Within these limits, that is, short of dramatic expression in just so far as “the end of drama is not character but action,” there is nothing good that Bach's art does not express. He has plenty of humour, if the term may be applied to art which is, so to speak, always literal,—art in which a jest is a jest and serious things are treated with familiar directness, and all, whether in jest or earnest, is primarily beautiful. In Der Streit zwischen Phoebus und Pan Bach answers the critics who censured him for his pedantry and provincial ignorance of the grand Italian operatic style, by making effective use of that style in Pan's prize-aria (“Zum Tanze, zum Sprunge, so wack-ack-ack-ackelt das Herz”), nobly representing his own style in Phoebus's aria, and promptly caricaturing it in the second part of Pan's (“Wenn der Ton zu mühsam klingt”). Midas votes for Pan—“denn nach meinen beiden Ohren singt er unvergleichlich schön.” At the word “Ohren” the violins give a pianissimo “hee-haw” which is fully as witty in its musical aptness as Mendelssohn's clown-theme in the Overture to the Midsummer Night's Dream; and in the ensuing dialogue their prophecy is verified. As with many other great artists, Bach's playfulness occasionally showed itself inconveniently where little things shock little minds. The hilarious aria, “Ermuntre dich,” in the church cantata, Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele, is one instance, and the quaint representation of the words “dimisit inanes” in the Magnificat is another. This great work, one of the most terse and profound things Bach ever wrote, contains, among many other subtle inspirations, one conception with which we may fitly end our survey, for it strongly suggests Bach himself and the destiny of all that work which he finished so lovingly, with no prospect of its becoming more than a family heirloom and a salutary tradition in his Leipzig choir-school. In the Magnificat he sets the words “quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae” to a touchingly appropriate soprano solo accompanied by his favourite oboe d'amore. With the next sentence “ecce enim beatam me dicent” the tone brightens to a quiet joy, but Bach takes advantage of the syntax of the Latin in a way that defies translation, and the sentence is finished by the chorus. “Omnes generationes” seem indeed to pass before us in the crowded fugue which rises in perpetual stretto, the incessant entries of its subject now mounting the whole scale, each part a step higher than the last, and now collecting in unison with a climax of closeness and volume overwhelming in its impression of time and multitude.
SUMMARY OF BACH'S WORKS
No attempt is here made at chronological sequence. The changes in Bach's style, though clear and important, are almost impossible to describe in untechnical language; nor are they of such general interest as to make it worth while to expand this summary by an attempt to apportion its contents among the Arnstadt-Mühlhausen period, the Weimar period, the Cöthen period (chiefly remarkable for instrumental music and comparatively uninteresting in its easy-going choral music), and the last period (1733-1750) in which, while the choral works became at once more numerous and more terse (e.g. Jesu, der du meine Seele) the instrumental music, though never diffuse, shows an increasing preference for designs on a large scale. (Compare, for example, the second book of the Wohltemperirtes Klavier, 1744, with the first, 1722.)
A. With Orchestra
190 church cantatas: besides several which are only known from fragmentary sets of parts. Of the 190, 40 are for solo voices, about 60 (including some solo cantatas) are more or less founded on chorales, and the rest, though almost invariably containing a chorale (for congregational singing), are practically short oratorios and frequently so entitled by Bach himself.
3 wedding cantatas: the Easter oratorio (exactly like the above-mentioned oratorio-cantatas; and the Christmas oratorio (six similar cantatas forming a connected design for performance on six separate days).
The Passions according to St Matthew and St John.
Funeral ode for the Duchess Eberhardine (now known to be arranged from portions of the lost Passion according to St Mark).
4 short masses (i.e. Kyrie and Gloria only) mainly compiled from church cantatas.
Mass in B minor. Magnificat in D. A few other ecclesiastical Latin choruses.
B. Without Orchestra
5 motets a capella (but there is reason to believe that these, except Komm Jesu komm, were intended to be partly supported by the organ). A sixth motet has an obligato figured-bass accompaniment.
