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Writing on Bach
Discussions

Help with essay

Michael Page wrote (June 4, 2017):
I am seeking help with an essay of 4,500 words for school on Bach ‘Assess the distinctive approach to liturgical music of one composer. J. S. Bach. As I see it Bach’s distinctive approach to liturgical music was that of a member and servant of the Lutheran Church. Having written a 1000 word introduction I have become stuck after that.

Nicholas Johnson wrote (June 4, 2017):
[To Michael Page] If I were you I would ask Aryeh Oran to write the other 3,500 words. You would probably score an A or a highish B grade. Good luck !

Russell Telfer wrote (June 4, 2017):
[To Michael Page] I could imagine someone being stuck to push on after 200,000 words writing on this topic. Have you read all the discussions on this BachCantatas website? It would take you a long time. Perhaps you are short of time.

One way you could deal with it is to focus on the different phases of the church calendar: in the first four months starting from Advent in December, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent .... Easter, you have distinct and different responses to the Christian story. Bach treated these events, his musical depiction of them in quite different ways.

Some of the cantatas are specific to a particular event or a week of the church calendar, for example the Ascension or the 3rd week of Trinity, and Bach produces a second and third version of week's texts. A chance to compare. All the information is there on http://www.bach-cantatas.com/

It may help: a quick summary of the cantatas and which weeks of the year they were intended for on these two connected pages of the Dorset Bach Cantata group which I was using today for a similar purpose:
http://www.dorsetbach.org.uk/archiveintro.html and http://www.dorsetbach.org.uk/bachdatabase.html

Good luck

Jane Newble wrote (June 4, 2017):
[To Michael Page] I am not sure if you know of the Calov Bible, which was in Bach's posession.

He wrote marginal comments alongside Bible passages, which show his personal thoughts on music to the glory of God. He was not just 'a member and servant of the Lutheran Church', but these marginal comments also reveal his own devotional approach to writing his music.

Many of the passages in the liturgical musical scores show how he illustrated and accentuated the truth of the words.

Just a thought.

All the best with your essay!

Julian Mincham wrote (June 5, 2017):
[To Johnson Nicholas] I hope that this comment was meant to be 'tongue in cheek'. Even so there is a danger that such suggestions might be taken seriously. Having spent many years countering the cheating and intellectual dishonesty of university students reqesting or paying for others to do their work for them, I wish to counter any suggestions that this is an acceptable or honourable practice.

Regarding the original request, there has never been a time like the present when so much information has been available at the click of a 'google' button. However, I imagine that a tutor marking and assessing a 4 1/2 thousand word essay would want to see that the student had critically examined the material and used what was relevant to the question and not just thoughtlessly copied it out and handed it in as original work.

A true anecdote. Some years ago I was marking an undergraduate's essay which suddenly changed from a rather plodding unimaginative style to one of considerable elegance. I recognised it as the style of the music historian Wilfred Mellors and steeled myself to having to go through his many books in order to pinpoint the stolen passages. However, my task was lightened when I found that the student had mindlessly copied into her essay---'and, as can be seen in the coloured plate opposite page 375'-----. Unfortunately not all examples of pliagiarism are so easy to track down and penaliise.

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (June 5, 2017):
[To Julian Mincham] Dear Julian (and other friends in the Bach Cantatas Group):

hope you are well and did not went to Central London lately ...

Let me comment on the tricky matter of plagiarism.

Having published lately most of my papers on Academia.edu, some of them in both English and Italian versions, I was surprised that in the last year or so the ones in Italian had many more readers than the ones in English. This was really unexpected, because all my books (and most of my papers) were published in English while I was living in Ireland.

When I told a friend of mine, a neighbour who is a literature scholar, he told me that in Italy and other European countries it is lately current practice to blatantly violate copyrights (both in university internal papers and in publications) borrowing extensively from others' works. In one case this scholar found one such borrowing from a paper of him, in a paper submitted to an international meeting, where he was able to meet the borrower (a lady from Spain): he was surprised at how defiant and unrepentant she was. (Luckily he was able to show evidence to a supervisor who promptly deleted her paper.) How sad.

I have to say that, through the many thousands of pages of writings on music I have been through in my life, both by authoritative writers and otherwise, I have hardly ever found evidences of unlawful borrowings.

