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

Polyphony and Arias from the Second Bach Generation

Welcome autumn! © Charles Thibo

There is no life without Bach, at least not for me, and the moment you are reading this, I will be far away from home, on the beach, sitting in the sand, looking at the blue sky and doing nothing. Nothing except reading, listening to Bach and perhaps pondering whether I will run once more across the beach and throw myself into the waves. Right, I am on my much deserved vacation while at home the grape harvest has begun and the weather is gradually changing into a familiar grey-with-occasional-rain pattern. Welcome autumn!

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Hiding in the sanctuary of Beauty

Bach BWV1060
Shelter. © Charles Thibo

The other day I felt tired, miserable, distressed. I felt like hiding from the hideous world, from which I felt totally disconnected. Hiding – but where? Johann Sebastian Bach’s music is a good place to hide, a sanctuary of singular beauty, where I always feel welcome, where I can stop thinking, where I don’t have to talk or to explain or justify. In the realm of Bach I can be. To be, to exist, without any conditions attached to it – philosophers from Parmenides to Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel have struggled with the concept. How good it feels to be permeated by Bach’s Concerto for two Harpsichords, Strings and Continuo in C minor (BWV 1060), to forget reality and to contemplate Beauty, Purity, Eternity.

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Transition to happiness with Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach

Praise! © Charles Thibo

Music from the Bach family is a perfect way to start a day. Actually to start any day. On a sunny summer morning listening for example to Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach’s Cello Concerto in A minor (Wq. 170) fills me with joy and enthusiasm and a strong desire to praise mankind’s inventiveness, it’s ability to create Beauty, its incredible power to fill others with happiness. What a gift from Johann Sebastian Bach’s son! What a generosity!

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