As Walther pursued his study of musical philosophy, he shared his understanding and insights with his friend Bach. His writings on the subject were guided by a long line of musical philosophers of the past, Catholic and Protestant, who based their empyrean flights to Parnassus upon Pythagorean mathematics. In neomedieval fashion, they mixed learned calculations of intervallic musical proportions with allegories and strange astrological and alchemistic formulae. True to the ancient tradition of all these writers, Walther introduced his own treatise on composition with metaphysical speculations about the divine nature of music, quoting from the Bible, St. Augustine, Pythagoras, Kircher, Printz, Baryphonus, and his revered friend and teacher, Andreas Werckmeister.
Neither Walther nor Bach read this literature with a purely historical interest; both looked for practical information and for philosophical support for their commitment to the divine nature and purposes of music. They were interested in discovering what forms of melody and counterpoint resulted from application of the different ancient theories. In the realm of musical practice, religion formed no barrier to the acquisition of knowledge, even for staunch Lutherans, and these searching craftsmen gained from both Protestant and Catholic composers. Bach made a profound study of the works of Romans Palestrina, Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674) and Girolamo Frescobaldi, whose contrapuntal craft he utilized and transformed into his own style. His concerti and sonatas had their origin in similar compositions by the Catholic composers Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713), Antonio Vivaldi, Benedetto Marcello, and numerous others.
Bach often spoke of changing gustum, and his understanding of the steadily changing nature of taste was gained in part by delving deeply into the works and theories of earlier days. Intervals, regarded as dissonances in the days of Zarlino, later became consonances; though Palestrina and his school considered it bad taste to leap into a dissonance, later composers did not. Bach and Walther noticed preferences of certain periods for carrying the melody in the tenor instead of in the soprano. They could recognize the appearance of the new technique of laying a bass as an harmonic framework, a practice unknown before the advent of the figured bass. These vicissitudes of tastes, however, did not change Bach’s conviction that the basic technique and skill of counterpoint were of unchanging value.
Bach’s liberal attitude toward musical craft did not extend to speculative ideas on music when they conflicted with his Lutheran thinking. Philosophical conceptions, like history, did not evolve but were immutably correct or incorrect in a Christian sense, that is, in conformity with biblical thinking. A deviation from the truth was due to sin or error. Bach and Walther then would naturally strongly favor the speculations of an ardent Lutheran author like Andreas Werckmeister—and Walther had a special attachment for Werckmeister’s point of view since he had studied under him. But since the Jesuit Athanasius Kircher was universally esteemed as the leading musicologist of that period, the two friends carefully studied and discussed his major work as well.
The works of both authors provide insight into Bach’s speculative thinking at this period of his life. Kircher reflects the state of scientific ideas of the seventeenth century, a curious mingling of Cartesian attempts to give rational explanations to natural phenomena with antiquated medieval analogies and magic formulas. Werckmeister fuses his neomedieval Pythagoreanism with the evangelical mysticism of Luther and Tauler. Neither writer recognized the coming Enlightenment. Not until Johann Mattheson (1681-1764)—a man well acquainted with this new thinking in England and France and one whom Bach always regarded with suspicion—did musicological writers turn away from Kircher.
Athanasius Kircher: Genius or Charlatan?
Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680) was born in the small town of Geisa, not far from Bach’s own birthplace. For a century all Europe was held spellbound by this intellectual whose scientific mind helped bridge the gulf between the Middle Ages and the modern era. Renowned primarily as a scholar and mathematician, he wrote in a highly entertaining and frankly sensational manner on many subjects, ranging from very questionable and downright fraudulent linguistic interpretations to very real contributions in optics and acoustics. His famous book on music, the Musurgia Universalis (The Universal Craft of Music), was a classic for almost a hundred years after its appearance in 1648.
Kircher received his schooling at the Jesuit Gymnasium of Fulda, then a great center of learning. For a number of years he was professor of mathematics, philosophy, and oriental languages at the Jesuit College of Wiirzburg, but in 1631 the tumult of the Thirty Years’ War drove him from Germany. He found refuge with the Jesuits of Avignon, where he was allowed to devote full time to study and research. By this time he had already written several scientific works, including his Ars Magnesia (1631). In 1635 he was called to Rome, where he remained for the rest of his life, teaching and finally concentrating all his time on the study of hieroglyphics and archaeology.
