated by dots, not slashes).

So we all did for the next seven years.

Writing JMJ all those thousands of times never had the slightest effect on the way I did my homework or on my attitudes to it. It was just a format convention like writing the date with the numbers separated by dots, not slashes.

And I don't recall any of my colleagues ever mentioning the 'JMJ' convention or giving any indication that it made any difference to anything.

I hope this little scrap of personal experience is of some interest.

Jack Botelho wrote (May 8, 2004):
[To Bart O’Brien] I very much appreciated reading this. I think it is very difficult to distinguish between a habitual act which has been taught to represent something and actually living 'a different world view' of the past. This is a big challenge with respect to reading topics in history.

Donald Satz wrote (May 6, 2004):
[To Jack Botelho] I'm not sure what point you are trying to make.

Jack Botelho wrote (May 8, 2004):
There has been a cry for a further explanation so here goes. I will give an example from personal experience, like yours. I spent 3 years on an isolated European Island - St. Maria, Azores - in a remote valley. People there just recently received electricity, street lighting, television and telephone. My neighbors seemed like they just walked out of the eighteenth century: an eldercouple who walked a few miles to church service every Sunday in their best clothing, worked in the field not according to clocks but position of the sun, pressed their own grapes for wine, etc. If you travelled there for a holiday and met these people, they would be delighted. But if you lived there for more than a year then you start to realise these people were from a different age. If you did not leave your front door wide open all day they interpreted it as being unfriendly. They would walk across your property on their way to the fields - their concept of privacy is much different. If they noticed that you stayed inside your house all day they assumed something was wrong - either you were ill or being anti-social. Even if you spend the day studying indoors they would give indications that you were strange - "What the hell is that guy doing inside all day? He must be lazy or good-for- nothing" and on and on and on. However, and significantly, these traditional people were land rich and highly respected. They were main-stream people of their culture.

With regard to the eighteenth century, there are things we today have in common with people of the past - they ate, slept, worked, etc. These commononalities are "givens". We don't have to work hard to understand such things. However, it is the "differences" between the people of the eighteenth century and ourselves that, in my opinion, the historian needs to pay special attention to, to attempt to understand the age and the people.

The above example of "time spent in a different culture" parallels the study of some periods of history, in my opinion.

Sorry for the ramble (this was written in a hurry) and I don't at all pretend to have any special insight into this subject.

John Pike wrote (May 9, 2004):
[To Bart O’Brien] Bach was under no compulsion to do this and I am not aware that any other composer did the same, even though many were as religiously-minded as Bach. Whatever one may think about this habit, the results were truly astounding. Coincidence?

Carol wrote (May 11, 2004):
[To John Pike] Not to me. As an agnostic who loves Jesus as a person, I still think
there's something behind it all; Bach is my religion.

Jack Botelho wrote (May 11, 2004):
[To Carol] Nice post!

 

Kuijken's CD booklet on Catholics, BWV 18 etc.

Tom Dent wrote (June 6, 2005):
Let me say first that I probably read too much into Koopman's statement about atheists being converted by his cantata performances - it was wrong to allow the implication that he intended or expected this to happen.

However, if music is a means by which one person can cause another to change their whole religious outlook within the space of an hour, perhaps Plato was right and it should be regulated by the state, since who knows what uses such power could be put to. (I would hope that only particularly ignorant and unhappy atheists were affected in this way...)

In my CD booklet for the motets conducted by Sigiswald Kuijken there is a hypothesis that Singet dem Herrn was composed for the visit of Friedrich August I to Leipzig. I quote: 'A solemn religious ceremony took place in the Thomaskirche, but - since Friedrich August was Catholic - a cantata cannot possibly had been sung. The Sanctus of the later Mass in B minor (BWV 232) is more likely to have been performed, as well as BWV 225.'

