Music in pictures

Bach, a homo mathematicus

bach_canon_bwv1087 (54K) In 1746 Elias Haussmann painted what we now know as the most authentic portrait of Bach (above). In his right hand the composer holds the triplex canon (the second canon from BWV 1087; before 1972 known as BWV 1076) which he would present the following year, with his variations on Vom Himmel hoch (BWV 769) for membership in Mizler's Society of Musical Sciences. Because the canon's soggetto is similar to the cantus firmus of the Vom Himmel hoch variations it was thought that the canon was composed in or about 1746.

Composing a canon is in the baroque area more than a game. Bach and his contemporaries were of the notion that music was a science..."sounding mathematics" in Mizler's words...therefore reducible to theorem and law. Bach may have conceived of canon as a window through which it might be possible to glimpse the laws of music. Bach, a homo mathematicus?

Below the solution of the canon: each part will be followed by its inversion. So we can speak about 3 simultaneous canons, each with 2 voices: a 6 vocibus

solution_canon_bwv1087 (26K)

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