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C. P. E. Bach "In Tormentis": Gout Pain and Body Language in the Fantasia in A major, H278 (1782)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-234
JournalEighteenth-Century Music
Volume13
Issue number2
Early online date16 Aug 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2016

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Abstract

In his Magazin der Musik, Carl Friedrich Cramer reported that C. P. E. Bach’s Fantasia in A major, H278 (1782), was composed during the agonies of gout. Tapping into a reported epidemic of this patrician malady among men of letters, Cramer’s anecdote invoked rich associations of sequestered suffering, withdrawal from public life, the pleasures of the table, genius, sexual (im)potency and humour. Reflecting contemporary nerve-based theories of sensation, Cramer aligned different types of physical and mental pain with specific musical gestures. In so doing, he did more than indulge his hermeneutic imagination: he suggested a connection between Bach’s solo keyboard music and the experience of embodiment. The seemingly abstract gestures of improvisation were linked dialectically to the corporeal. Behind the specifics of Cramer's reading is a conviction that this kind of music 'knows' about the body, as well as the mind, and that it moves between gestures suggestive of thinking, speaking, feeling and corporeal sensation. Analysis of the fantasia, and Bach’s letters, supports Cramer’s reading.

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