On-line Book Review


Dimension 24.0 x 16.4 x 1.5 cm
TITLE A Woman’s Voice in Baroque Music: Mariane von Ziegler and J. S. Bach, by Mark A. Peters
PUBL. DETAILS Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing (August 2008) xviii, 192p. Hardback, £55.00.
ISBN 978-0-7546-5810-8
TO ORDER Ashgate Publishing Limited, Wey Court East, Union Road, Farnham, Surrey, GU9 7PT, United Kingdom
DESCRIPTION A revised PhD thesis (University of Pittsburgh, 2003) on Marianne von Ziegler’s sacred cantata texts and their settings by J.S. Bach.
WORKS COVERED BWV 103, 108, 87, 128, 183, 74, 68, 175, 176.
READERSHIP Musicologists specialising in Bach’s sacred cantatas, literary critics specialising in German baroque poetry, and scholars interested in issues of women in both poetry and music.
RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION A new perspective on Ziegler as poet and cantata librettist and Bach as cantata composer; one of the relatively few studies on the subject of women in Bach’s life.


ach’s choice of ‘an unknown Leipzig poet with no published writings, one ten years Bach’s junior at only 30 years of age, one in no way officially connected to the church, one with no formal theological training, and – most surprising of all – a woman’ as the librettist for the nine cantatas concluding his second Leipzig cycle is the focal point of the present volume.

In Peters’ view, Mariane von Ziegler (1695–1760) has remained neglected by both literary studies and musicology, with established perceptions amounting to little more than mere acknowledgements of her existence and even disparaging remarks. Thus the first two chapters of the book could be seen as an attempt to set right the misconceptions of literary criticism, and chapters 3 and 4 as addressing similar misconceptions in musicology.

A broad range of biographical data and an overview of Ziegler’s writings form the basis of the first chapter, which paints a vibrant portrait of an ardent defender of women’s right to education and self-expression in the face of double standards which prevailed in the eighteenth century. Peters’ depiction of the gradual moulding of Ziegler’s ideas in response to her critics and her own musings adds a dynamic dimension to this account. Chapter 2 assesses Ziegler’s position in the context of liturgy and theology as well as in relation to Bach’s other librettists. Although the delineation of themes of speech and silence in Ziegler’s cantatas as symbolic of her ideology may seem somewhat stretched, the reader will come to fully appreciate Ziegler’s pivotal role as a writer who broke free from the bonds of sacred devotional poetry representative of women’s writing in the eighteenth century in which the emphasis was on personal rather than public use, and dared to produce texts for public use in church, a place where women were expected to be quiet.

Contents in brief

Introduction: Mariane von Ziegler and J.S. Bach
  1. Woman's voice: Mariane von Ziegler as poet
  2. Anonymous voice: Mariane von Ziegler's sacred cantata texts
  3. Divine voice: the significance of the Vox Christi for Ziegler and for Bach
  4. The composer's voice: Bach's compositional procedures in the Ziegler cantatas
  5. Woman's voice restored: the reception of the Ziegler cantatas and their significance in Bach's output
Select bibliography

In the ensuing chapters, Peters turns his attention to Bach and his treatment of Ziegler’s texts, firstly with respect to the Vox Christi movements, their genre and placement within individual cantatas, then by considering other compositional aspects such as structure and scoring. He observes a marked transition towards the new and experimental in comparison with Bach’s other cantatas, suggesting that the poetic features of Ziegler’s texts provided an impetus for this innovative approach. However, the assumption of a collaborative enterprise between Bach as composer and Ziegler as librettist cannot be substantiated by the high number of Bible verses in Ziegler’s cantatas alone. Although they may have offered Bach flexibility in the choice of movement type, there is little to suggest that Ziegler had a direct input into Bach’s choice.

Peters challenges the prevalent view that it was Bach who altered Ziegler’s texts which was one of the causes for the breakdown of relations between them and the reason why Bach did not choose to set any of her other cantata texts. Drawing attention to the old misconception stemming from Spitta’s dating of these cantatas (to the 1730s rather than 1725) and pointing to the fact Ziegler’s texts appeared in print three years after Bach’s settings, Peters suggests that the versions which Bach had used in 1725 could have been Ziegler’s original versions and that she may have undertaken revisions prior to their publication in 1728 herself. This view is supported by Ziegler’s propensity for regularly polishing her texts for publication.

As the book appears to be a rewritten version of the author’s PhD thesis of 2003, some of the more recent titles, such as Schulze’s Die Bach-Kantaten. Einführungen zu sämtlichen Kantaten Johann Sebastian Bachs (2006) or Petzoldt’s Bach-Kommentar. Theologisch-musikalische Kommentierung der geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastian Bachs. Band II: Die geistlichen Kantaten vom 1. Advent bis zum Trinitatisfest (2007), do not appear to be properly engaged with, although they are listed in the bibliography. And, as is the case with many rewritten PhD theses, the build-up of arguments, especially in the analytical sections, at times feels stifling.

Although the discovery of an original cantata text booklet which would immediately lift the shroud off the many unknowns surrounding Bach’s cantata output is a thrilling prospect for any scholar, Peters’ book is a testament that taking a fresh look at the known and challenging some of the old established perceptions can be equally stimulating and continues to yield valuable new insights. Moreover, among the relatively small number of studies on the women in Bach’s life, which for the most part focus on Anna Magdalena, the present book represents an important factual contribution to a subject which in the past had more often belonged to the realm of fiction than historiography.

Published online on 14 February 2009