I have only one CD of the Harnoncourt-Leonhardt cantata cycle, numbers 17-19, which is the only cantata CD I ever bought 'at random'. In BWV 18 occur the words 'And from the Turk's and the Pope's cruel murder and blasphemies, rage and fury, protect us as a father'. Now it may be that in this small sample I have hit on the most virulent sentiments of the entire series; but one can see why as a general principle it was not advisable to perform a cantata in front of a Catholic princeling.

It is clear that the cantatas were specifically for the purpose of expounding and strengthening the Lutheran faith among its adherents. To them may be added the chorale preludes and other works with Lutheran melodies. To what extent this applies to other Bach works is debatable. These other works (and even the cantatas) have been appreciated many ways, mystical, deistic, scientific, holistic, humanistic, and I would not be surprised to hear existentialist and Zen Buddhist as well. This is the paradox of the universal sermon (Lat.: 'conversation') of the provincial Lutheran Kantor, which strengthens everyone in their own system of thought by simply making the world seem a better place.

(Well, except for those heretics who don't enjoy the music...)

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 6, 2005):
Tom Dent wrote:
>>In my CD booklet for the motets conducted by Sigiswald Kuijken there is a hypothesis that Singet dem Herrn was composed for the visit of Friedrich August I to Leipzig. I quote: 'A solemn religious ceremony took place in the Thomaskirche, but - since Friedrich August was Catholic - a cantata cannot possibly had been sung.The Sanctus of the later Mass in B minor is more likely to have been performed, as well as BWV 225.'<<
There are currently quite a number of theories/hypotheses regarding the occasion for which Bach supposedly composed BWV 225:

1. A special performance during church services on Jan. 1, 1727 (Alfred Dürr, Georg von Dadelsen)

2. For the occasion of a birthday celebrated on Nov. 30, 1726: It was the birthday of Fürstin Charlotte Friederike Wilhelmine von Anhalt-Köthen. (Dürr)

3) Konrad Ameln (1961) conjectured that it was performed on May 12, 1727 for the birthday of August, the Strong, as given above.

4) To celebrate the Reformation Anniversary on Oct. 31, 1726 (Robin A. Leaver - 1985)

5. Various theories that it was used as funeral music or in remembrance of an important person's death. Numerous theories dating back to the beginning of the 20th century can be listed, but I do not have time to list all of them now.

All of these theories can not be adequately substantiated. As a result, Klaus Hoffmann, in his book "Die Motetten" [Bärenreiter, 2003], still awaits further confirming evidence to try to settle this issue, if possible.

Santu De Silva wrote (June 9, 2005):
Tom Dent writes:
"It is clear that the cantatas were specifically for the purpose of expounding and strengthening the Lutheran faith among its adherents. To them may be added the chorale preludes and other works with Lutheran melodies. To what extent this applies to other Bach works is debatable."
I suggest an alternative purpose: all Bach's music was written for the glorification of God. But I suppose the question will inevitably arise: what does "glorification" mean?

When Händel was told that a particular performance of Messiah had pleased the audience, he was said to have been disappointed, hoping to have made them 'better'. Was this something Händel wanted to do in all his works, or just the Messiah?

It's lovely to have the luxury of constantly thinking about why we do things. Do I do my work to make my students better people, or to avoid getting cursed by whoever inherits them next semester? Did Bach say to himself "This passage here should strengthen their faith, all right!" Or did he simply say, "I'm going to make this as beautiful as I can, and maybe the congregation will notice it, but in any case, God will know what I meant by it!" ?

Tom Dent wrote (June 10, 2005):
Tom Dent writes:
"It is clear that the cantatas were specifically for the purpose of expounding and strengthening the Lutheran faith among its adherents. (...)"
Santu De Silva wrote:
< I suggest an alternative purpose: all Bach's music was written for the glorification of God. (...) Did Bach say to himself "This passage here should strengthen their faith, all right!" Or did he simply say, "I'm going to make this as beautiful as I can, and maybe the congregation will notice it, but in any case, God will know what I meant by it!" ? >
That is possib, but it doesn't reduce my point that that Bach calibrated (with the help of librettists) the explicit religious content of his works to the intended audience and occasion. Some (many!) were written with a particular religious occasion in mind, and some were written for a quite different audience, that is, one (let us say in the coffee-house) who would likely not be feeling devotional. And possibly some were written with no audience in mind except the player him or herself who would think whatever they wanted.

