Monday, January 13, 2014

Blame It on Bach


It all started innocently enough. My plan was to deal with some deliquent workshop notes and then continue the cleansing of my front room, accompanied by Rosalyn Turreck playing Bach Partita’s on CD. By the time she had finished Partita No. 2, I had gotten things neatly arranged on the computer desktop, but thought, “Maybe I’ll play along with her just once to get me in the mood to work.”

Bad idea. Long after the CD finished, I was still at the piano weaving my way through the intricacies of Bach’s remarkable mind. Two hours later I thought, “Hmm. Maybe I should get back to that other work.” 

Can you blame me? How could I not be seduced by this man’s genius? It takes me half an hour to compose a little Orff arrangement in pentatonic scale with drone, ostinato and color part and here this guy is spinning out this complex counterpoints like a spider effortlessly weaving a web. With one crucial difference—the spider has the design down and as far as my scientific knowledge goes, pretty much spins the same design each time. But Bach does a different one for each composition. Which might not be that impressive except for one little fact— he composed over 1100 works! And if Partita No. 2 counts as one work, there are six distinct sections within that work. Oh, and by the way, he did this without any computers or even ball point pens or electricity. Pretty much feather quills and candlelight if he got an idea after the sun went down. Oh, and did I mention there were 20 children running around the house? Not that he probably cooked for them, changed diapers and read bedtime stories (though apparently some music instructions since many of his sons became composers in their own rights), but still a lot of chaos in a house for a sensitive artist trying to work. It’s simply mind-boggling.

And then the music itself. Such a beautiful blend of heart and intellect, technical virtuosity and soulful expression. In all twelve keys, all tempos, a variety of meters and forms and textures and orchestrations— the keyboard works, the violin and cello suites, the chorales for singers, the concertos for orchestra with solo instrument, the sacred masses. Did the guy ever rest?

Procrastination is a vice, but when Bach is a reason, it can be a virtue as well. So if you don’t get the workshop notes on time or I’m late for my appointment or I need a little more time to finish those report cards, well, you can blame it on Bach. What a glorious excuse!!

And now to work. 

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