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Discussions - Part 18: Year 2016

Continue from Part 17: 2015

Introducing Myself

Linda Gingrich wrote (January 11, 2016):
An idea has been in my mind for several weeks, ever since Bryan sent out his introduction (See: Members of the Bach Mailing List: Year 2015). No one responded to his question regarding the singer, but I was struck by his eloquence in describing how he came to know Bach's music. I would love to hear similar stories from others on this list. How did you first come to know and love the music of Bach, even if it didn't involve a cantata? I was a wet-behind-the-ears freshman in college, my first semester as a college music major (years ago now), and I clearly remember, to this day, rehearsing Bach's Magnificat (BWV 243). My rural high school choir had never performed anything even remotely like it. As we started rehearsing the fugues, something inside of me felt like it woke up, musically. I was fascinated, charmed, utterly captivated with the way the subjects intertwined, morphed, like a musical kaleidoscope, never the same but always familiar. I was a fugue addict from then on, and especially of Bach's fugues!

How did others among you first meet Bach's music, and how did it affect you?

Paul Beckman wrote (January 11, 2016):
I grew up in a musically eclectic household, with a father who bought me my first Beatles album. And yet - shockingly it now seems - the only Bach I ever heard was Stokowski's orchestral transcription of the Prelude and Fugue in D Minor. One day, at the age of 19, while listening to an NPR classical music program, the "DJ" played a choral piece that opened a whole new musical palette, full of complexity, melody, order, and mystery. At the end of the piece, the announcer noted that we had been listening to Cantata # 45 by J.S. Bach. I had no idea who conducted or played the work, only that I had to find it somewhere. Unfortunately, recordings of the cantatas were pretty hard to come by at the local record stores, so I ended up ordering a copy (not online - this was 1973) which, alas, never arrived.

Twenty years later I came across a CD of Karl Richter's versions of BWV 56, BWV 4, and BWV 82 (Fischer-Dieskau), which re-opened the musical and spiritual vista that I had glimpsed as a teen. Since then, I have come to use the cantatas for intellectual challenge, for growing in faith and devotion, and, of course, for sheer pleasure. Every time I listen to one of these inimitable works, often for the umpteenth time, I realize that there's simply nothing like the cantatas anywhere in the musical world - and there probably never will be, this side of heaven.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (January 12, 2016):
[To Paul Beckman & Linda Gingrich] Great and fascinating introductions; thanks!

I attended small Roman Catholic schools in S.E. Virginia, and there wasn't any budget for any music programs. So my exposure to classical music was from watching the BBC series "The Six Wives of Henry VIII," which was being aired on local PBS stations in the United States. I learned later David Munrow was responsible for music for that series. Christopher Hogwood worked with Mr. Munrow during that period, as did many others who would become pioneers in the early history of the early music movement.

And like Linda, my first exposure to Bach was via the Magnificat (BWV 243)-- through the purchasing a Nonesuch Record of Bach: the Magnificat (BWV 243) and BWV 51; Karl Ristenpart conducting the Chamber Orchestra of the Saare. I must have listened to that album dozens of times within the first week I purchased it. The trumpets and timpani were particularly wonderful. Ristenpart used (for that time) a reduced orchestra for baroque and classical period music, and insisted the brass and timpani stand out from the orchestra (his Brandenburg Concerti recording was remarkable for the way the horns stood out). A commercial classical music radio station in the area (WGH-FM - off the air for many years now) was able to help with more exposure to classical music and Bach.

Julian Mincham wrote (January 12, 2016):
Introduction to Bach

[To Paul Beckman] My own preoccupation with Bach came not so much as an epiphany as with a slow burn, in three stages.

1 Having taught myself piano for some time in my early teens I began to explore some of the small Bach keyboard pieces (I recall the D min two-part invention as being one). I was fascinated by the way in which Bach used discords which become particularly apparent when you are practising the individual lines together at slow speeds. Realisation one.

2 A young German immigrant had a stack of classical LPs (all of German music) which he used to bring around once a week to play as he had no player. Amongst them were the Brandenburgs and violin concerti. I was fascinated by their exciting rhythms and endless melodies. Realisation two.

3 I came across some records of the organist E Power Biggs. He had arranged a number of Bach movements for organ and other instruments including several from the cantatas (which, until then I had not known existed). Amongst them was the duet from BWV 146 arranged for organ with two trumpets playing the canonic parts. What excitement! Realisation three.

I then began to buy some recordings of cantatas, the first being Alfred Deller singing two of the solo alto ones and the Agnus Dei from the Bm Mass. At this stage I was thoroughly hooked and my lifelong passion for, and study, of the cantatas was under way.

