Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Richard Kramer

Committee Members

Ruth I. DeFord

Raymond Erickson

Julia Sneeringer

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Contemporary Art | European History | European Languages and Societies | Fine Arts | History | History of Religion | Intellectual History | Music | Musicology | Music Performance | Other German Language and Literature


Bach performance practice, musical performance style, Edwin Fischer, Weimar Republic


Edwin Fischer (1886-1960) provided a synthesis of approaches to Bach pianism that resolved dialectical tensions of long standing between schools that opposed one another throughout the nineteenth century. I argue that Fischer’s synthesis––which permits exegetical interpretation while maintaining a preservationist stance toward the integrity of the text––resembles both Felix Mendelssohn’s bifurcated approach to Bach’s music and Moses Mendelssohn’s description of a similar duality within modern Judaism. Such resemblance may not be coincidental or superficial, given that Fischer married into the Mendelssohn family at the height of its cultural influence in Weimar-Era Berlin. Although pieces of the Mendelssohnian construct were in circulation well before Fischer’s HMV recording of The Well-Tempered Clavier (recorded between 1933 and 1937), that recording served to codify and promulgate his synthesis, which was based on a crucial new approach. The foundations of this approach, which I call musical interpretation through structural amplification, we laid by Ernst Kurth, Karl Straube, Albert Schweitzer, and Ferruccio Busoni, all of whom were in Fischer’s personal circle. Fischer’s exegetical manner of approaching Bach’s keyboard music, through a combination of analysis and amplifying commentary (via pianistic interpretation), appears to have been instrumental in altering Bach pianism in the long term. Despite Fischer’s significance, however, nothing yet has been written that analyzes his Bach-performance practice. I attempt to address that lacuna with this work, the execution of which stems from my belief that conducting a performance practice analysis alone would be insufficient, that such an analysis is best viewed within the complex matrix of Bach-reception in the Weimar Republic; in other words, as an exercise of network science. Fischer’s network was rife with nationalist sentiment that gathered around a revolving diorama of Bach, Dürer, and German Gothic art and architecture during, and just prior to, Fischer’s formative years; with statements of belief regarding the apotropaic power of Bach’s music, which emerged naturally from the German social construction known as Kunstreligion; and with the aesthetics of das neue Bauen that were manifested by the Bauhaus, with which Fischer was very closely associated.

In pursuing my investigation and report of findings in this way, I also employ techniques and theories that I have borrowed from cognitive science, especially as it relates to religion, and from the social anthropology of art. On the whole, I suggest that performance practice change takes place within complex systems––which behave in ways that differ fundamentally from those of simple systems––and that such changes in performance styles are poorly described and understood if one indulges in conjuring notions of hovering entities (e.g., “modernist Bach-performance”) in place of describing networks and processes.