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Mizler Society & Bach

Bach and Mizler

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 13, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Certainly it was not the case that Bach was humbly waiting to be admitted into this society led by an amateur musician! >
Surely you've already flipped open your beloved Oxford Composer Companion, days ago, and learned from it that Mizler's group also performed services such as handling obituaries and funeral odes, and requiring that oil portraits be done of the members, and giving incentive for learned composition (both in papers and in music), and holding scientific discussions of the art?

Furthermore, Bach had been one of Mizler's own teachers. And the other guys in that society were not slouches, either; some big, big musicians in there.

It appears here that you're the only one casting aspersions on Bach's decision to join that august company of experts, whose membership requirements were stringent indeed. To be worthy of such a peer group was a huge honor.

And yet, you've failed to mention any of this. It would negate your points. Hello, objectivity and devotion to truth? You quote from the Oxford Composer Companion every week, it seems, but only when it suits your polemic to force points you'd like to make!

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 13, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Surely you've already flipped open your beloved Oxford Composer Companion, days ago, and learned from it that Mizler's group also performed services such as handling obituaries and funeral odes, and requiring that oil portraits be done of the members, and giving incentive for learned composition (both in papers and in music), and holding scientific discussions of the art?<<
Birnbaum, without much in the way of qualifying him musically became a spokesman for Bach and provided some highly philosophical points about the nature of music as an art. So what? And Mizler's setting up requirements and incentives for his society sounds just like what a holder of a doctorate in education could easily direct without having a profound understanding of musical composition and performance on the level of J. S. Bach's abilities.

>>Furthermore, Bach had been one of Mizler's own teachers.<<
On whose authority based upon which specific primary evidence is this claim made? (These points seem, suddenly, to be of no importance to one who claims to have studied the methods of musicology.) How can a musicologist accept at face value everything that happens to be in a certain book like Boyd's 'Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach'? How uncritical such a method of research is! Certainly there is reason to doubt some of the evidence which Alberto Basso has presented in his article on Mizler. I have previously uncovered a faulty statement in another article by Basso in the same reference book and reported on this previously (it should be accessible on Aryeh's site for anyone to look up.) Having experienced Basso's erroneous claims elsewhere, I would question more Basso's claim than Buelow's which I had just recently quoted:
>>Mizler stated that he had studied composition by reading the best books on the subject, hearing performances by good musicians, looking at the scores of the best masters, and through his association with J.S. Bach, whom he said he had the honour to call 'his good friend and patron'. The nature and duration of Mizler's association with Bach remains unknown.<<

In matters of composition, where Mizler remained on the level of an amateur (Buelow again: >>[Mizler was] never more than an amateur composer<<), Bach was no match for Mizler and Mizler's comment on Birnbaum's musical abilities falls flat.

>>It appears here that you're the only one casting aspersions on Bach's decision to join that august company of experts, whose membership requirements were stringent indeed. To be worthy of such a peer group was a huge honor. And yet, you've failed to mention any of this.<<
Because I have read other accounts which question why all the others who were accepted into the society before Bach were given preference in being accepted over Bach. Bach was deprived all these years, almost a decade, from participating in all the learned discussions that were being circulated among the members of Mizler's society. ["The membership, limited to 20, comprised: 1738: 1. G. de Lucchesini; 2. Mizler (permanent secretary); 3. G.H. Bümler. 1739: 4. C.G. Schröter; 5. H. Bokemeyer; 6. G.P. Telemann; 7. G.H. Stölzel. 1742: 8. G.F. Lingke. 1743: 9. M. Spiess; 10. G. Venzky. 1745: 11. G.F. Handel; 12. U. Weiss. 1746: 13. C.H. Graun. 1747."] Did Bach have trouble preparing the material for his admission? Why did it take so long for Bach to complete the necessary requirements? Or, if Bach had already completed them, why did Mizler not accept him until all the others were accepted year after year before him? What kind of 'friendship' is that, particularly if you take at face value Basso's unsubstantiated fact that Mizler was Bach's pupil? Remember also, according to Mizler's own report, in regard to his musical abilities and compositional skills, he was an autodidact. As you have frequently pointed out yourself, autodidacts in music can not, or very rarely, reach the high levels attained by degreed individuals in composition/performance.

