A toast to James Gilchrist

The Bach Collegium Japan live-streamed a performance of Bach’s St. John Passion today on philharmonie.tv, Kölner Philharmonie’s “digital concert hall.” I was delighted that James Gilchrist was singing the role of the Evangelist. Gilchrist is one of my favorite Evangelists—not for the sound of his voice as such, but because he is one of the few, it seems to me, who fully understands the delicacy of the role. The Evangelist is everpresent, and yet never quite in the center of attention (like the continuo). He’s also always making endearingly expressive faces along with others’ arias.

I first heard Gilchrist live in Boston’s Symphony Hall around 2007 in a performance of the St. Matthew Passion. (I think it was with the Handel & Haydn Society, but it might have been a touring group.) This was the performance that significantly formed my favorable opinion of his art: specifically, his rendering of the lines “Petrus ging heraus und weinete bitterlich.” and “Das ist verdeutschet: Mein Gott, mein Gott, warum hast du mich verlassen?” Those are the litmus tests in Matthew, if you ask me. Nothing more tedious than an Evangelist who thinks he’s the main character at such crucial (ahem) moments; and boy are there plenty of those kinds of Evangelists.

William Byrd, Father of Music

Matthew J. Hall, harpsichord and organ

Music by William Byrd (c. 1539–1623)

Fantasia in C, BK 25
Fantasia in C, BK 27

Pavan and Galliard in a, BK 16

Pavan and Galliard: Ph. Tregian [in F], BK 60

Walsingham, BK 8

– pause –

Fantasia in d, BK 46

Clarifica me, Pater, BK 47–49
Gloria tibi Trinitas, BK 50

Lachrymae Pavan, BK 54, after John Dowland (1563–1626)
Galliard, BK 55, after James Harding (c. 1560–1626)

Callino Casturame, BK 35
The Carman’s Whistle, BK 36

Voluntarie: for my Ladye Nevell, BK 61

Quadran Pavan and Galliard, BK 70

“BK” numbers refer to the sequential numbering of Byrd’s keyboard works in Musica Britannica vols. 27–28.


William Byrd’s life spanned the reign of seven English monarchs in the most tumultuous century of that nation’s history; only the chaos of the mid-20th century matches the threat of utter destruction of that time. In the midst of this, Byrd single-handedly built Elizabethan musical culture, for, unlike Tallis before him or Morley after, none of his contemporaries were his equal. This was widely acknowledged in his time: John Bull said in 1597, “he is no Byrd, but an Eagle that soars high above us all.” In an apparent reference to the irony of a Catholic at the heart of Elizabethan musical culture, another contemporary called him the “Father of Music.” Besides his public service and musical path-blazing, he was loved and admired by his students, colleagues, and patrons, Protestants and Catholics alike—despite being frequently in cahoots with Catholic agitators and, by all accounts, a stubborn and litigious person.

In this concert, I play harpsichord and organ music from various periods in his life to trace his development as a composer and performer. In addition to works that seem to address his Catholic politics and faith, I will also perform works that evince Byrd’s special genius, present even in his earliest works: his flexible approach to imitation that balances cogency and variety, his elegant shaping of the rhythm of phrases and sections, and his “natural disposition to Gravitie and Pietie.”

