Freud, Schmeud: On Bach’s Sons

Wigs!

More wigs!

Yet more wigs!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I started out listening to the seven CDs by Bach’s sons in dad’s collection with a bad attitude. I was like, this is going to suck, these guys are going to be mere shadows of Bach, and it’s still going to be Baroque, and I’m so, so tired of Baroque, and grumble grumble WHEN DO I GET TO BEETHOVEN? I was basically approaching it with the preconceived notion that, as Tim Page, the chief classical music critic for Newsday at the time, writes in one set of liner notes, “One need not be a strict Freudian to suspect that those members of Johann Sebastian Bach’s family who followed him into the music business must sometimes have had a rough time of it.”

But as I really started listening to these guys and reading about them, I realized that this wasn’t fair. Continue reading

Thirty Favorite Songs of 2012

I know, I know. This is like the 80 millionth year-end list you’ve read. Why read another? Here’s a reason: as an inveterate consumer of the accursed things myself, I can tell you that at least one-third of the 30 songs on this list aren’t on any other list that I’ve seen. And (I think) it’s good music, worthy of a listen. So, below are my favorite songs of the year. (Here’s a Spotify list of most of them. Here are a few other lists with a lot of stuff you won’t find elsewhere that I may have cribbed a few songs from: NPR’s best albums; NPR’s best songs; Said the Gramophone’s best songs; 28 Candles’ best songs, and Austin Town Hall’s best songs. Here’s Rollo & Grady’s best songs, which makes it for many reasons, including its love of the classic rock n roll/blues sound, its thoughtful (!) illustrations (but why OK Computer???), and, most importantly, its inclusion of Pussy Riot. And here’s Fluxblog’s comprehensive 2012 survey. Finally, here, for the die-hards, is Largehearted Boy’s list of lists, a truly necessary source for addicts like me.)

Without further ado, the list! Featuring a waffling inability to decide whether or not to put song lyrics inside quotes.

Continue reading

A Forest of Violins and Bassoons

I am reading some E.M. Forster because the Interwebz tells me he’s quite the classical music maven, and I came across this happy little vignette in “A Room with a View” that must needs sharing:

“It was pleasant to wake up in Florence, to open the eyes upon a bright bare room, with a floor of red tiles which look clean though they are not; with a painted ceiling wheron pink griffins and blue amorini sport in a forest of yellow violins and bassoons.”

I gotta get me this ceiling.

Bach’s Influence, From Disco to James Bond

Bach’s influence is felt, to this day, everywhere. Not just in classical music, or in pop music, but in books, movies, art.

Back, gods, more than a year ago, I went to a Lyonel Feininger exhibit, because I had stumbled across an image of the painting above, titled “Newspaper Readers.” It caught my eye because I’m a journalist, and I’m tall, and, I don’t know, I like orange skies with yellow blobs floating in them.

At the exhibit, I stumbled into the realization that Feininger deeply loved Bach. Feininger, born in America, studied the violin as a child, and first made his way to Germany, where he would live for much of his life, to study music. Art became his primary calling, but he called music “the language of my innermost self.” Bach was especially an influence – to the extent that a friend presented Feininger with a fugue on his 50th birthday, inspiring him to begin composing fugues of his own. You can also see the influence of Bach on his paintings. Wrote Feininger, “Bach’s essence has found expression in my paintings. The architectonic side of Bach whereby a germinal idea is developed into a huge polyphonic form.” Continue reading

Tips From Bach On Building An Eternal Legacy

I have hurt my right foot, I dunno how. I went for a run several Thursdays ago, the first run on a treadmill in some months, and recall thinking as I ran that I should be careful not to hurt myself. But I don’t recall it hurting the next day. I do recall a little pain on Saturday, when I went to see “Argo” and get theme Persian food with my friend Lisa. It hurt worse on Sunday, but not so much so that I couldn’t walk at a roughly normal pace for the half-mile round trip for a cone of “Gather ‘Round the Campfire” ice cream at Ample Hills in my ‘hood.

The pain built Monday, enough so that I decided not to go into work, although if we’re honest this may have been one part “My foot hurts! Wah!” and one part “Hey, a legitimate reason to work from home!” Tuesday I convinced myself it hurt less, though if we again shine the light of truth on the innermost-ish workings of my brain, it was because I desperately wanted to leave the house to buy the new Justin Cronin book, available for the first time that day. Walking the eight or nine blocks from the train, to the Barnes and Noble, to the office, was a mistake, and by time to go home, the foot hurt PROFOUNDLY.

