On-line Book Review

Assistant Editor, The Bach Bibliography


Dimension 16.0 x 23.6 x 2.2 cm
TITLE Bach's Changing World: Voices in the Community, edited by Carol K. Baron. (= Eastman Studies in Music, vol. 37)
PUBL. DETAILS Rochester, NY and Woodbridge, Suffolk: University of Rochester Press (2006) xvi+264 pp. Hardback, £45.00 / $75.00.
ISMN 1-58046-190-5
TO ORDER University of Rochester Press, P O Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP12 3DF
DESCRIPTION An interdisciplinary collection of essays that examine various religious, cultural, political and social aspects of Bach’s Leipzig.
WORKS COVERED BWV 198, 211, 212, 245, 1046-1051, 1079
READERSHIP Bach scholars and advanced students who are predominantly interested in contextual research.
Deepens our knowledge of the broader context of Bach’s life and works through an examination of his Leipzig community.

I n recent years, an increasing number of scholars have examined the wider historical and musical context of Bach’s compositions. Although Bach’s Changing World does not specifically discuss either his life or individual works in detail, the investigation of his Leipzig community significantly extends upon the scope of previous contextual studies, particularly as it systematically applies an interdisciplinary perspective to this facet of research.

After succinctly setting the scene for this study in ‘Transitions, Transformations, Reversals: Rethinking Bach’s World’, Carol K. Baron proceeds with her somewhat exhaustively titled ‘Tumultuous Philosophers, Pious Rebels, Revolutionary Teachers, Pedantic Clerics, Vengeful Bureaucrats, Threatened Tyrants, Worldly Mystics: The Religious World Bach Inherited’. Her second chapter successfully provides both a broad overview and a detailed account of the incredibly complex spectrum of religious ideas and theories that were expounded in late seventeenth and early eighteenth century Germany by introducing the key proponents and summarising the reception and impact of their ideas at both ground and governmental level. The next essay similarly discusses the general intellectual climate of the period with John Van Cleve offering an insight into the family values and developing literary culture of the emerging middle class in Bach’s Leipzig.

Contents in brief

List of Illustrations

Editor's Acknowledgments


Baron, Carol K.: Transitions, Transformations, Reversals: Rethinking Bach's World.


Baron, Carol K.: Tumultuous Philosophers, Pious Rebels, Revolutionary Teachers, Pedantic Clerics, Vengeful Bureaucrats, Threatened Tyrants, Worldly Mystics: The Religious World Bach Inherited


Van Cleve, John: Family Values and Dysfunctional Families: Home Life in the Moral Weeklies and Comedies of Bach's Leipzig.


Irwin, Joyce: Bach in the Midst of Religious Transition.


Siegele, Ulrich: Bach's Situation in the Cultural Politics of Contemporary Leipzig.


Kevorkian, Tanya: The reception of the Cantata during Leipzig Church Services, 1700-1750.


Goodman, Katherine R.: From Salon to Kaffeekranz: Gender Wars and the Coffee Cantata in Bach's Leipzig.


Kuhnau, Johann: A Treatise on Liturgical Text Settings (1710).


Scheibel, Gottfried Ephraim: Random Thoughts About Church Music in Our Day (1721).

Notes on the Contributors


Bach's Changing World: Voices in the Community, edited by Carol K. Baron.
Rochester, NY and Woodbridge, Suffolk: University of Rochester Press (2006) xvi+264 pp.
'It brings Bach’s Leipzig very clearly into focus' --- Bach Bibliography, Book Review by Elise Crean
It brings Bach’s Leipzig very clearly into focus

Chapters 4-7 consistently display more direct connections to the life and works of Bach. First of all, Joyce Irwin’s ‘Bach in the Midst of Religious Transition’ considers the contrasting opinions and evolving attitudes towards the suitability of incorporating stylistic elements associated with the opera into church music whilst also lucidly examining the various degrees of Pietistic inclinations and the implications of this on our interpretation of Bach’s theological beliefs and works. The fifth chapter is a translation and abridgement of Ulrich Siegele’s article ‘Bachs Stellung in der Leipziger Kulturpolitik seiner Zeit’ which was originally published in the Bach-Jahrbuch (1983, 1984 and 1986). It provides a comprehensive commentary on the various stages involved in the eventual employment of Bach as Johann Kuhnau’s successor with particular reference to the alternative factions of the Leipzig Town Council and the political issues affecting Bach’s appointment and position. Tanya Kevorkian’s contribution, which constitutes the third essay of the volume to focus on religious topics, investigates the cantata from the refreshing perspective of its reception by the congregation. In Chapter 7, ‘From Salon to Kaffeekranz: Gender Wars and the Coffee Cantata in Bach’s Leipzig’, Katherine R. Goodman sets the Coffee Cantata within the context of contemporary debates regarding the role of women in the cultural life of the city.

The concluding two chapters are translations of contemporary publications, namely Johann Kuhnau’s Treatise on Liturgical Text Settings (1710) and Gottfried Ephraim Scheibel’s Random Thoughts About Church Music in Our Day (1721). Both are specifically linked to Chapter 4 with the former illustrating the concern of Bach’s predecessor that biblical texts were appropriately set to music and the latter emphasising the progressive views on church music that were expressed by one of Bach’s contemporaries.

In any collection of essays, and even more so in a volume that has the broad premise of studying the community in which Bach lived for twenty-seven years, there is obviously a limit to the subject areas that can be addressed. To me however, it is a little disappointing that the scope of the illuminating comparative examination of the Saxon and Prussian States in Chapters 1 and 2 did not extend to a discussion of the impact of Prussia’s occupation of Leipzig and defeat of Saxony in the Second Silesian War (1745) on the citizens and institutions of the city. Such an investigation would considerably enhance our research of the Musical Offering; for example, an awareness of how his society reacted to this invasion would allow scholars to more fully assess the possibility that the composition which resulted from Bach’s meeting with Frederick the Great may not have been intended as a genuine tribute to the Prussian King.

Moreover, while the editor’s contemplation of the Musical Offering  in Chapter 1 aptly encapsulates the theories proposed by Michael Marissen and Joel Sheveloff concerning the work’s meaning, it should have mentioned the fact that Bach submitted the  composition to Mizler’s Corresponding Society of Musical Sciences in 1748 and referred not only to the hypothesis of Ursula Kirkendale but also to the contrasting opinions evinced by Mary A. Oleskiewicz as to the insignificance of Bach’s inclusion of a series of ten canons.

These are only a few minor points and on the whole I am much impressed by the range of issues explored. Indeed, the merits of the interdisciplinary approach are apparent throughout; for example, in Chapter 4, Joyce Irwin offers a revealing insight into the nature of Bach’s library by comparing it with a bourgeois library that was described in the 1730 publication entitled The Well-Designed and Abridged Housekeeping Magazine. Equally, in Chapter 7, Katherine R. Goodman’s detailed study of the contrasting methods employed by Christiane Mariane von Ziegler and Luise Gottsched to promote female involvement in cultural activities ultimately results in a couple of captivating suggestions, namely that Ziegler was possibly the author of the Coffee Cantata’s ninth stanza and may even have been involved in performances of the work. Although such theories are highly speculative, they nevertheless add new and fascinating dimensions to our interpretation of this composition.

In conclusion, the exploration of various religious, cultural, political and social issues as they applied to the wider community brings Bach’s Leipzig very clearly into focus. Written in an engaging style, Bach’s Changing World is an informative and satisfying read that makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of the era in which Bach lived and worked, whilst also simultaneously providing new or alternative insights into the life and occasionally the works of the man himself.

Published online on 9 January 2007