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Posts Tagged ‘Bach

“Saint: A dead sinner revised and edited”*…

 

Johann Sebastian Bach

 

When eminent biologist and author Lewis Thomas was asked what message he would choose to send from Earth into outer space in the Voyager spacecraft, he answered, “I would send the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach.”  After a pause, he added, “But that would be boasting.”

You can hardly find a more sanctioned and orthodox insider than Johann Sebastian Bach, at least as he is typically presented. He is commemorated as the sober bewigged Lutheran who labored for church authorities and nobility, offering up hundreds of cantatas, fugues, orchestral works, and other compositions for the glory of God. Yet the real-life Bach was very different from this cardboard figure. In fact, he provides a striking case study in how prickly dissidents in the history of classical music get transformed into conformist establishment figures by posterity…

Fighting, drinking, organ loft liaisons… and then there’s the music– the subversive practice of a canonical composer: “J.S. Bach the Rebel.”

* Ambrose Bierce

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As we interrogate our idols, we might send harmonic birthday greetings to John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie; he was born (in Cheraw, S.C.) on this date in 1917.  A jazz pioneer– performer, bandleader, composer, and singer– he was a trumpet virtuoso and a style-setting improviser.  His combination of musicianship, showmanship, and wit made him (with Charlie Parker) a leading popularizer of (the emerging new music) bebop.  His beret and horn-rimmed spectacles, his scat singing, his bent horn, his pouched cheeks, and his light-hearted personality became emblematic of the form.

220px-Dizzy_Gillespie01 source

 

Written by LW

October 21, 2019 at 1:01 am

“To suffer the penalty of too much haste, which is too little speed”*…

 

Johann-Sebastian-Bach

Pop and rap aren’t the only two genres speeding up in tempo in the breakneck music-streaming era: The quickening of pace seems to be affecting even the oldest forms of the art. Per research this weekend from two record labels, classical music performances of J.S. Bach have also gotten faster, speeding up as much as 30 percent in the last half century…

The fascinating details– and a hypothesis as to what’s going on– at “Even Classical Music Is Getting Faster These Days.”

*Plato

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As we pick up the pace, we might wish a harmonious Happy Birthday to Aaron Copland; the composer, writer, teacher, and conductor was born on this date in 1900.  Known to his peers and critics as “the Dean of American Composers,” his signature open, slowly-changing harmonies– e.g., in “Appalachian Spring“–  are typical of what many consider the sound of American music, evoking the vast American landscape and pioneer spirit.

220px-Aaron_Copland_1970 source

 

Written by LW

November 14, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Imagination creates reality”*…

 

Wagner was and is so controversial before and after his appropriation by the Nazis, before and after 19th-century radical antisemitism led to the Holocaust, because art-making and self-fashioning on the scale on which Wagner worked are terrifying, at once attractive – drug-like, dream-inducing, mesmerising – and repulsive. Few of us are comfortable travelling so near the gravitational field of a man “who had access to parts of his psyche that most nice people hid from themselves” and who created from such a murky source dramas and music of horrible beauty…

A provocative review of a provocative book, Simon Callow’s Being Wagner: The Triumph of the Will: “What makes Wagner so controversial?

See also this fascinating piece on a man often linked with Wagner, Friedrich Nietzsche.

* Richard Wagner

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As we grab for The Ring, we might send melodic birthday greetings to Francesco Manfredini; he was born on this date in 1684.  A Baroque composer, violinist, and church musician, he was a contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi.  Much of his music is presumed to have been destroyed after his death; only 43 published works and a handful of manuscripts are known.  But they are sufficient to have earned him a reputation as an accomplished composer (more in the vein of Vivaldi than Bach).

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Written by LW

June 22, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I play a musical instrument a little, but only for my own amazement”*…

 

Mr. and Mrs. Karsy, an inventive and original “team” on the variety stage, have created a new and extrodinary musical instrument which is known as the Giant Myriophone (Myriphon). It is the work of a genius and when under full swing produces music similar to that of a full string band. Only two persons are required to produce this immense volume of sound. “The Myriophone has the appearance of a large screen, with a number of wheels fitted on the front. These wheels have strings fitted on them and look much like bicycle wheels. They are set in motion by four lusty stage hands concealed in the rear, and the performers who have a small stick of wood in each hand touch the strings, thus making a note, which can be prolonged to any length. The Myriophone consists of twenty-five discs, each with eighty strings, making 2,000 in all. The sounding boards are made of the same wood as is used in pianos. Regular piano strings are used…

Karsy’s Giant Myriphon

* Fred Allen

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As we tinkle the ivories, we might spare a thought for François Couperin; he died on this date in 1733 (though some sources place his passing on the 11th).  An organist, harpsichordist, and composer, he was an important influence on Corelli– thus influencing J. S. Bach.

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Written by LW

September 12, 2015 at 1:01 am

“I was obliged to be industrious”*…

 

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Johann Sebastian Bach was a very, very  busy Baroque musician.  A career player who worked his way up from church organist to Kapellmeister (director of music) for Prince Leopold and Cantor (Musical Head) of the Thomasschule at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Bach was, throughout, steadily composing the music for which we know him now.  Indeed, his catalogue, the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (or BWV) has 1126 entries– not including those deemed to be incomplete (captured in an appendix to the BWV) and those that have been lost (including almost 100 cantatas).

The Netherlands Bach Society has been performing the Master’s music since 1921.  As they looked ahead to their looming centennial, they decided to mark it in the only way that seemed appropriate, with what they call “All of Bach“:

In September 2013 we started performing and recording all of Bach’s works. The first recordings were made available on this site on 2 May 2014, followed by a new Bach recording every Friday. Each piece of music by Bach has its own page where site visitors can choose: the recording, interviews, background information or audience reactions. You can watch and listen to every single piece in its entirety. Musicians will talk about what the music does for them. Background information is provided for each work and all the facts about the recording are compactly summarized. The public section of the site has space for reactions from listeners…

They’re pacing themselves to complete the catalogue just in time for the 2021-22 season, in which they’ll celebrate the Society’s first 100 years.

Listen, learn– and luxuriate– at All of Bach.

* Johann Sebastian Bach

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As we wonder at the well-tempered, we might recall that it was on this date in 1913 that Le Sacre du printemps (Rite of Spring) premiered in Paris.  Composed for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes by Igor Stravinsky (who’d already had success with Diaghilev on The Firebird  and Petrushka), it was choreographed by Nijinsky and designed and costumed by Nicholas Roerich.

The performance famously elicited a strong reaction from its audience– an over-packed house– which reacted to the “celebration of pagan rituals” with jeers and whistles so loud that Nijinsky had to climb a chair in the wings to shout instructions to his dancers.

But even by the second performance the reaction had died down (though Puccini, who was there, averred that it was “the work of a madman. The public hissed, laughed – and applauded”).  Of course today, Le Sacre du printemps sounds altogether familiar to ears raised on film scores; and Stravinsky’s ballet is widely agreed to have paved the way for “modern” (twentieth-century) music.

Dancers in the original production of The Rite of Spring

source

 

Simple! Simply simplify…

from Ji Lee (whose work is imminently worth a browse… check out, for instance, “The Redundant Clock“)

As we re-ink our pads, we might take a moment to celebrate an anniversary of great and true beauty: on this date in 1724, Bach’s “St. John Passion” premiered; then exactly 81 years later, on this date in 1805, Beethoven conducted the premiere of his third symphony, “Eroica.”

Title page of the manuscript of Beethoven’s Symphony #3, opus 55

Written by LW

April 7, 2009 at 1:01 am

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