1 Yeung 1 Bach s influence in keyboard music by Motin Yeung Research paper In Music seminar 89s Fall 2012 Teacher: Harry Davidson
2 Yeung 2 Introduction The purpose of this paper is to understand why it is now universally known that Bach is the father of music, and to explore the influence he had on his successors in keyboard music. The research is going to be based on analytical books written about Bach and his successors music, essays written about Bach s influence on other composers, and Bach s biographical information. The paper first talks about how his family and life influenced him as a composer. Then talks about different techniques in his works that made him outstanding, lastly takes a close look at how later master keyboard composer were influenced by him. I am going to demonstrate that Bach s music was innovative and it fundamentally influenced other master keyboard composers that came after him. Background information of Bach Johann Sebastian Bach was born on March 21, 1685 in Eisenach, Saxe- Eisenach. Being born into a very musical family, it was no coincidence that Bach was able to be in touch with music at a young age. His dad, Johann Ambrosius Bach, was the director of the town musicians. A few of his brothers were also musicians; his uncles were all professional musicians, including composers, court chamber musicians, and church organists ( Johann Sebastian Bach Web). Bach s eldest brother was suspected to teach him violin and the basics of music theory, and Bach was first introduced to organ music by his uncle Johann Christoph Bach. After Bach s mother died in 1694, he moved in with his oldest
3 Yeung 3 brother, who was an organist at the Michaeliskirche in Ohrdruf, and that is where he studied, performed, and copied music (Boyd 6). Bach showed passion for music at a very young age. For instance, at age 10 when he first moved in with his oldest brother, he snuck into his brother s chamber to copy music, despite being forbidden to do so. Even before he moved in with his brother, Bach had mastered the organ and violin, and was an excellent singer (Sherrane). However, his brother further advanced his musical knowledge by exposing him to the works of contemporary composers of that time period, and instructed him on the clavichord (Boyd 6). At the age of fourteen, he received a choral scholarship to study at St. Michael s school in Luneburg. There, he sang in the choir, played the organ, and played the harpsichord. During his musical career, he traveled to many towns in Germany and held various positions in churches and courts. In 1703 he went to Arnstadt to Figure 1. A visual demonstration of where Bach has traveled during his lifetime. take the position of organist at the St. Boniface Church (Sherrane), and that is when he took a month s leave of absence to make the journey to Lubeck (a 200 miles journey he made on foot), perhaps the most important journey he had made. It is during this trip that he heard Dietrich Buxtehude, one of the greatest
4 Yeung 4 organists at that time. As a result, Bach s interest in organ music greatly increased. This one-month trip turned into five-month trip, thus Bach was forced to find a new position at Mulhausen in 1706, where he married his cousin, Maria Barbara. He stayed in Mulhausen for a year before becoming the court musician for the Duke in Weimar. Bach produced most of his organ works in Weimar, and he began composing cantatas and vocal works himself (Sherrane). In 1717, Bach became the Kapellmeister at the court of Prince Leopold in Cothen. He was forced to produce numerous instrumental music pieces during his service at the court including hundreds of pieces for solo keyboard, orchestral dance suites, trio sonatas for various instruments, and concertos for various instruments and orchestra (Music History 102: a guide to western composers and their music). In Masters of the Keyboard, Wolff wrote: Though it is now universally recognized that he represented a culmination rather than a beginning and that he was capable, for instance, of writing a Frescobaldi-like toccata on Monday, a cantata based on the tradition of Schutz on Tuesday, a dance suite in the manner of Couperin on Wednesday, a Germanic Baroque chorale prelude for organ on Thursday, and a direct transcription of a Vivaldi concerto on Friday, Bach still remains the father of music (1). Bach actually benefited from being forced to produce large amounts of work each week. With an enormous amount of time spent creating new music each week, he had more opportunities to experiment with different musical styles and musical techniques. The various positions he held in churches and courts helped him to become a master composer.
