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Bach and the Patterns of Invention

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674060050
ISBN-10: 0674060059
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Editorial Reviews

Review

[Bach and Patterns of Invention] stands head and shoulders above anything else in the field of post-war Bach criticism....Dreyfus believes that the human side of the compositional process is what must interest us about Bach, the sense of an intelligence adhering strictly to the rules he considered God-given, while freely abusing those that his contemporaries held dear. In this way we might attain a sense of the very historical nature of Bach's music--not merely the generic and formal similarities within the idioms of his age (often the principal object of modern scholarship), but particularly the way in which the composer went against the grain of his age. (John Butt Early Music)

Laurence Dreyfus's Bach and Patterns of Invention...is the first study in some time to deal above all with the reasons that music lovers ought to listen to him or play him. Dreyfus's writing is clear and entertaining..and the advantage of [his] approach to Bach is that it makes us listen to his work as he himself listened to the music of his contemporaries, and as they would have listened to his. It does not claim to read the composer's mind, but it reconstructs some of the processes through which he had to go to compose in each case, and it does so by referring to aural experience, leaving questions of ideology and doctrine temporarily on the side. (Charles Rosen New York Review of Books)

An original and detailed appraisal of Bach's achievement...Much of this book is concerned with detailed analysis that tries to illuminate, and at least to some extent to recreate, Bach's processes of composition. The result is the uncovering of processes that appear somewhat messy but are convincingly real. This is a fundamentally imaginative approach to analysis...Dreyfus's ideas should be of interest to anyone interested in exploring new ways of understanding 18th-century music. (Barry Mitchell Times Higher Education Supplement)

Dreyfus's new analytical study of Bach's processes of composition...challenges received ideas about what constitutes a style, a form and a genre in Bach's music, showing how the composer's individuality stems largely from his writing 'against the grain'. Dreyfus's book is not always easy, and neither is Bach's music, but few readers--even the more general--of the former will be left without a better understanding of the latter. (Malcolm Boyd BBC Music Magazine)

Johann Sebastian Bach is not the easiest of composers to write about, for his music can often seem so perfect that it renders description irrelevant. But Bach and the Patterns of Invention, by Laurence Dreyfus, a...totally absorbing study of Bach's processes of composition, is written with a clarity appropriate to a discussion of his music and with an enthusiasm that immediately communicates itself. (Charles Osborne The Daily Telegraph)

This brilliant book sets out to answer one of the enduring mysteries of music namely, what was the compositional method that allowed Bach to write such a vast quantity of music of such surpassing quality?...It's a moving and convincing picture of Bach, and a thoroughly original one, delivered in lucid prose in which close argumentation is often capped by an illuminating metaphor. Like Bach's music, it is rhetorical in the best sense. (Ivan Hewett The Music Times)

An original and detailed appraisal of Bach's achievement...Much of this book is concerned with detailed analysis that tries to illuminate, and at least to some extent to recreate, Bach's processes of composition. The result is the uncovering of processes that appear somewhat messy but are convincingly real. This is a fundamentally imaginative approach to analysis, involving as it does speculations about the order in which the inventions of the piece were composed and the role of procedures that were started by the composer but destined for only partial success due to the grammar of tonal music...Dreyfus's ideas should be of interest to anyone interested in exploring new ways of understanding 18th-century music. (Barry Mitchell Times Higher Education Supplement)

Dreyfus is concerned with how Bach thought in music, but from that deduces some idea of how he thought about music. A stimulating book. (Early Music Review 2004-12-01)

About the Author

Laurence Dreyfus is Professor of Music at Oxford University and a Fellow of Magdalen College.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (February 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674060059
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674060050
  • Product Dimensions: 10.2 x 7.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,206,645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By A Customer on July 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
J. S. Bach would have been astounded by the amount of materialwritten on him since his death 250 years ago. And as the number ofbooks and articles on his life and works passes the 15,000 mark it becomes increasingly difficult to discover from among this morass the truly rewarding and insightful writing on Amazon's Composer of the Millenium. But there is one book that stands out: Laurence Dreyfus's Bach and the Patterns of Invention is a landmark both in the study of Bach's music and in music criticism more generally. This is certainly one of the best books on Bach ever written ... Dreyfus's book accomplishes the dual and seemingly paradoxical goal of removing Bach from his lofty pedestal while at the same time rendering his musical achievements all the more impressive. Dreyfus de-mythologizes Bach, and by humanizing him allows us to grasp in a new way the nature and meaning of his creative acts. The book examines, often in great detail, Bach's mental processes, the problems he posed for himself while composing and the solutions he chose, sometimes from among many options; the possibilities that Bach's musical ideas yielded and the methods he used in arriving at his ultimate choices from among these possibilities are the "patterns of inventions" of Dreyfus's title. Thus Dreyfus's first chapter on Bach's C Major Invention, a piece marvelled at and agonized over by generations of piano students young and old, lays out for our inspection the basic musical unit-the "invention"-Bach devised and then manipulated in order to craft this most engaging of miniatures.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It is rather surprising that (at this date 2016) there is only one other review for this brilliant book.

Dreyfus gives us a deep look into Bach's compositional practice. (This is a very different look than the rather theological approach taken by Schenkerism, which arose 100 years ago in an era of ignorance of actual 18th century practice and postulated various esoteric factors such as "The Will of the Tones" and whatnot. Dreyfus is diametrically opposed to Schenkerism and says so refreshingly.) Through Dreyfus, we see Bach assembling practical compositional puzzles which could have had many possible solutions. Dreyfus's book consists of a number of essays on specific works by Bach, with analyses. If you can't read music scores, you won't really follow his arguments.

For me, the book was a tremendous eye-opener into Bach's techniques. Dreyfus shows how the core of Bach's technique is an "Invention" - which is to say, a bit of (usually) double counterpoint which is so cleverly assembled as to permit many variations and transpositions. He then shows how Bach lays out the useful possibilities of the invention at hand, according to rules of rhetoric, and connects them with bits of free counterpoint. This is a far different view than the idea of an organically conceived "whole" which contains an evolutionary drive toward a goal, as postulated by Schenker.

A worthy companion to this book is Gjerdingen's "Music in the Galant Style", which takes a similar approach to 18th century style as represented by much more mainstream - in 18th c. terms - composers than Bach.
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