Creativity and Ruthlessness

I recently read an essay by Laurence Dreyfus, "Bachian Invention and Its Mechanisms," in the Cambridge Companion to Bach. I suspect it's a condensed version of his book, Bach and the Patterns of Invention.

Dreyfus contends that the complexity of Bach's music arises in part from how thoroughly Bach explored and exploited the possibilities of his materials. When others would create entirely new material, Bach would create counter-subjects, inversions, mode and interval shifts, canons, etc. all from his original material. Many of the methods used are nearly algorithmic. The result is a music of unequalled complexity and energy.

I found this interesting for several reasons. First, it showed me, like nothing else, how Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique is a simple extension of long-established tradition. Second, with regard to writing, it confirmed (I didn't need convincing) me in my belief that seemingly mechanical operations (as in, say, diastic reading or constraints) can produce material of considerable interest. Third, it reminded me of that Blakean proverb, "If the fool persist in his folly, he shall become wise."


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