Sunday, September 05, 2010

More on Bach's great-great-grandfather and his [zither?]

BBC Radio 3 has a nice capsule history of the Bach family of musicians archived from a feature A Bach Christmas A to Z. It comes under "V" for Veit Bach (died before 1578). Also what I think is probably the authoritative description of his instrument:
Though a baker by profession, Veit senior played the cittern (a Renaissance-period instrument combining elements of the lyre and guitar, and played by means of a quill plectrum). The Bach histories are specific that Veit marked 'the beginning of music in his descendants'.
Also some background, similarly authoritative, on musical families of the period:
Given that musicians tended to learn from each other, such conditions [political and cultural decentralization in Thuringia, where the Bachs lived] were more likely than not to encourage the emergence of musical dynasties, as musical families intermarried and proliferated: in Thuringia, music revolved round not just the Bachs, but also the families of Hoffmann, Lämmerhirt and Wilcke. Johann Sebastian's mother was a Lämmerhirt, his first wife Maria Barbara, a Bach, and his second wife Anna Magdalena, a Wilcke.
Also a link to essay "What's so great about Bach?" by Lindsay Kemp with this:
Isn't it obvious? Surely Bach's music has that solid sense of incontrovertible 'rightness', with every note in its right and proper place, as if it had always been there and always will be. It seems not the work of a mere man, but something immutable and timeless reached down from the heavens, as if Bach were some kind of natural lawgiver, a musical Newton who has found the key to the secret of all music and opened it up before us. This is certainly what many later composers cherished him for, this ability to express the very essence of the ancient science of music itself, its absolute truth. Perhaps he is the nearest thing we have to a god of music.

Yet Bach was a man, and a man of his time too, and recognising this does not reduce his genius but magnifies it and makes it even more a source for wonder. He was not a child prodigy like Mozart; he himself said that he made the best of his talents through hard work, and he was certainly not too godlike to learn by studying worthy predecessors such as Frescobaldi, Buxtehude and Pachelbel, or fashionable contemporaries such as Vivaldi, Corelli and Couperin. Intense intellectual effort and obsessive pursuit of perfection were what raised him out of the ordinary as a young man, first as a brilliant virtuoso organist and then as a composer for whom every detail of musical construction was cause for almost obsessive attention, whether in a little keyboard piece, a cheerful concerto or a grand and solemn church cantata.
Kemp concludes: " It seems that Bach may have been that most potent of combinations - god and man."

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