Now, however, I feel suspicious about my readership, although I have not found any evidence of plagiarisms ... so far! :-)

Julian Mincham wrote (June 5, 2017):
[To Claudio Di Veroli] Nice to hear from you. How is sunny italy??

I suspect that in the English speaking world the problem may not be quite so wide spread amongst academics. I have been concerned more with establishing good practice with degree students, particularly but not exclusively undergraduates, so that a fundamental part of their education is to respect the intellectual property of others and not to purloin it. It is often sheer laziness, allied to the belief that the percentages are on their side and they have a good chance of getting away with it.

Stephen Clarke wrote (June 7, 2017):
[To Michael Page] You might consider that JSB, in addition to being "a member and servant of the Lutheran Church", was also a firm believer in and lived by the Christian Mythos of redemption and faith. This is somewhat more than being only a loyal and skilled functionary in a particular social structure.

Good luck w/yr essay.

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 8, 2017):
[To Stephen Clarke] I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, that probably should be at the core of the assigned essay topic.

In the past I have written as voluminously as necessary to protest writers who have suggested that sharing Bach's belief in the Christian Mythos is necessary to fully appreciate his music, or makes one a better listener. I see no contradiction in my positions. Others are of course free to disagree.

Alain Brugières wrote (June 8, 2017):
[To Julian Mincham] I haven't been contributing here for a long time but I still read your comments with relish! (it's the reading that's occasional, not the relish!). I feel prompted to add in by two cents'worth to the debate about plagiarism. There are now anti-plagiarism tools, that is, specialized search engines which take a text or a suspicious excerpt as input, and compare it to a huge corpus of texts available on Internet. I never had to use them but my university offers one online (to its staff) and there are also free online tools available. So, while search engines aid and abet the would-be plagiarist in the purloining of texts, they also assist law enforcement authorities. The donwside of this improvement being, you do not feel the thrill of an investigation, and are deprived of the rare moment of elation upon discovering a gem like "as can be seen in the coloured plate opposite page 375"!

As far as Bach's approach to the liturgy is concerned, the first two or three ideas which come to my mind are, that Bach's cycles have very much to do with the cycle of the seasons, from light to darkness and to light again, and I think Julian has greatly contributed to showing how Bach thought in terms of the annual cycle, so that you miss something essential if you consider each cantata only individually, and not as a step in this cyclic journey. And also each cantata is a journey in itself. A second idea is obviously the ubiquitous use of the lutheran choral. And a third, the theatrical character of the music, many cantatas having the feel of a diminutive opera, and how Bach, with the help of his librettists, manages sometimes to turn a theological argument into a spectacular, dramatic turn of events. I think it would be a mistake to oppose the operatic to the liturgic: Bach uses the language of the opera to turn often abstruse theological reasoning into music which can appeal to his hearers.

Julian Mincham wrote (June 8, 2017):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
< Bach uses the language of the opera to turn often abstruse theological reasoning into music which can appeal to his hearers. >
And, may I add,to illuminate aspects of the human condition.

Returning to the plagiarism issue, it becomes a more complex problem year by year. This is partly because many institutions over the last three decades have devised a wide range of forms of assessment, many of which are much more relevant to the process of making judgements about what a student knows and can achieve than the traditional essay and three hour exam. There is currently a huge literature on this e.g. Innovative Assessment in Higher Education ed Brian and Clegg. It then follows that the anti-plagiarism tools mentioned by Alain, although extremely useful and often time saving, have their limitations. Again, if I may offer it, an example from personal experience. A few years ago I was asked to comment on a piece of work by a tutor who suspected foul play but could not prove it. The assignment was to compose a pastiche movement for string quartet in the early C18 classical style, demonstrating knowledge of harmonic, melodic and rhythmic practices, stylistic structures etc etc. The work was very good (and generally above the standards one had come to expect from this student) but with some rather obvious 'errors'. I recognised it as a minuet from a lesser known Hadyn quartet (he wrote over 70 of them so I suppose the student thought he had a good chance of getting away with it) BUT, in order to mask his plagiarism, he had transposed it from the original key of C major into B flat and inserted a few obvious mistakes to give it student 'credentials'.

Some efforts of dishonesty can only be picked up by knowing well what the student is capable of and possibly conducting a viva. Unfortunately, with more Distance learning taking place and vastly increased numbers of students now in higher education, this becomes less feasible. I reiterate my original point that it is never good to persuade students to copy the work of others or to ask others to do it for them. Not only is it dishonest--but it ignores the fact that well thought out assessments are a part of the learning process, not just a means of classification.