>>Hello, objectivity and devotion to truth?<<
Hello, objectivity and devotion to truth?

John Pike wrote (November 13, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] I am finding this thread very tedious although I do detect some parallels between Mizler's society and the Bach cantatas mailing list. One wonders how long Bach would have remained a member if, as a professional, he had been subjected to a torrent of daily abuse from amateur mrmbers of the group.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 13, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] You don't like what Lehman says? Dispute something he's said elsewhere, and cast aspersions on his methodology; and therefore everything else he says can be taken as false!

You don't like what Alberto Basso says? Dispute something he's said elsewhere, and cast aspersions on his methodology; and therefore everything else he says can be taken as false!

That's called "killing the messenger". It's not a valid method of logical discourse.

Bach associated with people whose credentials you don't approve? That's your problem, not Bach's, and not ours.

Doug Cowling wrote (November 13, 2004):
[To John Pike] We were doing so well for a while there too.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 13, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>You don't like what Lehman says? Dispute something he's said elsewhere, and cast aspersions on his methodology; and therefore everything else he says can be taken as false! You don't like what Alberto Basso says? Dispute something he's said elsewhere, and cast aspersions on his methodology; and therefore everything else he says can be taken as false!<<
If I go to a doctor/surgeon (someone who is highly academically trained and also has some practical experience as well) and receive from such a professional what later turns out to be a bad/wrong diagnosis/prognosis which prevents me from treating my ailment properly in time before it gets worse, or I have an operation performed (like Bach's on his eye by a world-renowned eye surgeon of his time) which later turns out badly or may involve a wrong organ or part of the body being removed unnecessarily; then, faced with another subsequent ailment, I would most certainly not return to the same doctor/surgeon a second time if I could at all avoid it, and if the latter were not possible, I would certainly question more thoroughly anything that such a doctor/surgeon would promise or say about curing my medical problem.

If I were asked as a layman to render judgment on the quality of the professional services performed, I would readily give my opinion on the matter and would not recommend this doctor/surgeon to others and if these others still maintained a blind faith in this doctor's/surgeon's medical abilities, I would warn them nevertheless to reconsider or investigate further the past performance of this doctor/surgeon. The success rates of many doctors/surgeons are now being ascertained and some of them even public on the internet. More and more, malpractice suits are being made public. For a layman to disregard such a source of information, or even refuse to speak to other patients or read about their experiences with such a doctor/surgeon, would be careless indeed.

Would that one of Bach's friends (perhaps even Mizler himself) had 'killed the messenger' rather than placing overly "great confidence in an oculist who had recently arrived in Leipzig.'[Christoph Wolff "Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician" [Norton, 2000; p. 447.] Bach based his decision for an eye operation "partly on the advice of some of his friends."

Unfortunately for all of us, Bach made the wrong decision because he was poorly informed on a matter that eventually led to his death. Likewise, it would behoove Bach listeners today to be better informed about some of the results of methodology in musicology that direly need to be reexamined and not simply 'believed in' because a few very vocal advocates have invested their hearts, souls, and a lot of money in maintaining the status quo [HIP practices over the last 40 or 50 years] which does not easily wish itself to be modified or overturned by a revisiting of certain theories which have established themselves and wish to remain unassailable.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 13, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< (...) it would behoove Bach listeners today to be better informed about some of the results of methodology in musicology >
I agree, Bach listeners should be better informed. But, you're not the appropriate person to do so for any objective assessment of such information (such results of musicological inquiry), as you come to it with no performance experience of Bach's and contemporary music, and no compositional/improvisational art that you've ever demonstrated to us, and no training in scholarly research methods. You're just an outsider taking potshots against it all, without really understanding it as well as you fancy that you do.

