Old And Sold Antiques Auction & Marketplace
Antiques Digest Browse Auctions Appraisal Antiques And Arts News Home

Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Bach And Volksmusik

[Bach And The 20th Century]  [Bach The Preacher]  [Bach The Teacher]  [Bach The Tone Poet]  [Bach And The Organ]  [Bach And Hausmusik]  [Bach Yesterday, Today, And Tomorrow]  [Bach And Volksmusik] 



By Paul Nettl

THE UNIVERSALITY OF BACH'S CREATIVE WORK cannot be better confirmed than by the fact that there is hardly a composer of his time who demonstrated such a definite sense of humor in his secular works as our great master. This phenomenon is undoubtedly a derivative of Bach's background. Belonging, as he did, to an all-musical dynasty of cantors, organists, and town-pipers, Bach had a permanent and intensive contact with the burgher and peasant class which, at that time, represented the German nation. Every Bach student knows Forkel's report about the annual meetings of the Bach family which took place usually in Erfurt, Eisenach, or Arnstadt. The meeting was opened with the singing of a chorale, after which the gathering took on a lighter character. They sang folk songs, usually of a jocose, and not infrequently, of a lascivious nature, combining these songs in the form of a quodlibet which, of course, is a type of extemporized polyphony in which the text of each voice, as well as the tune, is different. The renditions of the Bach family along this line are reputed to have been irrepressibly entertaining to everyone within earshot.

The quodlibets are a German tradition of longstanding, and are even used nowadays by students in Germany. They probably go back to the songs sung by the goliards, those wandering students and young ecclesiasts; songs which combined religious matters with quite wayward ones in a polytextual setting closely related to the style of the old motets.

At any rate, we can visualize a Bach reunion with its closing quodlibet if we listen to the final variation of Bach's Goldberg Variations, with the two popular melodies going along together: Kraut und Ruben haben mich vertrieben; hat' meine Mutter Fleisch gekocht, so waer' ich Linger g'blieben," and "Ich bin so lang nicht bei dir g'west."

It might be interesting to trace these two tunes. The first, Kraut und Ruben, was extremely popular in Bach's time, and we are not surprised to find the melody used in a treatment similar to that of Bach in: La Capricciosa (Partite diverse sopra una aria d'inventione) by Buxtehude, and there is a certain possibility that Bach was influenced by that work. In fact, the beginning of Buxtehude's theme with the repeated notes seemed to have influenced that composer to use the old German folksong with its similar repeated note pattern; but the same happens with Bach, whose sarabande theme also had slight resemblance to the quodlibet song. If we examine Buxtehude's variations, we find striking technical similarities to the Goldberg Variations of Bach; but whereas Buxtehude's work has 32 partite, Bach's work has 31, if we include the recapitulation of the theme. It is not unknown that the theme also appears in a collection of popular music of Bach's time and, characteristically, in a quodlibet (this time a "successive quodlibet"), in Rathgeber's Augsburger Ta f ellzonfekt, 1733. Rathgeber's version is "Kraut und Ruben fressen meine Buben."

IN AN ARTICLE which I wrote in the fifth volume of the Zeitschri f t f fur Musikwissenscha f t, I ascertained that Bach's quodlibet theme was identical with the old bergamasca, a dance which was popular at the beginning of the 17th century. As a matter of fact, Bach's quodlibet theme is entirely identical with a "Bergamasca" from a certain Klatiierbuch der Jungfrau Clara Regina Im Ho f ff , (Ms. 18.491 of the Vienna National Library.) Consequently, I can't see why such an excellent musicologist as Willi Apel, in his article on the bergamasca, questions the identity of the two themes.

It is interesting, further, that even today in the Valle di Reno, in the province of Bologna, a bergamasca is danced to a melody which still bears traces of the old dance tune. Coincidentally, this might have been the tune which was known to Shakespeare, who mentions the bergamasca in Midsummer Night's Dream. As the bergamasca. was danced by the inhabitants of Bergamo, . who had the reputation of being a sly but simultaneously silly type of people, it was definitely considered a comical dance, which explains the comical connotation the Germans attached to the tune. The latter, of course, gives insight into the title of Buxtehude's partita: La Capricciosa.

