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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"??


For me,

Originally posted to teacherken on Sat Mar 21, 2009 at 05:41 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  This was a labor of love (31+ / 0-)

    perhaps you will listen to some of the clips I have offered.  Perhaps you will offer some of your own.

    This is Bach Day, one of the most important annual events on my calendar.   How about yours?


    do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

    by teacherken on Sat Mar 21, 2009 at 05:43:07 AM PDT

    •  ken, you should put a warning in the title (5+ / 0-)

      ... about the videos, this will take a bit to download for some people....

      "Toads of Glory, slugs of joy... as he trotted down the path before a dragon ate him"-Alex Hall/ Stop McClintock

      by AmericanRiverCanyon on Sat Mar 21, 2009 at 05:58:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  umm - what is this doing on the rec list? (6+ / 0-)

      on behalf of Bach I am exceedingly grateful, but it must be a very slow day for that to happen, even for what will probably be a very short visit.

      Currently listening on XM78 to a piece not very well known -  I had only heard it because of working my way through the box set of all of Bach's music.  It is the Mass in A Major.  

      XM will conclude their celebration tonight with the B Minor mass.  And I will listen, perhaps with eyes closed, perhaps following with my piano score, perhaps even with my fading voice singing along with favorite parts.


      and Peace.

      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sat Mar 21, 2009 at 06:17:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  if you have XM (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RonV, dotalbon, deweysmom

      you can turn to 78 for all Bach, all the time, all day, ending with the B Minor Mass beginning around 9 PM EDT this evening.

      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sat Mar 21, 2009 at 06:40:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Darn it all; (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      teacherken, RonV, dotalbon

      I had a whole bunch of stuff to do, and now I'm hooked on Johnny-B for the rest of the day.  One good thing about it, though, is that the kids stopped arguing with each other---and are all hunkered down in front of the computer.

      Somebody---anybody---get this thing on the rec-list, please.  It's so much more than merely worthy of such placement....

      When Conservatives coined the phrase, "Better Dead than Red," did they ever envision "red" being synonymous with "Republican?"

      by Liberal Panzer on Sat Mar 21, 2009 at 08:26:31 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Rostropovich flew to Berlin when the Wall... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      teacherken, RonV, DustyMathom

      was coming down so that he could sit on the street near Checkpoint Charlie and play one of Bach's unaccompanied Suites for Cello. There is a moving video of the occasion now at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum at the nexus of the old East and West Berlins.

      Bach's music also played a role in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis. On November 27th, 1962, mere weeks after the crisis, Robert Shaw and his Chorale performed the magnificent Mass in B Minor in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. The audience was full of senior Communist Party officials and senior Red Army officers replete with uniforms and medals. During the performance Shaw thought that everything was going well, but at the conclusion he quickly strode offstage and was surprised that there was no applause. Puzzled, for he did not think that the performance had been bad at all, he peeked around the corner of the stage to find the audience simply sitting in stunned silence, utterly overwhelmed. The moment of stunned silence quickly ended, and the audience quickly arose and gave an enthusiastic standing ovation lasting more than a half hour. The entire performance--including the lengthy standing ovation--was broadcast live throughout the Soviet Bloc. Within the space of a few weeks the members of that audience had gone from the very brink of annihilation to savoring the most sublime affirmation of the human mind and spirit.

      One of my personal favorites is the Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor (BWV 542). Here is a fair performance. I recall listening to a live performance at a cathedral in Denmark and marvelling at the inventiveness, structure, and power of the music--and of the mind of universal genius who created it.

      Yes, it has been a very good week on WETA-FM.

  •  Nice post- my fave is the 'little' in G minor (5+ / 0-)

    "What has not been examined impartially has not been well examined. Skepticism is therefore the first step toward truth." - Denis Diderot (1713-84)

    by windje on Sat Mar 21, 2009 at 05:54:15 AM PDT

  •  I've played Toccata and Fugue in D Minor as... (4+ / 0-)

    part of a handbell group.

    Not for the faint of heart!

    Thanks for this collection, especially the Swingle Singers & Bobby McFerrin links.  Will enjoy going back/Bach to listen.

    If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

    by AnnieJo on Sat Mar 21, 2009 at 05:55:41 AM PDT

  •  I shall resist the urge... (8+ / 0-) post any PDQ Bach.  :-)

    Good morrow, Ken.

  •  Well thanks teacherken. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, RonV, TexMex, ER Doc

    I'm off to get some brie, grapes and Pino Grigio.

    Thanks for setting the mood, and have a wonderful day.

  •  Bach is my favorite composer, too (6+ / 0-)

    although I don't play anything, I do listen.

    I just got what looks like a fascinating book - although I haven't had time to even open it yet - the art of fugue: Bach fugues for keyboard by Joseph Kerman, which comes with a CD that has both music and scores.

  •  Gotta admit Bach is far from (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, RonV, Granny Doc

    my favorite -- like listening to a musical sewing machine, I've always thought. But it's always good to reexamine (facile) prejudices and this diary is an opportunity to do that. Thanks!

    BTW, the cello suite (particularly how it resolves itself at the end of the prelude) has always been one of my favorite moments in all music, so it's not like I'm untouched by everything he ever wrote.  

  •  A personal thanks for lifting our (6+ / 0-)

    eyes from the AIG Mud Hole, and elevating the moment.

    Subtlety is the art of saying what you think and getting out of the way before it is understood.

    by Granny Doc on Sat Mar 21, 2009 at 06:25:09 AM PDT

  •  Thank you... (0+ / 0-)

    Very, very nice contribution to DK.

