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711

Johann David Heinichen's Comprehensive Instruction on Basso Continuo

with Historical Biographies

Benedikt Brilmayer, Translator
Casey Mongoven, Translator
November 1, 2012

271 pp.

4 illustrations

ISBN: 978-1576472095

6X9 Hardback $36.00 $29.00


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This book is the first translation of Johann David Heinichen’s Gründliche Anweisung from 1711, in which he sought to develop a novel, methodical approach to basso continuo instruction. He begins with an extensive Foreword, in which he provides valuable insight into the vivid discussion of musical aesthetics taking place at that time. In the first part, conceived for the beginner, Heinichen lays out the fundamentals of figures, chords, meter and simple ornaments. In the second part, in a thorough discussion of various methods for realizing basso continuo where no figures are given, an entire cantata by Francesco Cesarini (1664-1730) is analyzed down to the smallest detail, and the figures which belong are explained. After this he unveils for the first time in music history the circle of fifths with interspersed major and minor keys, through the understanding of which one could traverse through all the keys without offense. The Neu erfundene und gründliche Anweisung supplied what Heinichen perceived to be lacking in instruction at that time: a thorough and orderly method of instruction, providing a short path to the acquisition of basso continuo. One of this translation’s distinguishing features is its comprehensive Appendix A, which contains the largest amount of information on the life of Johann David Heinichen currently available. It consists of biographies by well-known German authors including those of Johann Gottfried Walther, Ernst Ludwig Gerber, Hugo Riemann, Gustav Adolph Seibel as well as letters of Johann David Heinichen.
December 1, 2013

In publishing his first basso continuo treatise in 1711, Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729) presented a practical pedagogical method and stylistic guide to techniques of continuo realization and theatrical accompaniment. He structured the layout of the treatise to emphasize musicians’ physicality rather than shaping the text around theoretical concepts, an approach he defended in his preface. Heinichen’s position on the musical debates of early 18th-century Germany is fascinating, and all the more so since he was a well-known composer of operas and cantatas. Educated at the Thomasschule, Heinichen worked at the Leipzig Opera and conducted the Collegium Musicum before serving as Kapellmeister at the Dresden court.

Brilmayer and Mongoven fill an important lacuna in the English-language scholarly literature on early 18th-century German music. The only means by which one could encounter these sources in English has thus far been George Buelow’s 1966 Thorough-Bass Accompaniment According to Johann David Heinichen. This commentary and compilation incorporated excerpts of Heinichen’s 1711 treatise, Neu erfundene und Gründliche Anweisung zu vollkommener Erlernung des General-Basses, and the expanded revision of 1728, Der Generalbaß in der Komposition.

Brilmayer and Mongoven do not explain why they chose to translate the earlier and shorter of Heinichen’s two treatises, despite the fact that neither has been fully translated in English and that he is better known for Der Generalbaß in der Komposition. Their volume also offers translations of biographical materials on Heinichen by music historians from the 18th to 20th centuries, such as Mattheson, Walther, and Riemann, as well as including a significant portion of Gustav Adolph Seibel’s 1912 dissertation, Das Leben des königlichen, Polnischen und kurfürstlichen Sächsischen Hofkapellmeisters Johann David Heinichen.... The authors organized these texts in chronological order in Appendix A, but neither included them in the table of contents nor offered a complete list.

There is much to admire in this volume. The authors’ clear translation presents Heinichen’s text in a layout as close to the original as possible: the range of typesets in the original texts have been represented in four modern fonts; the page layouts of the original editions have been maintained; and the pagination for the 1711 edition is indicated in the margins. Notational practices and musical nomenclature important to Heinichen’s pedagogical method can be challenging for the 21st-century reader to comprehend, and the authors do a spectacular job of clarifying their meanings as well as laying out their implications: the key of “A♯” is not an enharmonic equivalent of B♭, but rather the key of A with a raised third degree (C♯)—in other words, A major; C minor can be called “C D♯ minor” because it is the key of C with D♯ (which can refer to the pitch of both E♭ and D♯ regardless of temperament).

This attention to detail can at times be a double-edged sword. While the authors have displayed admirable diligence and meticulousness, their intentions have been poorly executed and typographical issues riddle the text. A reproduction of Heinichen’s Musicalischer Circul (Musical Circle), a representation of tonalities reminiscent of the circle of fifths, as well as the authors’ revision of Heinichen’s Circle suffers from such extensive typesetting complications as to render them unreadable. A number of editorial policies make working through the treatise at the keyboard perhaps too laborious for some purposes. For example, Brilmayer and Mongoven choose to reproduce music examples in modern notation but with original clefs (often soprano and bass) or in unmeasured organ tablature. They also leave mistakes and logical errors from the 1711 edition in the text and music examples, with footnoted corrections. Although these methods are valuable for the intended audience of the authors—musicologists, theorists, and performers— they do impede the readability of the text.

Brilmayer and Mongoven contribute an important resource to English-speaking scholars and musicians through this new translation. Despite the aforementioned practical problems, it is of great relevance to those with interests in 18th-century opera and keyboard music. This book has the potential to influence the way we approach German music of this period from both scholarly and artistic perspectives.

Saraswathi Shukla
Early Music America Magazine



April 8, 2013

The treatise, written in his middle to late 20s, established Heinichen as a major music theorist in elite music circles. It is the first German treatise on basso continuo accompaniment from a bass with or without figures, and the first to draw important distinctions between the stylus gravis and stylus theatralis. Perhaps most significant is its inclusion of what he called the musical circle and is now known as the circle of fifths, and for the first time describing it as being characterized by the major-minor dichotomy of today.

This first full translation from the German was inspired by the historical performance movement, and is intended to be of interest to performers as well as to musicologists and music historians. It is not indexed

“Reference — Research Book News”
Book News Inc



April 8, 2013

The treatise, written in his middle to late 20s, established Heinichen as a major music theorist in elite music circles. It is the first German treatise on basso continuo accompaniment from a bass with or without figures, and the first to draw important distinctions between the stylus gravis and stylus theatralis. Perhaps most significant is its inclusion of what he called the musical circle and is now known as the circle of fifths, and for the first time describing it as being characterized by the major-minor dichotomy of today.

This first full translation from the German was inspired by the historical performance movement, and is intended to be of interest to performers as well as to musicologists and music historians. It is not indexed

“Reference — Research Book News”
Book News Inc

Benedikt Brilmayer, Translator:

Studed Musicology at the Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt, Weimar, and the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität, Jena, at the Institute of Musicology under Prof. Detlef Altenburg. He formerly held an editorial position at the Klassik-Stiftung, Weimar, where he also supervised the database of the musical instruments. He is currently persuing Doctoral studies in Musicology at the Universität, Augsburg, on the life and work of Oskar Sala.
Casey Mongoven, Translator:

Holds a BM in Classical Composition from New England Conservatory, where he studied under Alan Fletcher. In 2009, he completed an Ergänzungsstudium in Electroacoustic Composition at the Hochschule für Musik FRANZ LISZT Weimar, where he studied under Robin Minard. He completed a PhD in Media Arts and Technology in 2013 at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he currently holds an appointment as Lecturer in the Department of Germanic, Slavic and Semitic Studies. In addition to his work in translation and music theory, Dr. Mongoven is active as a composer. His official website can be viewed at www.caseymongoven.com.

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