We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Tuesday, August 25. 2020
I've been "studying," meaning listening repeatedly, to Bach's keyboard concertos. I am no music expert.
Over time, they have all come to sound like conversations to me, just turned into music.
Bernstein with Glenn Gould:
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
Back in high school, when I first began to listen to classical music, I found that keyboard pieces by Bach and others of his era sounded better to me when played on instruments from his period. This was the time when Nonesuch and many other budget labels were making available, for my kind of prices, baroque and other music from small European orchestras and ensembles. I bought a lot them - perhaps 30 linear feet of LPs, most of which I still have, plus several hundred CDs.
Back then - we're speaking of the 1960s and 70s - guided by the floods of encomiums (encomia?) from classical music world about Gould's performances, I listened to a lot of his recordings of keyboard Bach (and some others) on a modern piano. Then and now, it's simply no-go for me. The sound is wrong, just wrong.
Your mileage may differ.
Let me just add, so as not to sound like a total snob, the guiding fact for me was that the sound - timbre, note duration, tuning, and so on - of 17th and 18th century music was substantially different from what you hear today. And this goes double when you speak of keyboard works.
I have no doubt that Bach, Scarlatti, Locatelli, Telemann, etc., etc. could have made excellent use of modern pianos. They'd have to learn its specific sounds and the emotions conveyed by them, but those guys were outstanding composers and musicians. They'd do fine.
But all they could work with in their era were the instruments of their time, and the sound they wrote to produce is quite different from today's concert sound.
I don't know about 18th versus 20 century pianos, but I definitely prefer Bach on piano instead of harpsichord.
For a long time, there has been a business concept that people’s performance conforms to a bell curve. This concept has been embedded in many business practices; performance appraisal, remuneration system models, and even related to how we rank in school.
Bless his heart, I taught him every note without so much as an encore! /sarc
That was beautiful but I gotta' say, Gould's had finger's like crab claws. His mouthing of the notes was a little weird, too. But I loved it.
A music critic's take on Glenn Gould and Bach. Tim Page on Glenn Gould - BACH & friends - Michael Lawrence Films.
Tim Page worked with Glenn Gould on a discussion of the Goldberg Variations, and has edited some books on Glenn Gould.
When I was working internationally I would put on the noise-cancelling headphones and dial up the Bach Lute music. Now I listen to it woodworking, Weiss as well. Bach was renowned for his organ and choral works, and Weiss was his equal for contemporary lute music. There is nothing for me that is at once more calming and focusing than this kind of music.
And if it hadn't been for Felix Mendelssohn's advocacy, Bach's work might have been left in obscurity forever. As a young man he was given some of Bach's manuscripts (St. Matthew's Passion) by an indulgent grandmother.
I am not an expert, I simply like what I like and do not listen to anything that does not please me. But the one thing I have noticed about music is that every composer from the classics to the current day musicians made good music and bad music and apparently they themselves could not tell which was which. That is some became popular, some became very popular and some just withered away. Yet the composer believed in each and published each and did not know until the audience/world told him which were good and which were not.
OneGuy: I simply like what I like and do not listen to anything that does not please me.
The ear is always the guide, but, to be fair, it may sometimes take a few hearings and some background knowledge to know what to listen for — especially with historically or culturally distant music.
OneGuy: That is some became popular, some became very popular and some just withered away.
That's a very good point. People often say they don't make great music any longer. Rather, there is great music in every period, but it is surrounded by a vast ocean of mediocrity. History and memory only keep the best, and forget all the rest.
But you missed the point. Let me say it more clearly. It is a mystery to me how composers and musicians can create music that is beautiful to everyone AND create music that flops. One would think that they are "talented" and could create great music but it would seem that they too are tone deaf and just push it out and wait to see what flies.
I see a similar thing on American Idol, where promising singers in the final competition either choose or wrote really crappy songs and it tanked them. Even after winning or coming in second once the singer got to choose their own music they drifted off into obscurity because of the music they choose.
OneGuy: It is a mystery to me how composers and musicians can create music that is beautiful to everyone AND create music that flops.
Let us venture an explanation. Greatness is rare by definition. To create a great work requires a confluence of many different factors. Even a highly talented artist may only gather all those elements together once or twice in a lifetime, if at all. More rarely still, a preeminent genius, such as a da Vinci or Beethoven, may create great works time after time. Meanwhile, most art is found in the broad middle.
In Heaven, you are introduced to the greatest musician of all eternity. You are astounded because you have never heard of the person. Your guide explains that, in the life of the world, he was born a poor slave, and never had the opportunity to do more than play the fiddle at his master's picnics. But, in Heaven, his talents are not limited by the privileges of the material world.
So are you saying that the great composers were lucky a few times and that they are like a blind squirrel?
OneGuy: So are you saying that the great composers were lucky a few times and that they are like a blind squirrel?
Never said that. People have good days and bad days due to a variety of reasons, personal and situational.
Think of it as a bell curve of abilities. Artists (and scholars, etc.) fall mostly in the middle. But each artist also has a bell curve representing their good and not so good results. Crafters tend to be consistent, so are represented by a narrow curve. Those who take chances and work more by inspiration are represented by a wider curve.
Now consider those higher on the overall curve. Sometimes they will bat above their average. Sometimes they will bat below their overage. Occasionally they will fall at a much higher point on the curve. If you have hundreds of people taking chances, most will fail, but rarely one will achieve an extraordinary result — a one hit wonder. Even lesser efforts are not necessarily without value though.
Meanwhile, some artists, such as Beethoven, are both crafters and inspired, and will stride across the ages.
As a teenager, my experience of what music can be began with Bach, and today as an old man, I still find it an inexhaustible source of wisdom and humane contemplation. The concertos as you say are like conversations, but other works (e.g. Goldberg variations and the solo violin sonatas and partitas) seem like meditations on matters that are beyond the reach of words. Glenn Gould on the other hand, while a worthy and unique interpreter, is not my cup of tea.
Music is one of the oldest, most universal and infectious art forms of mankind. Music accompanies the development of human history with its unique and wonderful artistic charm and accompanies our daily life. Music can make people insert the wings of creation and imagination, and let people's hearts fly.