from the past and into the present. Bach everymore, on this the anniversary of his birth in 1685.
Were I limited to the music of only one composer, it would be Johann Sebastian Bach. Below the fold I will share some examples of his music that carry great meaning for me.
I grew up with music, with all 4 in our household playing multiple instruments, my mother and I piano and cello, my dad and sister violin and viola. I also sang. For piano, cello and voice the wonderful music put out by this genius has been a constant part of my life, and even as in my sixties I approach my dotage - no longer owning a cello or singing with any regularity - I will still wander over to my baby grand and perhaps assay a Partita, a selection from the Well Tempered Klavier, a French or English Suite, or maybe just a figured chorale. And then I am transformed.
I am also transformed by simply listening, as I have been doing a lot recently, and as I will spend much of this day as well, whether on XM78 or my local PBS station (WETA), both of which will focus on Bach.
There is genius in the markings on the page, the dots and lines on staves becoming something far more than the mere sounds one produces. There is a depth, a purity if you will, even a real sense of the divine.
Perhaps one starts with the apparent simplicity of a cello suite: (I own performances by Casals, Ma, and Starker, and never tire of this music)
or maybe one experiences the incredible passion of the D minor concerto for two violins, something that used to make me wish I played violin so that I could perform it with my sister. The slow movement, offered here, can transport me in so many ways:
As a keyboard player, I learned from Glenn Gould how much depth one could derive from simple notes on a page, listening to the Aria of the Goldberg Varioations:
Bach could frustrate me - from Brandenburg #5, where I would want to truly be two people like the Gemini I am, so that I could simultaneously play both keyboard and cell0:
So much of Bach is familiar that we often forget the context. We learn it outside of the context for which it was written, and yet it stands along, perhaps as something almost perfect. Here is the late, great, Dinu Lupati playing a piece of music that comes from a Cantata:
There are those whose performances of Bach are, how can I say, something of which I never tire. Listening to Nathan Milstein play music for a violin by itself is for me one of the world's great experiences, as perhaps you can experience for yourself?
Bach might write music to be performed one instrument or group of instruments, yet that music is so brilliant that we get further depth by hearing it done by different instruments, perhaps from keyboard to human voice, as the Swingle Singers so often demonstrated:
as did Bobby McFerrin:
Bach can offer the beauty and clarity of a simple line, like that just offered. He can also be the master of the complex, as in the great Toccata and Fugue in D minor, which one can experience in it original setting for organ: as well as in the familiar orchestration by Leopold Stokowski:
And if th music provokes strong visual images for you, well, you are not alone, whether it is Dracula : or Walt Disney:
I love the B Minor Mass, even as I understand that unlike much of Bch's choral music it was not written for performance in a church. Whether it is the opening of the Kyrie:
the sheer exuberance of the Gloria:
or the conclusion of the Dona Nobis Pacem, music that appears earlier with different words, but which seems such an appropriate way to end:
Perhaps the one piece of Bach that most has the power to lift my spirits when they sag is from Kantata 78, Jesu der du Meine Seele. It is the wonderful female duet, Wir Eilen Mit Schwachen doch emsigen Schritten (and enjoy the silly/joyful video illustration:
Others make use of Bach's music. Here is Richter playing the original version of the opening Prelude from Book 1 of the Well Tempered Klavier:
And here is how the same music is used as part of Gounod's Ave Maria:
March 21 is a special day for me. Over by my CD player is a book with many CDS, the complete works of Bach, as put out a few year ago by Archive. I have many other cds of specific works or collection. My wife brought the complete Telefunken Cantata set to our household on vinyl.
Bach was a very spiritual man, so much of his work produced for the church. One does not have to believe in God to appreciate his music, yet I suppose that some might be drawn to belief in God because of it.
Perhaps as we approach Easter we should remember the Passion settings Bach did, whether that of the Gospel of John:
or the better known music from his Matthew Passion, here music from the end:
I remember as a child watching Leonard Bernstein explain the Matthew Passion, as one can listen in this selection:
Let me close this celebration with Bach as I truly love him, in a work often performed in many different fashions - keyboard and string quartet being among them. It is an incomplete work. It is an exploration of one idea in many variations, truly the Art of the Fugue, a form in which Bach was an acknowledged master. On keyboard :
by string quartet:
and for some real fun, a saxaphone quartet:
The work is unfinished. So let us end this as Bach did, or rather didn't, in Contrapunctus XIV, on a harpsichord. And before you listen, when you reach that moment when the music ceases, perhaps you like me will not be frustrated, merely challenged to listen to more, to delve more deeply into the many dimensions of this very great creative genius? In any case, even though I - or rather Bach - will leave you "hanging," may I wish you "Peace"??