bach in the woods



I have a couple days left before we return to Holland. It’s a good thing I purchased my updated Greek texts before vacation because I have literally used them every morning. My procedure is to read a section through four times as well as doing some written exercises each morning. I do the latter only if I have enough energy. This usually takes about 45 minutes or so. It seems to be a good way to start the day.


Yesterday I noticed that I have played half way through Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier completing the entire first volume while we  have been at the cabin.  I have played my way through it several times in the past, but as I age I find that I am much more thorough in my playing through of music for fun often repeating it four times.

Playing Bach’s wonderful keyboard music is a good complement to reading Gardiner’s book, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven. I have been reading fifty pages a day in it the last three days. This is a good goal. I left off at page 350 yesterday. There are  558 pages in the book so I am making a solid dent in it.

Gardiner has done an amazing job of bringing together scholarship, musicianship, erudition and gossipy contemporary (even popular culture!) references.

For example, when he talks about the rapport he feels between his performances of the cantatas and his audiences churches, he quotes Yo Yo Ma and mentions Sting.


I have learned that when an audience and a performer know the hymn tune that is being  used in a Bach piece it creates a different sort of performance. Speaking of the familiarity of “How Brightly Shines the Morning Star” (Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern) Gardiner observes that

“enough audience familiarity with the tune” elicits “that ‘invisible circle of human effort’, as Yo Yo Ma describes it, when performers and listeners alike are engaged in a collective or communal act. It was a feeling that returned twenty-four hours later during a rock concert in the Royal Alpert Hall in which Sting exchanged snatches of familiar songs with his adoring audience in a kind of spontaneous litany.”

I find it encouraging that such a fine classical musician does not bury his head in the sand of the classical world and ignore music that is popular with the rest of us.

This is just one example of the many little cool facts and allusions that stud Gardiner’s wonderful book.

His description of Bach’s St. John Passion included an admiring quote from Robert Schuman after he had conducted it in 1851:

Bach’s St. John Passion is ‘in many ways more daring, forceful, and poetic’ than [the more popular and more often performed St. Matthew Passion] How compact and genial throughout, especially in the choruses.”

Gardiner and Schuman enticed me into listening to about half of the St. John Passion yesterday with the score and translation before me.

This kind of immediate access sitting out here in the woods or anywhere else for that matter never fails to delight and amaze me.

God bless the interwebs.

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