Friday, November 21, 2014

The Spiritual and Creative Lessons from Bach

Longtime readers of this blog know that I love the show On Being; the host, Krista Tippett covers such a wide range of topics which so often feel so relevant to my current life.

Her latest show on Bach was no exception.  You can explore it here.  I'll capture some of the items which intrigued me.

Are we creating or are we discovering?  Here's an interesting take on that:

"And, Bach wouldn't have ever thought of himself as a maker of music. In fact, when he died, there's an obituary of a guy who really couldn't stand Bach. Bach made quite a few enemies in his life. And he wrote this really trenchant thing that says, in English, that Bach was a music maker. And that was considered the worst insult. And this is like, oh, I'm not a music — he's a music discoverer. So, Bach viewed himself as a discoverer of music, not as a maker."

Why create?  Bach had a view which seems so alien to many of us today:

"It's to the glory of God and nobody else. Because the whole point was that he was out to glorify God by showing — by discovering the relation between nature and God. That was his only goal. And if you don't understand that, you cannot understand why, for example, he had no interest in posterity. A concept we cannot comprehend.  . . . He had no interest, for example, that his cantatas, his passions survived. I mean, just think about it. You've produced this masterpiece, and then you say, oh, it's OK, you can destroy it. That's fine. Because God will know, God will not forget that I did it, and that's good enough for me."

On learning from those who have mastered the art form before you came along:

"By and large, classical music, there's so much respect for the art form that, say, improvisation is not encouraged. But this is crazy. I mean, Beethoven was probably the biggest improviser ever. Bach would improvise for hours at the organ. It's not just that he could, that is the way they did music. It was just to improvise, to change.

They used to take other people's music, and that's how you learned your trade — your craft, is by taking other people's music and rewriting it. Take this Vivaldi concerto and make it better. That was perfectly accepted. That was the way people did things. They didn't worry about intellectual rights..."

On Bach's work ethic:

"And to him, to work very hard was to glorify God. Because to be lazy would be insulting God. So, his work ethic was not just that's the way he was brought up. That's not true. It's because it was part of his belief system."

And yet much of that work was not composing something new: 

"No, no, but most day was spent copying, rehearsing. . . .Practicing. Getting his musicians. The time he had to actually think, well, now, what's the melody like? Was just a few hours to write something of the size of, you know, an entire Beatles’ album. Actually it's more music than that. You know, Christoph Wolff, “Volf” I should say, German pronunciation, says you know, the “St. Matthew Passion” — he probably wrote it in or three weeks, he said, to their professional composer would have to take a three-year leave of absence...   But something of that scale would take three years for a professional composer. He'd do it, you know, two, three weeks."

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