So, my claim about the Lutheran cantatas stands if we put in the caveat 'as regards their effect on an audience'. Maybe Bach also wanted to exercise his skill in counterpoint, or use some novel type of oboe, or express his mystical feeling of the unity of all things, but those were not the main thing to be consciously communicated to the listener.

Joel Figen wrote (June 10, 2005):
Tom Dent wrote:
< So, my claim about the Lutheran cantatas stands if we put in the caveat 'as regards their effect on an audience'. Maybe Bach also wanted to exercise his skill in counterpoint, or use some novel type of oboe, or express his mystical feeling of the unity of all things, but those were not the main thing to be consciously communicated to the listener. >
I think I like what you are saying, but I can't remember what your original claim was. Would you restate it please?

My own take on all of this is that it doesn't really matter so much what the audience was thinking or even what Bach was thinking. Bach's conscious motivation isn't what wrote the music. It may have provided a stimulus, or perhaps a pretext, maybe even a censor, but the music itself is deeper than any creed or motivation. The creative process of any great artist is fundamentally mysterious to us mere mortals. The more I listen to the Cantatas, read the scores, midi the scores, sing the arias, etc., the more I become amazed and awestruck at the artistry.

 

Speaking to (non-)coreligionists

Continue of discussion from: Bach the Evangelist - Part 3 [General Topics]

Tom Dent (June 9, 2005):
Paul T. McCain, wrote to Cara Emily Thornton:
< Please note that by referring to "God" you have undoubtedly offended the secularists on this list who will no doubt rise up in protest that you would dare to wish me the blessing of "God" -- but they seem quite tolerant when Bach does it.
Go figure! >
No-one has refuted my contention that the Leipzigers though it improper to perform a cantata in front of a Catholic visitor. Bach knew that he was, most Sundays, speaking to a 100 percent Lutheran audience, and tailored the cantatas accordingly (including the aforementioned reference to the cruel and vicious Turk and Papist). The readers of this email list are a quite different collection of people from Bach's congregation, and it is advisable to recognise this distinction in communicating with them.

Any non-Lutheran who wanted to listen to Bach's church cantatas (let us not forget the secular cantatas!) would have had to eavesdrop. I find this - informed eavesdropping - an apposite way of describing the usual modern way of listening. Or as Pope put it in a less fervent age,

Some to the Church repair, Not for the doctrine, but for the music there.

As an atheist, I find Paul McCain's unfounded characterization of 'the secularists on this list' quite offensive. It is odd that a Christian would be moved to protest by the mere thought of others expressing adverse opinions, when the most powerful men on the planet are of their religion, Christianity is de facto state faith of the most powerful nation, and it is unremarkable when a President says that atheists do not deserve to attain the highest office. Go figure, as they say.

It must indeed be a terrible martyrdom for those who are forced to imagine that they are going to receive email messages criticizing their public displays of religion.

Joel Figen wrote (June 8, 2005):
Tom Dent wrote:
< As an atheist, I find Paul McCain's unfounded characterization of 'the secularists on this list' quite offensive. >
This forum is a microcosm of a pluralistic society. I don't talk about my beliefs here, and I would rather no one did. I don't really need to know that you're an atheist, another is a christian, and another worships potatoes. It's simply not what this forum is about. Secularism is what it takes to have all sorts of different people live together and do productive work. Secularist is not a dirty word.

< It must indeed be a terrible martyrdom for those who are forced to imagine that they are going to receive email messages criticizing their public displays of religion >
Excellent witticism.