5 Yeung 5 Bach s works During his lifetime, Bach was best known as an organist, but he also composed many classical keyboard works, orchestral works, chamber music, vocal, and choral works. Using a large amount of counterpoint and other techniques in his music, Bach contributed to the growth of polyphonic style in the Baroque period. In addition to his contribution to the polyphonic style, he achieved remarkable heights in the art of fugue, choral polyphony and organ music, as well as in instrumental music and dance forms (Music History 102: a guide to western composers and their music). A special characteristic in Bach s works is that he broke his own rules, and by breaking the rules he created, the music actually sounded better. He enhanced music through the modifications and creations in notation, rules and exception, order of tonalities, proportions of length, harmony, melody, grouping, polyphonic writing, dynamics, and forms. Notation Bach was successful in expressing double-dotted rhythms even before the symbol of two dots had been invented (Wolff 3). Bach greatly improved the use of notations in music composition, and he was very talented at it. For example, While his contemporaries had a tendency to use abbreviated and simplified notation such as double-dotting expressed by single dots, or triplet-eighths expressed by sixteenths Bach wrote exactly what he wanted to hear, wherever possible. (Wolff 2) Bach also discovered a precise notation to fix the situation where quick upbeat notes are preceded by rests since It was apparently not permissible to
6 Yeung 6 affix dots to rest signs (3). Before Bach s discovery, performers got into the habit of prolonging such rests by one half on their own, thereby halving the value of the following upbeat note (3). In the St. Anne Prelude for organ, BWV and in the beginning of the left hand part of the Sarabande of the Fifth Partita, Bach combined two successive signs, making the second half as long as the first, which is exactly what the notation of a dotted rest would have achieved (4). Rules and Exceptions The way he treated rule and exception was demonstrated by his rule of avoiding the augmented second between the 6 th and 7 th scale tone in the minor mode as a melodic interval (Wolff 8). Occasionally, Bach broke rules concerning formal devices. For instance, the da capo forms the last third of long preludes and outer concerto movements is absolutely literal (10). However, Bach dramatized the end of the Italian concerto by slightly touching up the texture, almost analogous to a nineteenth-century composer s strategy (10). The modification of the left hand before the end offers the distinct invitation to make a ritard (10). Wolff advises when approaching any Bach s pieces, it is advisable to find out in what way it is exceptional. He gave an example of the C minor Fugue, WTC, Bk. II. It is understandable only when one realizes that for the first 18 measures, all four voices of the gugue never appear at the same time. Only shortly before the end the bass completes the foursome
7 Yeung 7 and proceeds to render all three forms fo the subject (augmented, inverted, and original) in succession (11). As a result, when performing Bach s pieces, performers should be careful with the way Bach wanted the piece to be performed. Proportions of Length Many musicians praise Bach for the numerical symbolism and mathematical exactitude (classical net) in his music. Bach planned his music in a mathematical way, which can be seen in the proportions of length of each section and measure (Wolff 17). Before Bach, composers wrote large pieces by fitting small segments together symmetrically, while Bach mentally looked at the musical space occupied by the whole work and then subdivided it into regular, or nearly regular, sections (Wolff 17). In the Romantic age, great composers like Beethoven and even Mozart, very mathematically gifted, did not look at compositional forms as spaces filled in an orderly distribution of measures (Wolff 18). Eventually in the twentieth century Stravinsky, Honegger, and Bartok finally recognized and began to appreciate Bach s concept of special planning. In Bach s binary compositions, he based various proportions on mathematic ratios, such as twice as long. However, he often changed the rule to make room for a longer second part (Wolff 18). Ratios of 2:3 (that is, 16:24 measures) occur in the Burleska of the Third Partita; 3:4 (12:16 measures) in the Sarabande of the First Partita; 3:5 (12:20 measures) in the Scherzo of the Third Partita. (Wolff 18)
8 Yeung 8 Because certain tendencies prevail in certain suites, the second part of the Second Partita tends to be long everywhere, while in the First Partita equality between the sections prevails (18). Later composers then follow these proportion guidelines when creating their music pieces. Melody The cornerstone of Bach s melodic construction is that he incorporated melody, polyphony, and counterpoint all together, and they help others to create and become more powerful. He often only used one type of the melodic patterns, which include diatonic, chromatic, and triadic. Musicians and scholars did not regard Bach s melodic principles until the turn of the twentieth century, when Heinrich Schenker and August Halm became aware of them, and composers like Reger, Busoni, Schoenberg, and Straginsky began to emulate them (Wolff 24). Different than other composers, Bach kept the principal strong beats in the bass free of non-harmonic notes so that they would provide a harmonic foundation. According to Kant s definition, this allowed him to create organ works with details that are unthinkable without the whole and vice versa (Kant s music tuition). As an example, almost a symbol, of this double concern for smaller and larger melodic units, the bass notes on strong beats have a curious double function; in addition to being part of the total bass line they form an independent, slower-moving melody which is gained by leaving out all the notes in between (Wolff 31).
