Creative Responses to Bach from Mozart to Hindemith.
The third volume of Bach Perspectives offers engaging reading not only for Bach scholars, but for undergraduate students and amateurs with an interest in the influence and reception of Johann Sebastian Bach's music. Edited by Michael Marissen, the volume originates from papers given at the 1996 meeting of the American Bach Society. Much of the material consists of new ways of thinking about previous research. After "Bach's Posthumous Role in Music History" by Ludwig Finscher and "Bach among the Theorists" by Thomas Christensen, four essays draw Bachian connections with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, and Paul Hindemith.
Finscher's opening essay is a cursory survey of old material regarding the breadth of Bach's influence, up to Dmitry Shostakovich and Hindemith. Finscher does not mention any of the numerous postwar homages - Luigi Dallapiccola's Quaderno musicale di Annalibera and George Rochberg's Nach Bach come to mind - that reinforce his thesis. Moreover, parenthetical asides like "again, as everybody knows" (p. 9) should have been removed from the speech during its editing for publication. Yet by summarizing Bach reception, the essay succeeds in setting the stage for the five contributions that follow.
Thomas Christensen's "Bach among the Theorists" begins with an interesting discussion of Lorenz Mizler and Johann Mattheson as theoretical extremes in the eighteenth century. Mizler was a Bach student intrigued with scholarly and mathematical aspects of music, in contrast to the practical Mattheson. Christensen logically maintains that both represent sides of Bach. He then turns to the dispute between Friedrich Marpurg and Johann Kirnberger regarding the influence of Jean-Philippe Rameau, which received lengthier discussion in Joel Lester's Compositional Theory in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992). This controversy was more a clash of egos than a difference in theoretical perspective, and Christensen and Lester agree that Marpurg and Kirnberger did not understand Rameau and perhaps had not read his writings. Christensen posits that Bach's theoretical convictions embraced many ideas without being overwhelmed by any single perspective. He ends by likening this to Jaroslav Pelikan's view of Bach's theology in Bach among the Theologians (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986).
Robert L. Marshall's "Bach and Mozart's Artistic Maturity" presents convincing research about Mozart's assimilation of Bach. Marshall's thesis is that Mozart was familiar with the music of J. S. Bach long before he participated in performances of Bach's chamber music at Baron van Swieten's house in 1782. After a concise survey of literature regarding Mozart's counterpoint, Marshall builds on the case established by Stanley Sadie ("Mozart, Bach and Counterpoint," Musical Times 105 : 23-24). He draws some distinctions within stile antico between Bach's polyphony and Austrian polyphony as represented by Johann Joseph Fux, and he places Mozart in relation to late baroque composers and theories. He cites many possible ways that Mozart could have come in contact with Bach's music: the teachings of Leopold Mozart and Giovanni (Padre) Martini, the writings of Mizler and Marpurg, and Mozart's friendship with Johann Christian Bach. Christian Bach, though, does not seem to be a likely source of Bach transmission for Mozart; according to Christoph Wolff, Christian is rumored to have referred to his father as "the old wig" and did not actively perform his music (The New Bach Reader [New York: W. W. Norton, 1998], 378-79). Marshall then turns to the music with skill and clarity, displaying many parallel passages that support his case for Mozart's early assimilation of J. S. Bach.
After describing Beethoven's study of Bach, William Kinderman proposes the thesis that "If Beethoven's interest in Bach ultimately centered on counterpoint and fugue, his Bachian affinities are also reflected in aspects of his rhythm, figuration, musical character, and formal procedures" (p. 83). Beethoven's ownership of the Kirnberger and Marpurg treatises is documented, as is his familiarity with the inventions and sinfonias, Well-Tempered Clavier, and Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue. Kinderman tracks inspiration for figuration, recitative, and quasi-improvisatory gestures to Bach. While the stilo fantastico was common in the German baroque (e.g., the organ music of Dietrich Buxtehude, Johann Reinken, and Johann Gottfried Walther), Bach's music was probably the only source that Beethoven knew. The Beethoven conversation books provide part of an interesting dialogue on fugue. The essay concludes with perceptive observations concerning fugue and variation in Beethoven's late works.
Walter Frisch could have discussed Brahms and Bach as contrapuntal composers who closed their era while looking back at the past, but he chose instead to advance more imaginative ideas in "Bach, Brahms, and the Emergence of Musical Modernism." Brahms was at the crux of historicism, and Frisch invokes the ideas of Theodor Adorno and Carl Dahlhaus that connect the past to the present as a dynamic innovation of humanism. Some parallels between Brahms and Bach are explored, as are composers' attitudes toward Bach at the turn of the century.
Stephen Hinton has written much about twentieth-century music, including The Idea of Gebrauchsmusik: A Study of Musical Aesthetics in the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) with Particular Reference to Paul Hindemith (New York: Garland Publishing, 1989). Bach and Hindemith took Gebrauchsmusik to new heights, but Hinton instead assesses the idea of Hindemith as the Bach of the twentieth century in "Hindemith, Bach, and the Melancholy of Obligation." He discusses some amusing music examples, which he compares to painting a moustache on an old master and ties to Hindemith's dadaist leanings. He also evaluates the perspectives of Hindemith's Johann Sebastian Bach: Heritage and Obligation (London: Oxford University Press, 1952) and Adorno's "Bach Defended against His Devotees" (in Theodor Adorno, Prisms, trans. Samuel Weber and Shierry Weber [Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981], 135-46). Hindemith's concept of modernist interpretation follows nicely on the heels of Frisch's essay on modernism.
Creative Responses to Bach from Mozart to Hindemith has surprising cohesion for a volume written by six authors, and no redundancy. Christensen's essay establishes a theoretical background revisited in subsequent chapters. Marshall and Kinderman take similar approaches to compositional assimilation, and Frisch and Hinton both address modernism and historicism. Little of this volume is revelatory Bach research, but almost all of it displays interesting or original thinking about Bach's role in music history. Michael Marissen has edited a well-crafted book that will appeal to a wide audience of music readers.
EDWARD MCIRVINE College of Staten Island, City University of New York
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1999|
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