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Bach is the irreducible indispens­able of classical music. You would be hard pressed to find a performer who would admit to disliking him; and composers don’t use him — as Benjamin Britten used Beethoven and Brahms and Strauss, for example — to define a contrary aesthetic agenda. He is, as much as a dead white male can be, universal; and also, in a sense, pure. Concert pianists who spend a lot of their time with the Romantic longings which dominate the piano repertoire, from late Mozart to Rachmaninov, have been known to cleanse themselves with an icy immersion in the Bach keyboard works first thing in the morning.

In Bach there seems something morally uplifting: he was a supremely gifted artist, never to be surpassed, who founded an unbroken tradition in musical art, yet who was, as it were, unwittingly leading a day-to-day existence of surpassing ordinariness and, yes, decency. An assiduous, if prickly, municipal servant in Leipzig, he was a devoted father, married twice, to women who bore him 20 children between them: one in the eye for the supposed artistic imperative to excess and ­irresponsibility of a Lord Byron or a Jimi Hendrix.

Bach means “stream” in German — in his own era and area of Germany there were so many of the Bach family in music that it had also came to mean musician — and Bach’s pur­ity, like that of limpid water, is an easy contrast to draw with the worldly, commercially-minded, theatrical Handel, whose name is reminiscent of German words for shop and business.

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Janet Kenny
May 31st, 2008
3:05 AM
I am surprised, and yet perhaps not surprised, to read such a misunderstanding of Handel and of Italian music, from Ian Bostridge, a great interpreter and singer. We all have our blind spots. Ian Bostridge has a genius for finding the human longing in the music of the great northern European composers, from Bach to Britten. I was once a professional singer and performed the alto solo part in Bach's Passion according to St. Matthew in Crawley, England. Another great "Ian" (Partridge) was the sublime Evangelist on that occasion. It was during that performance that I realised that the seeds of the tragedy of the 20th century were germinating in that work. To claim a greater purity for Bach over the sunny innocence of Handel shows,in my experience, a conditioned response that does not reflect reality. I must revere Bach but I also revere Handel. As for plagiarism in the music of Handel, Bach was not shy about appropriating the music of Vivaldi. It was a common practice and part of the musical conversation. Janet Kenny Janet Kenny

Savta Dotty
May 30th, 2008
9:05 AM
Having just listened to "Erbarme Dich" on my iPod while riding the bus, I can only applaud your return to my favorite work of music of all time, "The Saint Matthew Passion." As a secular Jew, I have always felt that Bach's music, like no one else's, transcends man-made religious categories and offers us Religion with a capital "R."

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