Narratives of music and modernity have been prominent in musicological writings of the past decade, and the place of Johann Sebastian Bach within these narratives has formed the subject of stimulating debates. Recent studies by Karol Berger and John Butt have aimed to integrate Bach's Passion compositions into broadly conceived philosophical frameworks, in Berger's case focusing specifically on changing perceptions of time from a premodern sense of circular stasis to a modern linear idea of progress. This article proposes an alternative model of historical inquiry into these issues by presenting a detailed look at attitudes to time in early eighteenth-century Protestant Leipzig. My approach reveals a complex constellation of conflicting ideas and metaphors that encompass notions of time as both circular and linear and evince a particular concern for the question of how to fill the time of one's earthly existence productively. In this light, pieces like Bach's St. Matthew Passion and Georg Philipp Telemann's Brockes Passion can be understood to have offered a range of different temporal experiences, which depended on individual listening attitudes, performance decisions, and surrounding social conventions. I argue that only through paying close attention to these fluid and often incongruous discourses can we gain a sufficiently nuanced picture of how music may have reflected and shaped early eighteenth-century conceptions of time, history, and eternity.
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Research Article| April 01 2012
Metaphors of Time and Modernity in Bach
King's College London
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Journal of Musicology (2012) 29 (2): 154–190.
Bettina Varwig; Metaphors of Time and Modernity in Bach. Journal of Musicology 1 April 2012; 29 (2): 154–190. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jm.2012.29.2.154
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