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On-line Book Review


Dimension: 27.5 x 19.7 x 2.3 cm
TITLE Johann Sebastian Bachs Kantaten zum Thema Tod und Sterben und ihr literarisches Umfeld, hrsg. von Renate Steiger. (=Wolfenbütteler Forschungen 90)
PUBL. DETAILS Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 2000. ix, 323p. DM 169,--
ISBN 3-447-0433-4
TO ORDER Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, Forschungs- und Studienstätte für europäische Kulturgeschichte, Postfach 13 64, D-38299 Wolfenbüttel, Germany. 
DESCRIPTION 13 papers, 3 summaries and 3 presentations given at the conference of Internationalen Arbeitsgemeinschaft für theologische Bachforschung, Wolfenbüttel, March 1991
WORKS COVERED BWV 4, 8, 9, 12, 26-7, 31, 38, 45, 51, 55, 60, 68, 73, 76, 78, 82-3, 95, 105, 106, 114, 124-5, 127, 131, 135, 156-8, 161, 167, 172, 174-5, 225-6, 244, 245, 248-9, 415, 635, 643, 656, 671, 678, 682, 684, 686, 735-6, 889, 992
READERSHIP Scholars specialized in Bach's sacred cantatas.
RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION Interdisciplinary approach to Bach's sacred cantatas.

This beautifully-produced book contains thirteen papers, three summaries and three presentations given at the conference of the Internationalen Arbeitsgemeinschaft für theologische Bachforschung, which took place in Wolfenbüttel in March 1991. The theme of conference was “death and dying”, and as can be seen from the list of contents (click here), it encompasses contributions from a wide range of interdisciplinary approaches—theology, hymnology, history, literature and music analysis—that symbolize the thoroughness in which recent Bach Studies have been pursuing.

Main contributions can be classified into those discussing Bach’s works and those investigating the background only. I shall hereby comment, however briefly, on four of the most substantial contributions from the former, as there is no index provided in the book.

In the opening article ‘Musikalische Idiomatik in Bachs Darstellung von Tod und Sterben’, Renate Steiger examines the elements of ars moriendi (books on the art of dying well) in Bach’s cantatas, namely which topoi were realised in Bach’s works and by what musical means the effect is achieved. Steiger’s focuses are the following aspects: identifying those musical elements that can be considered to be related to the text; functional relationship with the song stanzas and chorale melody; and whether or not the topoi of theological and pastoral address on death is realised in the structure at the compositional level in Bach’s music. In doing so, she discusses many cantatas: BWV 4, 8, 26-7, 31, 45, 51, 60, 68, 78, 82-3, 95, 105, 106, 124-5, 127, 131, 135, 156-8, 161, 172, 174-5.
 beautifully produced book 
Next substantial contribution is Werner Breig’s ‘Johann Sebastian Bachs Orgelchoräle über “Valet will ich dir geben” in which he discusses the background of the chorale and revision process of BWV 735-736 (from the ‘Great 18’ set), how Bach treated the traditional model of chorale in his own, effective way. He takes examples from BWV 76, 83, 95, 245, 415, 635, 643, 656, 671, 678, 684.

This is followed by Albert Clement, entitled ‘Aus tieffer Noth schrei ich zu dir: Das Verhältnis von Text und Musik in Johann Sebastian Bachs Choralbearbeitung BWV 686’, examining holistically (i.e. from historical, musicological and theological perspectives) the relationship between the chorale text and Bach’s musical handling of chorale text. He takes examples from BWV 38, 55, 678 and 684.

Next is William Scheide’s ‘Theologische Überlegungen zu Bachs großem Choralvorspiel "Vater Unser im Himmelreich" (BWV 682)’, in which he examines the meaning of canons through the detailed analysis of Bach’s use of ‘figures’, and attempts to associate Bach’s philosophical thinking in music with his own life, namely the clash with Johann August Ernesti. In arguing BWV 678 and 682, Scheide quotes BWV 9, 12, 73, 114, 131, 135, 167, 225-6, 244, 889 and 992 as examples.

There are two contributions on the ‘reception’ of Bach’s music—USA (Bangert) and Scandinavia (Svendsen). Readers interested in the litergy of Bach’s time will find Robin Leaver’s contribution fascinating, from which we learn how he reconstructed a service (24th Sunday after Trinity) in Bach’s time in Leipzig. Thus despite the narrow focus given on the title page, this conference report should appeal to many scholars, especially those who specialised in cantatas.

Published on-line on 15 September 2001

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