Is Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony the most important piece of music ever written?

Beethoven first performed his third symphony in 1804 at a private gathering at the Lobkowicz Palace.  Apparently it didn’t go well even though the excellent BBC drama ‘Eroica’ had the bemused orchestra playing it perfectly after one bad start.   Those musicians, patrons, and the well to do attendees to this private premiere really didn’t understand what they were hearing.  Nothing like this had ever been composed before, and there really was no indication that something quite superlative would arise.

If you look back at Beethoven’s previous works, especially the 2nd symphony you can trace a path where he is slowly starting to break away from the status quo.  The 2nd is in places a powerful symphony but it lacks a simple and catchy motif, or 1st subject to make it anything more than a ‘nice’ symphony.   It certainly doesn’t give an indication of what was to follow.  I would say though that Beethoven’s first two symphonies are certainly breaking way from the world of Haydn’s late ‘London’ symphonies and Mozart’s last three especially the ‘Jupiter’ symphony.   The emergence of the Eroica is just so far detached from anything ever written.  JS Bach composed some phenomenal music and his Brandenburg concertos are possibly the pinnacle of Baroque orchestral music.  I would conjecture that Beethoven writing the Eroica from no where is akin to Schubert composing Mahler’s 1st or 2nd symphonies in 1826.

What is it about the Eroica that makes it so special?  It has no slow introduction like the previous two symphonies and opens to two powerful tonic chords before the main theme is played by the cellos.  This theme is so simple it is astonishingly absurd.  It is almost a contradiction in musical terms.  How can just playing a broken tonic chords result in such a grand success?  Why didn’t all the composers before Beethoven spot this theme?  Of anyone you would have thought Mozart may have struck upon it.  Yet this is the pattern across most of Beethoven’s compositions. Simple themes or motifs that might be a bar or two long but enough information to write a 15 minute movement with.  It is like a DNA strand very simply changing/mutating the code of an RNA strand to make a new protein that changes the path of evolution.   The Eroica ushered in a new era yet no one had a clue how it got here.  Did Herr Beethoven know what he was achieving?  The aforementioned BBC drama doesn’t really give much insight into Beethoven’s mind during the process of its composition.  All he says in the film is that it is original from start to finish and that he doesn’t want a beautiful sound.  Whether he said this at the time or not I don’t know.

It certainly is original though, he was right there.  I am still baffled as to how managed it.  I have of late been seriously studying the complete score and I do so in bewilderment at its amazing complexity yet perfect simplicity at the same time.  This is where Beethoven and JS Bach differ.  JS Bach wrote difficult music and that was that, yes it was beautiful but complex in a different way.  His music wasn’t as ground breaking and musicologists generally accept that JS Bach didn’t force music into a new era, but he took baroque music to its zenith and it is a job he did incredibly well.  So, why did this strange musical paradox arise?  Was it simply just luck or coincidence?  Seems unlikely really, to be that lucky as every part of the symphony is groundbreaking all 50 odd minutes of it.  That was another thing that people became wary of almost immediately, its length.  Most symphonies at the time would never top 30 minutes accept maybe Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony coming in at around 35 minutes long.  Haydn’s last symphony barely manages to get past 25 minutes long.  So, yes the length of the Eroica was astonishing for its time.  Also, it was not a piece to be played as a pretty background symphony, it demanded to be listened to, and you are demanded to be moved.  Beethoven wasn’t fucking about when he wrote this; this would change everything as Haydn supposedly said.

I have come backwards and forwards in writing this blog and as if common my attention has moved from the mighty Eroica to a position where I am straddling both JS Bach and Beethoven.  Music is one of the few arts that you can enjoy again and again and it can actually improve with each listen if there is some perseverance.  I can honestly say that apart from the Grosse Fugue I have never seriously listened to Beethoven’s last 5 string quartets.  I have seriously missed out.  I now can’t believe what I am hearing and may times I have be moved to tears by listening to them.  I imagine a very poorly Beethoven, profoundly deaf, nearing the end of his life yet he produces these masterpieces.

Still, regarding the fact that Beethoven wrote many important pieces after his Eroica symphony can I still argue conclusively that it was indeed the most original piece ever composed?  I can look at what competition he had before that and it was in the form of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony and maybe his C minor Piano Concerto No. 24.  While both very fine pieces I have to say the Eroica easily trumps them as it is whole new way of composing and thing about how to compose.

This is a prelude into more in depth blogs I will produce at a later date.  Not only am I interested in original music but also what makes one or two particular composers more special then others.