Cara Emily Thornton (June 9, 2005):
Tom Dent wrote:
>>As an atheist, I find Paul McCain's unfounded characterization of 'the secularists on this list' quite offensive. <<
< This forum is a microcosm of a pluralistic society. I don't talk about my beliefs here, and I would rather no one did. I don't really need to know that you're an atheist, another is a christian, and another worships potatoes. It's simply not what this forum is about. Secularism is what it takes to have all sorts of different people live together
> and do productive work. Secularist is not a dirty word. >
I don't see that secularism is necessary to have all sorts of people live together and do productive work. There are people who enjoy discussing with people of other religions, reading the writings of those religions, who find that doing so enables them to understand their own faith better, in that these other religions may discuss the same issues from their own unique viewpoint, perhaps even giving words for concepts that a given person may have experienced, but not have a word for in their 'home' religion. And on the other hand, they will also gain an appreciation of what is unique about each religion. (I use the term 'religion' very loosely here - because of course there are 'core belief systems' which do not include such concepts as 'deity').

I wonder what good old JSB would think of such a discussion. I mean, I was very surprised to find out that in his time, it was thought inappropriate to allow Catholics to hear Protestant cantatas. I mean, I know that using modern instruments could be considered suspect from a performance practice viewpoint, but using Catholic musicians? How far are we going to go in 'being authentic'? Did this restriction apply only to Catholics, or also, for example, to representatives of other religions?

All for now.

Joel Figen (June 10, 2005):
Tom Dent wrote:
>>>As an atheist, I find Paul McCain's unfounded characterization of 'the secularists on this list' quite offensive. <<<
>> This forum is a microcosm of a pluralistic society. I don't talk about my beliefs here, and I would rather no one did. I don't really need to know that you're an atheist, another is a christian, and another worships potatoes. It's simply not what this forum is about. Secularism is what it takes to have all sorts of different people live together and do productive work. Secularist is not a dirty word. <<
Cara Emily Thornton wrote:
> I don't see that secularism is necessary to have all sorts of people live together and do productive work. There are people who enjoy discussing with people of other religions, reading <snip> <
Let me see if I can explain it. You are correct in saying that there are people who enjoy it. What you are ignoring is that there are also people tearing their hair out, begging for it to stop. If that were happening in a workplace, productive work would surely suffer. I've been in such situations, and, oddly enough, I was on the pro-religion side most of the time. But I've rethought it.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't enjoy such discussions. (I enjoyed them for decades before I realized how fruitless they are. But I had to reach that point for myself.) I'm simply saying that they shouldn't be done here, in this forum. There are so many places on the internet devoted to such matters (I used to run two of them!) that it's really not fair to spread it everywhere, leaving those who don't like it nowhere to retreat t. This is so obvious to me that it's not even a matter of opinion. It's standard netiquette: Stay on topic.

In public society, as opposed to private situations, we have various rules of what we should and should not do or talk about, how much we should or shouldn't say, and so on. We have polite restrictions on sexuality, politics and religion for precisely the reason that they are such incendiary topics. In my opinion, it's as impolite to push religion in a stranger's face as it is to make unwanted sexual advances. This isn't really limited to hard-core proselytism, but it also includes, in a less blatant way, perhaps, the kind of easy-going discussions you seem to prefer. In real life, one just walks away from a stranger who wants to discuss something inappropriate or uninteresting. On the internet, it can be a little more complicated. Netiquette suggests that we're all here to discuss Bach, not religion, and we should more or less stick to the topic of Bach, since some people here don't like religion and are offended by it.

References to Bach's religious practices and feelings are inevitable, but they shouldn't be dwelt upon in a gloating way, as an excuse to show off one's religious zeal, and they shouldn't be taken as an opening to discuss anyones current beliefs, nor should they lead to a discussion of comparative religion in general. All of that just way off topic, and offensive to a significant minority (majority?) of participants, as well as being very bad netiquette.