Stefan Lewicki wrote (January 12, 2016):
Many years ago, at boarding school, our Classics teacher was known to be a lover of Bach's music; he played the cello, and we used to listen outside his window to what I imagine would have been Bach's Cello Suites. Once we asked him to play us some Bach - we knew he had a set of cantatas on LPs - but he refused, saying that 'peasants like us wouldn't appreciate them'.
Just the way to interest teenagers!

Seeking out Bach, I heard a haunting recording of the motet BWV 118 O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht; I bought a secondhand LP on a market stall of cantatas 104 and 80 - Orchestra of the Amsterdam Philharmonic Society and Bach Chorus conducted by Andre Vandernoot, if anyone's interested. I was hooked then, and still am, forty years later.

George Bromley wrote (January 12, 2016):
My love of Bach started with a recording of the Mathew passion (BWV 244) and have since sung with Bach choirs in Johannesburg and Croyden (London)
In Johannesburg we joined THE Bach choir from Leipzig singing the b minor an experience that will always remember.

Pat McDonnell wrote (January 12, 2016):
Bach introductions

At Columbia in 1962 the Music Humanities (a required course) assignment was to listen to Landowska playing the 2nd Prelude and Fugue 'numerous' times. I am still working on that assignment.

Melanie Cervi wrote (January 12, 2016):
Thank you all for sharing your stories.

I grew up listening to Bach from the start of my day to the moment I slept. Litterally. My Mother placed the Hammond organ in the room next to my bedroom. No head phones available. My ears could pick out the voices in the fugue due to her diligent practising. I also melt when I hear Brahms and dance to Buxtehude.

Fast forward to the twilight years of a rather ho hum organ career to my current idea: represent the intertwining of voices in thread. I tat. My shuttles make lace. The patterns are quite mathmatical. Just like the music I love.

It is my great pleasure to enjoy the local Bach festival each summer here in Carmel, CA. Please consider mixing a walk on the beach between wonderful concerts.

Chris Stanley wrote (January 12, 2016):
My introduction to Bach was as an 8 year old. I went for an auat the local cathedral, Southwell Minster, and had received several weeks coaching from the choirmaster (a Mr Michael Grantham) at our local parish church in Beeston. As well as the usual arpeggios and other exercises I sang as my set piece 'Come let us all this day' BWV 479. The Rector Chori of Southwell Minster must have been impressed as I was successful and sent away to boarding school 14 miles from home later that year.

I've never come across that particular piece since except for listening just now on youtube (as one does)

Bryan Kirkpatrick wrote (January 12, 2016):
[To Linda Gingrich] Thanks for the mention, Linda. That cantata (BWV 147 - Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben) is really wonderful. Well, they ALL are. In my introduction, I typo'd the number - made it 187 - which is probably why no one responded.

Stephen Clarke wrote (January 12, 2016):
Lovely stories.

It was the Swingle Singers for me, or perhaps Switched On Bach on the Moog synthesizer. Something very interesting was going on there, I noticed. This was the early 1960s. E. Power Biggs was next up and he really seemed to take it by the scruff of the neck, which I liked. I decided to start taking this seriously and, for some reason, not consciously planned, I set out on what turned out to be a rather methodical progression of familiarizing myself with Bach's music, something which has continued as a lifeline of sorts throughout my life. I set out with Glenn Gould's Inventions and Sinfonias, then the WTC, by him and then by others. I loved he harpsichord and the old instruments, worked trough all the instrumental works by the Concentus Musicus Wien and others. I had a hard time with voices so it was a long time before the cantatas registered, plus the corpus is so massive, it intimidated me. I knew at some point I would be able to appreciate them, I had acquired such respect for the man. There were so many wonderful instrumental passages in the cantatas, I was always coming across them. Then becoming accustomed to the Lutheran devotional attitude and Bach's attitude of a sincere believer and witness-bearer won we over. then, finally, the Masses. I've since acquired Gardiner's series entire along with a smattering of other performances. I think this will hold me for a while.

Of all my spiritual pathworking, Bach was my first love. He may be my last. I think one might make the case that, as Buddha was for the East as a fully accomplished human being, Bach was for us Occidentals. Dayum but those Germans are good at what they set out to do! As a BMW and Mercedes-Benz master mechanic and shop owner, along side the genius of Bach's inspiration there is the utter attention he pays to the craft of it. This engenders the utmost respect, and consequent credibility.

Good to be here,

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 12, 2016):
Melanie Cervi wrote:
< my current idea: represent the intertwining of voices in thread. I tat. My shuttles make lace. The patterns are quite mathmatical. Just like the music I love. >
What an enjoyable thread (yes, the pun is intended), and great way to start a New Year which has so many not-so-fun obligations and distractions. Not the least of which is the need to select the next president of the USA from a cast of characters who seem better suited for other (or none?!) employment, but who will spend just about the entire year jockeying for position, at huge expense. There must be a better way...