The Great HPANWO Debates

 

The Great Debate Part 1

 

 

The Great Debate Part 2

Yes, I have emerged from the other side, a bit bruised and shell shocked but I’ve made it!  I have survived two brutal debates with my nemesis Ben Emlyn-Jones aka In The Description Box Below.    It does seem as though I have lost both bouts if you tally up the amount of roses the cockroaches have thrown towards the Bullring.  I was the bull, majestically sweeping towards a slow death as the Matador picked me off…theory by theory by conspiracy theory.  Name after name of persons I couldn’t reasonably be expected to know.   If the debate had moved to pastures of a more musical whim then the Bull wins hands down.   He would know nothing, I assume, of the development of the piano sonata from Domenico Scarlatti to Johannes Brahms via Beethoven and Schubert.  Although this Matador expected me to know, in depth, the bullshit nonsense from Rendlesham Forest in 19 fucking 80!  I asked in Bull talk if the craft landed then where was it?  Mr Answer for Everything just pounds the ring with his huge red rag, although at the time turquoise would have set off an explosion in my underpants.

I feel I fisted my way through the barren miserable landscape that is woo woo.  Now we wander the valleys of Mars.  It is a hunt.  I am the prey.  I will be picked  off.  Slowly.  See there is no hope with woo, it gives no joy, just fear and perpetual misery.  You feel as though the colourful Matadors of the woo world enjoys a strange nihilistic existence. As you would expect he is all wikied up for the journey with his band of nearly alive viruses that accompany him on such occasions.  He gives me a headstart, I stride with the help of the weaker gravitational pull and stride desperately across the red landscape.   The viruses praise me for giving it a go but they soon start to back their man.  I am now in turquoise and can be seen for many miles yet a sand storm whips up the landscape and I disappear.  I wonder if the viruses can penetrate my space suit.  Maybe Mr Smallpox will bust through my face shield.   I hide in a dip and quickly text that I can’t see how the twin towers where blown up by directed energy.  Ms Influenza starts her trek to look for me with her powerful eyes and Mr Rabies strides towards the crater that is my home for now.  The huge beast of the HPAWNO monster seems to have grown in stature.   I can feel the pounding as he scrapes his way towards me quoting long and tedious passages from his self-published novel.   Fuck!

Hot sweat pours from my skin.  My hands are strapped down and my legs buckled.  All around me is stuff that lives in ponds and I realise I am in a Victorian style operating theatre with plenty of space for the antagonists to watch my final moments.  I declare that I don’t have a clue or give a shit about some bloke, a professor nonetheless, who happily accepts anecdotal evidence as proof for alien visitation from 150 Zimbabwean schoolchildren.  The Matador enters for his final attack.

‘I am surprised how little you knew about the stuff that is practically made up.’  He says.

Sorry did he slip up there?  Is he admitting he is wrong is he a contradiction? A large dose, maybe 1000 mg of chlorpromazine (woos don’t mind stuff like that if it suits their agenda) is injected into my arm.  I feel tense but strangely exhausted and I forget the contradiction.

‘Now Mr Sluggs.’  says the man who runs the HPANWO empire, ‘I used to be a porter and I have more pride and dignity then you can imagine.  We will make you well.  We will remove this science nonsense from your mind through are freedom and truth foundation.  Within good time you will be one of us again, you will be an Icke reading woo woo.’

Then I had a stoke and died before the ambulance arrived.

Colin’s Elbow invited to debate Ben Emlyn-Jones of HPANWO

It is with feverish excitement and intrigue that I can happily confirm after all these years I have finally been given the chance to debate, shall we say a nemesis of mine , the ruler of HPANWO, Ben Emlyn-Jones of Oxford.   Although I doubt he would admit it, he surely sees me as a thorn in his conspiratorial quest for truth and knowledge.  That old word truth again, what a wonderful word it is.   Sadly it is overused in wooism and underused in actual science, ironically.

I have been warring on and off with Ben, mainly on his forum, since the summer of 2010 when I was finally a skeptic and no longer a woo.  We disagreed from the off and some of our conversations over the years could always be described as rather tasty at times.  The amount of times I have been accused of using rhetoric in a discussion with him is uncountable.  He does make some very broad claims though will which I hope to address in this online debate.  Yet I am his guest and he may want to get to know me more so if you are reading this Mr Jones here is a little CV for you:

I’m 39.  I live in Dover.  I support Dover Athletic FC.  I play the piano and compose.  Music is my strongest subject.  I am a layman of science but I feel I will have enough to get through this debate.    I used to cut grass for a living and I felt no pride and dignity in it whatsoever when I strimmed a load of dogshit into my face first thing on a cold damp miserable Monday morning.   I have Asperger’s and bipolar and take several medications which help keep me/it under control.   I mention that as people of the alternate thinking variety don’t like psyche meds or vaccines, or anything that helps people live a better life that without would probably lead to an early death.   It is a good thing we don’t live in a Victorian society where quacks surely outnumbered actual doctors.   Mr Jones would have been in his element back then, maybe!

