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July 27, 2004
Vol. IV, No. 21

"The Late, Great Mr. Bach"
When I picked up The New Bach Reader recently, it was the first time in a while and it was more out of curiosity than anything. I keep it near the organ and I suddenly found myself staring at a yellow post-it sticking out from between its pages. I assumed the post-it marked where I had left off reading and began wondering where exactly that was. When I opened the book, I discovered instead that the post-it marked a passage. After reading it, I realized why I had marked it.

The passage occurs in the Preface of Johann Nikolaus Forkelís biography of Bach, reprinted in its entirety in The New Bach Reader. Based on the words he wrote about the man, I would confer on Forkel the title "Bach's Biggest Fan." The biography, published in 1802, was informed by Forkel's contact with two of Bachís sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel and Wilhelm Friedemann.

Anyway, on this the eve of the 254th anniversary of Bachís death, the passage seems a fitting tribute. Forkel, unable to come up with words to adequately describe the greatness of Bach's music, instead comes up with what may be the consummate words to describe the inability to describe Bach's music. I apologize in advance for the passage's length but given the subject, it might have been even longer.

"How do I wish I were able to describe according to its merit the sublime genius of this first of all artists, whether German or foreign! After the honor of being so great an artist, so pre-eminent above all as he was, there is perhaps no greater than that of being able duly to appreciate so entirely perfect an art and to speak of it with judgement. He who can do the last must have a mind not wholly uncongenial to that of the artist himself and has therefore in some measure the flattering probability in his favor, that he might perhaps have been capable of the first, if similar external relations had led him into the proper career. But I am not so presumptuous as to believe that I could ever attain to such an honor. I am, on the contrary, thoroughly convinced that no language in the world is rich enough to express all that might and should be said of the astonishing extent of such a genius. The more intimately we are acquainted with it, the more does our admiration increase. All our eulogiums, praises, and admiration will always be and remain no more than well-meant prattle. Whoever has had an opportunity of comparing together the works of art of several centuries will not find this declaration exaggerated; he will rather have adopted the opinion that Bach's works cannot be spoken of by him who is fully acquainted with them except with rapture, and some of them even with a kind of sacred awe. We may indeed conceive and explain his management of the internal mechanism of the art; but how he contrived at the same time to inspire into this mechanic art, which he alone has attained in such high perfection, the living spirit which so powerfully speaks to us even in his smallest works will probably be always only felt and wondered at."

(b. Eisenach, 21 March 1685; d. Leipzig, 28 July 1750),

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WHAT I'M READING..."The Rule of Four" by Ian Caldwell, Dustin Thomason. "A mysterious coded manuscript, a violent Ivy League murder, and the secrets of a Renaissance prince collide in a labyrinth of betrayal, madness, and genius." This book has been getting promoted in the wake of The Da Vinci Code. So far, it seems like there's been a lot of setup and not much action, making it hard to compare the two books. On the plus side, I have enjoyed learning what it's like being a student at Princeton, if the book is to be believed. Click the link below for more information on this book:
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WHAT I'M LISTENING TO..."Under My Skin" by Avril Lavigne. The sophomore effort from this young artist isn't as catchy as her first, nor is the production as clever, but I still find myself humming some of the songs and wanting to hear them again. Click the links below for more information on this CD:
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Have a great week and play some Bach!

Dan Long

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