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Gods, Gurus, and the Search for the Holy Grail: Bach Recordings from 2018 (hudsonreview.com)
39 points by pseudolus 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 14 comments

I have nothing concrete to base this on but I've always found it a source of inspiration that perhaps what contributed most to Bach's genius is the fact that his compositions were literally his work. I.e. he was paid to write and perform music.

Literature on creativity stress that it's less about possessing some kind of 'gift' but rather the importance of simply showing up, whether you're feeling inspired or not, and pushing through the resistance to just create something. Anything.

I like to think that Bach's music is evidence of this.

This is trivially disproven by the fact that Bach was one of a couple of hundred or so contemporaries across Europe who were also paid to compose full time.

Music theory was much more homogenous then. You could learn everything there was to know in a few years, and after a few more years of work you would be considered competent and ready to enter the job market.

What made Bach different was a long family background of music ('Bach' was practically a synonym for musician in some parts of Germany), and an insane work ethic - he literally walked across Germany to try to get an apprenticeship with a teacher, and he was on top of current developments in the rest of Europe in a way his contemporaries weren't.

But mostly he was a freaking genius - e.g. known for improvising eight-voice fugues, which is something no one else would even consider.

For every discipline there's a certain skill level which no amount of hard work will conquer without a foundation of raw talent - and he lived there.

I agree. Knocking out a mass a week at least ups your production and keeps your creativity in good form.

Another case that I marvel at is Carl Stalling. During the heyday of the Warner cartoon unit he did most of the scores. Yes, yes, not the same as Bach -- Stalling cribbed a lot of well-know music and had access to the Warner music catalog. But the production rate! Imagine: The Warner cartoon studio had 4 units. Each unit did one feature per month, so that they could deliver one new animated short feature every week. Show up Monday with blank paper. Record with the orchestra at a Warner sound stage on Friday. Repeat every week. Wow.

In a similar vein writers such as Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dumas were heavily serialized and required to produce content at a rate that few of our contemporary writers could match [0].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_(literature)

Bach also cribbed a lot of well known work. The four harpsichord concerto is almost a transcription of a Vivaldi four violin concerto. The man had music to produce, and he borrowed from everywhere. We just don't remember it because in most cases he was such an amazing technician that it eclipsed the original.

Indeed. And the other takeaway of it is: we can have more amazing things like this if artists are able to make a living by producing art.

A bit off-topic but as an aspiring author I’m blown away by serial writers, after reading Stephen King talk about it in his intro to the Green Mile, which was serialised.

Today, we could write an entire draft novel and discover major plot holes and smooth them out before a single paragraph makes its way into the public eye.

Serial writers have effectively written in stone, and cast their words out to the world. They have to hope they haven’t inadvertently painted themselves into a corner.

My problem with Bach is that the best advice to a musician seems to be: Just play the notes.

Most other composers can benefit from creative interpretation.

As someone who has made a good part of his living performing Bach for about 25 years now, I can tell you that your impression here is very, very much mistaken. Modern Bach performances are alive with "creative interpretation", both textual and musical.

Two of the most famous Bach recordings readily put the lie to this: the Goldberg Variations performances that Glenn Gould recorded in 1955 and 1981. They are wildly different, but equally artistically meritorious.

You may find this Song Exploder episode interesting - Yo Yo Ma talking about his changing interpretation of Bach over the years. (Ma is also referenced in original article.)


You need better advisors. Bach's technical chops were so high that omitting large parts of the performance practice still leads to an amazing piece, but it can't be considered a competent performance.

Do you know "Play Bach" from Jacques Loussier Trio?

I don't know if he does but I do and it is a favorite for many years, so long that I had the original on vinyl.

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