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J.S. Bach’s Quote

J.S. Bach’s Quote

Aryeh Oron (on behalf of Jeremy Martin) wrote (June 12, 2004):
This is Jeremy from Bach-Cantatas I recently cancelled my account being I moved and would be unable to get online as much.

I have a question in hope that you or someone you know may be able to give me a source of a Bach quote I found online. Do you know what year Bach said this and to whom he said it to? I am very interested to know and to confirm it to be authentic.

Here is the Quote,

"In the architecture of my music I want to demonstrate to the world of the architecture of a new and beautiful social commonwealth. The secret of my harmony? I alone know it. Each instrument in counterpoint, and as many contrapuntal parts as there are instruments. It is the enlightened self-discipline of the various parts, each voluntarily imposing on itself the limits of its individual freedom for the well-being of the community. That is my message. Not the autocracy of a single stubborn melody on the one hand, nor the anarchy of unchecked noise on the other. No, a delicate balance between the two; an enlightened freedom. The science of my art. The art of my science. The harmony of the stars in the heavens, the yearning for brotherhood in the heart of man. This is the secret of my music." – Johann Sebastian Bach

Could you please help me on this? Thank you.

John Reese wrote (June 12, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] This doesn't sound like Bach to me. It seems a little too mystical and self-important. It sounds more like something Wagner would say.

"The secret of my harmony? I alone know it." Bach's harmony is no secret; it's there for anyone to analyse, as Bach himself well knew.

"Each instrument in counterpoint, and as many contrapuntal parts as there are instruments." Not entirely accurate, and Bach wasn't one to wax metaphysical when talking about music. This is nineteenth century thinking again, I believe.

"The science of my art. The art of my science." Umm... I'll let this one pass.

"Not the autocracy of a single stubborn melody on the one hand, nor the anarchy of unchecked noise on the other. No, a delicate balance between the two; an enlightened freedom." Politics? Sounds like Wagner to me.

But I could have this completely wrong.

Júlio Galvão Dias wrote (June 12, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] It is not authentic.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (June 12, 2004):
[To John Reese] Agreed-it sounds too humanist to me-he may not be this "5th evangelist", but I still believe (and quite objectively) that he was a commited Christian. I'm also of the belief (somewhat less objectively than the previous, I admit) that people tend to elevate Bach (both the person and the art) to this mystical height that Bach or the contemporaries that knew him would very likely have never concieved of. If all humans are created equal, then Bach is simply another human with a gift that has stretched on throughout history. (Hopefully this isn't too far off topic...)

Juozas Rimas wrote (June 12, 2004):
Matthew Neugebauer wrote:
<< That is my message. Not the autocracy of a single stubborn melody on the one hand, nor the anarchy of unchecked noise on the other. >>
Sorry for a possible wrong opinion, but... could Bach know words like "autocracy"? From his biographies I read - not the most detailed - I got the opinion that he was far from you could call an intellectual, even for his time. He seems to have been a busy man studying other composers, composing, performing etc but a real specialist at the same time, concentrating on music entirely.

Has he written any theoretical works, by the way? I got a book with Mozart's letters - is there anything available of this kind about Bach?

P.S. This "quote", as Google told me, was presented at an International Musicians Conference by the Bahai Faith Member of the Universal House of Justice from Haifa, Israel ( http://www.theconnection.org/features/bach.asp )

Bradley Lehmam wrote (June 12, 2004):
< Sorry for a possible wrong opinion, but... could Bach know words like "autocracy"? From his biographies I read - not the most detailed - I got the opinion that he was far from you could call an intellectual, even for his time. He seems to have been a busy man studying other composers, composing, performing etc but a real specialist at the same time, concentrating on music entirely. >
The "Bach" quote presented for examination is a sham. No extant document by him says anything even resembling that stuff. (Read Bach-Dokumente volume 1 and the New Bach Reader to see the things he really said.) Also, recall that he was so uncomfortable with expressing himself in words that he hired a university professor (Birnbaum) to represent his views in print.

