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Life of Bach
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Bach, Händel and the English 'Doctor'

Tom Dent wrote (March 15, 2005):
I reproduce without permission an excerpt from John Lienhard. The usual disclaimer applies... "No similarity to any persons living or dead is indended or should be inferred."

'(...) the two greatest composers of their age worked at their art without meeting. Händel created some of the most festive baroque music and Bach some of the most introspective. [Note added: And vice versa.] Both worked until their eyes failed.

'And here we meet a third character: John Taylor. Taylor, born the son of an apothecary in 1703, studied medicine and specialized in ophthalmology. He soon rose to the post of eye doctor to King George II and became a shameless self-promoter.

'By the time Bach and Händel began losing their sight, Taylor was traveling widely on the continent. During a visit to Leipzig in 1749, Taylor operated on Bach's ailing eyes. When the first operation failed, he tried a second one. After those operations, Bach's blindness was total and his health failed. He died less than a year later. Taylor had probably killed him.

'By then Taylor's unsavory reputation was well known. As early as 1740, an anonymous comic opera, The Operator, ridiculed him. Samuel Johnson called him "an instance of how far impudence will carry ignorance."

'You'd think that Händel, the surgeon's son, would've known better. But in 1751 he too submitted to Taylor's knife, and he too came out none the better for the surgery.

(...)

'Taylor, by the way, went blind before his own death in 1772.'

 

Bach & Diabets

Doug Cowling wrote (April 2, 2005):
Ludwig wrote:
< Beethoven probally died of type two Diabetes which can also cause deafness, heart problems and the kidney failure that he experience. In those days it was unrecognized and people died from it but thanks to dog experments at McGill University in Canada in 1920---not only did insulin come along but a much better treatment of diabetes. >
Which brings us back to Bach whom some suggest died of complications caused by diabetes.

Teddy Kaufman wrote (April 2, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] Thank you Doug for this most interesting information.

For more accurate details, our list members are referred to the following web site: http://www.emedicine.com/med/byname/papillary-necrosis.htm

Tom Dent wrote (April 2, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] Before you read this be informed that I can't resist a joke in very bad taste... The undoubted cause of Bach's death was a massive organ failure.

Ludwig wrote (April 3, 2005):
[To Tom Dent] As one who also has type II; the more I think about it the more I think that Bach was diabetic. His blindness coming is going is certainly and example of one of the effects of Diabetes along with neuropathy. However, we do not know enough about Bach's illnesses to be as certain as we do about Beethoven whose life was recorded at the time just as movie stars are noticed to day.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 3, 2005):
[To Ludwig] Wouldn't he have had a lot of symptoms before reaching his 60s if that were the case? It's true that pictures show him as being portly, so type II diabetes is certainly a possibility. But how could he have gone so long without bad health?

Ludwig wrote (April 3, 2005):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Type II Diabetes is a late onset type of diabetes that comes on very slowly most times and then in my case overnight as the result of severe stress. There is no set time when it strikes---it can come on when a person is in their 40s or in the case of my mother at age 70. Her father developed full blown Type I diabetes at an early age but to develop type II you do not have to have a family history.

There are many diabetic people who do not know that they are---so if you are 40 and over you should be tested at least once a year---more if you gain a lot of weight suddenly,have a great thirst, frequently up at night going to the toilette, suddenly have no sexual interest when before you were rather randy, have blurred vision or temporary blindness,parts of your body seem to go to sleep with no feeling (neuropathy), fall asleep after eating easily, sleep too much or not enough and stay that way for days to months at a time or you behave strangely and have the odor of acetone about you. Untreated it gets progressively worse and you die from liver failure, kidney failure and heart failure or strokes coming from clogged arteries caused by diabetes.

In Bach's day there was no treatment and the life expectancy for type I was less than a month and for type II could be as little as a year or more.

What Bach probally died of was probally not directly from diabetes but from the side effects it causes such as eye problems diabetes causes. If you recall reading his biography---he had eye surgery at least twice. Judging on the basis of my medical training ---it sounds like Bach had glaucoma---but we can not be absolutely sure of this as his sight suddenly became normal again after one of his surgeries. Glaucoma patients nearly always have to have thick prescription lenses after surgery and these were available then.

In those days; doctors did not use sterile fields, were poorly trained by today's standards, used dirty scapels and having surgery was a messy dirty affair with no anesthetic or pain killers used (opium was available) and no effective anti-biotics were available. People died from the infections that the surgery gave bacteria breeding space to rather than the surgery itself. Hospitals wer almost non-existent and people only went to the hospital to die.

