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On-line Book Review


Dimension: 30 x 23 x 0.6 cm
TITLE Essays on J.S.Bach's works for lute by Eduardo Fernández
PUBL. DETAILS Montevideo, Uruguay: ART Ediciones, 2003. 82p; US$24
ISBN n/a
TO ORDER ART Ediciones, Uruguay 1754 Apto. 101, Montevideo (11200), Uruguay. Tel/Fax: (598 2) 409 08 11 -- 401 24 16.
DESCRIPTION A collection of essays on Bach's works for lute, primarily for students engaged in performance
WORKS COVERED BWV 849/2, 971/2, 996-998, 1006a
READERSHIP Students engaged in performance at university level; teachers of music who are not familiar with issues of 18th century performance practice.
RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION Bach's use of rhetorical principles and motives in his lute works; good initial reading material for students engaged in study of historical performance practice.

B ach did not write very much for lute: only five works are known today. It is thus rare to hear these works being performed. When we do hear them, they were usually played on the guitar. The general lack of interest, as it may seem, is equally reflected in the literature. In scholarly terms, these works are not unimportant. By carefully studying them, one can learn how Bach understood lute the instrument and its expressive idioms that broadened his compositional spectrums.

This book, which may look like a magazine from its physical size, is written in good, clear English in academic style, and the author cautiously argues his thesis very powerfully in a well-organized manner. The author sets three main aims in this book, which are:

Contents in brief


1. Introductory Dialogue

2. Musical discourse and rhetorics in Bach: two examples

3. Attempting a semantic approach: the two “da capo” fugues

4. On free ornamentation

5. The kaleidoscope of motives

A note on Figurenlehre and numerology

Basic Bibliography

The range of issues the author deals with is impressive

The book opens with an imaginary dialogue between a teacher and student (that sounds like a modern parody of Fux’s Gradus ad Parnassum) which immediately caught my attention: it is very amusing! I am also very impressed by his tactfulness in communicating various subjects relating to the interpretation of Bach’s music to a naďve conservatory student: I wish every teacher should read this!

The remaining chapters of this book deal with the issues of interpretation. In Chapter 2, BWV 997/1 and BWV 998/3 are analysed in accordance with his premise that Bach’s musical discourse follows a pattern of the 18th century rhetorical principle – introduction, thesis, argument in both in favour and against the thesis, refutation, and conclusion. In Chapter 3, BWV 997/2 is discussed from a semantic approach, examining if any of the piece’s motives have semantic meanings (e.g. emotional response from the commonly known figures such as the lamento bass and the motivic shape resembling particular chorale tunes), and how they are exploited in the composition. In Chapter 4, aspects of ornamentation are explored in detail, for which the second movement of the Italian Concerto is used as example; the author then explores how one can apply the ornaments and the rhetorical structure in his analysis of BWV 996/4. Chapter 5 continues the discussion of Bach’s use of motives discussed in Chapter 3.

The range of issues the author deals with in this slim collection of essays is impressive. His argument is easily digestible, and I have no doubt that the students who are studying performance will benefit most immediately at the starting point of their postgraduate study. This book is said to be the first of a series: I am already looking forward to reading the next publication by this author.
Published online on 26 December 2003

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