Anyway, all I need to say now is come on, Mr Jones, when is this going to happen?

My compositions

On the link I will provide here you will see all my completed compositions.  All I am asking is are there any talented musicians out there who could play my music?  It is great hearing it on Sibelius 8 but to hear it live would be incredible.   So if anyone fancies the challenge then thank you very much!

Another bloody Ben blog!

So for what should be the final time I am relinquished of my skeptical duties in reference to the HPANWO forum.  I called him a name, he threatened to ban me, I said I didn’t care, he banned me.  Yet funnily I wasn’t completely banned.  He forgot to ban my alter ego Mungy Munger and I have written a couple of posts knowing full well he will ban Mungy at the first opportunity.  Funny thing is he has banned so many people he has no-one left to talk to.  Even the wanker photoshopping twat Baxter hasn’t made a contribution for weeks.  It is literally a place where Ben just advertises his blog, vlog, and radio show, along with lectures he gives around the country.

HPANWO forum

The thing is though is he thinks he is really popular.  He recently gave a lecture in the town of Lytham St Annes which is near Blackpool which if you don’t know is a very popular holiday destination for many people.  Lytham is the posh end of the Fylde District and there is a meeting place for alternate thinkers in some scout hall.  Baden Powell started the scouts and the first camp was on Brownsea Island near Poole in Dorset on the south coast of England which is a part of the United Kingdom.   The people who meet in the scout hut call the group New Horizons.  If you look out to sea there is always a line in the distance, that is the horizon. This group is looking for new ones.  Somehow.  Although I agree it is probably a dull metaphor.   Every couple of weeks they invite people to give lectures about conspiracy theories which is a term they are trying to shake off.  One I saw was about a flat earther who believed it was flat because the bible said so.  The bible is an old book that monks used to copy and could spend years writing the first line of Genesis.  Anyway Ben was invited to speak and his subject was about skeptics and how to beat them.  Haha, must show we are a threat to their make belief world if some dumb cunt has to spend two hours talking about the large amount of people who disagree with him.

The audience at these New Horizons have to pay £3 to get in but that includes drinks and biscuits.  A drink is a liquid that could be water, which it normally is.  Water molecules are two hydrogen atoms and one larger oxygen one.  Our bodies need water so cells can make chemical reactions to keep us alive.  The biscuits were mainly digestive and all the chocolate ones went really quickly.  Someone got kicked out for bringing their own biscuits, but he also had a t-shit with Ben’s face on it and above him was a chimpanzee crouching down and defecating on Ben’s image.   I don’t know how many people attended but it was probably fifteen or so.  Three large security guards stood by the exits to stop people leaving.  The video I saw only shows Ben’s head yacking nonsense for over two hours in a really arrogant swanky manner.  No ladies where in attendance.  I know all this because a person,  a homosapien, who  got lost and rung me by mistake.  Although all phones and cameras where confiscated until the lecture was over.

Anyway that is enough.  Maybe I’ll do another blog on him when he can prove that orgone can power an entire county instead of a huge nuclear power station.

Blogging it like Ben!

Hello to the world of massive paragraphs and unfiltered stout self-referenced opinion.  Welcome to the world of HPANWO Voice the blogging site of Ben Emlyn-Jones founder of HPANWO.  If you don’t know him already then I will say he is an ex-portering conspiratorial researcher based in Oxfordshire.   If you are reading this there is a pretty good chance you knew that anyway because this blog hardly ever gets updated, and if it does it is full of posts about JS Bach.   Anyway, this is a simple guide, for the record, of how to blog it like Ben.

1.  Strip naked.  Put David Icke’s latest copy and paste feast in front of your wedding tackle or ladygarden and take a selfie in front of the mirror, or whatever.  This will get your juices flowing.

2.  Fire up your 15 year old laptop.  After 45 minutes Windows 95 should have loaded up, than sign into AOL dial up.

3.  After 30 minutes your blog template should emerge.  Click on the Daily Mail website, bearing in mind pictures may take an hour to appear.

4.  When all loaded up close your eyes and randomly scroll your mouse for a few seconds before planting your finger on the screen.  Open you eyes.  On whatever story your finger is on that is the theme of today’s blog.