Bach probally was able to delay many of the symptoms and effects because of the walking and work that was required in those days. However proper diet and exercise can not completely keep it away---one needs medication that was not available in Bach's time and it was only in 1920 that Banting and Best were able to develop insulin that could treat both. These days, unless the case is severe---most type two diabetics can live normal lives with pills, proper diet and exercise.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 3, 2005):
William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote:
>>What Bach probally died of was probally not directly from diabetes but from the side effects it causes such as eye problems diabetes causes. If you recall reading his biography---he had eye surgery at least twice. Judging on the basis of my medical training---it sounds like Bach had glaucoma---but we can not be absolutely sure of this as his sight suddenly became normal again after one of his surgeries. Glaucoma patients nearly always have to have thick prescription lenses after surgery and these were available then.<<
Yoshitake Kobayashi, probably the world's best expert on Bach's handwriting, prepared the NBA IX/2 volume "Die Notenschrift Johann Sebastian Bachs: Dokumentation ihrer Entwicklung." As the title indicates, this volume tracks all the changes in Bach's handwriting over the course of his lifetime. While normal aging characteristics can be observed toward the end of Bach's life, Kobayashi points particularly to an important juncture in August 1748 when quite suddenly many of his notation symbols and formation of letters appear definitely deformed. This 'handwriting crisis' then continues until October 1749 when he was forced to give up his handwriting activity completely due to problems with his eyesight. On page 184 Kobayashi reports regarding August 1748: "Zu dieser Zeit begann seine [Bachs] Schrift sich spürbar zu verschlechtern. Wie bereits in der Einleitung dargestellt, sind viele Zeichen und buchstaben deformiert. Diese krisenhafte Schrift bessert sich nicht mehr, bis Bach im October 1749 wegen seines Augenleidens die Schreibarbeit ganz aufgeben muß."

Bach's efforts evident in his late copy of the 'Credo' and 'Benedictus' (examples Kobayashi chooses to illustrate Bach's final phase (August 1748-October 1749) are even more tragic: further deformation of letters and notation, the spaced between the lines of the staff get large, increasingly greater insecurity in his handwriting, greater carelessness in forming letters ("the niveau of his handwriting sinks dramatically"). Since the lines become fatter/thicker ("which is more favorable for persons with poor eyesight"), it was thought by many that this was due to Bach's eye problems, but Kobayashi discovered that Bach here went through a special preparatory stage: he used a bright, very pale ink to sketch the letters first, before using thicker, darker ink. This, Kobayashi states, would be an entirely inappropriate procedure for anyone with poor eyesight to use. Kobayashi sees the main cause for Bach's deteriorating handwriting in a 'motor problem' where insecurity in drawing treble clefs (Bach is unable to create and equal roundness to the curved lines) or in the 'trembling,' shaky lines is evident. Bach now tended to slant letters more toward the left and not even attempt to write them in a flowing cursive line, but rather separate one letter from the next in the middle of a word. It all begins to appear "wie eine ungeübte Kinderhandschrift, in der einzelne Zeichen mühsam 'gemalt' werden" ["like an unpracticed handwriting of a child, in which each character has to be 'drawn' with great effort."]

Teddy Kaufman wrote (April 3, 2005):
Bach & Händel

Ludwig wrote:
" ...In those days; doctors did not use sterile fields, were poorly trained by today's standards, used dirty scapels and having surgery was a messy dirty affair with no anesthetic or pain killers used (opium was available) and no effective anti-biotics were available. People died from the infections that the surgery gave bacteria breeding space to rather than the surgery itself".
Both Bach and Händel were unsuccessfully operated upon for Catararct by Chevalier John Taylor, a London Eye Surgeon.

In this regard, Edward MacDowell claimed as follows:

"Bach and Händel were in every way quite different, except that both were born in the same year and killed by the same doctor." (Cited by Audrey Wong )

Cara Emily Peterson wrote (April 5, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Hmmm...I thought Bach died of a stroke. I guess I was just not reading correctly or something. Fair enough.

John Pike wrote (April 5, 2005):
[To Cara Emily Peterson] There are certainly reports saying that he had a stroke as part of his final illness. It is perfectly possible that he had dibetes as well, contributing to the stroke, and it is also possible that there were severe complications following the failed eye surgery which also contributed.

Teddy Kaufman wrote (April 5, 2005):
[To John Pike] Bach's blindness also has been of much interest to the medical community.

In this regard, I managed to collect some papers published during the past half entury, as follows:

Malina J.[The care of Bach and Händel with a knight-errant]
Lege Artis Med. 1998 Dec;8(12):916-9. Dolezalova V. [ Johann Sebastian Bach and his blindness on the 250th anniversary of the artist's death]
Cesk Slov Oftalmol. 2001 Jan;57(1):68-71. Gejrot T. [Johann Sebastian Bach's mortal remains found and identified after an assidious detective work]
Lakartidningen. 2000 Aug 9;97(32-33):3520-1. Stiefelhagen P.["Much delighted thus the eyes peacefully closed..." Thoughts on the 250th anniversary of the death of Johann Sebastian Bach]
Internist (Berl). 2000 Aug;41(8):776-8. Kubba AK, Young M.Johann Sebastian Bach's disastrous operation.
Int J Clin Pract. 1997 Jul-Aug;51(5):318-20. Leikert S.[Discourse of music and inscription of the father's name in the "Wohltemperierten Klavier" by Johann Sebastian Bach]
Psyche (Stuttg). 1996 Mar;50(3):218-43.
Peipert JF, Roberts CS.Wilhelm His, Sr.'s finding of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Am J Cardiol. 1986 Apr 15;57(11):1002. Lindeboom GA.[Johann Sebastian Bach's eye operation and his surgeon Sir John Taylor]
Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 1985 Dec 21;129(51):2458-62. Jackson DM.Bach, Händel, and the Chevalier Taylor.
Med Hist. 1968 Oct;12(4):385-93. Palazzi S.[Some observations on the skull and dentition of Johann Sebastian Bach]
Rass Trimest Odontoiatr. 1965 Oct-Dec;46(4):485-6. BAER KA.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) in medical history.
Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1951 Jul;39(3):206-11.

