Baroque Piety: Religion, Society, and Music in Leipzig, 1650-1750

Article excerpt

BAROQUE PIETY: RELIGION, SOCIETY, AND MUSIC IN LEIPZIG, 1650-1750. Tanya Kevorkian. Ashgate Publishing Co., 2007. xiv, 251 pp. ISBN 978-0-7546-5490-2. $99.95 (available from Ashgate, 101 Cherry St., Suite 420, Burlington, VT 05401). Readers interested in Leipzig church music and the services at which it was offered, particularly during J.S. Bach's tenure there, will want to consult this book for the extensive background it provides regarding the working conditions of cantors in this important Saxon city. It is writing that will inform even a specialist with important new information beyond the well-known facts of Bach's biography and career. The book opens with the account of Bach sending a lengthy memo to the Leipzig town council in August 1730 complaining about his working conditions at two of the main churches and at the St. Thomas school. The material subsequently presented provides the background necessary to understand Bach's situation.

The book is organized in four parts ("Congregants' everyday practices," "The producers," "The Pietist alternative," and "The construction boom and beyond"), together with an introduction, conclusion, bibliography, and index. Each main section is subdivided into various chapters, of which I found "Experiencing the service," "Seating the religious public: church pews and society," and "Leipzig's cantors: status, politics, and the adiaphora" to be particularly interesting. There are five black-and-white illustrations of Leipzig buildings. The extensive footnotes, mostly bibliographical in nature, are on the page, where they are easily read. Each chapter has a concluding summary, which will be of the greatest interest to the general reader.

The Leipzig cantors of the period this book covers who will be of interest to today's readers are Kuhnau (in office 1701-22), Bach (1723-50), and to a lesser extent Telemann, who left Leipzig in 1705. According to the author, Bach was the only cantor of this time who lacked a university degree but was already famous throughout the Holy Roman Empire as a virtuoso performer, an organ consultant, and a court composer. His election seems to have been a compromise between city councilors on both sides of the Pietist-Orthodox controversy. From 1723 to 1729, Bach engaged in the most demanding composition schedule of his life, with annual cantata cycles. His performances of Passion settings during Holy Week attracted considerable attention. In 1729, he took over the Collegium Musicum that performed weekly in the New Church, as well as at Zimmermann's coffee house; during the trade fairs, there were two performances each week. …