Conference - Women's Influence on J.S. Bach's Music

Event time: 
Friday, October 16, 2009 - 12:30pm
Event description: 

Poets, Mothers, and Performers

Considering Women’s Impact on the Music of Johann Sebastian Bach

Yale Institute of Sacred Music, 409 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT


Music historiography has typically focused on male composers and their work, resulting in a historical narrative with little female presence. This international conference will recognize the significant impact women had in Johann Sebastian Bach ’s musical community, as performers, recipients, producers, and subjects.

During his tenure as organist in Arnstadt, the young Bach was criticized for letting a “frembde Jungfer” (a foreign young woman) sing from the organ loft. As the apostle Paul had prohibited women from speaking in church, they were certainly not allowed to sing in the choir; and yet, women were teachers (and preachers) of religiosity at home, singing sacred songs to their children, telling biblical stories, and teaching ethical behavior. Women also formed the largest group of congregants in the churches in Bach’s time.

Female musicians were excluded from the performances at church, they played Bach’s music (especially his keyboard music) at home. Bach’s Clavierbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach (Little Piano book for Anna Magdalena Bach) typifies the pieces women played in the domestic sphere; but Bach’s printed collections of keyboard music, like his Clavierübung, were also performed by women.

Women’s voices were, in fact, heard in church through musical collaboration with Bach: the female poet, Mariane von Ziegler, contributed a number of texts for his cantatas in 1725, and Bach relied on his wives as music copyists. (Some scholars have conjectured that Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena, might even have composed some of the music attributed to him.)

Finally, the conference will consider the influence of gendered and feminized tropes upon Bach’s work. For example, the revival of mediaeval mysticism in the 17th and 18th centuries made use of the image of the bride and the bridegroom to represent the relationship between the believer and Christ.

Featuring renowned scholars in the areas of music history, source studies, gender studies, and theology, the international conference will rethink women’s roles in Bach scholarship. The key note address will be given by Prof. Wendy Heller (Princeton). Invited speakers include Mark Peters, Yo Tomita, and Tanya Kevorkian.

The conference is sponsored by the Yale Institute of Sacred Music in collaboration with the Yale Department of Music and the Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program at Yale.

Conference Coordinator:

Albert Agbayani (e-mail him now)




Friday, October 16, 2009

Sudler Hall

(in Harkness Hall, 100 Wall Street)

4:30 pm | Keynote Address and Tangeman Lecture 
Wendy Heller (Princeton University)

               Searching for Bach: Rethinking the Female Voice in Baroque Music

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Institute of Sacred Music Great Hall

(409 Prospect Street Street)

9 am to 5:30 pm

9:00 am | Introduction and Welcome by Markus Rathey

9:30 am | Tanya Kevorkian (Millersville University)

               Women’s Roles in the Liturgy

10:50 am | Mark Peters (Trinity Christian College)

                 A Woman’s Poetry in Leipzig’s Churches: Mariane von Ziegler as Cantata Librettist

11:50 am | Katherine Goodman (Brown University)

                Luise Gottsched: A Female Poet in Bach’s Leipzig

2:00 pm | Janette Tilley (CUNY, New York)

               Femininity as Metaphor in Lutheran Piety 

3:00 pm | Markus Rathey (Yale University)

               Gender Identities in the Christmas Oratorio and its Secular Models

4:20 pm | David Yearsley (Cornell University)

               What is a Sängerin?

8:00 pm | Concert in Marquand Chapel (409 Prospect Street) 

Yale Voxtet, James Taylor, director. Maidens and Brides: Music by Johann Sebastian Bach and Contemporaries. Bach’s Coffee Cantata, music of Telemann, and texts of Ziegler

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Institute of Sacred Music Great Hall

(409 Prospect Street Street)

9 am to noon

9:00 am | Yo Tomita (Queen’s University Belfast)

               Anna Magdalena as Bach’s Copyist

10:00 am | Andrew Talle (Peabody Institute, Johns Hopkins University)

                The Reception of J. S. Bach´s Keyboard Music among Women before 1750

11:20 am | Ellen Exner (Harvard University)

                Hohenzollern Women and the Legacy of J.S. Bach

4:00 pm | Concert in Sprague Memorial Hall (435 College Street) 

Emma Kirkby, soprano
Jakob Lindberg, lute

Songs and solos from early 17th-century Europe.

