Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750, universal)

Bach: the Alpha and the Omega, to which all music leads and from which all music derives. I once wrote this review of Bach’s keyboard music by Angela Hewitt on It got an incredible number of negative votes, but I stand by every word:

Mankind. On the one hand you have: the holocaust, the millions dead in the Soviet concentration camps, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, the Armenian massacre by the Turks, ruthless and bloody terrorisms of all affiliations, 20th century dictatorships, the Spanish Inquisition, the genocide of the Amerindians in the name of Jesus Christ and manifest destiny, the genocides everywhen and where so numerous that we don’t even recall them all, and the IRS.

And on the other hand: Bach.

Bach and his keyboard music, and Angela Hewitt.

And Bach, and his keyboard music, reconcile me with mankind.

Mankind and its appetite for hatred and massacres: that is the passing history of the flesh (even if the stains it leaves on the big book are indelible).

Bach: the everlasting power of the gamboling spirit. Pure Joy. Love of mankind, love of a spiritual being above and beyond mankind.

If one spirit could create such breathtaking beauty, beauty that stabs you all the more profoundly that you sense – even when you are not a religious person, even if you are entirely materialistic and believe, like Molière’s Dom Juan, that one plus one equals two – that there is more to it than you can grasp, then there is reason not to despair of mankind.

(And I know, of course, that it’s not like mankind divides in two, the wicked, twisted, perverted spirits of hatred and evil and the pure spirits of love and creation. I recognize that it is the same spirit, the same psyche that is at work in Bach and in the Holocaust. Nobody has shown that better than Stanley Kubrick in “2001 A Space Odyssey”: it is the same 10 fingers that can run on the keyboard playing the Well-Tempered Clavier, and grab a bludgeon to smash the head of one’s brother (although it is not usually the pianists themselves that bandy the bludgeon – yet I am sure that there were quite a few proficient pianists among the mass-murderers). It probably all has to do with imagination, and the ability to experience affects. Love and hatred: the two sides of the same coin, the obverse and the reverse, or maybe even the same engraving seen from both sides, trough and bulge. I must ask my psych if he has any insights on that.)

Sankt Johann-Sebastian, irgendwo du bist: sei Dank (and Angela, some of that to you too).

All those negative votes probably came from worshipers of mass murder offended that I could attribute it to the evil side of the force – or maybe from people who took exception with the notion that Bach redeems mankind of its propensity for mass murder.

I’ll slowly fill this page. Here are so far the reviews of Bach’s music you will find on this website:

Gavotte from Partita for violin No. 3 BWV 1006 (guitar arrangement). Narciso Yepes in “Jeux Interdits / Forbidden Games, Accord 139225 (1986) or 222032 (with works of Anonymous, Granados, Sor, Mateo Albéniz, Tàrrega, Issac Albéniz, Falla, Rodrigo).

Trio-Sonata BWV 1039 for two transverse flutes and continuo (alternative version of the Sonata for Harpsichord and Viola da Gamba BWV 1027).
Preston’s Pocket (Stephen Preston & Linda Beznosiuk flutes, Jane Coe cello, Robert Woolley harpsichord) 1/83. In “Music for Two Flutes” + works of Händel, Haydn, Mozart, Louis Drouet & Ernesto Köhler, Amon Ra CD-SAR 11 (1983)

Comments are welcome