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.