A true Renaissance man, he wrote on the heavens, the planets, the earth, on subterranean and submarine explorations, on magnetism, on optics, acoustics, and geography.1 He was also an inventor. He made improvements on telescopes and microscopes, as well as on thermometers, air pumps, pendulum clocks, and marine instruments. He invented an early calculating machine. His most lasting contribution was the invention of the “magic lantern,” the ancestor of our picture projector. Kircher knew Greek and Hebrew, as well as Latin, and translated from the Arabic, Syrian, Coptic, and Chinese. He published translations from Egyptian hieroglyphics, which he claimed revealed the secret wisdom of the Egyptian priests but were later exposed as totally fraudulent. Even this did not dim his great prestige throughout Europe, and the Emperor continued his support of the talented rascal. Leibniz himself pursued with Kircher the matter of devising a universal language.2
Actually Kircher’s unscientific methods were followed by most of the early scientists. Johannes Kepler willingly provided horoscopes for wealthy clients. The famous Paracelsus was an astrologer and alchemist. He followed magical signs and even joined in the search for the legendary philosopher’s stone. William Harvey, the founder of modern medicine, believed in witches. Nontheological studies were not taken very seriously, except by other scientists, and theology, the queen of the medieval sciences, still reigned supreme.
In the field of music the Bible, along with the classics, was still the criteria of knowledge, and Kircher’s interpretations of their meaning for music was unquestioned until the spread of the Enlightenment through Germany.3 One reason for such prolonged popularity may lie in his entertaining manner of presentation. Compared with most of the books in Bach’s library, Kircher’s writing is nothing short of sensational, something akin to present-day popular-science magazines. Kircher continually regales his reader with accounts of astonishing curiosities and near-miracles, although he discredits many of them as spurious or scientifically unsound. He tells of self-sounding bells, echoes that answer in different languages, subterranean prisons built in the form of a human ear in such a way that every whisper of the prisoner can be heard in the castle above (a story which Kircher himself seems to believe), and he describes the invention of a demented nobleman, the “cat-clavier,” the keys of which are made to pinch cats’ tails. These stories are skillfully interwoven with the serious matter of the book.
It is highly probable that Bach studied Musurgia Universalis, although we have no actual proof. The work may have been among those books in Bach’s library that were sold or lost after his death. Bach probably first read the book in Lüneburg where the library of St. Michael’s Church owned a copy.4 In the Gymnasium as elsewhere Kircher’s work was regarded as the key to all hidden wisdom on musical and musico-philosophical subjects; it was thought to be possessed with some almost occult insight into the divine machinery of the world. We can at least be sure that Bach was familiar with the general content of the book through his discussions with Walther.
Book One of the Musurgia Universalis, entitled Physiologus, discusses the anatomy of the human ear, and propounds some valid theories of air vibrations, backed up by Kircher’s experiments with airless tubes and submerged bells. He describes the anatomy of the larynges of animals as well as humans, also based on actual experiments. He often marvels at the protective and efficient devices that Nature has made for living creatures.
Book Two, entitled Philologicus, deals with the origin and the invention of music. According to Kircher, the word music is derived from an Egyptian word moys, ^meaning water. (Johann Walther is not content with this philological fancy and offers alternative derivations.)5 Kircher’s theories, however, based on biblical accounts, were respected until the first decades of the eighteenth century.
The next two books deal with the Pythagorean proportions, a subject encountered ad nauseam in musical treatises over several centuries. The meaning of certain observed correspondences between proportions of string lengths and their resulting pitches had been speculated on for centuries. Kircher uses the traditional monochord, a laboratory instrument with one string and a movable bridge that could be placed at measured points under the string, to demonstrate the correspondence. He treats this phase of neomedieval speculation more fully in a later chapter.
The fifth book contains a complete description of Hebrew instruments, as reconstructed by Kircher’s vivid imagination with a minimum of historical evidence. Kircher shares the common belief that music in ancient Jewish times was highly developed and similar to that of his own day, but that it had later been corrupted by the heathens. In his attempt to reconstruct the ancient Hebrew music, Kircher catalogued all the rhythms and figures of speech in the Psalms, and concludes that musical rhythm was originally derived from poetic meter, although the precise character of Hebrew music must remain unknown since it lacked notation. Certain followers of Kircher did not thus restrain themselves. Caspar Printz6 concludes, on the basis of Kircher’s “information” that classical Hebrew music could not have been much different from music of his own time. He flies into a rage at the heretical notion that our music may have originated with heathens like the Greeks.
