American Bach Society--Biennial Meeting

Rutgers University, April 16-18, 2004




Catherine Coppola (Hunter College/CUNY and Manhattanville College): "In his own image: Source and reception in Busoni’s Fantasia nach Bach"

A work that straddles the worlds of composition and transcription, Busoni’s Fantasia nach Bach (1909) serves as a lightning rod in locating both the worshipful view of Bach held by the composer/transcriber, and a wider, strongly held ideology regarding the inviolability of Bach’s music.

The sources for this Fantasia are: Partite diverse sopra il Corale Christ, der du bist der helle Tag, BWV 766; Fughetta on Gottes Sohn ist kommen, BWV 703; and Chorale Prelude, Lob sei dem allmächtigen Gott, BWV 602. For Busoni, part of the appeal of these sources may be that they represent three levels of Bach’s own reworking: seven free variations in the Partitas, contrapuntal treatment in the Fughetta, and a polyphonic setting of the eight-bar chorale in the Prelude.

I will examine melodic properties of the sources that function as compositional tools: shared pitch content, whole-tone implications, and repeated-note motive. These properties serve to unify the work as well as to produce the discontinuities associated with the fantasy genre. For example, the climax is facilitated by a striking similarity in the pitch content of the opening phrases: the first four pitches of BWV 602 comprise a chromatically inflected version of the last four pitches of the initial phrase of BWV 766 (the raised third and fourth above the tonic F). This overlap in the sources allows for the highly dramatic pivot from BWV 766 to BWV 602 at the climax of the work. I submit that Busoni’s attraction to the sources stems from this chromatic inflection, which seems so molded in Busoni’s image that even highly skilled performers have been fooled into thinking that segments of Bach’s own writing were Busoni’s.

By including the Fantasia under the rubric of “my own transcriptions,” Busoni widens the sphere of the term, which actually operates on three levels: literal transcription, particularly of Partitas I and II from “Christ, der du bist der helle Tag,” BWV 766, and, to a lesser extent, Partita VII; recomposition of the Fughetta on “Gottes Sohn ist kommen,” BWV 703; and introductory material, recalled at the end, that is Busoni’s own even as it resonates with the spirit of the chorales.

While one critic praised the Fantasia nach Bach as a “very much more elaborate” work than the rest of the program of transcriptions on which it was premiered (London Times), another protested the presence of “a modern current running through the work, which was not like Bach” (Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung). The latter critic prefers that the music of Bach remain inviolable. However, as I will show, that modern current is latent in the sources themselves.


Christopher Anderson (University of North Dakota): "Reger performs Bach: Evidence from the Meiningen Reger Archive"

The Max Reger Archive of the Schloss Elisabethenburg (Meiningen) holds an extensive collection of orchestral and keyboard scores from Reger’s estate. Among the works of the eighteen composers represented there, the music of J. S. Bach comprises the largest single repertory of the collection except for the works of Reger himself. Never before examined as a whole, Reger’s Meiningen scores offer considerable insight into what was by all accounts a highly idiosyncratic musicality, since most of them bear extensive interpretive entries in his hand. The Bach scores are no exception, and when considered alongside the often lively contemporary discussions of Reger’s performances of Bac h, they suggest a Bach image quite distinct not only from those associated with an emerging early music movement (say, Landowska or Schweitzer) but also from that of a stereotyped, overblown late Romanticism (say, Nikisch or Straube or Elgar).

Among Reger’s Bach scores are those clearly stemming from his period of study with Hugo Riemann, showing Reger’s thinking about Riemannian analysis (the Inventions BWV 772-801 in Riemann’s edition for Kahnt); those used in performances upon which were based subsequent “practical” editions by Reger himself (the “Goldberg” variations BWV 988 in Josef Rheinberger’s two-piano version for Kistner; the “Brandenburg” concerto BWV 1050 and the orchestral suites BWV 1067 and 1068); and those used as performance material but nowhere edited by Reger in print (the double concerti BWV 1060 and 1061; the triple concerti BWV 1063 and 1064). The great majority of this material applies to Reger’s time as conductor of the Meiningen Court Orchestra from late 1911 through early 1914.