There are many topics that some people here would find offensive, while others might enjoy them. In the interest of peace and tranquility, and in the interest of getting the job done that we came here to do, we should avoid them. The best plan, imho, is to speak seldom and gingerly about any subjects that might offend, and to refrain from letting them become ongoing threads, especially after strong objections have been voiced. In a general way, these topics include religion, sex, politics, personal attack, profanity, your last vacation, etc. Please go easy on all of them. Thanks.

Paul T. McCain (June 10, 2005):
[To Joel Figen] Joel, it is impossible to avoid religion on a discussion group devoted to J.S. Bach's church cantatas, which were....ah....CHURCH cantatas.

Robin Kinross (June 10, 2005):
Paul McCain wrote:
< Joel, it is impossible to avoid religion on a discussion group devoted to J.S. Bach's church cantatas, which were....ah....CHURCH cantatas. >
but Joel acknowledged this:
< References to Bach's religious practices and feelings are inevitable, >

and then made this quite subtle and (I think) good suggestion:
< but they shouldn't be dwelt upon in a gloating way, as an excuse to show off one's religious zeal, and they shouldn't be taken as an opening to discuss anyones current beliefs, nor should they lead to a discussion of comparative religion in general. >

 

Talking About Bach's Religion Without Being Religious

Paul T. McCain (June 10, 2005):
A recent comment on this group site postulated: < shouldn't be taken as an opening to discuss anyones current beliefs, >
In other words, people are permitted by the secularists on this list to state that Bach had religious beliefs, to discuss those perhaps [in a limited way, of course] but they are not thereby permitted to discuss their own beliefs and how Bach's work relates to those beliefs. Whereas secularists are free to wax rhapsodic about the impact of Bach's beautiful music on their world view.

How ironic, that the church cantatas written by J.S. Bach, who devoted his life to writing church music "JJ" -- with the help of Jesus -- and concluding his church music with the great "SDG" -- "To God Alone Be the Glory" -- are now only allowed here to be scrutinized as for their musical content whereas we are not "allowed" to explore the actual MEANING of this music, as normed, shaped and defined by the very words for which the music was written!

Ironic? Tragic!

Gabriel Jackson (June 10, 2005):
[To Paul T. McCain] But there you go again, Paul. "With the help of Jesus" - just because Bach believed that doesn't make it true! And music doesn't have any meaning, or rather, it's meaning is determined uniquely by each individual listener; of course there is an intimate and complex relationship between the words and the music in these works, but if one has no understanding of the words, or even knowledge of what they are about, the beauty and purely musical sophistication and artistry can still provide a fulfilling and satisfying experience. No-one has a monopoly on the meaning of a work of art, even it's composer.

Robin Kinross (June 10, 2005):
[To Paul T. McCain] Read the opening of your post again (the quote) and maybe you can see that no-one is saying:
< we are not "allowed" to explore the actual MEANING of this music, as normed, shaped and defined by the very words for which the music was written >
Though to what degree the words really "norm, shape and define" the music is an interesting question, and I don't think your one-directional (words --> music) formulation does full justice to these works. And, as we know, Bach sometimes used the same religiously "normed" music in purely secular pieces, and vice versa.

Thomas Braatz (June 10, 2005):
Robin Kinross wrote:
>>And, as we know, Bach sometimes used the same religiously "normed" music in purely secular pieces, and vice versa.<<
I think the choice of the phrase 'vice versa' might be misleading. Can you or any one reading this give me an example of a 'sacred' work by Bach (or any separate mvt. from such a work as a cantata, oratorio, Passion, motet or even chorale prelude for organ) which subsequently, after it had been conceived, composed, and performed in a church or as part of a religious ceremony, was then used again by Bach in a secular setting (court entertainment, coffee house - examples: birthday, coffee, peasant, hunting, or any other secular cantata)?