Olle Hedström wrote (April 5, 2005):
[To Teddy Kaufman] How do I proceed specifically to find these medical reports about Bach?
Are they available somewhere on the net for example?
I Iook forward to your answer.

Ludwig wrote (April 6, 2005):
[To John Pike] For sure the eye surgery probally took Bach somewhat before his time when we consider that Surgeons of that era knew nothing abour sterile fields and were just as likely to use a dirty kitchen knife to do surgery as not to and often did surgery under that same conditions as a battlefield. Such practices left the wounds created as breeding grounds for staph and strep---both in Bach's day were enough to kill someone. Even without this eye surgery in those days was more or less an expermental procedure. One thing that does suggest Diabetes is that he suddenly became blind and then just as miraculously his sight came back.

Robert Sherman wrote (April 6, 2005):
[To Ludwig] It's my understanding that the "surgery" performed on Bach's eyes -- and on Händel's, by the same person with the same dismal result -- didn't involve a knife or incision. It consisted of rapping on the eye with a blunt instrument -- shaped about like the unsharpened end of a pencil -- to jar loose the lens which had become clouded by cataracts. This was a horribly painful procedure, with probability of success very low, but I hadn't heard that it caused infection.

Teddy Kaufman wrote (April 6, 2005):
Olle Hedström wrote:
< How do I proceed specifically to find these medical reports about Bach ? >
You can find the original articles at any library of a University Hospital .I am sure the libriarian would be of much help to you.

Note: some of the papers are written in various languages and hence, should be translated.

 

Seriousness : the horrible truth about Mr M.

Continue of discussion from: Performance of Bach's Vocal Works - General Discussions - Part 3 [General Topics]

Alain Bruguieres wrote (July 30, 2005):
I know that one should be especially careful when posting stuff which may hurt feelings, in this case, the feelings of Mattheson's fervent admirers. Still truth will out, and I cannot remain silent, especially since I have previously unjustly accused an innocent and my duty is to re-establish the truth in this matter.

Perhaps some of you remember the irrefutable evidence I gave here about Bach's assassination by Anna Magdelena Bach. The arguments I gave were so trenchant that they could only be bunted by repetition. Let me simply recall that they were based on a thorough analysis of the Kunst der Fuge's unfinished Contrapunctus. In this piece of work, Bach reveals that he is being slowly poisoned to his death and indicates his murderer : M/A (M is the first theme, and A its culmination.)

However there was one serious flaw in my reasoning : I thought to identify MA to Anna Magdelena Bach. But why should this devoted wife have murdered her husband? Nothing in her whole life indicates such homicidal tendencies. So please, whoever feels concerned, accept my humblest apologies for this unjust accusation.

But then, who is MA? MAttheson, young and - allegedly - talented musician, had to give up a promising musical career when he developped an untimely condition of deafness. As some have recently noted on this list, auditive deficency is often a sorry excuse for those who simply detest music. And how about Beethoven, did deafness diminish his genius? What really happened is this : Mattheson came across Bach's music; being no fool, he immediately realized his own utter incompetence, and conceived unconditioned hatred both for Music in general, and Bach in particular. In some respects he was a very lucid man, and to him Bach was music incarnate, and conversely. His outbust of hate was so sudden and uncontrollable that he immediately gave vent to it, deriding publicly the wonderful cantata 'Ich Hatte Viel Beküm'. Later, he became more careful, since Bach became gradually more and more famous and appreciated by the cognoscenti. Mattheson knew that his influence on the music-lovers was his main weapon. So he paid lip service, adopting a pal-patting posture and secretly biding his time. He sowed poisonous seeds which were to fructify in a long-ranging plot aimed at perverting the appreciation of Bach's music appreciation and causing it to be forgotten by subsequent generations.

This aim he almost achieved, securing and destroying many scores (think of the missing cantata cycles), but mainly by mischievously disseminating erroneous and perverse ideas about the proper interpretation and appreciation of the music of his time. However he soon perceived that he could not completely succeed in this way; at best, Bach's music would be forgotten for a few decades only. This realization drove him completely mad, and he decided to destroy Bach himself..

For instance, he exerted a subtle influence on the young Adolf Scheibe. In his presence, he kept referring to Bach as 'that Italian gigolo' and such disparaging remarks; this eventually resulted in the well-known controversy which acted on Bach as a psychological venom. Still that was not enough; and now his hatred extended to other great composers of his time. He recruited a charlatan eye-surgeon to blind and weaken both Bach and Haendel; this cruel operation lead to their death after dismal years of blindness and suffering.

Some may find this theory far-fetched. However, consider the Salieri / Mozart affair. Perhaps it is a fake; yet it is plausible enough for Hollywood to make a movie out of it. The plot is based on Salieri's jealousy of Mozart's genius. But Salieri was a respectable and successful composer, whereas Mattheson was a downright musical failure; and Mozart for all his genius was less imposing a figure than Bach; so my theory is far more plausible!

By the way, a distinguished member of the list expressed mild scepticism at the idea that Bach should use so montypythonesque a method of accusing his persecutor. The point is, Bach always found it more natural to express his thoughts through music than through written words (unlike the logorrheic M.). This is why Bach's music will always be the frist and foremost source of insight into Bach's mind. Morevoer, while he was fully aware of the plot, Bach had a fatalistic approach to it. 'Ich habe genug...' 'Mid Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin...' I need not quote more evidence that he was in no mood for fighting. Still, when he understood that he was not alone, that Haendel too was on the psychopath's list, he decided to give G F a chance, in the form of a 'Quaerendo invenietis'. Had Händel perused KdF, he might have escaped the plot. As all know, Bach tried to meet Händel on two occasions, and failed...

