Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The aim of music

Two institutions of great value came together together: BBC Radio 4 lunchtime broadcasts, and JS Bach's Mass in B minor. Lunchtime radio is a gem, and one of my great delights about working from home is being able to listen to it during the week. Today there was a programme about the original manuscript of Bach's Mass in B Minor. You might think it would need the visual medium of TV to show the manuscript, but it was described by the participants in the programme with such passion and clarity that TV would have added nothing.

The manuscript has been in the Berlin State Library for 250 years and those who were looking at it said that they could almost hear the music bouncing off the page, the handwriting of the 63 year old Bach being so full of life and energy.

'The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul,' said Bach. What an amazing man - possibly the greatest creative genius in western civilization, and yet at the same time one of the most humble whowas prepared to work for masters he described as 'strange folk with very little care for music in them.' A man full of grace and truth (like someone else much greater).

Today so-called celebrities with less real creative talent than Bach had in his little finger demand that we pay attention to them, and they employ agents to make sure they are continually in the media spotlight. How different for Bach who, having written his Mass - surely one of the greatest musical works of all time - possibly never heard it performed in his own lifetime. It wasn't printed until well into the 19th century, and only became known universally after Mendelssohn revived it nearly a century after Bach's death.

The screams of the audience for 'The X Factor' will be forgotten long after Bach's music continues to bring glory to God, and to refresh the soul.

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