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"Music in the Castle of Heaven"

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    "Music in the Castle of Heaven"

    I have just closed this challenging book by John Eliot Gardiner on Bach, which I found illuminating. Of course Gardiner knows his stuff intimately. He did the proper historical research that any serious biographer would undertake to be sure of facts, names and dates, but the great maestro's forte is his musical approach.

    In a sense this is a limiting factor, as Gardiner constantly takes you back to some particular opus to support his story. And I found myself constantly returning to my harpsichord for a few bars of some unknown or unremembered cantata. Or I would find some YouTube or CD version. This is a book that requires you to interupt your reading and listen.

    The organ looms large in Gardiner's vision of Bach, as does the Boys' Choir. His approach is squarely on the religious and liturgical context of much of Bach's work : The Castle of Heaven. I am an irreligious person myself, indeed an agnostic, but I gratefully acknowledge the inspiration that religion has provided to Art, be it Fra Angelico or Bach. I have fond memories of (badly) singing Allegri's Miserere as a member of my jesuit school's boys choir sixty years ago.

    Some people say that Bach is proof of God's existence, or that God should be grateful for Bach. They may be right. By all means read the book if you find the time.
    Last edited by Vincent; 01-02-2019, 03:04 PM.
    Vincent
    __________________________________________________ ________________________
    Viscount Sonus 45, Steinway "O", Roland HP605, William Dowd Ruckers-style Harpsichord.

    #2
    Vincent,

    Thank you for the review. It is unusual for one to find a book with such depth. Your review is especially meaningful in light of your personal beliefs.

    Again, thank you for sharing your review.

    Michael
    Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
    • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
    • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
    • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 4 Pianos

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      #3
      I have a hard time uderstanding how anyone could listen to Bach's music and not believe there is a God. How else could such inspiration be found?

      Comment


        #4
        Originally posted by davidecasteel View Post
        I have a hard time uderstanding how anyone could listen to Bach's music and not believe there is a God. How else could such inspiration be found?
        Or maybe several ? What of Apollo, Orpheus, the Muses...
        Vincent
        __________________________________________________ ________________________
        Viscount Sonus 45, Steinway "O", Roland HP605, William Dowd Ruckers-style Harpsichord.

        Comment


          #5
          Please remember, this thread is about a review of a book. If you want to discuss the existence (or not) of God or gods, perhaps you could start a new thread in the General Chat or Grease Pit threads on that specific topic?

          Michael
          Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
          • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
          • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
          • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 4 Pianos

          Comment


            #6
            My comment to David was a little joke, but I was not able to use smileys (check on this please).

            But Sir John Eliot Gardiner's book does carry a thread about the intersection between religion and music, which is quite interesting.
            Maybe if he had written about Mozart, he would have titled his book : "Music in the Bordellos of Vienna". He chose the Castle of Heaven for a reason.

            We all react to some particularly outstanding music as "Divine" or "Otherworldly". We are so enthused by the emotional and/or esthetical impact that we ask ourselves : Is this just the work of a man? Maybe we are so jealous when we compare our shortcomings to the genius of the composer that we want to attribute his merits to an outside entity. To some extent this was the idea in Shaffer's play "Amadeus" (we all saw the movie, but I preferred the play). The choice of the title is relevant : Amadeus means "Loved by God".

            The ancient Greeks were the first to recognize this divine power of music, and of course this is the myth of Orpheus. He conquers the infernal powers - indeed death itself - with his lyre (Gluck's version is my favourite). This is powerful stuff, and the Orphics and similar Dyonisiac faiths became very successful in pre-christian Greece and Rome.

            Then came Pythagoras, who deflated these dreams by explaining music by Numbers. He was not the first to understand the relations between numerals, fractions and melody, but he first formalised the scales. It did not matter to Pythagoras, because he saw Numbers as ruling the Universe anyway, and started a very elitist quasi-religious sect on these grounds.

            So is the power of music in the fact that its mathematical formulas resonate with similar formulas underpinning the working of our brains ?

            This mundane and somewhat disheartening idea was to some extent well understood by Bach, as Gardiner points out when discussing his fascination with tempered scales.

            How this relates to our sentiments is an unknown field, but we easily recognize music that is gay or sad (why B minor ?), soothing or uplifting, voluptuous or martial, and Indeed religious or profane.
            Most religions acknowledged the power of music, particularly the Biblical David. But some were scared of it, as with all forms of Art that could compete with Faith for man's emotions. John Calvin forbid music in the temples of Geneva. So does Islam. Bach was fortunate that Luther was not such an extremist, and the Catholics of the Counter-Reform embraced Baroque music and Art as a joyful way to garner popular enthusiasm.

            But Gardiner reminds us how Bach always had to be careful to justify his "seriousness" as opposed to the notorious voluptuous potential of music (the later "rutting" tunes of Mozart - Amadeus). This defined the kind of music Bach would compose, to his everlasting glory.





            Vincent
            __________________________________________________ ________________________
            Viscount Sonus 45, Steinway "O", Roland HP605, William Dowd Ruckers-style Harpsichord.

            Comment


              #7
              People often make the distinction between secular and sacred, or between things natural and supernatural, etc. They end up saying that you have to believe in god or not believe in god. I think we forget that, whether you believe in god or not, there is at least one other layer in there - the case of those humans who go beyond what most of us experience as "normal."

              In the case of music that moves us deeply, I'm reluctant to say it's inspired by god, just because I don't believe in god. However, I WOULD say that there is a difference between:
              - normal, day-to-day expectations and realizations and
              - those people and events whose actions transcend the day-to-day.
              "Superhuman" might be technically correct in that it truly is "above the normal human standard," but the term has taken on other connotations that go in a direction that isn't 100% satisfactory for me.

              In my work as a church musician (yes, even though I don't believe) I strive to bring beauty to people's lives, to encourage them to demonstrate love to those around them, and to use the idea of 'striving' to challenge them gently to go beyond what they might think themselves capable of doing.

              Rereading my own words, perhaps "transcendent" is the word I'm looking for.

              I'm currently working through "Music in the Castle of Heaven" myself. Bach is able to combine his natural talents with acquired knowledge and apply it to the particular situation in which he finds himself. The more I think about it, and considering some of the jobs and employers he had, his talents go far beyond his musical accomplishments.

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