A Musical Interlude

As longtime readers know, every now and then I like to put aside all the jihad stuff, kick back, and relax with the paradisiac music of Johann Sebastian Bach as performed on the Baroque pipe organ.

I only became aware of the chorale prelude “Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam” (“Christ, Our Lord, to Jordan Came”, BWV 684) two Christmases ago, when Dymphna gave me the complete organ works of Bach as performed by Marie Claire Alain. The piece mesmerized me from the first time I heard it. Most notable is its constant movement, fast-paced but still stately, beginning with the first note and continuing throughout, mostly in the bass line.

Below is a version performed by Kay Johannsen (location and organ not listed). Not only is this an excellent rendering of the piece, but it features a synchronized score, so that those who read music may follow along:

Soli Deo gloria.

43 thoughts on “A Musical Interlude

  1. I love this. Thank you so much.
    My favorite this season of turmoil is St. Matthew’s Passion.
    I could listen to it non-stop all day long and never grow tired of the beauty of its refrains.

    I sit now to enjoy your gracious contribution to order and sensory excellence, to nobility of design and divinely inspired creativity. (He was a Lutheran, you know ;-))

    • Normally I can’t listen to any musical piece, even a very good one, more than about 10-20 times before I say, “OK, now I don’t want to listen to that one any more.”

      But the greatest works of J.S.Bach are the exception. Some of them (the Brandenburg Concertos, for example) I have been listening to for thirty years, and many others for more than twenty-five. I must have listened to some of them a thousand times or more. And I never get tired of them. There’s always some new intricacy of beauty that I failed to pick up on before.

      This is especially true of the Sinfonia from “Wir danken dir, Gott”, the Dorian Toccata and Fugue, the Passacaglia and Fugue, the St. Anne’s Prelude and Fugue, and the Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor. What magnificent works! As I have said more than once in the past, they are windows into the parlors of heaven.

      • I take it you’re not a Bruckner fan, then.

        I love the St. Anne. Another favorite is the Toccata, Adagio & Fugue in C Major, especially the Adagio.

        • This is what I’ve always assumed — why else would anyone put themselves through the grueling task of learning these pieces? The payoff must be considerable.

          An organist once told me that a lot of Bach is difficult to play.

      • A little late for this comment but I can’t resist. I’ve noted this bit of personal history before but it’s worth repeating to newer readers…

        The Baron went straight from The Grateful Dead to J.S. Bach – seems to me (now, looking back) that he just turned on a dime and starting walking back to baroque. As I recall, he had a temporary part-time job (in the winter, when he wasn’t painting) where one of the other workers was an organist and she had control of the audio in the office. Thus his immersion in Bach’s organ music for hours at a time. ‘Twas love at first hearing…

  2. Ah, J.S. Bach. My favorite composer. I love rock music, as long as it is BA-roque music.

  3. A reminder of what Christendom has accomplished–the composer, the music, the tradition of music composition and theory unique to the West, the instrument and builders, the tradition of teaching that allows current performances, the churches in which the organs are installed and maintained, the list stretches on.

    A reminder of what we all stand to lose unless we diligently care for that which we have inherited, and build upon it.

    Thanks for all your work, and for this post in particular.

    • It’s a puzzle, isn’t it, how anyone could look over the Western achievements in music, art, architecture (those Gothic cathedrals!), science, medicine, human rights, humanitarianism, etc. — and only see something shameful and disposable.

      Why do people in high places have so little regard for the long, slow process of building a civilization? So little understanding of the fortuitous events and circumstances that mingled various elements in a way that turned out so fruitful?

      How can anyone believe that the West desperately needs the “contributions” of the sterile, blighted cultures of Islam? Can Frau Merkel sincerely believe that large infusions of Islam and its mindset will unquestionably make Germany (and all of Europe) better? How?

    • Really? Schoenberg’s post-post-post Wagnerian rantings about a madman? This the work of a man whose name many know within academia, whose music is blessedly rarely performed (in comparison with Bach, especially).

      • Oh Old South! I love Bach. I have a complete Bach edition, and rows upon rows of CDs of particular works. It is wonderful, astonishing music.

        But Schoenberg’s work is fantastic too. Now, what 12-tone work BECAME LATER is another matter, and I won’t even mention “Minimalism” and various other stuff.

        Years ago I loaned this very CD to a young guy who told me that it gave him nightmares. Very good. Pierre Lunaire anticipates what the Nazis did. It tells us something about Islam as well. Or so I think.

    • Nah. It’s not that I don’t like 20th century music because I’m quite fond of some Ligeti, but I don’t like Schoenberg at all.

  4. Magnificent… so I went into a music trip and ended up with the EU hymn, Odd to Joy. All of the sudden I understood the mindset of the EU leaders (not those that were bought, but the genuine ones.) How such a beautiful ideal of one culture could run afoul when it falls in the hands of the the multi-culties.

  5. the complete organ works of Bach as performed by Marie Claire Alain

    Oooooh! ISBN/UPC or whatever other identifying info might lead me to a copy?

    • It’s a boxed set, so it’s probably got no ISBN of its own. I believe the CDs are no longer in print — Dymphna bought a “slightly used” set for me; new ones weren’t available. Fortunately, the one she got was in good shape.

      I believe Hans-André Stamm has also recorded the complete organ works of J.S. Bach. He’s very good. Other possible organists are Ton Koopman and Peter Hurford. I highly recommend the latter. I have his recording of the “major works”, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has done the complete works.

  6. If aliens from outer space visited us and asked us what we humans have accomplished here on earth, why not have them listen to Bach? I bet that would keep them quiet for a while. I wonder what the “new Europeans” will do with those beautiful organs?

  7. In the early 1960s I took an elective course in Fine Arts which was taught by a competent and devoted pipe organist. He informed us that at the time, there was only one contemporary organist that counted…the late E. Power Biggs. After hearing much of his playing, I must say that I agreed. Years later, Home Moravian Church sent their old Tannenberg pipe organ for restoration back to its original 1800 condition. It is now back in service and sounds perfect. A picture and write up is here–https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Tannenberg

  8. Robert, since the 60s, the whole period performance movement developed. This is particularly important for baroque composers–like Bach.

    • Not always an improvement, skzion. Deutsche Grammophon’s “Arkiv” Early Music label refused to drop “traditional” Karl Richter’s Bach because he was so musical.

  9. I hear all these EmCee[?]PeeCee types decrying how Western museums rip artefacts from all over the world out of their original contexts and put them in glass cases. However, I fear that JSB’s work is in a similar situation, ignored in church services and often performed in “secular” contexts so that the lyrics are indistinct against the overwhelming sound of an orchestra originally intended to be far smaller and the accompaniment to a congregation’s sung praise of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I have even run into people who see themselves as persons of “culchah”–even in major centers of higher education–who are downright shocked to learn that JSB was a religious composer.

    I am very fond of Wachet Aud Ruft uns die Stimme myself (can’t stand Dame Myra Hess’ rendition: the melody is lost and its all eaten up by the accompaniment), An Wasserflussen Babylon, and Nun Danket Alle Gott. As a Christian, I sometimes imagine King David and J.S.B. up in Heaven comparing notes and holding jam sessions. It’s not too far-fetched. Bach did most of his best work for the Lutheran church, adapting hymns and psalms.

    One December, I got so sick of hearing Adeste Fideles (not that I don’t like that carol, mind you) performed every which way to Sunday all the way home from work, and then penned a letter to our Classical Music Station reminding them that JSB wrote lots of wonderful renditions for common Advent hymns. I got no reply.

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