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (June 8, 2017):
[To Alain Bruguières] Are any of those online anti-plagiarism search tools available to those of us who have not had for quite a time any academic position?

Julian Mincham wrote (June 8, 2017):
[To Claudio Di Veroli] I'll get back to you

Stephen Clarke wrote (June 8, 2017):
[To Ed Myskowski] Hey, Ed. I agree, also. Too bad the discussion has sidetracked from one possibly more substantive. While I am of the opinion that the affect of JSB's music trumps ones of theology, liturgy, subjective/objective belief systems, etc., I think it also has to be granted that one who is a "believer" will orient themselves to the music in a different mode than one who is a (rank) materialist, this 'difference' not to be prejudged as better or worse. One should also admit that every one who appreciates JSB's work will have a unique orientation and appreciation from every other, regardless of general categories of belief or unbelief. Based on these suppositions, an interesting discussion could ensue.

For myself, my texture of "belief" (a crude term which hardly covers the subject) invariably undergoes a dialectic of sorts when I immerse myself in the spiritual content of JSBs music. As a kabbalist, for instance (and I do not presume that JSB was one, or anything else of the sort), when I adopt on that attitude in the subjective experience of his music - and especially but not only the church works - I never hit bottom and the inner structure of the music always informs my practice. While not judging the quality of anyone else's listening experience, I doubt whether anyone who does not share my background of spiritual practice could appreciate the music in the same way, since I use it towards my own ends, which is a lot more than simple 'appreciation'. Just that same as one who could read or play a score could explain their inner experience to one who could not. Is there the impossibility of sharing different sorts of insights into the majesty and devoted craftmanship which we all appreciate?

Just sayin' . . .

Julian Mincham wrote (June 8, 2017):
[To Stephen Clarke] Too bad the discussion has sidetracked from one possibly more substantive.

It has only 'side-tracked' because of the suggestion, which I challenged, that someone else might write the essay. That raised an important issue about the submission of assessed essays.

When it comes to saying something 'substantive' about the cantatas I am happy to stand by my record----which is readily available for all on the internet. Julian Mincham

Julian Mincham wrote (June 8, 2017):
[To Claudio Di Veroli] The most commonly used is turnitin but that requires a licence to be paid for and is usually accessed through institutions. I don't think that you need to be a full member of staff --if you have a relationship e.g. PT or associate lectureship, with an institution they should be able to give you access.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turnitin

I'll ask around to see if there are other tools available--others on this chat line may know of some.

Stephen Benson wrote (June 8, 2017):
[To Julian Mincham] And Julian's record IS an invaluable treasure! It's been my initial go-to resource ever since he published it. Just sayin'...

Russell Telfer wrote (June 10, 2017):
[To Stephen Benson] I recently emerged from the shadows after a very long absence. That was for a quick off the cuff response to Help With An Essay.

What I should have done is reintroduce myself, and I apologise for that. Many members have joined since I posted regularly. In any community one needs to know who one is talking to. I've a lifelong attachment to Bach's music and to the cantatas and remain a member (and webmaster) for the Dorset Cantata group started as an adjunct to the London Bach Society by Paul Steinitz in 1955. I was a member of the Bach Choir in the sixties and seventies and then 'went to live in the country'. Sort of retired. Last June I joined the Exeter Bach Society Choir as an extra for a concert in Finland but that unfortunately only included one cantata choral.

I've only rarely any claim to scholarly opinions which is why I read rather than write. I'm very pleased that Aryeh is still at the helm providing wonderful leadership, and if I'd given any serious thought on the subject of Help With Essay I would have remembered that Julian had a great deal of material he could have researched. Personally I don't have to mark essays any more and will abstain on the subject of plagiarism. OT: My son has to prepare 47 detailed Expected Outcomes in Practice for a law exam, and all of them have to be assessed and marked. !!! Maybe we expect too much of our students. I can safely say, parts of the world have gone mad. (Here too.)

Stephen wrote: I think it also has to be granted that one who is a "believer" will orient themselves to the music in a different mode than one who is a (rank) materialist, this 'difference' not to be prejudged as better or worse. One should also admit thaevery one who appreciates JSB's work will have a unique orientation and appreciation from every other, regardless of general categories of belief or unbelief. Based on these suppositions, an interesting discussion could ensue.