< Has he written any theoretical works, by the way? I got a book with Mozart's letters - is there anything available of this kind about Bach? >
Yes, Bach wrote several absolutely brilliant theoretical works (KdF, WTC, all four books of Klavierubung, and the Musical Offering: to name some of the most prominent); but in them he expressed himself almost entirely in sound, not in words. To expect him to write down things in words is to misunderstand the man thoroughly. The most important information Bach gives us is in sound and in one other crucial piece of evidence (which I'm presenting in my paper: part of an authentic Bach autograph document that the editors of the NBA's Bach-Dokumente OMITTED from their collection, dismissing it in a footnote); not in prose documentation or numerology.

< P.S. This "quote", as Google told me, was presented at an International Musicians Conference by the Bahai Faith Member of the Universal House of Justice from Haifa, Israel ( http://www.theconnection.org/features/bach.asp ) >
Everybody's entitled to believe whatever fiction makes their day. It certainly keeps numerologists busy and happy (inventing whatever self-serving mumbo jumbo they need to convince themselves); and any historians who believe that everything worth knowing is contained in extant words/dates and expressible in more words. Meanwhile, Bach the composer expressed himself in his own best medium--sound--and that's where his deepest truths may be found, by those sensitive enough and sufficiently-prepared to recognize and understand what he was saying.

Margaret Mikulska wrote (June 12, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] I'm sure this is apocryphal. Most likely something from some sentimental Romantic essay on Bach. All that talk about "social commonwealth", "brotherhood", etc. -- that's Romantic view of music. And "enlightened freedom" instead of "autocracy"? Gimme a break. Musicians from earlier epochs simply wrote music.

Jules wrote (June 12, 2004):
< Not the autocracy of a single stubborn melody on the one hand, nor the anarchy of unchecked noise on the other. No, a delicate balance between the two; an enlightened freedom. The science of my art. The art of my science. The harmony of the stars in the heavens, the yearning for brotherhood in the heart of man. This is the secret of my music." >
I can't say authoritatively, but from the style and nature of the coments, it seems very unlike Bach.

That bit about the "stubborn melody" and "unchecked noise" seems to refer(justly or unjustly) to developments in music which did not occur during Bach's lifetime. The whole tone, especially the ending, sounds more like the ramblings of a third-rate romantic than anything Bach could have said. I, for one, have never known any of the recognized writings of Bach to ever display such a style. But, I may be wrong, so I wouldn't count what I say as definitive, it's just an opinion.

Anne Smith wrote (June 13, 2004):
Margaret Mikulska wrote:
< I'm sure this is apocryphal. Most likely something from some sentimental Romantic essay on Bach. >
Yes, I agree.

I also wonder about the "architecture"of his music. I doubt this is a term used in his time.

Does anyone know when the term architecture was applied to musical composition?

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 13, 2004):
Anne Smith wondered and asked:
>> I also wonder about the ""of his music. I doubt this is a term used in his time. Does anyone know when the term architecture was applied to musical composition?<<
A famous quotation of Goethe’s (“Architecture is frozen music”) comes to mind, but this statement was made well after Bach’s death. However, the connection between music and architecture was made even during Bach’s lifetime in a book that Bach most assuredly had read: “Der Vollkommene Capellmeister” by Johann Mattheson [Hamburg, 1739] p. 235 :
>>Was nun zum ersten die Disposition betrifft, so ist sie eine nette Anordnung aller Theile und Umstände in der Melodie, oder in einem gantzen melodischen Wercke, fast auf die Art, wie man ein Gebäude einrichtet und abzeichnet, einen Entwurff oder Riß machet, um anzuzeigen wo ein Saal, eine Stube, eine Kammer u. s. w. angeleget werden sollen.<<

Ruth Tatlow in her article on ‘Numbers and Music’ in the New Grove [Oxford University Press, 2004] makes reference to the above quote along with some other interesting details that can be shared here at this time:
>>Mattheson used the terms ‘inventio, dispositio, elaboratio’ and ‘decoratio’ to structure his discussion of compositional procedure in ‘Der vollkommene Capellmeister’ (1739). In the section on ‘Inventio’ he applied Neumeister’s 15 ‘loci’ to musical composition, but included neither number alphabets nor any adaptation of the poetical paragram to music in his illustration of the ‘locus notationis.’

