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Symbolism

 

 

Symbolism

Bernard Nys wrote (May 2, 2002):
It's strange that none of us has read one of the many books about the hidden signification of the Goldberg Variations. As I said, it was a radio broadcast and I didn't write down the references and in addition, I'm ignorant in mathematics of physics.

I've another topic that can interest you or seem rubbish : the 2 Parts of the SMP would form a cross (the first Part being the transverse beam and the triple denial by Peter being the intersection). I agree that you don't have to know this to appreciate the SMP, but I think that Bach was very much into symbolism.

Tjako van Schie wrote (May 2, 2002):
[To Bernard Nys] Dutch musicologist Kees van Houten wrote an interesting book on the SMP-cross-form. He tries to prove this cross form with examples from the score and numerology.

If you are interested in symbolism in bach's music (Goldbergs a.o.) you might want to read two articles I wrote on the subject. http://www.tjakovanschie.com/Articles.htm .

Francine Renee Hall wrote (May 2, 2002):
I read Tjako's article on the GVs with great interest. Since I used to be an English major I immediately thought of the metaphysical poets. For example, Robert Herrick wrote religious poems using layers of religious symbolism, exacting metre and rhythm, and even in the shape of the subject matter itself. For instance, he wrote "This Crosse- Tree Here" which is literally in the shape of the cross; his "The Pillar of Fame" is in the shape of a Greek column. Another metaphysical poet, George Herbert, wrote "The Altar" in the shape of one, and his "Easter Wings" must be read sideways as they are in the shape of wings. In literary criticism I took a W. H. Auden poem (Museum of Fine Arts) and analyzed it 'scientifically' without reference to the author's background, focusing only on the tools of the poem itself. Well-known critics have written about the 'levels of ambiguity' suggesting that the greater the number of symbolism, the greater the work of literature becomes. And then there is the question which is also posed here in Bach's music: how much is the author or musician aware of what he/she is doing. Are they totally conscious of all this stuff. HOWEVER, shouldn't there be some kind of algorithm which is smaller than the problem itself? (Yes, my Shakespeare teacher used a computer to count the number of times Shakespeare used a particular word and made graphs of these.) If the algorithm is larger than the universe itself, with infinity the answer, in mathematics this becomes an absurdity and is scratched out. (When combining quantum mechanics and gravitational laws, the theorists come up with infinity as the answer and is thus immediately dropped as unacceptable.) The point here is to pull in the reigns and stop at some reasonable point. It is obvious that Bach did not know physics and we obviously can't attach future physics and biological theories to his music. It's a waste of time. Did anyone ever see the film called "Pi" where a mad mathematician thinks he has found the 'answer' to the stock market and starts playing with cabbalism also? He and his teacher lost it totally because they both would have needed algorithms bigger than the universe itself to solve the stock market problem. So I think we need to use some common sense and know when to stop. I'm sure, though, the academics will still continue writing about Bach's symbolism ad infinitum to avoid the publish or perish scenario. Please excuse my going off a bit of a tangent here.

Thomas Boyce wrote (May 2, 2002):
[To Francine Renee Hall] I wrote the best poetry of my life when I was a wide-eyed innocent just into my second decade of life in the early 1980s, AMDG, sigh.

I haven't written anything since. Perhaps my "doors of perception" are shut; perhaps working for a living puts a damper on things; perhaps "age" (vid, Robert Burns and people of his time; 45 was the age limit for writing good poetry) ("...ance five an' forty's speel'd..."); perhaps I'm "written out"; perhaps it was one of those things. One wonders how Shakespeare (I mean Oxford) did it.

Anyway, this is the gist: the wisdom in those poems was beyond my years. Where did it come from? I have no idea. I'm just talking about my silly little poems here, but there were times when I thought that there was a supernatural power guiding my hand.

Or something.

When people get creative, all sorts of things can happen. And scribbling a few words on paper is different than writing music, that's for sure. I'm not ruling out anything in Bach, but I am ruling out the fact that he was conscious of every aspect relating to his music.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 2, 2002):
For those of you interested in this alley of symbols in Bach (an interesting one, while I'm not sure where it leads), here are some of the standard works:

- Anything by Wilfrid Mellers, especially Bach and the Dance of God

- Michael Marissen, The Social and Religious Designs of J S Bach's Brandenburg Concertos

- The word "symbolism" in musicology more often refers to the late 19th/early 20th century, not Bach. The primary figures there are Hoffman, Poe, Delacroix, Mallarme, Verlaine, Debussy, Richard Strauss, Kandinsky, Schoenberg, Florent Schmitt, Bartok, Scriabin, etc. This use of the word "symbolism" is traced in the book Soundings: Music in the Twentieth Century by Glenn Watkins (a standard text for graduate music courses). I imagine this is traced thoroughly also in non-musical circles of literature, visual arts, and philosophy, where I don't feel qualified to comment further.


Also check out the booklet notes in Philip Pickett's recording of the Brandenburgs, where he tries to map these pieces onto legends about Caesar, Hercules, Apollo, etc. It leads to some interesting things he does in the performances. I'm not sure I buy all these ideas but it's fun to think about sometimes.

p.s. I too enjoyed the film "Pi: Faith in Chaos". I've watched it twice so far, the second time with one of my best friends who is a mathematician. We kept stopping the film and discussing the various tangents it was shooting off!


