The Social and Religious Designs of J. S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos

The Social and Religious Designs of J. S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos

Michael Marissen
Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 168
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7pdwj
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  • Book Info
    The Social and Religious Designs of J. S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos
    Book Description:

    This new investigation of the Brandenburg Concertos explores musical, social, and religious implications of Bach's treatment of eighteenth-century musical hierarchies. By reference to contemporary music theory, to alternate notions of the meaning of "concerto," and to various eighteenth-century conventions of form and instrumentation, the book argues that the Brandenburg Concertos are better understood not as an arbitrary collection of unrelated examples of "pure" instrumental music, but rather as a carefully compiled and meaningfully organized set. It shows how Bach's concertos challenge (as opposed to reflect) existing musical and social hierarchies.

    Careful consideration of Lutheran theology and Bach's documented understanding of it reveals, however, that his music should not be understood to call for progressive political action. One important message of Lutheranism, and, in this interpretation, of Bach's concertos, is that in the next world, the heavenly one, the hierarchies of the present world will no longer be necessary. Bach's music more likely instructs its listeners how to think about and spiritually cope with contemporary hierarchies than how to act upon them. In this sense, contrary to currently accepted views, Bach's concertos share with his extensive output of vocal music for the Lutheran liturgy an essentially religious character.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2165-5
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION Bach’s Musical Contexts
    (pp. 3-10)

    Tubby the Tubacaptures powerfully the enculturated notion of the orchestral hierarchy. As Tubby’s story goes on to show, there is, of course, no inherent technical reason why tubas should not be highlighted with pretty melodies in orchestral music; it just “isn’t done.” Further explanation is hardly needed.

    J. S. Bach would apparently not have been moved by an appeal to tradition. He at times assigns highly unconventional roles to the instruments in his orchestras. To consider one of the most extreme examples: in the alto aria from his church cantataDu sollt Gott, deinen Herren, lieben, BWV 77, Bach...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Relationships between Scoring and Structure in Individual Concertos
    (pp. 11-76)

    The unquestionably vital role that “Vivaldi fever” played in the dramatic change around 1713 in J. S. Bach’s compositional style is referred to regularly in recent general studies of Bach’s life and works.¹ At the same time, though, investigations into this phenomenon are all too often plagued by serious analytical problems. In specialized studies on the reception of Vivaldi in Bach’s concertos, for example, the usual tack has been to construct formal models for Vivaldi, against which to compare the content of Bach’s music.² Although this approach reveals the relative richness and complexity of Bach’s concertos, it has the unfortunate...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Six Concertos as a Set
    (pp. 77-110)

    The currently favored view in scholarly writing on the Brandenburg Concertos is that they represent less a meaningful set than a collection of individual, unrelated works in the genre.¹ On the face of it, the reasons for this view would appear uncontroversial. Each of the concertos in the collection calls for a different scoring, and, equally significant, the tonal structure (F–F–G–G–D–B♭) conforms to no clearly recognizable scheme. Furthermore, the concertos share neither the same number of movements nor the same stylistic orientations. We might conclude from this, as well as from the fact that secondary copies of...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Lutheran Belief and Bach’s Music
    (pp. 111-120)

    It might be assumed that, by interpreting Bach’s music socially, I have been picturing Bach as some sort of subversive or revolutionary. I am concerned here, therefore, to show that social interpretation of Bach’s music is more properly understood and best accounted for in the wider context of his theological background.¹ The social views in Bach’s Lutheranism fundamentally have very little or nothing to do with subversive or revolutionary thought.

    Luther writes about social structure in many places, but perhaps the clearest and strongest expression of his ideas appears in his lectures on the book of Deuteronomy:

    Should justice and...

  8. APPENDIX 1 Text-Critical Notes on Early Copies of the Sixth Brandenburg Concerto
    (pp. 121-128)
  9. APPENDIX 2 Notes on Bach’s Notation of the Gamba Parts in the Margrave of Brandenburg’s Dedication Score
    (pp. 129-134)
  10. Works Cited
    (pp. 135-144)
  11. Index
    (pp. 145-150)