By Jacob Stockinger
If you are anything like The Ear, you have heard the music of Johann Sebastian Bach in many different forms and for a very long time through many different technologies.
You have heard the music of Bach (below) performed on the organ, the harpsichord, the modern piano and the electronic synthesizer; on string instruments with both gut and steel; in arrangements by winds and brass; in chamber ensembles and in small orchestras; in choirs and with solo vocalists; on vinyl LPs, plastic CD and via digital downloads.
And if you are like me, you think that such flexibility is one reason why Johann Sebastian Bach (below) continues to be The Big Bang of Western classical music, a composer of quantity and quality unrivaled by his own contemporaries, his predecessors or his followers.
Some will disagree with that, of course, and argue that it is pointless to argue who is The Best or The No. 1 Composer, when there is so much greatness to choose from.
But even many musicians felt that way. Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Mahler all revered Bach.
So what makes Bach’s music so great?
One measure can be found in how it has survived so many different changes of technology and even prospered through that technology to find new audiences and new uses.
Last week, The New York Times’ senior music critic, Anthony Tommasini (below top) wrote a fine and perceptive story about a new book — the title is “Reinventing Bach” (below bottom) — by award-wnning culture critic Paul Elie that tracks how Bach has survived such changes.
Elie singles out the late pianist Glenn Gould as one of the landmarks of modern Bach interpretations. (At bottom, you can hear Gould’s two entirely different recordings, the first in analogue stereo on vinyl and the second in digital sound issued on a CD, of the opening aria from Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations.)
The book by Paul Elie (below), is published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux – where Elie, who also writes for Commonweal magazine, is an editor — and stands on its own as a recommendation. But with the holiday gift-giving season just around the corner, one can well imagine packaging the book with some wonderful recording of Bach on period instruments or modern instruments, in original version of transcriptions.
Here is a link:
What do you think of the main thesis and ideas?
Of J.S. Bach and technology?
The Ear wants to hear.