Another version of the bergamasca theme may be found in Julius 1VIax Schottky's Collection o f Austrian Folksongs, from 1819. Entitled "Die Verlorene Henne," it has the text: "Hast nid g'seg'n main Henderl laf'n? I mecht ma de Hoar ausraf'n!" From the Viennese song collection: Ehrliche Gemuths-Erquickung, (1686), the song "Wohlriechende Winterblum" serves to help prove that the theme was known in Vienna in the 17th century.

The second theme of the Bach quodlibet appears frequently in manuscripts of the 17th century; for instance, in those Munich manuscripts which I discussed in my book: Das Wiener Barocklied. It is identical, with only slight differences, to thematic material which appears in the Peasant Cantata over the first recitative in which Bach by this "theory of affections" humorously symbolizes the amorous feelings of a young peasant couple.

Just as Bach's quodlibet theme from the Goldberg variations harks back to an old 17th century dance, so these tunes are closely connected with the old German "Grossvatertanz" (Grandfather - dance). According to Boehme, this dance was still used at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was a wedding dance which, according to Taubert's Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister, Leipzig 1717, was danced chiefly in Saxony at the closing of wedding celebrations, and was characterized by a particular gaiety. With that in mind, we understand better the meaning of Bach's "symbolism." Taubert mentions this dance as an old one; Boehme mentions that the text and tune may be traced to the 17th century, but doesn't confirm this statement. I am able to trace the melody of the Grandfather Dance, including Bach's fragment, back to a balleto written about 1670, by the Viennese composer, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. As every pianist knows, the first part of the Grandfather's Dance was still used by Schumann in his Papillons, Faschingschwanlz, and Carnival. Schumann symbolized with it the "old-fashioned" Philistine mind with which he was at loggerheads.

In the aria, "Es nehme zehntausend Ducaten der Kammerherr alle Tag ein . . . " from the previously mentioned Peasant Cantata, Bach uses a tune which was widely sung at that time, and which Spitta discusses at length. The original German text was written by Gottfried Benjamin Hanke: Au f , au f zum f rohlichen Jagen, and was, in all probability, an adaptation, both textually and melodically, of an old French hunting song: Pour aller a la chasse. Hanke was a personal friend of that famous Bohemian Count Franz Anton Sporck with whom Bach, according to Zedlers' Universal-Lexikon, 1744, was well acquainted, and to whom he had sent the Sanctus of the B Minor Mass. The aria in question was a favorite song of the count, and was musically adapted by Sporck's kapelllneister, Tobias Seemann, who also organized famous hunting choruses for his employer. We find Sporck's aria frequently turning up in prints which were sponsored by the count, appearing sometimes as Hubertus' Aria, or again as the Bon re pos aria. It is found, for a specific instance, in the print: Christliche Kinder-Lehr, Prague, Wolffgang Wickhart, 1721. The Count seems to have been, so to speak, crazy about this melody, and incorporated it into various things as a sort of musical symbol of his philosophy.

AN INTERESTING BIT OF KNOWLEDGE is revealed in conjunction with the above-mentioned Sporck print: On the title page we find a Magnificat which is sung on the Bon repos aria, but the engraving on which the music that the use of the French horn in the mentioned aria had something to do with Count Sporck, who was credited by Mattheson with the introduction of that instrument into Bohemia, and, subsequently, into Germany. However, an inventory of 1706 from the Bohemian monastery Ossegg elicits mention of so-called "Litui" or "Waldhorner," and it may be assumed that the hunting-bands of the Count at that time were particularly famous. We know that, for example, Emperor Charles VI had occasion in 1723, on his Bohemian coronation, to spend a few days at Count Sporck's estate at Kukus in Bohemia where he enjoyed particularly the entertainment of the Count's band. We are informed of these facts through a correspondence between Tobias Seemann and Hanke who, as previously stated, was on good terms with Bach. Picander, Bach's well-known librettist, was, in turn, in close connection with Hanke.

