Back to Bach

Another very busy and tiring day gave me no time to post anything until I got home this evening. Still, Ye Olde Blogge seems to be managing well these days without me. I’m going to have an early and largely blog-free night tonight, but I thought I’d share this with you before I slump onto the sofa. I heard this piece on the radio a few days ago. I usually wake up when my alarm clock turns the radio on. Sometimes the music doesn’t get me going straight away and I slumber on for a while. When this came on, however, I was mesmerised and couldn’t have gone back to sleep if I’d wanted to.

I’ve loved the music of Johann Sebastian Bach for a very long time, but a lot of his work is still new to me, as this piece was until very recently. It’s one of the trio sonatas for organ that he wrote relatively late in life, apparently to help his sons learn to play the organ. The trio sonata format usually involved two different solo instruments playing over a bass accompaniment called a continuo, but here all three parts are played on the organ by one musician. The result is absolutely beautiful, especially played as this recording on a lovely sounding organ.

I’ve listened to this piece repeatedly over the last week or so and every time I hear it I’m filled with a sense of euphoria. I think awesome is an understatement for such music as this.

PS. The pictures are of the town of Leipzig, which was Bach’s home for many years.


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24 Responses to “Back to Bach”

  1. Bryn Jones Says:

    J. S. Bach wrote some magnificent music, including for organ.

    Often when I’ve been doing something stressful or I’m returning home from somewhere, I’ll relax by listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations on my MP3 player. It is always a performance played on the piano by András Schiff. The piece has a sense of serenity. It helps me to unwind.

    It seemed a bit odd doing it after attending my last concert, though: the concert happened to feature Schiff playing the piano!

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    Bryn: I inherited two CDs of Goldberg on piano and had the happy task of listening to both to decide which to keep; Schiff won. I’d have kept both if the other had been on harpsichord (sorry Peter!)

    I was in Leipzig briefly in 1995 and the town centre was the largest building site I have ever seen – West German money being used to finally repair war damage and a generation of neglect under wonderful communist economics. A good job the work has been done before Germany trashes its own economy via its energy/green policies. However, I think I too would be tempted to work less hard if the fruits merely go to bail out other EU countries where people temporarily attained the same material standard of living by borrowing, rather than by working harder…

    To the common response that Bach ‘doesn’t do emotion’, I say: Listen to the thundering organ pieces and the slow movements of the violin concertos. Genius.

    Anton

  3. “A good job the work has been done before Germany trashes its own economy via its energy/green policies.”

    Actually, most pundits expect this to be a huge stimulus to the economy, especially since the aim is to replace nuclear power plants. The costs for nuclear power plants have already been paid, so the electric companies make a huge profit on them, since they essentially have to pay only maintenance costs, no new investments. Of course, with no new investments, this is not the best incentive to the economy. (Add to this the fact that the profits are much more than they should be since the long-term costs of storing nuclear waste aren’t part of the price.)

    The Danish economy is doing quite fine, with no nuclear power and a huge investment in renewable energy.

    Note also that the first Green premier will be in Baden-Württemberg, home of Mercedes, Porsche and a huge number of smaller firms (including the one which made Bond’s Walther PPK), somewhat like Scotland in that it has a reputation for thrifty and enterprising people. It is economically one of the strongest states in Germany (and also one of the biggest, both in terms of area and in terms of population). Only Bavaria has also had only conservative governments up until now.

    “However, I think I too would be tempted to work less hard if the fruits merely go to bail out other EU countries where people temporarily attained the same material standard of living by borrowing, rather than by working harder…”

    Yes, but as already discussed on this blog, one of the requirements for the Allies to agree to reunification was that Germany had no choice but to join the common currency.

    We both like Bach, though. 🙂 My next concert is Friday 6 May at a performance by the NeoBarock ensemble.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Anton: “A good job the work has been done before Germany trashes its own economy via its energy/green policies.”

      Phillip: “Actually, most pundits expect this to be a huge stimulus to the economy”

      I know that. I don’t agree with them (and I’m not alone). I’m not inclined to fight this out here – let time tell.

      I would be surprised if Britain insisted that Germany join the Euro given that we didn’t. I don’t have any part in corporate responsibility for what the other Allies insisted.

      Enjoy the concert!

      Anton

  4. Aspiring to play the trio sonatas is as good a reason as any for learning to play the organ. They’re hard but accessible to amateur players, and they’re all magic.

  5. “I would be surprised if Britain insisted that Germany join the Euro given that we didn’t.”

    Errmm, that was the whole point. Britain didn’t join it since they felt it would hurt the British economy, and insisted that Germany join it since they felt it would hurt the German economy. 😐

    “Enjoy the concert!”

    Thanks!

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      That’s called diplomatic chess. Germany had other options. The very possibility of reunification was triggered by the fact that the communist bloc would no longer invade…

    • The only other option would have been no reunification, but keeping their own currency. Not really an option, since it would have meant even more people moving from East to West (strengthening the wall from the west wouldn’t have been an option either) (and one of the main reasons to move was the currency).

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      What I was suggesting was that France, Britain and America would not have invaded Germany to prevent unification, and once the Soviets wouldn’t either the Germans could have just stuck two fingers up (or one to America) and done it anyway regardless of the currency issue. As I understand it the German politicians were all for the Euro – it was the German people who weren’t. France, UK, USA and USSR are not responsible for a gulf between German politicians and people.

