Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

Borrowings in J. S. Bach's Klavierübung III

Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

Borrowings in J. S. Bach's Klavierübung III

Article excerpt

J. S. Bach was no exception when it came to the firmly established Baroque custom of borrowing musical ideas, both from compositions of other composers as well as from one's own. These borrowings are important, for not only do they give us some idea of the music with which Bach came into contact and the aspects of these compositions that attracted him, they are also often illuminating for what they reveal to us of his creative process. Bach's Dritter Teil der Klavierùbung, published in 1739, has not received detailed examination thus far in the search for the composer's borrowings, but here, as in so many of his works, borrowings are clearly in evidence.

The term "borrowing" is not a particularly fortuitous one, and it is used here only because it is in common usage among musicologists to refer to a specific process. It would appear, however, to be a far too crude and exclusive term, most inadequate in describing what is, in reality, a subtle and multi-faceted process. As if to emphasize this point, the three cases of borrowing under consideration here are all quite different in nature and cover a wide range of technical procedures.

The North German composer Conrad Friedrich Hurlebusch (ca.1695-1765) was a renowned keyboard virtuoso, an accomplished composer of keyboard music, cantatas, and opera, as well as a theorist, with plaudits from such figures as Johann Mattheson (see 1740: 120-25) and Johann Gottfried Walther (see 1732: 321). Even before 1734, Bach may well have heard about Hurlebusch and have seen some of his compositions. In fact, Hurlebusch may have visited Bach on a trip he made in 1726, since his road from Bayreuth to Dresden and hence home lay through Leipzig. That he visited Bach some years later, almost certainly sometime in 1734, is clear from the following account of this visit which appeared later in the Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek (1788):

Just one example as proof of his [J. S. Bach's] modesty, an example of which I was a witness. Bach once received a visit from Hurlebusch, a harpsichordist and organist who at that time was very famous. The latter, upon request, sat down at the harpsichord and what did he play for Bach [but] a printed menuet with variations. Thereupon Bach played seriously according to his manner. The stranger, struck by Bach's courtesy and friendly reception, made a gift of his printed sonatas to Bach's sons so that they might, as he said, study from it, unaware that Bach's sons knew how to play quite other things. Bach chuckled to himself, but remained unassuming and friendly (quoted in Nicolai 1788: 303). ]

This somewhat amusing anecdote is important for more than simply what it reveals to us of Bach's character. The composition that Hurlebusch played for Bach can only have been the Minuetto con Variazoni, the impressive tour de force of variation writing that opens Hurlebusch's printed collection, Compositioni Musicali per il Cembalo divise in due parti,2 and it must be this work to which the anonymous observer alludes when he refers to "printed sonatas," since Hurlebusch, so far as can be ascertained, had published no sonata collection up to this time. If, as is likely, C. P. E. Bach is the source of this anecdote, the Compositioni Musicali, for which the date of publication is usually given as circa 1735, must in fact have been published by 1734, since C. P. E. Bach left Leipzig in September of that year for Frankfurt an der Oder.

Whatever Bach may have thought of Hurlebusch and his keyboard collection (Forkel [1920: 108], in recounting the Hurlebusch-Bach encounter, refers to Hurlebusch as "conceited and arrogant" and to his playing as "indifferent"), he agreed, probably at the time of this visit, to act as the Leipzig distributor for Hurlebusch's collection, for we learn from an announcement in the edition of the Leipzig journal Der eingelaufene Nouvelle for 19 November 1735 that copies of his Compositioni Musicali "are to be had right here in Leipzig from Capellmeister Bach at the Thomasschule for 3 thalers 12 groschen" (quoted in Neumann & Schulze 1969: 256-57). …

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