Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Those who can't do, teach, and then their students secure their legacy

This section of a Christoph Wolff essay on Bach--and particularly the bit about "scores of students and their pupils' students" working to "organize and eventually consolidate Bach's lasting influence"--made me laugh out loud:

It seems worth noting at this point that Bach’s most important musical contemporaries, Handel, Telemann, Vivaldi, and Rameau, who all wrote music that had a broader appeal, and was more widely disseminated than Bach’s, were completely remote from the discussion and the scene in which the eighteenth-century concept of original genius emerged. Two explanations offer themselves. First, their compositional art, whether applied to opera, oratorio, concerto, or any other vocal and instrumental genre, was widely recognized and acknowledged as superior. There is no question about the quality, beauty, appeal, technical make-up, or poetic and expressive character of their music. Yet none of their compositional achievements brought about any fundamental and long-lasting changes by way of discovery and new inventions. Second, Bach lived and worked for twenty-seven years in an academically challenging environment, and his main activities consisted of teaching. Hence, scores of students and their pupils’ students helped organize and eventually consolidate Bach’s lasting influence, a phenomenon that none of his musical colleagues sustained.

You could literally spend decades pondering the extent to which everything you think about the art that you like (or don't like) is socially-constructed. No wonder most of us don't.

(By the way, I adore the music of Bach, Handel, Telemann, Vivaldi, and Rameau.)

[Photo credit: nathanrussell]


Anonymous said...

At the risk of being obvious, I'll note that Bach's music has a little to do with it, too, since he's generally considered the unrivaled master of counterpoint, probably making the study of his music intrinsically more useful for composers of later styles. For myself, when I first heard baroque music (Switched on Bach, plus The Well-Tempered Synthesizer for the other composers - when I finally heard this music played acoustically, it sounded weird and wrong to me), it seemed obvious to my 10ish-year-old ears that Bach was on a different level than the others - no further acculturation necessary.

Andrew Durkin... said...

I don't disagree, though I think the two things -- acculturation and talent -- can simultaneously apply to the same individual. And for whatever reason, in our culture, it has become very easy to forget that acculturation plays a role at all. So this post was intended as a sort of reminder...

Jazz Website said...

Bach influenced many people after his time. I have performed some of his preludes and fugues in the past. His music is very elaborate but I think that there were other classical geniuses even greater than Bach. Bach gets this credit because he was BIG for HIS time.