As soon as the first leaves of Autumn flame into colour and begin wafting to the ground, I get an itch to listen to Johann Sebastian Bach.
There is something about Autumn and Bach that just go together, like the wafer and the creamy centre of an Oreo cookie. Take them apart and they’re yummy, but together … they’re fabulous!
I don’t know where this all started. Maybe it was that, in September, summer holidays over, it was time to get back to school and piano lessons. Back into choosing and preparing pieces for the next spring’s Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) piano exams. For those of you not well versed in RCM graded piano books and exams, let me explain: Every exam required one piece each to be prepared from List A, List B, List C, and in later grades, List D.
List A consisted of music pieces written during the Baroque period. And that’s where J.S. Bach fits. Naturally, the piano teacher would list the List A piece first in my music notebook, and I, being the strict item-follower I am, would study this piece first every time I sat down to practice.
I have always gravitated to Bach’s music. There is something so ordered, so mathematical, so solid and trustworthy in his music. He never lets me down. Most, if not all, of his piano pieces end on the tonic. We are not left hanging somewhere in limbo – a state of uncertainty where there is no freedom to let go of the breath you’ve been holding. There’s a solid Amen at the end. And by that I mean The End. Fine.
Does anybody else remember those short television episodes that played in the 60’s and 70’s? I don’t even know what the show was called, but the story was about a mouse – a real mouse. This little mouse traveled in a real, tiny boat down a tiny stream. In the background a harpsichord played J.S. Bach. As a girl, I was transfixed by those little vignettes. Maybe that’s where my great love for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach began.
For me, Winter, Spring, and Summer are straight forward seasons. Winter means snow, hockey, mitts and scarves, hot chocolate and fireplaces. Spring has one theme: spring forth! Summer brings warmth and more time for friends and fun.
As in Bach’s music, there is so much happening in Fall. Intricacies we are not even aware of. One day is warm, the next chilly. Whole trees will burst out in colour while their brothers right next to them hang on to green. Evenings, like Bach, are crisp, and foster clear- headedness and renewed thinking, rejuvenated and remolded ideas. There is laid-back urgency in the air. I feel I can achieve anything in the Fall.
Normally I listen to J.S. Bach’s piano works, but this year I happened on to some history on his cantatas:
– Between the years 1723-1729, Bach composed one cantata for every regular and occasional church service in the year. This is at least one cantata a week! More than 52 cantatas a year!! Considering the shortest cantata I could find online is 28 minutes long, this is beyond amazing.
– Of the 350 cantatas he composed, only 209 have survived. The rest were sold off in bulk to be used as paper to wrap meat, fish, and cheese. Insert horror-faced emoji here.
I’m gaining a new appreciation for Johann Sebastian Bach’s music. Maybe you will too as you sit by your fireplace or take a walk, music in earbuds, on a crisp Autumn evening.
Have a listen and enjoy:
Prelude and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 847, Anthony Newman, Harpsichord
Canada’s own Glenn Gould plays the same Prelude in C minor on Piano
Cantata: Magnificat in D major, BWV 243