Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Back To Bach

Last night I played a bit of Bach late at night just before nodding off: the second set of three in the Brandenburg Concertos, since you ask. Lay there wondering why I didn't play old JS more than I do, and just wondering at the wonder of the music. Then it occurred to me that it would be the easiest thing in the world to download pretty much all the major works onto my trusty iPod (well, all the ones I really need) and have made a start on that project today with the violin concertos. (I once nodded off to the slow movement of the double violin concerto in a concert at Sheffield City Hall and the sheer hypnotically narcotic pleasure of that experience has remained with me ever since.)

My recent neglect of the Master is particularly odd since of all the major composers Bach was the one most integral to my entrance into the world of 'classical music' (in the broadest sense) when I was in my twenties. I remember that amongst my earliest purchases of the classics on vinyl were a version of the Brandenburgs conducted by Harnoncourt featuring authentic instruments and a version of the St Matthew Passion conducted by Raymond Leppard which was distinctly old school in its inauthenticity. I was a fast learner in those days and, with the help of the highly informative Gramophone magazine, quickly realised that the records were not exactly compatible in their approach, though I loved them both. (The horns on the Harnoncourt actually sounded out of tune to me, in those early days of the authentic instruments movement.)

A funny and instructive thing happened a couple of months after the purchase. A friend of mine brought a few of her old friends from her university days round to my house. Not sure why; I suppose so I could meet them. One of these was a young chap who clearly fancied himself as a sort of cultivated type. I say this because he leafed through my record collection - as people did in those far off days - and actually sneered about the combination of the Leppard and Harnoncourt to his buddy standing near-by, thinking I didn't realise what he was up to. I must admit, the thought came to my mind of calling him out, possibly using the fairly direct kind of language I'd picked up on the streets of Manchester. I suppose it was a sign of my maturity that I just couldn't be bothered, despite the pleasure a confrontation would have involved.

The instructive part of all this, for me that is, lay in my deepening insight into the sad fact that for some people the appreciation of any kind of art or cultural artefact is so bound up with their sense of snobbish superiority to others that it almost leaves a stain on the glorious works they think they appreciate. Almost, but not quite.

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