A few early choruses, mostly turned to account in later works.
A large collection of plain chorales, including several original melodies.
II.—Secular Vocal Music
Der Streit zwischen Phoebus und Pan and Der zufrieden gestellte Aeolus; both entitled Dramma per Musica, but showing no more essential connexion with the stage than Handel's Acis and Galatea.
7 solo and 7 choral cantatas, of which latter three were almost entirely absorbed into the Christmas oratorio and the B minor mass. Of the solo cantatas two are Italian (one of these being Bach's only developed work for voice and clavier) and two are burlesque.
Several tunes with clavier bass, almost foreshadowing the modern song.
7 clavier concertos arranged from violin concertos and other sources.
3 concertos for two claviers (two being arranged from concertos for two violins).
2 concertos for three claviers.
The 6 Brandenburg concertos, for various combinations.
2 violin concertos, and a colossal torso of a concerted violin-movement forming the prelude to a lost church cantata.
1 concerto for two violins.
4 orchestral suites. (The symphony in F in the same volume of the B. G. is only an earlier version of the first Brandenburg concerto.)
B. Chamber Music
3 sonatas for clavier and flute; a suite and 6 sonatas for clavier and violin, 3 for clavier and viola da gamba; 2 trios with figured bass; 2 flute-sonatas and a violin suite with figured bass; 6 sonatas (i.e. 3 sonatas and 3 partitas) for violin alone; 6 suites for violoncello alone.
C. Clavier and Organ Music
Bach's own collections are:—
1. Das wohltemperirte Klavier for clavichord: two books each containing 24 preludes and fugues, one in each major and minor key; with the object of stimulating tuning by “equal temperament” instead of sacrificing the euphony of remoter keys to that of the more usual ones.
2. Klavier-Übung (chiefly for harpsichord) in four books comprising: (i.) 15 two-part inventions and 15 three-part symphonies, (ii.) 6 partitas, (iii.) The “Goldberg” variations. 4 duets, and an important collection of organ choral-preludes, with the “St Anne” prelude and fugue in E flat, (iv.) The Italian concerto and French overture.
3. The 6 “French” and 6 “English” suites.
The other clavier works fill two Jahrgänge of the B.-G.
Bach's collections of organ music are (besides that included in the third part of the Klavier-Übung):—(1) 6 sonatas. (2) 4 groups of 6 organ preludes and fugues. (3) Das Orgelbüchlein, a collection of short choral-preludes carefully planned—all the blank pages of the autograph being headed with the titles of the chorales intended for them—but not half executed. (The projected whole would have been a larger volume than the Wohltemperirtes Klavier). (4) 18 larger chorale-preludes, including Bach's last composition. (5) The 6 “Schübler” chorales, all arranged from movements of cantatas.
Besides these there are the three great independent toccatas and the Passacaglia. The remaining choral-preludes fill one Jahrgang, and the other organ works two more.
Two important instrumental works cannot be classified, viz. Das musikalische Opfer, the volume of compositions (two great fugues, various puzzle-canons, and a splendid trio for flute, violin and figured bass) on the theme given to Bach by Frederick the Great; and Die Kunst der Fuge, a progressive series of fugues on one and the same subject, written in open score as if entirely abstract studies, but all (except the extreme contrapuntal tours de force) in admirable clavier style and of great musical value.
J. N. Forkel's statement that Bach wrote 5 Jahrgänge of church cantatas (i.e. enough to provide one for each Sunday and holy day for five years) would indicate that some 80 are lost, but there is reason to believe that this is a great exaggeration. Not more than six or seven cantatas are known to be lost, by the evidence of fragments, text-books, &c.
Forkel also says that Bach wrote five Passions. Besides the great Matthew and John Passions there is in an indisputable Bach autograph one according to St Luke; but it is so worthless that the best plea for its authenticity offered by responsible critics is that only a personal interest could have induced Bach to make a copy of it.