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Bach’s Secret

Bach’s secret

Robert Peters wrote (October 1, 2003):
What is the mysterious X which makes Bach's music so touching that even an agnostic guy like me feels like a Christian when listening to the St Matthew-Passion (BWV 244)?

Deryk Barker wrote (October 2, 2003):
[To Robert Peters] You're not the only one, Christopher Fry once wrote "Bach's music almost persuades me to become a Christian.

Steve Schwartz wrote (October 2, 2003):
[To Robert Peters] Talent?

John Proffitt wrote (October 2, 2003):
[To Robert Peters] All that is possible is a personal answer, the one that works for me. It is well expressed, I think, in the famous German Opera House saying:

"Bach gave us God's word;
Mozart gave us God's laughter;
Beethoven gave us God's fire-
God gave us music that we might pray without words."

For me, at least, Bach is the distilled contact with the Divine through music. And listening to his music becomes a form of wordless prayer.

Pretty subjective, I know, but I wanted to attempt to address your legitimate question.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (October 2, 2003):
[To Robert Peters] I cannot concur in the fullness of your assertion. I cannot dispute your own reaction, but I can assert mine to be quite different and somewhat the same. As a Jewish atheist I find Bach's two passions the most incredible works of music ever. I still see the plenitude of Judenhass which informs the Johannes-Passion. But, for all that, this music has always overwhelmed me in a way that no other music ever will. I must believe that Bach was infused with your "X" and personally I believe that, had he lived in a different culture and time, his greatness would have been employed to express the belief system of that other place and time. Think e.g. Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. The greatness of Bach's music need not depend on the message of his texts. For those for whom it does, it does. For me, it is great in its universality and it transcending of the texts of its culture.

Glenn Miller wrote (October 2, 2003):
[To Robert Peters] I saw on TV an interview with Stephen Gould, the paleontologist who passed away not long ago, and was an atheist I recall, said he thought the Mass in B minor (BWV 232) was the greatest piece of music ever written.

Donald Satz wrote (October 3, 2003):
< Yoël Arbeitman writes: The greatness of Bach's music need not depend on the message of his texts. >
Like Yoel, I am a Jewish atheist and don't consider the texts that Bach set music to as having any significance to the worth of his music. Bach's music would have been great even if he was setting music to vulgar rap lyrics. When I listen to the Passions or Mass in B minor (BWV 232), I sure don't start feeling like a Christian nor does my religious quotient rise above zero.

I don't believe that Bach's greatness has any secrets involved - outstanding architecture, melodies, their development, and the contrasts among his themes do the trick. Most important to me is that no other composer packs as much incisive emotional breadth into a piece of music as Bach does. I am always amazed at the complexity, depth, and wealth of themes that he offers in his so-called miniatures. To convey a full meal of music in just one or two minutes is nothing but transcendent.

Roger Hecht wrote (October 3, 2003):
[To Robert Peters] As an agnostic, I have always believed that no one really knows the Truth of the Universe. Anyone who claims to is merely kidding him/herself and anyone who believes what he/she is claiming it to be. I do not think humans are capable of understanding such things, much as we are not capable of emotionally understanding Infinity. What I do think is that some among us get flashes of it, and those rare few are our creative geniuses. The works they produce stand above those by the rest of us for reasons we can explain with no more success than we can divinity or Infinity. If you can explain with complete understanding what makes music great in the way Bach's is great, it's not really that great.

I was not that fond of the movie Amadeus, but I found this stated quite well in an opening scene where Salieri "explains" the magic in a passage of one of Mozart's wind serenades. He can't of course, and he knows he can't, which is the point.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying there is no answer to your question.

Nick Perovich wrote (October 4, 2003):
[To Donnald Satz] Why must we suppose that Bach has only one secret (or no secrets)? For a long time Bruckner was a closed book to me, one that only began to open when I came to hear the symphonies as religious music. (Texts are a red herring; they're certainly not necessary for appreciating music as religious.) I don't think I'm imposing anything on Bruckner when I say this--I think they are religious music--but I also don't think that this is the only thing to hear in his music or the only way to gain entrance into it. Similarly with Bach: I do think there is a depth of religious feeling in this music that is very rewarding for those who respond to it, but I don't think that is all there is to respond to. Perhaps those without religious antennae are able to engage more deeply with the non-religious elements precisely because they're not preoccupied with the religious ones. While I do think that those who cannot hear the religious in Bach or Bruckner are missing something that really is there, I don't think that means there is nothing left for them to hear nor that what they do hear cannot be as profoundly affecting as what is heard by those with religious sensibilities. But to grant that is not to deny that there is a religious "secret" to Bach's music.

Robert Peters wrote (October 4, 2003):
Donald Satz wrote in reaction to Yoel Arbeitman:
<< The greatness of Bach's music need not depend on the message of his texts.>>
< Like Yoel, I am a Jewish atheist and don't consider the texts that Bach set music to as having any significance to the worth of his music. Bach's music would have been great even if he was setting music to vulgar rap lyrics. >
Well, not all rap lyrics are vulgar (some are quite complex and full of interesting thoughts) but that's not the point here: I disagree. For me, a lover of Lieder, the words set to music are very important. They were the starting point for the composer's imagination. Bach WANTED to set the Gospel according to St John to music not Anna Magdalena's shopping list. We see in a lot of vocal works how the words inspired the composer. Verdi's Dies Irae is thundering because it tries to express the anger and wrath written about in the words, he wasn't upset because of someone mentioning Wagner in his household.

< I don't believe that Bach's greatness has any secrets involved - outstanding architecture, melodies, their development, and the contrasts among his themes do the trick. Most important to me is that no other composer packs as much incisive emotional breadth into a piece of music as Bach does. I am always amazed at the complexity, depth, and wealth of themes that he offers in his so-called miniatures. To convey a full meal of music in just one or two minutes is nothing but transcendent. >
Strange: first you say there is no secret in Bach's music, it is just composing. Then you admit that his music is "transcendent". So, are you an idealist or a materialist?

Bernard Chasan wrote (October 4, 2003):
Yoël Arbeitman writes:
<< The greatness of Bach's music need not depend on the message of his texts. >>
and Don Satz adds:
< Like Yoel, I am a Jewish atheist and don't consider the texts that Bach set music to as having any significance to the worth of his music. Bach's music would have been great even if he was setting music to vulgar rap lyrics. When I listen to the Passions or Mass in B minor
(BWV 232), I sure don't start feeling like a Christian nor does my religious quotient rise above zero. >
A dissenting opinion:

The Passions in particular are so wedded to the central Christian story, and so clearly derive their expressiveness from that narrative, that I, also a Jewish agnostic, choose not to listen to them. For me the glory of Bach resides in tkeyboard music.

Robert Peters wrote (October 4, 2003):
Steve Schwartz answered my question: < Talent? >
Yes, but talent for what? For composing? For moving people? Every film composer can move people - but can he (or she) touch the soul? Is touching the soul through music only a technical question of notes and chords?

Robert Peters wrote (October 4, 2003):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote in reaction to my question: < I cannot concur in the fullness of your assertion. I cannot dispute your own reaction, but I can assert mine to be quite different and somewhat the same. As a Jewish atheist I find Bach's two passions the most incredible works of music ever. I still see the plenitude of Judenhass which informs the Johannes-Passion. >
You are quite right, Yoel. The Gospel according to St John itself is anti-Semitic. It is a problem for me that a lot of great artists were not very fine characters: take only Wagner (I like the Dutchman and utterly hate the man), Strauss and Orff (cowards who served the Nazi government). Not a compliment for my country (I am a German). There is a medieval painter, Stefan Lochner. You can see an altar by him in the Cologne Cathedral, a work of breathtaking beauty. If you then go to a near-by museum (Wallraff-Richartz-Museum) you can see a Judgment Day painting by the same painter: in it can see men with bizarre hats thrown into hell - the Jews. The same man was able to promote beauty and to propagate hatred. And isn't a lot of the music we admire exactly this - propaganda, for church and for state?

< But, for all that, this music has always overwhelmed me in a way that no other music ever will. I must believe that Bach was infused with your "X" and personally I believe that, had he lived in a different culture and time, his greatness would have been employed to express the belief system of that other place and time. >
A fine thought but doesn't this mean that indeed a lot of his music was propaganda: the Brandenburg concertos state propaganda, the Passions and cantatas church propaganda?

< Think e.g. Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. The greatness of Bach's music need not depend on the message of his texts. For those for whom it does, it does. For me, it is great in its universality and it transcending of the texts of its culture. >
Well, I partly disagree. For me as a lover of poetry the words are very important and a song like Bach's (or Stolzel's) Bist du bei mir is moving because of the blend of the tender words with Bach's tender setting. The same is true for most of Schubert's Lieder. But you are certainly right at the same time: I am regularly moved by vocal music in languages I do not understand.