Kircher also offers an account of Greek music, based on his studies of Boethius and Nichomachus, Plato, Homer, Theocritus, and the Romans Virgil and Pliny. He evidently was also familiar with the works of Gaudentius and Alypios. He assumes that the Greeks used the word harmonia in the modern sense of several tones simultaneously sounding; actually of course the Greek harmonia denoted a well-sounding and well-proportioned succession of tones in a melody. Parts of Kircher’s quotation of an Ode of Pindar, giving its “original” notation and his own modern transcription, correspond to what we know of the surviving fragment, but most of it is as spurious as his translations of Egyptian hieroglyphics.
In Book Six, the Melotheticus, Kircher discusses an endless variety of song types, which he classifies and catalogues impressively. In Book Seven he critically compares ancient to modern music, and studies the “affections” of these various types of music, and their physiological effects on the inner organs, the “vapors” and the “heat” they cause in the gall, the liver, and so on. He attempts to give naturalistic explanations of his phenomena, but the results are neomedieval fantasies reminiscent of Paracelsus. The reader is also entertained with tales of cures through music, great catches of fish made as a result of a right choice of tunes, and other musical marvels.
Book Nine, the Phonocamptica, deals particularly with the theory of echoes, spiced with legends of talking Egyptian statues, echoes that answer in different languages, and echoes that are locked up in closed chambers only to resound several days later. One passage in his description of many famous ancient buildings designed with special acoustics has a particular interest for us, since Bach seems to have read it. He describes “a room or hall, built with a parabolic surface, prepared in such a way that one standing in a certain and specific place can understand everything that is said.” Philipp Emanuel’s description of his father’s reaction to the Berlin opera house recalls this passage:
I showed him the great dining hall. He looked at the ceiling, and without further investigation made the statement that the architect had here accomplished a remarkable feat, without intending to do so, and without anyone’s knowing about it: namely, that if someone went to one corner of the oblong hall and whispered a few words very softly upward against the wall, a person standing in the corner diagonally opposite, with his face to the wall, would hear quite distinctly what he said, while between them, and in the other parts of the room, no one would hear a sound. A feat of architecture hitherto very rare and much admired! This effect was brought about by the arches in the vaulted ceiling, which he saw at once.7
Bach could hardly have gathered this information from any other source than Kircher. Pere Mersenne dealt with such acoustical problems in his Harmonie Universelle, but since he wrote in French Bach would not have known of the passage.
The mighty tome of Musurgia Universalis ends with Analogus, a most significant chapter in the history of scientific thought and one that may have had a special fascination for Bach. Kircher here presents an elaborate chart, the enneachordon, or group of nine tones that function as the occult causes of all phases of existence—spiritual and material. The absurdity of primitive superstition and indulgence in nonsensical occultism that are displayed in such interpretations seem incredible until we remember that the work of the great medieval scientists, including Kepler, was steeped in the same mysticism.
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) directly influenced Kircher and Werckmeister, the other major figure shaping Bach’s ideas on musical speculation. Kepler’s philosophy still hinged on medieval metaphysics, which led him into speculations about the “harmony of the spheres,” along Pythagorean lines. Kircher, in turn, leaned heavily on Kepler’s Pythagoreanism for his own theories of musical harmony. Pythagoras—as Kepler could learn from Plato’s Timaeus— had discovered certain mathematical proportions in musical intervals. He found that a string half as long (two times as short) as another of the same thickness, and under the same tension, will sound a tone that is an octave higher than that of the first. Thus a ratio of 1:2 is established. Similarly, the octave and the fifth above it are in the relation 2:3; the fifth and the fourth above it are in the relation 3:4; the fourth and the major third above it 4:5; and the major third and the minor third above it 5:5.
Kepler, over two thousand years later, discovered that his calculations of the distances between the orbits of the six planets then known corresponded roughly in the same proportions to those of the Pythagorean musical intervals. This seemed to Kepler to substantiate Pythagoras’ “harmony of the spheres” as the law of the universe. Each of the nine musical tones had a corresponding heavenly body, in its sphere, in the heavens. Tones, and these planets, responded to the laws of harmony of the spheres.
