Bach and the Patterns of Invention – Laurence Dreyfus
Thoughts: I read this several years ago, during a period when I was particularly interested in the music of J. S. Bach, and remember finding it really stimulating. I think it was recommended in a collection of essays on music by Edward Said. Typing up these notes, which were initially recorded in a notebook, I found it interesting to read what I thought was noteworthy back in the summer of 2018.
(The notes below are not a summary of the book, but rather raw notes - whatever I thought, at the time, might be worth remembering.)
Dreyfus, Laurence. 1996. Bach and the Patterns of Invention. Harvard University Press.
- 27: “Rather than conceiving musical structure as unconscious growth – an aesthetic model that presumes a spontaneous invention beyond the grasp of intentional human activities – I prefer to highlight the predictable and historically determined ways in which the music was ‘worked on’ by the composer.”
- 27: “Although most analysts believe that the historical appropriateness of a theory is a dead issue – the received wisdom is that the theory so often follows practice that theory need only concern itself with logical consistency and explanatory power – it is my belief that historical propriety, and with it the belief in a plausible reconstruction of Bach’s thought, is an indispensable component of analysis.”
- 28: “In the early 18th century, form was seen instead as an occasional feature of a genre, and not the general theoretical category subsuming the genres that it later became.”
- 28: while form, the order of events, was important to Bach, it often wasn’t as important as the inventions themselves.
- 43: Vivaldi’s ritornellos often did little more than outline tonic and dominant: “As a result, the pieces felt harmonically grounded in a way not observed in the concertos of Corelli, Albinoni, or Torelli.”
- 62: “…conventional voice-leading sequences (such as 10-7-10-7, 5-6-5-6, or 10-10-10)…”
- 118: To look at / listen to: BWV 1029/2 - fusion of French sarabande and Italian adagio
- 135: “Form,” outward shape, as a metaphor for “genre” - Metaphor used differently in baroque and romantic eras
- 139: Form is only one of many aspects/characteristics that inform our idea of musical genre.
- 140: “To call a fugue a genre in Bach’s day means… to name a piece of music of middling length, which is often composed for a solo keyboard, a choir, or an orchestral ensemble, any of which are capable of projecting the imitative ‘flight’ of at least one theme through a polyphonic texture.” … initial imitative statements at the 5th, stable polyphonic texture, at least two voices active at all times, style viewed as higher than dance pieces but lower than canon.
- 141: “Subgenres… play such a crucial role in fugues… that one can describe any 18th-century fugue by reference to at least one identifiable sub-grouping of the genre [with] a restricted set of musical features.”
142: According to Johann Mattheson, 3 types of fugues:
- Simple fugue: one subject, no invertible counterpoint
- Double fugue: with one or more themes treated invertibly
- Counterfugue: featuring contrary motion, augmentation, diminution
- 187: “Consider voice-leading reductions themselves as rather like metaphors, which at once impose a shape on an experience, permit comprehension, and exclude a host of competing meanings.”
- 189: “Whereas traditional critical theory assigned a relative value to styles—high, middle, low, proper, improper, good, bad, bombastic, natural—20th-century musical scholarship imagines that they are value-free.”
Posted: Jun 06, 2022. Last updated: Jun 06, 2022.