This paper will examine Reger’s attitudes toward Bach from the perspective of his performance practices, particularly those stemming from his tenure as Hofkapellmeister at Meiningen. For his own often controversial music, Reger developed an interpretive approach consistently cited for its “plasticity,” coloristic effect, and eschewal of virtuosity. The Meiningen scores show clearly the detailed way in which Reger applied these same parameters to Bach’s music. By incorporating that repertory alongside his own into the Meiningen Orchestra’s program, Reger was able to strengthen an ideological relationship with Bach, thereby underscoring the legitimacy of his own compositional style.

Matthew Dirst (University of Houston): "Mirror images of the heroic composer: Bach and Handel in the nineteenth century"


Comparisons of Bach and Handel have long emphasized the similarities between these two composers-their extraordinary keyboard prowess, for example-while noting that Bach's more complex textures make his music less accessible than Handel's. This latter idea, which appears first in writings from the 1780s, grew to dominate thinking about Bach and Handel in the nineteenth century, that great age of composer biographies, monumental editions, and singing societies devoted to the music of both composers. As shaped by writers on music from this time, Bach and Handel lost what little worldliness earlier writers had given them and became more like what the nineteenth century needed them to be: Bach the pious and essentially private genius, Handel the universal and public composer. As with most stereotypes, there is a grain of truth in these descriptions-Handel's career was clearly the more "public" of the two-but the extent to which these mirror images of the two greatest composers of the early eighteenth century are reproduced in the nineteenth century suggests that more was at stake here than just a biographical or even an aesthetic distinction.

This paper investigates the role these contrasting images of the hero-composer played in the activities of the scholarly and choral societies that promoted Bach and Handel's music in the nineteenth century. Of particular interest are the choices these organizations made (what to publish or perform), the thinking that informed these decisions, and the symbiotic relationship of their activities with contemporaneous biographical writing.


Steven Zohn (Temple University): Images of Telemann: The 'good-natured kapellmeister' and other myths"

Perhaps more than any other group of posthumous documents relating to Telemann’s life and works, the handful of anecdotes that have come down to us from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries have been greeted with an indifference bordering on distaste. They seem, to all appearances, little more than curiosities from an age that knew practically nothing of the composer: at best, amusing and harmless trifles with little basis in historical fact; at worst, damaging distortions that nourished the view of Telemann as a shallow "Vielschreiber." Yet despite their questionable status as biographical truth-claims, they are deserving of our attention for several reasons. First, the views they present of Telemann need not be entirely posthumous, and may in fact offer glimpses of the composer’s personality as it was perceived by his contemporaries. Second, and more intriguingly, these anecdotes are possibly versions of stories told originally by Telemann himself as a way of shaping his public image. And the fact that most of them were repeated over many years raises the crucial question of why people in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries wished to remember the composer in these ways. Drawing on a variety of sources, including Marpurg’s Legende einiger Musikheiligen (1786) and other, less familiar publications such as Johann Ernst Häuser’s Der musikalische Gesellschafter (1830) and Ernst Ortlepp’s Großes Instrumental- und Vokal-Concert (1841), I examine these anecdotes critically and place them in the context of composer anecdotes generally, citing similar stories about Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Christian Bach, Martin Heinrich Fuhrmann, George Frideric Handel, Alessandro Scarlatti, Johann Adolf Scheibe, and Antonio Vivaldi. The Telemann stories, two of which are virtually unknown to scholarship, focus on the composer’s compositional facility and, interestingly, on his sense of humor. I also consider how Telemann’s own words affected his posthumous reputation, and why he, like several other eighteenth-century composers, adopted the public persona of an autodidact.