Speaker Biographies:


Ellen Exner is a Ph.D. candidate in Historical Musicology at Harvard University. Before arriving at Harvard, Ellen attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where she earned bachelor’s degrees in Russian and in Music History. Work from her master’s thesis (Smith College, 2003) on a rare 18th-century manuscript of chorale preludes for organ and obbligato instrument by Gottfried August Homilius was published as a critical edition in 2008 (Carus, Stuttgart).


Her dissertation, due to be completed by May 2010, is entitled “Frederick the Great and the Origins of Modern Musical Life in Berlin (1732 to 1756).” Work on this dissertation has been generously supported by a Krupp Foundation grant through the Minda de Gunzberg Center for European Studies at Harvard University, as well as a Dissertation Completion Fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. On the side, Ellen works as an editorial assistant on the C. P. E. Bach: Complete Works edition (Packard Humanities Institute). She also freelances in the Boston area on both modern and baroque oboes.


Katherine Goodman has studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Texas-Austin and the University of Freiburg im Breisgau. She has published continuously in the field of women’s literature in Germany, primarily that of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Currently she focuses on the life and work of Luise Gottsched and the life of Charlotte Sophie Countess Bentinck. 


Katherine Goodman works in the areas of eighteenth and nineteenth- century German literature and specializes in women’s literature. She has published books on women’s autobiography in Germany and on women writers in early eighteenth-century Leipzig (Amazons and Apprentices). She has published work on authors such as Rahel Varnhagen, Bettina von Arnim, Christiane Mariane von Ziegler, Johanna Schopenhauer. Several recent articles are aimed at rehabilitating Luise Gottsched. She has been the recipient of an Alexander-von-Humboldt Stipendium.


Tanya Kevorkian is an associate professor of history at Millersville University. She has written and lectured extensively on the social history of Baroque music. She has spoken at the Eastman School of Music, the Milwaukee Bach Festival, and the Montreal Bach Festival; in Belfast, Leeds, Manchester, and Warsaw; in Houston, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. She received her Ph.D. in history from Johns Hopkins University, and has an undergraduate degree in history and music from Mount Holyoke College. Her first book, Baroque Piety: Religion, Society, and Music in Leipzig, 1650-1750, received the American Bach Society’s 2008 William H. Scheide Prize. Currently she is at work on her second book, The Musical Experience in German Towns during the Baroque Era.



Mark Peters is associate professor of music at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, IL. His primary area of research is sacred music of the Baroque period, and he recently published the monograph A Woman’s Voice in Baroque Music: Mariane von Ziegler and J. S. Bach (Ashgate, 2008). His other publications include articles in BACH: Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute and the monograph Claude Debussy As I Knew Him and Other Writings of Arthur Hartmann (University of Rochester Press, 2003), with Samuel Hsu and Sidney Grolnic. In 2006, Peters received the William H. Scheide prize from the American Bach Society for his article, “A Reconsideration of Bach’s Role as Text Redactor in the Ziegler Cantatas” (BACH, 2005). He has presented his research at meetings of the American Musicological Society, American Bach Society, Bach Colloquium, and the Forum on Music and Christian Scholarship. Peters serves as secretary-treasurer of the American Bach Society and on the executive committee of the Forum on Music and Christian Scholarship.


Professor Markus Rathey studied musicology, Protestant theology, and German philology in Bethel and Münster. He taught at the University of Mainz and the University of Leipzig and was a research fellow at the Bach-Archiv, Leipzig, before joining the Yale faculty in 2003. His research interests are music of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries, Johann Sebastian Bach, and the relationship among music, religion, and politics during the Enlightenment. Recent publications include the books Johann Rudolph Ahle (1625–1673): Lebensweg und Schaffen (Eisenach, 1999), an edition of Johann Georg Ahle’s Music Theoretical Writings (Hildesheim, 2007, 2nd edition 2008), and Kommunikation und Diskurs: Die Bürgerkapitänsmusiken Carl Philipp Emanuel Bachs (Hildesheim, 2009). He was guest editor of a volume of the German journal Musik und Kirche(2005) on church music in the United States. He has contributed numerous articles to Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, the Laaber Lexikon der Kirchenmusik, and the handbook for the new German Hymnal (Liederkunde zum Evangelischen Gesangbuch). Recently, Professor Rathey published a chapter on Bach’s chorale cantatas in the new Laaber Bach Handbuch (vol. 1, pp. 331-450). He has published numerous articles on music by Bach and his contemporaries in scholarly journals such as Eighteenth-Century Music, Early Music History, Bach-Jahrbuch, and Schütz-Jahrbuch. Professor Rathey is vice-president of the American Bach Society and past-president of the Forum on Music and Christian Scholarship (2009-2011); currently he serves on the editorial board of BACH: Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute and serves of the board of directors for the Society for Eighteenth-Century Music. Ph.D., Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Münster.


