J. S. Bach and
The St. Matthew Passion and some of the Cantatas sure are Bach in Wagner territory. Or in Debussy territory. In one of the cantatas there is an aria about rocking in the sea, and the accompaniment does exactly that. Baroque composers (especially the French) loved tone-painting of this sort, and Bach is typically masterful at it. Also typically, he achieves this mastery with minimal resources: a few instruments, no percussion section, no wind machine, no computer graphics.

Bach's ability to create monumental music on a small scale approaches the supernatural in his Chaconne in D minor. In its orchestral guise (by Leopold Stokowski) it blew me away when I was in my teens, and still does: its 15 minutes have more musical substance --- more power, more catharsis, more depth --- than all the Mahler symphonies put together. Stokowki's skillful orchestration is quite light, transparent, because the piece was written for solo violin. In time, I discovered that a performance by solo violin has as much power as the orchestral version, although in a different way. In fact, I have versions for violin, for piano, for guitar, for trio, and, of course, the Stokowki orchestral version. I have yet to find a version for mandolin quartet, or for xylophone and kazoo, but will pick those up as soon as I encounter them.

I also have CDs of music by other members of Bach's family, including some of the older generation. And, of course, some music by JSB's sons, including that one who became a chartered accountant, CPA Bach. It is mostly good stuff, but nowhere near the towering level of old JSB himself. A true phenomenon, the composer from the planet Krypton, who neither inherited nor passed on his superhuman abilities. Incidentally, listening to music by Bach's reasonably talented but by no means superhuman sons, like Wilhelm Friedemann or Carl Phillip, the thought comes to me that they must have had a lot of guts, sheer blind chutzpah in fact, to compose music in the shadow of a father like theirs. Is it possible that they didn't realize what Papa's music was?

--- Dr. Phage
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