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This Week in History March 23-29, 1685

The Birth of a 'Founding Father' - the Grand Political Strategist, J.S. Bach

By David Shavin
March 2014

J.S. Bach holding a canon from his "Goldberg" Variations.

This week, in 1983, President Reagan shocked the nation and the world in announcing his offer to the Soviet Union, to share the fruits of a mission to render nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete. With the development of new technologies, explicitly based upon new physical principles - including those at the frontiers of plasma physics - any country foolish enough to rely upon the MAD doctrine of building offensive missiles, would bankrupt themselves, building dinosaurs costing many times what it would cost to intercept and destroy them.

The story of the role of Lyndon LaRouche, then 60, in developing the strategic defense policy, and in serving as a back-channel to Russia for that policy on behalf of Reagan's National Security Council, is no secret amongst those who have any pretension of basic literacy in world developments.[1] It is especially pertinent for those who, today, object to 'rolling the dice' on a thermonuclear showdown with Russia. Rather than the 'wet dreams' of those who would push ABM systems to the border of Russia, fantasizing that they can 'jimmy' the odds of a victorious, survivable first strike, we might hear, with some joy, Dmitri Rogozin's SDE offer - the Strategic Defense of Earth - modelled upon LaRouche's SDI. Instead, we have the mental breakdown of a President, threatening Rogozin with the seizure of assets that don't exist.[2]

Perhaps a less well-known story of grand political strategy, one involving Johann Sebastian Bach and his bold intervention upon King Frederick the Great, in defense of the scientific policy-making genius of Gottfried Leibniz, may help put matters back into perspective.

This week, we celebrate the birth, in 1685[3], of the unparalleled musical genius, J S Bach. At the age of 62, Bach travelled from his home in Leipzig to the Potsdam court (near Berlin) of King Frederick II. A decades-long brawl, over a Leibnizian policy for European civilization, had come to a head around the young king. Bach's "Musical Offering" intervention upon Frederick and his court represented the most coherent and powerful presentation of Leibniz's superior method of statecraft, since Leibniz's own 1715/16 intervention into the English court, recorded in the "Leibniz-Clarke" letters.

In 1700, Frederick's grandmother, Queen Sophie Charlotte of Prussia, had established the Prussian Academy under Leibniz's design and leadership. The idea, too simply stated, was to push the frontiers of science and culture, as the key for nation-building and statecraft. By 1713, Leibniz's national Academy project had spread to Peter the Great's Russia and to Emperor Charles VI's Vienna. Frederick's great-grandmother, Leibniz's patroness, Sophie, was next in line to rule England. The Grand Design of a European civilization, with nation-states basing their existence upon the development of qualitative breakthroughs in science, threatened to put an end to centuries of petty quarreling over limited resources and induced backwardness.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

The "Venetian Party" of England manufactured a slander campaign against Leibniz, which we know today as the 'Leibniz-vs-Newton-Controversy', ostensibly over the invention of the calculus. Basically, Leibniz's powerful combination of a) integrative 'unified field theory' methods, methods 'from the top', and b) differential, analytical techniques down to the microscopic level, were reduced to their numerical applications in one area, now called the calculus. Then, in 1713, a committee of Britain's Royal Society ruled that Newton had invented the calculus first. Of course, the author of the committee report upholding Newton as the inventor was... Newton himself. (Those who believe in the 'Invisible Hand' would probably find nothing embarassing in this procedure.) King George I of England, Sophie's son, tried to use this report as the basis for having Charles VI break off his collaboration with Leibniz. When in 1714, following the deaths of Sophie, the heir to the throne, and of England's Queen Anne, George I and the Hanover court moved to London, Leibniz was ordered to stay behind in Hanover. He fought, from a distance, his marvelous epistemological war on behalf of his last student, the Crown Princess Caroline (later, the Queen to King George II). The 'Venetian Party' targetted Caroline to isolate and contain the 'Leibniz virus'. The 'case officer' was one Antonio Conti, the controller and manipulator of Newton during this period. The Leibniz-Clarke papers display Leibniz's fight, in his last two years, for man, made in the image of a Creator God, with the capacity and the responsibility of coming to know, master and garden the created world - as opposed to man existing at the whim and pleasure of an arbitrary god (Zeus), alternating between fear from his lowly status, and elation over the possibility of manipulating the gambling odds of the House.

