Dialogue Meeting 2006
New Directions in Bach Studies
9-10 December 2006
Oxford University, Faculty of Music and St Anne's College
Report on the meeting
The Second Bach
Dialogue Meeting of Bach Network UK,
held at Oxford (Faculty of Music and St Anne’s
College) on 9 and 10 December 2006 brought together a rich and
diverse group of Bach scholars and those with cognate interests. The papers
introduced several new approaches to Bach scholarship and featured younger
scholars together with long-established figures. The format of the weekend was
unusually luxurious with all papers available in advance and the actual
presentations giving a sense of the research context and a summary of the main
points. The extent and depth of discussion was one of the most rewarding
aspects of the weekend, giving the appellation ‘Dialogue’ an unexpected degree
of reality. The Dialogue meeting was attended by 36
people, many of them members of Bach
Network UK, from eight different countries. The Faculty of Music at Oxford University contributed greatly to the
success of the event by supervising the venue and providing tea- and
coffee-breaks. Magdalen College offered its new concert
auditorium as venue for Musical Moment
II. Several delegates kindly topped up their payments of the conference
fee to support the travel expenses of delegates from former Eastern-bloc
countries and to help with general expenses.
On Saturday 9 December two research sessions, Bach and Rhetorical Traditions and German Musician Novels, were followed by Musical Moment I.
Bettina Varwig, 'One more time: Bach and seventeenth-century traditions of rhetoric'
Varwig addressed the century-long tradition of interpreting Bach's music according to the rhetorical terms and metaphors of German music theory. She suggested that much recent work was too narrow and specific and that, instead, a more broadly-conceived model was appropriate. By focussing on the tradition inaugurated by Erasmus of Rotterdam, she suggested that the key issue relates to the varying and amplification of phrases as a means of extending and enriching the overall argument, a source of creative energy that could equally well be applied to music. John Butt's response welcomed this approach, particularly the way in which rhetorical thinking could connect the expressive and formal dimension. The notion of using translations to derive more meaning from a passage could be traced back at least as far as Augustine, and Leibniz’s early work could be another source for the tendency towards combination and permutation. There was a long and lively discussion, suggesting that other participants, too, had experienced dissatisfaction with the ways in which rhetoric is conventionally brought to bear upon Bach’s music.
– Musical Moment I
Barthold Kuijken brought the afternoon to a close with an enchanting performance of the Bach partita for solo flute in A minor, BWV 1013 and his own arrangement of a partita in G by Silvius Leopold Weiss. Continuing their conversations, the participants withdrew to a splendid conference dinner at St Anne’s College, which lasted three hours.
The second day, Sunday 10 December, had two morning sessions, Conservative
Theological Scholarship and Bach’s Chamber Music with Flute, which were followed by an afternoon session on Compositional Procedure and Musical Moment II.
Rebecca Lloyd, 'Bach: Luther's musical prophet'
Lloyd presented a summary of her recent PhD thesis, together with some of her more recent ideas. She was critical of the tendency in theologically-based scholarship to conflate Bach directly with Luther and also to base the conception of Luther on mid-twentieth-century views of the reformer, derived from German dogmatic theology (e.g. salvation history). Many aspects of the word-bound conception of Luther resonate with early twentieth-century German concerns, some of them of dubious political affiliation. Lloyd concluded by suggesting that the view that Bach wrote 'sermons in sound' was misplaced and that many interpretations of Lutheran theology were, in fact, Calvinist in nature. Anne Leahy's response welcomed the opportunity to criticize and revise many of the directions in theological scholarship, and noted that recent disputes in the field centred on a split between German confessionally-biased scholars and those who were interested primarily in historical and scholarly approaches to theology. In her view, Lloyd's critique would be much stronger if it engaged more directly with the depth and diversity of current theological Bach scholarship. The discussion continued both these lines of argumentation, also revisiting the view that Bach’s music was related to preaching in a traditional understanding of his own time.
Laurence Dreyfus and John Butt – Musical
Laurence Dreyfus and John Butt (who both designed the Dialogue meeting) performed Bach's E flat Prelude and Fugue (WTC I, BWV 852) and the Sonata for harpsichord and viola da gamba (BWV 1028). Unfortunately, not all the delegates made it to Magdalen by the time the 'moment' was due to begin, but, after a vote by the audience (and the increasingly cold air that was beginning to affect the instruments) it was decided to start. Everyone had arrived by the start of the gamba sonata, which brought a most satisfactory weekend to a rousing conclusion.