5.  Add conspiratorial slant to story.  So if article is about, say, Jeremy Beadle’s childhood home being demolished to make room for a Tesco Extra state that he was bumped off by the Illuminati with this in mind, so he wouldn’t block the planning permission.  You don’t have to make a very coherent confident link as your readers are generally imbeciles with a low IQ, anyway.

6.  Next you need to explain very carefully, to pad out your blog entry, what a Tesco is and who Jeremy Beadle was.  This will take up most of the exposition of your blog to form one huge motherfucking opening paragraph.  You could say Tesco is a supermarket, say what a supermarket is and how Jeremy Beadle played practical jokes on people for TV.  You will almost certainly need to explain what a joke is and its function in our modern society.  This links nicely into the possible inclusion of a few jabs at political correctness gone mad.  For no reason whatsoever add a touch of inequality fervour with a tinge of a misogynistic twist.  Although this is up to you as it depends on how many levels you want to appeal to your reader.

7.  So finish up always follow this simple formula.  Always, and I mean always, leave the reader knowing it is all down to the Cultural Marxists taking over the country and mention the New World Order and Illuminati.  But don’t ever over do it, you need to save something fresh for tomorrow’s blog.  So that’s it, that’s all you need to know for how to create a perfect HPANWO blog of your own.  Once you start accumulating a whole series of blogs you must start referencing yourself each time.  After a year of Ben blogging you should include 6 or 7 references directly to your own work each day.  This keeps the reader in your frame of mind that you are extremely knowledgeable above any other possible citation available in the whole world/cyber space.

Happy Benning, er I mean blogging!  😉

 

I admit it, I am a Bachoholic!

Nothing else is listened to, nothing else is worth listening to in fact.  I have just come into receipt of the complete works of JS Bach, all 172 CDs in a lovely well presented box set.  It is a wondrous sight, and to think when I have ripped all those discs onto my laptop I can then transfer all of Bach’s music onto a 16GB memory stick.   Now if I went back in time to show Herr Bach this I wonder what he would make of it!  To think all his music can be stuck on something smaller than a thumbnail, would surely convince him there was no need for a deity.   Well now they make memory sticks that can hold upto 128GB these days so technically you could fit the entire works of the main backbone of ‘classical’ music, say the 15-20 major composers, onto such a device.   That is incredible and shows how far we have come and sadly and what we don’t have anymore.   Today there are no JS Bachs, well, that I am aware of.  There are many gifted and passionate performers of all instruments but composition on the scale of Bach has just vanished from humanity.  There are no people writing  a cantata a week for five years, all the while finding time to write a few keyboard partitas and the odd concerto in today’s musical landscape.   Even rock groups like Muse or Radiohead struggle to manage more than two albums in 3/4 years.

So I am slowly working my way through Bach’s cantatas and what is never lacking is the quality.  Bach is so consistent in this respect, it is hard to find a bad work by him.  So was he really super human?

Anyway to make the title of this post more relevant I have developed a phrase, what with being obsessed by a 18th century Lutheran composer, that goes something like this-every minute I sleep is one less minute of my life I have to listen to JS Bach-and that could apply to any activity that disrupts a listening pattern or schedule, such as socialising, showering and performing any other task that sanctions the non-listening procedure of JS Bach.   That really isn’t on.  Having the complete works has made me have some kind of mixed episode in comparison to being bipolar.  I am ecstatic at having such a vast array of music at my disposal yet not enough time to let it sink in and be appreciated and enjoyed.  This is like how Midas must have felt, although gold gets a bit boring after a while.  You think you know something about Bach, then he throws a curveball at you and you discover a work that rips your mind into tiny pieces that has been sitting under your nose for years.

So let us examine this pragmatically.  JS Bach was but a mere servant to churches and councils in mid Germany in the first half of the 18th century.   In Leipzig his job was to provide a different cantata for each Sunday service and teach latin and music at the same time.   Also, he was allowed to moonlight by performing music at weddings, christenings, and funerals.  He even moaned, apparently, one mild winter that there hadn’t been enough funerals to supplement his very modest income.  Oh, and he fathered 20 children!   Have you heard the cantatas?  They are fucking amazing and I’m not an inch religious.  I keep hoping one day I’ll find out Bach himself was secretly an atheist, but I doubt that’ll ever happen.  He was too immersed into the church at the time and any sniff of non-believing would have, at best, left him and his family jobless and homeless.

Now how does he produce such a consistently high quality of work in such little time?  I have read, and was taught this at school, that Bach had a very mathematical mind.  Maybe he struck on a formula that would work every time he put pen to paper, he was after all a lover of contrapuntal composition.