Markus Rathey (Yale University): "Images and imaginations: Fritz Volbach’s view of Johann Sebastian Bach"

In 1904 the German musicologist Fritz Volbach published a reprint of a newly-discovered portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach, which he had bought some years before. He thought it was authentic, but it has since become obvious that the man in the painting was not Bach. Much more difficult to judge is Volbach' s picture of Bach that he draws in his writings. As editor of the Mass in B minor (Eulenburg) and author of several books and articles about music history of the 18th century, Volbach dealt quite often with Bach and his time. But his view of Bach is different from that of most of the German musicologists around 1900: Since Volbach was Catholic and admired George Frideric Handel, he did not follow Prussian-Protestant historiography, but developed a specific view of Bach that was able to integrate these aspects. The picture he draws of the music of the 18th century derives from the polarity of Bach and Handel who, in Volbach ' s view, represent two different concepts of (sacred) music.

The most instructing document for this view is Volbach's examination of BWV 80 in the Bach-Jahrbuch 1905. His interpretation of the cantata "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" lacks the typical vocabulary of similar Protestant writings about the composition.

The paper will show the essential aspects of Volbach's Bach view and will explain the author's motives for his specific interpretation.


Teri Noel Towe (New York, NY): "The group portrait that does not depict Johann Sebastian Bach and three of his sons"

In 1985, the tercentenary year of George Frideric Handel, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Domingo Scarlatti, the appearance of an early 18th century portrait in oils depicting a middle-aged musician holding a ‘cello seated at a table around which stood three young musicians who evidently are his sons generated a great deal of excitement in the classical musical community in general and in the Bach community in specific. Christoph Wolff has lent his support to the proposition, made by the art historian Helmut Börsch-Supan, that this image, of which a second exemplar subsequently has surfaced, might be a portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach and three of his sons. Helmut Börsch-Supan, furthermore, has alleged that the first of the exemplars, at least, was painted by the highly regarded Northern German portrait painter Balthasar Denner (1685-1749), who is known to have painted portraits of both George Frideric Handel and Sylvius Leopold Weiss.

Christoph Wolff also has proposed that this image might be the portrait purported to depict Johann Sebastian Bach and members of his family that is reproduced in a late 19th century collection of photogravures of famous musicians familiarly known as the Porträt-galerie Musikalische Heroen (Berlin, 1878, 1881), a boxed collection of photographic prints of which no exemplar can presently be located.

In this presentation, I shall use the 1748 Elias Gottlob Haussmann portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach in the collection of William H. Scheide and various portraits of Johann Sebastian’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel as the reference standards to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that neither of the two versions of this widely reproduced group portrait is an accurate depiction of the facial features of Johann Sebastian Bach or of any of his sons.

In addition to explaining why neither of the two versions of this group portrait was painted by Balthasar Denner, I shall use the Thomas Gainsborough portraits and a contemporary caricature of the gamba virtuoso Charles Frederick Abel (1723-1787) and portraits of his older brother Leopold August Abel (1718-1794), the Concertmeister at Ludwigslust near Schwerin for nearly a quarter of a century, to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the two exemplars of this group portrait are previously unrecognized depictions of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cöthen colleague and good friend, the court ‘cellist and Cammer-Musicus Christian Ferdinand Abel (1682-1761) and three of his sons.

I also shall explain why both versions of this portrait most likely were painted by the older of the two sons of Christian Ferdinand Abel who were professional artists and propose that his absence from the portrait might be symbolized by the vacant chair in the lower right hand corner of the canvass.

Along the way, I shall try to compensate for my present inability either to confirm or refute the suggestion that this group portrait is depicted in the collection familiarly referred to as the Porträt-galerie Musikalische Heroen by filling a gap in the provenance of one of the two exemplars of this image and proving beyond a reasonable doubt that that particular exemplar was exhibited at the legendary Music Loan Exhibition in the Fishmongers’ Hall in London in 1904.


