I’m not kidding myself, though. It won’t always be this gentle.
It’s strange studying Bach. It’s almost like the old cliche of the high school student who read Shakespeare’s plays and said, “This guy just uses a bunch of old cliches!” The unstated punch line being, of course, that they weren’t cliches when he wrote them.
Bach is much the same, I think. I’m playing him and thinking, “I’ve heard this a million times before in other pieces,” and reminding myself that that’s only because Bach wrote them down first over 300 years ago. And he wrote all of them down.
And while I’ve heard snippets of his ideas in other pieces, including lots of pop and rock, I’ve rarely heard an idea pushed all the way to the edge with all the marrow sucked out of its bones like he tended to do. Other composers or bands might have borrowed a tiny bit here or there, but within a single given piece is an encyclopedic investigation of everything that can possibly be done with that one riff that he’s working. Knowing his work really does allow you to see almost all the possibilities in a given riff, chord progression, rhythmic motif, or whatever it was that caught his ear that day. Virgil Fox’s old comment that every composer since Bach must be considered Bach’s disciple is starting to make more than a little bit of sense to me. I wish this had been made more obvious to me when I was a kid by my teacher, instead of just being told to worship Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms like tablets from the mountain with no introduction to why they were special. They were special because my teacher said they were, like the pope, who was just assumed to be special not because of anything that had become evident to you but because someone else said so.
The “someone else said so” reason for worshipping Bach ended up feeling much like the empty “admiration” I was told to have for the popes, who ended up being (with few exceptions) just a series of nasty old power-hungry men who didn’t give an actual damn for the welfare of the people supposedly under their care.
Oh, my attitude about Bach never dropped to that level of cynical distrust, only because … well, his music was always still so good. 🙂 But it still felt at the gut level like a bland sort of “Sister Mary Margaret Said So” type of thing. Now, it’s becoming a self-evident, derivable thing for me. I can see why Bach’s musical output is to be admired. Whether he himself is to be admired is not evident. 🙂 Much like Beethoven — a brilliant genius who badly needed a punch in the mouth, there’s no telling whether someone is a decent human being just because they happen to have a gift and the ambition to make much of it. But his music? Yep, I can see it now. You could spend your life on just his stuff.