Kircher shared a popular misunderstanding of Kepler’s idea that the planets produced music. Actually Kepler used harmony to mean a unified and concordant cause, a common cause. But this underlying harmony of musico-mathematical proportions then began to be interpreted as a primary cause of existence. Kircher’s own favorite motto, in agreement with both Pythagoras and Kepler, was “Music is nothing other than the knowledge of the order of all things” (Musica nihil aliud est quam omnium ordinem scire).
In his Analogus, or Analogies, Kircher extends the harmony Kepler found in the heavens and in music to other realms of nature. Kircher uses the term analogy in its ancient sense of proportion and congruence, a correspondence between appearance and reality. His chart of “analogies” presents musical proportions governing some go varieties of “entities,” ranging from God through archangels, angels, virtues, powers, down to quadrupeds, birds, fishes, plants, trees, stones, and colors. His accompanying text explains the chart in astrological terms. The nine musical tones, which correspond to the nine heavenly bodies, correspond also to certain precious stones, because Kircher observes that these stones shine best at the time when certain constellations are at their height. Similarly, certain flowers turn their heads toward the sun, the moon, or the stars. He cites as authority for these assertions the mythical singer Orpheus—for did he not achieve power over all manner of creatures through the music of his lyre? “Upon the sound of a certain string,” Kircher says, mentioning which note it is, “on account of its hidden sympathy . . . everything in the universe is analogous to [corresponds to] Saturn: particularly, the cherubim, lead, topaz, helleborus, cypress, certain fishes, birds, animals, and colors . . . because all these entities are endowed with Saturnal qualities.” Kircher then advises a composer to choose the right time and constellation under which to compose appropriate music.
As far as we know Bach never concerned himself about the right astrological time for composing, and probably did not go along with Kircher’s ventures into the occult. But it is possible that Bach believed the Keplerian premise that the Pythagorean proportions were of a primary and causal nature, the divine tool of the Creator. Werckmeister presents the same idea—only with more sincerity and reserve.
It is highly probable that Bach was convinced that music was a sacred science, or the wisdom of the magus, that the arts of harmony and counterpoint were divine in nature, that they dealt with primary causes, and that they represented the spontaneous impulse and the wisdom of the divine Mind. The musical symbolism and analogies in his choralepreludes (discussed in Chapter 18) may indeed have a mystic significance, similar to that of Kircher’s analogies, for him. It cannot be attributed to accident or mere witticism that Bach fashioned the canon of his chorale-prelude “These Are the Holy Ten Commandments” so that the first note repeated exactly ten times and the dux entered ten times in the fugal treatment.
We cannot measure the influence of Musurgia Universalis on Bach, but whatever Bach’s early response was, he came finally to reject, or at least disregard much of Kircher’s neomedievalism. He was not led to this position because he had gained more enlightened scientific information but through his study of the writings of Werckmeister. A staunch Lutheran and of an evangelical nature, Werckmeister related the Pythagorean-Keplerian speculations more closely to experiential spirituality than to the fantastic and magical. His practical work also concerned Bach more vitally—the scientific basis for a well-tempered tuning and his knowledge of the organ formed the background in which Bach did much of his work. Bach’s great friend and mentor, Johann Walther, reveals this movement away from Kircher in his remark in the Lexicon that he was really no musician—although Walther never specifically rejected or ridiculed the Jesuit. So while Kircher’s fabulous work probably influenced Bach early in his career—certainly its contents fascinated him—he found in Werckmeister the source for his lifelong convictions on musical theory.
Andreas Werckmeister: A Kindred Spirit
Andreas Werckmeister (1645-1706) grew up within the same orbit of ideas that was so close to the hearts and minds of Bach and Walther. Born in the same region as Bach, in the town of Bennickenstein in northern Thuringia, Werckmeister received the same type of education as Bach. The solid Lutheranism and providential conception of history that characterized Bach’s formal learning dominated Werckmeister’s education, one generation earlier.
While a student in the nearby town of Quedlinburg, Werckmeister was possessed with a mystic enthusiasm for the organ, and immediately after his last school examinations he found a position as court organist there. His early success as an organist diverted him from his aspirations to study at a university, but he was always more inclined toward speculation and discourse than art. Today we know him solely for his writing. Only one composition of his has survived—a collection of violin pieces with figured bass accompaniment, entitled Musikalische Privat-Lust (Musical Delight for Private Use). Since his interest in all his writings is chiefly centered on keyboard music, it seems strange that none of his works for these instruments has been preserved.