The opening Fantasias in C show two examples of Byrd’s musical “prose,” one early and one late. Both works are transmitted in My Ladye Nevells Book. Copied in 1591 under Byrd’s close supervision, this source contains the best keyboard music Byrd had composed up to that date. The later work (25) shows Byrd writing in the motet style, having assimilated the latest developments in continental music of the 1570s and 80s (particularly the works of Clemens non Papa). The antiphonal exchange that opens the second paragraph of music alludes directly to vocal music with its canzona rhythm and striking elisions between the imagined choirs. A real vocal piece would intensify as the voices to enter in closer imitation at more extreme pitch levels, but this would not work nearly so well on the keyboard as in a choir. As the sections progress, the cadences become less well-defined and the counterpoint gives way to freer keyboard textures. By such means Byrd effectively translates the intensification effect of the motet form. The early work (27) is “a mean fancy,” that is, a fantasia in three strict parts in which the middle (“mean”) part is transferred from hand to hand. This type of piece was invented by the organist John Redford (d. 1547); it was revolutionary for the keyboard technique of the time, which favored chords of fifths and octaves or single melodic lines in each hand. While it may seem surprising that the idea to play two independent melodies with one hand was not sooner to arise, this was so because before c. 1550 organs had heavy actions and spinets and harpsichords were used principally for dance music, not polyphony. Byrd adopts a simple but compelling procedure for his “mean fancy”: most of the points are never transposed, but enter on the same pitch class in three different octaves. Each point in turn seems like a free elaboration of the last. All this creates an hypnotic, round-robin effect. Byrd makes a whole point of imitation out of the final cadence, piling them on with ever increasing variety and rhythmic foreshortening. The trajectory of this fantasia is not unlike the intensification of the later motet form, so it is easy to see why Byrd considered this early and relatively short work worth including in My Ladye Nevells Book.

The Pavan and Galliard in a and Pavan and Galliard: Ph. Tregian make another early-and-late juxtaposition. Both pavans are 16-bar stanza forms or “doubles,” which means each of the three stanzas and their respective repetitions is 16 bars long (=16x2x3). Byrd pairs both these pavans with “simple” or “single” galliards (=8x2x3). As is so frequently the case in pavan and galliard pairs, the pavans are the weighter compositions, while galliards ‘recompose’ musical ideas from the corresponding strains of their respective pavans in a lighter, breezier way. The Pavan and Galliard in a is an early work, perhaps from the 1570s. If there is some untidyness to its overall organization, it nevertheless shows that Byrd had already found a true keyboard idiom by that time. He does not write counterpoint in consort style (that is, one could not effectively transcribe it in open score); rather, even in polyphonic sections melodies and voices enter freely, underpinned by chordal, rhythmic accompaniments. To the eye, such intabulation-style writing can appear unsatisfactory as counterpoint, but the ear readily traces the polyphonic continuities. Polyphonic sections alternate with passages of treble figuration that account for the bulk of the work’s expressive power. In later pieces, Byrd found ways to integrate figuration and polyphony; the fact that these two textures/techniques remain separate in this work may suggest why it was not included in My Ladye Nevells Book.

The Pavan and Galliard: Ph. Tregian is named for Philippa Tregian, a daughter of Francis Tregian Sr. (c. 1547–1608). Tregian Sr. was convicted of recusant crimes in 1579, deprived of his lands, and held in Fleet Prison for over 20 years. Like most well-to-do Catholic convicts, he lived comfortably and maintained contact with the outside world. His wife and children were allowed to live with him and to move freely in and out of prison. His son Francis Tregian Jr. (c. 1574–1617) was an important music copyist, whose work includes the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, copied substantially in prison between 1614 and 1617. Byrd, a fellow recusant, knew the Tregians and indeed was one of Tregian Jr.’s sources for music. The pavan and galliard for Philippa appears in Fitzwilliam, and it appears to be one of Byrd’s last keyboard compositions. The first strain begins tunefully and openly; the second is more introverted, restricted in its range and melodic gesture. The third strain is a victory: it begins right away with energy as syncopes accompany a climbing scale motive in slower notes. As the climbing motives reach their summit at the top of the range of the instrument (f”), Byrd allows the contrapuntal interplay to dissolve triumphantly into homophony, the two “choirs” of the hands calling to each other in warm sonorities. Throughout, Byrd restricts himself to the traditional keyboard range (F–f”), reserving the extended range (down to C) that was available to him after about 1600 for the dramatic peroration of the pavan. The galliard retraces this rhetorical trajectory; its third strain recalls the climactic homophony of the pavan by being based on the strumming of warm, vigorous chords. This pavan and galliard pair is actually Byrd’s parody of an inferior pair by Morley. In his later years, Byrd frequently drew upon the works of his younger contemporaries and students, invariably improving them, or at least drawing out latent ideas and beauties. Was this a way of proving to himself or them that he could keep up with the latest styles? Who was learning from whom?

