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On-line Book Review


Dimension: 24 x 17 x 2.4 cm
TITLE Mehrstimmigkeit in J. S. Bachs Werken für Melodieinstrumente ohne Begleitung von Clemens Fanselau. (=Berliner Musik Studien. 22.)
PUBL. DETAILS Sinzig: Studio Verlag, 2000. xiv+430p. Paperback. Price: DM 80,--.
ISBN 3-89564-062-X
TO ORDER Dr. Gisela Schewe, Studio Verlag, Zehnthofstraße 2, D-53489 Sinzig, GERMANY. Email:
DESCRIPTION Scholarly monograph discussing the polyphony in Bach's works for unaccompanied solo instruments
READERSHIP Scholars specialised in the field of instrumental music, analysis, interpretation and performance practice.
RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION Thorough and systematic discussion of this unique genre from a wide historical, theoretical, analytical and source studies.

It is often said that for violinists, cellists and flautists Bach’s unaccompanied sonatas and partitas (BWV 1001–1013) occupy ‘special’ place in their repertoire. This trend is in fact predicted as early as 1805: in his review of the first printed edition of the unaccompanied violin works, Reichardt commented that they ‘may give the greatest example in any art forms for a master’s ability to move with freedom and assurance, even in chains’.

In terms of compositional techniques these works are unique, forming a genre of their own. Very evident is Bach’s tactfulness, expecting these non-polyphonic instruments to handle complex polyphonic texture. Even though the texture is not written out fully, one would hear, when performed properly, the magical effect of all the resonant and powerful harmony and tightly-knit counterpoint, which are the very characteristics of his compositions. Needless to say, they demand a tremendous level of technical competence from a performer in order to successfully project the intense musical drama that unfolds.

Bach apparently had an enormously ambitious aim; this is actually is manifested in the way the individual pieces were composed and compiled in a ‘set of six’. For him this was to pursue systematically all the possibilities that he can explore, including the form and style available for these instruments, by bringing out the characteristic strengths of those instruments that amply compensate for their weakness and limitations. This self-imposed restriction—which is a huge challenge in itself—was perhaps a necessary source of inspiration in order to focus on his own set of targets.

Contents in brief
Einleitung: Bachs Soloschaffen als Problem der Forschung
I.Teil: Historische Voraussetzungen: Bach und die Traditionen solistischer Kammermusik
Ursprünge des Musizierens ohne Begleitung Improvisation und Komposition
Werkgebundene Entwicklung bis zur Zeit Bachs
Bachs kammermusikalische Einfluß-Sphäre
II.Teil:  Latente Mehrstimmigkeit
Historischer Teil - Stationen der Theoriebildung
Systematischer Teil - Satztechnische Verfahren
III.Teil:  Manifeste Mehrstimmigkeit
Simultane Zweistimmigkeit
Akkordischer Satz
Historisierende und aktualisierende Interpretation. Der "Bach-Bogen"
Selbständigkeit der Stimmen
Aufeinandertreffen divergenter Techniken
IV Teil:  Stilgeschichtliche Einordnung der Werke
Äußere Indizien zur zeitlichen Einordnung
Zur Stilkritik und Chronologie
Probleme des Besetzungstypus und seiner Tradition
Literatur; Personenregister; Anhang: Faksimiles
 comprehensive discussion of this unique genre
In Bach literature, Fanselau’s contributions look very significant (see the abridged table of contents given left), for, despite the popularity of the genre, there were hardly any studies that could be considered to match his study in terms of its depth and scope, except perhaps two classic studies on Bach’s chamber music: Hans Vogt’s Johann Sebastian Bachs Kammermusik (1981) [Engl. version Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chamber Music (1988)] and Hans Eppstein’s Studien über J. S. Bachs Sonaten für ein Melodieninstrument und obligates Cembalo (1966). A recent monograph by Joel Lester, Bach’s Works for Solo Violin (1999), is of a quite different kind, for its discussion is sharply focused on performance issues.
So what do we find in Fanselau’s book interesting and valuable? Well, for start, it ought to be stated that it offers a huge amount of information! His discussion is always referenced fully; it gives me the impression that as expected in a PhD dissertation he tried to consult all the relevant writings; it not only adds his discussion a scholarly colour but also clarifies his stance and views. What benefits most from this style of discussion is the historical study (Chapter 1) where he discloses lots of valuable information about the historical background of this genre. This is most impressive.

There is also a strong sense of progression in his chapter structure. To some readers, however, the author’s discussion of ‘psychological perception of musical flow’ (second half of II.A) can be difficult to digest. But there are many well-designed examples which are of great help in following the complex theoretical issues he engages, namely what is implied and what is manifested in the notes that Bach wrote down on paper. The last two chapters are equally fascinating reading / reference material for performers and scholars engaged in source studies respectively. The information on the sources is particularly invaluable for researchers, as he includes the information not included in the Kritische Berichte of the Neue Bach Ausgabe.

This is an amazing book; a must for any university libraries.

Published on-line on 6 July 2001

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