JS Bach v The World (part III)

So randomly, the moment I click on WordPress to write another episode of complete drivel that no-one reads, Bach’s toccata in C minor randomly plays on my ‘Braintree Away’ Playlist.  Sounds rather odd?  Yes, but Tuesday just gone myself and my parents went on a coach to a small Essex town called Braintree to watch our beloved Dover Athletic play football.  We lost 1-0 and in the second half we were given a masterclass in how to waste time by the hosts.  So, I needed some music for the journey and compiled a list of about 90 tracks, a lot of Bach, but some Radiohead and Divine Comedy, too.  Yet don’t panic because today we beat a good Macclesfield side 2-1 and kept our spot of third in the league, two points behind the leaders Forest Green Rovers.

Anyhow, I ended the last part with a performance of what is probably the greatest piece of music ever conceived.  The solo violin chaconne in D minor is really beyond comprehension for any language to justify.  It is not of this world.   So was JS Bach some kind of alien planted here by something from the future or something vastly more intelligent than ourselves, but not quite able to compose music it would like?  No, I highly doubt Bach is an alien plant or even an alien, no evidence you see.  Drat, say all the UFO fantasists.  No, Bach just happened to be a lone sperm that made it to the egg first, and through some complicated genetic makeup and milieu managed to become the greatest musician that ever lived.  Now back to the chaconne in D minor.  Did he hear the main theme in his head first or did he just happen upon it while playing around with some other ideas on the clavier, say?  Well it obviously didn’t send him out of his mind like it would have done Brahms.

Today I became the owner of a biography of Bach and as I always seem to do, I looked at the last sentence and this is what it said:

“Truly, Bach links us with the universe.”  Klause Eidam The True Life of J.S.Bach.

That is such a beautifully simple yet elegant explanation of Bach and his music.  I always thought Beethoven was the greatest and spent a lot of my teenage years (before IMSLP) buying cheap copies of his piano sonatas from a local music shop with my meagre pocket/paper round money.  Well as long as I had enough to buy a sonata or two and get into football I was happy.   There was a hardback edition of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier sitting proudly on the shelf above the cheap sonatas still wrapped in plastic to keep the dust off it.  I think it was about £50 so I could only dream of being able to buy it.   Now I have all of the WTCs thanks to IMSLP but they are bloody difficult to play, but what masterpieces.  Still, I thought Beethoven was the grandmaster and greatest musician to have ever graced the planet.  Now he is in second place.  Bach is like a ceiling that only people like Beethoven or Mozart can dream of getting near or above.  Yet you cannot, no-one can.  Bach trumps his competitors time and time again.   I used to bawl my eyes out when I listened to the last movement of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, same with Beethoven’s third, seventh, and ninth symphonies.   Then a couple of years ago I found myself in tears walking across a supermarket car park while listening to to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto in G major.  I have always wondered why music triggers this.  Is it the way a composer develops a theme so incredibly that something in your head cannot comprehend and tells the eyes to release the water?  As a way of trying to come to terms with what our underdeveloped brains can’t cope with.  An outlet say?

Without JS Bach music wouldn’t have progressed the way it did.  Handel may have stepped up the the plate but he didn’t have the umph to do what a Bach would do.  Vivaldi is a pleasure to listen to but too repetitive to be the bedrock of classical music, and the same with Scarlatti, Purcell came too early, and Telemann all the while the most prolific of composers was nowhere near good enough to provide the next generation with the correct techniques and harmonies.  So it was just lucky that JS Bach did exist really.

I haven’t written anything for a few days, but I did read that  JS Bach’s music sort of disappeared and wasn’t the flavour of the month until Mendelssohn rediscovered the great master in the 19th century.  Yet I read that Beethoven quotes the masterfulness of Bach and if you look carefully there are many similarities in there music.  Beethoven isn’t afraid to be bombastic and powerful and you can hear the link with Bach especially in the harmonies.  At the moment I am listening to Bach’s partitas for keyboard.  They are worthy pieces I would say nearly on par with the toccatas yet they don’t quite have the bite, but needless to say they are masterpieces and the intertwining are a joy to hear and play.  There is so much going on in these partitas and I expect the more I listen to them the higher they will go in my estimation.

Some pieces by Bach can take several listenings to really understand and appreciate what is going on.  I, you, we, must persevere.  I think it is to do with neural pathways in the brain.  When listening to a piece by Bach for the first time the brain cannot take it all in, especially if you are listening to his secular keyboard or solo instrument pieces.   So keep at it and eventually the brain will have a Bach pathway that may induce more serotonin or dopamine to flow just for his music.  That would be really interesting if that were true; surely it must be.  The brain is trying to contend with something written around 300 years ago.  That is a true test of time.  I wonder, at any point in his life, Bach pondered what would happen to his music beyond his lifetime.

