REDISCOVERING BACH

Noble, David B.

Music REDISCOVERING BACH A VISION OF CHURCH MUSIC THE THREE-HUNDREDTH anniversary of Bach's birth was anticipated by an extraordinary celebration in Batell Chapel at Yale University: Thirty-three...

...By 1729 Bach seems to have realized that the city fathers of Leipzig, who controlled his budget, were not going to give him the resources to make his reform of the musical liturgy convincing enough to spread it throughout Lutheran Germany...
...One is tempted to dismiss the idea with the thought that if it wouldn't work in 1730, it sure-as-shooting won't work now...
...It was conceived as an anthology rather than for performance as a single whole...
...Connecticut Public Radio picked up the afternoon recital (which was repeated in the evening), and the area was crawling with reporters, critics, musicians, music lovers, curiosity seekers, and sensation mongers...
...True, the cantor of St...
...But one Lutheran parish, Church of the Holy Trinity in New York City, frequently performs Bach cantatas on Sunday afternoons as part of a vespers service, with sermon, which is an appropriate setting for these devotional masterpieces...
...If we Catholics attend to Bach's teaching, and study the musical and doctrinal common.grounds we have with him, Bach may yet do much of the same for us as well...
...Thomas was one of the regional powers of the music world, and the salary it paid was needed by a man with a large and growing family...
...Careful study and clever demonstration of the musical roots of the chorales in Gregorian and folk melody may be a fruitful avenue for further work in this direction...
...he called it Affekt...
...And no doubt organists John Ferris and Charles Krigbaum played the preludes with more regular rhythmic phrasing than a baroque cosmopolite, such as Bach, would have used...
...BY THE third decade of the eighteenth century, the German baroque music tradition was beginning to erode as currents flowed in from France and Italy, bearing simpler, lighter melodies with simpler, lighter textures to go with them...
...The head of the Yale music library, Dr...
...Some of Bach's variations were simple statements of the tunes in slow tempo played over a delicate contrapuntal accompaniment...
...There are differences between these two situations, but there are haunting similarities...
...fourteen canons on the ground bass of the Goldberg Variations had gone unnoticed for two centuries in the back of Bach's own printed copy of the Variations...
...But in these cantatas and passions is the core of his Christian teaching, expressed through the old Lutheran chorale and all the contrapuntal might of the German tradition...
...Bach knew about this effect...
...Bach stopped composing for the church, except for a few completions and revisions he had written enough to last Leipzig for his lifetime and took a sideline job as director of a private musical club for which he provided some secular music (most of his extant harpsichord concertos came from this project...
...There, parlor lessons and musicales whetted the appetite for secular concert-going, and the new, lighter style of music was growing up to meet this demand...
...In some of these new pieces we may detect the struggle of an organist, who already is a genius at improvisation, to discover how much of his own keyboard action he can write down in musical notation...
...The thirty-three pieces in question were conventionally Commonweal: 242 dubbed "chorale preludes," a term which implies that they were designed as organ introductions to the congregational singing of a chorale or hymn...
...Still others became miniature suites or partitas, to be used as a separate prelude movement before Bach presented the chorale, or presented the chorale more than once with variety of treatment...
...Of course, the Lutherans have never lost the central chorale tradition...
...For others he ornamented the tunes almost beyond recognition, in the manner of Italian opera singers or French harpsichordists of the late baroque...
...But there was something more: the chance to make a real difference in the field of church music...
...that would involve preaching the sermon in the middle of the cantata, and there are tricky problems of changed lectionaries, and of the many cantatas that were lost, etc...
...Bach (out of eighty-odd pieces in the document...
...That Sunday at Yale was a day for the media as well as for the musicologists...
...Wolff, a top-ranking Bach scholar, had made another major Bach find just a few years ago...
...This variety was invigorating to him, and he poured out most of his greatest organ music during these nine years...
...French and Italian means and forms are there in abundance the later cantatas are really little Italian operas, mini-dramas of crisis and redemption, in form but these influences are used to deepen the German musical and devotional tradition...
...Despite the cultural gaps and struggles with musical communication, the Yale recital left the listener with an unmistakable sense of Bach, the Christian teacher through music...
...Nevertheless, the occasion provided a core sample of musical and devotional life in a couple of small Saxon towns during the first decade of the 18th century (Wolff dates his discoveries to the earliest years of Bach's career as an organist...
...Paul's church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, comes to mind, although there must be others...
...I do not know of any Lutheran church in this country that actually uses Bach's hymns, preludes, and cantatas in the way his own churches did...
...These "new," or previously unknown, preludes were discovered last year by Christoph Wolff, chairman of the Harvard Music Department, in a two-hundred-year-old collection of organ music, copied by hand in the mid-eighteenth century by a musician connected with Bach's predecessors...
...Bach was not impressed by the new trend "pretty little tunes," he once remarked and seemed to see this development as a threat to church music's capacity to convey deeper meanings...
...Whatever his precise motives, Bach threw himself into the job of providing music for his four churches in Leipzig with an energy that now seems almost superhuman...