Symbolism and structure

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 17, 2004):
John Pike wrote: < In recent years, various scholars have claimed to have discovered all kinds of symbolism in Bach's music, much of it mathematical. I have heard, for example, that there is much numerical symbolism in the solo violin works, although I have not yet been able to access the work concerned. >
Here's one of the older discussions of this: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Hilliard-Morimur.htm

< I do strongly suspect, though we can never prove it, that this music has all sorts of depths that we never appreciated before. Bach's genius had no bounds. >
I agree, but I don't put any stock in esoteric numerology myself. I consider it pretty much the equivalent of division by zero in algebra (which of course is forbidden from algebra)...it lets its users insert any arbitrary premises slyly into an argument, without having a unique inverse operation, and to cause whatever non-unique results were the foregone conclusion to be demonstrated. That is, it's invalid argumentation as to proving something (the logical fallacy of not letting the stated premises, or internally consistent steps of reasoning, be sufficient to derive the results).

< In the art world, the painter Piero della Francesca in the fifteenth century had a very advanced knowledge of geometry which is apparent in his paintings and is quite mind-blowing. I suspect that Bach is the equivalent of the musical world. >
Recently I ran across the following abstract about the (dis)use of the Golden Section before the 19th century: http://www.hetorgel.nl/e2003-03b.htm
...but I haven't seen the whole article. Anybody here who has access to Het Orgel http://www.hetorgel.nl print version have a comment about the a?

A standard thing to do in music theory courses is to analyze pieces by Bartok looking for proportionately organized events based on the Golden Section. And sometimes it's taken back to Bach pieces, too--maybe valid and maybe not. It could just be a very good sense of balance, instinctively and through experience, and not deliberate number games.

=====

That's how I feel about "Augenmusik" in Bach, too: that I haven't encountered satisfying demonstration (either historical or analytical, or both) that Bach ever wrote any music to be appreciated more by the eyes than the ears. Sure, there are fine points of the structure that reveal themselves more readily away from an instrument, than at one; but then when I play through such pieces (especially when tuned the right way) the sound the sound itself reveals things that were not obvious at all on the page. There's always something unexpected lurking in the sound, and the physical motions of hands and feet (and voice), having more to say than the eyes or any numerical analysis could have found. That's why I believe his music is primarily to be played/sung (the physical process of performing it being fundamentally important to the experience of taking it in) and listened to, ahead of merely staring at scores or drawing shapes on them.

Last night I was practicing the big Kyrie, BWV 671 from the Clavieruebung III, and I worked at it both ways. I went through the score at a table, looking at the compositional structure and the interaction of the contrapuntal parts, seeing how it's all put together. And I'm fairly decent at reading through scores of up to 6 or 7 parts and "hearing" mentally how things will go...a delightful pastime at libraries. But then, taking this analysis back to the keyboard and playing through the Kyrie several times, I found that there had been nothing preparing me for the subtleties in the sound itself, as to the modulations and climaxes...there's always more that an "Augenmusik" pass didn't show. These "Kenner" mentioned on the title page of that book--I'm convinced that it had to be referring to people who tune keyboards and play the music themselves, otherwise they'd miss all that crucial aspect of the sound where they've merely studied the scores closely.

Ditto for the Art of Fugue, and canons, and the "Vom Himmel hoch" variations, and the Musical Offering, and other stuff that's sometimes relegated to be "Augenmusik" by people rationalizing their own avoidance of play-throughs (and some of these people really are musicologists). I see no way that Bach (an eminently practical man) would have intended any of this music to be primarily for silent appreciation, or that connoisseurship to him could ever exclude the process of working it all out for performance. There's always something in the physical motions of playing, or the sound, or both, to tip off the practical focus of it all: where it's for the ears and fingers and player's soul first, experiential stuff; and then for the listeners; and then for the analysts staring only at scores. Analysis of musical structure, on paper, is like trying to guess the feel and smell and acoustics and purpose of a finished building by staring at a blueprint.

Doug Cowling wrote (November 17, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < That's how I feel about "Augenmusik" in Bach, too: that I haven't encountered satisfying demonstration (either historical or analytical, or both) that Bach ever wrote any music to be appreciated more by the eyes than the ears. >
This is a notoriously slippery slope for criticism although numerology is worse -- it is easy to find number symbolism anywhere (viz the fantasies of the popular "Bible Code"). It is intriguing to ask if a Baroque composer notated his music to send a message to the performer. Thus, in "O Thou That Tellest" in "Messiah", Handel writes a unison violin line that indeed looks like a little range of mountains on the page -- "Get thee up into the high mountain". Is this an inside joke or encouragement from composer to performer? Hard to say. I really can't think of an example in Bach. Note that these visual symbols are different from word-painting where melody and harmony illustrate the text but can be heard by the listener. e.g. Rising perfect fifths in "Christus ist Erstanden" and dropping diminished sevenths in "Durch Adam's Fall".

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 17, 2004):
Doug Cowling wrote: >>I really can't think of an example [of 'Augenmusik' = 'eye'-music] in Bach.<<
Bach's use of notes marked with a sharp sign (Kreuz) in works whose text refers to the Cross. See my article at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Esoteric.htm

John Pike wrote (November 17, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] See below. I wasn't thinking especially of the golden section, though I am not sure what it is! Piero was well trained in geometry and the research on use of geometry in his painting is very comprehensive. Take a look at an analysis of the floor pattern in the "Flagellation", at the Ducal palace in Urbino. Many books on Piero include it. In the painting the floor is seen almost edge on, but at a sufficient angle for computer analysis to determine the geometric pattern on the floor, which is highly complex. although not Bach, it is nevertheless very impressive and worth the little diversion!