This is a very interesting take on the master’s music

Well that’s part III done.  Thanks for getting this far all none of you!  Haha!  I think I will just keep this going.

JS Bach v The World (part II)

I want to start with this interpretation of BWV 922:

This is a very good Youtube recording by Brendel although I couldn’t find my favourite which I listen to on Spotify, which is performed by Joao Carlos Martins. The latter is much slower and over minute longer then the former. The beauty of the Martin’s version is he plays the opening at full throttle, supremely, then comes to a grinding halt almost when the first subject appears, and what a tear jerking job he makes of it, too. Bach has written this piece to give the impression that it is constantly descending when it is doing little in the way of that. Bach is tricking the listener (and the performer come to that) into feeling a perpetual but accepting sense of depression and despair.  The second subject is an elaborative more complex version of the first but still done the way only Bach could have done.  I feel no other composer can give this conjuristic effect in music.  I have laid awake at night pondering this prelude over and over, listening to its nuances and trickery and just,well, marvelling at it.   I now realise that nothing quite compares and life becomes as pointless as it is must be to a multi billionaire.

If I have heard the greatest that the greatest can offer and nothing really comes close then what is the point?  Beethoven’s third symphony ‘Eroica’ is the methadone to Bach’s toccata heroin.  But why is it that nothing comes close to JS Bach?  Everything feels so resignedly second best after a JS Bach composition.  So you just seek out Bach, after Bach, after Bach.  Even his incredibly talented sons CPE Bach, and WF Bach don’t really cut the mustard the way their father did.

I haven’t mentioned Handel yet, or other contemporaries of JS Bach.  Was Handel as good as Bach?  No, but close, but just no (even though Beethoven held him in high esteem which is a good reference to have!).  I like and admire some of Handel’s keyboard Suites and they can get close to JSB but then flop into a whimsical mess not being worth a mention.  Although one in particular, in F minor, is one I hold in high regard.  What about Domenico Scarlatti?  Yes and no.  There are some very moving and powerful sonatas amongst Scarlatti’s oeuvre, but like Handel some of the 555 written, an impressive amount, are rather flat and have little or no emotion attached to them.  But in mitigation to Scarlatti he did write them as a tutorial aid for his royal pupils.  I cannot really comment too much on Purcell as I haven never properly studied his music, of which the same could be said for Buxtehude.  There were many musicians during the period that Bach was active but strangely very little came out of Britain.  Britain and Ireland produced many scientists and authors but lacked in composers.  The only one worth mentioning was Thomas Arne who wrote Rule Britannia.  His other output is a bit of keyboard work but nothing to really get excited about. A little later in the 1700s a composer came from Ireland called John Field.  He was taught by Muzio Clementi when the family moved to London  and became a useful pianist attracting attention across Europe.   He wrote a series of Nocturnes that are bloody delicious.  His other output, piano sonatas, are okay-ish sort of similar to Clementi and not too hard to master.  The poor chap died in Russia while trying to flog pianos for Clementi, and there is little information beyond that.  So Britain had Arne, Clementi, Purcell, and Handel.  Although, Handel was German born and came to England in 1712 and eventually became a British Citizen, like Clementi did who was born in Rome.

So what has all that got to do with Bach?  Well I am trying to paint a picture of what music was like in the 50 or so years that JS Bach had to compose in.  How much influence did he have on future music?  Well that is the key question.  He has had neverending influence on every musical note that has been written since 1750.  He is omnipotent across the vast spectrum of music even if you no nothing of his collection as it was that collection that influenced Beethoven, Haydn, Brahms.  Brahms makes a fine qute about this piece of music:

He said this:

“On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.

Brahms who was born into absolute poverty in Hamburg; Brahms who became a famous international pianist and composer, some say his first symphony was Beethoven’s tenth; Brahms who offered residence and money to the relatively poor composer Dvorak; and Brahms the atheist, Dvorak said ‘He believes in nothing!’.  This piece of music is extraordinarily important and if Brahms could still feel Bach’s verve over a hundred later imagine how powerful it would have been and the time of its inception.

I will discuss this further in Part III.  Thank you for getting this far.

