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Bach in Time Machine



About a word of Jane Newble, or: Would Bach have been a lunatic if he had done exactly the same during the fabulous twenty-century? / Bach in the time machine

Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote (November 22, 2000):
About a word of Jane Newble, or: Would Bach have been a lunatic if he had done exactly the same in the fabulous twenty-century?

Luke 12:49 - "I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!"

(To Jane Newble) If there is a good lunatic in the world, what does we expect from him? That he sets fire upon the quietude of indifference, being a catalyzer that prompts those who neither love nor hate Jesus to assume their sincere positions. This is what we expect from a well-disposed lunatic in the age of obscurantism, that such a moonshiny eccentric may bring a gust of brisk action to stir the quiet waters. Of course, he will not deny the blessing calm of those who patiently wait the flowers to blossom without being an outpost skirmishing person; for the well-balanced distinctions and differences that abides in the unity of faith is a rich demonstration that there is more freedom in it than in transgression, and, about it, let us also praise God with thanksgiving.

Eric Ostling wrote (November 22, 2000):
(To Henri N. Levinspuhl) Okay, I'll bite...
- How do you know that someone of Bach's caliber isn't alive and well in the world today? Even in his day he was only known to a handful of people on the planet, and would likely have remained that way now if not for the work of Mendelssohn.

So then what would he be doing now? And how would the sounds of the 20th/21st century affect him? (There are times in listening to some of his work that I think Bach already anticipated what music of the 20th century would sound like!!) Remember that this is an individual who is concerned with tapping the music of the spheres and bringing it into forms accessible to anyone, i.e. cantatas, concertos, preludes and the like, yet without having to deal with too much unnecessary disruption or disturbance from society. He didn't need to spend useless energy drawing excess attention to himself, just enough every now and then to get what he needed for his work. So then I'd probably put him in or near a large metropolitan area, quietly tending to the music needs of a small unassuming church or synagogue, with a network of friends and family that would enable him to travel whenever and wherever he wished.

What form would his music take? Well, outside the requirements of his congregation, Schweitzer indicates very clearly that Bach does not innovate, he ASSIMILATES, employing a purpose and depth capable of unnerving the hardiest Star Trek borg. So he would be fully familiar with Blues, Jazz, Rock, Gospel, Folk, and probably even 'Gansta' Rap and Thrash Metal; all of this would have some influence on his writing. MAYBE he would write for ALL of it at least once or twice (witness the 'Coffee' and 'Peasant' cantatas, as well as the annual family revels we hear about). But the chances that you or I would get to hear any of it in our lifetime are a little less than the chances of an accurate vote count coming out of this year's U.S. Presidential election.

My gleeful speculations,

Jane Newble wrote (November 22, 2000):
(To Eric Ostling) I don't think anyone of Bach's caliber would remain hidden for long in our day and age, with our communication system. Unless his music was going out of fashion, as Bach's music had. It would then need another Mendelssohn in the next century to resurrect it...

Eric Ostling wrote (November 22, 2000):
(To Jane Newble) I think you need to give more weight to your comment about fashion. Caliber has nothing whatsoever to do with public interest, and very little to do with academic interest (uh-oh, I let that one slip, better crawl back to my bunker after this). I think Bach would be largely ignored if he lived now. Unless some guy at Arista records thought he could make a profit off of what Bach was doing being in fashion. Maybe with a beat-box and some rapper like Snoop Doggy Dog thrown in.

It is something of a miracle that we have these cantatas available to us. Mozart and Beethoven didn't!! (At best they probably had the motets, the WTC and a few additional works available to them.) And the St. Thomas congregation apparently listened to them and their indescribable beauty quite regularly for at least two decades without much documented reaction at all. If anything the modern day communication system obscures things even more - move the clock ahead 250 years and probably half of them would be sitting in the pews with their own self-made CD that they were trying to hawk on the internet.

Jim Groeneveld wrote (November 22, 2000):
(To Eric Osling) Speculating about Bach or a Bach-like person in this century is rather fictional and useless. Everything can be guessed and nothing can be verified.

One could also assume the Bach would make use of computers for composition, would produce MP3 files, would lead a famous band, getting as popular and known as Cliff Richard, and would musically be regarded as excellent and futuristic as The Beatles. Present communication media would significantly contribute to his known being to all the world. He probably would have created compositions in quite another style than 300 years ago.

But the reality is Bach lived 300 years ago, created his compositions that we admire so much, because of various reasons. That is the Bach I like anyway. And we should rather speculate about him as he was in his own time than what he would be in our time. I would say he was as much a part of (and influenced by) his culture as we are a part of ours. That is a point of departure that doesn't need to be questioned, I think.

Let us stay serious in this discussion forum. To me it makes no sense to start a thread for the sake of discussion, but only for the sake of a really relevant subject. And threads do not necessarily need to involve mutual disagreements, but may reinforce each others opinions and ideas as well, or just consist of interesting information. There is yet so much to know and learn about him. And there can be so much personal enjoyment, experience and understanding both in music and in christian faith. And appreciation for Bach, not only his music, but also his life style.

Eric Ostling wrote (November 22, 2000):
(To Jim Groenveld) I think my post is totally relevant to the discussions of his cantatas and other works, and I am quite serious in making these comments, humour

I think it is totally relevant that Bach could have lived out his days the way Handel did, travelling and rubbing elbows with royalty in England and elsewhere in Europe, but he chose not to. At Cothen he was perfectly positioned to make just such a 'career' move had he wished, even given the death of the prince. One demise, one decision, one year later he is in Leipzig and with it almost the whole reason for the existence of this list.

Of course, this is all circumstantial evidence and guesswork, but I think nonetheless supportable evidence for him doing something basically similar with his life were he alive today. Especially because Bach's music itself leaps out of its time period,
just as if it were somehow written yesterday, unlike music of many of his
contemporaries, some of whom we know, and some of which we still perform.

Jane Newble wrote (November 23, 2000):
(To Eric Ostling) I agree about Bach being largely ignored if he lived now, as he
was when he lived then. The fashion then was more orientated towards the Italian (light-hearted? ;o)) way of doing things, but then you know that as well as anyone. Bach was too heavy going, and he would be now.

So does that mean that we don't take Bach seriously, in the way he wanted to be taken?

It's possible that he would be delighted with all the interest in his music. It's also possible that he would be saddened by the lack of interest in the words, the meaning of his music as commenting on the words.

When I read how he instructed his pupil who tried to play chorales on the , "not to play the songs merely offhand but according to the sense of the words", I wonder whether we take too much for granted our 20th/21st century way of 'easy listening'.

Also his comment about thorough bass: " order to make a well-sounding harmony to the glory of God and the permissible delectation of the spirit; and the aim and final reason, as of all music, so of the thorough bass, should be none else but the Glory of God and the recreation of the mind. Where this is not observed, there will be no real music but only a devilish hubbub."

Words of the master himself, who could also see the drift away from listening to music as it had been, to an enjoyment of music purely for its own sake.

In that sense he was 'old-fashioned' and was not ashamed of it. It was left for later generations to appreciate his genius, but whether they also always appreciate what he was trying to do, is a different matter.

It is also possible that because of his deeper vision of the meaning and purpose of music, it means more to us than much of what his contemporaries wrote.

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