The Intriguing Bach

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A few months ago, I posted a collection of intriguing bits of information about Mozart.(You can read that post here.) My post consisted of several sections, including quotes by and about Mozart, some fun stories about him, and of course, a selection of his most beloved music. Today, I’m going to post along those same lines, but with Bach instead of Mozart! Hope you enjoy!


Quotes By Bach

“I worked hard. Anyone who works as hard as I did can achieve the same results.”

“Ceaseless work, analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction, that is my secret.”

“I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well.”

“I play the notes as they are written, but it is God who makes the music.”

“Music’s only purpose should be for the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit.”

And these next 3 quotes by Bach are just amazing! I’m in total agreement with him.

“Without my morning coffee, I’m just like a dried up piece of roast goat.”

“Ah! How sweet coffee tastes! Lovelier than a thousand kisses, sweeter far than muscatel wine!”

“Bring me coffee before I turn into a goat!”

Just because I’m a romantic at heart here’s one last quote by sweet old Bach.

“Old concept: Love is blind. Marriage is an eye opener. New concept: Love is not blind – it simply enables one to see things others fail to see.”


Quotes About Bach and His Music

“Now there is music from which a man can learn something.” – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Bach is like an astronomer who, with the help of ciphers, finds the most wonderful stars.” – Frederic Chopin

“I had no idea of the historical evolution of the civilized world’s music and had not realized that all modern music owes everything to Bach.” – Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

“Bach is a colossus of Rhodes, beneath whom all musicians pass and will continue to pass. Mozart is the most beautiful, Rossini the most brilliant, but Bach is the most comprehensive: he has said all there is to say. If all the music written since Bach’s time should be lost, it could be reconstructed on the foundation which Bach laid.” – Charles Gounod

“Study Bach. There you will find everything.” – Johannes Brahms

“Although love for music does not necessarily mean love for the composers of all the times, the true love for music, however, cannot exist without the love for Bach.” – Dmitry Kabalevsky

As you can see, Bach was considered to have founded music by some of the greatest composers. He was revered even by composers who seemed to stray far from his style – for instance, Ravel—whose impressionistic music is totally unlike that of Bach—said that if Bach was the only composer in history, we’d still possess the whole of music.


Bach’s Sons

As most of you know, the Bach family’s musical talent did not confine itself to Johann Sebastian Bach. Although J.S. Bach was the most prominent and influential Bach family musician, he was, in fact, a 5th generation musician. And J. S. Bach fathered four sons who would become the 6th generation of Bach musicians! These four sons achieved relevant prominence, primarily in the years in and proceeding the classical era. Below I have listed some of his four sons’ famous works. I particularly like Carl Phillip Emmanuel’s ‘cello concerto in A minor – I think it’s soon to become a favorite of mine.

Carl Philipp Emanuel

Johann Christian

Wilhelm Friedmann

Johann Christoph Friedmann


Stories About Bach

I must admit, Bach led a pretty mundane life. I found many more shocking things about Mozart when I was researching him. But that’s what’s great about Bach – his simplicity. Here are some stories I dug up about Bach…

As a young teacher, he got into trouble with the Arnstady authorities over a public brawl with one of his students. Bach, while walking across the market-place in the company of his cousin, Barbara Catharina, was confronted by J. H. Greyersbach and five fellow students returning from a christening feast. Geyersbach demanded to know why Bach had impugned his abilities as a bassoonist. As tempers rose, he called Bach ‘a dirty dog’ and lashed his face with a stick. Bach drew his sword and only the intervention of another student averted bloodshed. When Bach complained, the Consistory determined that he had been principally at fault for having called Greyersbach ‘a nanny-goat bassoonist’. He was admonished to try to live in peace with his students. Bach’s reaction was to take a prolonged and unauthorized journey to Lubeck, to listen to the organ playing of Buxtehude. (From The Book of Musical Anecdotes by Norman Lebrecht)

With all Bach’s amiable qualities, he had a warm and hasty temper. On one occasion Gorner, the organist at St Thomas’, who generally played very well, struck a false chord, and Bach flew into such a passion that tore his wig off, and threw it at the unfortunate man’s head, with the thundered exclamation, ‘You ought to have become a cobbler rather than an organist!’ (Lebrecht op. cit.)