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (July 31, 2005):
[To Alain Bruguieres] I have not followed the previous post but Bach by no means was assassinated and as far as plausibility --anything is plausible--that is where conspiracy theorists get off their jollies.

Bach was a very old man by the standards of the time when he died when most people did not live beyond their 40s. Based on what we know about his medical condition---Bach died as the probable result of his eye surgery. I do not have the time to explain this now but if you will remind me I will later.

William Rowland, composer, musicologist and member of ASCAP former Medic.

Ludwig wrote (July 31, 2005):
Cause of Death and Conspiracy Hypothesises (continued)

Bach was 65 years old when he died and for 1750 and indeed for the centuries when he lived that made him an extremely elderly man which in today's lifespan terms would make him almost 115 years old.

The most logical cause of his death was the eye surgery that he had. While the Eye surgery that Bach had was rather old hat to other civilizations---it was still new to Europe or barely known and it has only been since 1968 that medical science developed an effective treatment which today is done with ultrasound and lasers.

In early times, strange concoctions and eye drops were used to treat cataracts until physicians in ancient Babylon,Ancient Egypt and India began surgical treatment. Their highly primitive method-known as couching-involved using a sharp instrument (unsterilized) to push the cloudy lens to the bottom of the eye. This method is still used in some parts of Africa.

World and European Medical Science was very primitive and a state of much quackery in Bach's day and the Eye surgery that Bach had was exceedingly dangerous in that time frame--it also resulted in the eventual complete blindness of Bach. In terms of modern medicine the cause of Bach's problems were either Macular degenration ,glaucoma and aging as well as probable undiagnosed Diabetes ----about which almost nothing was known in Bach's day and time and for which nothing could be done. There could have also been combinations of these factors.

If one got sick; one was often bled to rid the body of bad humors so the theory went which of course made conditions only worse, cured nothing and often resulted in death---the real cause of George Washington's, first President of the United States, death. Harvey's discovery of the circulation of blood was still state of the art knowledge in Bach's time.

Bach died more than likely from a Bacterial infection
in his eye which spread to the rest of his body poisoning him. The Bacteria that killed him was probably Staphlococcus or Streptococcus.

Why and how did this happen? First of all ignorance of the time and next because a sterile field was not used nor were the instruments of surgery sterilized before use nor did the physician wash his hands before doing surgery, nor did he wear a sterile surgical mask and gowns and in all probability the surgery was done on a kitchen table in a room that was contaminated with other bacteria. You ask how do I know all of this---this was standard practice in Europe and in American until 1840---the birth year of Modern Scientific Medicine when in Scotland James Lister began his anti-sepsis program of sterilizing everything with Carbolic acid; washing hands before surgery and all the things that modern surgeons do before doing surgery on a patient. To bring this home to you--the mouthwash Listerine is based on Lister's formulations.

It was not until after the Civil War in America that physicians caught on to Lister's proceedures but many protested and continued doing surgery with their patients often dying as the result until Medical Administrators insisted or kicked them off the Hospital staff if they refused.

As far as all the conspiracy hypothesis that Bach was assassinated---they do not hold water. Yes as I said before anything is plausible but not in the real world.

As far as Salieri is concerned---yes he had good motivations for murdering Mozart but the fact is that he did not. Salieri should be grateful that because of Mozart he has not become totally forgotten and at least rarely performed. I have not examined the circumstances of Mozart's death but it is likely too that he died of an infection. If we had a body to examine or the skeletal remains to do so ---we might be able to say for sure. However, we do not know where Mozart is although like Columbus there are various claims of the existence of his remains.

William Rowland
former Medic.

Alain Bruguieres wrote (July 31, 2005):
[To William Rowland] Thank you very much for your interest in my conspiracy theory, which probably doesn't deserve as much;)

Thank you again for confirming that Bach died as a result of the eye surgery performed by an evil surgeon hired by the abominable Mattheson for that very purpose. I'd be glad to have the technical details.

However allow me to differ on one point : you suggest that Bach was well beyond the average life expectancy when he died. Do you suggest, say, that today, in the richer countries, nobody ever gets murdered past 75?

Besides, if indeed life expectancy was around 40 in Bach's time, this refers to the global population (and many died during infancy of childhood).Bach had suchildhood. He was moderately rich, well-fed. He drank wine, coffee, smoked tobacco, all probably with moderation. He had lots of sex.

He loved his job (for all its collateral desagreements), and he had a stable position. Moreover his was a mathematical-oriented mind, and he had as much sense of humor as any german could claim. Each of these factor contributes to raise his life expectancy, and I personnaly consider that he should not have died before 1785 - if ever.

Eric Bergerud wrote (July 31, 2005):
[To Alain Bruguieres] The JS Bach Code? Lacking any real evidence I think we have to rely on deductive reasoning. "MA" probably refers not to the evildoer, but someone who knows who the criminal genius was or knew someone who did know. I don't have time at the moment to make a thorough search for appropriate signs, but I would guess that someone in the corridors of the Vatican knows, or at least knows where to look for the signs. Bach did live in the late Counter-Reformation and was a foe of popery so he was an obvious target for some potion that would simulate a stroke. Opus Dei may know too. But I also wouldn't put anything past Frederick the Great. He may have found out CPE Bach was in the employ of Maria Theresa and that JS was delivering a message from Count Kaunitz embedded in the notes of Musical Offering. And we know Frederick was merciless when crossed. It all stands to reason.

