The Aesthetic of Johann Sebastian Bach (L’Esthéthique de Jean-Sébastien Bach), by the celebrated French musicologist André Pirro (1869‒1943), was originally published in 1907 and reissued in 1973. It is offered here for the first time in English, as translated by Joe Armstrong. Pirro’s work is based primarily on an examination of the close relationships between language and music in Bach’s vocal works and provides us with an extensive and well-researched lexicon of the expressive resources of Bach and his ...
The Aesthetic of Johann Sebastian Bach (L’Esthéthique de Jean-Sébastien Bach), by the celebrated French musicologist André Pirro (1869‒1943), was originally published in 1907 and reissued in 1973. It is offered here for the first time in English, as translated by Joe Armstrong. Pirro’s work is based primarily on an examination of the close relationships between language and music in Bach’s vocal works and provides us with an extensive and well-researched lexicon of the expressive resources of Bach and his contemporaries. As a consequence, Pirro’s study also serves as a sound basis for understanding and interpreting Bach’s instrumental works.
Focusing first on the meanings of the motifs and other compositional devices that Bach uses to depict the emotions, actions, and atmospheres of particular vocal settings, Pirro then carefully explores how Bach makes use of these devices in his instrumental accompaniments, his orchestrations, his pieces without a text, and even choice of compositional forms. Pirro’s study concludes with an examination of the influence Bach’s predecessors and contemporaries had on his work and offers Bach as an exemplar of a uniquely German spirit through the religious devotion and attitudes toward love, nature, and humor manifested in his music.
Pirro’s research supports a uniquely engaging analysis that has informed and even moved discerning readers for more than a century. This translation introduces his work to a new audience of performers, music teachers and their students, composers, musicologists, and all who wish to have a greater understanding of the expressive import of Bach’s music.
André Pirro’s classic, The Aesthetic of Johann Sebastian Bach brings to life the aesthetic of the master who changed all music since Palestrina, creating a German Renaissance that paved the way for Ludwig Van Beethoven and Richard Wagner. But this book is a triumph not only for its author, but for Joe Armstrong, the man who brings to this translation a nuanced of Mr. Pirro’s subtle rhythms and cadences together in a book of great technicality and breathtakingly beautiful prose. . . .This new edition of an old classic is as precious to appreciators of music (of every hue) and its creators as well as to those who would like to learn about perhaps one of the greatest musicians of all time: Johann Sebastian Bach. The fact that it has only been reprinted twice—first I 1973 and now in 2014; the only edition since its illustrious debut in 1907—is perhaps the greatest cause for celebration for it will not only revive interest in Bach, but will create a fresh era for the study of Bach’s music. Its twelve chapters constitute a most extraordinary thesis. . . .The work . . . remains a work of exciting narrative—written as if it were a great Father Brown detective novel. It is a book written as much in praise of the Master as it is an attempt to arrive at the very essence of Bach—his personality and being—as it is one that sets out to, and arrives at his aesthetic with near pinpoint accuracy. . . .This book, like literary classics, captures and articulates passions and urges, aspirations, joys and anguish that are shared by all individuals no matter where they live and what language they speak.
Author André Pirro (1869‒1943) was a pioneer of modern French musicology who published numerous books and articles on music. Born in Saint-Dizier, France, he studied law and letters at the Sorbonne and attended the organ classes of César Franck and Charles-Marie Widor at the Paris Conservatory. He later became a member of the directorial committee of the Schola Cantorum, where he also taught organ and music history. In 1912, he succeeded Romain Rolland as professor of music history at the Sorbonne.
Translator Joe Armstrong is a flutist who has specialized in teaching the Alexander Technique to professional musicians in the Boston area since 1972. He attended Illinois Wesleyan University, the University of Illinois, and Tufts University, as well as the Constructive Teaching Centre in London, England. He has cowritten and published two books and numerous articles related to the Alexander Technique and musical performance.
Translator’s preface and acknowledgments
Chapter 1: Direction of Motifs
Chapter 2: Formation of Motifs
Chapter 3: Rhythmic Formation of Motifs
Chapter 4: Simultaneous Melodies
Chapter 5: Commentary from the Instrumental Accompaniment
Chapter 6: Orchestration
Chapter 7: Interpretation of the Text
Chapter 8: The Principal Forms of Composition in Bach’s Vocal Music
Chapter 9: Compositions Joined, Successively, to Texts of Different Natures
Chapter 10: Expression in Bach’s Instrumental Music
Chapter 11: Bach and Early Music. ‒ Bach and Foreign Music
Chapter 12: Johann Sebastian Bach, German Cantor
Index of Names
Index of Bach’s Works Cited
Writings of André Pirro