I'm sure your suppositions are right, Stephen. I can remember discussions with Ed on that. I'm sure there'll be more to follow.

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 12, 2017):
[To Russell Telfer] Thanks for the update, and it is always nice to reconnect with old friends. I had planned to reply to Stephen in any case, but to both of you at once is even better.

First off, I heartily agree with Julian that plagiarism is not to be taken lightly. I can only imagine how much material from his website has been cited (hopefully) or plagiarized (perhaps equally likely?) by students. Worse yet is the issue of plagiarism for commercial publication, by those who certainly know better, or at least are well aware that they are committing a crime.

I do agree with Stephen's point, as well: the general topic of plagiarism is a bit off-topic for this discussion group, while the subject of the assigned essay, loosely *Bach and Theology*, is of ongoing interest and relevance.

One point which has been of great personal interest to me of late (past year or two) is revisiting in more detail the work of Huston Smith, who was .a Cambridge MA legend back in my school days there (1960 +/=). To greatly oversimplify, his thesis is that all true faiths are equally valid. This is a concept which was not formally available to Bach, although it could easily be argued that he knew it intuitively. There is no better music than his to illustrate the concept of spiritual unity on the home planet, not to overlook the fact that it was chosen to represent us in the first formal attempt at communication aimed at other *intelligent* life forms. Whether homo sapiens is truly an intelligent life form long term, or evolution on earth has simply produced some outlying geniuses like Bach, is another question. I am glad I do not have to respond with an essay.

Not to unnecessarily tromp on any theological toes, but I maintain my often expressed position that it is not consistent with 21st C. reality to consider that there is one particular sect (Bach's Lutheranism, or any other) which represents God's eminence, to the exclusion of all other sects. One people, one planet, perhaps one God. Or perhaps not. Either way, Bach's music (including the *plagiarized* works, BTW) represents the absolute peak of our genius, perhaps equaled by others but not exceeded.

Stephen Clarke wrote (June 12, 2017):
[To Ed Myskowski] I would agree that the issue of plagarism is perhaps only a bit off-topic here, considering the temptation such a wealth of informed commentary provides. Certainly author's rights, legal or moral, deserve full respect. Having said that, I don't know what can be done about it.

And I certainly agree that Bach represents the best of what humanity is capable of, not only in a transcendent sense, but also in one of craft. To be a little more specific, I have long thought that, as the Buddha represents the best of the East, so Bach might be offered as the best of what we in the West are capable of, both reaching far beyond themselves. I feel they would have recognized each other.

Julian Mincham wrote (June 13, 2017):
Stephen Clarke wrote to To Ed Myskowski:
< Ed: I would agree that the issue of plagarism is perhaps only a bit off-topic here, considering the temptation such a wealth of informed commentary provides. Certainly author's rights, legal or moral, deserve full respect. Having said that, I don't know what can be done about it. >
Well Stephen, I agree with you but I would add that what can be done about it is to discourage rather than encourage it, which was my point really. And i don't think it is 'off topic' at all. Someone asked for help with an essay and the first response (maybe mean seriously, maybe not--who knows?) was to ask the moderator of the discussion group to write it for him. I would argue that a response to this is as relevant as vague ideas about Bach's levels of religious commitment and the different ways in which people of different faith might respond to the music---both matters which it might me amusing to ponder upon, but neither likely to be relevant to an analytical/academic essay (and both of which have come up on this discussion groups over the years anyway).

So I conclude by suggesting that the matter of pliagarism is directly 'om-topic'.

Stephen Clarke wrote (June 13, 2017):
[To Julian Mincham] Michael's original request was legit, Nicholas' response advocating plagarism was obviously frivolous and ill-considered. End of story, so what. But here we are elevating general issues and anecdotes of plagarism in general to prominence and Michael's request runs the risk of being lost in the noise level.

Furthermore, I find it shocking that you would consider viewpoints about " . . . Bach's levels of religious commitment and the different ways in which people of different faith might respond to the music . . ." as vague, amusing and irrelevant. To you, obviously. But perhaps that was tongue-in-cheek also. Not to Bach himself, for sure, which surely is the important point. And who knows what latitude Michael was given in his instructions, above and beyond being tasked to characterize Bach's "distinctive approach"? As far as distinctive goes, how many composers have considered their work to be a seamless and totally committed testimony to their relationship to God? Even for an atheist, this is can't be overlooked or diminished and is just as much a fact as what can be gleaned from examination of manuscript watermarks. The only difference is that the former demands some original thought and critical self-reflection based upon personal expereince.