Donald Satz wrote (October 4, 2003):
< Robert Peters writes: For me, a lover of Lieder, the words set to music are very important. >
For me, the words only have significance because of the music. As you might gather, I rarely liisten to Lieder. I seem to have no patience for it, usually wanting the singer to take a break.

< They were the starting point for the composer's imagination. >
I don't doubt that, and even I would use the words for inspiration.But Bach didn't need inspirational text to compose masterpieces, as evidenced by his equally wonderful instrumental music.

< Bach WANTED to set the Gospel according to St. John to music not Anna Magdalena's shopping list. >
Yes, but what do you think would have been on Anna's list? Don't be so sure that she wouldn't have any items that might inspire a composer to churn out a tune or two. Seriously, I'd wager that Bach could have written great music to just about any stimuli.

< So, are you an idealist or a materialist? >
Some of both - we humans are complex organisms. I have my basic personality which places little weight on spirituality. However, I feel much spirituality from music, always have. That's a prime reason why I turn to it so frequently.

Donald Satz wrote (October 4, 2003):
< Bernard Chasan writes: The Passions in particular are so wedded to the central Christian story, and so clearly derive their expressiveness from that narrative, that I, also a Jewish agnostic, choose not to listen to them. >
Understood - it can be hard to go along with the words for any length of time. However, I'm not going to discard fantastic music because of any text. I try to just key on the universal human emotions underlying the words; that way, I feel I get as much out of Bach's choral music as one who has religious fervor.

< For me, the glory of Bach resides in the keyboard music. >
You won't get any argument from me. The Goldberg Variations and Well Tempered Clavier are the best music in this world. Can we add in the organ works as well? Some great stuff there, including the Leipzig Chorales which are associated with religious text. Nobody could derive greater enlightenment and spirituality from those pieces than I do. Well, I don't really know that to be true, but I think that the folks who assume that the religious individual has a leg up on atheists and agnostics concerning Bach's sacred choral music need to think again.

David Harbin wrote (October 4, 2003):
I think two of the 'secrets' of Bach's music are (1) that he was a kind hearted person and this is reflected in his music and (2) it seems to almost always be dancing in some way.

Walter Meyer wrote (October 4, 2003):
< Bernard Chasan wrote:
A dissenting opinion:
The Passions in particular are so wedded to the central Christian story, and so clearly derive their expressiveness from that narrative, that I, also a Jewish agnostic, choose not to listen to them. For me the glory of Bach resides in the keyboard music. >
Sort of raises the question, if a composer of J.S. Bach's stature had lived in Germany during Hitler's reign and had composed music of the depth and splendor found in Bach's Passions glorifying the Fuehrer and celebrating Nazism and all it stood for, what would be our reaction to that composer's music today? My answer is, I don't know.

I do know that, although I'm no Christian, I like much of Bach's religious music, especially his b minor Mass (BWV 232) and his Magnificat in D (BWV 243), as well as those cantatas that I've heard. However, except for the "Ruhet Wohl" towards the end of the St. John's passion (BWV 245), I don't respond as warmly to his St. Matthew's (BWV 244) and St. John's Passions. At first I thought it might be that, as a speaker of German, I found the German texts too offensive, but they didn't bother me so much in the Cantatas. That, in turn may be because (as a non-believer) I find them too ludicrous to be offensive, whereas the Passions strike closer to home. As it is, I'm thankful for Bach's music, choral and instrumental, that I do like and won't examine the gift horse too closely.

Steve Schwartz wrote (October 4, 2003):
Robert Peters replies to me replying to him:
<<< What is the mysterious X which makes Bach's music so touching that even an agnostic guy like me feels like a Christian when listening to the St Matthew-Passion
(BWV 244)? >>>
<< Talent? >>
< Yes, but talent for what? For composing? For moving people? >
The short answer is yes.

< Every film composer can move people - but can he (or she) touch the soul? >
Some do, some don't, just like other composers.

< Is touching the soul through music only a technical question of notes and chords? >
What else could it be? AND is Bach's X different in kind or degree or both? Bach certainly has his own artistic "personality," but so do many other composers. It's both an advantage and a limitation. Bach could no more be Chopin or Debussy than either one of them could be him.

The idea of the mysterious X (just drop it in your tea for greatness -- I'm kidding) is a highly Romantic one. For me, an artist does things better than other people, rather than has a greater Soul than others. Too many composers, poets, and artists were not only idiots in anything other than their art, but rather unlovely characters as well. I know enough of Bach's life to realize he was no saint and that he had no special insight on life. However, he did compose music better than most.

Robert Peters wrote (October 4, 2003):
< Bernard Chasan wrote: ThePassions in particular are so wedded to the central Christian story, and so clearly derive their expressiveness from that narrative, that I, also a Jewish agnostic, choose not to listen to them. For me the glory of Bach resides in the keyboard music. >
E
specially since I am a German (38 years old but aware of my country's history) I can do nothing but humbly respect your opinion. Nevertheless some thoughts: so much music is propaganda, propaganda for religious cases (Christian, Muslim, Jewish and atheist), for politic cases (imperialism, communism, music celebrating battles, music celebrating pacifism) that I find it, speaking only for me, necessary to ignore a lot of the occasions this music was written for to just enjoy its beauty. I certainly do not like the infamous "Let his blood come upon us"-passage in the St John Passion (BWV 245). Sometimes I skip it when listening to the work.

Glenn Miller wrote (October 4, 2003):
< Every film composer can move people - but can he (or she) touch the soul? Is touching the soul through music only a technical question of notes and chords? >
The problem here is that "soul" cannot really be defined. The question of what is being moved or touched will go on. The thing here is the comparison of film composer to the "greats" who can moves us. Somehow I am not impressed. Otherwise, people would be converted to change their ways to be better human beings after being touched. Am I missing something? I know some will say that music lifts them out of moods, or depression but you do not hear of murderers or thieves say" I was going to commit this crime but I heard this classical piece on the radio and I was moved. Then and there I decided to change......."

Walter Meyer wrote (October 7, 2003):
< David Harbin wrote: I think two of the 'secrets' of Bach's music are (1) that he was a kind hearted person and this is reflected in his music and (2) it seems to almost always be dancing in some way. >
My wife, not a listener to classical music excecpt when I'm playing some recordings and she's around, heard some J.S. Bach that she liked and asked me, "Was he a happy man?"

(I told her he had 20 children.)

Ramiro Arguello wrote (October 7, 2003):
Murderers are not usually classical music fans and much less Bach enthusiast.

Santu De Silva wrote (October 7, 2003):
< Robert Peters asked: What is the mysterious X which makes Bach's music so touching that even an agnostic guy like me feels like a Christian when listening to the St Matthew-Passion (BWV 244)? >
I think, for me, the beauty of Bach's sacred music is not to much the message in it -- after 2000 years of it, it is familiar and no longer startling, as it would have been at first (in the time of Jesus). After all, Jesus was one of the earliest anti-heros.

What grabs me is Bach's response to it. it must have been a STRuggle to accept some aspects of the dogma, the Pauline theology, So beautiful, so poetic, but in my view, so flawed. But there is a wide-eyed earnestness with which he accepts it all, the joy and the pain. There is a wholeheartedness in Bach's response to the christian "word" that does not come easily to modern men and women.

Then, of course, as Steve says, there is Bach's talent, which brings the full power of Baroque harmony and counterpoint to bear on the musical problem that Bach set out to solve.

P.S: One of my favorites in the SMP is O Mensch, bewein dein Sundre gross, and I have given up analyzing why it moves me so much!

Janos Gereben wrote (October 7, 2003):
Just to add yet another Jewish atheist to this discussion: I believe the text cannot be separated from the music, but it can be heard in a modified context. As to going the other way, ignoring Bach's vocal music, I won't deny myself this any more than turning a deaf ear to the music of Richard (SOB) Wagner.

The way I handle these contraditions and conflicts is by listening to the music both "in the abstract" and focusing on the lyricism and passion underlying any specific message. I have not done this in a deliberate, premeditated way, but now that I think about it, I see a parallel between response to the great stories coming from a belief system I do not abide by (Mann's "Joseph and His Brothers," for example) and sublime music inspired by the composer's faith, which I do not share. Musical, literary and psychological gems from the context of archaic superstition remain precious, regardless of the source.

Donald Satz wrote (October 7, 2003):
< David Harbin writes: I think two of the 'secrets' of Bach's music are (1) that he was a kind hearted person and this is reflected in his music and (2) it seems to almost always be dancing some way. >

I totally agree with David's 2nd premise, but I don't know about the 1st; there's kind hearted music in Wagner's soundworld also. Overall, I tend to feel that Bach put into his music what he couldn't express or act on in real life.