I wrote: < In the art world, the painter Piero della Francesca in the fifteenth century had a very advanced knowledge of geometry which is apparent in his paintings and is quite mind-blowing. I suspect that Bach is the equivalent of the musical world. >
Brad Lehman replied: < Recently I ran across the following abstract about the (dis)use of the Golden Section before the 19th century: http://www.hetorgel.nl/e2003-03b.htm
...but I haven't seen the whole article. Anybody here who has access to Het Orgel http://www.hetorgel.nl print version have a comment about the article? >

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 17, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < Bach's use of notes marked with a sharp sign (Kreuz) in works whose text refers to the Cross. See my article at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Esoteric.htm >
But again it comes back to the way sharps sound in Bach's music, in their musical function, which is a different sound from naturals and flats. This is not on-the-page esotericism. It's a difference in the sound, perceivable without looking at the page.

I used to believe that stuff such as the way the Kreuz (sharp) symbolizes the Cross, etc etc etc as treasure hunt games put there by Bach for esotericists staring at scores to amuse themselves with their superior cleverness. But, I do not believe it anymore. I'd even used such procedures myself in published compositions, in younger days (ten and more years ago), choosing some of my notes by such methods...deciding what keys to use, and so on.

But, the playing of Bach's music tuned his way has convinced me to discard that belief in those symbols (which themselves cannot be proven decisively, one way or another, anyway), at least in his music. I believe now that Bach's primary focus was that objective use of his sonic resources, and not these diddly little esoteric games on paper, where later people have read into the music whatever foregone symbolism they'd hoped to find in there. The evidence does not have to be forced anymore, yielding such bits. The contrasts (which are clear) and any symbols (still arguable) are
written into the sound of the compositions, Bach working within his best medium: the control of sound.

In Bach's tuning, every sharp has its distinctive placement within the scales of which it's a member. And it's different from every other sharp. And it's different from every natural, or every flat, or every double-flat or double-sharp. Each note has its own character; and the basic characteristic of sharps is that they cause a "hard" or bright sound within their tonal musical contexts. Sharps create tension that needs to resolve. Tcreate motion within the music. This is about melodic and harmonic tendencies. And, in its roots, it goes back to musical pedagogy and theory long before Bach's birth. (Hard B vs Soft B in hexachords, and all that related stuff.)

Wait for the article. It's a two-part piece, in a real musicological journal, to be issued in 2005. All this is explained, and more, including sufficient instructions to set this up on harpsichords/organs/clavichords/pianos, to hear it oneself. That's really all I can say about it at the moment. My publisher obviously has first rights to issue the material, which they have in hand and already copy-edited for the journal; I can't say too much about it elsewhere (i.e. here) which would be scooping myself.

John Pike wrote (November 18, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I had a look at the pages on numerical symbolism on the Bach cantatas website yesterday. Some of it seems to be plausibly deliberate, eg 129 bars in 3 parts of the MBM, or where Bach himself wrote 84 (bars) on the MS, and I have ordered the Morimur recording...some of that sounds plausible, but some of the other numerical stuff seems too far-fetched for words. The people who thought much of this up have had to get themselves into all sorts of contortions, especially with BACH, putting 2 letters together and inverting the rest, or complex computations. All this sounds like nonsense. Incidentally, the 84, which comes from 7 x 12, I don't believe has anything to do with BACH, since you have to get into all sorts of contortions to get 12 from it (it is normally 14). 12 and 7 have significance in their own right, without bringing BACH into it. And that stuff about 1283 bars in the first prelude and fugue of book 1 sounds crazy...if it were 2138 I might listen, just!!

Another thing that struck me, reading those e mails from 2001 is how much Thomas' style of e mail has changed over the years...........

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 18, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: >>This [Brad's 'revolutionary' theory on Bach's temperament] is not on-the-page esotericism....I used to believe that stuff such as the way the Kreuz(sharp) symbolizes the Cross, etc etc etc as treasure hunt games put there by Bach for esotericists staring at scores to amuse themselves with their superior cleverness. But, I do not believe it anymore.
But, the playing of Bach's music tuned his way has convinced me to discard that belief in those symbols (which themselves cannot be proven decisively, one way or another, anyway), at least in his music. I believe now that Bach's primary focus was ...not these diddly little esoteric games on paper, where later people have read into the music whatever foregone symbolism they'd hoped to find in there. The evidence does not have to be forced anymore, yielding such bits.<<
Amidst all this hype and overexaggeration, Brad's arrogant attitude dismissing research which has uncovered and explained Bach's use of symbolism and structure has reached new heights. This is understandable since Brad is 'flaming' his own pet
project, but his hyperbole seems to know no bounds. From what I can ascertain from his postings regarding Bach's sacred vocal works, Brad's knowledge of these works, excepting perhaps a few in which he participated as a performer, seems rarely to go beyond picking out a few interesting progressions and pointing out their 'scruntchy' quality as they might conceivably relate to the text. All of this he might be able to analyze and write up in about the same amount of time that it takes him to tune his harpsichord in Bach's supposed temperament. There is no way that such a casually completed analysis which wishes to exclude all other preceding types engaged in by truly great Bach scholars can bring about the same results in allowing the listener/reader to appreciate Bach's wide range of musical ideas and possibilities. Brad now seems to desire to exclude from serious consideration anything that does not in some way relate to his pet theory on Bach's temperament. Brad should certainly be allowed to state as his own opinion (certainly not that of the majority of serious Bach scholars) what he believes Bach's 'primary focus' might have been, but why should he disparage the scholarship of others by implying that other Bach scholars were engaged in 'diddly little esoteric games,' 'have amused themselves with their superior cleverness,' 'and have 'read into the music whatever foregone symbolism they'd hoped to find in there.' According to Brad, they have 'forced' the evidence to satisfy themselves and what has resulted are tiny bits of unrelated information. While there have been a few speculative theories that deserve to be considered highly questionable, these across-the-board accusations by Brad which lump everything together in simplistic categories are typical for Brad's rant. By engaging in these tactics (stomping crudely about on the scholarly efforts of others, while asserting that as a 'composer' of music, he knows that Bach would not use esoteric symbolism, thus equating his own abilities in composition with those of Bach,) Brad is actually 'shooting himself in the foot' and poisoning the minds of others who might otherwise be more willing to take his own theory on Bach's temperament more seriously. Singlehandedly Brad has almost destroyed an interesting discussion on symbolism and structure in Bach's works. This is very sad indeed, for now, all that we will hear about in the ensuing cantata discussions is the omnipresent theory of temperament, a subject toward which Brad twists and turns almost every opinion or research items that are presented on this mailing list. When will this hype of a speculative, yet-unknown-to-the-readers-of-this-list theory ever end? Probably not even after its public appearance, since it will continue to dominate practically every discussion by presenting itself as the only measure/standard according to which Bach's cantatas can be properly understood and explained. This is definitely wrong!