For the record, I discourage plagarism, if that helps.

Julian Mincham wrote (June 13, 2017):
[To Stephen Clarke] Please do not misquote me. I did not say that vague (or perhaps better put it would be 'vaguely expressed') considerations about what Bach (or his listeners) may or may not have believed were either 'amusing or irrelevant'. I said they may well be irrelevant in the context of academic essay which, it it were to have value might well be concerned less with things which we can know little about and which are basically subjective, and more about knowledge of the scores and their historical and social context. A student might well be asked about Bach's distinctive approach'-------which could relate to his use of rhythm and melody, form and instruments and his derivation and development of his musical ideas from textual images etc etc etc. But of course that would require a bit of hard work such as knowledge and analysis of the scores. Much easier to ponder about Bach's personal beliefs, about which we know a little from some of the passages he marked in his bible, and even less from his personal correspondence or the texts he set (when we don't even know, in most cases, who the librettist was or the extent to which Bach embraced their content.

The comparison with watermarks is fatuous. They tell us something about when the scores were written and nothing more.

Stephen Clarke wrote (June 13, 2017):
as below, inserted . . .

Julian Mincham wrote:
< Please do not misquote me. I did not say that vague (or perhaps better put it would be 'vaguely expressed') considerations about what Bach (or his listeners) may or may not have believed were either 'amusing or irrelevant'. I said they may well be irrelevant in the context of academic essay which, it it were to have value might well be concerned less with things which we can know little about and which are basically subjective, and more about knowledge of the scores and their historical and social context. A student might well be asked about Bach's distinctive approach'-------which could relate to his use of rhythm and melody, form and instruments and his derivation and development of his musical ideas from textual images etc etc etc. But of course that would require a bit of hard work such as knowledge and analysis of thescores. Much easier to ponder about Bach's personal beliefs, about which we know a little from some of the passages he marked in his bible, and even less from his personal correspondence or the texts he set (when we don't even know, in most cases, who the librettist was or the extent to which Bach embraced their content. >
SRC - Well, we do a lot about what it means to be a believer, one of which Bach was. But you discount the objective reality of those things you call subjective. Bach's belief system was a highly documented social fact, which he was fairly scrupulous in adhering to, as well might be expected, considering the extent of his investment in his professional career. He would butt heads with employers if he felt his personal essentials were at stake but I don't recall ever hearing him get into religious hot water with any of his superiors. That's a pretty good relevant detail, considering the rebellious attitude towards such things that great artists are famous for. His private thoughts on those matters is, indeed speculation, at least at this point in the non-existent investigation, yet there also exist in the culture of the times, other recognized developments in 'fringe' (i.e.: non-dogmatic) theological currents which might reveal influences if the were looked for. This could be investigatjsb.ed, e.g.: the "Music of the Spheres", a concept which many have used, in poetic fashion, to praise the music of old JSB. Yet "The Music of the Spheres" is a recognized realm in the more esoteric departments of religious experience. Not only that, I propose the JSB has a very high level of recognition of the influence coming from that direction. I do not find any evidence of the kind of initiatory instruction that might be found with the Lutheran confession, but Johann Valentine Andrea was not all that far removed from it. Which leaves unexplained the. . . . " ". . . actual sources in tradition which might have allowed or encouraged his genius, not just in technical expertise but in clarity of Inspiration.

JM: < The comparison with watermarks is fatuous. They tell us something about when the scores were written and nothing more. >
SRC - Incorrect. Not fatuous. The main thing watermarks tell you is who made the paper, and various provenance directly connected with that. They can also tell one before which date the score could not have been written. Scores are rarely written on the paper the same day the paper was made. Watermarked paper, which to some extent can be traced, can also inform one as to certain seemingly unrelated but significant items of information. I recall an anecdote from, I believe, "The Social History of Information" or something like that. The story goes that the researcher was in the British Museum and the researcher in the next stall was sorting through various stacks of old manuscripts and smelling them. On inquiry, the fellow explained that he was looking into trade documents sourcing from the banks or the Venetian doge, in the plague times. He explained that he could not afford to believe those documents detaining prosperity if they smelled of vinegar, since vinegar was a popular prophylactic used against plague. Not boom times.

You'd be surprised at what you could find out if you looked for it.

