Bach's character, et al

A member responded to my posting where I'd cited Matthew 7:6: ""Iím not so interested in which trench we are and for what reason: Iím here to learn more and I do think thatís the reason most of us are here. May I offer another bible text not trying however to be funny as I do think itís really a shame that this group has come so far."

My use of a bible text--and that one in particular--was no attempt to be funny, at all. I'd already wasted almost a whole day working out reasoned responses to recent QUESTIONS OF FACT IN BACH'S MUSICIANSHIP and then didn't send them, because that verse I cited (Matthew 7:6) restrained my reaction a bit. I found it helpful to me. My earlier versions of that message probably would have been even more offensive (in some people's perceptions anyway) than the one I actually sent. That verse I learned as a child popped into my head, and it reminded me that reasonability is not even (apparently) the goal here, the way the present discussions generally go. Accommodation of unreasonable people is being put ahead of a reasonable approach to the material: the music.

I was also moved by something in Wolff's book, in the pages I cited about the historical background of the Anna Magdalena books. Pages 401-2, about the personal character of JS Bach:

"(...) we can deduce that he was impatient, often unyielding, and irascible when provoked. Bach is said to have conducted himself in a generally 'peaceful, quiet, and even-tempered way' in the face of all kinds of unpleasantness 'as long as it concerned only his own person,' but the same source acknowledges that he 'became a very different man if he felt threatened in his art, which he held sacred, and that he then became mightily enraged and in his zeal sought to find vent by the strongest expressions.'"
A similar character of Couperin came up in the book I'd cited over the weekend: that he did not suffer fools gladly. (There's also a passage in his harpsichord treatise reminding teachers that they're not obligated to defend themselves or their methods to nosy foolish parents; just do the job well, and the parents should allow the teacher to do the job well and stay out of his face.) Likewise for Mozart, Beethoven, Lully, and others. Musicians feel defensive when our art is threatened by fools who would try to knock down the serious commitment to the work. That's just the way it is.

Bach's music is being trashed in the BachCantatas forum by people making up illogical nonsense, and they're making up that nonsense to try to show that academic historical musicology is not credible. The music is the main victim here. Truth is another victim here. A bunch of personalities, living and dead, are also incidental victims here. What, Bach and Couperin never wrote to one another as professional colleagues, as if that strong historical likelihood is somehow disproved by merely knocking off the credibility of the sources that say so? FALLACY. It's absurd.

But truth and reason, it appears, are not as important as allowing anyone and everyone (well, two people in particular) to launch their vitriol against musicology, against reason, and against serious musicians/scholars such as myself. I feel like the way it's reported in the paragraph above: the art itself is being threatened here, I (as both musician and scholar) hold it sacred, and I am mightily enraged. I take Bach as one of my major role models, both professionally and personally. I get angry at the same things he did, and (I believe) for the same reasons. (There's also a passage that Bach annotated/underlined in his copy of Calov's Bible commentary, as to righteous anger when one's work is threatened by fools.) I am sorry that my expression of that position offends some people. I've put more than 30 years of hard work into developing this art, and into understanding Bach's music; that art is threatened by two cynics who show no respect for that work or that commitment. I personally can't contribute at my best unless and until they're gone.

I am trying to present a clear exposition OF THE MATERIAL. That's what I'm professionally trained to do, and I've been doing it here as entirely volunteer effort, contributing a huge amount of time and energy to it. But, the way it gets twisted around by the reactions of those two cynics, my presentations get reduced unfortunately to merely a defense OF THE MATERIAL against unreasonable garbage, which is much less useful to anyone. I feel that it's a waste of my time and energy to be compelled to do so...compelled by those attacks that are both professional and personal, attacks against people who are not here to defend themselves.

I said it back here in June, in this message, and it's still true.

But it still doesn't stop. Another message in the list inbox this morning, the review of the Swiss concert, is yet another one: it does not appear to me to be an appreciative assessment of the enterprise or the musicianship of those practitioners, but merely another attempt to calumniate the art and to belittle musicology. These attacks against the art happen on-list, and they don't cease. Why is the defense against them not allowed to happen on-list, to counter that nonsense? Wouldn't the best solution be to stop those attacks altogether, so the rest of us can discuss Bach's music in peaceful appreciation of it?

What's important here, reasonable truth in the music and its history? Or, merely to allow pathologically twisted attacks (the bashing against the whole purpose of expertise) to come ahead of serving Bach's music respectfully?

I'm not trying to make trouble here. I need to see the art treated fairly, with respect and reasonableness.

Back to the top question, above. I believe that all of us except those two cynics ARE here to learn more, and to appreciate Bach's music by discussing it reasonably together. Those two, on the other hand, are here to try to knock it down, and to assert that no expertise or hard work is worth anything. I believe that no reasonable discussion can take place in their presence.


Brad Lehman