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Bach Organ Works In Orchestral Transcription

( Originally Published 1935 )



Some say that Bach's real orchestra was the organ, which gave him resources of volume and color unequaled by any other instrument of his time. He composed for this instrument in an extremely individual way, and with an infinite variety of form and expression.

There are many orchestral transcriptions of the organ works of Bach. Respighi and Stokowski, among others, have arranged various of the chorale-preludes and the C minor Passacaglia.

Each one of the chorale-preludes is a tone-poem, inspired by the meaning of the texts to which the chorales (which formed an integral part of the Protestant service) were sung. Thereupon Each, seated at the organ, would open the gates of his soul and deliver his own sermon. He would take the original chorale melody and develop its musical possibilities in accordance with the spiritual situation. The immediate purpose was inculcation of the religious sentiment and enrichment of the church ceremonial. But Bach's vast spirit ranged farther than that. Ceremonial was forgotten. The world and the congregation too were forgotten. From the musical essence of the chorale flowered the richest, the most touching, the most mystical manifestations of the spirit of the , man to whom, in Schumann's memorable words, mu-sic owes a debt as great as that of religion to its founder.

Here is-Bach's soul. Here he stands revealed as he never can be by history. For Bach as a personality is distant and legendary, and what exists of history and legend is not particularly romantic. We know that Bach was a singularly honest, industrious and responsible citizen; that he labored gigantically as organist, choirmaster and composer in corners of Germany of the aftermath of the Thirty Years War; that he married twice, paid his bills, begot twenty children, and compelled his wives to copy his music. We know that he loved good company and good cheer when there was time for these things; that he could be irascible and draw his sword on a recalcitrant bassoonist (a privilege for which others have sighed) ; and, to paraphrase a remark of Lawrence Gilman, that Bach was in the habit of turning out masterpieces as auto-mobiles are turned out from a Ford factory. Granting all this, we do not know Bach the man through history. The whereabouts of his very grave was unknown for a hundred and forty-four years after his death. It might be said that posterity :had done him the honor of forgetting him as a man, while cherishing, with always more reverence, gratitudede and comprehension, his music.



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