One of the great benefits of being musicians is that our work is associated with trying to understand the music written by brilliant and creative souls like Johann Sebastian Bach.
A few weeks ago as I started practicing Bach’s Allemande from the 1st Cello Suite, and even after playing this work, off and on, for over thirty years, I have asked myself “What new insight am I going to learn today?” Unlike the music of any other composer, the music of J.S. Bach can, with a simple inflection, transform and enlighten, much like the changing view in a kaleidoscope generated by a slight twist of the wrist. These new reflections give deeper meaning to the music and to the player’s own soul. When I’m playing my best ‘Bach,’ I become aware of what Bach is saying. This has little to do with my playing and more to do with Bach. I’m often reminded of a quote I heard by a fellow musician: “No matter how well you play Bach, the music is always better.”
When pianist Glenn Gould recorded the Goldberg Variations not once but twice—first at the beginning of his career and then again at the end—many were puzzled. “Why make two recordings of the same work?”critics asked. But it made perfect sense to me. There is no better reflection of who you are, as a musician and a human being, than when you play the music of Bach. Somehow this composer’s music cleans out the soul, strips away the “isms,” and with the evolving understanding of the music, coincides with your own soul’s journey through life. The power of this music isn’t just in providing a reflection of who you are, but that it can change you for the better.
I don’t normally wax on this way, but after reading the review of Paul Elie’s book Reinventing Bach by Jeremy Denk in the New Republic, I thought it important to share, hopefully as an introduction to your journey with this great composer. So whether you play, listen to, or care to know more about the fascination around Bach, read the Jeremy Denk review called Bach’s Music – Back Then and Right Now. Let me know your thoughts!