|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Home|
By Walter E. Buszin
WHEN PEOPLE THINK OF THE MUSIC Of Johann Sebastian Bach, they too often think of it as music for the church, school, and concert-hall only. Bach did write much church music; we need but think of his many cantatas, his Passions according to St. Matthew and St. John, his motets, and his many chorale-preludes. His choral and instrumental compositions today enjoy widespread popularity in the schools of our land. Those who have conducted student-choruses have seen how the eyes of students, who have perhaps not even outgrown their adolescence, begin to beam with joyful anticipation before they have heard as little as a measure of the new Bach composition they are to learn and master. They know in advance that it will be interesting as well as inspiring and enjoyable. Who has not observed how the faces of the second violinists, the violists, and bass-violinists of a concert orchestra radiate joy and satisfaction while they play a Brandenburg Concerto or one of the orchestral suites of J. S. Bach? While in the works of other composers, individual parts are often dull, in the music of Bach their parts are invariably interesting and of equal importance.
Viewed from the standpoint of the performer in particular; it calls for a healthy and cooperative group spirit and does not accommodate itself readily to the aims and vanity of those who desire to stand apart. Bach's music is never inherently bombastic, gaudy and theatrical; it is never cheap, puerile and debasive; but it is invariably wholesome, ennobling, pure and beautiful. When religious in character, it is profoundly evangelical, comforting, and strengthening. Even when Bach treats the subject of death, which he does very often, he never becomes morose, despondent, pathologically sentimental, or fatalistic. Death opens for him the portal to eternity, and, since he is a Christian, to an eternity of unspeakable joy and bliss. Here we have the fundamental reason for the sheer beauty and charm of such works as the Schemelli Chorale, Komm, susser Tod (Come, Gentle Death) and his solo cantata Schlage doch, gerviinschte Stunde (Strike My Hour, So Long Awaited).
BUT BACH MUST BE REGARDED also as a composer for the home. It would be strange indeed if this were not the case. If ever there lived a composer or musician who was a home body, it was Johann Sebastian Bach.
The charming little Chronicle o f Anna Magdalena Bach, his second wife, attests to this fact, as do also historically true biographies of Bach by men like Spitta, Schweitzer, Terry, and others. Bach very seldom left his home; he did not travel extensively, as did his great bachelor - contemporary, George Frederick Handel. Bach was a very devoted husband and father, and one important reason why he left Coethen, where he had enjoyed a comfortable life and a good income, was because he was vitally interested in providing his children with a good education, such as was offered in Leipzig at its famous university. He was a diligent student of Luther and read from the great Reformer's writings daily. Luther had said: "My chief concern is the youth of the Church." Bach was indeed imbued with the spirit of Luther. It is well-known that music played an important part in the family life of Luther; it is known, too, that music played an important part in the family life of Bach. His children all studied music; in fact, it was necessary for Bach to have several clavichords in his home that each of his children might have sufficient opportunity to practice. He prided himself on being able to tune each of these clavichords in no more than fifteen minutes. Anna Magdalena, his second wife, was very musical and possessed a beautiful soprano voice; Bach wrote many songs for her, including Bist du bei mir (Art Thou With Me) and Dir, Dir, Jehovah, will ich singen (To Thee, Jehovah, will I sing Praises) ; rather unfortunately these are heard only as choir selections today.
THE BACH FAMILY often presented family concerts and through these helped establish and perpetuate the family loyalty so characteristic and traditional in all branches of the Bach relationship. We can, in spirit, hear Anna Magdalena sing the lovely soprano solo My Heart Ever Faithful from Bach's Pentecost Cantata, much to the satisfaction of her family, particularly of Johann Sebastian himself. We can easily hear the young Bach children contribute to the charm of the family concert by playing some of the simple compositions Bach wrote and included in the Little Notebook he wrote for Anna Magdalena in 1725, or perhaps, one of the more difficult French Suites he had written for her Notebook of 1722. Bach's oldest daughter, too, sang well and took part in the family concerts.
