Music Paul Elie Reinventing Bach

ISBN 13: 9780374534042

Reinventing Bach

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9780374534042: Reinventing Bach

The story of a revolution in classical music and technology, told through a century of recordings of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach

In Reinventing Bach, his remarkable second book, Paul Elie tells the electrifying story of how musicians of genius have made Bach's music new in our time, at once restoring Bach as a universally revered composer and revolutionizing the ways that music figures into our lives.
As a musician in eighteenth-century Germany, Bach was on the technological frontier―restoring organs, inventing instruments, and perfecting the tuning system still in use today. Two centuries later, pioneering musicians began to take advantage of breakthroughs in audio recording to make Bach's music the sound of modern transcendence. The sainted organist Albert Schweitzer played to a mobile recording unit set up at London's Church of All Hallows in order to spread Bach's organ works to the world beyond the churches. Pablo Casals, recording at Abbey Road Studios, made Bach's cello suites existentialism for the living room; Leopold Stokowski and Walt Disney, with Fantasia, made Bach the sound of children's playtime and Hollywood grandeur alike. Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations opened and closed the LP era and made Bach the byword for postwar cool; and Yo-Yo Ma has brought Bach into the digital present, where computers and smartphones put the sound of Bach all around us. In this book we see these musicians and dozens of others searching, experimenting, and collaborating with one another in the service of Bach, who emerges as the very image of the spiritualized, technically savvy artist.
Reinventing Bach is a gorgeously written story of music, invention, and human passion―and a story with special relevance in our time, for it shows that great things can happen when high art meets new technology.

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About the Author:

Paul Elie, for many years a senior editor with FSG, is now a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. His first book, The Life You Save May Be Your Own, received the PEN/Martha Albrand Prize and was a National Book Critics Circle award finalist in 2003. He lives in New York City.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

PART I
Revival
 
 
 
