Paul Elie: Reinventing Bach
Friday, October 26, 2012
In the new book Reinventing Bach, Paul Elie explores how performers and recording artists of the last century — including organist Albert Schweitzer, pianist Glenn Gould, and cellist Pablo Casals — kept teasing out the new in Bach's 300-year-old music.
Bach left room for interpretation in his compositions, “working up the music just elaborately enough that it was distinctly itself but could be carried forward by others into places that maybe the composer hadn’t expected,” Elie tells Kurt Andersen.
He points to Glenn Gould's 1955 recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations as the embodiment of the post-World War II moment. "He's not playing in the way of a Romantic artist with lots of bravado," Elie explains. "There's a detachment, an objectivity, almost a mechanical quality to it that I associate with skyscrapers and jet planes and elevators."
Bonus Track: "Aria" from Bach's Goldberg Variations, Glenn Gould (1955)
Elie calls Bach’s music “shareware,” equally at home on a variety of instruments. “It seems to work its way into different contexts and remain Bach,” Elie explains. “It doesn’t get dumbed down. People don’t have to popularize it. It is what it is, and yet there it is on the soundtrack to Master and Commander or some other movie and it fits perfectly.”
Because so much of Bach’s music had a sacred purpose, Kurt wonders if, as a secular listener, it might be wrong that he loves Bach’s Mass in B Minor for reasons entirely detached from the composer’s religious intentions. “You can’t really say in a few words what religion is,” Elie responds. “But one of the things it does is that it connects people to the past or a sense of the past. Most classical music is old music. When you compound that by hearing a 200-year-old work in a 50-year-old recording, you’re having an experience in a kind of triple time that I think it’s fair to call transcendent.”
Elie doesn’t have a single favorite Bach piece, but lately he keeps coming back to different interpretations of The Well-Tempered Clavier. “I hope this doesn’t sound heretical: you could either give it almost mystical attention or put it on as background or driving music and it seems to work either way.”
Two-Part Invention No. 13 (BWV 784) (Instrumental)Composer: J.S. BachArtist: Béla FleckAlbum: Perpetual MotionLabel: Sony Classical
Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 (Vocal)Artist: Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrinAlbum: HushLabel: Sony Classical
Mass in B Minor BWV 232, Missa: Kyrie Eleison (Chorus)Composer: J.S. BachArtist: Chorus of Colleqium Vocale, Ghent/Orchestra of Colleqium Vocale, Ghent/Philippe HerrewegheAlbum: Bach Mass in B MinorLabel: EMI Classics
Goldberg Variations, BWV 988: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988/Aria (Instrumental)Composer: BachArtist: Glenn GouldAlbum: Bach: Goldberg Variations ('55 Mono Recording)Label: Sony Classical
Cello Suite No. 1 in G BWV1007: PréludeComposer: J.S. BachArtist: Pablo CasalsAlbum: J.S. Bach: Suites for Cello, 1, 2 & 3Label: EMI Classics
'St Matthew Passion' BWV244, Part II: Nr. 78 Chor: Wir Setzen Uns Mit Tränen Nieder (Chor I II/Orchester I II)Composer: J.S. BachArtist: Otto KlempererAlbum: St Matthew Passion - BachLabel: EMI Classics
The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2: Prelude No. 10 in E minor, MWV 879 (arr. P. Blanchette)Artist: Peter BlanchetteAlbum: Archguitar Duo Recital: Blanchette, Peter / Michelini, Peter - Bach, J.S. / Handel, G.F. / Scarlatti, D. (Archguitar Baroque)Label: Sono Luminus