“Not Bach, but Meer” Timothy Smith discusses the virtues of Johann Sebastian Bach.
The Greatest Composer?
The student of music need not read far before encountering the passionate assertion that Johann Sebastian Bach was probably the greatest composer who ever lived. Such ardorous declarations might well be excused as author’s bias were they not so prevalent in the literature–not to mention, proposed with such fervor–at least to elevate the proposition to a reasoned debate. If Johann Sebastian was not the greatest, he was at least in the company of that august group; but the rule of greatness of an artist’s life and work is ultimately measured by the eye in which the beholder’s own work has been influenced by the life in question…..
The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould was one of the most brilliant and idiosyncratic interpreters of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. In this 1962 special for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Gould reveals the same brilliance and idiosyncrasy in his understanding of Bach’s place in history.
Bach, says Gould, was not so much ahead of his time as outside it. “For Bach, you see, was music’s greatest non-conformist, and one of the supreme examples of that independence of the artistic conscience that stands quite outside the collective historical process.”
“Glenn Gould on Bach,” was first broadcast in Canada on April 8, 1962, two years before Gould’s retirement from performing and only two days following his controversial Carnegie Hall concert with the New York Philharmonic, in which Gould’s interpretation of the Brahams D-minor piano concerto was so eccentric that Leonard Bernstein felt compelled to make a disclaimer to the audience. The centerpiece of the Bach broadcast is a performance of the Cantata BWV 54 featuring the American countertenor Russell Oberlin. “Glenn Gould on Bach” is a fascinating and entertaining half hour–essential viewing for lovers of Baroque and Classical music.
Was Bach a genius? Or simply a superb technical craftsman? Simon Heighes tries to pin down Bach’s genius with a little help from some friends