Wednesday, again, work from home. Thursday, my hatred of doctors overcame the pain in my foot, and I told myself that if it was good enough to go to work, then it was good enough not to see a doctor. So I went to work. Or, should I say, shuffled to work? What do you call the motion of snails? Friday, the same thing, although it did feel better. I swear, mom, it did. Enough so that I took too many flights of stairs, and we were back to pain. More of the same the following week, and now I’m propping up my foot again with the added excuse of a hurricane to keep me indoors.

The good thing is, that, trapped in my apartment on a weekend, I can progress on these last two Bach posts. Thusly: Continue reading

Back to Bach: The Mysteries of the Musical Offering

Yeah, it’s been a while. What can I say? Three more Bach posts, though, and I’ll be on my happy way…to…well…Bach’s sons. Sigh.

Anyhow, here’s the first of the LAST THREE POSTS. This is about the Musical Offering, a piece Bach wrote quite late in life. I am basically parroting James Gaines’ book here, because he tells the story grandly, so if you find it an interesting yarn, go and buy the book and read all about it. Seriously. Continue reading

Harpsichord Zombies Have Bitten Me, And It’s All Good

I have previously made clear that the harpsichord works of Bach are not my favorite.

Yes, I am grateful to him for being the first to put the harpsichord center stage. James R. Gaines quotes Susan McClary in “Evening in the Palace of Reason” to the effect that Bach, in the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, turned the harpsichord, heretofore “the ensemble’s lackey,” into the main attraction – and thereby made the piano concerto a possibility.

But gratitude for, you know, allowing the grand tradition of Western music to begin aside, Bach’s harpsichords grate. They noodle by, so much background noise, the classical music equivalent of, I don’t know, the loud tuneless Soca my neighbor is playing across the back courtyard/lot of weeds this Memorial Day weekend. Continue reading

Let Us Now Speak Of Glenn Gould And Flesh Rubber

In the mythology of Bach, several people figure as Mnemosyne types, serving to remind humanity, “Oh yes, that Bach chap, quite the composer.” Without them, so the legend goes, we might have forgotten entirely about Bach, or at least about such-and-such work by him. There is Felix Mendelssohn, whose rendition of St. Matthew’s Passion in 1825 “brought Bach back to life,” James Gaines writes in “Evening in the Palace of Reason.” There is Pablo Casals, the aforementioned cellist whose interpretation of Bach’s cello suites has scared off many another cellist from attempting them. And then there is the pianist Glenn Gould.

As with any mythology, it helps that Gould, who died in 1982, was unapologetically a character. Continue reading

Would You Like Some Bach With Your Hilary Hahn?

Johann Sebastian Bach. Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. BWV 1001 – 1006. Nathan Milstein. 1975, Polydor International.

Hilary Hahn. Bach. Concertos. Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Jeffrey Kahane.  2003, Deutsche Grammophon.

I happened to listen to the two above CDs back to back. I post their covers side by side to point out the obvious: That is not Bach on the right-hand one. That is Hilary Hahn, the soloist, and just in case we missed that point, the first line of the title lets us know it as well. On the other cover, there’s no mention of the performer until we turn the page and find out it’s a guy named Nathan Milstein. And that’s all we learn about Milstein. There is nothing about him in the liner notes, which are entirely about the music. Continue reading

On Organs, Making Wine, And Selling One’s Soul to the Devil

One of the things the liner notes to all these Bach organ works do is spend a lot of time describing the organs on which the various toccatas and fugues are played.

The notes to the 12-CD set of Bach organ works played by Lionel Rogg use several pages to describe the organ used, the Silbermann organ at Arlesheim. They laud its excellent pedigree as “the only example in Switzerland of the marvelous workmanship of the Silbermann family.” They lament its transformation in the late 19th century to a different sort of organ “according to the taste of the period by a certain Weigle.” And they are joyous about the efforts beginning in 1959 to “restore the original beauty of the instrument. Particular attention was paid to the pipes which were x-rayed in order to reconstitute Silbermann’s voicing.” Continue reading