By E. Frederick Flindell
Bach Journal, Vol. 36:2 (2005)
Introduction: Are there discernible historical roots or clearly perceived analogies that explicitly relate Bach’s music to the Middle Ages? As many readers have surely had occasion to note, there are references, aphorisms and even essays alluding to, addressing, and affirming this distant chronological link. Many appear as vaguely conceived presentiments, expressive of a recurrent historical study and curiosity. And, to be sure, if one considers and thinks about these intuitive assertions, one is naturally tempted (at least from the musicologist’s point of view) to ask if there is palpable evidence corroborating the often sweeping literary remarks, particularly those that have appeared for well-nigh two and a half centuries. Is there some rationale, left unexplained, or hidden musical affinity—perhaps all too evident—which has simply escaped general attention?
What lies behind these ascriptions? Are they simply imaginative “verbal” gestures—really just conjecture and subjective assumption? Should we direct our attention to these generalizations—these unproven enlargements—written (to use Georg Knepler’s words) in the spirit of a “fatalistic world view adorned with a mystical and superstitious trimming”? Or can it be that they draw upon an imaginary but nevertheless pertinent insight? Is it possible that behind the apothegms and turgid expositions one may find some significant fact or revealing correlation?