The annual Sunday Baroque Bach Birthday Bash will be broadcast on Sunday, March 18. Although I don’t usually overtly observe birthdays of composers on Sunday Baroque, I have produced an all-Bach edition of Sunday Baroque every March since I originated the program more than 30 years ago. That’s because Johann Sebastian Bach is different. Many musicians refer to Bach as an inspiration, even musicians known for non-classical genres (as well as poets, artists, scientists and others), so his legacy has special significance. His reputation is well known enough to make its way into popular culture, such as that classic scene in the ’70s-’80s television show M*A*S*H in which Hawkeye advises Radar on how to impress a woman by saying, “Ahhh, Bach!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYSG8AQO3tw
When I’m crafting the Bach Birthday Bash every year, I seek out different angles in which to frame Bach’s music and present it in contexts that illustrate the master composer’s continued relevance all these centuries after his lifetime. This year on the Bach Birthday Bash you will hear selections from outstanding recent recordings by top performers of Bach’s music, as well as some of the composer’s familiar favorites, and selections that have been adapted for unusual instruments by contemporary performers. The featured musicians revere Bach’s music and legacy, and they approach it with their greatest technical expertise, sense of authenticity and profound reverence. Every year, the Bach Birthday Bash is my way of honoring that legacy and introducing listeners to what Bach means to musicians, including myself.
With the allotted time, we can only scratch the surface of such an extraordinary genius, so I hope the program will be an “appetizer” that provides an entertaining listening experience and inspires you to seek out more on your own. After listening, I hope you’ll also want to say “Ahhhh, Bach” and have many wonderful ways to explain why!
How does one define “classical” music? How is it different from other genres, such as “rock and roll” or “jazz”? In what way is “baroque” music different (or the same) as other so-called “classical” music?
Why do we carve musical genres into these subsets, anyway, and what are the characteristics that define each and create distinctions from other genres? Is there more commonality between genres than we realize?
I ponder these questions, and use these specific examples, in part because I thoroughly enjoy music in all these genres (and more), and I notice that some other people have more exclusive and fixed musical tastes. And the question is important because I wonder if people who *think* their tastes are finite might thoroughly enjoy other music if only they were open to the idea and exposed to high quality examples.
A number of music lovers over the years have told me their favorite two musical genres are baroque and … (surprisingly) heavy metal! I have heard this too many times to count, from teenagers in Metallica t-shirts attending a harpsichord recital, to adults who email to say their lifelong love of Megadeth has morphed into an affinity for Bach’s Magnificat. And while I *LOVE* these stories, and have heard variations on them for decades, I have yet to identify the connective thread between the genres. Maybe you can help unlock this mystery.
Are you someone who likes many different musical genres? How did your tastes evolve? Can you describe what you like about various types of music? Are they connected in some way that you can explain? Why do you like the music you like?
Rumor has it there is some sort of big sporting event happening today. Not knowing much about these things, I can’t take sides or even comment!
But it brings to mind some famous (and a few infamous) MUSICAL competitions and rivalries in the baroque era!
George Frideric Handel and Domenico Scarlatti were once set up to have a friendly “competition” to determine which man was the better keyboard player. The diplomatic judges named Handel as the better organist and Scarlatti as the superior harpsichordist.
Jean-Baptiste Lully’s admirers were displeased when Jean-Philippe Rameau came along with new and challenging ideas for French opera. The so-called “Lullistes” and “Ramistes” fought over those aesthetics for many years.
There was also Christoph Willibald Gluck and Niccolò Piccinni, whose loyal fans continued to lock horns very publicly over which musician was a superior composer.
When Johann Sebastian Bach was the leading keyboard player in Germany, his friend and colleague Silvius Leopold Weiss was the leading lute player. One of their contemporaries, Johann Friedrich Reichardt, claimed that Weiss challenged Bach to a friendly private competition improvising fantasies and fugues. (http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Weiss-Silvius-Leopold.htm)
Some of these stories may be apocryphal, or exaggerated, and I suppose we may never know the whole story. But it seems the desire to choose sides and compete is a deeply human impulse. On a happy note, we can enjoy music by ALL of these fine composers, whether or not we take sides or have a favorite. Everyone’s a winner!
Let’s be honest: we often take important things for granted, despite our best intentions.
Being deprived of something that has become a regular, expected part of life can bring us to a screeching halt. Despite the immediate inconvenience, there can also be a silver lining.
For example, I recently lost my voice — NOT a good thing for someone who works in radio! However, there was a positive aspect to my imposed silence: music. I normally listen to a lot of music, as you’d expect. And while I do listen for pleasure, a LOT of my music listening is for my work on Sunday Baroque. But during my laryngitis, I listened to more music and more varied music than usual. What a pleasure it was to reconnect with music that had migrated to the bottom of my usual playlist, and to reconnect with the practice of listening to music purely for pleasure.
It’s a great reminder that we need not wait for the inconvenience of an involuntary deprivation to be mindful of things we care about, and to reconnect with semi-forgotten things we enjoy that might be outside our established daily routines. I look forward to making more time to listening to music for pure fun. (And I look forward to getting my voice back!)
Happy New Year! Even if you’re not the type of person who makes New Year’s Resolutions, I’d like to offer a suggestion to consider.
As a classical music broadcaster and a musician, I am frequently faced with the question of how to get more people to listen to classical music. For decades, pundits have been raising alarms about the supposed “graying” of the audience, forecasting the demise of symphony orchestras and other performing groups, and lamenting the decrease of classical music on the broadcast airwaves. While these trends are worthy of our attention, I am not quite so cynical about what they mean for the future of classical music. There continues to be a steady stream of new, young performers and ensembles coming onto the scene and there are new and innovative ways to distribute and listen to their artistry. They produce their own performances, retain the rights to their work, perform in new unconventional venues, and recruit their peers to attend their concerts. It’s exciting and inspiring to witness the innovative spirit and entrepreneurship of talented, technologically savvy musicians!
