Bach's Orchestra

Bach's Orchestra

Bach's Orchestra

Bach's Orchestra

Excerpt

BACH'S usage and characterization of his instruments is the major theme of these pages. Of all the Masters whose art has continuing and unabated vogue, he especially spoke through voices silent in the modern orchestra. Some cannot certainly be identified. Of others his prescriptions are unprecise or ambiguous. Thus the subject is approached through obscurities. If I have succeeded in clarifying them, I must attribute it largely to experts in their several spheres who have given me their counsel -- Mr. F. T. Arnold, Mr. W. F. H. Blandford, Mr. Gerald R. Hayes, and, above all, Canon Galpin, whose patience is as inexhaustible as his knowledge. But I must not be held to commit them collectively to the conclusions here maintained. My second and sixth chapters, in particular, bristle with arguable topics -- for instance, the significance of Bach's 'corno' and 'corno da caccia', from my interpretation of which, inter alia, Mr. Blandford dissents. But my debt to one and all is considerable and I warmly acknowledge it.

Closely connected with my main thesis is another, whose relationship has been impressed upon me in the course of my research. Students of Bach's genius are tempted to forget that his cantatas and their like are occasional music, whose wider publicity was unforeseen, indeed, unimaginable by their composer. While he held office, in Leipzig or elsewhere, he could repeat them at recurring intervals. But thereafter -- oblivion! Another would provide his official quota of original music, and eke it out occasionally from the church's library of dusty manuscript. Into that repository no more than a fraction of Bach's vocal scores found its way. His elder sons divided them, and the eldest dissipated his portion. Only the widow's share returned to the shelves of the Thomasschule, relinquished for a few thalers to relieve her poverty. These circumstances -- need it be said? -- could not dull Bach's lofty purpose. But they necessarily affected his utterance. Composing for the occasion, he was controlled, and not seldom hampered, by local conditions, particularly in his instrumentation. What those conditions were I have endeavoured to reconstruct in my opening chapter, and the local background has been held in view throughout.

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