While we do not know very much about Maria Barbara, Bach's first wife, who died so suddenly while Bach was away from home in his Coethen days, we do know that she was the mother of two of Bach's most talented sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Karl Philipp Emanuel, both of whom were internationally famous musicians of the second half of the 18th century. Johann Sebastian seems to have been particularly fond of Wilhelm Friedemann, for whom he wrote a Klavierbuchlein which contains music for the piano which children play even today and which has not yet lost its fascination. It is possible, too, that Bach wrote his Six Trio Sonatas for Wilhelm Friedemann; though Bach likely had them played at an organ, it is known that they, like his great Passacaglia in c minor, were played originally at a two manual clavier which was provided also with pedals. These were undoubtedly heard a great deal in the Bach home for Bach wrote them in order that his talented sons might learn to play this music in such a manner that each of the three voices might be heard clearly and distinctly. This is very difficult, as every organist and pianist knows. The Six Trio Sonatas of Bach are perhaps his most difficult organ works; they illustrate to us the skill his young sons must have had as organists. Not only are they difficult, however, they are likewise fascinating and delightful. Not many years ago many thought they were uninteresting and purely technical. We have changed our mind with regard to this matter and today know that Bach is often at his very best in these compositions. He was too great an artist to write uninteresting music; his music is uninteresting to those only who do not understand it.
SOME CLAIM THAT, from the psychological point of view, it is unwise for parents to give musical instruction to their own children. The Bach tradition proved that this is by no means always the case, for one Bach taught another and to Johann Sebastian it seemed altogether self-evident that he should teach his children. Very much depends upon the type of relationship which exists between parents and children; much depends also on the atmosphere of a home, the ability of the parent to teach, and the type of love for music that is engendered into children by their parents. Bach went to great pains in order to rear his children in a wholesome home atmosphere. He was a very busy man; the tremendously large number of compositions he wrote proves this. His family joined him in copying his music. He refused to expose his children to uninteresting and dry exercises; to develop their technique and love for music, he himself wrote charming exercises which, he knew, would interest children. Someone has remarked rather caustically that Karl Czerny must have hated children, since the technical exercises he wrote for young piano students are often wearisome and uninspiring. This may not be said of Bach; the little exercises he wrote for his own children as well as for other pupils are among the oldest teaching pieces we have; they have. held their own through two centuries and are still enjoyable today.
There was a time when not only the Six Trio Sonatas, but also the Two and Three Part Inventions of Bach were regarded as dull music; they, too, were written as teaching pieces for Bach's children and were to serve the same purpose served by the Six Trio Sonatas. We today hear them played by boys and girls in their early teens and the fervor with which we often hear them played shows that they are by no means mere trite exercises. They are heard often in recitals, but deserve being heard also in the home. The same applies, of course, to such more advanced works for the piano as The English Suites and The French Suites, the Partitas, the Forty-Eight Preludes and Fugues, the Toccatas, Fantasies, Variations, the Sixteen Vivaldi-Bach Piano Concertos, and Bach's Capriccio on the Departure o f His Very Beloved Brother.
This last composition is quite unique among the works of Bach and shows how fondly the Bachs were attached to each other. Johann Sebastian's older brother, Johann Jakob, decided in 1704, when he was twenty-two years old, to serve as oboist in the Guard of King Charles XII of Sweden. The idea did not meet with the hearty approval of several members of the Bach family, including, it seems, Johann Sebastian. Bach's Capriccio is in B Major and has several movements. The first, an arioso, represents the members of the family and friends pleading with Johann Jakob not to leave Germany for Sweden. In the following Andante he is reminded of the many hazards which may confront him away from his comfortable home and loyal friends. The Adagio which follows is in the form of a passacaglia and expresses the sorrow of those he plans to leave behind. Then follows the song of the coachman who will take him away; here we have a very well written fugue which aptly portrays to us Bach's very vivid imagination. The Capriccio is program music of a very subjective nature. It reminds us not only of the striking pictures Bach draws also in many other compositions, but likewise of the Six Biblical Sonatas written by Bach's eminent predecessor of his later Leipzig days, Johann Kuhnau.
Music of this type was played in homes as well as in the courts of the nobility and was used to help drive home Biblical and historical truth. Despite its charm and worth, the Capriccio written by Bach is rarely heard today. It does offer difficulties and may hardly be played by beginners, though it is not a monumental work like Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor. THERE WAS ALSO MUCH HUMOR in the rich music life of the Bach family. We so often think of Bach as a man who was always serious; some seem to think that he must have been a severely strict father to his children.
