Saturday, February 18, 2012

Commonplace Entries: Evening in the Palace of Reason

My full review is here.  I folded down many more corners that only really make sense in context.  These are the quotes that are related to issues I've been considering and that are easily pulled out.  I hope they give you an idea of why I liked this book so much.

Gaines' premise:
A work that may be read as a kind of last will and testament, Bach's Musical offering leaves us, among other things, a compelling case for the following proposition: that a world without a sense of the transcendent and mysterious,  universe ultimately discoverable through reason alone, can only be a barren place; and that the music sounding forth from such a world might be very pretty, but it can never be beautiful.

We may be grateful that Bach had spent a lifetime developing a musical language in which to say all that without fear of discovery or retribution, because his Musical Offering to Frederick represents as stark a rebuke of his beliefs and worldview as an absolute monarch has ever received.  Not incidentally, it is also one of the great works of art in the history of music. pg 12
Nature vs. nurture (a battle we still fight today):

Of the deaths in [Bach's] adult life, it is enough to say that he buried twelve of his twenty children.  Against this backdrop, the elaborately formal topiary gardens of the Baroque, inspired by the idea that nature needs to be tamed and improved, seem entirely understandable. pg 40
On church music:
Luther's idea of music as the faithful servant of theology inspired every Baroque composer's defining challenge: to devise melodies and harmonies that could carry and dramatize meaning, or, to put it a bit oversimply, to make music speak in words.  pg 81
 On education:
Once they had [new, foreign] music in hand, old or new, Walther and Bach -- like every other conscientious composer of their day -- went about studying it as they had been taught in school to study oratory, through the threefold discipline of praeceptum, exemplum, and imitatio (learning principles, studying examples, and imitating good execution). In just this way, Bach and Walther studied the Italians: first by copying out their works note for note, then by arranging them for various instruments, finally by transfiguring them in works of their own.  pg 125
  On secular-sacred divide:

... and in that respect his sacred and secular music were the same.  Bach did not seprate them even in his filing system, and both like bore the epigram S.D.G (Soli Deo Gloria, "All Glory to God") At the moment of the direst atonement in a cantata Bach not infrequently breaks into a dance, since in his worldview (Luther's worldview) the knowledge of weakness was precisely the way to grace and the ultimate joy. pg 136-7
 On family life:
Plainly, Bach enjoyed the role of haus-pater to all of his children, and a family life that was traditionally and devoutly Lutheran: Children were to show respect for the parents, and parents were to learn patience and diligence in dealings with their children and each other in that challenging nexus of family relationships which Luther called the "school for character." pg 167
more education

... Luther's educational ideal of "training of men toward God as a consequence of the practice of music to the glory of god." pg 182
 Bach vs. Enlightenment 
The Enlightenment's way of knowing a thing was to identify, separate, and classify it, the encyclopedic impulse.  Bach's way of understanding something was to get his hands on it, turn it upside down and backward, and wrestle with it until he found a way to make something new. pg 185
 Making a statement without words:
Bach's music makes no argument that the world is more than a ticking clock, yet leaves no doubt of it. pg 273

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