April 2, 2004
Vol. IV, No. 11
"Dusting Bach's Image"
I'm always glad to hear people singing Bach's praises so I eagerly launched into a recent article by Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo, "What Bach could have taught Spinoza about Judaism" (see Articles Library below). The author's thesis was that Bach, in a hypothetical meeting with Spinoza, a philosopher and critic of Jewish Law, would have defended Jewish Law against Spinoza's criticism. It was an interesting idea but unfortunately the author's entire argument was based on a flawed premise, resulting from a terribly uninformed view of Bach's music. My only guess is that for his musical information the author relied on musicians who claimed to understand Bach but in reality had spent very little time studying his music.
In a nutshell, the flawed premise was that Bach was not an innovator but a composer who strictly followed the rules of composition as they existed in his day and that his unparalleled creativity emerged despite his strict adherence to these compositional "laws." The author suggests that Bach would use this compositional experience to teach Spinoza that "restrictive rules, when deeply studied and contemplated, become the impetus of a special kind of infinite creativity, never to be found by those who rejected these very limitations." Personally, I'm not that concerned with whether or not the author's views on rules and creativity in regard to Jewish Law are true. What concerns me is how the author misrepresents Bach in order to support his argument.
First of all, let me say that I understand that the author wasn't seeking to intentionally slight Bach. Proof can be found in the compliments he bestows on the composer in statements such as this one:
"...Bach's musical output is not only unprecedented but, above all, astonishingly creative."
However, unintentional or not, uninformed comments such as the following do a great disservice to Bach:
"Bach was totally traditional in his approach to music. He adhered strictly to the rules of composing music as understood in his days. Nowhere in all his compositions do we find deviation from these rules."
Not only did Bach rewrite the rules of composition but he then proceeded to break every last one of those. If he had composed within the rules of composition as they existed in his day, we probably never would have heard of him.
"What we discover is that the self-imposed restrictions of Bach to keep to the traditional rules of composition forced him to become the author of such outstandingly innovative music that nobody after him was ever able to follow in his footsteps."
Here the author is not only incorrect ("self-imposed restrictions of Bach to keep to the traditional rules of composition") but contradicts his own argument that Bach wasn't innovative ("outstandingly innovative music").
"Bach's works were entirely free of any innovation, but utterly new in originality."
Uh, again, that would be innovation ("utterly new").
I can understand the desire to use Bach to illustrate an idea; however the complexities of his persona and his music make it all too easy for him to be misrepresented. I thank BACHorgan.com community member Bill Smith for submitting this comment recently:
"Speaking of the complexities of Bach's music and trees falling in the forest reminds me of what Andres Segovia said of Bach's music: 'It is like a magnificent tree. One man cannot view it by himself - it's too tall. One man will start, and look up as far as he can, then another must take over.'"
In my previous Rampage I spoke about protecting Bach's legacy by playing his music. While dusting off the pipes with Bach postludes is one way to keep his image nice and shiny, judging by my Rampage there's work to be done in other ways as well.
Click this link to read comments and offer your own:
Speaking of Postludes and Feedback...
It's been a while since I promoted my FREE WORKSHOP #9: "News Flash: Two Postludes Better Than One!"
I recently received this feedback from BACHorgan.com community member Victor Kovacs:
"Dan, I have tried out your two-postlude idea over the past few services I have played. It is giving me some great results. Before, when I did only one, there were several groups of elderly ladies who just loved to stay sitting in their seats and talk, yet the social room is about 10 feet out of the door of the church. I recall, one Sunday during the full organ section of my postlude, one of the ladies was telling another how her toenail was about to fall off. (I swear she was talking so loud that the people in the social hall of the church down the street probably heard it too) I decided I had absolutely had it, and was going to try doing two postludes the next Sunday. The closing hymn was "A mighty fortress is our God", so my first postlude (listed in the program) was simply Max Reger's setting of Ein feste burg from 30 little chorale preludes. I happened to have sitting next to the console my emergency edition of the 8 little preludes and fugues by Bach. I figured the G minor was the best shot (as I haven't touched any of them in weeks)... it turned out great, the people talked over the first one, and were gone by the time I added the heavy stops for the Bach. Thanks for your great idea!!!!"
Holy Trinity Episcopal
Added is the article "What Bach Could Have Taught Spinoza About Judaism" by Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo from Jewish World Review (February 24, 2004). "Arnold Toynbee, the great, though slightly anti-Semitic historian of this century is quoted as saying that "history is the tragedy of what could otherwise have been." When contemplating this comment, we wonder what would have happened if Johann Sebastian Bach, (1685-1750), genius musician and composer would have met Benedictus (Baruch) Spinoza (1632-1677), world renowned philosopher, a Jew by birth and foremost critic of Judaism."
I updated the link for The Peterson Bottle Organ, a fully-functional pipe organ whose pipes are made from Guinness bottles!
Stop by BLOG Central to read new entries from Susan Burkhalter, Victor Frost and yours truly. Take a look--maybe you'd like to try it, too!
Check out the latest links submitted by fellow BACHorgan.com community members and submit your own!
STILL LISTENING TO...Avril Lavigne's "Let Go" on my mp3 player. I stand by what I've said: This is one of the best-produced pop albums I've heard in a long time. As far as I can tell, Avril is just another in a long line of manufactured acts but I like this CD because it's not dance-oriented; it's guitar-oriented music. Some of the songs really rock out. Click the link below for more information on this CD:
Click this link to see all selections in Dan's CD Club:
STILL READING..."The Possessor and the Possessed: Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, and the Idea of Musical Genius" by Peter Kivy. Kivy is a great writer. My problem is I haven't been reading from it often enough so I keep losing his train of thought. I need to build up some momentum or else move on to another book. It's an interesting idea he proposes, that there have been two different ideas of artistic genius in history and that we go back and forth between the two. That's why I want to keep going. Click the link below for more information on this book:
Click this link to see all selections in Dan's Book Club:
Have a great week!
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