Julian Mincham wrote (June 14, 2017):
[To Stephen Clarke] I don't think that this discussion has become particularly productive or illuminative so I am withdrawing from it.

Stephen Clarke wrote (June 14, 2017):
[To Julian Mincham] Too bad. Michael might have gotten something out of a discussion that actually had two different points of view.

Stephen Clarke wrote (June 13, 2017):
Was: essay > Bach and the question on meaning

There is a larger issue that has come up in the recent discussion, one that is usually avoided by cooler heads but which one which nonetheless confronts us heads-on in the music of JSB. That is the question of meaning.

In an age where (commercially successful) art is no more than the clever but essentially random juxtaposition and rearrangement of elements cherry-picked from the mass culture, questions of meaning are refuted. Its answer to "Why is there anything" is that the question is without meaning. Resolutely opposed to this is the great art of JSB, who intended by it the edification of his audience - we may include ourselves in that if we wish. In a Lutheran community of Bach's time, edification was much more than sentimental feel-goodism; it arced towards spiritual transformation. A very real thing for those into it and affecting even for those who aren't. Surely the b minor Mass, as well as the lowliest two-part Invention is more than the work of a hundred monkeys set before a hundred typewriters for a sufficient period of time. There is the matter of intention, which combines with the matter of meaning, which cannot be ignored in a well-rounded treatment of the "distinctive" style of JSB.

This can go in a number of ways, hard to pin down and verify or refute like simple facts. But the world of art is not composed of facts. One might make the case that it is only at the terminus of the Inspiration process that it precipitates into "facts." Poetry cannot be analyzed, much less understood, by examining the penmanship of the poet. Whatever facts can be elucidated from penmanship are essentially and ultimately unrelated to the meaning of the poet - a meaning which is elusive to the factual gaze. Many things can be discerned by the latter, but little of that is relevant to the sense of the poet which is the one thing real about it, in spite of being non-factual. Similarly for music.

I dispute the notion that such concerns are off-topic, even in an academic setting.

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (June 14, 2017):
[To Stephen Clarke, regarding Bach and the question on meaning] Very interesting Stephen thanks!

And certainly this matter is IMHO on-topic about any major work of Bach such as the Cantatas.

Up to the point that we should understand the meaning of a piece in order to hear and play it properly.

HOWEVER, and when it comes to interpretation, this matter of "meaning" and "rhetoric" has been construed in the last few decades as implying that we should use "interpretation" (a manner largely introduced by CPE Bach) in order to "reinforce" the "meaning", even when such a performance goes much beyond what we know (and this is a lot!) about the customs of Bach's milieu.

Almost 20 years ago Joshua Rifkin noted this prevalent fad and its dangers: he strongly objected to the present-day tendency to interpret every single note of a baroque masterpiece with such a detail that would be considered ridiculous by either Bach or his students. (And in ensembles requires lots of rehearsal, which goes straight against historical evidence).

Stephen Clarke wrote (June 14, 2017):
[To Claudio Di Veroli] Interesting, in turn . . . very agreeable.

Regarding rehearsal time for JSB, I'm sure, however much there was it was not nearly enough!

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 20, 2017):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Please do not misquote me. I did not say that vague (or perhaps better put it would be 'vaguely expressed') considerations about what Bach (or his listeners) may or may not have believed were either 'amusing or irrelevant'. I said they may well be irrelevant in the context of academic essay which, it it were to have value might well be concerned less with things which we can know little about and which are basically subjective, and more about knowledge of the scores and their historical and social context. A student might well be asked about Bach's distinctive approach'-------which could relate to his use of rhythm and melody, form and instruments and his derivation and development of his musical ideas from textual images etc etc etc. But of course that would require a bit of hard work such as knowledge and analysis of the scores. Much easier to ponder about Bach's personal beliefs, about which we know a little from some of the passages he marked in his bible, and even less from his personal correspondence or the texts he set (when we don't even know, in most cases, who the librettist was or thextent to which Bach embraced their content.
The comparison with watermarks is fatuous. They tell us something about when the scores were written and nothing more. >
Ah, Julian, I remember our original dust-up, although I do not recall the details. They are probably available in the BCW archives for posterity. What I also recall is how quickly we were able to sort out the misunderstandings/misinterpretations and become enduring friends. I expect that is recorded as well.

Cheers, Mate!