>>1>> This, you say to yourself, is what the past sounded like: rougher, plainer, narrower than the present yet somehow more spacious, a place high-skied and open to life.
The pipes ring out once, twice, a third time. Then with a long, low swallow the organ fills with sound, which spreads toward the ends of the instrument and settles, pooling there. The sound is compounded of air and wood and leather and hammered metal, but how the sound is made is less striking than what it suggests: the past, with all its joists and struts and joinery, its sides fitted and pitched so as to last a lifetime.
The organ is a vessel on a voyage to the past, and that opening figure is a signal sent from ship to shore—a shout-out to the past, asking it to tell its story.
Now the sound spreads emphatically from the low pipes up to the high ones and down again, tracing a jagged line of peaks and spires—an outline of the lost city of the past, a message tapped out from the other side.
>>2>> Albert Schweitzer recorded Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on December 18, 1935, at the church of All Hallows by the Tower in London.
He was the world’s best-known organist, although he lived many miles from an organ; he was far better known than Bach himself had ever been, and the fact weighed on him, for he thought of Bach’s music as a refuge from his fame—as the music of an earlier, purer time.
He climbed the steps to the organ loft, took off his coat, and tried to concentrate. For two nights he had played Bach’s preludes and fugues to the empty church. It was the oldest church in the City of London, already seven hundred years old when it was threatened by the Great Fire of 1666. Now the worn stone of its walls and the smoky glass of its windows seemed to echo his fear that European civilization was ending—“beginning to melt away in our hands,” as he put it. The old City was overrun by motorcars. The organ was recent and mechanized, not the trim eighteenth-century type he favored. The windows rattled when he sounded the low pipes. He and his two apprentices took turns climbing a ladder to dampen the loose glass with towels.
Making a recording was complicated, too. The technicians spoke English, a language he had not mastered. He had to stop playing in odd places or repeat whole fugues three and four times. The recording process would never fully capture the sound of the organ in its surroundings—the essence of organ music, in his view—and he would never be a natural recording artist.
Yet as he settled behind the organ he felt at home. After two nights, he was familiar with the two keyboards and the hand-worn wooden stops. He sat upright, exhausted but invigorated, in vest and shirtsleeves, feet on the pedals, arms spread as if to echo the two wings of his white mustache, eyes on the pipes tapering up and out of sight.
Thirty years earlier he had renounced a life in music for one in medicine, training to run a clinic for poor people at the village of Lambaréné in the French Congo—to be a “jungle doctor in Africa,” as the press put it. He had wanted to do “something small in the spirit of Jesus”—to make his life an argument for a way of being that was grounded in what he now called reverence for life. But his act of renunciation had turned into something else: a double life in which he spent half the year in bourgeois Europe describing the poverty of Africa. Was this really the way to be of service—to become a freak, an exhibit of human virtue at its most self-congratulatory? Might it not have been better to do something small the way Bach had done, hunkering down behind the organ in Leipzig and making music that shouted from the housetops about reverence for life?
It might have been. But it was too late. At age sixty, he felt old—“an old cart horse ... running in the same old pair of shafts.” He had written an autobiography as a kind of testament. He had made arrangements for the supervision of the clinic after his death. Germany was lost to Nazism. Europe was going to war again, and he was struggling, in a book, to set out the political and social dimensions of his philosophy as a corrective. For the first time in his life, the words would not come.
The recordings offered a way out. The hope of making them had sustained him on long nights in the tropics, as he played Bach on a piano fitted with organ pedals and lined with zinc to ward off moisture. The sale of them, in a pressboard album of shellac discs, would raise money for the clinic—for medicines, lamps, an X-ray machine. More than that, they would do with a few nights’ work what he had striven to do over several years in his book about Bach’s music. They would express his life as a musician and spread it across long distances. They would set the past against the present, and would put forward the music of Bach as a counterpoint to the age, a sound of spiritual unity to counter “a period of spiritual decadence in mankind.”
To his schedule of lectures and recitals, then, he had added these recording sessions at All Hallows. The technicians had brought equipment from the EMI compound in St. Johns Wood, crossing London in a specially outfitted truck, which was now parked in the lane outside. A microphone hung from the ribbed vault in the nave. Electrical cables threaded up the aisle and around the altar to the sacristy, where the disc-recording console stood at the ready.
Now a handbell rang, a signal from the technicians that a fresh cylinder was turning. It was time to make a recording.
The Toccata and Fugue in D Minor: it was in this, the music of Bach, especially, that Schweitzer felt reverence for life—felt the “real experience of life” that had led him to medicine and Africa. Making these recordings, he was fully alive. He straightened his back and began to play, repeating the opening figure once, twice, a third time.
He played for about ten minutes, pausing once while the technicians replaced one disc with another. He played Bach’s Toccata and Fugue the way he had played it in Paris in his student days: as a sermon in sound, an expression of the unity of creation that he feared lost forever.
>>3>> For those ten minutes Schweitzer’s life overlaps with ours. In the music, he is present to us—more so, it seems to me, than he was to most of the people who were actually in his presence while he was alive.
At the peak of his renown Life magazine called him “the greatest man in the world.” Since then he has faltered in the test of time; the adjectives once affixed to him have come unstuck, and the great man—doctor, musician, philosopher, humanitarian, and celebrity all in one—now appears a problematic, compromised figure: his project paternalistic, his methods condescending, his view of the people he worked with in Africa more akin to the crude racial stereotypes in Kipling and Conrad than to any ideal found in the gospels.
But his take on the Toccata and Fugue hasn’t lost its power. The music he made in those ten minutes is still bright, brave, confident in its cause. It beams Bach out into the night with an electric charge, which will outlast us the way it has outlasted him.
The question is: How does that happen? How does a snatch of recorded sound survive? How is it that a little night music made a long time ago can withstand the wear and tear of time?
The obvious explanation is that it is the music of Bach that survives, brought to life in Schweitzer’s performance. That composer, that work, that church, that instrument, that organist, that night—all combined to produce an “inspired” performance, one that (fortunately for us) was recorded.
That is true, but it doesn’t begin to tell the story. The performance is extraordinary, and yet so much of the power of this Toccata and Fugue in D Minor seems to be more than merely technical. The mysteries of that experience of music-making were cut into the grooves of a spinning disc that night, and now they are to be found between the lines of the recording—in the blurred edges, the high notes ground down to points, the surfaces that seem part of the structure, like the rattling windows of All Hallows.
Schweitzer characterized Bach as a technician of the sacred and a representative of a prior epoch in which spirit and technique went hand in hand. “In that epoch, every artist was still to some extent an instrument maker, and every instrument maker to some extent an artist,” he declared, setting the mechanical present against a past in which knowledge and know-how were indistinguishable. But to read Schweitzer on Bach is to recognize Schweitzer too as an exemplar of such an epoch, in which to “play” music was to take up an instrument, and in which examples of the music perfectly played were not near at hand but existed mainly in the imagination.
The Toccata and Fugue recording registers the technique of that age. By professional audio standards, it isn’t a “good” recording. It isn’t clear or accurate; it isn’t high fidelity, not even close. At times the great organ seems to wheeze, its sound as small and fragile as an accordion’s; in range, the recording goes from black to gray, from muddy to soupy, from loud to a little less loud.
This lack of fidelity is the source of its power. Recordings usually become more transparent the more you listen to them, until you feel that the recording is the music itself. Not this one. This is a recording, and it sounds like one: the more you listen to it, the more audible its extramusical qualities become. It is an old recording, and it sounds its age: the dark corners and muddied entrances are pockets of mystery; the hiss of the tape transfer is the sound of the mists of time.
It sounds like the past, that is. It isn’t timeless; ...

