Category Archives: J.S.Bach

The central reference point for my musical judgement.

Introducing J.S.Bach

Browsing a couple of days ago at the Milton Public Library, I found a new and previous unfamiliar biography of J.S.Bach.

Bach is the center of my musical universe.  He has occupied that position for roughly the past sixty years.  I discovered him — or he was revealed to me — when I was about fifteen; and I’m about to reach the end of my 75th year.  75 – 15 = 60.

My shelf of Bach volumes — excluding the music scores themselves — amounts to three or four feet of books.  This biography from Martin Geck, published in English translation in 2007, was unfamiliar to me; the last major biography I was aware of came from Christoph Wolff at Harvard, which was published in 2000.

My first impression of the new work (formed as I read the first fifty pages) was that it was a distinctly secondary work.  It seemed constructed of footnotes to one of the major biographies: it assumes the reader’s familiarity with all the major events in Bach’s life, offering comments arising from the most recent detailed scholarship.

But now, around pages 100+, more is starting to happen.  I’m starting to learn the political context of Bach’s invitation to Leipzig in 1723: who were the supporters, who the opponents, what was at stake politically and religiously.  Fascinating stuff.  New to my acquaintance.

More Wake-up Music

This morning it was one of those flaky Bach melodies.  I said to myself, Aha, that’s some obscure canon or something that I only heard once, or only read about in Goedel, Escher, Bach twenty years ago.

I was wrong.

I should have known better; I’m not quite good enough, musically, to be able to remember, in any detail, things I’ve only heard once.

It turns out that what awakened me this morning was a passage from the fourth of the Five Canonic Variations on ‘Vom Himmel Hoch’, BWV 769; I’d been intimately acquainted with these since doing a synthesized version about fifteen years ago.

Remind me sometime to tell you about J.S.Bach.  My involvement began when I was around 14.