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 20, 2017):
Stephen Clarke wrote:
< Too bad. Michael might have gotten something out of a discussion that actually had two different points of view. >
Here is a thought for Michael. Produce a first draft and post it on BCW for comments. I would expect any supportive instructor would encourage the rather novel, for a student, research method. In fact that is how Julian's full book length website evolved from a few years worth stimulating discussions.

And non-supportive instructors? Beneath contempt. Don't worry about it.

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 20, 2017):
Stephen Clarke wrote, regarding Bach and the question on meaning:
< In an age where (commercially successful) art is no more than the clever but essentially random juxtaposition and rearrangement of elements cherry-picked from the mass culture, questions of meaning are refuted. >
I guess I have read even more nonsensical stuff, but I cannot recall exactly when. Let ti stand as a supreme example of BS!

Stephen Clarke wrote (June 20, 2017):
[To Ed Myskowski] Aloha to you, too, Ed.

Let me try it another way: when life and consciousness are regarded as statistical flukes and questions of meaning are considered meaningless, Bach's music stands against this as testimony to pattern and intention and recognition of order. The recognition of such intelligent design is in a different style than that of religion but goes in the same direction. Thus I have no problem with atheists, materialists or others who have little sympathy with Bach's religious faith but who also obtain great consolation in his music.

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 22, 2017):
[To Stephen Clarke] Thank you for a thoughtful reply. Life and consciousness are regarded as highly improbable in the current concept of Big History (starting with the Big Bang), but there is consistent and continuous evidence for their evolution. Whether that is by some sort of intelligent design or not is an unanswerable question, at present, but that does not imply a "statistical fluke" in either case. Bach's.clear respect for pattern and recognition of order in his music assuredly reflects his religious beliefs in many, but not necessarily all, cases.

Most important, the greatness of Bach's music has no relation whatsoever to the objective reality (or lack thereof) of Bach's beliefs.

You have to love Voltaire:

God is the Supreme Being. He made the world. We can assume that he gave it his best shot.

Therefore, "this the best of all possible worlds"

P.S. I make contemporary art. I do not make it by cherry-picking and randomly juxtaposing and rearrangng elements of mass culture. I do borrow (OK, steal) on occasion. I stand with Stravinsky: Do not borrow. Simply steal. But only from the best.

Maybe you are looking at art in all the wrong places?

Stephen Clarke wrote (June 22, 2017):
[To Ed Myskowski] Agreed.

Optimist: This is the best of all possible worlds.
Pessimist: This is the best of all possible worlds.

I think that if you are a good artist you will recognize that way too much of what is passed off as art is rather cringe-worthy. I'm an artist, too, and been around it and married into it for over 50 yrs. Standards have fallen.

Russell Telfer wrote (June 23, 2017):
[To Stephen Clarke] "Standards have fallen", you say. I don't agree! The quality of culture(s) goes up and goes down unpredictably. "Big History" supports your idea - standards can drop for several centuries at a time. (400AD - 1100AD and on.) The present political situation just about everywhere suggests you're right. The state of mass culture generally? A tower of Babel: exhibitionism, look at me, controversialism - all these things suggest you're right. But hold on.

Stephen Pinker amassed a mountain of evidence that things generally get better.(The Better Angels of Our Nature)

Bringing this argument round to the musical sphere, do you remember the way in which the atonalists and the aleatoric brigade seized the musical establishment by the scruff of the neck in the 1950s and 1960s and successfully promoted their music at the expense of the standard classical repertoire? When was the last time you heard music by Jean Barraqué, Henri Pousseur or Franco Evangelisti on a 21st century concert programme? I would argue that this was a serious cultural aberration of that time. And what about Deconstructionism or the contribution of academic French philosophers of the late 20C? Don't ask me, I couldn't understand any of it. Neither could anyone else. My opinion is that these cultural clusters were aberrations. Because they were wrong, they did not take hold. They were flushed (or are being flushed) out of the system. In other words, things improved again. I think that's consistent with what Ed is saying about the values within mass culture - you can pick the good bits out and the rubbish will wither. With 700 TV channels, that's a heck of a lot of rubbish.

Meanwhile we will stick with dear old JSB whom we can rely on whatever our other affiliations.

I can agree with a lot of what you and others on this thread have been saying, but not this.

Ed said: "I do not make (..art..) by cherry-picking and randomly juxtaposing and rearranging elements of mass culture. Well, a lot of them out there are doing exactly that"

 


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