Between 1736 and 1746, the young prince, and then young king, Frederick, was drawn occasionally toward the Leibnizians (men such as Count Schaumburg-Lippe, Count von Bruehl, Kielmansegge, Manteuffel, Keyserling and Bach's son, Carl Philip Emanuel); but more often, he was controlled by the Newtonians (Voltaire, Maupertuis, Euler and Algarotti). As of 1745, Leibnizian investigations included that of the invisible medium of the electrical aether, in experiments in Leipzig, St. Petersburg, Cassel and Leyden - experiments that the Berlin Academy still promoted. (A fortunate product of the Berlin Academy reports was that, by 1747, these experiments would electrify the imagination of Benjamin Franklin.)In 1746, Voltaire's accomplice, the pretentious Pierre Louis Maupertuis, as the new president of Leibniz's Academy, in short order turned the Academy into a bad joke. He announced a shocking 'prize essay' competition to trivialize Leibniz's concept of the 'monad'.

Leibniz's scientific method, inclusive of his 'monad' conception, defied the pretense that one could build up competent analyses from dead things. A singularity in a creative universe must be alive, and coherent with a mind, or a personal identity. However, Maupertuis arranged a phony contest, with the prize pre-arranged for a hireling named Justi. To Maupertuis' credit, the 'Invisible Hand' had to work a bit harder than Newton's crude fraud. What Maupertuis didn't count upon was the strategic intervention in defense of Leibniz's scientific methods from the musician, Bach.

In Leipzig, in 1746, Bach could not have missed hearing about the ugliness coming out of Berlin. A student at the University of Leipzig, the 17-year-old Gotthold Lessing, mocked Maupertuis' pretensions, in a youthful play. The play featured a character who makes a fool of himself as an academic fop, writing an essay on monads, without any actual sense of the richness of the subject. Lessing's cousin, Christlob Mylius, was also studying there, working on an analysis of the atmosphere under the Leibnizian professor, Abraham Kaestner.[4] As evidenced by a poem that Kaestner composed for Mylius (in honor of his trip to America in 1753), Kaestner and Mylius had more than a few discussions about Kepler and astronomy - and Kaestner highly valued Mylius' ear for musical harmonies. It is also reported that Kaestner himself had been a student of Bach a decade earlier.

Another of Bach's students, a C. L. Mizler, had established in 1738 - about the time of Kaestner's reported studies with Bach - a "Societaet der Musikalischen Wissenschaften." The twenty or so members circulated and discussed papers on the science of music. Though clearly inspired by Bach, he saw no reason to join this group - preferring to let his performances do his talking for him - until, that is, 1746.     After many years of keeping an arm's distance from Mizler's 'scientific music' society, Bach arranged for a required portrait to be submitted to the society - the famous portrait by Hausmann, portraying Bach with his six-part puzzle-canon from the "Goldberg" pedagogic canons. Back in 1741, Bach had made his first visit to Berlin, visiting his son, C P E Bach, the pianist for the king. Bach's inspired "Goldberg" variations were composed for Count Keyserling, the key advocate for Bach in the king's circle. (The variations are named for Keyserling's pianist, Goldberg.) In addition, Bach had provided a set of fourteen canons, unpacking the various transformational possibilities of the thematic material. This is what Bach chooses to highlight in his 1746 portrait. And then in 1747, after he had returned from Berlin, but before he had finished the "Musical Offering", Bach composed special canonic variations for the Society, on a well-known (and non-academic) Christmas song, "Von Himmel hoch". Given that he had avoided work with Mizler's group for eight years, and that he had had a open invitation to visit Potsdam for at least the previous six years, it would appear that Bach's 1746 decision to intervene and take leadership in the Society were of a piece with his 1747 decision to intervene against the travesties of Maupertuis and Voltaire in Berlin.