      I haven’t (and am not going to) give any judgement of mine on moral rights or wrongs in all this. I’m talking realpolitik. As far as my personal sympathies go I can see both sides.

    • “What I was suggesting was that France, Britain and America would not have invaded Germany to prevent unification, and once the Soviets wouldn’t either the Germans could have just stuck two fingers up (or one to America) and done it anyway regardless of the currency issue.”

      Invasion? Probably not. Some sort of sanctions? A definite possibility. A few years ago, there were sanctions imposed against Austria due to the presence of a party people in other countries disliked in the government, even though the election was perfectly democratic etc. (I don’t like this particular party either, but sanctions against a democratically elected government seem rather bizarre in my book.)

      I don’t know how close the Soviets were to supplying military aid to the ailing East German government. Kohl managed to convince Gorbachev to go along, but this was probably aided by having the other three Allies on his side, and this in turn was aided by agreeing to join the Euro etc.

      “As I understand it the German politicians were all for the Euro – it was the German people who weren’t. France, UK, USA and USSR are not responsible for a gulf between German politicians and people.”

      Yes, of course. On the other hand, I think part of this gulf was caused by “forward-looking obedience” (“vorauseilender Gehörsam”) in that many politicians saw this as the only realistic alternative, to the point of believing it themselves.

  6. telescoper Says:

    I have 4 versions of the Goldberg Versions on CD: early and late ones by Glenn Gould, one by Angela Hewitt, and the one by Andras Schiff. I like them all, for different reasons, but I wouldn’t argue with anyone who picked Schiff as the best; I also have his CDs of the Well-Tempered Clavier, which are also lovely.

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      I haven’t got the Angela Hewitt version of the Goldberg Variations, though I have considered buying it in the past. I’ve got the other three!

      I do not have a recording of the Well-Tempered Clavier: it’s something I need to get. (It should be said that my main interest in music is from c.1800 to 1950, so my CD collection is a bit limited when it comes to the Baroque.)

    • There is a huge amount of Baroque music to be discovered, including many gems a bit off the beaten path. Say, Vivaldi concertos for two instruments in unison, stuff by William Boyce etc. For some reason, Telemann doesn’t seem to be as popular as the “big three” (Bach, Vivaldi and Händel), though he is certainly in the same league. Then there are the “lesser” Italian composers, virtually unknown German composers etc.

      For someone starting out looking for something more mainstream (easier to find), I recommend Bach’s concertos (BWV 1040s, 1050s and early 1060s), in particular his violin concertos (he wrote 3 (which have survived); Vivaldi wrote 150 or so).

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      It might be added that reason that some of us do not have that many Baroque recordings is not that we haven’t explored it: it’s because we have explored it and don’t particularly like it.

      Particularly harpsichords.

    • telescoper Says:

      I agree with Bryn and disagree with Phillip. I don’t think there’s really a “big three”, actually. Handel certainly wrote some lovely music but Bach is in a league of his own, I think.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Dunno about that. Whenever I hear certain bits of Händel I think “Bach couldn’t match that” then whenever I hear certain bits of Bach I think “Händel couldn’t match that”.

      Thank for the umlaut Phillip. I’ve never worked out how to do it in these blogs and now I can just cut and paste…

    • telescoper Says:

      You can’t make an umlaut without ….

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Breaking äggs?

    • “Thank for the umlaut Phillip. I’ve never worked out how to do it in these blogs and now I can just cut and paste…”

      I know of a forum where, next to the text-entry box, there is a list of umlauts and and other stuff which is not on all keyboards so that one can cut and paste.

    • “Breaking äggs?”

      The Swedish word for “egg” is, you guessed it, “ägg”. (The German word is “Ei”, pronounced like English “I”.)

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      No, I didn’t guess it (nor did I know it!) There are some amusing cross-language congruences; French ‘ail’ (pronounced the same as German Ei) is garlic. The Italian for ‘cat’ is gatto which is pronounced identically to the French for Cake. And I’ll never ask a German if he would like a Gift…

    • “Gift” in the Scandinavian languages means “married”. 😐 The root of all is the idea of something given, which can be one’s partner in a marriage (or oneself, in the sense of “I’m already given”, though in English one would say “I’m already taken”) or, in the case of spiders and snakes, the payload which is deposited during a bite (the German “Gift” being poison).

  7. “I agree with Bryn and disagree with Phillip. I don’t think there’s really a “big three”, actually. Handel certainly wrote some lovely music but Bach is in a league of his own, I think.”

    The “big three” refers to general public perception, numbers of CDs in stores, popularity in concerts etc—not my own opinion. I believe that Bach is a cut above, at least a primus inter pares; I think this is down to appealing to the intellectual, emotional and physical sides of humanity at the same time. Also, there are some lesser known composers (Telemann being the best known of the lesser known) who are also worth listening to.

  8. Bryn Jones Says:

    BBC Radio 3 is currently broadcasting a concert with Angela Hewitt
    and the Britten Sinfonia playing Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No.5 in F minor. An orchestral transcription (!) of the Goldberg Variations will follow later.

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