Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


John Lutterman (University of California at Davis, USA)

Works in progress: Bachís Suites for Solo Cello as artifacts of improvisational practices

Bachís solo cello suites have long held an important, though enigmatic place in the Western canon, but recently the status of Bach's music has been challenged.  In The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works, Lydia Goehr argues that Bach didnít write musical works.  This is an exercise in polemic hyperbole, but Goehr is right to call attention to the historical contingency of work concepts.  An examination of the manner in which recent scholars have approached the problem of the ontological status of works offers insight into some of the roles that Bach's music plays in modern Western cultures, but what roles would the solo suites have played in the musical practices of Bachís day?  I address this question through an attempt at the kind of mediational representation characteristic of ethnohistory.  Plausible answers may be found by first identifying and bracketing assumptions about the nature of musical works, and then considering the relation of the suites to the improvisatory, pedagogical traditions that were Bachís heritage. This heritage is documented in several sources: Simpson's The Division Viol, F.A. Neidtís treatise, which demonstrates a method for generating a suite of dances from a common figured bass line, eighteenth-century methods documenting the practice of thoroughbass realization on the cello and viol, and the largely unexamined body of satirical novels and short stories about music by Printz, Beer, Speer, Niedt, and Kuhnau, works which provide a remarkable portrait of contemporary musical cultures.

Last updated on 10 May 2004