Bach was well-briefed on the strengths and weaknesses of Frederick's personality. Frederick had surprised Europe at his military prowess in his first five years as king. However, Bach clearly knew from his son, Emanuel, that Frederick's musical sensibilities betrayed a monarch who was, as yet, still a work in progress. Frederick did not understand music as a science of the mind. And even in just being pleasantly entertained by playing his flute, he wasn't being brought into that world. Rather, the king's development was seized up by his desire to 'cut a good figure'. Or, as Emanuel, who played music with Frederick almost daily, would offer, most succinctly, as the proper encapsulization of Frederick's problem: "If you think the King loves music, you are wrong; he only loves to play the flute. But if you believe that he loves to play the flute, you are wrong again; he only loves his flute."

By January, 1747, unusually quickly after the contest's announcement, Maupertuis' administrator of the prize essay 'contest', Leonhard Euler, had Justi's prize-winning refutation of Leibniz in his hands. The official and ostensible 'leading' Leibnizian, Christian Wolff, blustered and complained - but his party was neither competent in their conception of Leibniz's work, nor, consequently, courageous in his defense. Professor Wolff had earned his position for his abilities to water down and misrepresent Leibniz's thought. Years later, Euler would describe the contest he administered as the "most complete refutation of the monadists." His smug description (in 1761 letters to a pair of Frederick's female cousins) bragged that Wolff's "followers, who were then much more numerous and more formidable than at present, exclaimed in high terms against the partiality and injustice of the Academy; and their chief had well-night proceeded to launch the thunder of a philosophical anathema against it. I do not now recollect to whom we are indebted for the care of averting this disaster..." Euler was well aware that Count Dohna, and other powers around the court, would apply whatever threats were needed. However, it is not clear whether the good Professor actually needed more than a stern look.[5]   


JS Bach’s Pedagogical Method

Bach came to Potsdam on Sunday, May 7, 1747. The evening he arrived, he was shown to King Frederick II, who was performing his flute with C P E Bach at the keyboard. Frederick - most likely by pre-arrangement with Count Keyserling and C P E Bach - presented Bach with the "Musical Offering" theme. Bach immediately extemporized a three-voiced version of the material. The king proferred a request for a six-voice treatment, and Bach played a different six-voice piece - quite possibly, the "Goldberg" canon material that Bach had highlighted in the Hausmann portrait.

Within a couple of days, Bach announced that he would develop the King's theme into the six voices that it deserved. Bach explained about his three-voice version: "I noticed very soon ... that, for lack of necessary preparation, the execution of the task did not fare as well as such an excellent theme demanded. I resolved therefore and promptly pledged myself to work out this right Royal theme more fully, and then make it known to the world ... ." Within two months, that is, in early July, Bach produced an engraved copper masterpiece, comprising the "Musical Offering": the original extemporized three-voice version, from Bach's memory; a new, fully-realized six-voice masterpiece; and in-between, ten different canons. In the dedication, he established a public standard for the King to live up to: "... it has none other than this irreproachable intent, to glorify, if only in a small point, the fame of a monarch whose greatness and power, as in all the sciences of war and peace, so especially in music, everyone must admire and revere." If the king thinks he has done well in his first military campaigns, and in the temporary peace that had been established, let Frederick come to be admired for his mastery of the science of music.

A pair of the ten canons have instructions written for the king. In the "Canon a 2 per Augmentationem, contrario Motu," the notes stretch out in length (the "augmentationen"), and this causes wholly new internal relations of the parts to come to light. Bach advises, "And as the notes grow, so may the King's Fortune." And in the "Canon a 2 per Tonos", a much deeper 'growth' of the notes takes hold. Each time the canon come back around to a new beginning, it is now, unusually, one whole step higher than before. The two voices, in their two curious paths rising, each, one whole-step every cycle, carve out all the half-steps of the scale. This is not just 'alluding' to the half-steps. Bach establishes and measures the lawful role and place of each living component of the scale. His instruction to the King is, "And as the modulation rises, so may the King's Glory."