Following the many experiments in using the ‘ars combinatoria’ for musical invention (notably by Leibniz, Euler, Riepel, Christian Wolff and Gottsched), Lorenz Mizler von Kolof produced his own theoretical explanation of music. An important debate between Mizler and Mattheson about numbers in music is documented in Mizler’s journal the ‘Neu eröffnete musikalische Bibliothek’ (founded in 1737) and Mattheson’s treatise ‘Plus ultra’ (1754–6). In response to Mattheson’s assertion that mathematics is not the basis of music (Harriss, 1981, p.46), Mizler wrote:

Mathematics is the heart and soul of music … Without question the bar, the rhythm, the proportion of the parts of a musical work and so on must all be measured … Notes and other signs are only tools in music, the heart and soul is the good proportion of melody and harmony. It is ridiculous to say that mathematics is not the heart and soul of music [‘Neu eröffnete musikalische Bibliothek’, ii, 1743, p.54]

It is highly likely that Bach was aware of these discussions, as he knew both men and in 1747 became the 14th member of the society founded by Mizler in 1738 in order to stimulate discussion about music among composers (numerologists have made great play of this since BACH = 2+1+3+8 = 14 in the natural-order number alphabet). But the analyst must be cautious: documentary evidence that Bach’s sympathies lay with Mizler rather than Mattheson may not necessarily be a sufficiently firm foundation on which to build a theory of Bach’s pre-compositional numerical method.

The evidence that comes closest to implying the use of number in the pre-compositional organisation of a work comes not from Mattheson’s section on ‘Inventio,’ but from his section entitled ‘Dispositio.’ Again combining artistic forms, he likened compositional construction to architecture:

DISPOSITIO is a neat ordering of all the parts and details in the melody, or in an entire musical work, almost in the manner in which one arranges or draws a building, makes a plan or sketch, a ground plan, to show where e.g. an assembly room, an apartment, a bedroom etc. should be situated. [Harriss, 469]

Although numbers are not specified, one could argue that Mattheson strongly implied their use since architectural plans at that time were ordered numerically. Mattheson’s clearest articulation of pre-compositional planning can be read in paragraph 30:

§30 [the composer] should outline his complete project on a sheet, sketch it roughly and arrange it in an orderly manner before he proceeds to the elaboration. In my humble opinion this is the best way of all through which a work obtains its proper fitness, and each part thus can be measured to determine if it would demonstrate a certain relationship, similarity, and concurrence with the rest: in as much as nothing in the world is more pleasing to the hearing than that. [Harriss, 478]

Again Mattheson does not specify numbers, but a recommendation that could easily be a practical demonstration of Mattheson’s principles appears in volume iv (1754) of Mizler’s ‘Bibliothek’ (pt 1, p.108). In a section that directly follows the announcement of Bach’s presentation to the society of canon bwv1076, the anonymous author writes:

In the winter the cantata should be somewhat shorter than in summer … From experience one can specify the duration, namely that a cantata 350 bars long of varying mensuration takes roughly 25 minutes to perform, which in winter is long enough, whereas in summer it can be 8 to 10 minutes longer and so give a cantata of roughly 400 bars.

Although Bach may not have devised these guidelines, he would, as a society member, have been involved in the discussions and endorsed the recommendations. In 1619 Michael Praetorius had made a similar recommendation for measuring the duration of a composition:

80 tempora take half of a quarter of an hour, 160 tempora take a quarter of an hour, 320 tempora half an hour, 640 tempora an hour. In this way one can so much better judge how long the song or work is so that the sermon may begin at the correct time and the other church ceremonies adapted accordingly.

