On-line Book ReviewYO TOMITA
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.||
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.
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