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 19, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < Amidst all this hype and overexaggeration, Brad's arrogant attitude dismissing research which has uncovered and explained Bach's use of symbolism and structure has reached new heights. >
No; Ruth Tatlow's book has already exposed the problems in that approach.

< This is understandable since Brad is 'flaming' his own pet project, but his hyperbole seems to know no bounds. >
What hyperbole? I spent more than an hour today playing Bach's organ music (mostly his Leipzig music) on a new 1600-pipe organ that is almost completed, and that is tuned his way. Everything works, and the music is revealed to have multiple levels of harmonic and melodic interest in it, and it's so easy to play this way: just hit all the notes at the right times, and the instrument takes care of the rest. Just as Bach said it did. Bach knew what he was doing.

The organ builder and his associates were all hopping around changing the stops and other stuff as I was playing, checking out all their work, and they were all marveling at the music too; it was as if they'd never really heard it before, even though some of them have been playing it themselves for years. And the builder is of course thrilled because all the music sounds so much better than it did before. The Affekt is clear, and everything works. My wife, videotaping the session and talking with the staff, told me she was moved to tears more than once by the music. It all goes beautifully, even the most dissonant stuff, which is exquisite; and the gentlest consonant music is so elegant. Bach was brilliant. It's all right there in the music. There's no overexaggeration here, from me, although there is obviously quite a bit of it from my cynical critic!

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 19, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: >>No;[in response to denying that Brad had dismissed Bach's use of symbolism and structure] Ruth Tatlow's book has already exposed the problems in that approach.<<
Brad seems to be referring offhand to Tatlow's "Bach and the Riddle of the Number Alphabet" where nothing about the Cross/Kreuz symbol as appearing in Bach's music iseven mentioned at all (it's not a number alphabet as used in gematria, after all.) Here is what Tatlow, in a nutshell on pages 126 and 127, says about Bach and number alphabets (the gematria of Bach's name is well-documented by Walther who explained it in his musical dictionary):
>>It is extremely likely that Bach came across many different number alphabets. Techniques of 'gematria' were well known in his day and the milesian alphabet is used in at least two books he owned...Popular knowledge of cryptographical techniques, mathematical puzzles and practical cabbalism suggest, but cannot prove, that Bach came across alphabets used in all these forms.

There is no certainty, however, that Bach used any eighteenth-century-number-alphabet forms...The possibility of Bach's use of magical number alphabets must be ruled out on the grounds of his reputation and character. Any active involvement in magic would have led to dismissal from his Leipzig post, and rumors of bizarre happenings in the Bach household would hardly have escaped the critical attention of the Leipzig Council, even less the attention of students and later biographers.<<

Yes, Ruth Tatlow certainly has an active imagination. Just imagine Bach tuning all his instruments on an almost daily basis to his preferred temperament that Brad Lehman was only able to discover in 2004, and yet this escaped the attention of students (his own sons among them,) and later biographers? Pray tell, how is this possible, if the proper understanding and appreciation of Bach's music back then and now hinges upon a temperament that remained undiscovered for 2 1/2 centuries? Were all the people who were associated with Bach careless and disinterested in learning how to tune their instruments properly as they walked about like zombies and took no notice of such details at all?

Tatlow further states on p. 127 "Nevertheless it must be admitted that had he [Bach] incorporated a magic spell into a piece of music by means of one of the infinite number of variable alphabets, it would be impossible to detect!"

Ok, in order to disprove Bach's possible use of gematria, Tatlow has invoked loaded words such as 'magic,' 'magic spells,' and 'bizarre happenings in the Bach household' to argue in a 'scholarly manner' a point that Brad agrees with and which allows him to dismiss all of Bach's symbolism and structure as nonsense.

Later, on p. 128, Tatlow admits, as she walks through her own mine-field of what is possible and what is not, a point that Brad obviously overlooked: "It is quite plausible that Bach hid messages or names in his compositions with cryptographic intent."

