Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life in Pictures and Documents

Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life in Pictures and Documents

Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life in Pictures and Documents

Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life in Pictures and Documents

Excerpt

The reader at the beginning of the 21st century is ‘enlightened.’ He finds himself at a late (and perhaps even final) stage of a development in the European history of ideas whose roots reach back far beyond Johann Sebastian Bach’s time. In the period between Bach’s birth and his death, this development changed the Western world decisively. In historical terms it is called the Enlightenment, but we soon begin to wonder if we should regard this enlightenment with the same naive belief in progress, even euphoria, as our ancestors did. The achievements of technology, civilization and politics since the 18th century have radically changed human thinking and our worldview. They have made the material side of human life much easier. However, there are an increasing number of people who are convinced that the development of human thought since Bach’s day, the immense accumulation of intellectual knowledge, has not been an undisputed progress of history, since our souls have not grown accordingly. The caricature of man with a huge head sitting on a minuscule body with a stunted heart has become reality. We cannot ignore this reality. It threatens to suffocate us.

In Johann Sebastian Bach’s time, this distortion was unknown. When we listen to his music today, many of us are filled with an inner peace which is in complete contrast to the restlessness, doubts and fears of our own existence. We long for the harmony we feel in this music, but we no longer experience this harmony. Have we become prisoners, even exiles, of our knowledge and our doubts? We have succeeded in doubling our life expectancy since Bach’s days, but have our souls become diseased? Nowadays, Johann Sebastian Bach’s music is used as therapy in hospitals, and not only for calming those suffering from nervous diseases. This music, and the historic personality of its composer, communicate something from another age to today’s listener. The distance of three centuries somehow transfigures Bach’s music. Everything about Bach and his music seems to be extraordinary; but this idea is a profound error which is carried on from generation to generation. Since the beginning of the 19th century, when people began to rediscover the more or less forgotten Cantor of St. Thomas’s in Leipzig, each generation has added to the sentimentalising of Bach’s image.

We are ‘enlightened.’ We have lost the humility–some may say the naiveté–of faith which governed Johann Sebastian Bach’s daily life and music. His contemporaries sang, played and listened to his compositions with the same humility and faith. Instead of a concert hall, the radio, the stereo system, records, cassettes, CDs, the TV–all the means of listening to music today–there was one firmly rooted centre for performing music: the church. Even secular music promoted by the royal courts and capitals, which were very numerous at Bach’s time in Germany, was firmly anchored in the Christian faith. The same was true of popular music. Within his everyday life, Johann . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.