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On-line Book Review


TITLE Der dritte Teil der Clavierübung von Johann Sebastian Bach. Musik - Text - Theologie von Albert Clement
PUBL. DETAILS Almares: Middelburg (1999) xii + 450 pp; hard back
ISBN ISBN 90-805164-1-4
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DESCRIPTION Comprehensive, scholarly discussion on Clavier-Übung III
WORKS COVERED Mainly BWV 552, 678-89, 802-5; also touched upon BWV 2, 4, 709, 20-1, 33, 38, 55, 64, 67, 72-3, 85, 87, 90-1, 101-2, 104, 110-2, 114, 128, 131, 135, 137, 145, 155, 158, 165, 172, 176, 215, 226, 232-6, 243-5, 260, 280, 298, 363, 371, 437, 461, 536, 546-7, 607, 626, 635-6, 645-51, 662-68, 711, 715-7, 737, 768-9, 772-86, 825-30, 831, 971, 988, 1079, Anh. II, 24-6, 29, Anh. III, 166-7.
READERSHIP Scholars and students working on Clavier-Übung III.
Encyclopaedic coverage of primary and secondary sources backed with the author’s original research that has been given in his Habilitation thesis of 1989 + more than a dozen separate articles. A very significant publication on Clavier-Übung III in research terms.

The Clavier-Übung III is Bach’s largest and most important collection of works for the organ that were published during his lifetime. The book reviewed here is in my present knowledge the most comprehensive study on the work ever published so far; in October 1999, I nominated it to be the book of the month for its significant contribution to Bach scholarship.

As I discussed elsewhere, there is much uncertainty as to the origin of the Clavier-Übung III, and although much has been discussed in the past, no one has ever come up with a theory in which to explain convincingly every aspect of this work that produces a holistic picture of Bach’s art, from the apparent constructional aspect of the work to the inaudible mathematical proportion of individual pieces, as well as from those well-established rhetorical figures found in individual movements to less transparent historical significance in the chorale tunes used in the pieces. In this book Clement attempts to address every possible approach that has been explored by others in the past, critically assess the validity of their arguments and offer his own interpretation wherever he can. His treatment of each issue is unusually careful and objective; he does not shy away, for instance, from discussing the number symbolism that ‘possibly’ meant by Bach in the number of notes or bars—the notion which is in recent years largely dismissed by many scholars as an evidence of obsessive subjectivism. Thus he maintains his objective approaches, while also giving his readers opportunities to reassess the same, as he generously quotes the passages from other sources and literatures.
The organisation of the book is clear: the author discusses piece by piece in the order of the collection within larger subsections, entitled ‘Missa’ (BWV 669–677), ‘Catechismus Sonorus’ (BWV 678–689) and ‘Musikalische Hausandacht’ (BWV 802–805), although the prelude and fugue in E-flat (BWV 552) that opens and closes the collection are discussed together in the introduction. While this allows him to give a comprehensive account of individual pieces from many different angles, he is also quite successful in demonstrating that Bach’s plan of the work reflects his profound thoughts on various issues, ranging from more apparent musical and theological aspects to less obvious mathematical ones. Taking interdisciplinary approach of music (covering both practical and musicological sides) and theology of Bach’s time, Clement seems to have succeeded in relating the historical significance of the chorale text with Bach’s interpretation that we can identify in his handling of various ideas in his composition.  
beautifully produced, measuring 23.2 x 16 cm

Some readers may not agree with some of his interpretation, e.g. the four duets to stand for ‘musical form of family worship’, as it is so often described as ‘holy communion’. If you do, then you must examine his argument for yourself: Clement reproduces Heinrich Müller’s discussion on ‘Von vier süssen Dingen’ from Geistliche Erquick-Stunden (Frankfurt/M, 1672), pp. 565–569, which is a real bonus. His discussion seems convincing to me.

As the book contains so many fascinating details about the views expressed by other scholars on this work, the lack of an index is particularly regrettable. (A list of Bach’s works is provided, however); Clement’s treatment of second source literatures are meticulous and exemplary, and his end notes, which span over 100 pages, equally contain rich, invaluable information. Although his discussion clearly progresses piece by piece, I have little doubt that this book will also serve admirably as an important reference book for both this work and the literature on the same, and for this purpose the index will be indispensable. I strongly encourage the author to provide the index and deposit it on the internet.

Published online on 9 June 2000

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