However, he had a very fine sense of humor, as may be seen from a number of his compositions, notably from his Quodlibets. The Latin word "quodlibet" means as you please. Once a year the entire Bach clan would enjoy a family reunion. The reunion would open with a staunch Lutheran chorale, which was sung by the entire relationship; likely they regarded the singing of the chorale as their devotional exercise for the occasion. Then followed the fun and gaiety. In presenting the Quodlibet, each family group sang its own texts and its own music, but the text and music of each group differed from the text and music of every other group. Each group went its own way and sang "as you please." This itself caused much hilarity, of course; however, in addition, the texts were often downright silly and nonsensical and so was the music. In 1932 the Neue Bachgesellscha f t of Germany published one of Bach's Quodlibets in an edition prepared by Max Seiffert. A small part of the text is in Latin, the rest in German. We quote part of the original text, hoping that a good number of our readers have a reading knowledge of German:
Ei, wie sieht die Salome* so sauer um den Schnabel,
Darum, weil der Pferdeknecht sie kitzelt mit der Gabel.
Ei, wie f risst das Hausgesind so gar viel Kas' und Butter,
Waren sie Kalber gleich wie du, so frassen sie das Futter.
Das muss ein dummer Esel sein,
Der lieber Koffent* saiift als Wein
Und in der kalten Stube schwitzt
Und statt des Schiffs im Backtrog sitzt. Punctum.
War' Ich Konig in Portugal, was fragt' ich darnach, Ein andrer mochte kippen mit dem Backtrog im Bach.
BACH WROTE MUCH BEAUTIFUL CHAMBER MUSIC which is ideally suited for the home. We have from his pen a number of clavier-concertos which may very well be played at a piano and accompanied by a small string ensemble, or preferably, one may play this music on a clavichord or harpsichord. Unfortunately, these instruments are not as yet widely used in America. A movement is afoot, however, to restore them. Wanda Landowska, Ralph Kirkpatrick, and a few others have exposed America to the charm of such music and the day will likely come when clavichords and harpsichords will again enjoy the widespread popularity and use they once enjoyed. They are particularly well suited for the home. From Bach, too, we have a beautiful sonata for flute and violin, together with a figured bass which may be played on a keyboard instrument; we have from him a sonata for two violins and a figured bass for keyboard instrument. His set of Six Sonatas for Clavier and Violin are among the favorites of lovers of chamber music, as are his Three Sonatas for the Gamba (Violoncello) and Clavier and his Three Sonatas for Clavier and Flute. We also have concertos for larger groups, for three violins, three violas, three cellos, and continuo written by Johann Sebastian Bach.
It is really tragic that chamber music is so seldom heard in the American home. We have here one great reason why wide-spread appreciation for the music of Bach has come to America so very late. On the other hand, we are convinced that America's interest in Bach today will help bring on a wider interest in chamber music. While it is most encouraging to note that thousands upon thousands of American youngsters study piano; while, too, we believe that a fair mastery of keyboard techniques is basic for all music study, we cannot help but regret that instruments like the violin, viola and cello, the flute, the oboe, the recorder and the harpsichord are still sadly neglected.
WE CHRISTIAN PEOPLE have inherited a great culture, but we neglect our rich heritage and, as a result, our home life as well as our spiritual life suffers unfortunate consequences. Those who can play one of the instruments referred to above will frequently join dance bands in order to satisfy their craving for the opportunity to play with an instrumental ensemble. In Europe the situation is quite different; ample opportunity is there afforded those who are interested in the works of Bach and other masters. There is much music of this type in the homes of many Europeans; they enrich their home life with the great cultural heritage we have from Bach's day and other areas.
A young German pastor visited in America recently; he had been sent to America to study American life, American church activities, and American schools. He was amazed to find an utter lack of cultural interests among so very many Christian people in America. This pastor was an able flutist. Although he had traveled around in America a great deal and had been in many homes, he did not have the courage to take out his flute and his music, which he had brought along from Germany, until he finally, after several weeks, reached the home of the present writer. Wherever he had been, he had found no interest in music in Christian homes. A most delightful Sunday evening was spent playing sonatas by Bach, Telemann, Handel and others and the children of the family were delighted. We need more activity of this kind in the American home today, not only for the sake of developing a more wholesome music-cultural life, but also for the sake of the home itself.