Eric Bergerud wrote (November 19, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I don't doubt Brad is basically correct about Bach being a practicing musician, not someone who wanted to pen himself to immortality. (I love the term Augenmusik: at it's best German is certainly descriptive.) Let's look, however, at Birnbaum for some nuance on this subject. Wolf argues that the leitmotiv of Bach's career was the pursuit of "perfection." A perfect beauty, but a beauty not as understood in later years as moving the individual heart but as manifestation of natural order. Wolf also notes, "Bach's idea of musical perfection, as Birnbaum affirmed, included the goal of perfect execution. He was well aware, however, that performances, especially of larger ensemble works, would not necessarily match the degree of perfection represented in the musical composition." At Bach's urging Birnbaum elaborated in 1739: "It is true, one does not judge a composition principally and predominantly by the impression of its performance. But if such judgment, which indeed may be deceiving, is not to be considered, I see no other way of judging than to view the work as it has been set down in notes." (Epilogue, p. 470) In an earlier post I used this quote to argue that Bach may well have altered scores in performance if needed to match forces not up to ideal standards. Perhaps this is wrong, but obviously Bach did not want inferior performance to be the only yardstick by which he would be judged.

Doug Cowling wrote (November 19, 2004):
[To Eric Bergerud] Although I wouldn't press the issue too far, Bach was certainly aware of the iconic values of the physical score itself. In the Matthew Passion he took the time to enter the Evangelist's part in red ink. That physical fact does not affect the performance of the work, rather it is an admonition to the spiritual attitude of the director/conductor to keep the words of scripture foremost.

On second thought, perhaps it IS a musical cue: that a successful performance of the Great Passion is linked to the musical priority of the recitative among all those amazing choruses and arias. We all know what a long evening it will be if the Evangelist is anything less than superb.

John Pike wrote (November 19, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I just can't wait for recordings using the correct temperament to come out. If you have done/are releasing any recordings using the correct temperament, please let me know, Brad. I'd be very interested in ordering them from you.

PS A very restrained reply to a very provocative e mail.

John Pike wrote (November 19, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] This snide criticism of Brad's forthcoming paper is really totally out of order. Can it be that a respected musicological journal and a number of peer reviewers have got it wrong and have decided to publish a complete fabrication? I rather doubt it.

John Pike wrote (November 19, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] And another thing. Are you more inclined to believe the extraordinary hypothesis put forward by Mr Charles Francis on the web a few months ago. Such stuff really would be worthy of your pejorative remarks below.

Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Just imagine Bach tuning all his instruments on an almost daily basis to his preferred temperament that Brad Lehman was only able to discover in 2004, and yet this escaped the attention of students (his own sons among them,) and later biographers? Pray tell, how is this possible, if the proper understanding and appreciation of Bach's music back then and now hinges upon a temperament that remained undiscovered for 2 1/2 centuries? Were all the people who were associated with Bach careless and disinterested in learning how to tune their instruments properly as they walked about like zombies and took no notice of such details at all? >

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 20, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < Brad seems to be referring offhand to Tatlow's "Bach and the Riddle of the Number Alphabet" >
Yes, her republished doctoral dissertation. Good book. I have it right here. It makes some excellent points about esotericism, and the way esoteric techniques are hardly believable from a scientific point of view, vis-a-vis any alleged use by Bach.

< Yes, Ruth Tatlow certainly has an active imagination. >
Your dismissal of scholarly work really is no indication as to its veracity one way or another, but merely says that you personally have no patience for the things the scholar had to say.

< Just imagine Bach tuning all his instruments on an almost daily basis to his preferred temperament that Brad Lehman was only able to discover in 2004, and yet this escaped the attention of students (his own sons among them,) and later biographers? Pray tell, how is this possible, if the proper understanding and appreciation of Bach's music back then and now hinges upon a temperament that remained undiscovered for 2 1/2 centuries? Were all the people who were associated with Bach careless and disinterested in learning how to tune their instruments properly as they walked about like zombies and took no notice of such details at all? >
This is all covered in my article. It scarcely needs to be pointed out that Bach's method takes only 10-15 minutes to set up an entire harpsichord by ear, just as the report by his son indicates. I've done it myself about 40 times already, and so have quite a few other people whom I've taught to use his method, over the past half year. Equal temperament, by contrast, is a lot harder than that and doesn't sound as good in the results of playiBach's music. My article presents sufficient 18th century corroboration by expert witnesses to Bach's method; people who certainly weren't zombies.

It appears that you don't grasp the magnitude of the organ experiment that I inspected this week. The organ builder brings 30+ years of expert experience designing and building unequal temperament organs, and is among the top dozen people living who know the practical and historical details of this engineering art. He studied my paper for three months and has discussed it with other experts of his own choosing, confirming my data and my arguments as to Bach's method, examining the evidence I've presented. He'd never heard of me before, but considered the paper on the evidence presented. He was convinced enough to undertake, at his own expense, the re-voicing of 1600 pipes to perform this experiment and hear it in Bach's music, as further confirmation. He then invited me to visit his factory and play Bach's most problematic music on it, to help him and his staff check out their work. We're both completely convinced that my findings are accurate, as to interpreting Bach's detailed specifications; and so has been everyone who has heard this beautiful instrument. Bach (expert in organ construction, performance, and composition) knew exactly what he was doing. So does this organ builder, and so do I.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 20, 2004):
Brad Lehman wrote:
[in regard to Tatlow's "Bach and the Riddle of the Number Alphabet"]
>>It makes some excellent points about esotericism, and the way esoteric techniques are hardly believable from a scientific point of view, vis-a-vis any alleged use by Bach.<<
Perhaps this notion of unbelievability is a fault inherent in the 'scientific point of view' which becomes a doctrine or has a dogma of its own which causes unthinking individuals to believe completely in the unerring aspect of this 'scientific point of view.' As a comparison with another area of scientific endeavor, consider criminology, which is used to convict and sentence people to death. Are the results of the scientific method applied there 100% foolproof? Have all executions based upon scientific evidence been justified by the belief that the scientific method always yields the only correct results? Likewise, a door must always be left open for Bach's use of esoteric symbolism, lest it be sentenced to death by Tatlow or Lehman, upholders of the results of the scientific method at all costs.

