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English Bach Quotes from Encyclopædia Britannica to Ton Koopman

Encyclopædia Britannica (1768-today)
Paul Farseth, Falcon Heights, Minnesota, USA
Kurt von Fischer (1913-2003), Swiss musicologist
Gad’s Musikleksikon (1976)
James R. Gaines (b. 1947), American journalist and author
John Eliot Gardiner (b. 1943), English conductor
Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002), American evolutionary biologist
Charles Gounod (1818-1893), French composer
Hélène Grimaud (b. 1969), French classical pianist
Johann Philip Kirnberger (1721-1783), German musicologist and Bach pupil
Jens Kjeldsen (b. 1944), Danish theologian, author and teacher
Ton Koopman (b. 1944), Dutch conductor, organist and harpsichordist

Encyclopædia Britannica (1768-today)

Although he was admired by his contemporaries primarily as an outstanding harpsichordist, organist, and expert on organ building, Bach is now generally regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time and is celebrated as the creator of the Brandenburg Concertos, The Well-Tempered Clavier, the Mass in B Minor, and numerous other masterpieces of church and instrumental music. Appearing at a propitious moment in the history of music, Bach was able to survey and bring together the principal styles, forms, and national traditions that had developed during preceding generations and, by virtue of his synthesis, enrich them all.

Bach appears to have been a good husband and father. Indeed, he was the father of 20 children, only 10 of whom survived to maturity. There is amusing evidence of a certain thriftiness—a necessary virtue, for he was never more than moderately well off and he delighted in hospitality. Living as he did at a time when music was beginning to be regarded as no occupation for a gentleman, he occasionally had to stand up for his rights both as a man and as a musician; he was then obstinate in the extreme. But no sympathetic employer had any trouble with Bach, and with his professional brethren he was modest and friendly. He was also a good teacher and from his Mühlhausen days onward was never without pupils.

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Paul Farseth, Falcon Heights, Minnesota, USA

Why Children Should Be Enabled to Listen Often to Glenn Gould Playing Bach Keyboard Music on the Piano

– At Breakfast, at Lunch, at Play, in the Halls at School, and while Falling Asleep

Bach teaches us to live and to think with a cantabile or “singing” frame of mind.

Bach teaches us that each voice in the enterprise has something to contribute, some unique expository content beyond the simple “AMEN” or “I agree” of the yes-men in the harmony. Bach models democratic diversity.

Bach reminds us that in the reciprocity of counterpoint there is a yielding by each solo line which works best when the various voices are listening to each other.

Bach teaches us that energy gets work done when it is applied with skill after practice to implement a design. We clap our hands in delight when we see how the music’s forcefulness so effortlessly carries forward the dialogue of the voices, the harmonic progressions, the sense of the inevitability of what we as listeners had not expected.

Bach teaches us that by listening carefully, and again and again, we find something new and interesting. Marriages should be like this, and sometimes they are.

Bach teaches us to recognize emotions for which we have lacked words, allowing us on recognizing them to cry or dance or work again. In Bach, life’s sadness sings duets with energy and joy. Bach reminds us that life is played in more than one key, more than one rhythm, more than one theme, but that all these can be played together with direction, harmony, energy, and consonance.

Bach reminds us that Chaos is not the final master of the universe, nor its creator.

Paul Farseth (2008)
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Kurt von Fischer (1913-2003), Swiss musicologist

The tradition to which Bach’s passions belong, in terms of the history of both music and the development of Christian faith, stretches back to the Middle Ages if we take the longest view, certainly to the Protestant Reformation, and most particularly to the turn of the 18th century. Bach both continued this tradition in his own time, and brought it up to date. Thus the greatness of these works consists not only in their unique artistic quality but also in the particular place they occupy in an important tradition.

After Bach, the passion as a genre almost completely disappeared for well over a hundred years, and has been revived with a few instances only in the 20th century. Yet, at least since Mendelssohn’s performance of the St. Matthew Passion in 1829, Bach’s passions have lived on, an inalienable inheritance, which each generation must explore and interpret anew.