Like the Bachs, we, too, can build up and strengthen better home ties and a better family morale and loyalty by having musical ensemble groups within the family circle. The Trapp Family has illustrated this to us in America and has acquainted us also with the recorder, a most charming instrument of various ranges, which may well be used to play works by Bach, his predecessors, contemporaries, pupils, and successors. Where ensemble groups can hardly be formed, boys and girls can still study the violin, viola, cello, flute, oboe, recorder and the piano and thus work their way up to the point where they can enhance family-life through performances of music by Bach and other masters. While it is true that much of the music written by Bach is difficult, some so difficult that only the most advanced performers can play it, it is likewise true that much is simple, so simple that children can play it after having received instruction for only a year or two.
THE DAY IS NOT FAR OFF when the organ, too, should and will be found in more American homes. There was a time when organs were found only in churches, schools, concert halls, and in the homes of the wealthy. However, today an organ may be purchased for the price of a medium priced automobile. Electronic organs are finding their way into American homes. While it is true that these often take the place of the old theatre organs and are used to play anything but genuine organ music, the truth remains that they may be used also to play much lovely music, music of the type we enjoy hearing in the church. Bach wrote no less than thirtyfive chorale-preludes for manuals only; these can be played effectively on an electronic organ in a straightforward, unaffected, and natural way, without tremolo, vox humana and other nauseating sentimental stops and devices. Playing in this manner we can help develop a taste for genuine church music of a high order.
While he served as organist for the Duke of Weimar, Bach arranged a number of concertos and other works by Vivaldi, Legrenzi, and other Italian masters. These were played not in church services or chapel exercises, but for court functions; they are saturated with Italian sunshine and exuberance and may very well be played at an electronic organ, especially since their notes for the pedal are here not used to carry themes or melodies. They sound even better, of course, on a pipe organ, regardless of how small or large it may be.
Bach's Eight Short Preludes and Fugues, which are studied by every beginner in organ who studies with an able teacher and organist, are excellent Hausmusik, as are likewise the difficult Six Trio Sonatas referred to previously. Bach wrote a number of chorale preludes for manuals and pedal which are not difficult and which will help bring into the home a wholesome Christian atmosphere. Though they regard them as tone poems rather than hymn-preludes, even non-Christians derive great pleasure from the performance of these Choralvorspiele, be they from Bach's Orgelbuchlein, from the charming Schubler Chorales, from the Catechism Preludes, from the Eighteen Great, from his Clavierubung, or from the Notebooks of Anna Magdalena Bach. In Luther's home, these chorale-preludes would likely have been played in connection with the family devotional exercises, had an organ and this music been available in Luther's home.
IDEAL FOR USE IN THE HOME are Bach's ChoralePartitas. These are chorale-variations, many of which are without a pedal part and may, therefore, be played also on a piano. Although, on the whole, these do not measure up to his chorale preludes, they are certainly well suited for performance in the Christian home. Bach's larger preludes and fugues for the organ are ideal for the home, but, like the trio sonatas, they call for performance by more advanced organists.
IT WOULD BE STRANGE INDEED if we had no sacred choral works from Bach for our homes. It is true, many of his choral works are too large in scope to serve as Hausmusik. His gigantic Mass in B Minor is of such large proportions that not a few consider it monstrous. In the Passions According to St. .Nlatthew and St. John he does not demand the services of huge choruses, but some of their music is for double chorus plus an orchestra. A large number of Bach's cantatas, too, are illsuited for presentation in the home. We think of Es erhub sich ein Streit, Wie schon leuchtet der Morgen-stern, Ein f este Burg, Christ lag in Todesbanden, and others. On the other hand, not a few are available with English text which may well be sung in a home and which do not have a heavily orchestrated accompaniment. We think, for example, of such cantatas as Bide With Us (Novello), Thou Guide of Israel (G. Schirmer), God's Time is Best (G. Schirmer), From Depths o f Woe (Novello), My Spirit Was in Heaviness (Novello), Come Redeemer (Novello), The Lord is My Shepherd (Novello), and others. We think at this time, too, of Bach's secular cantatas (e.g., The Coffee Cantata, The Peasant Cantata, and others) which are often as amusing and humorous as a Quodlibet.
