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Thread: Some Amazing Facts about Bach's Music

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    Some Amazing Facts about Bach's Music

    Some Amazing Facts about Bach’s Music.

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    The ‘St Matthew Passion’ is recognised by music lovers to be one of the great works of musical history. Far less well known is the fact there are many movements in this huge piece (arias, recitatives, choruses etc) where detailed study of the actual number of bars in a movement or even the total number of its musical notes in that movement correspond precisely to the biblical chapter and even the verse numbers of the biblical text being refered to in that same movement !

    But the 'St Matthew Passion' is not the only example of this phenomenon. It is found in many other of his works.
    Last edited by Robert Newman; Dec-26-2008 at 15:18.

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    Admiral Maestoso marval's Avatar
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    Hi Robert,

    That is an interesting fact, I had not realised it. I will listen to that piece differently from now on.


    Margaret

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    Hi there Margaret,

    There are various well researched articles on this subject online. For example -

    http://209.85.229.132/search?q=cache...lnk&cd=4&gl=uk


    In 1947 musicologist Friedrich Smend published a study which claimed that J. S. Bach regularly employed the natural-order number alphabet (A=1 to Z=24) in his works. Smend provided historical evidence and music examples to support his theory which demonstrated that by this means Bach incorporated significant words into his music, and provided himself with a symbolic compositional scheme. Since that time many people have taken up Smend's theory, interpreting numbers of bars and notes in Bach scores according to the natural-order alphabet.

    Contrary views also exist. Dr Tatlow below investigates the plausibility of Smend's claims. Her new evidence challenged Smend's conclusions and her book sounds a note of caution to all who continue to use his number-alphabet theory. What is not disputed is that Bach did use number theory in many of his works though the exact method he employed is still unclear.

    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=0...um=3&ct=result

    Regards

    Robert
    Last edited by Robert Newman; Dec-27-2008 at 18:47.

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    Thanks, Robert, I wasn't aware of that aspect of the St Matthew Passion. I know the Goldberg Variations are interesting numerically, because although the 30 variations come in ten groups of three, when you add the initial aria and its repeat at the end, you get 32 sections of 32 bars giving a total of 1024 - which is 2 raised to the power of 10, a number which crops up all the time in information technology. (I believe there is a slight anomoly in one of the variations, but it's almost true)

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    Hi there jhnbrbr,

    Thanks for this. For almost a century there was a sort of denial going on within Bach studies that such things are really to be found in Bach's music. At least in musicology. It was considered to be too 'messy' and imprecise. Critics said no published works existed at this time which Bach could possibly have been influenced by to use any such system. And even if he had been influenced by them it was said he could not possibly have produced such a vast amount of great music by systematically applying meanings to number sequences etc.

    But a lot has changed. Smend's publication of 1947, for example. Then many others. Firstly, we now know several works on theories of numbers already existed in print in Bach's time. Secondly, we have various clues from writers who knew Bach.

    Various excellent books on this subject are available online, Ruth Tatlow's 'Bach and the Riddle of Number' is one, though highly critical of work that has been done so far it still acknowledges there are many remarkable things to be found in his works from a mathematical perspective. She acknowledges too that baroque composers were definitely influenced by the study of 'gematria' or the rather obvious association between music and mathematics - an association which was recognised to be obvious even in Bach's time.

    Bach may even have been aware of beliefs that biblical verses were themselves mathematically amazing. Work revived on Hebrew and even Greek texts in the late 19th century by Russian mathematicians such as Ivan Panin, for example.

    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=0...um=3&ct=result

    Hope you find that interesting. Any search for 'Bach Gematria' gives lots of interesting information.

    There can be little doubt Bach was not so much inventing music but was, in some highly individual sense, deciphering it from texts according to orderly principles. And this within his over-arching idea of a fugal/contrapuntal music of astonishing simplicity and complexity.

    The whole subject fascinates me and I want to read more of it. In one sense Bach was perhaps only scratching the surface of what was possible. Even in fugue. At least, I think of it that way since we, today, have opportunities to examine such wonderful things more closely from different perspectives. Certainly, no music known to us is able to be judged according to fair rules as that left by composers of the late baroque, of which Bach's is undoubtedly some of the greatest. In Bach's mind it seems he knew instinctively what the musical potential was for a given theme, almost instantly. And this theme determined to him not only its melodic and rythmic possibilities but also the way it would be treated harmonically. An organic music of the most astonishing simplicity and depth.

    J.S. Bach - BWV 1069
    Orchestral suite no 4 in D Major
    BWV 1069/2
    Bourree
    Academy of St Martin in the Fields
    Sir Neville Marriner

    http://www.**************/?e2jdz1wmmiz


    Best wishes

    Robert
    Last edited by Robert Newman; Dec-29-2008 at 15:21.

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    Admiral Maestoso marval's Avatar
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    Thank you for that Robert, I will get reading as well as listening.


    Margaret

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