It appears to me that Bach had a very practical purpose in mind when he composed secular cantatas sometimes only a few months before they would be used again in church with different texts and usually different recitatives. Perhaps he may have even planned parts of such a sequence (first secular, the sacred) ahead of time. A good portion of Bach's income was derived from such "Akzienzien" some of which were not at all church-related but brought Bach much honor and, most of all, an important sum of money. While it is quite evident that Bach seemed not to be very concerned about reusing materials from secular cantatas (perhaps not, however, from the coffee or peasant cantatas) for a later sacred cantata to be presented in church, there was certainly something that held Bach back from reversing the process. What was it? Did Bach think such an act would be sacrilegious (the music of a sacred cantata performed in church would be desecrated if it appeared again later with a mundane, sometimes even overtly political, secular text)? Was Bach simply more afraid that the music first heard in church might be recognized by someone at the royal court and reported to the ruler who then might feel that he had not received the full value of Bach's talent in composing new scores (who knows what form the repercussions of such an action on Bach's part might have taken?)

From a Bach-religious standpoint, it does bother me somewhat that Bach's efforts in making the music represent the words, not only for the general, single Affekt that should govern an aria, which is not really a problem for Bach, but in word-painting, where the intimate, direct connection between the words and the specific musical effects that Bach employs to underline the musical meaing of certain words, comes up short and usually is not as successful as that contained in the original secular text conception. It certainly would have been interesting to be privy to the discussions that went on between Bach and his librettist as they attempted to 'hammer out' a new religious text for an already existing secular aria (or chorus). Perhaps it was the pressure of producing generally a cantata each week that caused Bach rarely to change the melodic linand the bc accompaniment, thus often leaving an extended melisma just where it was with a new key word placed elsewhere before the melisma and not necessarily agreeing with the emphatic nature of such a melisma. And yet Bach necessarily had to find the time to transpose the aria and often changed the orchestration, and especially the obbligato instrument(s). There is something in the original composing process, as Bach is inspired by the text (in this case a secular text), where music and text merge so closely that, faced with reusing the same music with a new, religious text and despite efforts to resolve problems with the librettist who supplies a new sacred text and is willing to make changes within certain limitations imposed upon him by the text, Bach must have realized that he would either have to allow the imperfection (words and music not perfectly suited to each other) to exist or else have to recompose major sections of the aria which is not as easy as simply leaving things as they are.

Assuming that the above situation pertains as I have described it, is it possible to infer anything at all from this regarding Bach's religious conscience in presenting a work conceived on a secular basis in a sacred form which has now lost some of the original genius of connectivity between words and music, although the music is still great as music per se? When Bach imported mvts. from the Brandenburg Concerti, he expanded and improved them in numerous ways before using them in his church cantatas. However, reusing mvts. like arias from secular cantatas in a sacred setting poses almost insurmountable difficulties for Bach as a composer as he balances remaining musically true to the new sacred text with an already existing musical form having distinctive melodic shapes that can not simply be varied in order to make the fit the text. In a few instances, Bach performed some major miracles in this regard. The commentators on Bach's works are always eager to point this out, and rightly so. However, where Bach was not as successful in the process (adapting parts of his secular cantatas for use in church with a new text), these commentators tend to remain silent.

Considered realistically, who among those present for the original performances of these works, other than Bach and perhaps his librettist, would have recognized the peculiar problem which Bach, in quite a few instances, faced in effecting these major translations/transformations from secular to sacred? Under his unbelievable, almost inhuman workload and family obligations, dare we even ask whether Bach could face his religious conscience and say: "I have offered the best that I could produce SDG."

Cara Emily Thornton (June 10, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thank you Thomas for setting a good example for our discussions.

Robin Kinross (June 13, 2005):
>>And, as we know, Bach sometimes used the same religiously "normed" music in purely secular pieces, and vice versa.<<
Thomas Braatz wrote: < I think the choice of the phrase 'vice versa' might be misleading. Can you or any one reading this give me an example of a 'sacred' work by Bach (or any separate mvt. from such a work as a cantata, oratorio, Passion, motet or even chorale prelude for organ) which subsequently, after it had been conceived, composed, and performed in a church or as part of a religious ceremony, was then used again by Bach in a secular setting (court entertainment, coffee house - examples: birthday, coffee, peasant, hunting, or any other secular cantata)? >
thanks for all you wrote on this.