AFTERNOONS AND EVENINGS DEVOTED TO SINGING the cantatas of Bach will not soon be forgotten. And how the young folks do love music of this type! The Hon. Henry S. Drinker, a prominent lawyer in Philadelphia, has a small choral and orchestral group meet in his home one Sunday afternoon each month to sing great choral music, particularly Bach's cantatas; no special rehearsing is done, no concerts are given, no "finishing touches" are added. The music is sung for the sheer enjoyment derived from it, without any accompanying formalities and without the prima donna approach. We need more of that type of musical activity in our home life and in our family circles. Bach's choral works must be sung if they are to be enjoyed fully. Hearing them sung by others is not nearly as gratifying and effective as when we sing them ourselves; in them we have at our disposal one of the finest antidotes against juvenile delinquency and worldly amusement. The music we too often find on the pianos in our American homes today is indeed a sad commentary on the type of home life many people enjoy. It is an indictment of our manner of living and is certainly not a symbol of a wholesome Christian home-atmosphere. How much more salutary and ennobling is indeed the use of the wonderful music-culture which God has given us as part of our great heritage. The cantatas of Bach appeal especially to those whose spirit and taste have been exalted and refined by the Spirit of God through the sacred choral works of our great masters, Johann Sebastian Bach included.
HOWEVER, THERE ARE CHRISTIAN HOMES in which even the more simple cantatas cannot be sung, at least not for a time. Various circumstances, hard to control, may be responsible for this. When people have heard very little of Bach's music, his idiom quite naturally seems strange and foreign to them. They are not ready for music of this type. This does not imply, of course, that they lack the musical and intellectual capacity for such music, but it does seem that their musical faculties have not as yet been developed to the extent where they can perform and really enjoy Bach.
Through his manifold and abundant gifts, God has made bountiful provisions also for such, even in the music of Bach himself. We refer, of course, to Bach's unsurpassed chorale harmonizations. In these we find the art of Bach in a nutshell; we refer not only to the wonderful contrapuntal and harmonic skill he portrays in these harmonizations, but also to their rich spirituality and profound textual content. The days in which they were regarded as difficult are happily past and gone; they are simple already because every voice has an interesting and melodic part to sing.
Music which fascinates us is rarely difficult to perform; the very fact that we enjoy it helps simplify music. We have here one great reason why young people learn music much more quickly than adults; they do not put prejudices and other obstacles into the way, as do so many adults, but, as stated previously, their joy begins before they even sing a note of Bach's music, for they have learned to take for granted that a Bach composition they are about to learn will be interesting and enjoyable. This applies also to the chorale harmonizations of Bach, not only to his larger works. Bach studiously stayed away from inferior hymns and showed a marked preference for the really great chorales, notably those of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
By using Bach's chorale harmonizations we therefore cultivate a taste for good hymns and for good church music in general. They are ideal for the family circle and are easily available in editions and collections which are good as well as inexpensive. If an alto, tenor or bass is lacking, the part may well be supplied by a musical instrument, as was done very commonly in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Like the comforting and heartening Gospel which it bespeaks, the chorale has a way of taking care of itself and has for centuries now, held its own against inferior hymnody. The chorales of our Church are a gift of God and form an integral part of our musical heritage. This being the case, they should certainly be used not only in the church, the school, and the concert hall, but also in our f olklif e and in our homes. String ensembles and other instrumental groups will find them useful for many occasions and may well accompany small choral groups by dividing the four parts of the harmony among the performers of their group. We again call attention to the spiritual values which may be derived from performing the music of Bach in the American home.
