JS Bach - Happy Birthday

JS Bach would have been 338 years old today. 

We owe him a lot: pretty much harnessed everything we now consider critical to good musical structure, and even instrumental tuning, triggering the development of valve instruments to allow music to emerge from the early Baroque style based on simple harmonics achieved hand/mouth tuning to complex and accurate chromatic progressions, not to mention the mathematical structures of his cannons, fugues, motets and simple etudes that develop in a way that pleases the human mind whether it understands it or not, as Islamic tile designs do. It’s all in the maths and unwinding of symmetries. 

Father of music. No Bach, no Beatles, no Beach Boys, no Burt Bacharach, no Bob Dylan, no Benny Andersson, BeeGees, BB King, Billie Holiday, Bill Withers, Black Eyed Peas, Beyonce, Blondie… just some B-listers!

I've liked the post, but all I can actually think about now is that Monty Python song about decomposing composers, which Bach doesn't even feature in.

I have found since a long time back that if you want to concentrate really hard on something - as a student doing A levels or degree, as a lawyer trying to review evidence or draft an advice or skeleton arguments etc, there are some really odd issues with noise.

- unmanaged / unexpected noise is distracting

- undisciplined music your brain can't anticipate is distracting

- music you know so well you join in with and bring to the front of your conscious mind is entirely destructive because it takes the place of the conscious thought on the work

- music that has a structure your brain can accommodate and anticipate, whether you know the piece or not, allows you to focus, block out all other noises (traffic, children, radio, TV, visitors, deliveries, colleagues, printers, people's phone calls) and really concentrate on your work.

For this, the best pieces in the world for me are Bach's Italian Concerto or other Harpsichord arrangements. The Harpischord is a single volume instrument (no matter how hard you hit the keys, it's plucking a string not hammering them so it is a fixed volume).  Bach wrote such methodic work that your mind seems to attune to the groove, stay in the groove and understand the progression of the work (the winding and unwinding of the ball of strong) so that you become part of the discipline of the music until finished, rather than interrupted by it, and the end doesn't come as a shock or an interruption, just a moment of arrival at a chance to stop working and realise an hour has gone by.


here is 10 mins of 4 Harpsichords together for your delectation.

J.S. Bach Concerto for 4 harpsichords BWV 1065 - YouTube

"the end doesn't come as a shock or an interruption, just a moment of arrival at a chance to stop working and realise an hour has gone by"

Yeah, whereas if you listen to Leonard Cohen:

"The rain falls down on last year's man
An hour has gone by
And he has not moved his hand
But everything will happen if he only gives the word
The lovers will rise up
And the mountains touch the ground

But the skylight is like skin for a drum I'll never mend
And all the rain falls down amen
On the works of last year's man"

I can only play one piece of Bach on the piano. Prelude in C Major. Never interrupt a person playing Prelude in C Major. 

One of the few public events during Covid I attended was a performance of the Goldberg Variations by Joanna MacGregor. There were about 20 people there tops, and I sat about 10 feet from her. It was transcendent.

It would have been great to be Leonard Cohen though, wouldn't it ? I don't worry too much about getting maudlin when I listen to his stuff. It's more cathartic than wallowing really. Though TBF I have listened to him pretty regularly since finding his albums in my Dad's record collection during a very long summer holiday when I was about 14, so maybe it doesn't hit me in the same way.