I confess that this is beyond my competence. But as a lay listener, I hear Bach's music as a continuum, and don't feel clear boundaries between sacred and secular. In that large sense, the relation of secular and sacred feels "vice versa", or thoroughly intermingled.

But with that "vice versa" I think I had in the back of my head the postulated echoes of the chorales in the partita for solo violin (D minor). But maybe this is to throw a cat among the pigeons.

Thomas Braatz (June 13, 2005):
Robin Kinross wrote:
>>But with that "vice versa" I think I had in the back of my head the postulated echoes of the chorales in the partita for solo violin (D minor). But maybe this is to throw a cat among the pigeons.<<
This is a good point to make. A little further investigation on my part turned up the following:

The NBA KB VI/1 p. 64 indicates the possible performance venues (not including playing them privately) for these works (Sonatas & Partitas for solo violin BWV 1001-1006) which remained unpublished during Bach's lifetime:

1. a possible performance as part of a chamber music presentation at a court or wherever the ruler(s) were assembled - mainly during the Köthen period, although some mvts. may go back to the Weimar period.

2. in church as part of the communion service. This latter point is documented by Forkel, and independently based upon original sources by Arnold Schering.

Here is Forkel:

In Bach's time it was customary to play an instrumental concerto or a solo on any particular instrument during communion. Such pieces Bach frequently composed himself for this purpose with the purpose in mind of improving the playing of his instrumentalists.

Schering's quotations from original sources from 1694, 1717 and 1719 in which it is stated that:

"Unter der Communion, ehe die teutschen Lieder angefangen werden, wird ein Stück musiciert oder eine Motette gesungen." ["During communion, before beginning the singing German-texted chorales, an instrumental piece is played or a motet is sung."]
[Doug Cowling, I hope you will note this!]

In addition to the discovery of chorale melodies in the famous Ciaccona in BWV 1004 (Partita II), the NBA KB comments on Bach's use of the incipit of the chorale "Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott" in the Fuga that is part of Sonata III (BWV 1005) and speculates that it could have been used as an example to illustrate its inclusion as part of the 'sub communione' for a Pentecost church service. It would appear that such 'secular' instrumental music was composed with a performance in church already in mind or that its use in church was primary/original in Bach's conception.

John Pike (June 13, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Does the fact that Bach's 3 sonatas for unaccompanied violin are all in the "da Chiesa" category and, according to Helga Thoene, all based on religious theme tunes, mean that Bach had the 3 sonatas especially in mind for use during church services?

Thomas Braatz (June 13, 2005):
Re: Sonatas & Partitas for solo violin BWV 1001-1006

In line with the usual sacred parodies of secular works, there is the 'Preludio' BWV 1006/1, the beginning mvt. of Partita III, which Bach later used as a 'Sinfonia' for orchestra in BWV 120/4 (a wedding cantata) and BWV 29 (Inauguration of the City Council), both performed in a church.

There is another theory based on a lot of speculation without any evidence to back it up that wants to see BWV 1005/2 (Fuga) [with the incipit of the Pentecost Antiphon "Veni sancte spiritus" which Luther expanded with additional verses as "Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott" which Bach quotes in the aforementioned Fuga for solo violin] as originally composed for organ as a chorale fugue.

The other parodies/transformations of the original solo violin mvts. are:

BWV 1003 (Sonata II) becomes BWV 964, a sonata for harpsichord.