In both of these examples numbers are used as a tool to measure the length of a church cantata in bars and in minutes. It is an indication that in this period there was an increasingly pragmatic approach towards composition.<<

In regard to the latter part of Tatlow’s discussion, it is interesting to note that a huge hour glass was present and in view of all the musicians on the balcony of the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig during Bach’s tenure there, so the timing of Bach’s cantatas, etc. may have been more important than we normally realize today. How would this factor have affected the performance tempi of Bach’s sacred compositions, if such a strict observance of time really did exist?

Juozas Rimas wrote (June 13, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< words/dates and expressible in more words. Meanwhile, Bach the composer expressed himself in his own best medium--sound--and that's where >
The quote looks like a sham for yet another reason: it is boastful. I haven't got access to the Bach Reader now - are there any documented examples of Bach boasting about his music? (or rather giving himself proper evaluation as his best works are impossible to boast about)

The only instance I can think of now, where Bach wasn't ridiculously modest (as in the MO dedication to the King once discussed on a mailing list; or was it the text accompanying Brandenburgs?) is the title "the ART of Fugue".

Kurt Jensen wrote (June 14, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] Even with the Bach Reader, such a quote will not be found. It is--as far as I can tell--not by Bach at all, and like some other posters, I notice that it is entirely out of character for Bach.

Kurt Jensen wrote (June 14, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] It's interesting that you note "I got the opinion that he was far from you could call an intellectual, even for his time." Christoff Wolff, in his recent biography of Bach, entitles it "Bach: The Learned Musician." One of Wolff's governing theses is that in fact Bach might best be seen as an intellectual, and comparisons with Bach in music, and Newton in physics, are not inapt in the least. It was one of the more discussed aspects of his biography at the time (in reviews and such) and it seemed to many that Wolff overstates the case. I'm not sure I agree, though I can say that another thetical aspect of this book is his contention that well over half of Bach's music has gone missing. As a result, there are endless pages spent on calendars and calculations, and dates on which he "would" have c, say, a cantata. Somehow, while reading this, the notion of "grade inflation" came to mind (not that I'm not sure there are missing cantatas, among other musical types in the catalogue).

Pierce Drew wrote (June 14, 2004):
Did anyone ever find the actual source of this quote?

I'm curious because I find the connection between the nineteenth revival of Bach's music and the growth of German nationalism interesting. This is part of the impulse behind Forkel's biography, no?

Is there any significant scholarship on the Bach-revival and German nationalism?

The quote sounds like someone in the nineteenth century making Bach in their own image -- i.e., attributing a quote to him so he would better conform to the notion that he was a composer of the German "volk."

This tendency to dehistoricize Bach and reconstruct his image is also evidenced by the statue of Bach in front of St. Thomas' in Leipzig. As Gardiner points out, it is very "GDR" -- depicts a Bach who is a hard-working citizen of the "state."


John Pike wrote (June 14, 2004):
[To Kurt Jensen] Surely, the phrase "far from what you would call an intellectual" could not be more mistaken when applied to Bach. He did extremely well at school and the fact that he didn't go to university is a total irrelevance. He mastered every aspect of his art to perfection (with the exception of opera, which, of course, was a genre he did not touch per se). The more I read on this list (eg Brad's postings on Bach's temperament and transpositions (eg Magnificat)) only convince me all the more that he was an extraordinary genius whose understanding and insight of extremely complex matters were centuries ahead of his time.

Juozas Rimas wrote (June 14, 2004):
John Pike wrote:
< Surely, the phrase "far from what you would call an intellectual" could not be more mistaken when applied to Bach. He did extremely well at school and the fact that he didn't go to university is a total irrelevance. He mastered every aspect of his art to perfection >
By the phrase I didn't question Bach's mastery and genius in his art, as you put it: his ability to write not only beautiful but also extremely complex and cerebral music is unquestionable.

