Sunday, March 21, 2010

Happy Birthday, Bach baby

Church musicians the world over greeted each other today with a nod and a smile that the 5th Sunday of Lent this year shares its cosmic mojo with the 325th anniversary of the birth of J.S. Bach.

Bach’s output as a composer is so extraordinary that it’s impossible to appreciate all at once. The best way in is to really study The St. Matthew Passion, or the Mass in B Minor, or the Goldberg Variations, and then you will be startled over and over at the specific intricacies, the astonishing brilliance of word painting, the depth of the intellectual underpinning of the pieces, the profound reverence of the uber Lutheran.

I’ve wondered why there is no movie of Bach’s life. A musician friend thinks it’s because he had a fairly boring life. He was a family man with 20 children (10 whom lived past infancy) who worked as an organist and a composer, although his genius to compose wasn’t recognized in his lifetime. He married Maria Barbara, and then Anna Magdalena when Maria died. There is no mysterious “Immortal Beloved” woman that gives some sexiness to Beethoven’s life.

This morning I sang the harmony Bach wrote to Isaak’s Innsbruck tune for O esca viatorum (O Food of Exiles Lowly), which transforms the piece entirely. After the piece our very talented music director Preston Smith elegantly slipped “Happy Birthday” into the organ improvisation that followed on the theme. Bach’s disciples honor the big man in many wonderful ways.

Here's Richter with the second 2 movements of the Italian Concerto. The Andante is very famous, used in many movies for a sad or rainy scene. It doesn't "sound" particularly like Bach. The Presto is typical J.S. fireworks, up and down the keyboard, faster than human fingers have a right to move.


dorki said...

Thank you for that post, M.A.! The Presto was a welcome change from the tiresome, gloomy day here. Old Bach wrote some stuff that really boogies on out.

I must very soon set about ripping my LP collection of JSB organ works to my iTunes library.

M.A.Peel said...

JSB on the iPod. Don't you just love that? The man is eternal.

Michael said...

Thanks, M.A. - lovely post! Several years ago, on the occasion of Bach's birthday, I heard the morning DJ on WQXR say that even though Bach's name in English means "stream", his musical output and influence were oceanic in size. True indeed!

Lately, I've been listening to a recording of his "Well-Tempered Clavier", interpreted by Glenn Gould. No matter how many times I've heard it, it never gets old.

M.A.Peel said...

Hi Mike, welcome. Have you seen the amazing footage of Glenn Gould on youtube? It's utterly fascinating and compelling.