>>Your dismissal of scholarly work [Tatlow's and perhaps even Lehman's] really is no indication as to its veracity one way or another, but merely says that you personally have no patience for the things the scholar had to say.<<
The required patience on my part is there, but when the speculations become overbearing, I begin seriously to question the scientific method as the only method possible for arriving at what might be possible or true.

>>It scarcely needs to be pointed out that Bach's method takes only 10-15 minutes to set up an entire harpsichord by ear, just as the report by his son indicates.<<
Why, if his son(s) was/were 'sleuths' who would allow nothing to escape their notice, according to Dr. Ruth Tatlow, who uses the scientific method to get at the truth, is there not a single clear report on such a matter which, according to you, is "Bach's primary focus" in his method of composing? Why has no one else during the past 2 1/2 centuries been able to spot this one and only basic 'keystone' to understanding Bach's music? If Bach's temperament were that important to him, he would certainly have made it known quite clearly where he stood on this matter, but, as far as I can determine, no clear-cut imprimatur from Bach exists, hence he did not attach that much importance to it, except that it is clear from the WTC that he wanted to play and hear this music in all available keys without having a listener think "Some of these intervals sound rather awful. Perhaps this composition should have been written in or transposed to a more agreeable key."

>>My article presents sufficient 18th century corroboration by expert witnesses to Bach's method; people who certainly weren't zombies.<<
I am not asking you to divulge information about these sources prematurely; however, I seriously wonder, considering the manner in which you consult and completely trust certain sources from the 18th century, whether they are completely reliable, that is, whether they have colored their own comments with their own prejudices in regard to temperaments. There certainly were quite a few different types of temperaments 'floating around' during Bach's lifetime. Who is to say that they are a mouthpiece for Bach in the same way that Birnbaum was?

Zombies? This depends upon how observant these individuals really were and whether they stated "I am relating precisely what Bach told me and I am being as specific as I can because Bach told me that this was the 'key' to understanding all the music he had ever composed during all the phases of his lifetime."

If CPE Bach could write at the end of the unfinished fugue for the AOF that this was the very point where his father put down his pen and stopped composing, all of this to create an even greater mythology regarding his father's eminence and persistence, and if this comment by CPE was later proved not to represent the actual truth in the situation, what would prevent him or even others who only had little contact with the master from doing likewise (inserting their own mythologies, ones that might further their own cause in regard to temperament?) (Remember Daube, as an example of your utter belief in these sources, even when other existing evidence from the period proves you wrong.)

A doubting (not cynical, but truth-seeking) Thomas Braatz

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 21, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/10733
...and concluded:
< A doubting (not cynical, but truth-seeking) Thomas Braatz >
I'm sorry, but the cynicism you display in that message is deep and palpable. How so? Because, both here and in so many other postings, you have this incredulous tone as if we scholars have NEVER EVEN THOUGHT OF the rather superficial questions you raise, at any point during the research or writing or copy editing or public presentations (readings of the paper, with Q/A from an audience; and teaching sessions going through the same material in less formal talks). It's our JOB to think of and anticipate all such possible questions, and have those issues already covered adequately. Yes, some of these are reasonable questions, naturally. But again, the insult here is that the cynical presentation by you implies that we're not smart enough to have thought of these ourselves, or to have answered them already long ago to the satisfaction of others who have raised them.

What is it that you believe scholarship really is? In the case of this particular paper, I've done a complete literature review of the outstanding questions/problems, and the way other scholars have already attempted to answer them. I've taught and demonstrated these points in public lectures, and some of the audience stuck around for more than an hour afterward with a lot more questions. The type of questions you've brought up here, I was already thinking about 18 years ago (literally) when I noticed as a player/tuner that there are seriously wrong properties in some of the other unequal temperaments that get used. I was writing about it in my concert program notes back then, already, explaining my various choices of temperaments for recitals according to the music to be played. And yet, your little challenge here is that I supposedly have not even considered these most basic issues, ever, and that the more recent work therefore could not possibly be valid?! Again, what is it that you believe scholarship really is? I know that you say regularly here that it's some flimsy "house of cards", to you. That, sir, is profoundly disrespectful cynicism (by you) against the thought processes, and the checkand balances, that really go on in serious research.

p.s. The falsely manufactured quotations that you place into people's mouths, as you've done several times in this latest posting, show again that it's all straw-man argumentation, to you. You force some unbelievably shallow and silly words into your opponents' mouths, as if that's the only thing that could be on their minds, since they're all completely incompetent (according to you) and unaware of anything that could matter. You convert everybody to a straw man so you can knock them down with statements that might seem, to you, reasonable. But that process, by you, really doesn't prove anything except to demonstrate your own profound cynicism: that nobody living or dead has a head on his/her shoulders, except you. It's your same old tired game of trying to show that everybody is an absolutely unreliable witness, while we're somehow also supposed to believe you (meanwhile) as an absolutely reliable one. It just doesn't work. That's not research. It's not even reasonable. It's cynicism and arrogance, way out of control, where you're trying to put yourself above all reasonably scholarly processes of inquiry, and sweep it all away as if we're all too stupid to know any better. It's really quite insulting. Nothing historical can be proved by starting from a premise (as you do) that all the experts back then were complete morons and/or self-serving liars; and that all current experts are also complete morons and/or self-serving liars. And yet, that's your regular tack!