Leonardo Been wrote (August 4, 2005):
Any Feelings about Maria Barbara's death?

[To Alain Bruguieres] Marvellous, Alain, how you express your viewpoint. (Which pleasure I gladly elaborate if so desired: I took the freedom to connect the choice of your words to your feelings and your intentions, which are clearly felt, and appreciated.)

I have a genuine feeling of concern about Maria Barbara Bach, dying while Bach was away and travelling for some time. I could (and do indeed) assume however, that Anna Magdalena was acquainted with Maria Barbara at that time.

I did not want to bring it up, here, but now that you mention the subject:

Do you - by whatever means - sense, feel, think, surmise, know, deduce anything about those circumstances (of Barbara's death)?

Anything you feel (or someone else feels) about it, is appreciated - but do not feel obliged to answer, please.

 

Bach time traveling

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 12, 2007):
< This brings me in mind of a fantasy scenario (!) from Van Loon's lives which I read many years ago. Various great people from the past were brought back to life in the C 20 and conjectures were built upon their responses to contemporary live styles. Bach was played a recording of one of his fugues in a very large orchestral arrangement. Bach, according to the imagined scenario, listened very carefully and afterwards said--Yes, most interesting. But do tell me, who composed it? >
Did they use the most excellent Elgar orchestration of the C minor fantasy and fugue, BWV 537? That's in the Esa-Pekka Salonen album of "Bach Transcriptions", among other recordings. Elgar himself recorded it too, and I have that on LP, but so far I've been unable to find any CD reissue of it. Anybody happen to know of one?

< I rather think unless Bach's visit was very short indeed, he'd want to take advantage of the one hallmark of our age that is good without reservation: painless dentistry. And I bet he'd think a modern grand piano was a pretty neat toy. >
In "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" (1988), they kidnap Beethoven through time and bring him to a Southern California mall. He spends his afternoon in ecstasy, improvising wildly on a rack of synthesizers.

The whole movie is about the conjectured reactions of historical figures if they would be brought to the present day.

To that end, they kidnap Joan of Arc ("Miss Of Arc") and she works out her aggressions by leading an aerobics class. And Napoleon ("The Short Dead Dude") who pushes kids out of the way to take as many turns as possible, at the "Waterloo" water slide; he also overindulges at an ice cream parlor. Genghis Khan destroys a sporting-goods store. Socrates ("SO-crates") philosophizes in Greek: "Like sands through the hourglass, so are the Days of our Lives". Dust. Wind. Dude: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0096928/quotes

Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday was today: "Fourscore and... [looks at his pocket watch] seven minutes ago... we, your forefathers, were brought forth upon a most excellent adventure conceived by our new friends, Bill... and Ted. These two great gentlemen are dedicated to proposition which was true in my time, just as it's true today. Be excellent to each other. And... PARTY ON, DUDES!"

Rick Canyon wrote (February 12, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< In "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" (1988), they kidnap Beethoven through time and bring him to a Southern California mall. He spends his afternoon in ecstasy, improvising wildly on a rack of synthesizers. >
Actually, it was MetroCenter, right here in Phoenix (arguably, a suburb of L.A.).

If Bach were to visit, I think he might go for an electric motor to power his organ bellows so he wouldn't have to rely on the inconsistencies of bellows-treaders.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 12, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
<< In "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" (1988), they kidnap Beethoven through time and bring him to a Southern California mall. He spends his afternoon in ecstasy, improvising wildly on a rack of synthesizers. >>
Rick Canyon wrote:
< Actually, it was MetroCenter, right here in Phoenix (arguably, a suburb of L.A.). >
Right, for the filming of it; but the story line was set in San Dimas California. Party on! [Air guitar] "San Dimas High School Football Rules!"

I thought it was cool that George Lucas and FF Coppola used an uncompleted new section of San Francisco's BART to film the underground futuristic chase scenes in "THX 1138". Boy, there's a weird film.

Julian Mincham wrote (February 12, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Did they use the most excellent Elgar orchestration of the C minor fantasy and fugue, BWV 537? >
Could be. It's so lomg since I read it I can't remember.

 

Bach as a teacher - question

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 9, 2007):
A few years ago a European graduate student whose favorite composer happened to be Bach gave me a brief verbal history of his education in the matter of Bach. He mentioned something about Bach having been a teacher in the equivalent of a public high school. I do not know any real factual history in this matter, but I am curious to know if this was actually the case, and if so, whether or not Bach did any composing of works that are still known--for such an environment.

Thanks.

 

Where Bach was jailed, Asians pay homage

Paul T. McCain wrote (January 15, 2008):
My friend, Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto gave me permission to post this.

Weimar gets ready for the tercentenary of the composer's arrival - thousands of Japanese expected

By Uwe Siemon-Netto
(From January 2008 issue of The Asia-Pacific Times)

Bachhausmann This year, thousands of Japanese and Koreans will be among the visitors pouring into the central German town of Weimar where Johann Sebastian Bach took up residence exactly three centuries ago, composed most of his organ works and was jailed by the local ruler after seeking greener pastures elsewhere. Bach's popularity in Asia has become an enduring phenomenon, particularly because of its missionary attributes.