...Some of these chorale preludes certainly imply a kind of improvisatory articulation that is very difficult, or perhaps impossible, to convey on paper...
...Matthew Passion...
...The notebook in question had been in Yale's library 110 years, but no one noticed that among the thirty-eight preludes attributed in the source to J.S...
...One has to be a little bit struck by the surface parallel between Bach' s view of Lutheran music 250 years ago and that of many Roman Catholics today about the contemporary liturgical situation...
...Wolff says he believes the attributions to Bach in the Yale manuscript are accurate, partly because all the known works in the document, by Sebastian Bach and others, are correctly identified...
...Commonweal: 244...
...Music REDISCOVERING BACH A VISION OF CHURCH MUSIC THE THREE-HUNDREDTH anniversary of Bach's birth was anticipated by an extraordinary celebration in Batell Chapel at Yale University: Thirty-three brief chorale preludes, recently discovered in an old notebook in the Yale music library and believed to have been composed by Johann Sebastian Bach, were given their first modern performances on the chapel organ...
...And for Bach, that field needed defense, if not thoroughgoing reform...
...So he relaxed, convinced he had given his best try, and let the new melodic wave pour in as the musical component of the Enlightenment which it did, not least in the music of Bach's influential composer sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christian...
...Certainly the chapel organ was modestly colored by comparison with German instruments of Bach's time...
...In our time people labor in churches to hold back incoming tides of easy melody Theodore Marier at St...
...In his last decade, the 1740s, Bach devoted much time to mysterious, mystical music of a private, secular sort, such as the Goldberg Variations (and canons), the Musical Offering, and The Art of the Fugue...
...most of the others were attributed to Johann Michael Bach, Sebastian's father-in-law, and Johann Christoph Bach, his uncle) thirty-one were completely unknown and two were strikingly different versions of previously known preludes...
...This tour of secular duty also was invigorating: this was when the Brandenburg Concertos were written, and Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier, and the Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, and the Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin . . . and the much more...
...William Lazareth, Pastor of Church of the Holy Trinity, says that Bach's synthesis of the diverging orthodox and pietistic tendencies among Lutherans in his time, by using formal traditional means to create strong emotional effects in his music, has been a strong force for Lutheran unity in the succeeding centuries...
...But many or most of the "preludes" turned out to be "organ chorales," which were played as an organ break between stanzas of the lengthy Lutheran chorales of Bach's day...
...From his first organ jobs in Arnstadt and Muhlhausen, where the "new" preludes probably were written, Bach went to a ducal court in Weimar, where he played chamber music in concert-social settings as well as organ music for the chapel...
...All these pieces were based on classic chorale tunes already old by the beginning of Bach's career, but Bach's ways of presenting, embellishing, or characterizing these tunes varied greatly...
...The base of support for music was just beginning to shift from court and church to the bourgeois household...
...Performed as one recital at Yale, this was rather stiff medicine, sweetened though it was by trombonists and choristers who primed us with a few of the original chorale melodies just before they underwent Bach's elaborate treatment...
...Many of the thirty-three new preludes would sound rather rude and abrupt if played as an actual prelude, but they would do well to revive momentum after the fifth or sixth verse of a flagging hymn...
...Harold Samuel, was heard to say that next time they found something like this they would keep it quiet...
...Nevertheless, when a major church position opened in Leipzig in 1723, Bach went...
...If true, this means he averaged about one a week, with several passions and motets thrown in for good measure...
...Then Bach went to the court at Coethen, a Calvinist strong19 April 1985: 243 hold where organ music was not needed, to write and perform chamber music...
...Is there a possibility for an ecumenical church to use some or all of the pieces of Bach's achievement as the basis for musical liturgy...
...It has been discovered in recent years, through identification and dating of watermarks on manuscript paper, that almost all of Bach's church cantatas of which more than a hundred survive, and he is believed to have written more than three hundred were written in the six years between his arrival in Leipzig and 1729...
...The louder, roaring pieces reflect devotional ardency, too, as well as the frustrations of a first-class musical mind stuck in a village where there was nothing to do but get into trouble over trifles (such as the time Bach was formally reprimanded for taking a young woman into the empty church so he might play for her...
...But in the past few years Catholic churches have adopted the Protestant hymn and the Lutheran chorale as their own to a remarkable degree (many of these hymns and chorales mediate between the poles of chant and ballad...
...DAVID B. NOBLE (David B. Noble's last music column appeared in the March 22 issue of Commonweal...
...He could continue to work in Leipzig, and did until his death, but he was not going to have enough first-rate singers and instrumentalists to do full, convincing justice to, say, the St...
...If there is a drama in his life, as we view it from hindsight three hundred years later, it is his wrestling with this vocation...
...The Mass in B-Minor, also composed in this period, really belongs among these works...
...If Bach did not succeed in turning back the Enlightenment, still he did succeed in strengthening the Lutheran churches more than he may have realized...
...The ardent, pleading tone of some of the melodies, greatly heightened by subtle harmonics and textures written into the preludes, can create a strong cumulative effect on the listener...

Vol. 112 • April 1985 • No. 8


 
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