Daniel F. Boomhower (Princeton University): "Images of Bach scholarship: Arthur Mendel and musicological method"

Arthur Mendel’s 1961 paper “Evidence and Explanation,” given at the eighth congress of the International Musicological Society in New York, set an exacting standard for musicological research. Drawing primarily on the work of R. G. Collingwood and Carl G. Hempel, Mendel’s methodological creed both reflected and codified how many scholars of that generation addressed issues of music history. Standing at the center of Bach research in the United States, Mendel collaborated closely with the international effort to use contemporary philological techniques as a part of the projects of dating and publishing J.S. Bach’s works. The Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke Johann Sebastian Bach (NBA) represents the most substantial result of this effort. As is well known, Mendel’s most significant contribution to the NBA consisted of the first thoroughly documented edition of the Johannespassion, which appeared in 1973, followed by the critical report one year latter. This succeeded Mendel’s 1951 piano-vocal edition of the work, which was published by G. Schirmer and was based on the Bach Gesellschaft edition. By 1985, however, Joseph Kerman famously began to voice criticism of the objectives of the “positivism” espoused in “Evidence and Explanation” and embodied in Mendel’s critical editions.

In this paper I will examine the development of the argument in “Evidence and Explanation” and how this methodological viewpoint both influenced and reflected Mendel’s work on Bach’s music, most notably with the Bach Reader and his contributions to the Neue Bach Ausgabe. The issues of documentation, source studies and textual criticism will serve as focal points in this discussion. I will consider the genesis of Mendel’s methodological thinking as documented in his other writings and in his personal papers housed at the Princeton University Library. I will note the parallels between Mendel’s work and other Bach scholarship of the period and argue for further assessment of the impact of that era’s work on current Bach scholarship. Throughout I will relate the issues surrounding Mendel’s work to the debate over the relationship between documentation and criticism.



Anne Leahy (Dublin Institute of Technology Conservatory of Music and Drama): "The image of Bach from a German-American perspective: Gerhard Herz and the modern American Bach movement"

Coming to the USA in 1938, Gerhard Herz was one of many German musicologists who fled the Nazi oppression of the 1930s. Herz’s arrival in the USA was to herald a new era of historical musicology in the United States. Appointed to the School of Music at the University of Louisville soon after his arrival, he was responsible for the foundation of the department of Music History in that university and worked tirelessly for all of his life to promote not only a thorough approach to musicology but also actively engaging himself with musical culture in Louisville. He is of course renowned for his Bach scholarship although his interests lay in a far broader realm than this. What was his image of Bach? The image of Bach, both physical and intellectual was something which preoccupied him throughout his working life. On a physical level, the famous painting by Hausmann, which was purchased in 1954 by William Scheide was something which fascinated him. On a more intellectual level he wrote articles over the course of his long career dealing with the image of Bach.

In the Musical Quarterly of 1938 he described ‘Certain Aspects of the Bach Movement’—the hand dealt to Bach by history—ending with his own opinion of where Bach research was at in 1938. He wrote of the abatement of romantic exuberance in Bach interpretation and the efforts made in the second half of the nineteenth century to rediscover the ‘true’ Bach. The publication of a complete edition of the works of Bach was for him of great significance. He admired Spitta’s ‘admirable and comprehensive work on Bach’. He comments that although the availability of the complete works of Bach had resulted in many Bach festivals, questions regarding historical issues were ignored by all but a few. He rejoiced in the few scholars whose consciences goaded them into addressing the problems of Bach performance.

If one could detect an aim or ambition on the part of Herz in 1938, then it must have been to define a code of performance practice relating to Bach’s music based in scholarly research. By the end of his long career he had of course addressed many issues relating to Bach scholarship. His great contribution to American Bach scholarship stands out as his book on Bach Sources in America. In his articles ‘Towards a New Image of Bach’, Herz was the first to introduce the discoveries of Alfred Dürr and Georg van Dadelsen regarding the new chronology of the cantatas to the English-speaking public. He deplores the lack of knowledge among many American musicians regarding progress in Bach scholarship and pleads for a historically necessary return to the sources ‘no matter how disillusioning it may be to leave romantic interpretation behind and to rediscover the sometimes sobering facts of a science that in German is called Musikwissenschaft.