In 1061 in the village of Walsingham in Norfolk, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Lady Richeldis de Faverches. Lady Richeldis was given a vision of the house in Nazareth wherein the Annunciation had occurred, and was instructed to build an imitation. The “Holy House” of Walsingham became a pilgrimage site and Our Lady of Walsingham was widely venerated. In 1513, Erasmus visited and described the Holy House: “When you look in you would say it is the abode of saints, so brilliantly does it shine with gems, gold and silver. Our Lady stands in the dark at the right side of the altar, a little image, remarkable neither for its size, material or workmanship.” Catherine of Aragon was a patron and regular pilgrim, a fact that cannot ultimately have weighed in its favor. In 1538, the priory was dissolved, the buildings looted and burned, and the Lady statue taken to London and burned. The fact that the monks of Walsingham priory were notorious for their scandalous living can hardly justify the brutality with which the continued devotion of ordinary people to Our Lady of Walsingham was punished by the Crown. No clearer nor more poignant explanation than the ballad itself can be given for what Walsingham might have meant for Byrd or other recusants.

In the wracks of Walsingham
Whom should I choose,
But the Queen of Walsingham
To be guide to my muse?
Then, thou Prince of Walsingham,
Grant me to frame
Bitter plaints to rue thy wrong,
Bitter woe for thy name.
Bitter was it so to see
The seely sheep
Murdered by the ravening wolves
While the shepherds did sleep.
Bitter was it, O, to view
The sacred vine
(Whilst the gardeners played all close)
rooted up by the swine.
Bitter, bitter, O, to behold
The grass to grow
Where the walls of Walsingham
So stately did show.
Such were the worth of Walsingham
While she did stand;
Such are the wracks as now do show
Of that so holy land.
Level, level with the ground
The towers do lie,
Which with their golden glittering tops
Pierced once to the sky.
Where were gates no gates are now,—
The ways unknown
Where the press of peers did pass
While her fame far was blown.
Owls do scrike where the sweetest hymns
Lately were sung;
Toads and serpents hold their dens
Where the palmers did throng.
Weep, weep, O Walsingham,
Whose days are nights,
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to despites.
Sin is where our Lady sat;
Heaven turned is to hell.
Satan sits where our Lord did sway;
Walsingham, O, farewell.

On 25 March 1563, Byrd was appointed “joker of the organs” (joculator organorum) at Lincoln Cathedral. To be eligible, Byrd would have had to swear the Oath of Supremacy. It is frequently overlooked that Byrd in fact came from a Protestant family, and there is even a composition from the 1560s attributed to “Birde” that sets an English version of the well-known Lutheran prayer: “from Turk and Pope defend us, Lord.” In 1568 Byrd married Julian Burley, a stubborn and unabashed Catholic; perhaps she was one of the movers behind Byrd’s increasingly Catholic convictions. The archdeacon and the dean of the cathedral were staunch reformers, and they objected to Byrd’s elaborate organ playing. In 1569 his salary was suspended, and was told to “play the organ only for the guidance of the choir” (tantummodo ad regimen chori…organa modulabitur). Another restriction— tempore psallendi le anthem una cum choro psallens idem—is ambiguous: it may instruct Byrd to accompany the anthem colla parte, without flourishes, or it may require him not to play at all and instead to sing with the choir for the anthem. Whatever the case, such restrictions would have chaffed, and animus toward the reform-minded authorities who imposed them could have been another factor pushing Byrd toward Catholicism during his tenure Lincoln. The feud with these authorities lasted and indeed grew: in 1577 the former archdeacon, by then Bishop of London, was the first to cite Byrd for recusancy.

