A PERSONAL, TEARFUL, AND GRATEFUL THANK YOU TO A HUMBLE AND GREAT MANMarch 31, 2013
It perhaps may seem unusual to follow up the previous eight days' of blogging about banking crises, geopolitics, papal elections, and warp drives with a tearful thank you to a great, and humble, and happy man, but bear with me, as I think you will discover the relevance.
There were, in my opinion, two men who more than any other, created all the foundations of our modern western musical culture, whose genius and greatness lay in creating such stable foundations that their legacy remains each time we take time out to ponder the beauty in the Beatles, or in Art Tatum, or Duke Ellington, or REO Speedwagon, or Shania Twain, or the transporting elegance of Mozart's C Minor piano concerto, of the the slow movements of Mahler, or the music of the spheres in Haendel or Scarlatti.
Those two men were the two great Bachs, Johann Sebastian Bach, and his second eldest son, Carl Philip Emanuel. It was for these two geniuses to lay those foundations. The one summed it all up; the other, took that summary, and broke new ground with it, virtually trying every trick in the book of all those who came after him. It was Mozart who said of CPE Bach that "He is the father, we are the children. Whatever we do right, we owe to him. He who does not own to this, is a scoundrel." Haydn repaired to CPE, Beethoven assiduously studied his keyboard music, both solo and concerto.
But there would have been, both genetically and culturally, no CPE without Johann Sebastian. The son revered the father, the father saw the genius in the son. It was an odd relationship as father and son relationships go, the more so since both were famous in their own day in their own right.
Take away Johann Sebastian, and you remove Carl Philip Emanuel, Franz Josef Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig Beethoven, Frederic Chopin, Mendelssohn... John, Paul, Ringo and George... on and on we could go.
Today is Johann Sebastian's birthday; he born this day in 1685 in Eisenach, in the same year as another German musical genius, Georg Friedrich Haendel. The two men tried, but never could, meet. It was for Johann Sebastian, however, to take the new system of musical tuning - the first true unification in physics mind you - and demonstrate with contrapuntal complexity and elegance how the human spirit could soar to the cosmos, and hear in its dance, the harmonious dance of many voices, the voice of the Creator, to whom he humbly dedicated every piece with the abbreviation "SDG", soli Deo Gloria.
Those words say it all; he was not the self-important "artiste" of the Romantic or, worse, the talentless "rapping" boob of the modern era, aiming at relentless self-expression via an irreverence for what preceded him. No element of the trinity of music - rhythm, diatonicism, chromaticism - was neglected; all were held in balance with each other, none prevailed, none wished to prevail. Soli Deo Gloria, he heard the Voice, and echoed it, faithfully.
So Herr Bach, a very grateful thank you, for the endless hours of intellectual and spiritual rapture your music has given me since boyhood, for the endless insight it provided in hearing, like Kepler, the Voice in endless permutations of permutations, in analogies of analogies, accomplished with effortless and transcendent ease, for hearing the fury of the divine in The Wedge or its joyous frenzy in the Great D Major fugue, its gentle cosmic Sicilienne in the slow movement of your concerto for three harpsichords in D Minor, for the mystical union of heaven and earth in the Kyrie or Et Incarnatus of the B Minor Mass, and on and on I could go, and still, my words would be inadequate to what you have given to me, and to so many others around the world, in all cultures from orchestral suites played on Japanese koto orchestras to new instruments of synthesizer and computer, the music remains, like your genius, catholic, for all men and conditions of men in all times and all places.