article 58: “...nach seiner Art...”

Discussing the beauties of Louis Marchand’s music with a friend after the recent Leipzig misery (cf. Article 56), the following quote from Jacob Adlung’s Anleitung zu der musikalischen Gelahrtheit (Erfurt, 1758) came up. The writer has just mentioned the Frenchman’s two printed suites, and complains about the frequent changes of clef.

Nur einmal haben sie mir gefallen; nehmlich als ich mit dem Kapellm: Bach bei seinem Hiersein von dem Streit redete, und ihm sagte, daß ich diese Suiten hätte, so spielte er mir sie vor nach seiner Art, das ist, sehr flüchtig und künstlich.

“They only pleased me once, namely when, while he was here, I was talking with Kapellmeister Bach about the competition and said to him that I possessed these suites, he then played them for me in his style, which is to say, very lightly and artfully.”

(The Streit/competition is, of course, the famous encounter in Dresden, whence Marchand fled rather than face Bach on the organ after having heard him play some variations on the harpsichord. This story, which seems more the stuff of a film script than fact, is so thoroughly documented that there can be no doubt of its historicity.)

After stopping for a moment to imagine the enchantment of a conversation in Erfurt between Bach and Adlung about the triumph in Dresden, I invite the reader to consider a more mundane conversation between myself and Gustav Leonhardt in the ground floor music room of “Huis Bartolotti”, Herengracht 170, Amsterdam, Koninkrijk der Nederlanden. The year is 1972, and Volume III of the Bach-Dokumente has just appeared, the last and thickest of the series, containing documents referring to Bach from his death to the year 1800. Mr. Leonhardt naturally raced through it, and at a lesson showed me some of the most interesting performance-related passages which were new even to him. The above quote was one of them.

I struggled with the German. My teacher explained to me that “nach seiner Art” meant “in Marchand’s style”, and he delighted in imagining Bach mimicking his rival. He also pointed out that other references to the incident emphasized that Bach had very much admired Marchand’s playing. But in this recent discussion both my friend and I realized that, strictly speaking, the antecedent of “seiner” is “er” – i.e., Bach. Could Mr. Leonhardt have misinterpreted the passage?

The grammatical question is difficult. “Seiner” could also be a throwback to Marchand. The question might hinge on the interpretation of “sehr flüchtig und künstlich”. It’s hard to know exactly what nuance to put on these words; they could be translated with either positive or negative connotations: “lightly/superficially” and “artfully/artificially”. But taking into account Bach’s apparently sincere praise of Marchand, I would lean toward the positive.

Mr. Leonhardt may also have found it inconceivable that anyone could characterize Bach’s playing of any music as “flüchtig”, no matter how one wishes to translate it. I think that was what led him to conclude that Bach was playing French music for Adlung in a style the great man had never heard before encountering Marchand– at any rate, not at such a high level of perfection.

But another complication was pointed out to me by Dr. Denzil Wraight: elsewhere in his book Adlung uses “flüchtig” as a clear antonym to “langsam” – pairing fast and slow. That reminded me of a passage in Bach’s obituary, the 1754 Nekrolog:

“Im Dirigieren war er sehr akkurat, und im Zeitmaße, welches er gemeiniglich sehr lebhaft nahm, überaus sicher.”

Bach usually took his tempi sehr lebhaft, we are told here – “very lively” rather than flüchtig = fast. That makes a great deal of sense; one can’t imagine Bach rushing through Marchand’s allemande, sarabande or chaconne, but playing them in a lively way? Certainly. “Nicht schleppen,” as Mahler would have put it. Seen in this light, “in seiner Art” could well refer to Bach’s lively way of playing. Adlung’s use of flüchtig for that essential quality, which, after all, makes time seem to pass quickly, could be an idiosyncrasy of his, or a variant of his time and place which we no longer grasp.

Marchand’s superb D-minor suite is found in the so-called Andreas Bach Book, compiled in Ohrdruff by the circle around Bach’s eldest brother Johann Christoph. The exact date of the entry, about 2/3 of the way through the manuscript which was begun around 1708, is not known; Johann Christoph died in 1721. It is interesting to speculate on whether Sebastian Bach knew the work (published in Paris in 1699 and in Amsterdam in 1701) before he was called down from Weimar to Dresden by special coach (or simply “found himself in Dresden”, as another version has it) in 1717 to defend the honor of German music.

The Glorious Fourth of July, 2022

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