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«Bach’s cantata Zerreißet, zersprenget, zertrümmert die Gruft (Der zufriedengestellte Aeolus or Aeolus Pacified, BWV 205) was composed in 1725 ...»

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A Polonaise Duet for a Professor, a King

and a Merchant: on Cantatas BWV 205, 205a,

216 and 216a by Johann Sebastian Bach1

Szymon Paczkowski

Institute of Musicology, University of Warsaw

Bach’s cantata Zerreißet, zersprenget, zertrümmert die Gruft (Der zufriedengestellte Aeolus or Aeolus Pacified, BWV 205) was composed in 1725 for the

name-day of August Friedrich Müller, a professor of philosophy at the University of Leipzig.2 Bach’s Collegium Musicum performed the piece on the evening of 3 August 1725 in front of the professor’s house at 2 Katharinenstraße in Leipzig. Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander) wrote the libretto3 with its allegorical allusions to the professor’s philosophical ideas. The libretto has attracted its fair share of scholarly criticism, and indeed derision.4 However, the circumstances of its composition are still imperfectly understood, and, as a result, the text’s metaphors and allusions remain unappreciated, as does the cantata’s musical code. If the message of Aeolus Pacified were understood, it would be possible to appreciate its subsequent transformation and Bach’s re-use of its music elsewhere.

August Friedrich Müller and the concept of the enlightened monarch Little is known today of August Müller, to whom Aeolus Pacified was dedicated. The most vexing issue for a musicologist is the absence of any serious study of Müller’s philosophical thought, undoubtedly an important selectfont A Polonaise Duet for a Professor, a King and a Merchant 91 point of reference for the libretto of BWV 205. This gap was partly closed by Henry Fullenwider in his 1990 article ‘Zur Bildlichkeit von Picanders Text zu Bachs weltlichen Kantaten BWV 205 und 205a’.5 In addition to the idea of mapping Picander’s libretto against Müller’s philosophy, this article offers a wealth of previously unknown information on the life and work of the Leipzig academic.6 In his time, August Müller (1684-1761) was one of the most popular professors at the University of Leipzig, where, as a successor to Christian Thomasius and his disciple, Andreas Rüdiger, he lectured on law and philosophy.

Rüdiger supervised Müller’s doctoral dissertation on philosophy, which he successfully defended on 25 August 1708. On 8 August 1714, Müller was awarded his second doctorate in natural law at the University of Erfurt. According to the sources, Müller’s lectures were crowd-pullers, as a result both of the lecturer’s engaging personality and the clarity of his disquisitions.

Müller’s popularity with the students did not always go hand-in-hand with the approval of his peers. A group of colleagues from the law faculty came into conflict with Müller when he started lecturing on natural law.They sought to check Müller’s rising popularity by lodging a complaint with August II the Strong himself, which seems to indicate a considerable amount of illfeeling. However, the king dismissed the complaint. Partly as a result of royal favour, the conflict was officially defused and honours and offices followed.

In 1731 or 1732, Müller became an ordinary professor of philosophy in the Aristotelian Organon. In 1735, the new king, August III, gave him the vacant position in the so-called Fürsten-Collegium or Prince’s College. In 1736, he was elected Deputy Chancellor and Dean of Philosophy, two offices which he successfully held again in 1740, 1744 and 1746.

Szymon Paczkowski Today, it is difficult to understand this early turbulence in August Müller’s career. His offence may have been continuing the liberal thought of Thomasius: some years earlier, Thomasius had been forced to leave the University of Leipzig after postulating that state law should be separated from morality. Given the lack of other sources, we must turn to Müller’s philosophical doctrine to look for the reasons behind his popularity with students and (more importantly) for the royal favour which induced two different monarchs to interfere with academic autonomy on his behalf. His two main works – a three-volume translation of and commentary on Oráculo manual y arte de prudentia by the Spanish Jesuit Baltasar Gracián, published as Baltasar Gracians Oracul, das man mit sich führen und stets bey der Hand haben kan, das ist Kunst-Regeln der Klugheit 7 and his introduction to philosophy, Einleitung in die philosophischen Wissenschaften 8 – offer a picture of Enlightenment ethics and social politics which might have been quite attractive to the ideologues of the Dresden court in the first half of the eighteenth century. Müller’s commentaries were essentially an exercise aimed at adapting the concepts of what was known in the theory of affects as the ‘science of wisdom’ to contemporary Saxon realities.9 In other words, Müller treated ethics as a measure for making judgments in the process of discerning between good and evil. As such, ethics were to be guided primarily by reason, and their task was to define man’s duty to himself. Politics and law, on the other hand, were meant to act as regulators of a decorous social life, and to shape man’s good duties to others.10 Müller’s theory of statecraft points to France as the example of a model structure for institutions of power. In this respect, Müller appears to have been a staunch adherent of enlightened absolutism. His view that natural law is a legal rather than a philosophical discipline also goes well with Enlightenment ideas. Presumably, Thomasius’ philosophical ideas served as the basis for Müller’s frequently formulated belief that the state should ensure the peace and welfare of its citizens, who must subordinate their natural liberty to a secular sovereign.11 Could this philosophical perspective have led to Müller’s trouble in academy? Possibly, but the essence of the conflict lay elsewhere. Müller was also wary of academic pedantry, which led him to criticise certain aspects of university selectfont A Polonaise Duet for a Professor, a King and a Merchant 93 life, and to reject blind faith in authority. Müller’s doctrine as a follower of Thomasius must have been seen by the Dresden court as a potential justification for the absolutist leanings of August II. From a Dresden point of view, the most important elements in Müller’s philosophy were those which represented the new-fangled ideology of enlightened absolutism. It is not known whether Dresden had inspired or encouraged the development of absolutist ideology, but it is likely that Müller’s espousal of absolutism was the source of the special royal favour he enjoyed under two monarchs.