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 21, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: >>Yes, some of these are reasonable questions, naturally.<<
Well, at least we can agree on this, even though we will probably never experience some serious attempts on your part to answer a number of the questions that I have recently raised, questions which are critical to an understanding and appreciation of Bach's cantatas. These questions arose on this thread as a result of the haughty opinions expressed by you regarding Bach's use of symbolism and structure. Instead of even attempting seriously to answer the questions that I have raised, you have chosen to hide, as usual, behind the authorities you have chosen, not realizing or simply wishing to disregard completely for your own purposes the fact that there is 'out there in the real world of Bach scholarship' a long tradition of commentary and analysis of Bach's cantatas which does, as you have put it, not consist of 'playing diddly little esoteric games' and 'reading into the music whatever foregone symbolism they'd hope to find in there.' Such comments, which you have failed to back up other than referring to Tatlow's book which is, by the nature of its title, quite narrow in scope and does not touch upon very much beyond Bach's possible use of gematria) represent a type of blind arrogance which does little to enhance any believability in what you are trying to present.

Charles Francis wrote (November 21, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < It appears that you don't grasp the magnitude of the organ experiment that I inspected this week. The organ builder brings 30+ years of expert experience designing and building unequal temperament organs, and is among the top dozen people living who know the practical and historical details of this engineering art. He studied my paper for three months and has discussed it with other experts of his own choosing, confirming my data and my arguments as to Bach's method, examining the evidence I've presented. >
On "magnitude", note that over 300 organs worldwide are tuned to Bach's temperament as "rediscovered" by Hr. Dr. Herbert Anton Kellner. They are, moreover, mainly located in European countries with well-established traditions of organ building.

Kellner's peer-reviewed publications include the following:

The Tuning of my Harpsichord, Schriftenreihe 18, Das Musikinstrument, E. Bochinsky, Frankfurt/Main 1980. Wie stimme ich selbst mein Cembalo? Schriftenr. Das Musikinstr. 19, Frkf./M. ³1986.
J'accorde mon clavecin, Schriftenr. 31, Das Musikinstrument, 1982.
Japanese translation by Sumi Gunji: ISBN4-88564-170-5 C3037, 1990.
Numerous musicological research papers concerning J. S. Bach, such as: Eine Rekonstruktion der wohltemperierten Stimmung von Johann Sebastian Bach, Das Musikinstr. 26, 1977, 34-35. In English: A Mathematical Approach Reconstituting J.S. Bach's Keyboard-Temperament, BACH, The Quarterly Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute, Berea, Ohio, Editor Elinore Barber, 10/4, October 1979, pp. 2-8, 22. German patent DE 25 58 716 C3: Musikinstrumente in fester, optimierter ungleichschwebender Stimmung für alle 24 Tonarten, claimed 21. Dez. 1975 , granted 14. May 1981. Das ungleichstufige, wohltemperierte Tonsystem. In "Bach-stunden", Festschrift für Helmut Walcha, Hg. W. Dehnhard und G. Ritter. Evang. Presseverband in Hessen und Nassau, Frankfurt/Main 1978. Seite 75-91. Temperaments for all 24 Keys - A Systems Analysis, Acustica 52/2, 1982/83, Hirzel Stuttgart, 106-113; Publication of the lecture delivered July 1980 at the Bruges 6th International Harpsichord Week. Was Bach a Mathematician? English Harpsichord Magazine and Early Keyboard Instrument Review (EHM), Editor Edgar Hunt, 2/2, April 1978, 32-36; Publication of the lecture delivered August 1977 at the Bruges 5th International Harpsichord Week, 14th International Fortnight of Music. "Das wohltemperirte Clavier" - Tuning and Musical Structure, EHM, 2/6 April 1980, 137-140. How Bach quantified his welltempered tuning within the Four Duets, EHM 4/2, 1986/87, 21-27. Barocke Akustik und Numerologie in den Vier Duetten: Bachs "Musicalische Temperatur", Ber. Int. Musikw. Kongr. Stuttgart 1985, Kassel 1987, 439-449. Das wohltemperirte Clavier - Implications de l'accord inégal pour l'oeuvre et son autographe, Revue de Musicologie 71, 1985, 184-157. Kepler, Bach and Gauß, The Celestial Harmony of the Earth's Motion, BACH, Journ. Riemenschn. Bach Inst. 25/1, 1994, 46-56. Le tempérament inégal de Werckmeister/Bach et l'alphabet numérique de Henk Dieben, RMl. 80/1, 1994, 283-298. J. S. Bach's Well-tempered Unequal System for Organs, The Tracker, J. Organ Hist. Soc. 40/3, 1996, 21-27. Über die Cembalostimmung für Das Wohltemperirte Clavier, Michaelsteiner Konferenzberichte 52, "Stimmungen im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert, Vielfalt oder Konfusion?" Eds. G. Fleischhauer, Monika Lustig, W. Ruf, F. Zschoch, Michaelstein 1997, 35-44. Stimmungssysteme des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts, in "Alte Musik und Musikpädagogik", Symp., Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, Wien, Ed. Hartmut Krones, Reihe Wiener Schriften zur Stilkunde und Aufführungspraxis, 1; Böhlau, Wien, Köln, Weimar 1997, 235-265. Baroque-style Organs well-tempered according to Werckmeister/Bach; Bien tempérer les orgues de style baroque selon Werckmeister/Bach; Orgeln barocken Stils, wohltemperirt nach Werckmeister/Bach. ISO Journal N° 4, March 1999, 8-14. Considering the Tempering Tonality B-Major in Part II of the "Well-Tempered Clavier", BACH, J. Riemenschn. Bach Inst. Vol. 30/1, 10-25. Göttliche Unität und mathematische Ordnung - Zahlenalphabet und Gematria von Andreas Werckmeister bis Joh. Seb. Bach, Österreichische Musik Zeitschrift Jg. 55, 11/12, 2000, 8-16.