It does dawn on me that David's two items and mine above all can be found in the works of many other composers besides Bach. The emotional quotient has to be compelling, but purely architectural matters must also weigh heavily in the process.

Mike Leghorn wrote (October 7, 2003):
< Robert Peters wrote: What is the mysterious X which makes Bach's music so touching that even an agnostic guy like me feels like a Christian when listening to the St Matthew-Passion (BWV 244)? >
The Hallelujah chorus, and final chorus (especially the "Amen..." in Händel's Messiah temporarily suspend my disbelief in Christianity.

Mike Leghorn wrote (October 7, 2003):
< Glen Miller replied to Robert Peters:

<< What is the mysterious X which makes Bach's music so touching that even an agnostic guy like me feels like a Christian when listening to the St Matthew-Passion
(BWV 244) >>
< I saw on TV an interview with Stephen Gould, the paleontologist who passed away not long ago, and was an atheist I recall, said he thought the Mass in B minor
(BWV 232) was the greatest piece of music ever written. >
Gould knew a lot more about paleontology than music.

I have a question: what is the big deal about Bach's Mass in B minor (BWV 232)? Why (according to the liner notes in my Eliot Gardiner recording) in 1817 did Swiss critic Hans-Georg Nageli acclaim the piece as the "greatest work of music of all ages and of all peoples"? (I doubt that he knew the music of "all peoples".) I can't seem to get into this piece. I find it boring. Is my recording faulty? Should I get my hearing checked?

Margaret Mikulska wrote (October 7, 2003):
<< Robert Peters writes: Bach WANTED to set the Gospel according to St. John (BWV 245) to music not Anna Magdalena's shopping list. >>
< Donald Satz wrote: Yes, but what do you think would have been on Anna's list? Don't be so sure that she wouldn't have any items that might inspire a composer to churn out a tune or two. >
Kohl und Ruben?

Robert Peters wrote (October 7, 2003):
< Donald Satz wrote: Yes, but what do you think would have been on Anna's list? Don't be so sure that she wouldn't have any items that might inspire a composer to churn out a tune or two. Seriously, I'd wager that Bach could have written great music to just about any stimuli. >
Probaby but the crucial point is that he did not. He chose the religious stimuli for most of his works (and even in his keyboard music some religious symbolism can be found). No, Bach did not choose "just about any stimuli", he was a Christian and wrote highly Christian music. No one is obliged to listen to Bach and feel like a Christian or a generally religious person but it means to misunderstand Bach to ignore this simple truth.

Britta Harrendoef wrote (October 8, 2003):
I listen to Bach and feel moved by every piece of his music. I can be just as moved by one of his cello suites as I am by his church music. I am not religious, but as others have said before, I gets you close to wanting to be. But I think its the beauty of the music that does that. So Bach composed much of his music for religious purposes. ok. however, if he had written his music for, lets say philosophical purposes, I would have been just as inclined to believe it. The interesting thing for me is that many people find his music so beautiful. what is beauty and what do you feel lwhen you find something so beautiful that it hurts/moves you? Is that how we perceive some kind of truth? (I know...very mushy/philosophical but I am very interested in what beauty is and how we can 'hear' beauty.)So when I think of Bach's music it echos in me, it goes on and on, a kind of endless music, moving me with its sincerity. But is that just a trick/ special feature of Bach's music? How comes I feel this in every piece written by him (even when I listen to something and I do not know its by Bach?) I think its partly a feature of the Baroque. The pure celebration in music. And Bach developed it to perfection. Any ideas / references as to beauty and perception of beaty
in relation to music (especially Bach?)

Jan Thuis wrote (October 8, 2003):
< Ramiro Arguello wrote: Murderers are not usually classical music fans and much less Bach enthusiast. >
But some of them make very moving and interesting composers. I think of "Carlo Gesualdo di Venosa (ca.1561-1613)". To be honest, that is the only composer I could think of in this regard. Murderers can - why not - have very refined musical tastes. And some of my friends have abominal musical tastes (they don't agree with me on this ;-) without them being murderers. For as far as I know. Is it not often the case that relatives, friends and neighbours of the most heinous criminals are very surprised that such a nice kind and decent person... And I add: with such an excisite taste in music.

Robert Peters wrote (October 8, 2003):
< Mike Leghorn asks: I have a question: what is the big deal about Bach's Mass in B minor (BWV 232)? Why (according to the liner notes in my Eliot Gardiner recording) in 1817 did Swiss critic Hans-Georg Nageli acclaim the piece as the "greatest work of music of all ages and of all peoples"? (I doubt that he knew the music of "all peoples".) I can't seem to get into this piece. I find it boring. Is my recording faulty? Should I get my hearing checked? >
Mike, it obviously isn't your cup of tea. I find the Mass (BWV 232) extremely moving and not boring at all. Your hearing is okay and your recording is not faulty. You are simply not the person Bach wrote his Mass (BWV 232) for. And that's okay.

Donald Satz wrote (October 8, 2003):
< Robert Peters responds to me:
<< Seriously, I'd wager that Bach could have written great music to just about any stimuli. >>
Probably but the crucial point is that he did not. >
I don't see anything crucial about it, and there is also no evidence that Robert's statement is correct. Robert has no special insight into Bach's inner mind anymore than I or anyone else does.

< No, Bach did not choose "just about any stimuli", he was a Christian and wrote highly Christian music. >
That's it? We're going to take perhaps the greatest composer in history and just identify him as a Christian who wrote Christian music. By the way, it isn't Christian music, it's Bach's music and it has universal appeal.

Robert paints Bach as a one-dimensional composer when he has no idea what other stimuli Bach used when composing his works. So much of Bach's music clearly had nothing to do with religion. Even for those works connected to religious inspiration, we have no reason to assume that only religious inspiration was the source. Bach knows the truth, and he's not talking these days.

Bach is one of the greatest composers of all time. His music tells me that he was a complicated individual likely deriving inspiration from an almost inexhaustible supply of sources including the world of mathematics. To say that Bach wrote highly Christian music and leave it at that reduces Bach to a 'middle-man' between God and Bach's audience. I think too highly of Bach to attach such limitations to his genius.

Robert Peters wrote (October 8, 2003):
< Ramiro Arguello wrote: Murderers are not usually classical music fans and much less Bach enthusiast. >
Oh, Ramiro - and they call me a romantic guy. You are obviously an idealist. Take the most infamous murderer of them all: Hitler. He liked operettas (Kalman) and operas (Wagner, d'Albert). I do not know if he liked Bach - but I unfortunately don't see a reason why a murderer (and murderers are human beings after all) can't be a Bach enthusiast.

Len Fehskens wrote (October 8, 2003):
< Mike Leghorn asks: what is the big deal about Bach's Mass in B minor (BWV 232)? ... I find it boring. Is my recording faulty? Should I get my hearing checked? >
I went through a similar thing. Back in college there were a number of my dormmates who revered the B minor Mass (BWV 232). So I listened to it over and over and over again, and just never "got it". I too thought it was boring. Many years pass. One day for some reason I decide to give it a listen again (probably some discussion like this one). And what do you know, it's a masterpiece. Even better, it's a familiar masterpiece.

Regarding the more general issue about the words: I don't think you can divorce the words from the music, especially in religious music, but you don't need to believe the words to appreciate the sentiments they express, and the way the music expresses or supports those sentiments. I think if you ignore the words you're ignoring an important part of the music. This is not to say that you can't appreciate the music, only that you're missing something.

And finally, Mike, it was nice to hear someone else acknowledge that "Worthy is the Lamb" and the Amen from Messiah are fully as magnificent as the Hallelujah chorus.

Robert Peters wrote (October 12, 2003):
< Janos Gereben wrote: The way I handle these contraditions and conflicts is by listening to the music both "in the abstract" and focusing on the lyricism and passion underlying any specific message. I have not done this in a deliberate, premeditated way, but now that I think about it, I see a parallel between response to the great stories coming from a belief system I do not abide by (Mann's "Joseph and His Brothers," for example) and sublime music inspired by the composer's faith, which I do not share. Musical, literary and psychological gems from the context of archaic superstition remain precious, regardless of the source. >
Intelligent words. I want to put it this way: when I listen to music with an orthodox religious message I concentrate on what all religions and all humanist notions have in common: belief in a big secret.

Ramiro Arguello wrote (October 12, 2003):
< Mike Leghorn wrote: I have a question: what is the big deal about Bach's Mass in B minor (BWV 232)? Why (according to the liner notes in my Eliot Gardiner recording" etc. >
I also have Eliot Gardiner recording which to my taste is only fair. I remember I had a wolderful LP recording but I do not remember from whom it was, I only remember that it was a big chorus and orchestra worderfully conducted by?