Johann Walther studied with Werckmeister in 1704. The two, drawn together by common ideas and musical erudition, became close friends and pursued a lively correspondence. Walther later reports8 having read Werckmeister’s Nucleus Musicus in manuscript, the author’s only work in Latin. The work was never published. The celebrated Buxtehude was also a personal friend and admirer of Werckmeister and sent him a letter of congratulation on the publication of Harmonologica Musical.9
His literary output falls within four subjects: the modernized tuning of keyboard instruments, organ-building and all that pertains to this art, musical composition and theory, and proper use of music in church. All but the one unpublished Latin work mentioned above are written in German. His writing style is very poor; he was overly fond of long sentences and slanting dashes haphazardly inserted to give the reader an occasional breathing spell. He is no better at giving any sort of logical order to his subject-matter. Mystical reflections often abruptly interrupt some technical discussion on the tuning of instruments or the theory of harmony.
Werckmeister’s fame today is based almost entirely on his contribution to the well-tempered tuning of keyboard instruments (which formed the basis for Bach’s modern system of tuning), but Bach and Walther also deeply respected his work in musical philosophy. His contribution to the scientific approach to tuning has actually been grossly exaggerated for, although he made minute and excellent calculations of string-length proportions, his actual tuning methods are of a purely practical nature. It is a mistake to think that he ever arrived at the equal temperament as Bach knew it, and as we use it today.
Werckmeister was even less scientific than Kircher, although certainly more honest. Like Kircher, whom he greatly admired, he intersperses in his writing mystical, semi-philosophical reflections, drawing from medieval concepts, Pythagorean number-magic, and astrology, which he manages to fuse with ideas of Luther and touches of Thomist and Taulerian attitudes. Platonic overtones are blended with quotes from Kepler’s Harmonices Mundi (1619).10 The rapidly approaching Enlightenment of France and England seem to have affected him not one whit.
In music, where his practical applications were relatively modern, his speculative ideas place him along side Sethus Calvisius (1556-1625) of Leipzig, and Johannes Lippius (1585-1612), whose ideas are even more medieval than Kircher’s. He calls upon ancient authorities, and occasionally medieval scholars like Kepler, Scaliger, Zarlino, and Steffani.11 The ultimate support for his speculative theses comes from the Bible. He labors long to defend music as a science—not art—a subject that probably still interested Bach but had long since disappeared from writings from other countries. This preoccupation and the rigidly traditional approach in his writing reflected the intellectual stagnation in the German Gymnasium, an institution that also molded Bach’s mind.
Werckmeister on Tuning
Traditional as his philosophical thinking may have been, Werckmeister was progressive in seeking the means of realization of his art, i.e., harmony, modulation, form, and particularly the tuning of instruments. He freed himself from the traditional purity of the Pythagorean proportions in tuning and sought to adjust tuning to the demands of the new musical styles.
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, harmonic combinations grew steadily more complicated; sharps and flats were constantly being added, the church modes became transposed in more remote keys, and modulations within a piece began to venture farther away from their base. When performed on keyboard instruments, these new adventures in music quickly made clear the inadequacy of Pythagorean tuning for harmonies in a wide range of keys.
We have seen that the intervals of the octave, the fifth, the fourth, the major third, the minor third correspond to the proportions: 1:2, 2:3, 3 4:5, and 5:6. The monochord had long been used as a laboratory instrument for tuning on this mathematical basis. Long before Werckmeister, a discrepancy in pitch was observed when the monochord is used to find the fifth partial of a note by piling up five fifths upon each other instead of subdividing the string in two, three, four, and five parts. Thus, instead of sounding C, c, g, c’, e’ by subdivision of one string, now five strings are tuned in series of perfect fifths, C, G, d, a, e’; the e’ of the second series is slightly sharper than the first e’.
The Greeks called this discrepancy a comma or cut and calculated its size accurately. Since the Greeks did not use harmony in our sense and accompanied their singing chiefly with single notes (the strumming of the kythara or lyre being the only possible approximation of what might be called harmony in our sense), the comma offered no practical difficulties. With the complex harmony of Werckmeister’s and Bach’s time certain compromises had to be made to avoid using thirds that made chords sound badly out of tune. The writings of Gioseffo Zarlino (Institutioni armonichi, 1558), Arnolt Schlick (Spiegel der Orgelmacher,1511), and others had suggested adjustments of the ancient tuning over the past century.
