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Tureck Bach Research Foundation

The 5th Annual Symposium
"Understanding Bach through Science, Art and Criticism"
was held on 17-18 December 2001 at the Holywell Music Room, Oxford.

The symposium was convened by John Butt, Ruth Tatlow and Reinhard Strohm

Speakers discussed some of the ways in which the music of Johann Sebastian Bach has become a focus of scientific, artistic and critical thought in various disciplines.


Monday, 17 December 2001
Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street, Oxford

9:30 am - 1:00 pm Symposium Session A
Bach Scholarship and Criticism Today

Opening Lecture
Prof. Christoph Wolff (William Powell Mason Professor of Music, Department of Music, Harvard University):
"Bach's Music and Newtonian Science: Historical Observations and Analytical Explanations"
The paper takes as point of departure the key thesis of my recent book, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician. The discussion of selected musical examples from the vocal and instrumental repertoire intends to illuminate how certain principles and phenomena of Bach's compositional art relate to the continuing seventeenth-century spirit of scientific discovery.

Prof. John Butt (Department of Music, University of Glasgow):
"Bach, the Postmodern Mindset and Scholarship Today"
Many within the field of musicology claim that we have entered a condition of 'Postmodernity' and that our scholarship should somehow reflect this new mindset. There is no doubt that Anglo-American musicology has seen a sea-change in attitudes towards the functions and methods of the discipline. What is also striking is the fact that Bach studies have only obliquely been affected: there are a few studies uncovering political, social or gender issues in Bach but the majority of studies departing from the objectivist model of the 1950s and 60s represent a return to earlier hermeneutic and biographical approaches. I would argue that this does reflect a trend towards restoration that is indeed part of the postmodern turn. However, what is more crucial is the fact that most of the writers who consider themselves to be "with the times" either studiously avoid Bach or relegate him to a modernist past. There is a sense in which Bach has been in this position before he was defiantly unfashionable enough in his own age so perhaps we may be able to employ what we understand of his achievement as a means of criticising our own age. Bach scholarship might well be able to reposition itself at the heart of musical thought if we can think again about what this music does for us today and how it can make a real contribution to the quality of our lives.

Dr Andrew Stewart (Chorus Master, The Oxford Philomusica):
"Big boys do cry: The lachrymose in J.S. Bach "
According to T.S. Eliot, the seventeenth century witnessed a gradual "dissociation of sensibility ... from which we have never recovered". The act of crying and its cathartic functions, however, were regarded as outward manifestations of moral strength and true sensitivity during Bach's lifetime. This paper explores the relationship between the composer's musical responses to grief and the general contemporary culture of mourning.

Prof. Joshua Rifkin (Cambridge/MA):
The Impossible Text: A Postmodern Edition of the B minor Mass?
This paper expands on some thoughts that arise out Professor Rifkin's work on a new edition of the B minor Mass. It is intended to present some concrete problems and consider the implications of their solutions (or non-solutions, as the case may be).

2:00 - 5:15 pm: Symposium Session B
Structural and Analytical Approaches

Prof. Dalia Cohen (Emeritus Professor, Department of Musicology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem):
"Bach: Forerunner of the Future through Exploration of the Potential of Learned and Natural Schemata"
The aim of the paper is to show how Bach explored the potential of the learned schemata underlying the Western tonal system (including those in music written after his lifetime) and natural schemata that represent universal cognitive principles. Moreover, although Bach remained within the tonal framework, which he stretched as far as possible, some of the cognitive principles that he used are especially prominent in styles that ignore learned schemata, such as twentieth-century music. Here I focus on some of the salient phenomena that are specific to styles developed after Bach: sonata form; special characteristics of nineteenth-century composers; polytonality and dodecaphony; and universal principles that govern the structure of twentieth-century music.

Prof. Dr. Frans Oort (Mathematisch Instituut, Utrecht University):
"An Aspect of Harmony in the Music of Johann Sebastian Bach"
Marpurg wrote in 1752 that Johann Sebastian Bach possessed "tiefe Wissenschaft und Ausübung der Harmonie'' which was not surpassed by any of his contemporaries. I will try to approach one aspect of this. In 1942 the Dutch mathematician Balthasar van der Pol considered an idea about harmony in music of Bach: "In compositions by Bach, going through all modulations in pure intervals, the pitch of the tone in beginning and end agree." We will analyse this working hypothesis. Next to cases where it is correct, we find a case where it does not apply. We try to "explain" what possible effect Bach might have had in mind. The idea by Van der Pol seems to offer an approach to this aspect of harmony in music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Dr Ruth Tatlow (Honorary Research Fellow, Reading University):
(Participation sponsored by the Hinrichsen Foundation)
"The Divine Proportion, Golden Section and Fibonacci Series in Bach's Music"
The Fibonacci series (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 etc) is an approximate numerical expression of an ancient geometric ratio first described by Euclid and known by many names including the Golden Section, Divine Proportion and Division in Extreme and Mean Ratio (DEMR). A complex set of popular misconceptions has evolved from the fact that Fibonacci's sequence dates from 1202 and that Pacioli's Divina Proportione (1509) was illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci. To what extent does the fact that Fibonacci's manuscripts were first published in 1857 challenge the literature on Golden Section in the arts, and, specifically, in Bach studies? This paper will examine the historical facts, the terminology and explore some grey areas.

