Shielding Against the Dark Forces with Bach

Optimism. © Charles Thibo

A few weeks ago, I was greeted at the office by a colleague with the words: “You’re beaming, what’s wrong?” I laughed and said: “I always radiate joy when I enter this building!” Bursts of laughter as we both knew this was a lie. Nevertheless, jokes aside, I usually start every day in an optimistic and joyful mood. I like to get up, to greet my family, the cat, the sun and our garden, and while I drive to the office, listening to classical music gives me a sense of peace, of happiness. When I am at the office, I go about my work feeling good. After so many years, I am still an interested and dedicated team member. Strange, isn’t it, when so many people complain so much about so many things?

Perhaps they should occasionally to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto No. 4 for Harpsichord, Strings and Continuo in A (BWV 1055). It’s a short piece, but it feels like a shot of optimism, vaccinating you for 24 hours against all kind of dark forces like anger, jealousy, selfishness or arrogance, regardless whether these dark forces emanate from someone else or from yourself. I think it’s inconceivable to feel bad in the presence of such heavenly music. And it’s still cheaper than a session with your psychotherapist.

The concerto in A belongs to a series of works that he wrote or rewrote in Leipzig while he was busy with the Collegium Musicum, an ensemble of gifted amateur musicians enjoying performing secular instrumental music. According to the available sources BWV 1055 might be the only concerto that is not drawn from earlier material, but a new composition from the period of 1738-1740.

The musicologist Konrad Küster calls it experimental, but one has to be an expert in Baroque music to distinguish different concert types and composition styles and to see the difference between “experimental” and “mainstream”. This said, could Bach ever have written “mainstream” music? I doubt it. He was demanding in terms of harmony and counterpoint – a piece had to be flawless – and his talent would have prevented him from writing anything common.

However high Bach’s standards may have been, the piece is not demanding for the audience, not at all. It is relaxing and easy-going, the harpsichord takes care of that. Now I hear there are people who do not like the harpsichord. I find this quite unbelievable, but Bach was a prescient and polyvalent man, he anticipated objections and wrote the score so that it could easily be arranged for an oboe d’amore. This version is more accommodating for our ears polluted by mainstream music and our addiction to the modern piano does not help things, Bach’s music looses its edge somehow. But if this helps me winning at least one listener over to Baroque music, than this post has fulfilled it’s destiny.

The harpsichord version has been recorded by the English Concert, while the oboe variant had been released on a legendary recording by the Lucerne Festival Strings from the 1950s. Try it. Tomorrow. On a Monday morning. You will be surprised.

© Charles Thibo

Romantic Nostalgia and Affirmative Action

Mayer Piano Quartet E flat major-1
Water geometry. © Charles Thibo

I remember the first warm days of the year: I was anticipating a sunny spring, I looked forward to spend a lot of time outside, I even got the garden furniture ready! April passed with plenty of fair weather, nature exploded in a thousand colours and all looked well. And now – this! First week of May – the Germans call it “Wonnemonat” (month of bliss) – low, grey clouds chasing each other, icy wind gusts, showers that drench you from tip to toe. Dreadful. Of course I knew that the sun would be back, but until then, I settled for a little nostalgia with the German composer Emilie Mayer (1812-1883) and her Piano Quartet No. 1 in E-flat major.

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Pointillist Music Ahead of the Composer’s Silence

The Pointillist painter Georges Seurat painted “Parade de Cirque” in 1887/88.

As you may have noticed, occasionally paintings by Claude Monet illustrate my posts. I love the Impressionist paintings and Monet certainly is my favourite painter. In the wake of Impressionism sailed a group of painters that took the Impressionist technique to new extreme: Their paintings would exclusively consist of minuscule dots, paintings made like an ancient mosaic. Or like a picure composed of pixels. Since the dot’s name in French is “point”, this technique quickly went by the name of “Pointillism”.

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Twelve Poetic Piano Pieces for Marie’s Pupils

The power of Beauty… © Charles Thibo

The beautiful days. The beautiful days are not gone. Despite the acid I spread on Friday. The beautiful days are happening right now. If we allow them to happen. The day before I was writing this post the roof of one of the landmarks of Paris was destroyed by a fire: the Cathédrale de Notre-Dame. A terrible loss. But the day I wrote this post, I rose with the sun, I didn’t have to work, the house was calm and I enjoyed a beautiful sight out of the kitchen window as the vineyards are coming to life. The beautiful days are whenever we want to make them happen.

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