Musicological findings survive (and are refined) because experts come to them with those necessary skills, and fit it all together into ways that work well. Scientific hypotheses get tested, revised, and sometimes replaced, through that process as various levels of the picture come better into focus.

And, critiques of the methods and findings do exist, written by people who are appropriately skilled and well-informed to do so. See, for example, Richard Taruskin's Text and Act, Peter Kivy's Authenticities: Philosophical Reflections on Musical Performance, and John Butt's Playing With History.

< that direly need to be reexamined and not simply 'believed in' because a few very vocal advocates have invested their hearts, souls, and a lot of money in maintaining the status quo [HIP practices over the last 40 or 50 years] which does not easily wish itself to be modified or overturned by a revisiting of certain theories which have established themselves and wish to remain unassailable. >
No understanding of science at all, then? And, you're anthropomorphizing "theories which (...) wish to remain unassailable"?

"HIP practices" have been overturned many times within the past 40 years, as the scientific inquiry of it all finds better models and firmer evidence....not that you've noticed, particularly. Your concern here has been to keep things as much like c1965 as possible, no matter what else comes up: everything new is automatically a target for you to try to shoot down.

It's fairly obvious that you've been using the standard set of crystal balls from Theosophistry Shack, but have disdained the caveats about snipping the grounding wires, and the caveats about connecting the crystal balls in series. They just don't work very well that way.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 14, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>I agree, Bach listeners should be better informed. But, you're not the appropriate person to do so for any objective assessment of such information (such results of musicological inquiry), as you come to it with no performance experience of Bach's and contemporary music, and no compositional/improvisational art that you've ever demonstrated to us, and no training in scholarly research methods. You're just an outsider taking potshots against it all, without really understanding it as well as you fancy that you do.<<
Somehow I, along with, I believe, many other amateur listeners are able to ascertain objective facts without needing to engage in personal attacks (a criticism can easily be more objective than the subjective opinion of performing (even degreed) artists who can lose their objective perspective by believing that their performance practices are the only right ones. It appears, in these discussions, that almost every criticism by amateurs is characterized as dilettantish, hence worthless, unless it agrees with the prevailing notions propounded by a very vocal group of individuals who believe they have the inherent right, based upon their training and educational achievments, to disparage any information which does not conform to their current belief system. This haughty attitude is a form of blindness that prevents counter observations from even being considered by others.

>>Musicological findings survive (and are refined) because experts come to them with those necessary skills, and fit it all together into ways that work well. Scientific hypotheses get tested, revised, and sometimes replaced, through that process
as various levels of the picture come better into focus.<<
This is the creed, but reality often reveals a very different picture of how things 'work' at a university level.

>>And, critiques of the methods and findings do exist, written by people who are appropriately skilled and well-informed to do so.<<
And still mistakes are made and not corrected as the evidence is wide open to speculation or, as in the case of evidence from Bach's time, misrepresented in translation which is forged in such a way that it becomes obtuse and ambiguous. Yet such translations are used to create the foundation upon which are based such theories as the one defining rather precisely Bach's manner of performing secco recitatives (Dreyfus, et al.) Critiques 'written by people who are appropriately skilled and well-informed to do so' are often no more than obeisant gestures and fail to come to grips with issues that would shake such a theory to its core.

>>"HIP practices" have been overturned many times within the past 40 years, as the scientific inquiry of it all finds better models and firmer evidence....not that you've noticed, particularly.<<
Other than the evolving scene regarding temperaments, give us examples of these 'many times within the past 40 years' where some major aspects of HIP performance practice, such as how the notes that Bach put down in his scores should be read, have been overturned.

>>everything new is automatically a target for you to try to shoot down.<<
Not if it demonstrates sound reasoning based upon reliable sources that have been properly translated into English.