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Book Description Farrar Straus Giroux, United States, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The story of a revolution in classical music and technology, told through a century of recordings of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach In Reinventing Bach, his remarkable second book, Paul Elie tells the electrifying story of how musicians of genius have made Bach s music new in our time, at once restoring Bach as a universally revered composer and revolutionizing the ways that music figures into our lives. As a musician in eighteenth-century Germany, Bach was on the technological frontier--restoring organs, inventing instruments, and perfecting the tuning system still in use today. Two centuries later, pioneering musicians began to take advantage of breakthroughs in audio recording to make Bach s music the sound of modern transcendence. The sainted organist Albert Schweitzer played to a mobile recording unit set up at London s Church of All Hallows in order to spread Bach s organ works to the world beyond the churches. Pablo Casals, recording at Abbey Road Studios, made Bach s cello suites existentialism for the living room; Leopold Stokowski and Walt Disney, with Fantasia, made Bach the sound of children s playtime and Hollywood grandeur alike. Glenn Gould s Goldberg Variations opened and closed the LP era and made Bach the byword for postwar cool; and Yo-Yo Ma has brought Bach into the digital present, where computers and smartphones put the sound of Bach all around us. In this book we see these musicians and dozens of others searching, experimenting, and collaborating with one another in the service of Bach, who emerges as the very image of the spiritualized, technically savvy artist. Reinventing Bach is a gorgeously written story of music, invention, and human passion--and a story with special relevance in our time, for it shows that great things can happen when high art meets new technology. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780374534042

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Book Description Farrar Straus Giroux, United States, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The story of a revolution in classical music and technology, told through a century of recordings of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach In Reinventing Bach, his remarkable second book, Paul Elie tells the electrifying story of how musicians of genius have made Bach s music new in our time, at once restoring Bach as a universally revered composer and revolutionizing the ways that music figures into our lives. As a musician in eighteenth-century Germany, Bach was on the technological frontier--restoring organs, inventing instruments, and perfecting the tuning system still in use today. Two centuries later, pioneering musicians began to take advantage of breakthroughs in audio recording to make Bach s music the sound of modern transcendence. The sainted organist Albert Schweitzer played to a mobile recording unit set up at London s Church of All Hallows in order to spread Bach s organ works to the world beyond the churches. Pablo Casals, recording at Abbey Road Studios, made Bach s cello suites existentialism for the living room; Leopold Stokowski and Walt Disney, with Fantasia, made Bach the sound of children s playtime and Hollywood grandeur alike. Glenn Gould s Goldberg Variations opened and closed the LP era and made Bach the byword for postwar cool; and Yo-Yo Ma has brought Bach into the digital present, where computers and smartphones put the sound of Bach all around us. In this book we see these musicians and dozens of others searching, experimenting, and collaborating with one another in the service of Bach, who emerges as the very image of the spiritualized, technically savvy artist. Reinventing Bach is a gorgeously written story of music, invention, and human passion--and a story with special relevance in our time, for it shows that great things can happen when high art meets new technology. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780374534042

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Book Description Farrar Straus Giroux, United States, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. The story of a revolution in classical music and technology, told through a century of recordings of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach In Reinventing Bach, his remarkable second book, Paul Elie tells the electrifying story of how musicians of genius have made Bach s music new in our time, at once restoring Bach as a universally revered composer and revolutionizing the ways that music figures into our lives. As a musician in eighteenth-century Germany, Bach was on the technological frontier--restoring organs, inventing instruments, and perfecting the tuning system still in use today. Two centuries later, pioneering musicians began to take advantage of breakthroughs in audio recording to make Bach s music the sound of modern transcendence. The sainted organist Albert Schweitzer played to a mobile recording unit set up at London s Church of All Hallows in order to spread Bach s organ works to the world beyond the churches. Pablo Casals, recording at Abbey Road Studios, made Bach s cello suites existentialism for the living room; Leopold Stokowski and Walt Disney, with Fantasia, made Bach the sound of children s playtime and Hollywood grandeur alike. Glenn Gould s Goldberg Variations opened and closed the LP era and made Bach the byword for postwar cool; and Yo-Yo Ma has brought Bach into the digital present, where computers and smartphones put the sound of Bach all around us. In this book we see these musicians and dozens of others searching, experimenting, and collaborating with one another in the service of Bach, who emerges as the very image of the spiritualized, technically savvy artist. Reinventing Bach is a gorgeously written story of music, invention, and human passion--and a story with special relevance in our time, for it shows that great things can happen when high art meets new technology. Bookseller Inventory # BTE9780374534042

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