If one continues this series of fifths, starting from C, notes like G sharp, A sharp, or A flat eventually pose an even more difficult problem in tuning. When B sharp is reached on the circle of fifths, assuming we start with C, it is considerably higher than C.12 If a piano were tuned with all the fifths in perfect tune, all chords would sound out of tune.
Two rather haphazard solutions for this are suggested by Werckmeister in Hypomnemata Musica. One method is to tune the fifths slightly flat, the thirds sharp, and consequently the sixths flat. Certain “old philosophers,” he says, have admitted the feasibility of this procedure.13 Certain thirds should be tuned sharper than others: “C sharp-F (sic), F sharp-B flat, and G sharp-C may fluctuate [shweben] a full comma ... in case of extreme need.”14 His alternative suggestion is even more arbitrary and intuitive. All fifths may be tuned a little low, according to the desire of the musician, who is to be guided by the divisions of the monochord. The thirds must be tuned a little high, if they will be used in the piece to be played; since in those days the black keys were used less often than the white, the thirds on the white keys will be tuned a little sharper. Individual notes then were tuned according to the artist’s choice or need.15
These methods are surely far from scientific. They depend mostly upon the natural ear, although Werckmeister’s mathematical calculations of the proportions confound a nonmathematical reader. In spite of demonstrations on a monochord with a string of four feet, divided in 900 minute fractions, his advice for actual tuning is really one of trial and error and individual judgment. On the monochord he is able to demonstrate his comma, which he knows as the relation 81:80.16 But how in practice would one accurately hear half or a fourth of a comma, a minute interval of either a quarter, an eighth, or a sixteenth of a tone? “Beats,” the result of interference between two sound waves of different frequencies, can be distinctly heard, and Werckmeister recognizes this in his books on thoroughbass17 and on the care of organs.18 He tells his reader that these tremors, shiverings, or hoverings (Schwebungen) originate when two strings are tuned almost together. The more closely in tune they are, he observes, the slower they beat (schlagen). But nowhere does he suggest counting the number per second, as modern tuners do; for a test of certainty he still consults his monochord. Bach apparently rejected this slow method, since Forkel states that he tuned his harpsichord in 15 minutes. Moreover, there is no indication that Bach ever owned a monochord.
Werckmeister admits that his work only approached the modern system of equal temperament: “. . . some people think that the temperament in which all consonances have equal value would finally carry off the prize, and in the future ... it would be indifferent whether one would play in C or in C sharp”19 Bach was the first to fulfill that dream. He was indeed the first to write his preludes and fugues in all 24 keys. An earlier series of preludes and fugures by Caspar Fischer, which he entitled Ariadna Musica (1702 and 1715), omitted the keys of C Sharp Major, e flat minor, F Sharp Major, b flat minor, and g sharp minor, indicating Fischer was still stumped in tuning for these keys.
An uneasy conscience may have contributed to Werckmeister’s failure to carry out his tempered tuning over the entire circle of fifths; deep down he feared that he was tampering with divine law when he modified the mathematical proportions of Pythagoras. Although he invokes Kepler20 to demonstrate that the same deviations from the exact Pythagorean proportions are found in the Scala Planetarum, and “that therefore God has shown us how wisely we can temper them in order to protect us creatures from evil,”21 he adds that the same authority warns against modifying the divine laws for man’s own use. Werckmeister attributes the evolution of taste to astrological influences: since the constellations never appear exactly in the same positions, artists are driven to discover ever new inventions.22
Werckmeister’s Philosophy of Music
Werckmeister’s more philosophical works deal with the proper use of music—specifically, sacred music, since he believes that the source and end of all music is the Creator. Bach’s own thoughts on the use of music for the churches are reflected in these works.
In a curious little book entitled “The Use and the Abuse of the Noble Art of Music” (Der Edlen Musikkunst Wiirde, gebrauch, imd Missbrauch, 1691), Werckmeister presents the idea that music is a metaphysical being, a living reality, like a creature of God, which has its existence in the mind of the Creator. Through it, he says, we get a foretaste of heavenly harmony. The German term for this veritable being, ein ordentliches Wesen, is pregnant with philosophical implications, ordentlich referring to the unequivocal and positive reality of its spiritual existence, as well as to its inherent well-regulated nature. In developing his proof of this order he takes recourse again to the time-worn cosmology of Pythagoras. Only a true mystic, however, could pronounce the art of music a clear and explicit Being, ein deutliches Wesen?23
Without mentioning Plato Werckmeister has elevated the art of music—or rather the science of music—to the stature of the Platonic idea with metaphysical and intrinsic reality, fused, of course, with orthodox Lutheran theology. By responding in our hearts to this metaphysical being, music, we experience a promise of future complete wisdom: “By means of music we receive a mental presentation of God’s wisdom”24 “Wicked souls, therefore, do not respect music very much,”25 for they are not endowed with that natural response to the divine.