9 Yeung 9 When beat melody appears in bass, it carries out the harmonic rhythm, and occasionally beat melodies help to determine the best tempo. Polyphony and counterpoint The two most remarkable musical techniques Bach used are the use of polyphony and the use of counterpoints. Polyphony means the appearance of multiple melodic voices in the music, most frequently seen in Bach fugue works, and counterpoints normally refer to different motifs used against each other. Those two devices create the flow of the music, making the melody of the music kept playing until the end. This bar, from Fugue No. 17 in A flat, BMV 862, from Das Wohltemperierte Clavier (Part 1), gives a good example for polyphony and counterpoint. A clash occurs between the harmony note and an unessential one in a conventional figure. Here are some more examples from Music & Letters (Platt 50),
10 Yeung 10 Counterpoints are clearly shown in the measure and the description below each figure. Bach was not the first composer to write polyphonic pieces with counterpoints, also called contrapuntal polyphony, but he is definitely the one that utilized and enhanced those two techniques and made them a symbol of the baroque period music. He experimented different ways of using polyphonic voices and counterpoints. By mastering them, he showed later composers of various ways to incorporate contrapuntal polyphony in any musical pieces. Bach s influence With all those innovations in musical styles, the question comes down to: who followed his footprints? If anyone invents something new but no one uses it, then the invention loses its value. In Bach s case, his musical styles did not lose their value. Many master musicians either directly used his musical techniques or were influenced by his musical styles.
11 Yeung 11 A good example would be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Bach played an important role in Mozart s life and composition career. In Wolff s book Masters of the Keyboard, he called Mozart the greatest inventor in the history of music, claiming, Many aspects of music which we take for granted would simply not exist without him the classical piano concerto, the clarinet as a member of the orchestra, the string quintet, the piano quartet (76). Mozart, a genius music composer, is one of the great composers that was influenced by Bach. Musicologist Georges de Saint-Foix once said that Bach s influence replaced the influence of the father so that Johan Christian Bach became the only the true teacher of Mozart (Gartner 211). Another scholar also stated similarly, Mozart always viewed Johan Sebastian Bach as the great model, the man whose style he worked to emulate more assiduously than any other during his early years (Gjerdingen 263). Felix Mendelssohn is another composer who was profoundly influenced by Bach s music and deeply involved in the Bach revival. Mendelssohn was a pianist, conductor, organist, and composer of the early Romantic age. He is extremely gifted, but still was influenced by Bach and he looked upon Bach as a role model. Todd in his Mendelssohn, Felix biography wrote, his musical style, fully developed before he was 20, drew upon a variety of influences, including the complex chromatic counterpoint of Bach (Todd). In fact, Mendelssohn studied Bach s music intensely before composing his own masterpieces, and according to Todd the study of Bach s music helped to shape Mendelssohn s characteristic love of learned counterpoint and complex chromatic part-writing (Todd). Perhaps
12 Yeung 12 because he studied Bach s music, Mendelssohn was a prominent organist at his time. His music reflects a fundamental tension between Classicism and Romanticism in the generation of German composers after Beethoven (Todd). Bach generated his success in music, but Mendelssohn rediscovered Bach (Todd). Conclusion Bach s works were so influential that it became a representation of music. Of course now it is universally known that Bach is the father of music, but even back in the 19 th and 20 th century, great composers like Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven Schubert, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Stravinsky, and many more all recognized the significance of Bach s works. Someone might say, not every composer followed Bach s musical style. They create their own concertos without using Bach s musical techniques. But because Bach contributed enhancements to music in many aspects, those composers that try to create their own music have trouble figuring out how to stay original from Bach s music. Just by trying to stay away from Bach, they are influenced by him already; Bach has already come into their mind. Today when people begin to learn piano or other keyboard instruments, they have to play Bach s pieces. Even if someone does not play Bach s piece, they might play some piano concertos from Chopin, Mendelssohn, or Beethoven, just to list a few. But where did their piano foundation come from? Without a doubt, it came from Bach. Whether people realize or not, who studies or plays music has been influenced by Bach s music.
13 Yeung 13 Works Cited Anonymus. Johann Sebastian Bach. Internet Arton publication. Web. 10 Nov Boyd, Malcolm. Bach. Oxford: Print. Gartner, Heinz. Johann Christian Bach: Mozart s Friend and Mentor. Portland: Amadeus Press, 1994). Print. Gjerdingen, Robert. Music in the Galant Style. New York: Oxford University Press, Print. Platt, Peter. Melodic Patterns in Bach s Counterpoint. Music & Letters Vol. 29, No. 1, January Web. November 12, Sherrane, Robert. Music History 102. Ipl2.org. Web. 10 Nov Todd, R.Larry. "Mendelssohn, Felix." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 14 Nov < Wolff, Konrad. Masters of the Keyboard. Bloomington and Indianapolis: 1983, Print.
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