On-line Book Review



Dimension 24.0 x 16.4 x 1.5 cm
TITLE Baroque Piety: Religion, Society, and Music in Leipzig, 1650–1750 by Tanya Kevorkian
PUBL. DETAILS Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing (2007) xvi+264 pp. Hardback, 60.00
ISBN 0 7546 5490 7
TO ORDER Ashgate Publishing Limited, Wey Court East, Union Road, Farnham, Surrey, GU9 7PT, UK
DESCRIPTION an interdisciplinary study of the complex interrelationships between religion, society and music in Leipzig in the Baroque era
READERSHIP Bach scholars, social and religious historians
RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION significant insight into the religious and social context in which Bach lived and worked

s the title indicates, Baroque Piety: Religion, Society and Music in Leipzig, 1650-1750 is an interdisciplinary volume which will appeal to three different groups of scholars: religious historians, social historians and musicologists. Three of its chapters are of particular interest to Bach studies, although only one of these focuses specifically on the composer himself.

In the opening chapter Kevorkian seeks to shed light on the religious experiences and activities of the congregations of St. Thomas’ and St. Nicholas’. By extension, this alternative perspective of the church service provides a more vivid picture of Bach’s working environment. The reader gains insight into the social and gender divisions which determined the seating or standing arrangements, the behaviour or indeed misbehaviour of the congregants, and their appreciation of and participation in music during the service.

Contents in brief


List of illustrations and table




Congregants' everyday practices


Experiencing the service


Seating the religious public: church pews and society


The producers


The clergy, the city council, and Leipzig inhabitants


Elites in and beyond Leipzig: the Dresden court and the consistories


Leipzig's cantors: status, politics and the adiaphora


The Pietist alternative


Sociability and religious protest: the collegia pietatis of 1689-1690


The Pietist shadow network


The construction boom and beyond


Social change and religious life




Baroque Piety: Religion, Society, and Music in Leipzig, 1650–1750 by Tanya Kevorkian
Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing (2006) xvi+264 pp. Hardback, 60.00
substantial contribution to our knowledge
of the broader religious and social context
in which Bach lived and worked

Bach’s professional situation as cantor, along with that of his predecessor Johann Kuhnau, is discussed in Chapter 5. Kevorkian examines their social status, their interaction with the ruling authorities at both city and court level, and their position regarding the mixing of secular and sacred musical styles. Particularly noteworthy is Kevorkian’s perceptive reassessment of the traditional image of Bach as an ‘unappreciated genius… whose colleagues and authorities stifled his creativity’ (p.128). While there is no doubt that Bach had numerous conflicts with his superiors who often vehemently criticised him, Kevorkian plausibly suggests that the negative aspects of Bach’s tenure have been overemphasised: Bach had a range of neutral (if not positive) interactions with the authorities and the format of his ‘Short But Most Necessary Draft for a Well-Appointed Church Music’ (1730) was actually typical of contemporary petitions by other residents. Furthermore, other musicians such as Kuhnau and Telemann are also known to have complained about their workload and resources.

Musical activities are also discussed in Chapter 8, which examines the expanding number of worship venues at the beginning of the eighteenth century (the New Church, St Peter’s, St Paul’s and St George’s) and the roles and concerns of the different groups involved in regulating and attending services in these venues. While much of the information presented on the music and musicians is not new, Kevorkian provides a succinct summary of the different types of sacred music performed in the various churches with particular focus on the development of music in the New Church. She also considers the contrasting experiences and relationships which Kuhnau and Bach had with the New Church.

Given the chronological breadth and interdisciplinary nature of this volume, it is unsurprising that the other chapters are not of immediate relevance to Bach studies. That said, one may feel a little disappointed as the author creates an expectation that Bach will be of central significance to the volume by commencing with a snapshot from his life, yet only a minor proportion of the overall content is concerned with the composer. Kevorkian’s most important research contributions are in the areas of religion and society, which is a result of her consultation of an impressive range of archival resources, many of which had not been previously examined. For example, in Chapter 6 the examination of interrogation records relating to the collegia pietatis of 1689-1690 not only provides the reader with a detailed picture of their religious activities and the interaction between different social groups but also helps to explain why the authorities responded in the way they did.

Kevorkian’s discussion of the musical scene may at times seem a little general but in this regard it is important to consider that her approach as a social historian differs vastly from that of a traditional musicologist. For the Bach scholar, Baroque Piety provides some interesting perspectives into the composer’s immediate environment and position, but its primary significance is in its substantial contribution to our knowledge of the broader religious and social context in which Bach lived and worked.

Published online on 2 June 2009