These reflections may have been inspired by Tauler’s Teutsche Theologia, in which the nature of reality is attributed to essence (das Wesen) as revealed through sensuous appearance (Schein). The word Schein is there used—in almost Hegelian manner—in the double meaning of shining, as a light, and seeming, as to be appearance only. The shining forth of the world of appearance, the created things, i.e. music as it sounds on our ears, is the imperfect manifestation of its true Being —uncreated, perfect, and existing purely in the matrix of the Creator’s mind. As proof of such divine universality he again falls back upon the arithmetical proportions of Pythagoras, demonstrating that God created them in the measurements of various biblical objects such as the ark of Noah, the temple with its furniture, and other sacred objects. (The proportions of the ark, with a length of 300 yars, a breadth of 50, and a height of 30, applied to the monochord, would yield a major chord.)26
His Musikalische Paradoxal Discourse also betrays the Platonic origin of his dialectics. The world and its audible music is the ectype of the archetype, that is, as the imitation of the ideational original. The earthy, known music, he says, flows forth from the harmony which is in God Himself27 He shared Luther’s disdain for the unmusical man, for whoever does not carry the image of God’s harmony in his soul cannot be capable of feeling the unity and wisdom of God, qualities that have been placed in us at the time of our creation by God in the form of musical consonances.
Bach’s Understanding of Werckmeister and Kircher
Bach was untutored in philosophy to judge from his formal education, and Walther, the devoted pupil and correspondent of Werckmeister, contributed most in the long discussions the friends shared to an intellectual understanding of his mentor’s profound reflections. But both revered this science of musical speculation for its service to theblogy. Neither could take an objective critical approach to the works. As long as the writers used their philosophical, dialectical discourses of the imagination as revelatory of religious consciousness, their rather naive speculations were beyond reproach. Philosophy was still the handmaid of theology—Pythagoras played the same role in the musical scholasticism of Werckmeister that Aristotle did in Thomism—and neither Walther nor Werckmeister recognized the naturalism and Cartesian rationalism lurking in Kircher’s work.
Since Bach did not pursue any philosophical studies beyond the few mystics found in his library, and the sparse bits of speculation found in all music books of his epoch, he may have found the musical scholasticism of Werckmeister and others illuminating and edifying. But his calling was for the manifestation of Being through music. Knowledge of these works undoubtedly deepened his fervor in the mission of his art, but subjects that had practical application remained his primary concern.
Werckmeister did, however, provide Bach with a rationale and support for his musical purpose as opposed to the platitudinous sentimentalities that Pietists fought for in music. Werckmeister also supported Bach’s conviction of the need for instrumental music in church, another point of contention with the Pietists. He discovered that in Psalm 150 the Lord commanded the use of strings and violins (although almost no violins existed in the pre-Christian era). Trumpets and tympani were among the ancient Hebrew instruments, and the trumpet’s superb display of Pythagorean proportions gave added sanction for the use of these instruments. Bach must have found real solace and reassurance in Werckmeister’s justification for the use of joyful music in church. For Werckmeister devotes considerable space to passionate denunciations of those sects that insist on playing “only those slow, sleepy, and mournful songs with their dragging and putrid harmonies.”28 He accuses these antimusical souls of inability to discriminate between truly joyful music and mere beer-fiddling. Only Satan he exclaims, would place the two species on the same level.29 (The problem of distinguishing between spiritual and secular music is not so easily dismissed, of course, and we will discuss it in more detail in Chapter 14.)
At this time of Bach’s life and musical development, he was deeply imbued, under Walther’s guidance, with the musical speculation of Kircher and especially Werckmeister. His natural bent was, as we have said, toward the creation and performance of music, not toward developing elaborate justifications for the art. But to the extent that he did seek philosophical grounding for his work, he relied primarily on Kircher and Werckmeister. Later in his life, when his faith and art were being severely tested by the rising spirit of Enlightenment, we will be confronted by the question of whether he was ever freed from the influence of these two neomedievalists.