IN ADDITION TO THE REGULAR CHORALES Of the Lutheran Church, we have also the so-called Schemelli Chorales of J. S. Bach. These are named after Georg Christian Schemelli, Cantor of the Castle at Zeitz, who edited a hymnal published by Bernhard Breitkopf in 1736. Schemelli asked Bach to collaborate with him in preparing this hymnal; Bach wrote some of the tunes of the hymnal and provided the figured bass, which prescribed the harmony, for others. In reality, Bach's Schemelli chorales are not chorales at all, but arias, sacred songs. Many of these are ideal for solo purposes; in fact, the subjective character of a large percentage qualifies them better for use in the home. Church music should be objective in character. Hymns like A Mighty Fortress Is Our God-Wake, Awake, For Night Is Flying-O God, Our Help in Ages Past are good examples of objective hymns and are ideally suited for congregational use. Subjective hymns, on the other hand, are well-suited for the more intimate private gathering, for the family circle; they are often too personal for a group, for a congregation. Their titles already suggest this; we mention, for example, the following Schemelli chorales of Bach: O Jesus So Gentle, Jesus So Sweet-Jesus, Jesus, Thou Art Mine -Forget Me Not. Unfortunately an American edition of Bach's Schemelli Chorales is not as yet available for solo use with English texts: Such a collection should some day be made available, since these arias are ideal for use in the Christian home. Their tunes are invariably as warm and subjective as their texts and have a pleasing quality which appeals to people very readily. The arias, duets and trios, even the recitatives, of Bach's cantatas, though usually quite difficult, are enjoyable and deserve more frequent hearings in private circles and in the home. A few are relatively simple.
While we insist that performing the music of Johann Sebastian Bach is the most effective way of learning to understand and love it, and while we likewise insist that performing the music of Bach in the American home is an effective way of spiritualizing and culturalizing the home, we realize fully that there are homes in which music of any kind cannot well be performed. For example, an aged couple who has never learned to play a musical instrument, will find it difficult to sing as lustily as they did in their younger years. Such old folks must often depend on the radio to supply what they themselves cannot produce. Fortunately, the radio occasionally enables us to hear the music of Bach, in very excellent presentations. We think of the performances by the Bach Aria Group under the able direction of William H. Scheide, likewise of the Sunday morning performances by the noted organist, E. Power Biggs, of occasional performances by major orchestras of our land, by pianists, and other musicians. Such radio performances help enhance our home life and bring much joy and satisfaction to countless Americans whose one regret is that more music by Bach is not heard over the radio.
MANY DO NOT DEPEND ON THE RADIO t0 bring them the music of Bach; they invest in phonographic recordings and thus hear the music of Bach as often as they please. A very large number of Bach's works have been recorded by singers, choral groups, orchestras, organists, pianists, violinists, cellists, flutists, and various other instrumentalists. Organ works by Bach may be heard on recordings prepared by such noted organists as Carl Weinrich, E. Power Biggs, Albert Schweitzer, Fritz Heitmann, and others. Artur Schnabel, Edwin Fischer and Alexander Borowsky are among the many pianists who have recorded works by Bach. Yehudi Menuhin, Adolf Busch and others have recorded much of Bach's exquisite violin music. Pablo Cassals has recorded Bach's great works for the cello. While various orchestras have recorded his compositions, we call special attention to the excellent performance of Bach's Six Brandenburg Concertos and of his Orchestral Suites by the Busch Chamber Players. Robert Shaw, Ifor Jones, and Ernst Victor Wolff conducted while choral groups prepared recordings of choral works by Bach. Recordings of rarely heard selections from the cantatas of Bach have been prepared by the Bach Aria Group. Wanda Landowski, Ralph Kirkpatrick and others have recorded much of Bach's music for the harpsichord, including the Well-Tempered Clavichord and the Goldberg Variations. Even such gigantic works as the Mass in B Minor, The Art of Fugue, and The Musical Offering have been recorded. The Schubler Chorales for the organ and Bach's Trio Sonatas Nos. 5 and 6 have been recorded by Carl Weinrich; E. Power Biggs has recorded Bach's Orgelbuchlein and numerous other works; Albert Schweitzer has recorded many of Bach's larger organ works and a good number of his chorale preludes; Fritz Heitmann has recorded the Third Part of the Klavierubung, which is referred to as Bach's German Organ Mass.
The music of Johann Sebastian Bach may today be heard in any home which desires to make use of this grand music. Bach never dreamed that he would some day enjoy the fame he enjoys today. We need the music of a Johann Sebastian Bach in troublous times like the present; we need his music also to stabilize our homes and to enrich their culture. The youth of America needs Bach's music, but so do the parents of our young people. We face a great challenge; will we accept it? We reply with Bach's plea: Jesu, juva-Jesus, help!