Colloquium: David Yearsley (Cornell University): Bach Laughs

Colloquium | November 30 | 4:30 p.m. | 128 Morrison Hall

 Department of Music

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 teaching, history, literature and performance of music. His musicological work investigates literary, social, and theological contexts for music and music making, and while he focuses on J. S. Bach, he has written on topics ranging from music and death to musical invention, from organology and performance to musical representations of public spaces in film, from musical travelers to the joys of the keyboard duet. At Cornell he has taught courses on Bach and Handel, surveys of Western Art Music, keyboard performance, the organ, music journalism, film music, and music theory.

David's 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. 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.

His monograph Sex, Death and Minuets: Anna Magdalena Bach and Her Musical Notebooks is forthcoming from University of Chicago Press. In providing a range of literary, social, historical, and musical perspectives on the cherished musical manuscripts of J. S. Bach's second wife, herself a gifted professional musician, this study radically revises our understanding of women in music in 18th-century Lutheran Germany and within the Bach family.

David's current scholarly project has the working title Bach Laughs, and is a study of the composer as musical humorist.

His research has been supported by fellowships from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, The American Council of Learned Socieites, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.

Also a committed journalist, David has been music critic for the Anderson Valley Advertiser since 1990; his weekly column can be read each Friday at A collection of his feuilletons, Bach and Taxes and Other Matters of Life and Death is in the works.

The only musician ever to win all the major prizes at the Bruges Early Music Festival, David continues to pursue an active career as a performer on keyboards historical and modern. A long-time member of the pioneering synthesizer ensemble Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company, his recordings are available on the Musica Omnia and Loft labels.