DESKTOP
TABLET (max. 1024px)
MOBILE (max. 640px)
Return to Top
Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Meditation: The music of J.S. Bach and the 'the radiance of experience'

By John Terauds on November 8, 2013

(MacArthur Foundation photo)
(MacArthur Foundation photo)

There is a very small company of composers who in their craft — and with the help of an equally small company of extra-fine interpreters — open doors to other states of existence and experience. This is not a flight of fancy; it is truth.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds

One current example before us is American pianist Jeremy Denk’s take on J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The music on this album goes well beyond the notes to present one person’s special take on a very special composition (you can read my review here).

One of the many great things about Denk is how well he manages to express in ordinary language the complex act of interpreting and relating to music. He wrote eloquently about learning the Goldbergs in the Guardian yesterday.

Pretty much each paragraph has something to say on a different aspect of our relationship with the music. Like this one:

The Goldbergs, insular and obsessed, have all the failings of classical music in general. The piece is a text reflecting on itself, satisfied in its own world, suggesting that everything you would ever want to know is contained within. The variations (by definition music about music) are subject to countless insider discussions in the outer world, to comparisons of recordings like heavyweight bouts, to that annoying word “definitive.” Despite this, Bach’s smile wins through. The piece is a lesson in many things, but primarily in wonder: the way that the tragic variations fuse seamlessly into the breathlessly comic, the way that simple scales become energy, joy, enthusiasm, the celebration of the most fundamental elements of music.

Or, as he writes about coming to the end of the piece — a moment that has more than once in live performance left me fighting tears:

When the theme returns at the end, you realise this is the last time you will hear that turn into bittersweet E minor (melancholy about melancholy), and also the last time you will experience the chain of fifths with which Bach escapes from it. I’ll admit it always chokes me up, not because the piece is over, not because things are ending, but because of a sense of the completeness of everything that has come before, the rightness, and – if it doesn’t sound too cheesy to say – the radiance of experience. It gives you that rare thing in human existence: a sense that, at the end of something, it has all been worthwhile.

Read the whole article here.

Here, to underline how complex musical beauty lurks everywhere in Bach — and in countless other places — when brought to life nicely, are the Toccata and Gigue from the Keyboard Partita No. 6 BWV830, according to Denk:

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300
comments powered by Disqus

Ludwig Van Toronto

FEATURE | Tech Mogul Predicts People Will No Longer Listen To Music In 10 Years

By Anya Wassenberg on June 15, 2019

Prominent venture capitalist Vinod Khosla states that the groundwork for the AI generated music revolution is well underway, and we will be listening to custom made song equivalents build to match our mood.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300

LEBRECHT LISTENS | Mendelssohn In Birmingham Makes You Wonder Who He Really Was

By Norman Lebrecht on June 14, 2019

This really useful series has reached a clutch of shorter pieces, all of them offering fresh insights into the life and mind of the travelling composer-conductor, Felix Mendelssohn.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article

LEBRECHT LISTENS | Roderick William Wants You To Savor Schubert’s Love-Struck Lieder

By Norman Lebrecht on June 21, 2019

One of the marvels of English music-making in the past couple of years has been the emergence of Roderick Williams in mid-career as one of the most pleasing lieder baritones of our time.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_low_590x300
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700

We have detected that you are using an adblocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we earn by the advertisements is used to manage this website. Please whitelist our website in your adblocking plugin.