 

JS Bach vs The World (part one)

Now I am going to write something that will probably disgust people who are extremely well educated in Classical Music (or Western Art Music to give it its technical term), they may have grade 8 on theory and instrument, maybe even a degree in the subject.  I am educated to grade 6 piano grade 4 theory, GCSE music A*, A level music D (I was the only student in the history of the school to ever take A level music and had one to one tuition for two years), and I did a music module with the Open University  which I passed with a grade 2.   Mainly I am self taught, I learn about the composer’s lives and their music at my own pace.  So I am probably very wrong on what I want to say here.

Science and medicine have advanced exponentially with every passing century.  From leeches and bloodletting in Tudor times to Full Face Transplants and other amazing things that surgeons and doctors can do.  Also, look at the amazing drugs that the medical world has at it’s disposal.  So you would never say that medicine in 1820 was better then medicine in 2015.   Now as I write this I am listening to JS Bach’s Toccata for keyboard in E minor.  It is a piece of music, (especially the fugue) that transcends the existence of life.  It is so abstract and detached from the grind of everyday living.  How did Bach do it?  Did he just follow a simple formula that worked really well on every piece he composed.

So here is my conjecture.  The greatness, the prowess; the depth of emotion and feeling in Bach’s music is the pinnacle of musical compositions which peeked in the last decade of his life.  So say 1740-50 was when music peeked and has never achieved such heights again.  JS Bach, I have decided, after playing his music almost non-stop for three months, is the greatest composer who ever lived.  I feel as if I want to cry when I write these words.  I realise that this is purely subjective, but Bach has everything and used all that was available to him at the time.  The last decade of his life produced an amazing outpouring of music that clearly goes up and beyond what any human could conceivably do.  He wrote book 2 of his Well-Tempered Clavier in 1742, and later the Art of the Fugue which remains unfinished, and the beautiful Goldberg Variations.  The aria or theme of the latter piece were used in Silence of the Lambs listened to by Hannibal Lecter while in his cage.   So it has an eerie quality that has never been matched.

As music produced a flood of classical composers after JS Bach’s death only two really threatened Bach’s superiority:  Beethoven and Mozart (although I would argue for Muzio Clementi as well who played a big role as an influence in Beethoven’s music, not so much Mozart’s although Wolfgang did pinch a theme of Clementi’s and used it in his overture to The Magic Flute.  Clementi made sure people knew he had written and published this theme ten years earlier!).  Beethoven, in my opinion was far greater than Mozart.  Although if Wolfgang had maybe lived another ten years or so we may have seen him go in the direction that Beethoven did.  This can be shown by listening to Mozart’s last three symphonies which are a sign that he could have changed the course of music forever.  But music peaked in the 1740s and could never be bettered.  I am starting to think that that is an objective fact and I will try my hardest to define and argue for this notion.

JS Bach was almost mathematical in his compositions.  His fugues so perfectly set.  Like starting with little equations and then the entire piece goes through all the stages of solving them, maybe a bit like solving a quadratic equation.    And you will always find minor key works by JS Bach and others, end with a major chord.  This is a delightful technique which was copied by Alkan, the french pianist and composer, in his symphony for piano.  Although it is done the other way round and as it seems like the movement will end on C major a dark and quiet chord in C minor finishes the piece.   Yet a quadratic equations can have more then 2 answers.  One positive, one negative maybe.  Bach solves them each time and each fugue sounds complete and satisfying.  That is why a Bach piece always sounds complete and not too long or too short.  There is nothing unnecessary in a JS Bach piece.

You couldn’t have timed that any better.  I just decided I would ramble a bit more about Bach on this blog when, randomly, on my Spotify playlist ‘Braintree away’ (I am going on four hour roundtrip journey by coach tomorrow, 13/10/15, to watch my local football team Dover Athletic play Braintree Town), his Toccata in F sharp minor BWV 910 starts to play.  I know it was just a coincidence but I was about to flick on Bach’s keyboard toccatas played by Gould for inspiration.  His interpretation is supreme I must say and I am slowly regarding the toccatas for keyboard as my favourite JS Bach compositions.  Better than the partitas, the English and French suites, better than the Well Tempered Clavier books I and II?  I hear you say.  Erm, yes, I reply.   While all those mentioned are indeed incredible masterpieces that no man on his own should have ever been allowed to compose, the toccatas go that little step further, taking the listener into the dizzying world of abstract emotion and beyond the realms of this small terrestrial planet.  Indeed if they could be compared with music from beyond this Solar System, or Galaxy, they would rank right up there, although who am I too say.  I have had my inner ears washed with Bach for the last three months and cannot find fault, or indeed imperfection.    I have yet to tire of any part of his music.

