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Wrestling with the German Devil: Five Case Studies in Fugue After J.S. Bach

posted on 2022-07-27, 22:36 authored by Berkhan, Jonathan

'After' can be taken both as an indication of chronology (after 1750), and with the meaning 'in imitation of'. When we compare the fugues of Bach to those of later eighteenth-century epigones such as J. L. Krebs, Albrechtsberger, and Clementi, it is striking how works apparently so similar should be accorded such differing cultural significance. Concepts such as 'inspiration' or 'originality' (or conversely 'derivative', 'unimaginative') may be useful critical shortcuts; but how far can we ground this kind of distinction analytically in the musical texts themselves?

Chapter 1: 'Fine Distinctions' approaches this question from the opposite end, so to speak, through the reception histories of two works attributed to Bach himself - BWV 534 and 565 - but now thought to be of doubtful authenticity. The chapter continues with the immediate tradition of the Bach circle, as represented by W. F. Bach and J. L.


Chapter 2: 'Converting the Handelians' begins with a similar comparison between Handel and his successors, before turning to Samuel Wesley and his response first of all to Handel's dominating influence, then to the immense impression that J. S. Bach's music had upon him.

Questions of canonicity emerge in a different way with chapter 3: 'Classical style, Classical ideology, and the instrumental fugues of Joseph Haydn'. Haydn's fugues are discussed with a view to their problematic location in the grand narrative of the development of the Viennese Classical style - the strong sense of evolutionary teleology present in the accounts of Sandberger, Rosen, et al is contrasted with the revisionist approach of James Webster.

Chapter 4: 'Mozart, finished and unfinished' explores Mozart's curious inability or unwillingness to complete so many of his fugal fragments. Several explanations for this, both musical and psychological, are advanced and compared.

Chapter 5: 'Fugue in Beethoven: mundane and transcendental counterpoint' discusses both his early student-fugues and those of his late works, considering his fugal style in relation to the 'difficulty' of much of his music, and comparing it with the similarly challenging counterpoint of Muzio Clementi's later style. The study concludes with an epilogue pointing toward Mendelssohn and Schumann, tracing their affinity with J. S. Bach and outlining the final decay of the galant aesthetic.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Victoria University of Wellington School

New Zealand School of Music


Chapin, Keith; Rij, Inge van; Walls, Peter; Baragwanath, Nicholas