BWV 1006 (Partita III) becomes BWV 1006a, a suite for harp

BWV 1001/2 (Fuga from Sonata I) becomes BWV 1000 (a fugue for lute)

BWV 1005/1 (Grave from Sonata III) becomes BWV 968 (an adagio for harpsichord)

Thomas Braatz (June 13, 2005):
John Pike wrote:
>>Does the fact that Bach's 3 sonatas for unaccompanied violin are all in the "da Chiesa" category and, according to Helga Thoene, all based on religious theme tunes, mean that Bach had the 3 sonatas especially in mind for use during church services?<<
It would appear so. I only discovered (i.e., read about this) for the first time this morning. The NBA KB investigation does not refer to Helga Thoene's discoveries, but does clearly investigate Bach's quotation as a fugal subject of the incipit of "Komm,heiliger Geist, Herre Gott."

I do find that Schering's specific quotations from original sources from the period allow us to give credence to such solo-instrument performances taking place in the churches during services where Bach presented his music.

Schering adds to his evidence his opinion that performances of Bach's solo violin and solo violoncello compositions 'may have taken place occasionally.' Schering quotes Leibnitz's (father of the famous philosopher, I believe) "Kirchenandachten" [a detailed description of church services] 1694 and his "Kirchenstaat" (1710) as well as Sicul's "Neo Annalium Lips. Cont. II" (1717) in the notes at the bottom of p. 10 in Schering's own book "Johann Sebastian Bachs Leipziger Kirchenmusik" [Leipzig, 1936.]

Also appealing is the notion that Bach intended to keep his best musicians 'on their toes' by pushing them forward 'to tackle' more difficult music from which they could learn something new. Imagine Bach saying to his 1st violinist in Leipzig: "Next Sunday, during communion, I want you to play this solo piece {let's say the 'Ciaccona' or the 'Fuga' referred to above} that I composed. Here, look it over beforehand and give me the 'performance of your life' on Sunday." What an excellent way for Bach to prevent his key musicians from every becoming smug or lazy in their playing technique by expanding the possibilities that they 'have to reach for.'

Doug Cowling (June 13, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Here is Forkel:
In Bach's time it was customary to play an instrumental concerto or a solo on any particular instrument during communion. Such pieces Bach frequently composed himself for this purpose with the purpose in mind of improving the playing of his instrumentalists.
Schering's quotations from original sources from 1694, 1717 and 1719 in which it is stated that:
"Unter der Communion, ehe die teutschen Lieder angefangen werden, wird ein Stück musiciert oder eine Motette gesungen." ["During communion, before beginning the singing German-texted chorales, an instrumental piece is played or a motet is sung."] [Doug Cowling, I hope you will note this!] >
This is precisely the way we should examing the religious context of Bach's work: getting rid of our assumptions about the modern concert hall and looking at the specific liturgical context of Bach's works and seeing what their functions were. I have always said that Bach cantatas in modern perforamnce often seem lopsided with big opening choruses and short concluding chorales. In fact, we really don't hear a chorale cantata properly without a sermon at the end to balance the opening.

This is fascinating material about the sonatas and partitas being sonatas "da chiesa". From the Renaissance onwards, we see Sonatas after the Epistle (as with Mozart) and at the Offertory of the catholic mass. Since there was no recpetion of the sacrament in the catholic mass, there wsa no need for extended music as a "cover". In the Lutheran mass the distribution in a large church must have taken over half an hour, ample time for extended solo works and cantatas. I'm practically swooning at the thought of the Chaconne soaring aloft in a large church acoustic. But am I right in assuming that there is no specific evidence that the solo violin works were sonatas da chiesa.

John Pike (June 13, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] When I used the term "da Chiesa" I was using it in the official terminology sense....4 movements alternating slow, quick, slow, quick. All 3 sonatas fall into this category:

G minor. Adagio, Fuga, Siciliano, presto
A minor. Grave, Fuga, Andante, Allegro
C major. Adagio, Fuga, Largo, Allegro Assai

The 3 Partitas do not fall into the da Chiesa Sonata category form.

 

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Last update: ýMarch 11, 2012 ý17:24:22