An amateur who was improvising at the keyboard when Bach entered a crowded room jumped up from his seat (thus creating) a dissonant chord. Walking straight past his host, Bach rushed to the harpsichord, resolved the dissonance, and proceeded with a suitable cadence. Only then did he greet his host. (Lebrecht op. cit.)

When he was asked by someone, as frequently happened, for a very easy clavier piece, he used to say, “I will see what I can do.” In such cases, he usually chose an easy theme, but, in thoroughly working it out, always found so much of importance to say upon it that the piece could not turn out easy after all. If complaints were made that it was still too difficult, he smiled, and said, “Only practice it diligently, it will go very well; you have five just as healthy fingers on each hand as I.” (Lebrecht op. cit)

One day I told my father I needed especially to find some new solo music for the Cafe Pajarera. Together we set out on the search. For two reasons I shall never forget that afternoon. First, me father bought me my first full-sized ‘cello…. Then we stopped at an old music shop near the harbor. I began browsing through a bundle of musical scores. Suddenly I came upon a sheaf of pages, crumbled and discolored with age. They were unaccompanied suites by Johan Sebastian Bach – for the ‘cello only. I looked at them with wonder: Six Suites for Violoncello Solo. What magic and mystery, I thought, were hidden in those words. I had never heard of the existence of the suites; nobody – not even my teachers – had ever mentioned them to me….I hurried home, clutching the suites as if they were the crown jewels, and once in my room, I poured over them. I read and reread them. I was thirteen at the time, but for the following eighty years, the wonder of my discovery has continued to grow on me. Those suites opened up a whole new world….I studied and worked at them every day for the next twelve years. Yes, twelve years would elapse and I would be twenty-five before I had the courage to play one of the suites in public at a concert. Up until then, no violinist or ‘cellist had ever played one of the Bach suites in its entirety….They had been considered academic works, mechanical, without warmth. Imagine that! They are the very essence of Bach, and Bach is the essence of music. (Pablo Casals, the twentieth-century cellist)


Bach’s Music

Well, here it is! The genius behind the seemingly subtle quotes and stories listed above. There are so many “classics” by Bach, it was hard to pick out the very best works (plus some personal favorites). But here they are – if you have favorite works that didn’t make it on the list, tell me in the comments section.

Air on G string (from the 3rd orchestral suite)

Orchestral Suites

Italian Concerto for Piano

French Suite No. 5 in G Major for Piano

Prelude and (the lesser known, but beautiful) Fugue in C major, No. 1

Partita No. 3 – Gavotte en Rondeau (not a set-in-stone classic, but a particular favorite of mine)

Violin Sonata No. 1 – Presto (For a recording of Yuendi Menuin playing the complete collection of Sonatas and Partitias, click here)

Chaconne for Solo Violin

I recently ran across this version of Sigiswald Kuijken playing the Chaconne. I thought I’d share it with you, as an example of how differently a piece can be interpreted. Mr. Kuijken plays the piece a bit faster than the “normal” version. I find myself drawn to his interpretation, not just because of the speed, but because of the melodies that are drawn out when the piece is played faster. I think some of the melodies get lost (or at least drag on) in a slower tempo. In Kuijken’s recording, the speed “connects the dots” very efficiently. Kuijken also caters to the typical baroque style of playing – very different from Heifetz’s typical romantic-baroque technique. This being said, I think Heifetz’s version is classic, and you can’t go wrong with following Heifetz’s lead. Kuijken’s Chaconne is very unique, but Heifetz, well, he’s Heifetz.

Double Concerto in D minor for 2 violins and continuo

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor

Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor (I limited myself to including only one violin concerto on my list, but I encourage you to listen to his other violin concerti)

Piano Inventions

Piano Partita No. 2 In C Minor

Goldberg Variations

Brandenburg Concertos

St. Matthew Passion

Mass in B minor

6 Suites for Violoncello Solo

The Magnificat


And there you have it – a fun post about the intriguing Bach. I certainly had fun researching it and hope you had fun reading it. If you’d like to read a more in-depth biography about J.S. Bach, click here. And if you’d like to listen to more music by Bach, visit YouTube! It has all the music you’ll ever want to listen to, and believe me, we’ve barely touched the surface of Bach – there’s plenty to explore!

-Cammi

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