In 1969 I graduated with a PhD on Barthold Heinrich Brockes.
This thesis corrected errors about his work and revealed sources previously unknown. At the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1996 I read articles about Brockes in some of the latest encyclopaedias which repeated the original errors. I wrote to the editor of Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians about the article on Brockes by K.J.Snyder. The bibliography was out of date by about twenty years. The article did not give a complete picture of Brockes’ contribution to music. Two articles on Brockes and music by Harold P.Fry and my work were not mentioned. In order to demonstrate that I was qualified to criticise their article I mentioned my work on Brockes:
Modern Language Review, 64, 1969 B.H.Brockes: Two Unacknowledged Borrowings
B.H.Brockes. Aus dem Englischen übersetzte Jahreszeiten des Herrn Thomson. New York 1972.
Beiträge zur Geschichte Hamburgs, Bd 16. 1980. Barthold Heinrich Brockes’ Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott als zeitgeschichtliches Dokument
Reviews for the MLR
I also enclosed assessments of my work by three eminent professors of German:
The late Professor Mason of Edinburgh University wrote a recommendation for the Association of Commonwealth Universities.
Miss Ida Kimber, about whom you enquire, has recently completed for me an exceptionally brilliant PhD thesis on the important 18th century poet Brockes and his antecedents. This work, which owing to purely technical reasons, has not yet been officially presented and cannot under our regulations be accepted before next June, displays an extraordinary range and depth of erudition. Miss Kimber takes within her scope the entire phenomenon of deism and pantheism as they manifest themselves not only in literature, but also in philosophical and theological writings in all the major European languages through the 17th and 18th centuries. Miss Kimber distinguishes herself alike through her meticulousness and through her perception of wider issues, problems and relationships. She could not have produced her thesis without being thoroughly familiar with English as well as German 18th century literature; one of the most important results she arrives at is that English influences were all-important for Brockes’ development and achievement. She has, of course, the full background knowledge of English literature and culture that belongs to the more specialized field of her interests.
From W.H. Bruford, Fellow of St. John’s College and Emeritus Professor of German in the University of Cambridge, 10 June 1970.
Your dissertation on Brockes has interested me very much. You seem to me to have shown clearly that mixed as his work certainly is, much of it is really impressive and has been underestimated. I suppose that very few Germanisten read more than a small selection from his Irdisches Vergnügen because it is so enormous and inaccessible, so we depend very much on the judgement of earlier generations. Your point about his capacity for the sublime is well established by your examples and it is quite astonishing a) at the time and b) alongside so much by the same writer which is thoroughly philistine in tone and extremely boring. It helps a great deal to realize that he knew so much about the Boyle lecturers and the Royal Society people, was in sympathy with the new sort of piety in students of natural history and influenced by the Platonic tradition in his view of nature. Your new discoveries about the sources of certain poems are indisputable and valuable in themselves, but the immense amount of reading you have done round the subject, when once stimulated by those finds has been most fruitful too. I am very glad that through MLRA it is likely to be published before very long and I am sure it will have a considerable influence.
From Professor S. Prawer, Queen’s College, Oxford, on my introduction to Brockes’ translation of Thomson’s Seasons.
This is clearly an important contribution to our knowledge and understanding of Anglo-German literary relations…
Grove wrote and asked whether I would be willing to write about Brockes for the next edition of 1999. I sent my article to meet their deadline and several months later they sent me the article they were to publish. It was concocted from the original article and my new one and was therefore the work of three people. I complained to the editor of Grove and was told in a letter of 16 August that I had been asked to contribute a revision of the old article, not write a completely new piece. A Letter 22 April mentions a new article.
The root of the problem is the understanding of the word update which for me means inclusion of the latest research and a total picture of Brockes' position in the musical life of Hamburg. Their proposed article though improved by including some of my material was still incomplete. In an undated letter the editor Stanley Sadie emphasised the importance of being up to date in line with recent research. Their articles on Brockes were not up to date
The publicity pamphlet on their new edition - The Grove and the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians praised their dictionary’s excellence and accuracy. It was also highly praised in the New York Review as the greatest musical dictionary ever published. Mr Walton in the Scotsman also offered high praise.