My listening patterns cycle.  I leave certain, well most, composers dormant for weeks, months, some even years.  I find if I do this then the next time I come across them, always randomly, then it will feel like the magical time I first heard them.  Take Berlioz for example.  When I was first introduced to the Symphonie Fantastique and Harold in Italy, during GCSE music lessons I was mightily impressed yet after a few weeks I grew weary and let them drop from my playlists. It has been years since I last played Berlioz, maybe he is due a turn when I randomly stumble across him again.  Or take Brahms.  I love his four symphonies.  When I first heard the opening to the 1st symphony, again at school, I was blown out of my trousers, it was that good.  Trouble is that was the best part of the first movement and never returns.  The 4th in E minor is my favourite Brahms symphony and should get an airing soon, just like his two powerful piano concertos will, too.   Tchaikovsky is sitting fallow as well, but will sound cheerily impressive when I click him back into action before the year is out.  Even Beethoven I have to rest as I do actually tire of the old warhorse apart from the Eroica Symphony, that is impossible, for me at least, to get bored off.  And what about Mozart?  Er, well I have taken a massive sabbatical from the little Salzburg’s finest son.  I find his music too production line-ish, if there is such a description.  He composed some fine peices of music and most of those are in the keys of D or C minor.  His requiem is incredible, his late piano concertos and symphonies also but apart from the odd piano sonata or fantasie his appeal, I am afraid, is limited for me.

I am going to adjust my years of when music peaked and that is now from 1700-1750.  I push back the years to when the, as already mentioned, toccatas where composed.  A little bit of investigative work, beyond Wikipedia, which doesn’t seem to have a page about.  Yet I soon found out they were written between 1708 and 1710.   This is from the Piano Society webpage.

Well, such is my excitement for Johann Seb that I seem to have contradicted myself.   I am writing this piece over several days and should have read over what I have written.  Anyway, I regard the toccatas as extremely important pieces.  And taking into consideration they were composed by a 23-25 year old is not bad going considering the depth of emotion they contain.  This is perhaps where it get a little subjective because at present I class the toccatas as more important works then the WTC say.  The WTC is probably one of the finest body of works within a radius of several million parsecs from the centre of the earth!  Yet, it is beautifully mechanical, and each fugue is like a quadratic equation with the notes gradually solving it. Not like the toccatas.  I don’t know whether it is the whimsy humming of Gould that adds an extra layer to the recording or the harmonics that Bach conjures out of the aether that are somehow perfect.  They say Mozart was perfect.  Mozart’s music was simpler then JS Bach’s yet paradoxically difficult on purpose to protect itself from any kind of default!  I can conjecture that JS Bach was just a proxy through which the music flowed.  He was merely a conduit.  From whom you ask?  I have know idea and  I don’t want to become a conspiracy theorist, been there done that.  You see I could say that an alien race picked out a rather nondescript German organist teacher and funnelled incredible music through him.  No. that is nonsense and lowers the value of the human race that we can’t produce great things on our own.  Yet something flowed through Bach.  You don’t produce a masterpiece every time you touch a clavier or a quill, ink, and manuscript paper unless something is driving you on.

I’ll be honest.  I don’t know that much about Bach’s life, but I have recently purchased a biography about him so I can garner more information.  I do know he had many children and at least three went onto be accomplished musicians and composers in their own right.  CPE Bach produced some amazing compositions that bridged the gap between baroque and classical music.  The nice thing about this particular Bach is that his piano sonatas are relatively easy to master if you are grade 6 or higher on the piano.  Still, while he composed heaps of lovely transitional music, none of it ever comes close to what his dad produced.

So music can never get better that what is was up to 1750?  With Beethoven we came incredibly close.  His 9th symphony transcends humanity to some void we can only fill with the power of art and literature.  Science and technology sits quietly, patiently in the corner waiting for its next Einstein or Richard Feynman to be born and able to solve mathematical riddles before her 5th birthday!  So yes, Beethoven was a man possessed his last dozen or piano sonatas show this.  the amazing Appassionata Sonata and the final 32nd one in C minor.  But I just come back with JS Bach’s toccatas and they trump everything time and time again!  I used to think that  I could solve music mathematically even to the point of studying maths though the Open University.  I was sure there must be a mathematical answer how the cogs and wheels work inside a sonata or symphony, or a toccata!   JS Bach was the only one to provide evidence that this could be possible.  So if you can rip a piece down to its bare bones and see what is actually going on.  It is like how I used to wonder how a car engine actually worked.  I was fascinated by the actual beautiful simplicity of it when I finally worked out how it worked.  Same with music, either Bach just composed it becuase he could or he did it all mathematically.  I will explore these avenues when I write part two of this sorry tale.  Thanks for getting this far!