My sculpture is mostly direct carving in stone and wood. I prefer to let the works speak for themselves, but if I am really pressed, I often suggest that folks look at them as "frozen music", analogous to Melanie's thought.

My very first introduction to Bach on recordings which I could listen to in depth was the Dm piano concerto, which was available as a set (78 RPM). Alas, I do not recall the performers. That was in 1958, the year I began dating the lady who became my first wife and mother of my only two children, and we often hung out with an unusual family (all women), an adult couple and three daughters of one of them, who were supportive of the arts and of having fun. They had the Bach 78's, which must have been from the 1940's or early 1950's.

One of the women (not the mother) was Kip Tiernan, who a few years later went on to found Rosie's Place, the Boston shelter for homeless/troubled women which remains a vital institution in this city. At the time Kip was writing a musical (completed, but never produced, I do not believe) with a male friend whose name escapes me. They were mostly inspired by the success that year of West Side Story, all the rage. Anyway, at the time I was listening to mostly jazz, Coltrane, Parker, et al. One day while Coltrane was on, the guy said to me "What are you listening to that junk for? Bach didn't improvise." I did not realize how wrong he was until lo these many years later, after joining BCW.

Another early (1959, my first year of college) influence was a set of the complete Brandenburgs (Hermann Scherchen and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Westminster, 1957), a performance which still sounds very good, even if a bit out of phase with current scholarship. I do not recall paying any attention to the choral works until about 1974, when Robert J. Lurtsema began the tradition of playing a Bach cantata on WGBH radio every Sunday morning, and I was inspired to attend a concert by the Cantata Singers, founded and still led at that time by composer John Harbison. Both the weekly radio broadcasts and the Cantata Singers are ongoing Boston traditions. About 1983, I heard my first of many performances of a Bach cantata in a church setting by Craig Smith and Emmanuel Music, also an ongoing tradition, and with much overlap of personnel with the Cantata Singers.

Thanks to Linda for suggesting the reminiscence!

Bryan Kirkpatrick wrote (January 12, 2016):
[To Ed Myskowski] Thanks, Ed. This was great. I appreciate the references to Boston. In the early 1980's when I was a graduate student at The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy (Tufts U.) I listened to "Morning Pro Musica" with Lurtsema practically every day.

About Bach "not improvising". Yeah, right, just like he didn't compose operas.

I've always considered JSB's music as architectural structures in the 4th dimension, time. My father was an architect and that's probably why I conceive of it that way. I'm lousy at numbers and mathematics, but architecture is just another embodiment of mathematical principles, only it's visual. I can actually "see" it in my mind's eye.

Jane Newble wrote (January 12, 2016):
It is so lovely to read all the different accounts.

I grew up in the Netherlands, and as a child, sitting through church services, heard a lot of Bach played on a Dutch pipe organ. In Holland, organists play and improvise before, during, and after the services, and I used to look up at the organist sitting high up near the organ, playing this wonderful music. When I asked after the service what it was, it almost always turned out to be Bach.

At the age of six, I had organ lessons, and learnt to play some Bach pieces (probably simplified)

Then, every year from the age of 12, I went to the performance of the Mattheus Passion (BWV 244) in a beautiful R.C. Dominican church in Zwolle. I always brought the score and followed along.
One year Aafje Heynis and Elly Ameling sang, and I shall never forget Aafje Heynis singing the "Erbarme Dich". It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard.
My first vinyl record, bought with my pocket money, was the Mattheus Passion (BWV 244), and then the violin concertos.
At college, some friends gave me money for study books, but I used it to buy the Brandenburg Concertos!

Several years later, someone lent me cassette recordings of Bach's cello sonatas

Still later I discovered the cantatas and the full range of Bach's works, and I shall nevertire of listening to his music.

Linda Gingrich wrote (January 12, 2016):
I am also really enjoying this thread. Imagine, everything from the Swingle Singers to "peasants" (very clever) to Bach from dawn to dusk and beyond. It shows how much Bach's music has permeated our culture,

An added note, a few years later in college (a different one), we sang portions of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) under a very grumpy conductor. And I don't remember a thing about the music, only how unpleasant the conductor was! The conductor/performer can make a huge difference.

Jane Newble wrote (January 12, 2016):
[To Linda Gingrich] Yes, a conductor can make a huge difference. We sang the Mass in B (BWV 232) with Mark Deller as conductor, and it was just fantastic.

