Meditations on Bach #10: Philosophy in Music

by Peter Saint-Andre


In the second edition of his extremely intriguing book Bach: The Fencing Master, cellist Anner Bylsma writes as follows:

Why did Bach write these Suites for violoncello without bass; for whom; and for which occasion? The second and last questions probably have to be answered: for himself. The first one: for all of us or for science - because these Suites are, without a doubt, a scientific work.

Why did Bach write these Cello Suites? Take my word: for philosophy! A lot of explanation will be needed, but I am not even sure I will find a willing ear.

Bach lived in the Age of Enlightenment, when people dressed up with enormous wigs, proud and happy to know that the working of their brains was more important than the doctrines of religion. Philosophy and logic are the basis of all knowledge in this period, rather than faith and its consequences. Precision in thinking and writing became of the utmost importance; think of Spinoza's Caute ('Precision').

Bach's works are philosophy in music.

It's no surprise that Bylsma's speculations appeal to me (see my previous posts "Aristotle and Bach" and "Musical Monadology"). Perhaps my only quibble is with the opposition of philosophy and religion, because I suspect that Bach's God had a passion for order, coherence, and proportion.

We cannot prove these hypotheses only through writing and analysis, but must find the truth of them in the music itself. My explorations continue...


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