Clarifica me, Pater (Enlighten me, Father) is a three-part setting of a Sarum antiphon. It may be well be Byrd’s earliest surviving work in any genre. It is catalogued as three separate compositions in all the major scholarly treatments, but it is really a single setting in three sections: the outer sections are on D and the middle section is on A, and there is one section each in two, three, and four parts. The antiphon in question is for first vespers of Palm Sunday in the Sarum rite, when the organ was not played, so the piece has no liturgical function. Instead—like the better known “Miserere,” “In nomine,” and “Gloria tibi Trinitas” cantus firmi—the antiphon simply provides a cogent tonal framework. Ordinarily, plainsong settings are two- or three-minute pieces; the three-section plan with a middle section in the dominant shows Byrd stretching for a larger form. The first two sections are firmly rooted in the medieval tradition of “breaking the plainsong,” in which florid counterpoint is woven against a cantus firmus in increasingly complex mensurations. Gloria tibi Trinitas (Glory to thee, Trinity), on a more well-known cantus firmus, is an interesting demonstration of a trick of learned counterpoint that was becoming rare by Byrd’s time: a horizontally shifting canon, in which the two parts combine at various time delays. Even though these pieces cannot have been used in the liturgy, they may give some indication of the kind of music that raised the hackles of the Lincoln authorities.

The intabulations of Dowland’s Lachrymae Pavan and Harding’s Galliard belong together: the pavan is pitched a fourth higher than the original to bring it to the same key as the galliard, and the two appear together in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. Whereas in Byrd’s own galliards the rhythmic activity tends to be more even—not to say plain or square—in Harding’s the figuration lurches forward and back, rendering the underlying dance rhythm in an altogether different way than is usual for Byrd. The affinity with the “Lachrymae” tune are clearest in the third strain, although whether this was a deliberate paraphrase by Harding or Byrd’s Bloomian misreading is unclear. In the pavan, Byrd’s sympathy for Dowland’s popular song is unmistakable. The figurative flourishes are expressive and vocal, and the contrapuntal elaborations pay homage to the original by finding new beauties in it. By comparison with Byrd’s setting, Melchior Schildt’s is turgid, Sweelinck’s is cold, and Farnaby’s is mechanical.

Callino Casturame was a popular love song, but the title is an enigma. What does it mean, and what language is it? Scholarly consensus is that it is some form of currupt Irish Gaelic. The words were a mystery in the sixteenth century too, as a comic episode in Shakespeare’s Henry V shows. In Act 4, Scene 4, an English soldier, Pistol, addresses a Frenchman on the battlefield:

Pistol: Yield, cur.
Frenchman: Je pense que vous êtes gentilhomme de bonne qualité.
Pistol: Qualtitie calmie casture me! Art thou a gentleman? What is thy name? Discuss.
Frenchman: Ô Seigneur Dieu!
Pistol: O Seigneur Dew should be a gentleman. Perpend my words, O Seigneur Dew, and mark: O Seigneur Dew, thou diest on point of fox, except, O Seigneur, thou do give me egregious ransom.

The Carman’s Whistle begins with what must have struck Byrd as he heard the whistle from his window: a demonstration that the two halves of the scale are exact transpositions of each other. The material is such that Byrd does not always have to state the theme explicitly for it to come through clearly. It is an informal piece, and moreover because the material is so bare Byrd is less concerned than usual to pursue a single vein in each variation. Instead, each is firmly characterized at the outset and then allowed to wander. Overall the music is cheery, but the melancholic 6-5 progressions of the ‘minor’ variations bring an unexpected earnest melancholy to the work.

The Voluntarie: for my Ladye Nevell is a grand piece that closes the first main section of My Ladye Nevells Book. It is loosely composed, and one could imagine that it reflects Byrd’s improvisatory practice. After a short introductory intonation, the piece procedes vaguely along a pavan plan—three sections each in two halves. The opening contrapuntal section has two main points; the middle section treats its points more homophonically and antiphonally. The third section is a loose series of figurations over a sequential harmonic progression, a procedure that is typical in the last section of keyboard fantasias from 1500 to 1700. The coda is a stock one for Byrd, and it appears in several other compositions.

The Quadran Pavan and Galliard is Byrd’s longest keyboard work, and it is undoubtedly his greatest. It is not in My Ladye Nevells Book, a circumstance that must mean he had not composed it before 1591. Its basis is the passamezzo moderno (I–IV–I–V | I–IV–I-V–I), the progression that Peter van der Merwe and others have argued is origin of the twelve-bar blues. The ground-bass framework supports an expanded four-stanza form, each stanza encompassing a weighty eight 4-bar periods, so that the pavan and galliard each stretch to 32x2x4. The immensity of the work is felt from the very beginning: it begins as an oceangoing ship leaves its port—churning slowly, seeming not to move at all at first, but inexorably gaining momentum that soon becomes overwhelming power. The language is doggedly polyphonic, even when obligatory flourishes enter to punctuate the unfolding large form. The tight opening exposition over a tonic pedal (the first chord of the ground stretched out over four bars) contrasts with the florid counterpoint at the core of the work. There, Byrd dares to write the most audacious dissonances, yet remains totally in control of texture and polyphony. A hint of what is to come appears at the end of the first stanza, but nothing can prepare us for the fireworks of the climax.

This rich and idiosyncratic language seems to refer to the florid style of early Tudor polyphony that before the Reformation had so delighted in thick textures, rhythmic variation, and above all cross relations. The style is perhaps most familiar from the Eton choirbook composers, such as William Cornysh and Robert Fayrfax. Erasmus, who was frequently in England between 1499 and 1517, described the style unsympathetically as “a somewhat laborous and theatrical music…a tumultuous, most elaborate chattering of diverse voices” (operam quandam ac theatricam musicam…tumultuosum modulatissimum diuersarum uocum garritum). Indeed, the reformers of the 1530s turned to Erasmus’s diatribes on the perceived excesses of this style to justify the disbanding of choirs and smashing of organs. A variation ground, a pavan and galliard, a fantasia, an evocation of the musical soundscape of pre-Reformation England—remarkably, the Quadran is all of these; in one monumental work Byrd synthesizes the whole of his keyboard art and suffuses it with a statement of his religious politics.

Louis Couperin, de Grigny, and Bach

Matthew J. Hall, organ

“In the art of the organ, he took the works of Bruhns, Reincken, Buxtehude, and several good French organists as models.” So wrote Johann Friedrich Agricola and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in 1754 in Johann Sebastian Bach’s obituary. C. P. E. Bach reiterated this in 1775 when he wrote to Johann Nicolaus Forkel that his father had “heard and studied…some old and good Frenchmen.”

Who were these Frenchmen? Jacques Boyvin’s two organ books (1689 and 1700) are transmitted in the hand of Bach’s apprentice Johann Caspar Vogler. Bach copied de Grigny’s organ book (1699), as well as the harpsichord collections of Charles Dieupart (1701) and Jean-Henri d’Anglebert (1689); the latter volume includes six organ pieces. In addition, there are historical hints that Bach may have had more personal engagement with French musicians: the encounter with Louis Marchard in Dresden in 1717 is well known, though what exactly actually transpired is less clear. Even more foggily, a nineteenth-century member of the Couperin family stated that her ancestor François Couperin had exchanged letters with Bach, but that Bach’s letters had been used to cover jam pots.

How did French music influence Bach? In some cases, we know that Bach adopted French repertory. One of François Couperin’s pieces was copied into the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach. Jakob Adlung remembered hearing Bach “play the pieces of Marchand from memory in his own way, that is, briskly and ingeniously.” There are also examples of clear, direct influence of specific French pieces on Bach’s compositions: Boyvin’s Grand plein jeu continu seems to be the basis for the middle section of Bach’s Pièce d’orgue BWV 572. Bach arranged a trio from François Couperin’s Les Nations for organ as the Aria BWV 587; some of the obbligato pedal writing in this arrangement reappears in Bach’s trio sonatas. Some scholars believe that d’Anglebert’s five organ fugues, all on the same subject and each exploring a different contrapuntal procedure and rhythmic cast, was a source of inspiration for Bach’s Art of Fugue.

Such influences are easiest to trace, but ultimately are not those that I am exploring on this recital. Instead, consider the similarities between Bach’s music and what I will call Couperin’s “narrative” sense and de Grigny’s “mystical” sense.

The influence of the North German organ school is so central to Bach’s organ music that its influence on other organ traditions is easily overshadowed. Such is the case with Louis Couperin. Louis Couperin’s connection with German repertory and techniques comes through Johann Jakob Froberger, whom he met in 1651–2. Although the influence is best known through the free unmeasured Prélude à l’imitation de M. Froberger, Froberger, who studied counterpoint with Johann Ulrich Steigleder (him of the Tabulaturbuch das Vater Unser) and Samuel Scheidt, also influenced Couperin in the strict style. Figural elaborations of a cantus firmus in polyphonic style like the Cantus firmus en alto on Pange Lingua recall the music of Scheidt and Steigleder. Couperin’s Trio on Pange Lingua is in a mixed style: the texture and imitative technique is typical of the North German school, but the written-out ornamentation recalls Froberger’s assimilation of Italian models. Like Louis Couperin’s music, Bach’s Fuga sopra il Magnificat BWV 733 is in a mixed style. The harmonies and treatment of the cantus firmus in the pedal recall French models; the systematic layout of canonic cantus firmus entries is indebted to North German models.

Couperin’s use of dissonance in durezze e ligature movements like the Fantaisie Duretez seems to me to be aiming for more than the cheap thrills that often characterize such movements. Instead of, “Hey, listen to these whacky chords,” or “Watch me paint myself into a corner and then get out if it,” the techniques take a back seat to the unfolding of a musical-emotional narrative: dissonant, angular melodies and false relations are tempered by smooth sequences, and intermediate crests lead inexorably to a point of maximal passion. Surprisingly, the ultimate climax is relatively consonant, high, and thinner in texture. I hear in this a musical depiction of a psychological drama of mounting confusion, anxiety, and fevered thinking that is relieved in an instant by serendipitous but fleeting insight. Such is the drama that I hear also in Bach’s setting of Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland BWV 659, particularly at the line where “the Virgin’s child is recognized as the Savior, and the whole world wonders.” There is no evidence that Bach knew Louis Couperin’s music; instead, it is a question of two masters working in shared rhetorical forms — though in different musical genres.

With de Grigny, however, the influence was direct. Bach could not have failed to notice de Grigny’s contrapuntal sophistication, particularly the skillful and frequent use of five-part texture, when he copied out de Grigny’s organ book. The Fantasia in C minor BWV 562 — in de Grigny’s organistic SATTB, not Bach’s more Italianate SSATB configuration — is the work most clearly influenced by de Grigny. But again, the influence extends beyond technical aspects: Bach adopted de Grigny’s aesthetic sensibility as well. De Grigny’s five-part fugues are all severe treatments of severe subjects, with sudden changes of texture and rhythm. Unlike the stringing together of sections in North German ricercars or the short-breathed quality fugues of other French Classical composers, the “scenes” in de Grigny’s fugues organize an architecture of the whole. In each section of the fugue on the Eucharistic hymn Pange Lingua, a climactic note, a striking harmony, or an ornamental flourish is achieved and then held, as if out of time, meter, and harmony; as the sections accumulate, the ear and mind are drawn to ever deeper contemplation. Likewise in Bach’s Fantasia, the counterpoint is larded with dissonances and ornaments; the sequential episodes in triple counterpoint, although in a thinner texture, intensify the discourse with ever harsher cross relations and wilder modulations. The heart of the Fantasia, a quiescent pedal point on E-flat, is balanced (or rather countered) by the final, tortured pedal point on C, in which painful dissonance is maintained until the last possible moment before dissolving ecstatically to a major chord. The brilliant coloraturas over the pedal point in this work and at the end of Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland are borrowed — practically lifted verbatim — from de Grigny, and are deployed, it seems to me, for a similar transcedent effect.