Can a Lister suggest a good sound recording of this Mass (BWV 232)?

David Cozy wrote (October 12, 2003):
What evidence is there that Bach was (or was not) an earnest Christian?

That is, does the evidence suggest that he composed his Passions and other Christian music primarily because he was a believing Christian or primarily because it was his job (a job he did, to be sure, very, very well)?

I hope those who know more about Bach's life than I do can shed some light on this.

Glenn Miller wrote (October 12, 2003):
< Murderers are not usually classical music fans and much less Bach enthusiast. >
I guessing you are referring to my earlier post where I mentioned murderer's not being moved by classical music to change their nature. To be more clear anyway, I think we human beings are all closely related by being in the same family (if you will) and that people who commit evil, bad, not so nice, thoughtless, brainless acts still possess human qualities, and as such can enjoy what life has to offer. This can be seen by observing the lives of criminals, whether on TV or books. I think if a survey were done on people whom have committed murder or thieves who steal for that matter, the ratio of enjoying classical music will be same as the general population interested in clamusic. This is why I do not understand why some folks describe classical music like some religion, some truth that has to be gotten out so the unsaved can be redeemed. I may sound harsh but it sure seems that way to me.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (October 12, 2003):
< Len Fehskens wrote: And finally, Mike, it was nice to hear someone else acknowledge that "Worthy is the Lamb" and the Amen from Messiah are fully as magnificent as the Hallelujah chorus. >
Unless I missed something (I am reading all the Bach posts together right now, not having read this list in a while), Mike did not mention "Worthy is the lamb". To me, the first openly Jewish atheist in this thread:-), "Worthy is the lamb" has always been more, significantly more magnificent and moving than the Hallelujah chorus. Let me add that I have found the thread very insightful and civilized on all sides so far.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (October 12, 2003):
< Robert Peters wrote:
<< Ramiro Arguello wrote: Murderers are not usually classical music fans and much less Bach enthusiast. >>
Oh, Ramiro - and they call me a romantic guy. You are obviously an idealist. Take the most infamous murderer of them all: Hitler. He liked operettas (Kalman) and operas (Wagner, d'Albert). I do not know if he liked Bach - but I unfortunately don't see a reason why a murderer (and murderers are human beings after all) can't be a Bach enthusiast. >
Totally agreed. But why, Robert, do you mention Kalman? I have always heard the Lehar was der Fuehrer's favorite.

Glenn Miller wrote (October 12, 2003):
< Is my recording faulty? Should I get my hearing checked >
There is no doubt that normal hearing varies among people and that factors in on the kind of sound people go for. As hearing deteriorates over time, how one listens to classical music will change, though many will not realize they are making their decisions based on faulty hearing. Having said that, I realized you were joking since it would be more than the Mass in B minor (BWV 232) that would be the problem if it were due to your hearing.

< I saw on TV an interview with Stephen Gould, the paleontologist who passed away not long ago, and was an atheist I recall, said he thought the Mass in B minor (BWV 232) was the greatest piece of music ever written. >
Gould knew a lot more about paleontology than music.

Of course. But I think he said it as an expression of his personal opinion, not the gospel truth--pun intended.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (October 12, 2003):
The original poster (IIRC) and some who followed him suggested that one is moved to become a believer in the Christian faith by Bach's music and his setting of Christian texts. I would suggest that one who finds Jephtha as the most moving of Händel's vocal works, as I do, might be moved to a religious concept of sacrificing his daughter (unintentionally) when he is faced with a major contest. The fact that things turn out nicely in Händel's oratorio, following the alternate exegesis does not change this possibility.

One who finds Wagner's Walküre a very moving and emotionally wrenching experience might be moved to take shelter in someone's house and then discover the attraction of the man's wife and have to copulate with her and become aware at the same time that she is one's sister. One might feel that a child will be born from such a hieros gamos who will have something to do with the Goetterdämmerung.

But we need not believe the texts or take them as our religion and forgo rational thinking just because the music is great.

Walter Meyer wrote (October 12, 2003):
< Ramiro Arguello wrote: Murderers are not usually classical music fans and much less Bach enthusiast. >
I have no direct knowledge of this but I understand that concentration quite a few camp officers and guards went home after clocking out from their grisly work and listened to, and also played, the music of Bach and Schubert and Mozart, among others.

Dave Wolf wrote (October 12, 2003):
< Glen Miller asked: what is the big deal about Bach's Mass in B minor (BWV 232)? >
I confess I also have a blind ear for this one; I've tried it a number of times but still much much prefer the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244), with its glorious arias (Erbarme Dich, Geduld, the choral conclusion, etc. etc.) as well as the deeply moving relationship between text and music, even though I'm yet another J-A! (I also enjoy Wagner's magnificent music despite the source.) Can any of you B-minor-Mass (BWV 232) lovers point out some comparable glories to those of us who haven't found them yet? (As well as favored recordings) I hate to miss out on something that's so highly regarded!

Robert Peters wrote (October 12, 2003):
< Donald Satz wrote:
<< Robert Peters responds to me:
<<< Seriously, I'd wager that Bach could have written great music to just about any stimuli. >>>
<< Probably but the crucial point is that he did not. >>
I don't see anything crucial about it, and there is also no evidence that Robert's statement is correct. Robert has no special insight into Bach's inner mind anymore than I or anyone else does. >
I never said I had, Don. The point is that you began this exchange with a very bold statement: that "Bach could have written great music to just about any stimuli". Now, since you have "no special insight into Bach's inner mind" how can you prove your statement?

<< No, Bach did not choose "just about any stimuli", he was a Christian and wrote highly Christian music. >>
< That's it? We're going to take perhaps the greatest composer in history and just identify him as a Christian who wrote Christian music. By the way, it isn't Christian music, it's Bach's music and it has universal appeal. >
Don, this is splitting hairs. All the cantatas, the passions, the church organ music, the mass (BWV 232), the magnificat (BWV 243) - surely it's Bach's music and surely it's Christian music. No one denies that Christian music can have universal appeal but it's still Christian music since it's written for Christian service and by a devoted Christian. It takes nothing away from Bach's genius to state this simple fact: most of his work is Christian music.

< Robert paints Bach as a one-dimensional composer when he has no idea what other stimuli Bach used when composing his works. So much of Bach's music clearly had nothing to do with religion. >
Don, why not quote my exact words? I wrote that MOST of Bach's music is Christian and this is simply true. I do not know why Bach wrote the Goldberg Variations and the Brandenburg Concertos are not Christian - but cantatas and masses and passions are Christian music, if you like it or not.

< Even for those works connected to religious inspiration, we have no reason to assume that only religious inspiration was the source. Bach knows the truth, and he's not talking these days. >
I never said that Christian belief was the only source for these works. But the truth remains: they are Christian works.

< Bach is one of the greatest composers of all time. His music tells me that he was a complicated individual likely deriving inspiration from an almost inexhaustible supply of sources including the world of mathematics. >
Interesting: you write that I claim to have a special insight into Bach's mind and reduce the guy (what I do not do). And now you tell us that a little bird told you that Bach was a highly "complicated individual" and not `only a Christian. Don, I think we all see the Bach we want to see. The historical figure Johann Sebastian Bach was a devoted Christian. What is bad about this?

< To say that Bach wrote highly Christian music and leave it at that reduces Bach to a 'middle-man' between God and Bach's audience. >
I think for Bach himself this would be a flattering title.

< I think too highly of Bach to attach such limitations to his genius. >
I don't see that it limitates Bach to say that he was, besides other things, a Christian who wrote wonderful Christian music with universal appeal.

Deryk Barker wrote (October 12, 2003):
< Mike Leghorn wrote: I have a question: what is the big deal about Bach's Mass in B minor (BWV 232)? Why (according to the liner notes in my Eliot Gardiner recording) in 1did Swiss critic Hans-Georg Nageli acclaim the piece as the "greatest work of music of all ages and of all peoples"? (I doubt that he knew the music of "all peoples".) I can't seem to get into this piece. I find it boring. Is my recording faulty? Should I get my hearing checked? >
If the only one you have is the Eliot Gardiner, it's tempting to say yes. I find it boring as well, although I tink it one of the greatest works of all time.

Others will doubtless weigh in with other recommendations, but I've yet to find a period instrument performance that really satisfies me. Richter on DG Archiv remains my yardstick, even after 35 years (the recording is actually from 1961). Marriner on Philips is also very fine.

Jos Janssen wrote (October 12, 2003):
Contemplating what I like about Bach......

Is there something intrinsic different in Bach, Messiaen, Bartok, Mozart and Ravel? Something that makes their music stand out as something special? I am not sure, but I don't think so, since I never met Bach, Bartok, Mozart and Ravel in person. And thinking back to the two instances when I met Messiaen, the only thing that strikes me now, 15 years on, was the sense how music was an integral part of his life, seamlessly connected to everything else he did during the day.

Still, I'll say that what stands out the most for me in above composer's music and makes me think "they're different" is my OWN frame of mind towards them. It is me who sees a unique meeting in them of divine and urban, of ratio and emotion. It is my own (hopefully not totally undevelopped) sense for quality that reaches out to some tiny little musical facts where it chooses to ignore others.

It's ok, and it's FUN to have this discussion thread. It is also TRUE that there is nothing out there but a composer's corpse, a pile of music scores, thousands of CDS, a few good books and hundreds of concerts. Don't be tempted by those who explicitly or implicitly claim that the "sense for quality" is something to be measured individually against some "objective facts" like Bach being a nice man. For which, by the way, we have no way of knowing. When I say that Messiaen's music is "different" and ask myself "what" is different, I should really leave it at describing my own reaction to him and not projecting my thoughts and reactions on something out there of which I know nothing.

Last Friday, I played St. Matthew's Passion (BWV 244) to a friend in two versions, one by Mengelberg, the other by Herreweghe. My friend is a guy who really wants to know, so he says: "which of either way is the way Bach meant it to be"? A reasonable question from his point of view, but also a very dangerous pitfall. Bach may have wanted this or that, but very much more relevant is what WE want HERE and NOW.

Steve Schwartz wrote (October 12, 2003):
Donald Satz replies to Robert Peters:
<<< Seriously, I'd wager that Bach could have written great music to just about any stimuli. >>>
<< Probably but the crucial point is that he did not. >>
< I don't see anything crucial about it, and there is also no evidence that Robert's statement is correct. Robert has no special insight into Bach's inner mind anymore than I or anyone else does. >
<< No, Bach did not choose "just about any stimuli", he was a Christian and wrote highly Christian music. >>
< That's it? We're going to take perhaps the greatest composer in history and just identify him as a Christian who wrote Christian music. >
What's wrong with that? I think it's practically a statement of fact. Just about everything we know of Bach's life (not much) demonstrates that he was a believing Christian, and an awful lot (including an artistically significant part) of his output deals with Christian, specifically Evangelical Protestant, themes. These things inspired him. He had other sources of inspiration as well, just as most adults are not simply one thing all the time, but it seems bizarre to me to imply or assert that Bach was "more than a Christian" or a modern-day leave-it-aloner.

As always, we tend to confuse the artist, the work of art, and our reaction to the work of art. There are historical reasons for this from which I'll spare you. A work of art on Christian themes might have been inspired by hard-core Lutheranism (or not), but one needn't be a hard-core Lutheran to love it because one takes it in one's own way -- not just Bach's music, but anyone's music. Just because much of Bach's music is specifically Christian in genesis and intent doesn't mean it belongs to believing Christians only. Furthermore, we've already had a thread on atheists who write wonderful sacred music. Why not? However, Bach wasn't one of them.

Virginia Knight wrote (October 12, 2003):
Mike Leghorn wrote: < I have a question: what is the big deal about Bach's Mass in B minor (BWV 232)? Why (according to the liner notes in my Eliot Gardiner recording) in 1817 did Swiss critic Hans-Georg Nageli acclaim the piece as the "greatest work of music of all ages and of all peoples"? (I doubt that he knew the music of "all peoples".) I can't seem to get into this piece. I find it boring. Is my recording faulty? Should I get my hearing checked? >
My husband used to own a copy of this recording. I say used to because some years back I listened to it and was deeply disappointed, feeling that the performance totally lacked the forward drive and sense of direction that I find characteristic of Bach's music. How could such a distinguished lineup of performers go so badly wrong? My husband (-to-be in those days) said that he'd felt the same thing about this recording and after a while I replaced with the Herreweghe one, which I like much more although it still isn't the ideal B minor mass (BWV 232) I have in my head. I know other people feel the same about the Gardiner as we did, others esteem it highly. So I suggest you at least try listening to another recording before dismissing the work.

Having said this, no piece of music is above criticism and I still find the 'Quoniam tu solus Sanctus' aria pretty routine, albeit by Bach's high standards.

We can't prove now that Bach held the faith that he appeared to believe in, unlikely though it may be that he didn't. And even if some of us may feel that we share it, no one now can have a totally 18th-century world view, unaffected by developments since.

Virginia Knight
(who is not sure how many crimes she might have committed without music)

Jan Templiner wrote (October 12, 2003):
Mike Leghorn about the b-minor mass (BWV 232): < I can't seem to get into this piece. I find it boring. Is my recording faulty? Should I get my hearing checked? >
I'm having the same problems. Probably we should get more used to making clear what is opinion and what is fact. I dare say that "Bach's b-minor mass (BWV 232) is the greatest work ever" is wrong, while "I know no greater work than ..." is perfectly fine. Mike and I obviously don't consider the mass to be particularly great, but that doesn't make us deaf or unmusical or even tasteless.

Mike Leghorn wrote (October 12, 2003):
Ramiro Arguello wrote: < Murderers are not usually classical music fans and much less Bach enthusiast. >
Except for Hannibal Lechter in "Silence of the Lambs". I'm referring to the scene where he was listening to the Goldberg Variations while filleting a victim. (Yes, he's a fictional character.)

Richard Todd wrote (October 12, 2003):
David Cozy asks: <What evidence is there that Bach was (or was not) an earnest Christian? >
He was an accomplished amateur theologian, by most accounts. Take that for what it may be worth.

I don't believe in God, Wotan, Orpheus, Mephistopholes or the Queen of the night, but I love some music about each of them.

Richard, who invites you to visit his music website at http://opuspocus.ca

Glenn Miller wrote (October 12, 2003):
[To Mike Lehhorn] And did not Steven Spielberg use a Bach keyboard work (cannot recall the piece) in the movie---Schindlers List. This was supposed to be based on eyewitness testimony of some comander playing Bach while his (he found a piano in a room) soldiers were hunting down Jews who were in hiding. Andthe movie makes no doubt that many were murdered on these hunts. I hope no one is offended by this topic but it is based on good evidence as such.

Glenn Miller wrote (October 12, 2003):
< Don, why not quote my exact words? I wrote that MOST of Bach's music is Christian and this is simply true. I do not know why Bach wrote the Goldberg Variations and the Brandenburg Concertos are not Christian - but cantatas and masses and passions are Christian music, if you like it or not. >
If I may break into this fistfight:) Is it not true that much of Bach's secular is lost and the Goldberg Variations and the Brandenburg Concertos happen to be passed down by luck. Can it be that Bach music that survived depended on others who valued certain elements of Christian music. I read that it is surmised that a lot of his secular music became lost and it happened that the Brandenburgs found its way here.

My own opinion is that I do not know how Bach thought of the Bible, Christianity, or the exact divinity of Jesus. Sure he wrote Christian music, well documented by others on these posts. But Bach was not exposed other teachings. The thing is this to me: Christianity has changed many times over the last 2000 yrs and somehow I do not see Bach as this "born again" person, the doctrine now being taught in fundamentalist churches now. And even now, people revere Jesus without believing all these doctrines associated with him. So what is my point? I think Bach can write Christian music without really being Christian in the sense I see it being used. I see it all the time, people being exposed as not really being sincere in their beliefs(i,e, the specific doctrine) yet yearning to be close to the source. If it can be found that Bach wrote personal letters (like Mozart wrote to his family) that he writes how his faith helps him here and there, and mentions specific teachings by name, perhaps I can be persuaded. But maybe they did not go around writing of such personal matters. Anyone know?

Glenn Miller wrote (October 12, 2003):
Dave Wolf writes: < Glen Miller asked: what is the big deal about Bach's Mass in B minor (BWV 232)? >
Actually, you got this confused with someone else. Someone responded to me on my post and stated the above comment. As for myself, I am not qualified to have an opinion since I have rarely ever listened to it. Just wanted to set the record straight.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote: < Totally agreed. But why, Robert, do you mention Kalman? I have always heard the Lehar was der Fuehrer's favorite. >
While I understand that Lehar probably was not Aryan, Hitler was able to overlook this defect in him. The same was not true about Kalman, who was Jewish and had to emigrate to America to escape persecution.

A friend of our family worked as Kalman's secretary in NY, typing his librettos before the days of word processors. She attributed the following anecdote to him. Kalman and a friend were being denied admission to some place and the outraged friend asked, "Don't you know who this is?" The bouncer, or whoever, didn't know and was unimpressed when told that this was the great composer Kalman. What did he compose? The friend hummed a few highly tuneful bars and the guard relented and let both pass. Safely past that Cereberus, Kalman said to his friend, "That was very nice but the music was by Lehar."