Professor Francisco Claro Huneus (Professor of Physics, University of Santiago de Chile) and a panel of discutants:
Discovery and Invention in Science and Music
Is there a relationship between Bach´s music and mathematical theorems or physical theories? This question will be explored from the perspective of discovery and invention in the sciences. The position that intellectual constraints are at the core of the differences in the associated creative processees will be briefly explained.

Prof. Harai Golomb (Faculty of Arts, Tel-Aviv University, Israel):
"Bachs Musical Complexity Viewed from a Literary Perspective"
Beardsley's criteria for artistic value are Unity, Intensity, and Complexity. Considering Bach with each (and certainly with all) of them in mind can partly account for his canonisation. Focusing on Complexity, the paper's main theoretical premises are: (a) "Complex" is contrastable not only with "Simple", but also with "Complicated": "Complicated" is boundless; "Complex" is constrained by the "humanly processable". Bach's oeuvre demonstrably epitomises complexity, thus characterised, in music. (b) Artistic complexity can be saturated or non-saturated; i.e., residing in intricate wholes comprising self-contained, complex, potentially independent parts or simple, depleted and interdependent ones (respectively). (c) In literature, complexity pervades three levels: text; fictional worlds; interactions between them. In music it involves only sounds, albeit diverse and manifold in their groupings, configurations and interactions. Musical complexities are comparatively homogeneous; literary ones are heterogeneous (Verbal/Musical interrelations and long-range macro-structures are not discussed here). Instances of Bach's saturated musical complexity are viewed in this paper through the perspectives of Shakespeare's saturated verbal complexity, and the non-saturated complexities of Palestrina and Chekhov. Poe's The Raven, by contrast, lacks genuine literary complexity: its intense textual intricacy has no match in its fictional world.

Dr Rosalyn Tureck (recording):
Keynote Address

Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford , 8 pm:

Johann Sebastian Bach
Christmas Oratorio(Cantatas 1, 2, 3 and 6)
Musical director: Marios Papadopoulos
Chorus Master: Andrew Stewart

Tuesday, 18 December 2001
Holywell Music Room

9:00 am - 1:00 pm: Symposium Session C
Performance and Cognitive Science

Dr Ian Cross (Faculty of Music, Cambridge University):
"Bach in Mind"
For the cognitive sciences, the abundance, complexity and ubiquity of Bach's music has led it to be regarded as an exploitable 'natural resource', so easily mined from its cultural context that the context can simply be ignored. In this guise the music of Bach has been employed by computationalists and experimentalists to shed light on the nature and dynamics of mind. But, particularly through the last decade, the cognitive sciences have changed and the implicit image and identity of Bach and his music within the cognitive sciences must be modified to reflect that change. I shall sketch out some of ways in which Bach's music has been used to understand the musical mind, and discuss the changes in scientific context that seem to require cognitive scientists to re-align their interests in Bach more closely with those of with musicology.

Prof. Eric F. Clarke (Department of Music, Sheffield University):
"Empirical approaches to the study of (Bach) performance"
This paper will present the case for using systematic empirical methods to study musical performance in general, and the music of Bach in particular. Over the past 25 years, there have been rapid developments in the empirical study of performance. But what have these methods revealed, and what has the whole approach achieved? I will argue that the advantage of these methods is that they have shed important light on some strong common underlying principles in the performance of music, have helped to establish the study of performance as a legitimate undertaking, and provide a concrete basis for the detailed analysis of individual performances as well as substantial archives of performance. In the specific case of Bach's music there are particular questions that the approach might help to elucidate, and I will report the results of small-scale study which investigates the detailed consequences of performing Bach's music on different keyboard instruments.

Dr Geraint A. Wiggins (Department of Computing, City University, London)
Computational creativity and the study of musical composition
For some decades, there has been interest in the computing world in simulating the behaviour of composers as they create music. There are various motivations for doing this, one of the more serious ones being the attempt to investigate the nature of human creativity itself, as opposed to its output. Bach has been a particular focus of attention for this enterprise, not least because of the large array of mutually comparable works (ie fugues, chorales, etc) but also because of his very consistent and distinctive style. There have been some surprisingly successful attempts to reproduce Bach's style in chorale harmony, and I present some of their output. But what does this endeavour tell us about Bach's creativity itself? By using a new framework for the characterisation of creative behaviour, I will attempt to point out some directions of research which may answer this question.

Dr Marios Papadopoulos (Music Director, The Oxford Philomusica):
"Motion in Music: Perspectives of Movement and Time in Musical Interpretation"
The concepts of movement and time in musical interpretation have played a significant role in our understanding of music and increasingly so in our approach to performance. Motion in Music looks at ways in which motion, both physical and conceptual, is featured in the musical performance. As such, it provides us with an alternative approach to music-making based on our perception of motion, real or otherwise. Based on a series on definitions and a distillation of personal experiences, Marios Papadopoulos examines the way in which our perception of movement, which involves directly or indirectly the participation of all our sensory system, has an effect on our tactile, auditory and visual channels of communication and seeks to associate various degrees of motions and their relationships with producing aesthetically pleasing musical textures in performance. Special reference will be made to works by Bach.

Angela Hewitt (London):
"Bach and the Dance"
In her paper, Angela Hewitt will not only speak of her general approach to playing Bach on the piano, but also describe how vital it is to recognize and bring to life the dance rhythms that are such a part of Bach's keyboard music. Musical examples will be taken from some of the easier pieces (Anna Magdalena Notebook, Little Preludes, Inventions), as well as the keyboard suites and The Well-Tempered Clavier.

Programmes of previous symposia: