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“THERE IS AN UNOFFICIAL marker in the timeline of canonical classical music. It falls around 1800, during Beethoven’s lifetime, separating composers for whom biography matter to non-academic listeners from those for whom it doesn’t. It is assumed the listener needs to know about the lives of post-1800 composers: about the onset of Beethoven’s deafness and resulting feelings of alienation in order to understand the storming anger in his music, about Chopin’s sense of exile in order to properly feel the longing expressed in his, about Schumann’s struggles with mental illness in order to properly feel the spasms between passion and introversion in his, about Mahler’s faith and disillusionment in order to feel the weight of existential crisis in his. It grows out of our desire to find personal meaning in art, to find some message encoded in all those notes. We need to believe we know what our composers were about before we can trust that we’re receiving their ideas properly. To get it wrong is somehow to do them an injustice. It certainly simplifies the process of listening. We know, with Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, and Mahler, what sort of mood we are supposed to be in even before the music begins to play. But it also simplifies and often distorts the historical record, reducing the complicated lives of our heroes to a series of mythological icons. Elsewhere in this publication, I’ve wondered if this is a problem worth worrying over: “A thousand battalions of Mozart scholars cannot erase the image of Miloš Forman’s Amadeus. But should they try?” With the publication of John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, a new quasi-biography of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), we’re situated comfortably on the other side of the 1800 line, back during the musical “Baroque” where we have a chance to see the problem at its thorniest, focusing on the composer who proves its most difficult test case.”
Michael Markham on Bach : “Music in the Castle of Heaven” Bach Psychology: Gothic, Sublime, or just human?

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