Bach's alleged temperaments are somewhat like religion, in my opinion. It is right and proper that there should be so many to choose from, and, moreover, that the unconvinced may invent one of their own. And like religion, there will always be those inclined towards an evangelical stance with regard to their chosen faith.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 21, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote: < On "magnitude", note that over 300 organs worldwide are tuned to Bach's temperament as "rediscovered" by Hr. Dr. Herbert Anton Kellner. They are, moreover, mainly located in European countries with well-established traditions of organ building. >
I'm well aware of that. So are my organ-building colleague and his staff. In fact, on Thursday one of them came rushing in as I played a notoriously adventurous Bach piece, and he exclaimed, "Wow, that piece has always sounded TERRIBLE in Kellner but it's reallybeautiful!"

< Bach's alleged temperaments are somewhat like religion, in my opinion. It is right and proper that there should be so many to choose from, and, moreover, that the unconvinced may invent one of their own. And like religion, there will always be those inclined towards an evangelical stance with regard to their chosen faith. >
And your own invented four would represent what sect? I've tried them, actually. They require that Bach and everyone around him were undiscriminating as to matters of consonance and dissonance, especially when the keyboard is used outside solo work. I can't accept such a premise. What reactions have you received from other musicians? Or in any public presentations of your paper where you've set up and played musical examples to your audience, on the instruments that Bach knew?

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 21, 2004):
To help in setting the record straight about Bach's 'primary focus' [Brad Lehman's overly exaggerated phrase for what he considers is really important in coming to terms with Bach's cantatas], I have, with Aryeh Oron's kind and generous help in setting this up on his site, placed the full score for an opening mvt. to a Bach cantata (BWV 127) that had already been discussed before I became a member of the list. In the back of my mind, I knew that this 1st mvt. Was outstanding, but not until recently, when the discussion here turned to BWV 127/1 (variant), a transposed copy of the same mvt. by Altnickol, was my attention turned more directly to this marvelous composition which had suffered because of the transposition (particularly the 'Oktav-Knickung' ["breaking upwards of the musical line to the higher octave," in this instance.]) I listened to this mvt. A number of times following with the score, which I had done on previous occasions a few years ago, but this time I realized that I was finding more aspects of interest than ever before. I read quickly through all the commentaries I could find, but also kept finding other esoteric, symbolic aspects and structural elements on my own. All of this has reaffirmed my belief that a harmonic analysis with its emphasis on keys, tonic and dominant, types of cadences used, and chordal progressions, behind which may lurk any number of different temperaments with a slight emphasis in this or that direction, all of the preceding linked to the text in some way, can only provide one layer of understanding out of many others that are equally valid or even more important such as the untexted use of chorales, Bach's variation technique, and, of course, the esoteric, iconic symbolism, some of it "Augen-Musik" ['eye'-music] contained in these cantata mvts.

I have not yet finished my treatment of this mvt. as I still wish to provide a description and summary of the elements. Just last night I discovered a possible solution/explanation for the opening 'wave' motif (m. 1) that is played first by the recorders: Imagine the recorders simply playing half-notes along with the upper strings, but Bach now decides to embellish these otherwise rather uninteresting, stationary notes by supplying the written-out embellishment/ornament rather than simply placing a trill above each half-note and leaving it to the recorders to find some suitable variation for a trill on a long note. The vacillation between the main note and the note above resembles very much the 'ribattuta' which can be used on a 'tenuta' long note. "Ribattuta" is a trill that begins slowly and accelerates toward the conclusion; however in Mattheson's example ["Der vollkommene Capellmeister" Hamburg, 1739, p. 118 paragraphs 47 and 48] this acceleration is not completely gradual - it changes (doubles) its speed on the beat, which is just what Bach does with it here.

I hope eventually to supply the additional commentaries (in a number of instances in translation from the German) from other sources that I have consulted.

Another aspect that I have not covered is the musical interpretation as found in the various recordings of this mvt. Since some recordings are available to be heard via the internet without buying them, some listeners, following the score, should be able to detect the various types of articulation chosen by the conductors. Naturally, I have my own opinions on which ones are the most efficacious in producing Bach's intended effect upon his audience (the congregation), but I do not want to share them at this time. For this reason I hope that a few listeners will take the time to examine the score, listen to the music, and then offer their own opinions on which recordings they like most and why.

For obvious reasons concerning copyright laws, the score is to be used for study purposes only.


Additional comments, other suggestions, corrections, or criticisms are welcome.

Link: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/IndexScores3.htm
scroll down to BWV 127, read first about the chorale melody and text and the other untexted chorales; then, when my running commentary begins open any of the other windows with the complete score to see and understand better just what I am referring to at certain points in my discussion.

Hopefully it will be possible for some of the readers to follow the score while listening to the opening mvt. of what Arnold Schering called the greatest of all of Bach's cantatas.

Enjoy the density of compositional material and the profundity of Bach's glorious inspiration which can not be adequately fathomed by the 'scientific method' alone.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Cantata BWV 127 - Discussions

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Last update: żNovember 28, 2004 ż00:46:21