The libretto of Aeolus Pacified and the apotheosis of the wise ruler There are many indications that Picander intended his libretto for Der zufriedengestellte Aeolus to refer to the philosophical doctrine of August Müller, and that allusions to this doctrine are hidden in the text’s baroque rhetorical structure. Given the obvious limitations of musical and poetic form and the circumstances of performance, Müller’s philosophy could only be shown in a simplified form. In brief, the story of the libretto of BVW 205 is as follows.

Pallas wishes to organise celebrations on Mount Helicon in Müller’s honour.

However, it being the month of August, she fears that Aeolus, the god of the winds, might brew up a sudden storm. As it turns out, she is right to worry – the deity gloats over his plans to unleash a destructive tempest feared by all nature. Pomona (the goddess of fruit trees) and Zephyrus (the god of gentle summer breezes) sing beseeching arias as they implore Aeolus to refrain from violence. The danger is only averted when Pallas herself makes clear to Aeolus just how solemn and important this day is, it being the name-day of August Müller. This is the ‘joy and bliss of the Pierides’ (‘der Pierinnen Freud und Lust’), and the professor’s learned name is prophesied to last forever (‘ihm die Ewigkeit sein weiser Name prophezeit’) as he is Pallas’ ‘beloved son’ (‘geliebter Sohn’). Nothing should disrupt the festivities which the Muses have prepared for him on Helicon. Aeolus is persuaded. He commands the winds to die down, and assures Pallas that he will not disrupt the peace and Szymon Paczkowski quiet of summer. This change of heart is greeted with general jubilation, and Pallas invites everyone to the festivities. Pomona and Zephyrus approach August Müller with their gifts, and pay homage to him in a laudatory duet which Bach composed in a polonaise rhythm (No. 13). At the end, the chorus sings a jubilant ‘Vivat August!’ Two movements in particular – the opening ‘Chorus of the Winds’ and the polonaise duet of Pomona and Zephyrus (No. 13) – are important when decoding the metaphorical references to Müller’s doctrine in Aeolus Pacified.

The ‘Chorus of the Winds’ is inspired by the familiar description of a tempest unleashed by Aeolus in the Aeneid, Book 1.12 Bach managed to produce some highly poetic music to evoke the threat of a violent storm. This reference to Virgil’s epic conceals the key to unlocking the meanings hidden in Picander’s text. To help us decipher the allusions as the librettist intended, we can turn to a 1724 dictionary of mythology by Benjamin Hederich,13 which contains detailed commentaries on the classical loci communi that reect eighteenth-century ways of thinking. The entry for Aeolus states that he was the god of the winds, which he kept locked in a huge cave in Thrace.

Sometimes he would release one or another, as and when he saw fit.14 As the philosophical tradition identifies the winds with the four tempers and

the four virtues, Hederich goes on to state in the same entry:

Some understood this figure [Aeolus] to be the wise man who can rein in his affects, particularly anger, which he allows some to see, and carefully hides from others. He can check himself before it is too late in the knowledge that his strength is limited, and eventually attain perfection. Therefore, he should realise that nothing happens without divine authority because the winds, which are weak and fleeting things, had to obey their god and leader.15 Aeolus is an embodiment of the virtuous ruler who holds his emotions and desires in check, and appears impassive even when greatly affected.

This idea is particularly close to Müller’s Affektenlehre.

The connection between the opening lines of the Aeneid and the libretto of Aeolus Pacified is also apparent in another context. Three German translations of Virgil’s epic appeared in Saxony in the first half of the eighteenth century: one by Theodor Ludwig Lau (1725),16 one by Reichhelm (1725),17 and selectfont A Polonaise Duet for a Professor, a King and a Merchant 95 one by Christoph Schwarz (1742).18 These translations popularised the interpretation of the Aeneid as an apotheosis of the perfect ruler. As in antiquity, Virgil was seen to be endorsing monarchy in general, and Caesar Augustus’ imperial ideas in particular. Commentaries pointed out such values as the monarch’s power to introduce law and order, his leniency and wisdom, his courage and resolute decision-making in moments of crisis, and his care for the nation’s welfare and prosperity. Johann Christoph Gottsched perpetuated this interpretation in his preface to the 1742 translation by Schwarz,19 where he comments on the connections between the Aeneid and the structure of the Roman empire in Augustus’ reign. Gottsched saw Virgil’s epic as an apotheosis as well as a work of instruction for the emperor. Augustus may have seized power by violence, and ruthlessly eliminated all political opponents, Gottsched explains, but he went on to found his policies on wise government combined with indulgence towards his subjects, leniency towards the defeated and a commitment to internal peace. Favoured by the gods, Augustus made sure that learning and the arts could flourish, and his sage leadership fostered loyalty and obedience in his subjects, who were happy to trade republican liberties for their newly gained prosperity.20 The climax of Aeolus Pacified is the duet of Pomona and Zephyrus (No.

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