--0-

When Yuko Maru-yama launches into her organ prelude Sunday mornings at the beginning of divine service in a Minneapolis church, chances are she will be playing something Johann Sebastian Bach wrote three centuries ago during the period he was the court composer to Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Saxony-Weimar.

There are two reasons for this probability. First, like an ever-growing number of Japanese, Maruyama is passionate about Bach - she attributes her conversion from Buddhism to Christianity to his music. "When I play a fugue, I can hear Bach tto God," she told Metro Lutheran, a monthly church paper in the Twin Cities.

Second, Bach composed three quarters of his organ works in the enchanting Thuringian town of Weimar, which captivated him in a strange sort of way at the end of his nine-year tenure there from 1708 until 1717. When he accepted a more lucrative position in nearby Köthen, Weimar's Duke Wilhelm Ernst sent him to prison for four weeks, reducing him to a daily diet of bread and water. The lock from his cell is still on display at the Bach Museum in Eisenach, the town where the composer was born in 1685.

Still, this year Weimar will benefit from the persistent Bach boom sweeping East Asia. Scores of Japanese journalists have already roamed this town on pre-tercentenary research assignments, according to Uta Kühne, spokeswoman for Weimar GmbH, a company promoting the city's economic development and tourism.

Two major tour operators in Japan and another in South Korea have added Weimar to their destinations. Not only is it the site of his brief incarceration but also the birthplace of two of his sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel, who were also stellar musicians whose compositions are as much admired in Asia as they are in the Western world.

The influx of Asians to Bach sites in Germany has been perplexing musicologists and theologians alike for decades now. They come in droves not only as tourists but also as serious students of music. Of the 850 students at Germany's oldest state conservatory, the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy in Leipzig, 148 are Asians, chiefly South Koreans and Japanese, according to Ute Fries, dean of students. Bach was musical director of Leipzig's Thomaskirche for the last 27 years of his life and wrote most of his cantatas there.

Leipzig's late "superintendent" (regional bishop) Rev. Johannes Richter used to wonder even back in the days when this city was part of Communist East Germany: "What is it about his work that evidently bridges all cultural divides and has such a massive missionary impact for Christianity in faraway parts of the world?"

For years, Richter observed with growing fascination how in his Gothic sanctuary, Japanese musicologist Keisuke Maruyama studied the influence of the weekday pericopes (prescribed readings) in the early 18th-century Lutheran lectionary cycle on Bach's cantatas. When he had finished, he told the clergyman: "It is not enough to read Christian texts. I want to be a Christian myself. Please baptize me."

But this scholar's conversion could have been attributed to the impact of pericopes' biblical texts on Maruyama. Why, though, would a fugue have such evangelistic powers as it did on the Japanese organist in Minnesota? Why would even listening to Bach's Goldberg Variations (BWV 988), which contain no lyrics, arouse someone's interest in Christianity? This happened when Masashi Yasuda, a former agnostic, heard a CD with Canadian pianist Glenn Gould's rendering of this complex Clavier-Übung, or keyboard study. Still, Yasuda's spiritual journey began precisely with these variations. He is now a Jesuit priest teaching systematic theology at Sophia University in Tokyo.

Some theologians tend to attribute the astounding impact of Bach's music particularly on the scientific minds of many Asians to the Holy Spirit. Canon Arthur Peacocke, a Church of England clergyman and noted biologist who is also one of the leading spokesmen in burgeoning international dialog between theology and the natural sciences, once suggested that the Holy Spirit personally dictated "The Art of the Fugue," (BWV 1080) Bach's arguably most challenging work, into the composer's plume.

"The reason why Bach's most abstract works guide some Asian people to Christ is because his music reflects the perfect beauty of created order to which the Japanese mind is particularly receptive," suggested Charles Ford, a mathematics professor at the University of St. Louis. "Bach has the same effect on me, a Western scientist," added Ford, who is also one of America's foremost experts on the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the martyred Lutheran theologian hanged by the Nazis.

Henry Gerike, organist and choirmaster at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, a Lutheran school of theology, agrees with Ford: "The fugue is the best way God has given us to enjoy his creation. But of course Bach's most significant message to us is the Gospel." Gerike echoes Swedish archbishop Nathan Söderblom (1866-1931), who famously called Bach's cantatas "the fifth Gospel."

Rev. Robert Bergt, musical director of Concordia's Bach at the Sem concert series, has first-hand experience with the missionary lure of Bach's cantatas in Tokyo. He used to be the chief conductor of Musashino Music Academy's three orchestras in the Japanese capital. Bach's compositions brought his musicians, audiences and students into contact with the Word of God, he said. "Some of these people would then in private declare themselves as `closet Christians,'" Bergt told Christian History magazine. "I saw this happen at least 15 times. And during one of them I eventually baptized myself." While only one percent of Japan's population of 128 million is officially Christian, Bergt estimated that the real figure could be three times as high if one includes secret believers.

After two failed attempts to popularize Bach's music in Japan since the late 19th century, a veritable Bach boom has been sweeping that country for the past 16 years. Its driving force is organist Masaaki Suzuki, founder and conductor of the Bach Collegium Japan that has spawned hundreds of similar societies throughout the country.

During Advent or Holy Week, respectively, Suzuki's performances of the "Christmas Oratorio" or the "St. Matthew Passion" are always sold out, even though tickets cost more than $600. After each concert, members of the audience crowd Suzuki on the podium asking him about the Christian concept of hope and about death, a topic normally taboo in polite Japanese society. "I am spreading Bach's message, which is a biblical one," Suzuki said.