William Hoffman wrote (January 12, 2016):
I'm pleased to find so many Bach enthusiasts who got acquainted often through recordings, a key feature of BCW from day one. Yes, I confess that I am still essentially an armchair musician, shadow conductor, shower singer and critic who enjoys reading recording liner notes. My favorites at BCW are John Eliot Gardiner and Masaaki Suzuki, especially Klaus Hofmann. Yes, I do a lot of electronic listening and the opportunities keep growing. The significance of 20th century recordings on Bach is amazing, just read Paul Elie's "Reinventing Bach."

My love of Bach has grown from my early teens and it has taken time with many rewards. Highlights:
1. Bach St. John Passion (BWV 245) live with Robert Shaw and his band, March 11, 1962 (and I treasure the RCA Victor Vault LPs, Amazon offers on yinyl from $20).
2. Singing Bach's Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), Parts 1-3 with The American University (AU) Chorale and National Symphony, Norman Scribner cond., at the National Cathedral, December 1962.
3. Studying first year harmony with Scriber at AU fall 1962: the text was Bach's Chorales 389 B&H, instead of the Walter Piston hramony book.
4. I also am pleased here in Albuquerque NM to have heard Kenneth Slowick and the Santa Fe Pro Musica do the Matthew Passion (BWV 244) and B-Minor Mass (BWV 232) OVPP and the New Mexico Symphony & Chorus with Roger Malone do all the major works.
5. I still sing in my church choir with a fine Lutheran musician Frederick Frahm and the University of New Mexico Chorus with the B-Minor Mass (BWV 232) a first this spring.
When I can, I also go to the annual Boulder CO Bach Festival and the American Bach Society biennial conference.

J.M. Birming wrote (January 12, 2016):
I am enjoying this thread too. And I agree -- what a huge difference a conductor or performer, or in my case, a college professor, can make.

While my first introduction to Bach was in an Introduction to Music class in college (where I discovered a love of Baroque music), it was actually my Scientific German professor who got me hooked on Bach, especially the Cantatas. The first day of class, he asked each student to stand up as he took attendance, so he could begin to learn our names. When I was asked to stand, he asked me out of the clear blue, "Fraulein, do you like Bach?" I couldn't figure out how he would have known that. He later explained that every time he borrowed recordings by Bach from the library, my name was always on the library card first. I answered that I did like Bach, but only his instrumental music. Professor Meurer, however, pointed out that many scholars consider Bach's best instrumental music to be in the Cantatas. So I began listening to the Cantatas, and a vast new musical, emotional and spiritual world opened up to me, which has enriched my life ever since.

Paul Farseth wrote (January 13, 2016):
[To Linda Gingrich] My intro to Bach.

My parents had a set of 78 rpm 12 inch phono records of Rudolf Serkin and the Busch Chamber Players doing the 5th and 6th Brandenburg Concertos. In the early 1950s we played these until the center holes were worn out. In 8th grade the school band I was in played simplified settings of "Bist du bei mir" and "Komm Suesser Tod", which were very different from the other things we played. On thePassion (Palm) Sundays of 1957 and 1958, my father took me to hear the St. John (BWV 245) and St. Matthew passions (BWV 244) (sung in English) at St. Olaf College. The church organist played Bach. My cousin had "all" of E. Power Biggs' organ recordings. Then after college I discovered long play records of Bach cantatas (especially "Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen"). I was hooked. Fifty years later, my wife tells me I worship at the church of Bach. Not quite, but there's a hint of truth there. In times of happiness, it's often Bach cantatas which express it best. In times of sadness, it has always been the St. John Passion (BWV 245). It is always Bach that persuades me that there is an infinitely ingenious logical order to the world, that the world is full of delight, and that we can share our griefs and sorrows with others.

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 14, 2016):
My First Bach

When I was a teenager, I asked my parents to buy me a gramophone as a birthday present. I was not exposed to Classical music at home, and had no musical background at that time. To prepare myself for the new present, I listened to a radio program named "What's new in the library" and heard for the first time Mozart's piano concerto. The pianist was Rudolf Serkin. I liked what I heard and I asked my parents to bring me also this LP and another Mozart.
I started not only lo listen extensively, but also to read about music. During my reading I learned that Bach was the Father of Western music.
My two first Bach LP's were the Goldberg Variations with Glenn Gould and "Switch on Bach". I was immediately captivated by Gould, like, I assume, many others of my generations.
My first cantata came about 6 or 7 yeas later. You can read about it in a message I sent to the BCML in 2001:
However, Bach had not taken a significant place in my life until about 20 years later. My listening time was dedicated mostly first to classical chamber music and from the mid 1980's to Jazz. At the end of 1999 I made my first Bach tour, joined the BCML upon my return and the rest, as they say, is history, or more precisely documented in the BCW pages.


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