Works in progress: early modern Lutheranism, labour, and the act of musical composition

Lee, David George (2018) Works in progress: early modern Lutheranism, labour, and the act of musical composition. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Even now, some twenty-five years after the publication of Lydia Goehr’s The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works (1992), musicologists still have issues talking about composers’ activities in terms of ‘works’. Central to Goehr’s thesis was her assertion that J.S. Bach ‘did not compose works.’ However, a significant number of texts by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Lutheran German musicians and theorists explicitly depict composition as an act of working. For example, in Bach’s defence against the criticisms of Johann Adolph Scheibe, the Leipzig rhetorician Johann Abraham Birnbaum described how ‘the more industriously and painstakingly [the composer] works at the improvement of Nature — the more brilliantly shines the beauty thus brought into being.’ And the reception of Bach’s music in our own time is still inextricably bound up with the notion of work. This has never been more evident than in this year, 2017, which marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation. There is a clear sense — both in eighteenth- century texts and in contemporary discourse — that the more difficulty involved in the process of a piece’s composition, the greater value it acquires.

However, considerations of the act of composition as a labour process and the ethical implications of this have largely been absent in the discourse surrounding the musical work-concept. Taking into account the underlying cultural and theological tenets of Lutheranism, this dissertation seeks to explore why an emphasis on working was so pervasive in early modern German music, and how this was manifested in aesthetic terms. By assessing composers’ correspondences, theoretical writings, writings by both proponents of the contrapuntal aesthetic and its opponents, it seeks to better understand how thinking of the act of composition in terms of process aligns with our understanding of the work as a product — and ultimately examines what thinking about music in this way might tell us about some of our core contemporary musical and cultural values.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Music, Baroque music, Bach, Lutheranism, work-concept, Lydia Goehr, counterpoint.
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Music
Supervisor's Name: Butt, Prof. John A.
Date of Award: 2018
Depositing User: Mr David lee
Unique ID: glathesis:2018-81882
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 05 Jan 2021 10:21
Last Modified: 05 Jan 2021 10:33

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