JS BACH WAS ONCE A CARMEL ROCKSTAR
JAMES GAINES’ “Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment” is a splendid companion to John Eliot Gardiner’s “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven,” reviewed HERE on July 19. “Evening in the Palace” serves up bios of both men, and delves, like Gardiner, into selected Bach masterpieces for analysis—maybe exuberance is a better word—in some 270 pages (not including various indexes at the end). Gaines draws the difference between the two musicians, the great composer and the ‘galant’ flutist, in sharp terms. Frederick modeled his aristocratic style on the French court and its various affectations. Bach was nearly twice his age when they met in 1747 at Sanssouci, Frederick’s palace near Berlin, and had long been considered old-hat and irrelevant. Gaines asserts that Frederick, the modern Enlightenment king in his mid-30s, despised all organized religions equally in favor of pure reason. He foisted on Bach a complicated new fugue subject and insisted he improvise a three-part fugue, apparently inspired to humiliate the old deeply religious Lutheran. (By that time and in that place, ‘learned’ fugal music had found little more than disdain.) Bach dazzled all, of course, including several of the most prominent composers of the day, not least his two eldest sons. On returning home to Leipzig, Bach set to work on the oddly chromatic yet uniquely challenging ‘royal’ theme and soon finished his last complete masterpiece, The Musical Offering, consisting of the improvised 3-part fugue, a 6-part fugue, a four-movement trio sonata and 10 strict canons, all making use of Frederick’s nasty tune. Gaines’ wordsmithing is lively and no less passionate and argumentative than Gardiner’s. And even though his book is much shorter, adding in so much history of the Prussian monarchy paints an even broader and more fascinating picture of the time.
BIST DU BEI MIR
SONG FROM the opera Diomedes by Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel added by Anna Magdalena Bach to the notebook compiled for her by JS Bach, her husband. It’s sung here by Judith Blegen with clavichord played by the late Igor Kipnis, once a Carmel Bach Festival featured artist.
If you are with me, then I will go gladly unto death and to my rest. Ah, what a pleasant end for me if your dear hands be the last I see, closing shut my faithful eyes to rest! If that isn’t the ultimate love song, I don’t know what could be.
CHECKS AND BALANCES
IN ANY KIND of artistic production for the public there has to be an evaluative system in place in case something goes wrong. The Bach Festival opening night concert’s slideshow was an embarrassment, a hopeful idea lamely executed. The Mozart opera, Idomeneo, last Tuesday also stumbled. (To read Louis Lebherz’ observations—he said it seemed “under-rehearsed”—click HERE.) Both examples raised the question: who’s running the show? Could these awkward miscues have inspired executive director Debbie Chinn to step down after just five years in the job?
JAZZ REINVENTING ITSELF
IN L.A., MONTREAL and New York. Click HERE
CABRILLO FESTIVAL THIS WEEKEND
FRIDAY NIGHT’S program includes two works by Christopher Rouse in their West Coast premieres, and a World Premiere of a Festival commission by Anna Clyne. Rouse talks about his Oboe Concerto ahead of its West Coast premiere at the Festival in Santa Cruz.
THE SATURDAY program contains other premieres and commissions by John Adams, Michael Kropf and Kevin Puts. For details, consult our CALENDAR or click the ad, left.
SOCIAL COMMENTARY by Stevie Wonder, from the album “Songs in the Key of Life” from 1976. Still relevant after 40 years.
MOZART’S IDOMENEO at the Bach Festival last week. Click HERE
HAMLET at Santa Cruz Shakespeare. Click HERE
CHOREOGRAPHER’S SHOWCASE at SpectorDance. Click HERE
Scott MacClelland, editor. Rebecca Brooks, associate editor.