But why do Bach's melodies and harmonies, so alien to the Asian ear, appeal to the Japanese? Some musicologists attribute this to Francis Xavier and other Jesuit missionaries, who introduced the Gregorian chant to Japan and built organs from bamboo pipes 400 years ago. Though Christianity was soon squashed, elements of its music infiltrated traditional folk song.

Four centuries later, this curious fact is now enabling tens of thousands of people in one of the most secularized nations on earth to turn to Christianity via Bach. But here's the irony: As some of these will come to pay homage to Bach during the Weimar tercentenary celebrations, his own land has become mission territory after 56 years of Nazi and Communist dictatorships. In Thuringia and neighboring Saxony, only one quarter of the population belongs to a Christian church.

- Uwe Siemon-Netto, a Leipzig-born veteran foreign correspondent and Lutheran Lay theologian, is scholar-in-residence at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis (U.S.).

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (January 15, 2008):
[To Paul T. McCain] I am glad to hear this because this means that more Organs will be built. The Organ (not the toasters) is almost an unknown. In the whole of China there are only 2-3 Pipe Organs---most of them built within the past 10 years---the one in Shanghai is the largest in China.

 

Off Topic: Bach's Employment Opportunities (1723 and 1730): What Ifs

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (February 24, 2008):
A lof this is hypothetical, but I've often wonder what would have happened in 1723, had Landgraf Ernst Ludwig in fact given his court music director, Christoph Graupner, permission to leave Darmstadt to take up the position of Kantor at Leipzig. What would have Bach done at that point?

Graupner was fed up with the court in Darmstadt, his payments were in arrears (some musisicans were owed up to five years back pay), and the work load of producing operas and cantatas had to have been tremendous. Would Graupner have warned Bach not to apply for the open position or would Bach have been so needy, he wouldn't have been in any situation to have turned down any job?

Bach would have known about Darmstadt via Georg Philipp Telemann's connection when he lived in nearby Frankfurt for about ten years-- Telemann made frequent use of the Darmstadt kapelle and many many copies of Telemann pieces survive in Graupner's hand in the court library, most of them are single surviving sources.

Had Bach taken up the position in Darmstadt, all of his manuscripts would have survived intact, because the Landgrave believed any music written for the court was his personal property-- when Graupner died, his heirs were NOT given the manuscripts, and a lengthy court battle ensued. Had the family in fact received the collection, it's more than likely it would have been distributed through the family and eventually would become fragmentary, in a way like Bach's did (e.g. the two cycles of cantatas missing, plus many many other works). As it turns out, Graupner's collection of manuscripts DID survive intact, with almost 1400 cantatas surviving along with 80 orchestral suites and 113 symphonies.

The situation for Bach in 1730 is a bit harder to conjecture about - Bach's letter complaining about circumstances in Leipzig definitely indicates he was looking for a way out. But there seems to be no clear cut references of applications to other courts--that have survived in the records (many fires have destroyed court archives in Germany since 1730). There was an open position at Sonderhausen around this time, but there's nothing to indicate Bach was even considered for this job.

Bach was never considered as a viable candidate for Dresden because they were looking for an composer with opera experience. But you wonder, had the court been less insistent on that point, what would musical history have been like? We would have more than likely several mass settings (with the complete text of the Mass), several magnificats, settings of the Vespers, etc. But you wonder, would have Bach served at a Catholic court?

I'm curious if anyone has thought about these topics? I'd love to hear some "thinking out loud" about these points! Thanks so much for your time!

Peter Smaill wrote (February 24, 2008):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] From a Lutheran perspective the idea that J S Bach might?? (like his son Johann Christian at Milan) have become an active rather than titular part of the musical establishment of a Catholic court is perhaps hard to accept but from the musicological perspective it is not impossible.

Firstly there is the possibility that Bach, who was of course Court Composer, actually performed in the Catholic chapel in the Pleissenburg at Leipzig. Was he the "virtuoso organist" who "caressed royal ears with his playing" on the chapel organ in Sepember 1736? (Leaver).

Leaver says "not necessarily" to the proposition that a Catholic post was impossible, pointing out than David Heinichen remained a Lutheran while serving as (?) Capellmeister to the Dresden Court Chapel. Bach used Catholic Mass setting in Leipzig and of course lent or gave parts of the B minor Mass (BWV 232) to his Catholic patron Count Sporck. The full text of the Catholic Mass, including the secret prayers,?(the Tridentine text was not exactly folllowed in the BMM) was in Bach's library.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 24, 2008):
[To Peter Smaill] Behind all of this discussion seems to be a certain distaste that Bach could never have "betrayed: his Lutheran beliefs by either considering or actually working for a Catholic musical establishment. I think we're imposing that old myth that Bach was so pious and orthodox that we never would have even considered working for the Antichrist in Dresden.

In fact, Bach had already worked for a non-Lutheran. The Duke in Cöthen was a Calvinist and there was a strong animus against the elaborate provisions of the Lutheran liturgy. Bach had to be married privately at home because he did not conform to the state religion. I suspect that Bach would have seen employment at a Catholic court in much the same way: public execution of the Catholic liturgy, private practice of Lutheran beliefs.

