Friday, September 23, 2005

A Brief Note on the Music of Bach

by Thomas Milliongate

The best description I know of the music of Bach occurs, unsurprisingly, in Douglas Adams's Dirk Gently.

"The air was full of music. So full it seemed there was room for nothing else. And each particle of air seemed to have its own music, so that as Richard moved his head he heard a new and different music, though the new and different music fitted quite perfectly with the music that lay beside it in the air...."

It is the music of the universe, the music the universe would make if every particle sang and every force hummed; the music the universe does make, if only we could hear it; the music God hears; and we hear it in Bach.

Beethoven, my great lover, even at his most exalted is always terrifyingly or wonderfully human. He is imperfect; we recognise this glorious imperfection and even rejoice in it; we share it. We love Beethoven as at the best of times we love ourselves. We cannot love Bach the same way. He is, it seems, inhuman: superhuman. We love him as we love the universe, as we love God. It is not instinctive. It requires an act of faith. And really to listen to Bach requires courage. One finds oneself horribly wanting. There is consolation, but it is profound, metaphysical, difficult, detached. It is the consolation of an ultimate order in which we have we know not what part. Properly listened to, Bach must make us weep, or make us helplessly abstract.

We can imagine what Beethoven thought. Bach's mind is as inconceivable as the mind of God; and perhaps as eternal.

-- From Small Print, the little "magazine" I started in 2000 & which ran for a single issue, read by perhaps a dozen people. I came across the files this evening while looking through old backup CDs. (As it happens, Dirk Gently is sitting on my desk at the office right now--I've just been lending it to a colleague.) I also found an article on the NASA mission to the asteroid Eros that I wrote some years ago for the Express, & a review of W.G. Sebald's Vertigo that the Express declined to publish--among other disjecta membra.

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