Dialogue Meeting 2006

Second Johann Sebastian Bach Dialogue Meeting

New Directions in Bach Studies

9-10 December 2006
Oxford University, Faculty of Music and St Anne’s College

Report on the meeting

The Second Bach Dialogue Meeting of Bach Network UK, held at Oxford (Faculty of Music and St Anne’s College) on 9 and 10 December 2006 brought together a rich and diverse group of Bach scholars and those with cognate interests. The papers introduced several new approaches to Bach scholarship and featured younger scholars together with long-established figures. The format of the weekend was unusually luxurious with all papers available in advance and the actual presentations giving a sense of the research context and a summary of the main points. The extent and depth of discussion was one of the most rewarding aspects of the weekend, giving the appellation ‘Dialogue’ an unexpected degree of reality. The Dialogue meeting was attended by 36 people, many of them members of Bach Network UK, from eight different countries. The Faculty of Music at Oxford University contributed greatly to the success of the event by supervising the venue and providing tea- and coffee-breaks. Magdalen College offered its new concert auditorium as venue for Musical Moment II. Several delegates kindly topped up their payments of the conference fee to support the travel expenses of delegates from former Eastern-bloc countries and to help with general expenses.

On Saturday 9 December two research sessions, Bach and Rhetorical Traditions and German Musician Novels, were followed by Musical Moment I.

Bettina Varwig, ‘One more time: Bach and seventeenth-century traditions of rhetoric’
Varwig addressed the century-long tradition of interpreting Bach’s music according to the rhetorical terms and metaphors of German music theory. She suggested that much recent work was too narrow and specific and that, instead, a more broadly-conceived model was appropriate. By focussing on the tradition inaugurated by Erasmus of Rotterdam, she suggested that the key issue relates to the varying and amplification of phrases as a means of extending and enriching the overall argument, a source of creative energy that could equally well be applied to music. John Butt’s response welcomed this approach, particularly the way in which rhetorical thinking could connect the expressive and formal dimension. The notion of using translations to derive more meaning from a passage could be traced back at least as far as Augustine, and Leibniz’s early work could be another source for the tendency towards combination and permutation. There was a long and lively discussion, suggesting that other participants, too, had experienced dissatisfaction with the ways in which rhetoric is conventionally brought to bear upon Bach’s music.

Stephen Rose, ‘The musician-novels of the German Baroque: new light on Bach’s world’
Rose introduced an approach to Bach studies that was new to most delegates: the rich literature of picaresque novels written by musicians in the generation before Bach. The light-hearted, secular atmosphere of these novels reveals a different side to musical culture in Lutheran Germany; they are particularly useful in articulating the difference between “Art-musicians” and “Beer-fiddlers”. They also teach us about the career paths and increasing individuality of professional musicians. In the discussion, the relationship of these novels with similar literature from other regions was mentioned, and the extent of their realism or utopianism was questioned.

Barthold Kuijken – Musical Moment I
Barthold Kuijken brought the afternoon to a close with an enchanting performance of the Bach partita for solo flute in A minor, BWV 1013 and his own arrangement of a partita in G by Silvius Leopold Weiss. Continuing their conversations, the participants withdrew to a splendid conference dinner at St Anne’s College, which lasted three hours.

The second day, Sunday 10 December, had two morning sessions, Conservative Theological Scholarship and Bach’s Chamber Music with Flute, which were followed by an afternoon session on Compositional Procedure and Musical Moment II.

Rebecca Lloyd, ‘Bach: Luther’s musical prophet’
Lloyd presented a summary of her recent PhD thesis, together with some of her more recent ideas. She was critical of the tendency in theologically-based scholarship to conflate Bach directly with Luther and also to base the conception of Luther on mid-twentieth-century views of the reformer, derived from German dogmatic theology (e.g. salvation history). Many aspects of the word-bound conception of Luther resonate with early twentieth-century German concerns, some of them of dubious political affiliation. Lloyd concluded by suggesting that the view that Bach wrote ‘sermons in sound’ was misplaced and that many interpretations of Lutheran theology were, in fact, Calvinist in nature. Anne Leahy’s response welcomed the opportunity to criticize and revise many of the directions in theological scholarship, and noted that recent disputes in the field centred on a split between German confessionally-biased scholars and those who were interested primarily in historical and scholarly approaches to theology. In her view, Lloyd’s critique would be much stronger if it engaged more directly with the depth and diversity of current theological Bach scholarship. The discussion continued both these lines of argumentation, also revisiting the view that Bach’s music was related to preaching in a traditional understanding of his own time.

Barthold Kuijken, ‘Bach’s chamber music with flute: a ‘hands-on’ approach to fact and fiction’
Bach’s chamber music for transverse flute has been a complex and contentious area of scholarship for many years. The number of works and the authenticity of many of them is impossible to determine, the source situation is murky and the original instrumentation and type of flute are often unclear. Kuijken showed that by combining his unparalleled performing experience, knowledge of instruments and textual studies, the debate could be considerably broadened. Although there were no hard and fast answers, his approach suggested that many issues such as multiple authorship, textual variability and the performer’s role in constituting the work were highly significant in the environment in which Bach worked.

Ruth Tatlow, ‘Collections, bars and numbers: Analytical coincidence or Bach’s design?’
This paper described the newly formulated theory of proportional parallelism. The technical nature of the theory was demonstrated in four parallel levels of numerical structure in the Six Solos for violin, BWV 1001-1006. The claim that these parallel proportions are found in all compositions Bach published or transcribed in fair copy raises important issues for the Bach scholar and editor. Respondent Don Franklin took up the nature of proportion and cited his own research into time signatures in WTC II to demonstrate a different aspect of Bach’s proportional planning. There was a lively discussion, in which both speakers were encouraged to elaborate further on their findings.

Laurence Dreyfus and John Butt – Musical Moment II
Laurence Dreyfus and John Butt (who both designed the Dialogue meeting) performed Bach’s E flat Prelude and Fugue (WTC I, BWV 852) and the Sonata for harpsichord and viola da gamba (BWV 1028). Unfortunately, not all the delegates made it to Magdalen by the time the ‘moment’ was due to begin, but, after a vote by the audience (and the increasingly cold air that was beginning to affect the instruments) it was decided to start. Everyone had arrived by the start of the gamba sonata, which brought a most satisfactory weekend to a rousing conclusion.

In July 2006 Bach Network UK also contributed a session to the ICBM 2006 in Warsaw