Bach’s ‘Kleines harmonisches Labyrinth’ – Expression of a divine mystery? by Eddy Mul

by Eddy Mul | Het ORGEL | Year 104 | (2008) | Issue 5

Eddy Mul Bach’s ‘Kleines harmonisches Labyrinth’ – Expression of a divine mystery?
Het ORGEL 104 (2008), nr. 5, 16-21 [summary]

The Kleines harmonisches Labyrinth (BWV 591) by Johann Seb. Bach has 3 parts: Introïtus – Centrum – Exitus. Analysis of the form and the harmony of the composition can lead to a view of the first 13 measures of the composition as the labyrinth. In the short polyphonic section which succeeds it the wanderer might be represented by the (descending) minor second. The passage work, alternating with chords, represents the walk through the labyrinth, in which the wanderer arrives at the Centrum. In the meditative Centrum movement the minor second (metaphor for the wanderer) is used both rising and falling, and chords with many accidentals are eschewed since these chords symbolize the hedges of the labyrinth. The Exitus proceeds more quietly than the Introïtus.
With his labyrinth composition Bach joined the discussion on the significance of the relationship mi-fa (minor second). BWV 591 should perhaps be viewed theologically against the background of an old sacred tradition in which the labyrinth is a metaphor for the soul in its arduous life’s journey (cf. also the mi-fa interval). Bach has as it were equated in his composition the arcanum Divinum (=divine mystery) of ‘fa-mi et mi-fa est tota Musica’ [fa-mi & mi-fa is all of Music] and the arcanum Divinum of the grace of God’s Word.