Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Happy Birthday, Herr Bach !

Mustn't let the day pass without recognizing that today is J.S. Bach's 322nd birthday. Although I consider my musical tastes to be eclectic, I freely profess that no composer has given me more joy than has Bach.

If you check my "Now Listening To" link off to the right, you'll see that I'm working my way through the 155-CD collection of the complete works of Bach. Although I've been a fan of his music ever since high school, it's amazing how much of what he wrote I've never heard before. On the radio, and even in concerts, you tend to get just the "Top 40." But listening through these discs, I realize how incredibly varied Bach's music really is. This guy was no Vivaldi, recycling the same themes over and over again until everything sounded more or less the same. Rather, he seems to have employed every musical device at the disposal of a Baroque musician - instrumentation, orchestration, styles, etc.

Listening through these 155 CDs reminds me of reading the Bible for the first time. Surprises and pleasures around every turn - and yes, every now and then a boring part or two. But overall, Wow. And I just can't get through these fast enough.

(P.S. How could you not love a guy who wrote a 30-minute piece about coffee?)


  1. teach me your ways arnold, i want a list of the best 10, i don't think i can tackle the 150.

  2. Well, you can buy the 155-CD set for probably less than the price of 10 individual CDs, and just think how impressed WOMEN will be when they see THAT on your shelf! Nevertheless, there's still the issue of finding the time for listening.

    So instead, you could start with Glenn Gould's 2-recording set of the Goldberg Variations - the discs you borrowed from me a while back. Disc 2 is perhaps my single most favorite Bach recording.

    Then you could look for any of Bach's pieces that Robert Shaw conducted, such as the B Minor Mass -

    You could get the complete organ works, but that'd set you back about 12 CDs, and you wouldn't save much (if any) money.

    The Brandenburg Concertos are well known and loved. 2 CDs, many choices of performers.

    You could get a sampler, 1-2+ CDs with a variety of items - a little bit of everything. For example,

    OK, I think that's more or less a "Top 10."

  3. This seems like the occasion to cite my favorite introduction to an entry on Bach (from the 8th edition of Slonimsky's "Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians"):
    "Bach, Johann Sebastian: Supreme arbiter and lawgiver of music, a master comparable in greatness of stature with Aristotle in philosophy and Leonardo da Vinci in art . . ."

    It is interesting to compare Slonimsky's entry on Mozart:
    "Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus . . . supreme Austrian genius of music whose works in every genre are unsurpassed in lyric beauty, rhythmic variety, and effortless melodic invention . . ."

    And we could recall (with no intention to insult the tastes of our weblog-host) Karl Barth's comparison of the role that both composers play in heaven:
    "It may be that when the angels go about their task of praising God, they play only Bach. I am sure, however, that when they are together en famille they play Mozart and that then too our dear Lord listens with special pleasure."

    I suppose this means that praise choruses polka masses are for those in . . . well, you know, the other place.

    (Belated) Happy Birthday Bach!