Yearsley, David. Alchemy and counterpoint in an Age of Reason. J Amer Musicol Soc 51(2) Jul 1998, 201-243.
This essay demonstrates the importance of alchemy to the theory and practice of learned counterpoint as articulated in the writings of a group of early eighteenth-century German musicians, in particular, those of canon enthusiast and alchemist Heinrich Bokemeyer (1679-1751). While leading eighteenth-century theorists such as Johann Mattheson argued vigorously against the persistence of occult beliefs in music, the correspondence of J. G. Walther with Bokemeyer reveals a lively discourse on the principles of Hermeticism in conjunction with the exchange of counterpoint manuscripts, one of the most important of which was Johann Theile’s Musicalisches Kunstbuch. The title and contents of this collection, as well as the pictorial and contrapuntal features of another of Theile’s creations, the Harmonischer Baum, suggest further links with alchemy. In 1723-24, Bokemeyer became engaged in a dispute with Mattheson over the merits of canon; this debate was published as “Die canonische Anatomie” in Mattheson’s periodical Critica musica. Bokemeyer’s lengthy defense of learned counterpoint draws heavily on alchemical metaphors and Hermetic concepts. Bokemeyer would later become a member, along with J. S. Bach, of Lorenz Mizler’s Societat der Musicalischen Wissenschaften. Bokemeyer may have seen in Bach’s Canonic Variations (BWV 769), presented to the society on Bach’s admission in 1747, a reflection of the aesthetic principles articulated in “Die canonische Anatomie.” While learned counterpoint’s role in composition and pedagogy diminished in the years following the publication of “Die canonische Anatomie,” midcentury theorists such as F. W. Marpurg continued to explore the complex workings of canon, but they did so as enlightened encyclopedists holding none of the occult views that had informed the musical belief system of Bokemeyer and the counterpoint devotees of the previous generation