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December 29 , 2007

The Aesthetic of Johann Sebastian Bach


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.

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