Classical music audiences have always been a little “grayer” than the general public. Maybe it just takes wisdom, experience or a different stage of life to appreciate the art form. Maybe it’s just different for everyone, and takes time for some of us to “age into” embracing the genre. There’s also the obstacle that while some people are open to the idea, they are intimidated by real or imagined fears: how to choose something they will like, what to wear, when to clap. One thing is certain: people who are never exposed to classical music will never learn to love it.
So here is my suggestion for your 2018 resolution: make it your business to introduce someone to the music you love. Be a mentor. Play Sunday Baroque for your niece or grandchild, take your neighbor to a concert, share musical performances on your social media, and do anything else you can think of to make that love connection between the music and someone who hasn’t yet heard it. I have season tickets to a chamber music series that offers vouchers to subscribers to bring a friend for free to many of the season’s concerts. Maybe your favorite ensemble or concert series has something like this too? Find out, and bring someone.
You love music, I love music, we listen to music. Let’s resolve to spread the word and SHARE our love of music with someone new in 2018!
Sunday Baroque listeners frequently contact me to say how much they enjoy the music and how much it means to them. You’ve told me it helps you feel happy, provides companionship, enlightens you, and more. These stories affirm my personal belief in the power of music, and remind me to appreciate how extraordinary that power can be and not take it for granted.
I love to bake. I love to cook. I love to entertain. That’s why, at this time of year, I am in my element!
As the winter holidays approach I get a little giddy as I start stocking up on flour, sugar, butter, cream cheese, sprinkles, walnuts, extracts and other staples of my winter baking pantry. I pull out the recipes employed for decades to bake a variety of holiday goodies, including many that are longtime family traditions.
Favorites include my family’s Hungarian cookies featuring a cream cheese/butter dough, rolled out and filled with walnuts and raisins or apricot or prune. Other must-haves are Italian anginetti cookies — tiny citrusy cakes iced and splashed with cheerful sprinkles, pignoli cookies — a rich almond base studded with pine nuts, baklava, and chocolate Yule log — OH MY!
The funny thing is that I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. (Thankfully!) However, I love to MAKE these goodies, and I love to serve them and give them as gifts, and it’s why I enjoy this time of year so much.
What are your food traditions at this time of year? Do you have recipes lovingly passed down through the generations? How did you learn how to make them? When do you start preparing your holiday treats? What other holiday traditions to you look forward to celebrating? Please take a few minutes away from the kitchen to share your favorites!
At this time of year, I contemplate how grateful I am for my good fortune, including the gift of music my parents gave me. They were not musicians themselves, but they loved music and had many LPs in the house that played frequently, and they sang along and danced. They also had a piano, and when it came time for me to choose a band instrument they willingly rented, then bought, a flute for me. Soon after, they signed me up for private lessons.
My parents also passed along other traditions. Our house was typically where my family celebrated Thanksgiving, and the guest list always included an assortment of friends, too. I’ve embraced that tradition, and this year (as it is most years) the guests around our Thanksgiving table will include a rich and lively blend of family and beloved local friends. This year we will also be joined by some international guests — three of my husband’s coworkers will experience their first American Thanksgiving meal in our home!
Some of my family’s other Thanksgiving “traditions” are more dubious and those are, of course, often the most memorable and the funniest. For example, every year SOMETHING did not get cooked for one reason or another. One year, in a spectacular Thanksgiving fail, my mother put the turkey in the oven and when she checked it a few hours later, she discovered she had not turned the oven on! Another Thanksgiving ritual involved the turkey giblets. Every year my mother dutifully removed the giblets, placed them in a small saucepan and simmered them on the stove top. At the end of the day, as the dishes were being washed, the forgotten saucepan full of desiccated giblets was discovered and promptly discarded. Every. Single. Year.
Then there was the year illness sidelined both my parents, but they still wanted to host the Thanksgiving meal. My siblings and I took over the planning and execution of the meal, with my vegetarian sister claiming dibs on side dishes, and my other sister applying her master baking skills to dessert. As the only one still living in my parents’ home at the time, my default job was preparing the turkey. I was still a teenager and had never done this, and had nobody to advise me. It seemed straightforward enough. What could go wrong? (hint: I stuffed the wrong end of the turkey)
What are you thankful for this year? What are some of your Thanksgiving traditions? Who will be around your holiday table this year? Please share your Thanksgiving stories — heartwarming or funny.
Wishing you a happy, healthy, mishap-free Thanksgiving.
Today is (apparently) World Kindness Day. I was alerted to this by a kind friend, and in looking up the observance I learned it was established on November 13, 1997 by a consortium of humanitarian groups. They wanted to encourage people to do something kind, whether it’s donating time, money or goods to a worthy organization or person, or committing an act of kindness — large or small — for a friend or stranger.
We are marking the 30th anniversary of Sunday Baroque — the program I originated on WSHU Public Radio as a local show, and which we ultimately began distributing nationally 19 years ago. Listeners frequently ask me how I keep Sunday Baroque fresh week after week, especially after so many years. Probably the most important factor is that I retain the same wonder and enthusiasm for sharing music as I did in the beginning — maybe even more so, as I’ve learned and experienced more myself.
Sunday Baroque Blog
Host Suzanne Bona occasionally shares something interesting with you that is too timely or doesn't quite fit on the weekly broadcast. It might be to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the program, tell you about a terrific new recording, share information about a group's concert tour or latest award, or inform you about the passing of an important musician. Sometimes it might be an observation about the musical scene in general, or a reaction to a news item that relates to the world of music or the arts. Check in with Suzanne's blog to see what she has to say and join the conversation.