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Gad’s Musikleksikon (1976)

Bach’s music has a peculiar and unusual power of expression, ranging from the elementary to the sublime, from cheerfulness to a longing for death, but it never threatens the balance of the composition. His contrapuntal mastery is perhaps the most striking, but his rich harmonic imagination is equally significant to the greatness of his art. His music is a perfect synthesis of polyphony and harmony, his polyphony is always based on a logical harmonic progression, and his harmony is always the result of linear voice movements. This synthesis is unique in the history of music.

One often senses a speculative feature in his music, for example the use of tone symbols in cantatas and passions, but it does not disturb the musical immediacy and flow of rhythmic-melodic power.

In our time, Bach is regarded as the greatest master of Protestant church music and as a central figure in European art music.

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James R. Gaines (b. 1947), American journalist and author

Exactly what Carl [Philipp Emanuel Bach] made of his father’s music is ambiguous in the litterature, perhaps because it may have been unclear to him. On the one hand he expressed great respect for his father’s genius and dedication, which he witnessed every day of his young life. On the other hand, as he admitted after his father was gone, he had needed to break away, to become himself as a composer and as a man, and that involved defining himself to some extent in opposition to his father’s aesthetic ideals.

For Carl and his generation, the expression of feeling in music was all, and the affection that mattered was not a text or other object for depiction but the feeling state of the performer and composer. Carl was almost theatrically demonstrative when he played. A player cannot move others unless he himself is moved, he wrote. This cannot come off without corresponding gestures, which would only be denied by someone who is constrained by his lack of sensitivity to sit in front of the instrument like a carved image. When his father played even the most passionate or technically difficult passage, he barely moved…

While Friedemann, the first and favourite, performed Bach’s works often on high feast days and rarely changed them except to correct mistakes in the score, Carl, even when he left Frederick’s court for Hamburg and was desperate for material to fill the city’s demanding schedule for music, performed his father’s works infrequently, and when he did he often replaced Bach’s arias with his own. He also routinely lifted his father’s works without attribution; every one of the twenty-one passions he wrote in his late life as musical director in Hamburg has one or more thefts in it.

To be fair, he was not alone in doing that; Handel was infamous for stealing other’s work, and Friedemann, whether for profit or expediency, once erased his father’s name on a work and replaced it with his own.

In many ways Bach was not a man of his time at all. At a moment in history when the composer was a craftman in service to town or church or court, charged with making music for every occasion, he forcefully, almost madly declared his independence. Such a stance was unheard of at the time, and presaged not the attitude of his sons’ generation but that of their sons and their sons’ sons.

In a way, Bach was the first “genius”, if by that we mean the Romantic notion of an individual seized by and expressing his own singular creative power. Having the core of his musical thinking entirely in himself rather than in his audience or his peers, not to mention Enlightenment theory, is precisely what allowed Bach to deconstruct and dominate rather than simply use or be influenced by what he studied, to make his music the sum and pinnacle of all the music of his time and so to prepare the way not just for a distinctively German musical language but for all of Western music.

Evening in the palace of reason – Bach meets Frederick the Great (2006)
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John Eliot Gardiner (b. 1943), English conductor

Bach is probably the only composer whose musical output is so rich, so challenging to the performer and so spiritually uplifting to performer and listener alike, that one would gladly spend a year in his exclusive company.

Do you know, the most extraordinary is still – when you go into a church like the Thomas-Kirche – when you think that Bach is probably with Beethoven and Mozart and Handel the most celebrated name of any composer that we’ve ever had in our last 3-400 years. And every household knows his name. And yet, 50 % of his work consists of the church cantatas, and just a handful of those are known. So we’re actually discovering 50 % of the most famous composer, that ever lived! I can never get over that, really!

It’s written for a very, very specific creed, a very, very specific type of believer and yet, the sheer musicality of his output is such that you don’t need to be a believing christian, you don’t need to be a Lutheran, you don’t need to be a trained organist or a trained singer to subscribe to the emotions that are imbued by Bach in this music and also to sense the euforia and ecstasy of his music-making.