Steve Schartz wrote (October 12, 2003):
David Cozy: < What evidence is there that Bach was (or was not) an earnest Christian? >
I'm not a Bach scholar (although I play one on the Internet), and this story may be apocryphal. However, there is evidence that Bach was very concerned about his children's religious education, to the extent of transferring them from one school to another.

David Harbin wrote (October 12, 2003):
BBC Radio 3 chose the Virgin recording of the B Minor Mass (BWV 232) by Parrott/Taverner Consort. It is now a steal as a Virgin double. Parrott uses period forces and, most controversially, few voices per part. But what voices! And the recording is splendid. A lovely dancing quality, great tranparancy and clarity and the final Amen shows, once agin, that period instuments need not preclude great drama, pathos and intrinsic power.

Steve Schwartz wrote (October 12, 2003):
Ramiro Arguello asks of Bach's Mass in b (BWV 232): < I also have Eliot Gardiner recording which to my taste is only fair. I remember I had a wolderful LP recording but I do not remember from whom it was, I only remember that it was a big chorus and orchestra worderfully conducted by?
Can a Lister suggest a good sound recording of this Mass
(BWV 232)? >
My favorite recording is Robert Shaw's RCA stereo recording with members of the Cleveland Orchestra (billed as the "Robert Shaw Orchestra," probably for contractual reasons) and the Robert Shaw Chorale. This has been available on RCA 09026-63529-2. Aside from great choral and solo work, I enjoy Shaw's conception of a "concerto grosso for choir" -- leading to wonderful uses of "ripieno" and "concertato" chorus. This leavens some of the heaviness and logginess from the texture. Although Shaw works with reduced forces, this is not HIP. Modern instruments are played in modern ways. Nevertheless, I know of no recording that dances like this one. Shaw remade it for Telarc, with the same approach, but the energy level's slightly down, although the recorded sound is better.

It's what I think of as "Italianate" Bach -- light, dancing – and the Mass (BWV 232) can certainly stand it. The conceptual opposite would be the "Serious German" approach -- Richter is the archetypal performance. Both have their points. Richter gives you weight; Shaw, energy.

Ron Chaplin wrote (October 12, 2003):
Walter wrote: < However, except for the "Ruhet Wohl" towards the end of the St. John's passion (BWV 245), I don't respond as warmly to his St. Matthew's (BWV 244) and St. John's Passions. At first I thought it might be that, as a speaker of German, I found the German texts too offensive >
Walter. Why do you find the German texts offensive?

Deryk Barker wrote (October 12, 2003):
Ramiro Arguello wrote: << Murderers are not usually classical music fans and much less Bach enthusiast. >>
Walter Meyer wrote: < I have no direct knowledge of this but I understand that concentration quite a few camp officers and guards went home after clocking out from their grisly work and listened to, and also played, the music of Bach and Schubert and Mozart, among others. >
And apparently deputy fuhrer Reinhard Heydrich (whose assassination in 1941 led to particularly bloody reprisals in what was once Yugoslavia) was a very good violinist.

Deryk Barker wrote (October 12, 2003):
Virginia Knight wrote: < Having said this, no piece of music is above criticism and I still find the 'Quoniam tu solus Sanctus' aria pretty routine, albeit by Bach's high standards. >
You're not a horn player then?:-)

Edith Bailes wrote (October 13, 2003):
Purely in the interest of accuracy:

It is not required that a person be "born again" to be a Christian. In fact, some Christians consider that whole idea rather offensive. A Christian is simply one who believes that Christ is the Son of God (Christ-ian -- get it?).

The concept of being "born again" was unheard of in Bach's time. He was just a good Lutheran (a Christian sect).

Don't write me about this. I keep my beliefs to myself and wish others would too, especially on this list.

Walter Meyer wrote (October 15, 2003):
Ron Chaplin wrote: < Walter. Why do you find the German texts offensive? >
Because, as a native speaker of the language, I can understand them better than the Latin.

Donald Satz wrote (October 15, 2003):
Ramiro Arguello asks: < Can a Lister suggest a good sound recording of this Mass? >
That all depends on what you're looking for. If you want the very rich and traditional approach on modern instruments, Jochum/EMI or Shaw/RCA should satisfy. For a heavier approach, Richter on DG is excellent. Rilling on Hanssler is mighty fine and incorporates some of the elements prevalent in period instrument recordings.

Speaking of period instrument versions, my favored one is the Leonhardt on DHM. It might not be in print at this tim, but CDNOW has it for sale by one of it subsidiary providers. For the period instrument and one-voice-per-part approach, there's Parrott and Rifkin with both having much to offer.

If I remember correctly, Ramiro has the Gardiner and is not satisfied. Since Gardiner's version hold up pretty well among the period instrument recordings, I'd advise Ramiro to seek out Jochum or Shaw.

Moving on to a related topic, there's been some posting about Bach being a Christian who wrote Christian music. I look at it this way:

a. I'm well aware that Bach was likely a religious man.
b. I'm well aware that his Christian faith inspired some of his music.
c. Not possessing this faith, I simply search for the universal human emotions underlying religious faith.
d. I prefer to say that Bach wrote much sacred music and that some of his organ works are based on religious text. I like to keep the religious angle as antiseptic as possible.

Robert Peters wrote (October 15, 2003):
David Cozy asks: < What evidence is there that Bach was (or was not) an earnest Christian?
That is, does the evidence suggest that he composed his Passions and other Christian music primarily because he was a believing Christian or primarily because it was his job (a job he did, to be sure, very, very well)?
I hope those who know more about Bach's life than I do can shed some light on this. >
My opinion is that it is not important if Bach was an earnest Christian or not. He composed a lot of music for use in Christian service thus composing Christian music. You can listen to this music for the sheer beauty of it, for the pleasure of analysing it, for looking for universal human feelings or for Christian belief. Of of this is in the music. But first of all it was written for Christians (there are some cantatas who even promote converting the "heathen"). It is a fact and it doesn't take anything away from Bach - music with a one-dimensional message can transport multi-layered emotions.

Robert Peters wrote (October 15, 2003):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote: < The original poster (IIRC) and some who followed him suggested that one is moved to become a believer in the Christian faith by Bach's music and his setting of Christian texts. I would suggest that one who finds Jephtha as the most moving of Handel's vocal works, as I do, might be moved to a religious concept of sacrificing his daughter (unintentionally) when he is faced with a major contest. The fact that things turn out nicely in Handel's oratorio, following the alternate exegesis does not change this possibility. >
Well, the original poster (it's me) only talked about his personal feelings and didn't say that "one" (= every one) is moved to have religious feelings (IIRC I didn't talked about becoming a Christian but a religious person but my memory may fool me). Anyway, Joel enjoys ridiculing me a little bit - and I laughed heartily. But to take his post seriously: I believe in the power of music to move us to a high decree so that we, the listeners, forgetting our own notions for a listening while, give over to the emotions the composer wants to transfer to us. Yes, maybe you feel like Scarpia for some bars, enjoying the intoxication of brutality, like passionate Carmen, like jolly Papageno, like the poor old Hollander. And I, listening to some of Bach, feel like a religious person as long as I listen.

Robert Peters wrote (October 15, 2003):
Yoël L. Arbeitman asks: < Totally agreed. But why, Robert, do you mention Kalman? I have always heard the Lehar was der Fuehrer's favorite. >

I did some internet research and I found this URL:
http://www.revolve.com.au/polemic/race.html

where I read:
"Emmerich Kalman was a composer of many successful Viennese operettas of the 1920s and early 1930s. Despite being Jewish, Kalman was encouraged by the Nazi regime to remain in Austria, an event mentioned in program notes provided by The Australian Opera to accompany their 1987 production of his best known work, Countess Maritza. As recalled by his daughter, Yvonne Kalman (a Sydney resident), a General of the Third Reich offered Kalman a 'strange privilege'. The offer was made under the personal direction of Hitler, who was 'an ardent lover of Emmerich Kalman's music'. Hitler wanted him to remain in Vienna as an 'honourary Aryan', his Jewish background forgotten. When Kalman asked how this could be guaranteed, the General replied: 'I guarantee it with my life' to which Kalman replied: 'But who can guarantee your life?'"

I sell this as expensive as I bought it.

Karl Miller wrote (October 16, 2003):
While on the subject...

Does anyone know of recordings of the cantatas done in English.

Feel free to respond off list.

Thanks.

