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American University (Washington, DC 20016-8200)
Braxton Boren (Project Director: January 2018 to present)

Digital Humanities Advancement Grants
Digital Humanities

[White paper][Grant products][Media coverage]

$50,000 (approved)
$50,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
12/1/2018 – 1/31/2022

Hearing Bach's Music As Bach Heard It

The recreation of acoustic conditions of the Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church) in Leipzig, where J.S. Bach worked as a concert master, to better understand the relationship between the acoustic clarity of the physical space and Bach’s compositions.

Research on J. S. Bach has revealed new insights into the clarity and intimacy of Bach’s music as it was originally performed, including the possibility that Bach’s repertoire at Leipzig was mainly performed with only four singers in the choir. But Bach’s music was also profoundly shaped by the notable acoustics of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, where he spent the last 27 years of his life. The church was altered during the Lutheran Reformation to improve the acoustics of the spoken word, which also increased the acoustic clarity for Bach’s works two centuries later. This project will use physical measurements and computer simulations to recreate the acoustic conditions as they existed both during Bach’s time as well as the more reverberant pre-Reformation church. Using this data, we will record a Bach cantata inside the virtual Thomaskirche, both in Bach’s time and before. This will allow us to examine the relationship between the acoustic clarity of the church and Bach's music.