A comparable example is Handel who although a Lutheran was commissioned to write music for the Catholic liturgy in Rome itself. And when he went to London, he immediately began to write music for the Anglican rite, even though there was a massive prejudice against Lutheranism despite a Hanoverian king. Lutheran chorales were banned in the English church until the mid 19th century.

Bach a Catholic? -- unlikely. Bach an employee of a Catholic chapel? -- possibly.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (February 24, 2008):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Behind all of this discussion seems to be a certain distaste that Bach could never have "betrayed: his Lutheran beliefs by either considering or actually working for a Catholic musical establishment. I think we're imposing that old myth that Bach was so pious and orthodox that we never would have even considered working for the Antichrist in Dresden. >
No distaste meant at all. Bach could have been Wiccan for all I care. I was just wondering if the religious element in Dresden would have been enough of a reason for him to have declined a job there. I honestly don't believe he would have, he did have a large family to feed. But I was curious what others here may think.

A friend off list mentioned to me other possibilities about potential employment for Bach-- Fasch could have been named kantor at Leipzig in 1723, allowing the possibility for Bach to work in Zerbst. This makes a lot of sense, because Bach was on very friendly terms with the court at Zerbst. It's interesting that both Fasch and Pisendel turned down job offers at Darmstadt as well, you have to wonder if it was because of the stingy tight wad Ernst Ludwig not paying on a regular basis.

Another possibility: Georg Philipp Telemann nearly died around 1730 (his recovery prompted an extensive cantata as a thank you to the Lord). Had Telemann in fact died, maybe Bach could have moved to Hamburg, since the position at the Johanneum would have been very similar to what Bach did in Leipzig.

Oh well, very engaging thread ;)

Thanks for your comments Doug! Greatly appreciated.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 25, 2008):
Kim PatrickClow wrote:
>No distaste meant at all. Bach could have been Wiccan for all I care. I was just wondering if the religious element in Dresden would have been enough of a reason for him to have declined a job there. I honestly don't believe he would have, he did have a large family to feed. But I was curious what others here may think.<
See Wolff (B:LM, pp 368-72) for a concise summary of Bach's petition, and ultimate acceptance, for the title <Compositeur of the Royal Court Capelle>, a non-resident position from Dresden, which he received in 1736 after several years of anticipation. More to the point which initiated this discussion thread, Bachs motivation to seek the title was to provide some protection for himself because of ongoing unpleasntness and dispute with the rector of St. Thomas in Leipzig.

I would not touch your Wiccan reference with a ten-foot Pole (ACE), from here in Salem MA, USA. For the record, I believe Bach's Christianity (early 18th century) is unquestioned. Its precise nature is a matter of ongoing research, which interets me to the extent that it influenced the details of his music, and his overall creative environment. Others have incorrectly and unfairly attributed other opinions to me, on occasion, most recently yesterday.

 

Bach on the Beach

Continue of discussion from: Cantata BWV 39 - Discussions

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 3, 2011):
William Hoffman wrote:
< Bach may well have spent much of the time with Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen, where during the same summer period in 1718 and 1720, as capellmeister, Bach and the court musicians had been with their Prince at
the
Carlsbad resort and spa in Bohemia. >
This would make a wonderful one-man show: Bach on vacation musing about past and future in sunglasses and a Handelian turban.

William Hoffman wrote (May 3, 2011):
[To Douglas Cowling] At Carlsbad in 1720, Bach probably met important people such as Count Anton von Sporck, Vivaldi and Bach sacred music champion; soprano Anna Magdalena and her father, Johann Caspar Wuelcken, court trumpeter with the Weissenfels retinue; and Handel's turban but not Caro Sasone, who may have been at Carlsbad the year before, making connections for his new London opera company, and auditioning singers such as Faustina Bordoni and maybe even the young Carlo Broschi and Anna Magdalena.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 4, 2011):
Bach's/Box Lunch

Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< Oh I don't know, the original German text didn't say a lot of specific things, like if Bach ate three meals a day; but we do know he ate regularly. >
Somewhere someone has suggested that Bach must have had a "working lunch" on Sunday as the morning mass, which began at 7 am, often lasted until 11 am, and then Bach had to play the noon prayer service and then be ready for Vespers at 1 pm in another church. Perhaps Anna Magdalena packed him a little cold Schnitzel-to-Go.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (May 4, 2011):
[To Douglas Cowling] Or maybe none, IF the Lutherans of the period honored fasting habits before services that served communion. Even today in Roman Catholic liturgies, you're required to abstain from food for an hour prior to Mass.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 4, 2011):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] I think Stiller shows that Bach made his weekly confession (!) and communion
on a weekday.

Mike Mannix wrote (May 20, 2011):
William Hoffman wrote:
<< Bach may well have spent much of the time with Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen, where during the same summer period in 1718 and 1720, as capellmeister, Bach and the court musicians had been with their Prince at
the
Carlsbad resort and spa in Bohemia. >>
Doug Cowling wrote:
< This would make a wonderful one-man show: Bach on vacation musing about past and future in sunglasses and a Handelian turban. >
As far as I know Bach never relaxed in a deckchair on the beach, however Handel did. Handel is known to have visited the first seaside resort - Scarborough in Yorkshire, but I cannot find a single fact about Handel's seaside
visit.

As a rule, Bach probably kept away from the beach - he would have been shaking sand out of his wig for days - not worth the trouble.

 

Continue on Part 4

Life of Bach: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Bach’s Time:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


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