Robert Peters wrote (October 16, 2003):
Walter Meyer wrote:
< Ron Chaplin wrote: << Walter. Why do you find the German texts offensive? >>
Because, as a native speaker of the language, I can understand them better than the Latin. >
Well, I'm a native German, too, and I don't find "Ruhet wohl ihr heiligen Gebeine" offensive at all. It would be most interesting to learn what you criticize about these lines.

Jos Janssen wrote (October 16, 2003):
< But to take his post seriously: I believe in the power of music to move us to a high decree so that we, the listeners, forgetting our own notions for a listening while, give over to the emotions the composer wants to transfer to us. Yes, maybe you feel like Scarpia for some bars, enjoying the intoxication of brutality, like passionate Carmen, like jolly Papageno, like the poor old Hollander. And I, listening to some of Bach, feel like a religious person as long as I listen. >
Now we come to the heart of the matter! Is there something out there, a POWER, mysteriously hidden in some music, while it is absent from some other, that makes Robert forget "his notions"? As this is not "measurable" (because not "reproducable" in time or as seen by more than one person), we would have to conclude that it is "mystical". No wonder we feel we have to drag in religion into this discussion! Even more startling then is the fact that some of us feel they have to start off with stating their own believes prior to embarking on the subject, as if to apologise for the fact that not everything they are going to say may be intelligable to others. Thinking this through, we would end up in some solipsistic universe where the argument would end at simply stating that I like this and I don't like that, and that there is no intelligent way of showing to others what music and why music really moves me. Therefore, I strongly second the proposal to keep our believes to ourselves.

No let's look from the other side. I will not exclude the possibility that the composer intended something when he wrote music. I don't because in some cases I find prove of this (in books, writings, documentaries, personal conversation), although any decent composer will immediately say to you that the evidence is almost always circumstancial.

Having said that, the interesting phrase in above quote all the more becomes "forgetting our own notions". What do we mean by that? Apparently we have in our intellectual luggage a lot of premonitions, anticipations, memories of perceptions. They together will form basis of our ATTITUDE towards any music. Thinking this to the end, it becomes clear that good, interesting, moving, startling music to me is nothing more than a bunch of sounds that questions my attitude. Sometimes it (my attitude) is confirmed, sometimes it is upset, sometimes it's numbed, baffled, temporarily masked. I will not exclude the possibility that Bach consciously or subconsciously tried to do that to his listeners, but at the same time I will paraphrase an old wisdom: Beauty, ugliness, strangeness, affirmation in music: it's all in the ear of the beholder. This will not lower any esteem for any composer's accomplishments, it will just put our standpoint in perspective and work towards a more grown up perception of great music. In any case, if I would sit down and think about Bach being a Christian or nice man or a heavy drinker or a murderer and then imagine how hwould convey these to us in his music, I would formost find myself sitting and thinking about my OWN premonitions about Christian, nice, drinking murderers, and have poor old Sebastian's music portray my thoughts. So then, why drag Bach into this in the first place! I would propably better have to go and write my own Matthew Passion, which would most probably not stir many people's attitudes.

To react again on above quote and to sum up: Maybe the composer wants to transfer something, but it is so much more interesting that you allow emotion to be transferred to you, or putting it more to the point: that you allow emotion to rise, to have your sense of romantic and rational beauty be tickled and be prepared to be inspired. Robert's examples above show that he looks capable of these emotions. But to put the record straight: Was THE Hollander really poor, or do YOU just feel he was poor, or do you FEEL like a poor Hollander?

Jos (who tonight willingly will have his attitude questioned by Les Troyens in Amsterdam)

Stephen E. Bacher wrote (October 16, 2003):
Glenn Miller wrote: < And did not Steven Spielberg use a Bach keyboard work (cannot recall the piece) in the movie---Schindlers List. This was supposed to be based on eyewitness testimony of some comander playing Bach while his (he found a piano in a room) soldiers were hunting down Jews who were in hiding. >
Yes, a Bach piece played altogether too frenetically. (I too am not sure of the piece - it may have been one of the preludes.) In the scene another soldier asks the one at the piano, "Ist das Mozart?" I had always felt that the scene takes what could have been a trite observation – the Nazis loved classical music - to a deeper level: they had so debased their own cultural roots that the common German was unable to distinguish Bach from Mozart. Thus what we tend to interpret as a symbol of dichotomous erudition was in fact nothing of the kind.

Walter Meyer wrote (October 17, 2003):
Robert Peters wrote: < Well, I'm a native German, too, and I don't find "Ruhet wohl ihr heiligen Gebeine" offensive at all. It would be most interesting to learn what you criticize about these lines. >
Actually, in another post I mentioned that "Ruhet wohl" was one of my favorite Bach passages. To the extent, however, that the Passions purport to retell the judicial lynching of a charismatic carpenter from Nazareth and the use to which that tale has been put to justify hideous atrocities over the following centuries, I find the texts offensive, in a way that I don't find the Latin texts of the Mass and other Bach works. How much less inflammatory is "Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato, passus et sepultus est"!

Steve Schwartz wrote (October 17, 2003):
Stephen E. Bacher of Schindlers List: < ... In the scene another soldier asks the one at the piano, "Ist das Mozart?" I had always felt that the scene takes what could have been a trite observation - the Nazis loved classical music - to a deeper level: they had so debased their own cultural roots that the common German was unable to distinguish Bach from Mozart. Thus what we tend to interpret as a symbol of dichotomous erudition was in fact nothing of the kind. >
Having lived in Germany for a time, I can only say "Roger that!" In general, I found most Germans as classical-music ignorant as most Americans. And the home-grown pop music was worse. However, they sure had a lot of live classical music going on -- as far as I know, all state-subsidized -- so a classical musician could make a nice middle-class living.

Bert Beiley wrote (October 17, 2003):
Regarding murder and music, Deryk said: < ...apparently deputy fuhrer Reinhard Heydrich (whose assassination in 1941 led to particularly bloody reprisals in what was once Yugoslavia) was a very good violinist. >
The Czech Republic, actually: Heydrich was Reich Protector of Bohemia-Moravia (the "Sudetenland," plus). It's highly unlikely that there will ever exist anything to match the 'Final Solution' that Heydrich is said to have announced at the Wannsee conference on the 20th of January, 1942.

That said, after having read WG Sebald's "On the Natural History of Destruction" I should add that we'd be remiss to overlook that, during the 2nd World War, many music lovers very likely manned those planes piloted by Brits, Poles, Canadians, Australians and, after '42, USAmericans, to pummel more than 130 German towns and cities into rubble. About half of this book collects pieces skirting around this subject, and Sebald would surely grumble about their post-mortem assembly as his "final work." Even so, the parts of it that treat this seldom-discussed episode of that war make it a highly recommendable read of history from our own time. ...of the very kind, I can't help but add, that our Hollywood-'educated' leaders would be wise to read, to gain a better grasp of the real meaning of being at war.

In any case, from the remoteness of those planes, these Allied fire-bombers killed more than 600,000 German civilians -- women, children, and old or very young men -- also for no military reason whatever.

Incidentally, the town razed by the Germans in retaliation for Heydrich's assasination is the one named in Martinu's 'Memorial to Lidice.'

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 17, 2003):
Karl Miller wrote: < Does anyone know of recordings of the cantatas done in English. >
The topic of recordings of Bach Cantatas in English was discussed in the BCML couple of month ago. You can find the discussion in the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/English.htm

Robert Peters wrote (October 17, 2003):
[To Bert Bailey] At the moment a discussion is under way in Germany about the WWII bombings. As a German I can understand the need of elderly people here to talk about their pain and their despair in these days. The problem or rather the danger is that some people use this discussion to sort of counterbalance the discussion about the German responsibility for the war. I don't think that Bert is one of these people but I just want to warn that his post can be misunderstood - and that we drift away from the very topic Bach.

[Yes, let's please stay on the topic of music and leave the politics to more appropriate venues. -Dave]

Robert Peters wrote (October 17, 2003):
Jos Janssen ended a wonderful post with the questions: < To react again on above quote and to sum up: Maybe the composer wants to transfer something, but it is so much more interesting that you allow emotion to be transferred to you, or putting it more to the point: that you allow emotion to rise, to have your sense of romantic and rational beauty be tickled and be prepared to be inspired. Robert's examples above show that he looks capable of these emotions. But to put the record straight: Was THE Hollander really poor, or do YOU just feel he was poor, or do you FEEL like a poor Hollander? >
Well, at the beginning of the opera (which I like a lot, almost the only one by Wagner I really admire) the Hollander is so bereaved and so desperate (remember his wonderful scene "Die Frist ist um") that I really think that he is a pretty poor chap - and since I sympathize with him I feel a little bit like a poor Hollander myself (living only 10 kilometres away from the Netherlands makes this feeling more authentic). But all this is pretty subjective and others may think the Hollander is not a poor chap after all - but how could they prove this from the opera?