Bachs music for the second day of Christmas in his Christmas Oratorio contains really the essence of what Christmas means to so many people. It contains the appearance of the angel to the shepherds. It represents also the reaction of the whole of the christian congregation, the christian community, to the events of Christ nativity. And it starts with one of the most beautiful orchestral pieces that ever came out of the 18. century, the famous pastoral symphony.

The Christmas Oratorio – despite its incredible rigour, the discipline and almost mathematical proportions that govern it – there is the sence that from that the human spirit is alive to flowd and to fly free. He tells us what its like to be a human being as part of the universe, and he tells us how our aspirations are to a Godhead, to a life beyond.

We have the libretto of the music that Buxtehude was writing in the Marienkirche in Lübeck. These series of cantatas were set to music using a number of instrumental groups – spatially separated. Groups of trompets – groups of woodwind instruments – groups of string instruments – choirs divided – and so on, all over the church. A practise that you associate usually more with Venice and the Italian tradition, than you do with German, protestant music. But it was something that clearly Buxtehude did, and that in turn made a deep impression on Bach.

I sometimes get the feeling when I come to Leipzig, that Bach made a wrong turning – that it was a bad career move for him. Of course, if he’d gone somewhere like Hamburg or to Dresden where he would have liked to have gone, we would have been all the richer for lots of wonderful Italian operas, we might have had 18 or 20 fantastic Italian operas, that might have changed the whole course of Italian opera. In fact, Mozart might have written completely different, had Bach written those operas.

And – we shouldn’t complain for heavens sake, because in return what we do have, is this extraordinary corpus of cantatas and the St. Matthew Passion, the St. John Passion, the Magnificat, the Christmas Oratorio, all these magnificent choral works, which in his own day were not regarded as the object of veneration. They became venerated in the course of the 19. century, but they really weren’t venerated in his own day. In fact, Forkel in his first biography of Bach hardly really touches on the vocal pieces. Bach is celebrated as a teacher, as an organist, as a performer above all, but not really as a composer of cantatas.

24 Hours Bach (28 July 2000) – 250th Bach anniversary

The big paradox is that Bach’s music actually, for all its provincial origins, has more universal appeal than arguably any other composer, and that involves the great names like Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikowsky – and why is that? Well, I think the more I delve into Bach’s music and the more I live with it, and I’ve known parts – segments – of Bach’s music ever since my childhood – I think that it’s something to do with the fact that he more than any other composer seems to combine what I would regard as a sort of the physical, earthy, with the metaphysical and the spiritually – the intellectual foundation of his art is as strong as the sensual and almost euforian side of his musical output.

And it’s these two sides coming together, the intellectual and the sensual, the ecstacy and the rigour, which I think makes him particular attractive. And I don’t think it’s an accident that his music more than any other composer than possibly Vivaldi, can be swung, can be danced to, can be rocked, can be jazzed, can be boogied to.

When you look at the instrumental treatises at the day they are all based on imitation of the human voice. So they are asking flutes, oboes, violins to imitate the singing voice. Now, the singing voice is something of course that we still can reproduce naturally, we have it, but are we reproducing it in the same way that Bach did it ? – that is the question.

We know for instance that the composition of his choir is very different in terms of gender and in terms of age from our own choir, and also our own possibilities – because boy’s voices broke much later in Germany in the 18th century. But not only did he have boys whose voices broke later but of course there were no women because the church forbade the use of women’s voices right up into the 19th century. I mean even Verdi, when he was doing his Requiem in Milan for the first time in the 1860s was not allowed to use women. Of if he could use women they had to be put behind a grille and to wear a bee-keeper’s hat with a veil so they couldn’t be seen. Absurd really, but that’s the way it was.

JOHN ELIOT GARDINER IN REHEARSAL – CHRISTEN, ÄTZET DIESEN TAG BWV 63 (1999)
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Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002), American evolutionary biologist

What I wanna know from you is: what’s your biochemistry?
I really wanna know whether life has to be done through DNA or whether there is lots of other ways.

And the other thing – that I will give to you – is the B Minor Mass, because that’s the best thing we’ve ever done. And I’d like to know whether you have ever done anything that beautiful – and if so, what was it? And share it with us.