>>It's fairly obvious that you've been using the standard set of crystal balls from Theosophistry Shack, but have disdained the caveats about snipping the grounding wires, and the caveats about connecting the crystal balls in series. They just don't work very well that way.<<
My, oh my! Is the generous spirit of Christmas already in the air?

What does all of this have to do with Mizler? Whatever happened to all my questions about Bach's attitude toward Mizler's society? Are there no speculative answers from one who has been trained specifically in this field? Do we have to rely solely on Alberto Basso for information of this sort?

At least there seems to be some agreement that the statements by Birnbaum and Scheibe point into the same direction and confirm as much as this is possible: Bach, in order to spare his compositions from bad performances, was quite meticulous about indicating the appropriate (in good taste = according to Bach's taste) ornamentation whenever this was possible with his finished compositions. In the case of the cantatas, whereither the score and/or original set of parts was missing, it becomes necessary for musicians to consult similar instances/passages in the cantatas that are well-documented in order to arrive at an informed opinion on which ornaments or which articulation should be used.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 14, 2004):
>>Musicological findings survive (and are refined) because experts come to them with those necessary skills, and fit it all together into ways that work well. Scientific hypotheses get tested, revised, and sometimes replaced, through that process as various levels of the picture come better into focus.<<
Thomas Braatz wrote: < This is the creed, but reality often reveals a very different picture of how things 'work' at a university level. >
And you've been there to see this first-hand? When, where, and under what instructors, in what field(s)? Pray tell.

John Pike wrote (November 14, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Your expectations of doctors/surgeons are obviously as unrealistic as your expectations of professional musicians. NO doctor gets it right all the time and medicine is not an exact science. Despite our best intentions, efforts, knowledge and skills, there will always be times when we get it wrong. We are just humans doing our best (mostly) in a very difficult and demanding job. The same can be said of professional musicians.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 14, 2004):
John Pike wrote:
>>NO doctor gets it right all the time and medicine is not an exact science.<<
This is the reason why lists of the success rates of doctors/surgeons are being made public. A patient might be able to make a better-informed decision regarding his/her treatment, just as a listener reading criticisms of performances by individual musicians/conductors can more wisely choose among the various offerings of concerts and recordings, and at least know what to expect. Even knowing what type of bedside manner certain doctors/surgeons have can make a difference in the quality of recovery a patient experiences. Why should this be any different with listeners, most of whom do not possess degrees in musicology and musical performance, but nevertheless have the ability to assess the effect that certain types of performances have upon them. Unless these listeners do not really care who performs what in which manner, should they not have the right at least to try to understand what goes into making certain performances sound the way that they do? I find that doctors/surgeons who fully explain various details about a situation or procedure, even if I can only understand part of what they are saying, are giving me the opportunity to 'work with them' in attaining my complete recovery. The reluctance of musicians to do likewise is disturbing, particularly when all they can say is "read this or that book on the subject but realize that without my training you can never really know what is behind what I am doing because I simply can not take time to explain what has now become simply 'instinct' for me." I find this quite unsatisfactory for my ability to appreciate the performance properly.

John Pike wrote (November 15, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] It is certainly true that patients can pick and choose between doctors whose bedside manner they prefer and it may well be that a good doctor-patient relationship improves outcome, but a patient is not in a position to "make a better-informed decision regarding his/her treatment" in clinical matters. The idea of league tables of doctors/surgeons based on any criterion is fraught with difficulties and grotesquely simplistic. We have them in the UK now as well and they are a very bad idea.

Likewise, as an amateur, you can say you like or don't like a particular performance of music for whatever reason, but your opinions are subjective and others may well disagree with you. There may be many reasons why a performer has done things the way they have that you are not aware of, and many of those reasons may be honourable.

 

Lorenz Christoph Mizler: Short Biography | Mizler Society & Bach

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