Robert Peters wrote (October 17, 2003):
Walter Meyer wrote: < Actually, in another post I mentioned that "Ruhet wohl" was one of my favorite Bach passages. To the extent, however, that the Passions purport to retell the judicial lynching of a charismatic carpenter from Nazareth and the use to which that tale has been put to justify hideous atrocities over the following centuries, I find the texts offensive, in a way that I don't find the Latin texts of the Mass and other Bach works. How much less inflammatory is "Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato, passus et sepultus est"! >
Well, the Passions don't defend the "judicial lynching" of Jesus, they are desperate about this, so that's not a reason to find them offensive. And the text is innocent of the atrocities of the following centuries - with one famous exception: "May his blood come over us and our children!" This is the only passage I find offensive. But I think it is splitting hairs to find the Latin text "less inflammatory" – the priests who tortured and burnt witches spoke (and probably sang) Christian Latin texts, didn't they?

Jan Reetze wrote (October 17, 2003):
Steve Schwartz wrote: < In general, I found most Germans as classical-music ignorant as most Americans. >
So true ...

< And the home-grown pop music was worse. >
What is "the" pop music? Would you say that there's anything like "the" classical music? German pop music offers a lot of pure crap, loads of boring mass-produced chart-ware, which is forgotten after six weeks, and there are - as always in music - some hidden pearls.

< However, they sure had a lot of live classical music going on – as far as I know, all state-subsidized -- so a classical musician could make a nice middle-class living. >
If a musician is lucky enough to get hold of an orchestra vacancy, you're right. And it's true, there are still a lot of orchestras in Germany. But most of them suffers from financial trouble. The orchestra of the Hamburg Staatsoper has to play at pop music sessions sometimes, and you may have heard that currently even the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is jeopardized (!). Funds are slashed; several orchestras - esp. in the former GDR - are to be closed down; some cities are planning to unite their opera houses and share one orchestra. Okay, Germany is the reigning world champion in lamentating, but there is a lot of trouble on the way ... The times when a well-trained musician could be fairly sure to make a nice middle-class living are gone.

The most musicians never gets a job in an orchestra. Most of them finally ends up as (private) music teachers. Which is of course not too bad, but it's not what they had in mind when entering the conservatory for the first time ...

Regards from Hamburg,

Steve Schwartz wrote (October 18, 2003):
Jan Reetze responds to me:
<< And the home-grown pop music was worse. >>
< What is "the" pop music? Would you say that there's anything like "the" classical music? German pop music offers a lot of pure crap, loads of boring mass-produced chart-ware, which is forgotten after six weeks, and there are - as always in music - some hidden pearls. >
Sloppy writing on my part. What I meant was that Germany, like most European countries, is somewhat split as far as its pop music goes. The better stuff is generally influenced by American black music, the rest rather lame. In Germany, one gets (or got in 1972) either the quasi-operetta of the otherwise wonderful Annaliese Rothenberger and Michael Petroff or the stupefying awfulness of Heino. About the only thing I found worth listening to was the remnant of the cabaret tradition, but not for its musical values. France has the chanson tradition, and that seems to me it. England has music-hall, which I've never cared for, but which has its fans. And how often has A Song for Europe actually produced a song as good as "On the Sunny Side of the Street?" That's just how it seemed to me when I lived in Germany.

Walter Meyer wrote (October 18, 2003):
Walter Meyer wrote: << Actually, in another post I mentioned that "Ruhet wohl" was one of my favorite Bach passages. To the extent, however, that the Passions purport to retell the judicial lynching of a charismatic carpenter from Nazareth and the use to which that tale has been put to justify hideous atrocities over the following centuries, I find the texts offensive, in a way that I don't find the Latin texts of the Mass and other Bach works. How much less inflammatory is "Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato, passus et sepultus est"! >>
Robert Peters wrote: < Well, the Passions don't defend the "judicial lynching" of Jesus, they are desperate about this, so that's not a reason to find them offensive. >
I think you misunderstood me. Of course the Passions don't defend the judicial lynching. Neither for that matter do I. I find its retelling offensive, however, because it continues the tradition of branding the Jews, all of them and their descendants, as "Christ killers" down to the time J.S. Bach lived, a tradition that continue in some parts of the Christian world to this day.

< And the text is innocent of the atrocities of the following centuries - with one famous exception: "May his blood come over us and our children!" This is the only passage I find offensive. >
It goes back to Matthew 27:25, and became a watchword for too many Christians in the centuries that followed. Bach did not create the pronouncement but, doubtless in the interest of Biblical accuracy, he helped perpetuate it.

Denis Fodor wrote (October 20, 2003):
Jan Reetze writes: < ... you may have heard that currently even the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is jeopardized (!).... >
Actually, I think it's Kent Nagano's Berlin Symphony's that's currently slated to be axed next year. I'll believe it when I see it. Berlin has a wondrous way of living, and living, and living on credit.

Jan Reetze wrote (October 21, 2003):
[To Denis Fodor] You're right, I'm sorry for my dopyness. In July the Senate of Berlin decided a complete stop of the BSO's subsidization as of summer 2004.

By the way, on Oct 26 there's a sympathy concert for the BSO with 120 musicians from all eight Berlin-based orchestras. (Berlioz: Fantastic Symphony, Harold In Italy; cond: Lior Shambadal, BSO's Chief conductor. Konzerthaus am Gendarmenmarkt, 15.00)

Laurence Sherwood wrote (October 21, 2003):
I found the following, which addresses some recent Bach issues discussed on the List, to be of interest: http://odur.let.rug.nl/Linguistics/diversen/bach/cantatas/introduction.html

Here are some passages that particularly apply to discussions on the List

Second, it is somewhat anachronistic to see Bach's church music as religious art per se. Unlike the later Romantics, the Baroque composer does not seek to express his personal religious feelings and other ego-emotions. Central to a Baroque composer's concerns is the expression of objectively conceived Affekten (passions), such as the elementary wonder, love, hatred, desire, joy, and sadness and their various composites.

Then there is this idea:

Bach's creative life stretches from the early 1700s till his death in 1750. In contradistinction to his somewhat undeserved hyper-religious image, Bach only devoted relatively short periods of this half century to the composition of church music. On the whole, one gets the impression that Bach, whenever free to do as he wanted, put most of his energy in keyboard and other instrumental music. Much of his cantata production is connected to the duties of office or to the preparation of career steps.

Gene Halaburt wrote (October 21, 2003):
Jan Reetze wrote: < By the way, on Oct 26 there's a sympathy concert for the BSO with 120 musicians from all eight Berlin-based orchestras. (Berlioz: Fantastic Symphony, Harold In Italy; cond: Lior Shambadal, BSO's Chief conductor. Konzerthaus am Gendarmenmarkt, 15.00) >
Will that be broadcast on the Internet?

Jan Reetze wrote (October 23, 2003):
[To Gene Halaburt] I'm sorry, no. According to the BSO, there will be no broadcasting.

Anthony Dorokhov wrote (November 2, 2003):
Deryk Barker wrote: < ... Christopher Fry once wrote "Bach's music almost persuades me to become a Christian. >

Not for purpose of religious dispute, just my opinion, a different view. Actually, in this case (about Bach, which music I love) I am glad that I do not know German. It helps me to listen to my favourite tunes of Bach, for me, Bach's music does not need any text, I listen to voices, and I am not dependent on text. I have my own, private Bach understanding and passion, it is not connected with Matthew or John or God in general. Just music, passion, talent, this music I can listen again and again.

Anthony Dorokhov wrote (November 2, 2003):
Len Fehskens responds to Mike Leghorn:
<< what is the big deal about Bach's Mass in B minor? ... I find it boring. Is my recording faulty? Should I get my hearing checked? >>
< Regarding the more general issue about the words: I don't think you can divorce the words from the music, especially in religious music, but you don't need to believe the words to appreciate the sentiments they express, and the way the music expresses or supports those sentiments. I think if you ignore the words you're ignoring an important part of the music. This is not to say that you can't appreciate the music, only that you're missing something. >
Do not think it's true, for sure, you have to know, that this is Saint John Passion for example, and I know that this is some religious text in it ... even I comprehend what it's all about, but .... but later, when I listen to that music, the words, the contents do not bother me, not preventing me to listen to my own emotions and to the lovely music of Bach. I do not know German, it's helps also:-)

Anthony Dorokhov wrote (November 2, 2003):
David Harbin wrote: < BBC Radio 3 chose the Virgin recording of the B Minor Mass by Parrott/Taverner Consort. It is now a steal as a Virgin double. ... >
Yes

Agree, I have that recording and love it! For transparency, for voices! Great recording and now, the music I listen most frequently.

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