My new article for Grove
Barthold Heinrich Brockes, born Hamburg 1680 son of a wealthy merchant. After completing his studies in law at Halle and Leyden, Brockes returned to Hamburg in 1704 and chose to devote himself to literature and music. Initially he organised concerts but in 1708 his occasional poems for weddings and other festivities were set to music and led to further commissions. The most popular and widely performed work was his oratorio: Der für die Sünde der Welt gemarterte und sterbende Jesus. It was written in 1712 and performed the same year in Brockes’ house. The work was set to music by 11 different composers: Kaiser 1712, Telemann 1716, Handel 1716-17, Mattheson 1718, Stölzel 1720, Fasch 1723, and others. Bach and his sister copied down Handel’s version and used some of the text in the St John Passion (1724). The oratorio was tremendously popular and up to 1727 there were said to be 30 editions with further editions after that.
The next work to interest composers such as Handel and Telemann were some early poems from Brockes’ Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott (1721-48/R1970). The theme of this work is the glory, majesty and power of God manifest in creation, a theme we are familiar with through James Thomson’s Seasons (1726-30) first translated into German by Brockes in 1745. In the same vein are F.W. Zachariae’s Tageszeiten (1757), set by Telemann, and Haydn’s Creation (1799) and Seasons (1801). Brockes’ nine volumes of the Irdisches Vergnügen bring together ideas and motifs from many sources which will later become literary commonplaces. One such is his use of the sublime. Aspects of nature--such as mountains--which were previously seen as a blemish in God’s creation were considered awe-inspiring. This is to be found in Burnet’s Sacred Theory of the Earth (1681 in Latin, Eng. Trans. 1684), some lines of which Brockes versified in several poems.
The different style and inspiration of the Irdisches Vergnügen required different musical treatment and stimulated interesting views on aesthetics, namely the relationship between the arts which G.E. Lessing dealt with later in his Laokoon (1766). Mattheson and his friend Fabricius felt that those poems of Brockes which expressed violent movements and used onomatopoeia were unsuitable for setting to music. Instead, calm movement, pleasant thoughts and melodies were more appropriate to move the soul and edify. They particularly disliked sounds relating to flies, bees and beetles. For Brockes these were part of God’s wonderful creation. Mattheson subjected the settings by Handel and Telemann of nine of these poems to these criteria and disliked Telemann’s treatment of sounds at the cost of melody and inner truth; Handel escaped such criticism probably as he only used parts of the poems in his Neun Deutsche Arien.
Brockes was extremely important for Hamburg’s cultural and literary life for all these reasons. His house concerts and arrangement of other musical events brought together musicians and audiences of high status and influence and increased the demand for music. New composers were encouraged. His political life helped too. Through him Telemann was appointed musical director and took up his post in 1721 further improving the musical scene. Brockes died in 1747.
W. Braun: ‘B.H. Brockes’ Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott in den Vertonungen G. Ph. Telemanns und G. Fr. Händels’, HJb 1 .VII (1955), 42-71
H. Kuhn: Die Brockes-Passion (Munich, 1974)
H. Frederichs: Das Verhältnis von Text und Musik in den Brockespassionen Keisers, Händels, Telemanns und Matthesons (Munich, 1975)
H.P. Fry: ‘Barthold Heinrich Brockes und die Musik’, 71-104 and ‘Verzeichnis der Schriften von und über Barthold Heinrich Brockes’ 191-217. Beiträge zur Geschichte Hamburgs-Verein für Hamburgische Geschichte 16 (ed) H.D. Loose (Hamburg, 1980), 71-104
Ida M. Kimber: ‘Barthold Heinrich Brockes’ Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott als zeitgeschichtliches Dokument’, Beiträge zur Geschichte Hamburgs-Verein fur Hamburgische Geschichte 16 (ed.) H.D. Loose (Hamburg, 1980), 45-70
E.R. Britsch: Musical and poetical rhetoric in Handel’s setting of Brockes’ ‘Passion Oratorio’ (Florida, 1984)
H. Frederichs: ‘Zur theologischen Interpretation der Brockes-Passion von G. Fr. Händel’, Göttinger Händel-Beiträge 1 (1984), 172-199
W. Braun: ‘Händel und der Dichter Barthold Heinrich Brockes’, Händel und Hamburg (Hamburg, 1985), 87-97
Axel Weidenfeld: ‘Die Sprache der Natur. Zur Textvertonung in Händels Deutschen Arien’,
Göttinger Händel-Beiträge IV (1991), 67-93
R. Dittrich: ‘Die Brockes-Passion’, Mf 48 (1995), 130-144