Andrew Talle is the Chair of the Musicology Department at the Peabody Conservatory of The Johns Hopkins University. He studied cello performance and linguistics at Northwestern University and musicology at Harvard University. Dr. Talle is currently working on a book about the reception of J. S. Bach’s keyboard music during the composer’s lifetime. Secondary projects include a study of the musical lives of two countesses in Darmstadt in the mid-18th century and a collection of travel reports about the city of Leipzig written between 1700 and 1750.


Janette Tilley is Assistant Professor of musicology at Lehman College, The City University of New York, specializing in seventeenth-century Lutheran Germany. She earned a doctorate from the University of Toronto with a dissertation on sacred German dialogue compositions. She is interested in the intersections between music and piety, homiletics, and the construction of meaning in sacred vocal works. She has published articles in Early Music History, Music & Letters, and the Canadian University Music Review. Her edition of Andreas Hammerschmidt’s 1645 setting of the Song of Songs was published by A-R Editions in 2008 and she is currently working on a larger study of feminine imagery, piety and Song of Songs settings in the seventeenth century. She is associate editor for the Web Library of Seventeenth-Century Music, an on-line refereed publication of the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music.


Yo Tomita is Professor in Musicology at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland. His recent publication includes a new revised critical edition of the WTC II from G. Henle (2007) and an article entitled “Anna Magdalena as Bach’s copyist” in Understanding Bach (the web journal of Bach Network UK:, volume 2 (2007). He is shortly completing a two-volume monograph The Genesis and Early History of Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier, Book II: a composer and his editions, c.1738-1850 for Ashgate publishing; he has just started working on The Baroque Masters: Bach for Ashgate Publishing and The Cambridge Bach Encyclopedia for Cambridge University Press.


David Yearsley was educated at Harvard College and Stanford University, where he received his Ph.D. in Musicology in 1994. At Cornell he continues to pursue his interests in the performance, literature and history of northern European music among other activities. His musicological work investigates literary, social, and theological contexts for music and music making, and he has written on topics ranging from music and death, to alchemy and counterpoint, musical invention and imagination, and musical  representations of public spaces in film. His first book,Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint (Cambridge, 2002) explodes long-held notions about the status of counterpoint in the mid-eighteenth century, and illuminates unexpected areas of the musical culture into which Bach’s most obsessive and complicated musical creations were released. More recently, his Bach’s Feet: the Organ Pedals in European Culture (Cambridge, 2012) presents a new interpretation of the significance of the oldest and richest of European instruments—the organ—by investigating the German origins of the uniquely independent use of the feet in music-making. Delving into a range of musical, literary, and visual sources, Bach’s Feet pursues the wide-ranging cultural importance of this physically demanding art, from the blind German organists of the 15th century, through the central contribution of Bach’s music and legacy, to the newly-pedaling organists of the British Empire, and the sinister visions of Nazi propagandists. He is currently working on a monograph entitled The Musical Lives of Anna Magdalena Bach, a study of the changing musical contributions and restrictions, performing possibilities and perils that characterized the musical world of the women of the Bach household in the first half 18th century. David’s musical and musicological interests extend to the Elizabethans, the Italian keyboard traditions of the seventeenth century, Handel’s operas, film music, musical travels, and the intersections between music and politics. The only musician ever to win all major prizes at the Bruges Early Music Festival competition, David’s recordings of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century organ music are available from Loft Recordings and Musica Omnia. While his primary interests are in European music culture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, he has taught courses in music theory, film music, music and travel, and music historiography.