  •  Quotes about JS Bach by musicians (12+ / 0-)

    "There is only one source which inexhaustibly provides new ideas: Johann Sebastian Bach." (Robert Schumann)

    "He is the Good Lord of music, to whom musicians should offer a prayer before setting to work." (Claude Debussy)

    "The ocean" (Beethoven)

    "The Greatest Miracle in all music." (Wagner)

    Johann Sebastian Bach - the "beginning and end of all music" (Max Reger)

    "In him we behold the most distant reaches of perfection attainable by man." (Paul Hindemith)

    "The first 12 tone composer....  There is no greater perfection in music than in Bach.  No Beethoven, or Haydn, not even a Mozart, who was closest to it, ever obtained such perfection." (Schoenberg)

    "I have seen things by the famous organist of Weimar, Herr Joh. Sebastian Bach, both for the church and for the hand that are certainly such as must make one esteem the man highly." (Mattheson)

    ...the greatest events in my lifetime -- the unification of Germany under Bismarck and the publication of the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach. (Brahms)

    "Johann Sebastian Bach had few rivals and no peers."  (Aaron Copland)

    "...who am I to argue with the greatest composer who ever lived? ... I have one book of Bach's letters, 'The Bach Reader,' which is probably one of the most boring books ever compiled on Earth. I love it! 'This trumpet player is insufferable. I need more firewood. Can we get a new choir? I need more firewood. We need some more money. That trumpet player...' I enjoy this! This feels autobiographical; I can relate to this!"  (Steven Reich)

    (of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier) - "Mozart and Beethoven and Chopin and Schumann, they played this music every day.  And much later Bartok and Pablo Cassals too. It is the Old Testament of Music....  If I had one wish it would have to have met Bach and to have heard him play the organ.  It must have been extraordinary."  (Andras Schiff, pianist)

    "Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Weber, Liszt...  all of them learned how to compose by playing Bach on the piano....  It is interesting that he writes the most difficult music intellectually, the most powerful music emotionally, and at the same time he writes the hardest music to play among all of the composers we have.  It's a very extraordiary achievement and above all to me it's extraordiary when you think that almost all of this was done in what amounted to a backwater, in Leipzig, at a town where he was known internationlly only to  a very small group of amateurs and connoseurs, and had absolutedly no public recognition until nearly a hundred years after his death.  (Charles Rosen, pianist)

    "The immortal god of harmony."  (Beethoven)

    •  Listening to Schiff play Bach (8+ / 0-)

      was one of the great additions to my life in recent years.  He has a natural affinity for the music.

      I do love the Brahms quote -  given that this is mainly a political blog, that seems somehow appropriate.

      And given that this is the 200th year of the birth of Mendelssohn, we should also acknowledge the role he played in the general public rediscovering Bach with his performance of n abbreviated version of the Matthias Passion in Berlin in 1829, the first time it was ever performed outside of the city of Leipzig, where Bach had written it for Good Friday at the Thomas Kirche in 1727.

      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sat Mar 21, 2009 at 06:38:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The Chaconne and Partita for solo violin (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, RonV, deweysmom

    are my favorite Bach pieces.

    No glamour - just raw music.

    Baroque in one instrument.

  •  If I had to pick a favorite compser, it would (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RonV, Heart of the Rockies

    be Mozart, but there are so many good ones: Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgski, Bach, Beethoven, W S Gilbert (he was the one who did the music, didn't he?), and, yes, Leonard Bernsten.

    Bernstein worked very hard at musical education, too.

    i can't watch [Obama] speak on tv for more than 5 minutes or else what he's saying starts to make sense to me. It's very scary.

    by Kimball Cross on Sat Mar 21, 2009 at 06:42:19 AM PDT

  •  I read Matt Taibi and Stiglitz (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, dotalbon, Susipsych, deweysmom

    then came here and listened to the chaconne and started crying.

    Thank you.  Peace.

  •  To think that Bach had to write music every week (6+ / 0-)

    for church services, including his cantatas, organ works and other service music.  He couldn't just go to his small repertoire and pull something, he had to write it, teach it, and inspire with it, week after week.  And he succeeded.  His work is a testament to his great faith and continues to inspire.  Many think he can be boring but those people have heard mediocre church organists play his music uninspired.  If I can't be inspired when I play it and have a congregation understand the inspiration, I may as well play something else.

    Now I must go off to play something, anything.  I need to sit at the keyboard and be inspired.

    Home is where you can scratch where it itches.

    by deweysmom on Sat Mar 21, 2009 at 08:26:20 AM PDT

  •  teacherken, thank you for sharing (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    your great love of Bach with us.   I'm just overwhelmed.

    When I saw you'd included the Swingle Singers, I looked for Wendy Carlos (nee Walter Carlos) and some "Switched-On Bach". No?  Oh well.  I also loved an old Nonesuch recording called "Jazz Guitar Bach", which never made it CD, alas.  Has any composer ever proved so successful in so many interpretations?    

    As a (very) amateur pianist, I love playing Bach because he is playable.  Of course Glenn Gould's Bach doesn't sound anything like mine, but with effort and practice one can make a pretty good showing of the two- and three-part inventions.  

    Their cause, if they had one, is nothing to them now. They hate for hate's sake. (W.H. Auden)

    by dotalbon on Sat Mar 21, 2009 at 01:31:54 PM PDT

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