In this paper the image of Bach as seen through the eyes of a German turned American will be assessed. Of course Herz was not working in isolation and there were many other musicologists, both German and American working in the US who contributed to the foundation of modern American Bach scholarship. But it is true to say that he was a very important cog in the wheel of twentieth-century Bach scholarship. With the aid of much as-yet unexamined papers and materials from his private archives, as well as his published works, this paper will examine and assess his contribution to the American ‘Image of Bach’. Without him, this image as seen from an American perspective may have taken much longer to define.


Sara Botwinick (Philadelphia, PA): “'I must live amid almost continual vexation, envy, and persecution': A psychological reading of J.S. Bach’s relationship to authority"

In a good deal of Bach literature his inner world, the locus of his creativity, is seen as disconnected from his public self, the feisty incarnation of the breadwinner and solid citizen. In this vein, it is not surprising, that Bach's life is sometimes called "uneventful". I will argue, by contrast, that Bach's life was shaken by traumatic events that had important repercussions on the development of his personality as well as his professional interactions.

Most biographical accounts emphasize those of Bach’s personality features that come to the fore in his often adversarial dealings with authorities. Biographers seem to be intrigued by the question of whether or not Bach was at fault in these disputes. While it is undoubtedly important to first sort out the historical facts in the form of a complete and detailed account of each of Bach's confrontations with various authorities, this purely reconstructive mode of historical analysis remains insufficient. Bach himself actually cues us into paying attention to his inner world when he describes his situation in a letter written to his friend Georg Erdmann in 1730. Among other complaints he deplores the fact that due to the Leipzig authorities' "little interest in music (he) must live amid almost continual vexation, envy, and persecution". To relieve his suffering in his confrontation with the authorities, he sees the only way out to be leaving his prestigious position "to seek (his) fortune elsewhere".

My paper takes this watershed in Bach's life as a point of departure. In contrast to earlier run-ins with authorities when Bach chose a change in employment - much to his benefit, he decides in the end to stay on in Leipzig. Is this different mode of Bach's conflict resolution to be seen as a retreat from his previous assertive pattern or as withdrawal into the inner citadel of the self by overcoming in accordance with his own standards the grip of distasteful authority? Is the striving toward autonomy and independence that Bach asserted so strongly in past confrontations now transformed into an inward motion?

To study the scope of Bach's vulnerability in his relations with authorities and his various patterns of conflict resolution, I propose to look at Bach's first documented authority conflict arising from his brother Johann Christoph’s confiscating a manuscript that Sebastian had copied behind his back. Johann Christoph owned the manuscript and had forbidden Sebastian to use it. Due to the closeness of this incident to the traumatic loss of both of Bach's parents at age nine, I will conceptualize some of Bach's behaviors in the light of recent research on coping with trauma and trauma recovery. I will also analyze the achievements and psychological consequences that are manifested in Sebastian's action in carrying out his plan of copying the manuscript in the light of theories of developmental psychology. I intend to show that on the basis of resolving this conflict with his brother Bach finds himself on the course of building a strong unified personality.


Tanya Kevorkian (Millersville University): "J.S. Bach’s working conditions in Leipzig: The political and cultural context"

J.S. Bach has often been regarded as an embattled and unappreciated genius, one who worked with too few resources, and whose colleagues and authorities put a crimp on his activities. This image of Bach holds especially with reference to the working conditions he encountered in Leipzig. The city has been seen as a backwater, a picture that has been revised. More importantly, Bach’s complaints about city councilors’ and clerics’ support of his work are the best known sources on his working conditions. Bach articulated his complaints especially in his Entwurff, or “Short but most necessary draft” of 1730, in which he enumerated various shortcomings to the city council, and in a letter written later that year asking his friend Georg Erdmann to help him find a job elsewhere.

The conflicts underlying these documents were certainly real, and ongoing tensions seem to have reached a high point in 1730. However, these issues have never been fully placed in their political and cultural context. Archival sources that I have examined from the perspective of a social and cultural historian reveal two dynamics which shaped Bach’s complaints. First, there was ongoing competition between Pietist and non-Pietist city councilors. Key councilors, including Abraham Christoph Platz and Johann Job, were members of a Pietist community in Leipzig. Other councilors, notably Gottfried Lange, were ardent supporters of Baroque style. As Pietists, Job and Platz would have been critical of the style of modern, opera-influenced church music that Bach represented. They and possibly other councilors were in all probability the “authorities” to whom Bach referred as “odd and little interested in music” in his letter to Erdmann.

