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Title: J.S. Bach at the coffee house : music as edifying practice
Author: Schwalbach, Burkhard
Awarding Body: Oxford University
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2012
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This thesis proposes a new critical perspective on Bach's Collegium musicum and its performances at a Leipzig coffee house. Based on a range of fresh literary, architectural, and administrative sources, I argue that coffee houses in Bach's time were highly prestigious, if often controversial performance-venues. As a cultural sphere, they were guided by a neo-humanist ideal, known as 'useful edification' (nutzliche Erbauung) which has not been recognised by scholars so far. Yet, applied to musical practice; the notion of useful coffee-house edification can provide a fruitful paradigm for rethinking the reception of Bach's music in its secular performance-contexts. As the contents of several coffee-house periodicals from the early eighteenth century suggest, edifying thought (also described as pondering, or Nachsinnen) was widely understood as a combination of critical and associative thought, which closely resembled Bach's own preoccupation with exploring musical ideas as rhetorical inventiones. Seen this way, a rich reception context emerges that, as a historical web of anthropological meaning, can shed new light, for example, on the socio-cultural context of Bach's keyboard music that was published under the title of Clavier-Obung. In addition, it can reveal how Bach's musical inventions were often combined with further allegorical signs to result in rich music-dramatic, and arguably also emblematic tableaux in a range of secular cantatas. A newly-recovered document relating to Bach's cantata Blast Lermen ihr Feinde (BWV 20Sa) suggests, for example, that the dramma per musica was performed as part of a highly theatrical event that staged an emblematic representation of the coronation of August III as Polish King in 1734. But recognising Bach's reliance on emblematic allegories can also yield new perspectives on, for example, Hercules at the Crossroads (BWV 213) and The Contest between Phoebus and Pan (BWV 201). Viewed as 'useful' and 'edifying' performances, I argue that their music-dramatic symbolism articulated a rich counterpoint of religious, secular and political meanings that can be linked to a corresponding variety of pragmatic, artistic and satirical agendas.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available