Dissertation Index

Author: Remeš, Derek K.

Title: Thoroughbass, Chorale, and Fugue: Teaching the Craft of Composition in J. S. Bach's Circle

Institution: Hochschule für Musik Freiburg (Germany)

Begun: September 2016

Completed: July 2020


The present work investigates the compositional pedagogy of J. S. Bach and his circle. According to Bach, the Fundamental-Regeln (fundamental principles) of composition are derived from thoroughbass and the keyboard. I have discovered that, in an autograph manuscript likely used in his lessons, Bach used the words licentia and fundamental to rationalize a contrapuntal phenomenon known as anticipationes transitus in precisely the same manner as J. D. Heinichen did in his treatise, Der General-Bass in der Composition (1728). Given that Bach knew Heinichen’s treatise and that both men associate thoroughbass with composition, this study posits that Bach’s Fundamental-Regeln are related to Heinichen’s rationalization of modern contrapuntal licenses in relation to a “fundamental,” stile antico background. Additional support for linking Bach and Heinichen comes from my discovery that the anonymous “Vorschriften und Grundsätze” (1738), which originates from Bach’s circle, includes the same table of “fundamental” thoroughbass figures as Heinichen’s earlier 1711 treatise. For these reasons, Heinichen’s conception of thoroughbass, which differs significantly from late-eighteenth-century thoroughbass theory, plays a foundational role in this reconstruction of compositional pedagogy in Bach’s circle.

Based on an account by C. P. E. Bach, his father’s teaching involved three topic areas: thoroughbass, chorale, and fugue, each of which receives a chapter in this study. Chapter One argues that the primary reason thoroughbass emerged in Germany c.1700 as the dominant pedagogical and compositional method is that thoroughbass promotes an understanding of compositional relationships in a manner that tablature does not. Bach may have attributed such significance to thoroughbass because it enables a single player to control a polyphonic texture in real time through the simplification, synthesis, and embodiment of traditional contrapuntal teachings. Chapter one also explores the two most significant aspects of Heinichen’s thoroughbass theory: what I call “contrapuntal function” and “scale-degree function,” which are combined in Heinichen’s method of improvising a prelude. Next, Chapter Two explores the implications of the recent attribution of the Sibley Chorale Book to Bach’s circle and calls for a greater awareness of a generic distinction between chorale harmonization in the ornate, four-part, vocal Choralgesang style and the simpler, thoroughbass- and keyboard-centered Choralgesang style, which is in essence only two-voice (soprano and bass). A growing body of sources from Bach’s circle containing multiple basslines under each chorale supports the hypothesis that Bach’s teaching also included this technique. Finally, Chapter Three begins by examining the relationship between chorale and fugue and by suggesting a possible pedagogical method of transitioning between the two. Next, thoroughbass fugues from Bach’s circle are explored, including two such works that Bach apparently used in lessons. Chapter Three closes with an investigation of the techniques of invertible counterpoint and canon as they relate to Bach’s teaching and presents some of their underlying principles in mathematical form.

Keywords: J. S. Bach, thoroughbass, chorale, fugue, baroque music, historical music theory pedagogy, counterpoint



Introduction: New Images of Bachian Pedagogy

Chapter One: Thoroughbass
-Part One: Thoroughbass and Composition in Seventeenth-Century Germany
-Part Two: Thoroughbass in J. S. Bach’s Day as Presented by J. D. Heinichen
-Part Three: Analyzing J. S. Bach’s Teaching Materials and Music

Chapter Two: Chorale
-Part One: A New Image of the “Bach Chorale”: Choralbuch Realizations with Multiple Basses
-Part Two: A Historical Survey of Chorale Composition Pedagogy

Chapter Three: Fugue
-Part One: From Chorale to Fugue
-Part Two: A Survey of Thoroughbass Fugues in Eighteenth-Century Germany
-Part Three: Invertible Counterpoint and Canon

Epilogue: Fleiß or Genie?



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