A second context is contemporary conventions among individuals requesting resources of councilors or other addressees. It was a common strategy to depict one’s current situation in the direst possible terms, and to also praise the addressee as a good and potentially generous patron. Musicians and non-musicians followed this strategy in innumerable petitions around Baroque Germany.

How do these insights influence our image of Bach? Bach’s “Draft” and his letter to Erdmann can still be accepted as reflecting imperfect working conditions, and a gap between Bach’s ideal and actual performance conditions. In addition, though, we learn that the way in which Bach worked to augment his resources was very typical of the day. Also, Bach seems to have taken a definite position in an ongoing cultural contest between Pietists and proponents of Baroque style. Rather than being an isolated individual, he was part of the political and cultural scene of his day.


Stephen A. Crist (Emory University): "When is an aria not an aria?"

In the scholarly literature on Johann Sebastian Bach, including standard reference works such as the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis and the Bach Compendium, as well as in the Neue Bach-Ausgabe and other critical editions of his music, the heading “aria” appears above a startlingly diverse array of movements. The majority of these pieces have ordinary poetic texts. But Bach’s vocal works also include many solo settings of Biblical passages and chorale stanzas. Are these the same as arias? With regard to performing forces, most movements that have been called arias are scored for a single vocal soloist with instrumental ensembles of varying sizes. Duets can without difficulty be understood as an extension of the aria genre. But what about movements with three or more soloists? At what point does an “aria” become a “chorus”? As to musical form, Bach’s arias typically begin and end with a ritornello. Should solo vocal movements that lack a ritornello (other than recitatives) be considered arias?

In the present paper, these and other thorny issues are considered from the vantage point of a systematic examination of the headings in the autograph scores of Bach’s vocal works. This data is supplemented by evidence from the original performance parts (copied out largely by Bach’s students), early prints of the texts, and contemporary treatises on music and poetry (such as Christian Gottfried Krause’s Von der musikalischen Poesie [Berlin, 1753], an illuminating work that has received relatively little attention in Bach scholarship).

Specific observations include the following:

(1) Solo settings of Biblical texts generally do not have the heading “aria” in Bach’s autograph scores, no matter how aria-like they may seem.

(2) Solo settings of chorale stanzas occasionally have the heading “aria,” but only when no chorale tune is present. If, on the other hand, a movement contains the melody as well as the text of a chorale, the heading “aria” is not used.

(3) Although the vast majority of movements with the heading “aria” have a single vocal soloist, Bach occasionally used the term for movements in which all four voices participate (e.g., “Friede sei mit euch,” BWV 67/6).

At the same time, they highlight the diversity of compositional approaches among Bach’s vocal solos and the difficulty of establishing a taxonomy of these movements.


Peter Wollny (Bach-Archiv Leipzig): "Towards a theory of J. S. Bach's compositional process"

It is a well-known fact that J. S. Bach did not leave any substantial comments on his own compositions. Accordingly, there has been ample speculation about how he may have managed his enormous workload during his first years at Leipzig and how he conceived the contrapuntal complexities typical of his style. There are countless interpretations of his music emphasizing their mystery and all sorts of inherent symbolism; in fact, these constitute a significant part of the current images of Bach. My paper will not deal with such philosophical spheres but rather investigate the source-critical evidence of Bach's compositional process. It is based on research on the surviving sketches and drafts conducted in connection with my work on NBA VIII/3, a critical edition of Bach's sketches, drafts, contrapuntal studies, and didactic works — probably the first extended investigation of this field since the ground-breaking dissertation by Robert Marshall in the early 1970s. I will attempt to demonstrate that Bach employed a variety of compositional techniques that enabled him to create his large-scale and complex structures with a certain amount of routine. It is to be hoped that a better understanding of these compositional procedures may yield new approaches towards the analysis and interpretation of his works.