Today’s program is the annual Sunday Baroque Bach Birthday Bash! As host of Sunday Baroque for 31 1/2 years, I have thrown this musical celebration for Johann Sebastian Bach since the early days of the program. It is both daunting and delightful to craft a representative narrative of Bach’s output within the confines of a four-hour radio program, and I hope you enjoy this year’s edition.
My appreciation for the composer, his genius and his legacy have continued to grow over time. When I interview musicians, I often ask them about their relationship with and attitude towards Bach. His name comes up with musicians of all genres — Bach is THAT important. Years ago, I read a Details magazine interview with Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts. The interviewer asked, “Do you mind if I ask what you’re listening to there at home? It sounds like Bach . . .” And Watts replied, “It is.”
It’s not only musicians who appreciate Bach’s genius. Retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter considers Bach to be his favorite composer. And the late humanitarian Albert Schweitzer was also an organist whose reverence for Bach inspired him to write a comprehensive 2-volume book about the composer. Bach’s music, and Bach’s reputation as a genius, are well represented in popular culture, too. For example, the title of this post … Ahhh, Bach! … is a reference to an episode of the M*A*S*H television series. In it, the character Radar O’Reilly wants to impress a potential love interest with “highbrow” interests, and is coached to utter, “Ahhh, Bach …” with a serene and knowing expression. (p.s. — the tactic backfires spectacularly when she replies, “Ahh, Bach? What does that mean?” and he has no followup except to keep repeating the empty phrase, “Ahh, Bach.”)
As a flutist, I long considered Bach’s music to be somewhat intimidating. In recent years I’ve tried to overcome my ambivalence and play his music more regularly with a variety of collaborators. What we’ve observed is that Bach’s music seems to have a limitless quality for exploration and interpretation. Every time we play it, new expressive possibilities and nuances reveal themselves. I suppose that’s why cellist Yo-Yo Ma recently released his third recording of Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites — even a masterful musician like Ma continues to find more and different ways to approach Bach.
What about you? Whether you’re a musician yourself, or a music-loving non-musician (knowledgeable or novice), what is it about Bach’s music that moves you? How did you find your way to listening to Bach? What are your favorite compositions by the composer, and why do you love those pieces so much? Please help celebrate the Bach Birthday Bash by sharing YOUR impressions of his music!