As I was reading this volume, I emailed a friend ... also a Bach nut. I wrote:
I am reading an interesting book about Bach, called Reinventing Bach by Paul Elie. He claims that musicians are the "custodians of the past" ... and of religion. He points out that Bach lost several brothers and sisters, and was an orphan by age ten. He writes that Bach grew up complete and ready for his career, that "all that he knew, he knew all along." As you can guess, Elie is a bit of a dreamy philosopher.
His four heroes, outside of JSB himself, are Glenn Gould, Pablo Casals, Leopold Stokowski, and Schweitzer. That's Arnie Schweitzer, the butcher down on Third Avenue.
Stokowski claimed to have been born in Eastern Europe, but it really was born in London. All his life he spoke with a fake, vaguely Eastern Europe accent. He claimed that his most famous piece --- the Toccata and Fugue --- was like a plant. "It is a growth like a tree growing from a seed."
My friend responded with this:
As you know, Bach's parents, siblings, and so on were a cover story. All he knew, he knew all along, because he came to this world from another planet, like Superman. With all other composers --- even the towering LvB --- one can say to oneself: this bit is new, this bit is old, this passage is derivative, this piece is revolutionary (as in the case of LvB), and so on. But with Bach, these categories simply don't apply. In his time, his compositions were viewed as old-fashioned, although here and there he is about two centuries ahead of his time. But Bach's music seems to just transcend such categories.
A few years ago, I saw a marvelous play called "Bach In Leipzig," in which Bach himself never appears on stage. It is about the competition for the post of organist and Music Master at the main church in Leipzig in 1722: a clutch of 3rd-rate, 2nd-rate (Fasch, Graupner), and even 1st-rate (Telemann) musicians scheme and conspire most amusingly for the position. Finally, at the very end, their maneuvers stop while they listen in awe and silence to the astounding organ-playing, off-stage, by the last applicant, after which the play ends. The last applicant is never seen, but the audience knows that it is he who will secure the post.
Stokowski's transcription of the Toccata and Fugue is maybe the most famous (because of "Fantasia"), but his other Bach transcriptions are wonderful too. Especially the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, the Little Fugue in G minor, a prelude from the WTC, several chorale preludes, and, of course, the stupendous Chaconne from the violin Partita in D minor. There are lots of other Bach transcriptions for orchestra, but there is no question that Stokey's were the very best. His version of the Little Fugue is perhaps the source of my own passion for music.--- Dr Phage