Wednesday, September 29, 2010

'Artful [kunstvoll] ... pleasant' music at a civic occasion by St. Thomaskirche Cappelmeister Joh. Seb. Bach in 1739

Excerpt from a Leipzig newspaper (unidentified) praising Bach for "kunstvoll … pleasant" music -- with explanation that the term meant something more like craftsmanlike than artistic.
The cantor and music director at St. Thomas' was also required to produce suitable music for special and civic occasions, of which the town council election pieces constitute a particularly important group. They were performed at the service that took place annually on the Monday after St. Bartholomaeus' Day (August 24) at St. Nicholas', after the formal election of the new city council and the rotation of the burgomaster seats. As the city council election service was a major communal-political event, Bach would have taken special care with a performance that invariably required a large ensemble and festive scoring with trumpets and timpani. A Leipzig newspaper reports on the civic events of August 31, 1739, on which occasion "the Royal and Electoral Court Composer and Capellmeister, Mr. Joh. Seb. Bach, performed a music that was as artful as it was pleasant..."

The German word kunstvoll in the sense it would have been understood in baroque Germany, cannot adequately be translated by the word 'artful'. Kunst in baroque Germany signified not so much 'art', as 'craft', and kunstvoll would better be translated as 'intricately crafted' as indeed Bach's music always was. His Leipzig audience would have readily perceived the wealth of detail, the intricate contrapuntal patterns woven around a well-known chorale melody in one of his opening cantata movements. But the report adds that the music was also 'pleasant', and herein lies a feature equally valid today: Bach's music can be heard with as much pleasure by those with little or no understanding of the underlying patterns. For those who persist, or for those with a prior knowledge of baroque musical forms, Bach's music gains with every repetition, as yet more detail is revealed.

"Bach's Cantatas: A Brief Orientation." Baroque Music Club.
On the Oryx Baroque Music Collection website at ... a website with DCs and downloads and a wealth of articles, podcasts and other information (see below).

This in a review of the Oryx Music Club at ... "The Baroque Music Club is a quality product of Oryx Recordings, a company which has been in the classical recording business for forty years. The company has always specialized in the music of Bach and the baroque period, and draws from an extensive library of recordings originating both from Oryx Studios and from other licensed and available sources. ...

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