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BACH ATTACK

Classical music critic Anthony Tommasini spent two weeks trying to determine what he admitted as being a 'ridiculous' list of the top 10 classical composers of all time. He stated that sports personalities, films and rock albums for example were judged against each other continuously but classical musicians are somehow seen as 'above' this.  Well apparently the obvious choice was voted in as the winner - Johann Sebastian Bach.

So why exactly was this cat such a player? Let's look a little at his early biography to determine why this fella was so cool. Born in 1685 the kicking baby Johann came from a very musical background and presumably his mother's moss cottage. His family name was famed in the German town and surrounding areas for possessing extraordinary musical ability. His father was the court trumpeter for the Duke of Eisenach. The town of Eisenach during this period was a foul place. Although Dutch merchant Anton Van Leeuwenhoek had seen bacteria with his home-made microscope pathogens were not considered the cause of disease until later, the first vaccine was created by Jenner in 1796. No, the people of Eisenach still blamed the devil or any local lady with warts and a beard for people dropping like flies. These smaller towns never considered that letting refuse and sewage flood in rivers through their centre was an issue. As a result people collapsed like 50-year-old fatties on squash courts.

Bach's town was such a shit-tip most of his family died from illness when he was very young. He lost two of his siblings and his mother and father by the age of nine. He had to move in with his eldest brother who was an accomplished piano teacher. Bach was uber-clever and got right on with this music stuff and tinkled those ivories with the vitriol of a big game hunter. Whilst other young teenage boys were milking the cow with one udder and vigorously fighting the last turkey in the shop Bach resolved to become a fine musical mind. His world was set against a Lutheran backdrop, after Pope Leo X and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V had excommunicated portly Martin for slapping up his protestant warbling he had sought refuge in the Wartburg castle standing on a hill high above Bach's hometown. Oh… the Lutheran spirit was high amongst Bach's home-dogs. The radical religious commentator, as well as pointing out what penises people were being by selling indulgences and wood shavings claimed to be from the cross of Jesus, wrote hymns. Bach based the entirety of his chorale cantatas on these. 

Bach had an 'uncommonly beautiful soprano voice', confident of his skills aged fourteen he walked 180 miles to Luneberg music school to try and get a scholarship. The teachers spotted his talent immediately and offered him a prized place in the choir. Bach excelled here, it was a much more affluent area and the facilities were fantastic. After a few years making his brain fricking awesome he travelled back to his hometown where he thought his families' infamy would help him secure a job as an organist. Well he got a job as a violinist while he awaited the construction of the town's new organ. But on completion he wowed the German folk with his finger work and was given the job immediately. He played the shit out of it and became proper smoking. As time moved on Bach simply became better and better, he married his cousin (mate..not cool) in 1707 but he was happy. What really pissed J-bone off was the battling factions of Lutherans and strict puritanical priests, the later of which distrusted music and the arts in general. Unfortunately Bach's superior was one of these Pietists and he really piest Bach off (pun intended)! So he sought work elsewhere. He ended up in Weimar and was soon known as one of Germany's finest organ PLAYERZ. Constantin Bellermann (no prizes for anyone else that noticed his second name sounds like bellend) said of Bach's organ playing: 'His feet seemed to fly across the pedals as if they were winged, and mighty sounds filled the church, his fingers were all of equal strength, all equally able to play with the finest precision. He had invented so comfortable a fingering that he could master the most difficult parts with perfect ease (using 5 fingers instead of the then normal 3). He was able to accomplish passages on the pedals with his feet which would have given trouble to the fingers of many a clever player on the keyboard'.

Well Bach followed this by a shit load of practice and became pretty good. He was historically situated at an interesting period of the classical world. It enabled him to make comment on both the past and future of western classical music. This synthesis saw a combination of the high polyphonic traditions and simpler Baroque textures and apparently that's pretty cool, I still prefer The Doors.  

Alex Templeton-Ward

Posted 25th January by Livemusic Team
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