This Sunday is Bach's birthday...or is it? It is not as easy to answer as one would think. However, Bach scholar and Harvard professor Christoph Wolff 's answer to this question posed by Michael Barone, host of "Pipedreams," settles it for me:
"Moving Bach's birthday is absolutely ridiculous. True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700 — but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid...Hold on to March 21, and feel good about it!"
And so we will! This Sunday morning, two works inspired by the very letters of Bach's last name and one by the man himself on the occasion of turning 336.
The Bach motif originated with Bach himself as a way of "signing" his name into his compositions and to provide a challenging melodic fragment to compose with. The notes are Bb (in German musical terminology, called B). A, C, and B (called H in German musical terminology.) A respectable number of works have been composed over the centuries to honor Bach in this way including by Johannes Brahms, Franz Liszt, and Arnold Schoenberg.
This Sunday, the third fugue in G Minor from Robert Schumann's "Six Fugues on the Name BACH" (1845) will be offered. The Plymouth Ringers play "A Zephyr on B-A-C-H", a work I composed which began with the conspicuous question of, "What would an enchanted windchime, given the chance in a warm breeze and a penchant for Bach, sound like?" Just in case you wondered...
The morning service concludes with Bach's "Fantasia in C Major, BWV 570." This uncommon selection in Bach's repertoire has the musical flexibility to be played either quietly and delicately or with bombast and gravitas. We'll go with the latter this week.
At the 6:00 p.m. service, songs from the Iona Community will gather us in with a short tribute to Bach as well in Jethro Tull's "Bourée" with flutist Aaron McGrew.