Life Beyond Earth (timothy ferris, 2000) – Goulds message to an alien planet
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Charles Gounod (1818-1893), French composer

If all the music written since Bach’s time should be lost, it could be reconstructed on the foundation which Bach laid.

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Hélène Grimaud (b. 1969), French classical pianist

When I think about the music of Bach, I have a feeling that God owes Bach a lot. Without him, many people would not know that God exists.

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Johann Philip Kirnberger (1721-1783), German musicologist and Bach pupil

[In 1774, Bach’s Berlin disciple Kirnberger pointed out, how difficult it is]

not only to give each of the four voices its own flowing melody, but also to keep a uniform character in all, so that out of their union a single and perfect whole may arise.

In this the late Capellmeister Bach in Leipzig perhaps excelled all the composers in the world, wherefore his chorales as well as his larger works are to be most highly recommended to all composers as the best models for conscientious study.

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Jens Kjeldsen (b. 1944), Danish theologian, author and teacher

It is said that Bach’s music at any given time is being played somewhere on the globe – in any case, some organist is always rehearsing a prelude, chorale or fugue. And we know that there is more to it than that. Around the world, Bach’s music is constantly resounding in every conceivable way. The global musical scene of today cannot be understood without taking into account the influence of his music.

But we don’t know the whole truth about Bach’s music, and we will never get to know it. What can be heard today, is our contemporary interpretations of the surviving parts of his work.

We sense the shadows of lost works. We know the titles of some of them. Tradition informs about others. And yet others can be deduced. Musical works are being lost all the time, but not all losses are equally painful. The reason why the loss of works by Bach is such a sad fact, is not only due to the incomparable musical quality of the individual works. It is as much due to the absence of the contribution they could have made to the interpretation of those works, which did survive.

Although much has been lost, Bach’s musical work is immeasurable. Not only due to the number of works, although it is large. There were other composers writing more. But no one has written music with such a combination of depth, complexity and variety than Bach – and yet with such obvious simplicity.

It has been said of Bach that his actual audience was his own compositional conscience. His music is to an exceptional degree permeated with the highest musical ethics. If there is any place where all aspects of music are handled with the greatest responsibility, it is with Bach. Even in those layers of composing where he could have relaxed his strict demands on musical design and gotten away with it, he works under the highest musical responsibility.

The essentials for me is Bach’s exceptional vision in terms of musical design. His work documents that he possessed unmatched abilities. The most puzzling about Bach is the fact, that his oeuvre reveals such a constant and inexhaustible proficiency in musical design. Bach could mobilise a vast array of technical expertise, but he also had the privileged access to those fundamental principles that turn music into music. Without this comprehensive and deep musical vision, Bach’s technical sovereignty would not have been of much use to him.

It’s a stroke of luck that the greatest of all composers also was the greatest among teachers – which is not to be understood as him being a sublime pedagogue at any given time. But essential for him was to compose music which accounts for the innermost aspects of music. He was the last of the great composers for whom teaching was not a tedious interruption of the actual work. For Bach, passing on the musical achievements of the past and the present was as important as composing.

COSMOS AND SOUL / J S BACH AND THE BAROQUE MUSIC (2000)
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Ton Koopman (b. 1944), Dutch conductor, organist and harpsichordist

Bach is for me the greatest genius in musical history, and that’s because there is a fantastic balance between emotion and intelligence.

We can imagine that Bach at his young age was an enormous virtuoso player on the pedals, because later in his life people was talking about that he was surprising everybody with his enormous technique, playing quicker with his feet than other people could do with their hands. Of course Bach had great lessons with people in his time, think of Böhm, think of Reincken, think of his older brothers as well. But I think he surpassed them all.

I think it’s like building a house. When you have the right tools it’s much easier. I think there are genius people who without a hammer maybe can make a house, but’s it’s easier with a hammer. And so, if you use the right tools, the tools from the 17. and 18. centuries, the instruments from the time, the aesthetics from the time, the language from the time, I think many things are already correct.

And then of course you need fantastic musicians to do something with it. I mean, it’s not enough just to have a baroque oboe, but you should be a superb player on that instrument as well.

24 HOURS BACH (28 JULY 2000) – 250TH BACH ANNIVERSARY

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