What I meant was a doubt whether Bach had enough general knowledge to use words like "autocracy" in his writings. Brad pointed out Bach had even hired a professor to write for him. So it seems Bach wasn't among "intellectuals of the time". By intellectuals I don't necessarily mean Bach's contemporaries like Leibniz or Montesquieu but many people of a smaller caliber, like local professors as well.

John Pike wrote (June 14, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] It still seems to me that you are not questioning his "intellect". It would surely have been better to be more specific about what qualities you think he lacked. But quite why Bach used Birnbaum(?) in his defence against Scheibe's criticism is debatable, and I think so too is your assertion that Bach may not have had known words such as "autocracy" or that his General Knowledge was lacking.
I would certainly agree that the quotation sounds like a sham and that it is not Bach's style. He was possibly a very modest man and may have underestimated his own talents in fields other than music. I also accept that writing may not have been his forte.

Juozas Rimas wrote (June 14, 2004):
Kurt Jensen wrote:
< As a result, there are endless pages spent on calendars and calculations, and dates on which he "would" have composed, say, a cantata. Somehow, while reading this, the notion of "grade inflation" came to mind (not that I'm not sure there are missing cantatas, among other musical types in the catalogue). >
Could you briefly summarize the numbers of Bach's lost works that Wolff gives? And is there a more realistic estimation than Wolff's?

John Pike wrote (June 14, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] It seems that a large number of works from Weimar and Coethen are missing. We cannot be exact but CPE Bach refers in the obituary to pieces for many different combinations of instruments and in various genres, eg concertos, which were composed in Coethen and which have just not survived. a large number of Weimar cantatas are probably missing but again it is difficult to quantify because of problems in the court that may have curtailed Bach's composing requirements. Many of the keyboard works have survived through copies made by students.

At Leipzig, according to CPE Bach, he composed 5 full cantata cycles, but only 3 remain. The loss may be even greater because for some weeks, 2 cantatas were performed, and there were sometimes extra cantatas on certain feast days.
Whatever the final figure, the loss is truly tragic.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 14, 2004):
Lost works of the Bachs

[To John Pike] I agree that it's tragic. I also think it's awful that most of the works of Bach's main teacher (his uncle, Johann Christoph Bach: Eisenach organist) have been lost. This weekend I've listened to Christoph's motet "Fürchte dich nicht" (obviously a model for JSB's own) and two other motets, and read Spitta's and Wolff's remarks about the other extant works and about the all-around musicality of this "profound" composer (as JSB referred to him). Christoph was noted especially for his harmonic adventurousness, his gestural deployment of harmony that (in a sense) rivals Gesualdo and Orlando di Lasso.

These recordings are in the Ricercar Consort's boxed set, "Die Familie Bach", 92001. The motets are performed by Collegium Vocale Gent/Herreweghe, Ledroit/Ricercar Consort, and Capella Sancti Michaelis/Erik van Nevel.

Indeed, I believe that Bach's explicit keyboard temperament (tuning method) probably comes directly from that training with Christoph, and from lifelong interaction with Christoph's son (Bach's cousin) Nikolaus. If I'm right about this, the tuning method was a family heirloom from long before JSB wrote it down. Christoph in 1706 defeated young Neidhardt in an organ-tuning contest: Nikolaus working entirely by ear and Neidhardt from a monochord. Nikolaus (the organist of Jena) was also an instrument-builder and innovator, noted for his Lautenwercke: and probably built the two that JSB owned. In the 1740s Nikolaus was venerated as the oldest living Bach, and JSB wrote a piece of music that (I believe) celebrates the lives of both Christoph and Nikolaus, a tribute to the brilliance of his family...a piece of music that is playable on two keyboard instruments.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 14, 2004):
Juozas Rimas wrote:
< What I meant was a doubt whether Bach had enough general knowledge to use words like "autocracy" in his writings. Brad pointed out Bach had even hired a professor to write for him. >
Was Bach an 'intellectual'? Well, you first have to define the term 'intellectual'. What exactly do you mean by that word?