Similar to the canons pulled out of the "Goldberg Variations", these were pedagogical aides - that is, puzzles that presented various, individual aspects of the musical idea. Once the original thematic idea had been taken apart (e.g., examined upside down, frontwards and backwards, stretched out, and reflected against itself in different proportions), the wealth of possible connections to be developed could be integrated into a larger, more powerful fugue of greater voices. (The former is sometimes called 'differentiation' and the latter 'integration'.) The extent of the vocal-multiplicity was as measureable as the amount of credit needed for a revolution in physical production methods. Better than a magic act, the listener was allowed to solve layers of puzzles, equipping both his mind's ear with greater power, and his mind itself with a wonderful mirror to examine how it systematically builds up its powers. Bach also provided Frederick with a dessert, to celebrate the process - a four-movement sonata which 'sings' the fugal material, set for the King to play on his flute, with accompaniment, including Emanuel Bach on keyboard.

This author developed a more complete treatment of Bach's ten pedagogies[6], but the simple, Leibnizian point is that: Man is a living singularity in the created universe, a model, as it were, of the 'monad'. Man is drawn by beauty to investigate the rich world around him. Even as we investigate individual (partial) aspects of a multiply-connected, not-fully-known universe, we're capable of re-evaluating the whole picture that would have to be responsible for the parts that we are able to assimilate. We are that microscopic part of the whole universe that can mirror the character of creation.

That is the role of a citizen in a republic. How else could a republic survive? Further, that is the reason why a sovereign republic requires strategic artists/thinkers, so as to properly tap into the 'wealth' of its 'microscopic' potentialities - that is, the human individuals, the society's "monads". Hence, Bach's successful defense of Leibniz's statecraft.


It is unclear how closely Frederick studied Bach's strategic lesson. Certainly, his most famous double-flanking, military victory at Leuthen in 1757, reflected a confidence in Frederick's mind that he could run circles around the Euclidean mind-set of the Austrian officers. And as late as 1774, twenty-seven years after the meeting, Frederick has a strong memory of old Bach. At a concert of Bach's son, Wilhelm Friedemann, Frederick interrupts discussion about the powerful capability of Wilhelm, to make the point of the father's genius of a higher order. Unsolicited, he sings the "Musical Offering" theme to Baron von Swieten - though even then, it appears that Frederick is imprecise on the six-dimensional quality of the theme, somehow remembering four- or eight-dimensions.

Regardless, in a nuclear world, we don't have the luxury of not mastering strategic thinking.


[1.] EIR report on history of 3/23/1983 "The Soviets' Fatal Reaction to Reagan and LaRouche" in EIR, Volume 31, Number 24, June 18, 2004 0421_014-on_the_subject_of_missile_defens-lar.pdf

[2.] Rogozin's humorous response to Obama's sanctions: "Obama's Sanctions Against Russian Leaders Bring Laughs in Moscow; Duma Asks Obama to Put Them All on His List!", LaRouche PAC website, March 18, 2014.

[3.] Bach knew the date as March 21. Purists might argue, given the change in calendars, that it is the date that we now call March 31. Either way, he's worth celebrating for all eleven days!

[4.] By 1749, the two cousins would move to Berlin, after Mylius would win a prize essay on astronomy from the Academy.

[5.] Of note, the unabashed Euler goes on, in the same 1761 letter, about the remaining defenders of Leibniz - by which he meant Gotthold Lessing, and his accomplice, Moses Mendelssohn: They were "right in saying that it is a proof of dullness to be incapable of relishing their sublime doctrine [of monads]; it may however be remarked, that here the greatest stupidity is the most successful." Euler didn't explain his theory of "successful stupidity," but shortly after this 1761 letter, steps were taken to silence Mendelssohn - and the very same 1747 prize winner, Justi, was sent in person, in 1761, to convey the threat! Small world.

[6.] "The Strategic Significance of J. S. Bach's 'A Musical Offering'"