He had dedicated one of his works, in 1725, to the Count.

IN BACH'S TIME, Polish dance and popular music was familiar in Saxony, evidently under the influence of the political conditions under August the Strong. In a collection of popular music in Leipzig in 1736, entitled: Die Singende Muse an der Pleisse, we find a great number of polonaises, and Bach himself just as Telemann, J. Th. Goldberg, Friedemann Bach, and many others, wrote such dances. A typical polonaise of Bach is incorporated in the aria, Fiin f zig Taler bares Geld, in the Peasant Cantata, but it would be conjectural to say whether it was of Bach's invention or taken over from some source of popular music. The latter is definitely done in the aria "Unser trefAicher, lieber Kammerherr," which, of course, is taken from the famous Folies d'Espagne, traceable back to the 16th century. Again the question arises as to whether Bach intended to make a special allusion. It seems that the noble and somewhat old-fashioned Philistine melody was intended to depict the jovial character of the Chamberlain. It was a modal style of melody which appears in numerous lute and guitar tablatures of the time, and which may still be heard as a folk tune in Spain and in South America.

The aria "Klein-Zschocher musse so zart und susse" has a striking similarity to a German folksong known today as Morgenroth which, according to Boehme in the Volksthumliche Lieder der Deutschen, harks back to a song of Christian Guenther from 1745. Of course this folksong was extant during the course of more than one century, as the Germans call it "zersungen"; but the common core of that old song in Bach's aria is still recognizable.

PICANDER HIMSELF labels the aria "Gib Schone, viel Sohne" an old tune, and the bass recitativo which follows it pokes a little fun at the tune with: ". . . That piece was very bad. I'll have a try at another, more certified than t'other." Spitta remarks that this theme seems to be a children's cradle song, in accordance with the text. So far an earlier source for the song has not been discovered, but the basic material is to be found in many children's songs of the 18th century.

The aria: "Dein Wachstum sei feste und lache vor Lust," doesn't have an earlier source either. It is evidently one of those German dances (Deutsche), which became more and more popular at that time. We find similar dances in Deutsche Komodienarien (17541758), with the same typical "fiddle-like" accompaniment. This special Landler, in Kurtz Bernardon's "comedy," contains (probably for the first time in music history), the term Walzen (to waltz), and that gives us an added indication that Bach had a real waltz in mind. (The waltz was at that time a very modern and even despised phenomenon.) We can better understand, now, that Bach used the same melody in the cantata: "Der Streit zzvischen Phoebus und Pan." The melody in that work is expressly "a dancing song," sung by Pan, and it is characteristic that Bach has Pan sing a typical peasant dance which, at that time, was not acceptable to society. We find quite similar phrases in songs by Philipp Hafner before 1763.

The "dance tune" from Phoebus und Pan leads us to the instrumental introduction of the Peasant Cantata which is, in reality, a quodlibet, written in an atmosphere similar to Mozart's "Musical Joke," with an imitation of a peasant orchestra that is the brunt of Bach's jest. As we know from Forkel, Bach's chief musical philosophy was the development of musical thought. But let us examine this "quasi-overture": The introduction is a handler, which gets no farther than a long "up-beat" of several measures before it is interrupted by a short two-beat dance. Then we have a slow handler with the typical "fiddle-phrases" and another two-beat "hopser" appears. This "hopser" is followed by a slow stately unison section which, with its vacillating Bb and B#, satirizes, in an almost pathetic manner, the peasant dance of Bach's time. This section, together with its following "hopser" is, so to speak, the introduction to the already begun but interrupted lander with its wide intervals so typical of the dances of the mountaineers who were Bach's contemporaries.