I guess that being an 'intellectual' doesn't necessarily mean you are good with words. There are people with great writing skills who nobody would call 'intellectuals' and I guess the reverse is possible too.

By the way, the fact that someone uses a 'ghostwriter' to write his thoughts down doesn't always mean he isn't *able* to do so himself. It can also be a matter of not having enough time. I can well imagine that Bach needed his time to compose and rehearse and teach etc and that he didn't want to spend a large part of his precious time writing.

< So it seems Bach wasn't among "intellectuals of the time". By intellectuals I don't necessarily mean Bach's contemporaries like Leibniz or Montesquieu but many people of a smaller caliber, like local professors as well. >
As far as I know he had good contacts with 'intellectuals' and was respected by them. I remember having read somewhere that in his knowledge of rhetorics Bach was considered second to none.

You don't need to have an academic title or be a professor to be an 'intellectual'.

 

Verify quote?

George wrote (January 4, 2005):
/"I play the notes as they are written but it is God who makes the music"

/This is supposedly a translated quote of JSB. I have tried unsuccessfully to fithe source of it in the New Bach Reader and of course by googling. Can anyone verify this quote and if so provide the source?

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 4, 2005):
[To George] Any chance it's somebody's wishful/apocryphal paraphrase from the one about "there's nothing remarkable about it, just hit all the notes at the right time, and the instrument does the rest"?

Wherever that other version came from, somebody in Pennsylvania has made it into a framed kitsch wall hanging: http://www.shakerworkshops.com/prints.htm
That photo's not big enough that I can make out if they used a Bach piece in the background or not....

George wrote (January 5, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thanks, I have that print, given to me for Christmas. It is a modern day "illumination" wrapped around a line of music I haven't tried to identify. I appreciated the sentiment behind the gift, but it did not sound like any quote familiar to me. I have read the NBR through and it seemed to me the quote should have been there if it were not, as you suggest, apocryphal.

 

A 275th Anniversary

Teri Noel Towe wrote (October 28, 2005):
Today is the 275th anniversary of one of my favorite statements made by Johann Sebastian Bach, a passage from his letter to his lifelong friend Georg Erdmann that seems especially appropriate in these turbulent and difficult times:

"Those in charge are odd and ambivalent towards music, which means I have to live with almost non-stop vexation, envy, and persecution."

Johann Sebastian Bach, October 28, 1730

Leonardo Been wrote (October 28, 2005):
[To Teri Noel Towe] Very appropriately remarked indeed.

 

Quote 'Blessed are they who approach Bach' - Violin Master Arthur Hartman

Leonardo Been wrote (October 28, 2005):
'Blessed are they who early in life approach Bach, for their love and veneration for music will multiply with the years.'

- Violin Master Arthur Hartman
('Violin Mastery - Talks with Master Violinists and Teachers' - by Frederic H. Martens, 2005)

 

OT: Bach's quotation on the wherefore of it all?

Bruce Simonson wrote (February 11, 2012):
I'm trying to find the (famous?) Bach quote on the purpose of his work, something along the lines of "to the glory of God and to educate one's neighbor".

Both the original German, and the (a?) popularly accepted English translation would be helpful.

Thanks,

Evan Cortens wrote (February 11, 2012):
[To Bruce Simonson] You may be thinking of the inscription on the cover of the Orgelbüchlein, a portion of which reads:

"Dem Höchsten Gott allein' zu Ehren,
Dem Nechsten, draus sich zu belehren
"

Something like:

"To the glory of the most high God alone,
To my neighbour, that he may instruct himself"

(Please forgive my butchering of the original poetry... I'm sure a better translation can be found in the New Bach Reader, for example.)

There's a picture of the title page, and a full transcription, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orgelbuchlein

Hope this helps,

Bruce Simonson wrote (February 12, 2012):
[To Evan Cortens] Yeppur, that's the quote. Thanks.

 

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Last update: ýMarch 12, 2012 ý13:59:59