In this recital I try to use different colors of the Cornell Baroque Organ than are ordinarily heard. I am experimenting with registrations on a 16-foot basis, inspired by the 16-foot Montre and Bourdon manual stops that characterize so many French organs. (To do this, I am frequently playing higher-pitched stops at lower octaves.) I also omit the use of the plenum. In such dark, passionate music as I offer today, and as we brace for winter, these shadowy colors reflect my inner mind’s ear.

Yield Troubled Shadows: Bach and Modern Society

Project Synopsis

Where does the church music of J. S. Bach belong in today’s world? Originally written to serve as “musical sermons” in the context of Lutheran church services, Bach’s cantatas were intended to provide listeners the opportunity for ethical reflection and inspire them to right action. Might something of that ethical function still be possible in a modern, secular context? Times change, but many issues of concern remain the same.

This concert-forum is a two-fold experiment. On the one hand we hope that these cantatas might spark thought, discussion, and maybe even productive action on issues like gender and economic justice. At the same time, we think that experiences of these modern-day concerns could amplify our aesthetic appreciation of the music itself. These are huge, complex issues, but huge issues are exactly what Bach had in mind when he wrote his church music. It was a matter of heaven and hell for his first audiences; the cantata themes are still ones of life and death today.

The motet Der Geist hilft unsrer Schwachheit auf optimistically affirms that human beings are essentially good, even when we feel at a loss for what to do or say, and encourages us to muster the courage to act in accordance with our consciences.

Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten, a wedding cantata, is about sex and the gendered roles of the lovers. Prof. David Yearsley (Music) spoke on the courtship and conjugal customs and mores of the eighteenth century and thereby endeavored to demythologize and so humanize the person of Johann Sebastian Bach — often imagined to be a disembodied, floating brain of a genius. But Yearsley’s lecture provoked a hearing from the perspective of a person in the flesh, in a way that corrected the idealist, romantic fiction of a poet of pure spirit while avoiding the reciprocal error (common in ‘posthuman’ discourse) of a singly bodily, mechanistic person. Both fictions misunderstand the radicalness paradox of Cartesian dualism, in which mind and body are coextensive but incommensurate.

Tue Rechnung! Donnerwort trades in a more familiar imagery of fire and brimstone to urge listeners to repay the debt of sin. But by using the earthly language of money and commerce, it draws a connection between spiritual and material debts—holding up salvation and fairness as equal goals. Prof. Robert Hocket (Law) tied Judeo-Christian concept of the Jubilee, a year of universal pardon of both spiritual and material debts (cf. Leviticus 25:10), to the structural causes of and potential remedies in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and the ethical problems that inhere in both. Prof. Hocket also offered a meditation on the aesthetic likeness between the beauty and balance of Bach’s counterpoint and of double-entry bookkeeping.

Part of the purpose of this concert was to foster discussion and audience engagement with both issues and music. We can report that the post-event reception lasted over 90 minutes, and the audience were deeply invested in discussing the music and the historical and ethical perspectives suggested by the speakers. Some of the eminent guest performers, too, remarked that this was one of the most unique contexts in which they have presented Bach’s music, which they otherwise are very familiar with. We think it is a good thing, for example, when a violist and a lawyer can have a meaningful and progressive conversation about Bach and interest rates.

The event brought together many musicians and scholars with personal connections to Ithaca and Cornell. Many of the collaborating presenters indicated that their earliest professional inspirations were fostered on Cornell’s campus at Barnes Hall in particular, and they delighted at the opportunity to contribute to such an experience for current Cornell students.

Barnes Hall was filled to capacity (about 280 persons), and the audience included members of the Cornell faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates, as well as members of the Ithaca community.