Wednesday, September 19, 2012


This is a clip of a BBC Proms performance of the Bach Double Violin Concerto, with Andrew Manze and Rachel Podger. They share the same duties on a CD of the Bach Violin Concertos which I have (permanently) in my car. The CD was a gift to me from Dan & Kirsty Jones some years ago, and probably remains one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever bought me.

For this music has become the essential music in my life.

I know, that might surprise some. You might think of me choosing some jazz piece for that honour. Or some worship music. Or (with the kind of narcissistic edge that wouldn't at all be out of character) something of any nature, as long as it was by me.


I listen to the Bach Violin Concertos pretty much every week. At least once a week. Usually more than that. And it's this recording that does it for me. This recording that has become part of the stuff of life for me. I used to have an old Academy of St Martin in the Fields version (I still have it, somewhere) but the Academy of Ancient Music has replaced it.

In all honesty, whilst I know each piece pretty well by now (you'd think), as I listen to them on endless cycle and without a CD cover in sight, I still couldn't tell you "Ah, that's the D Minor" or "Oh yes, the E Major". I just love them. Deeply love them. They are for me, with their endless invention and ceaseless surprise, perfect music.

There was a time when I was not well. Some years back. And in that state, I could not cope with stress or pressure or any such thing. In those days, I listened to this music constantly. It centred me. Made life possible. Helped my troubled brain find order and peace. It sounds melodramatic, but really, it helped me live.

It's hard now even to remember that time. Yet this music still retains something of the same power - it finds in the sometimes unstructured mess of life a path, an order, a sense which brings beauty to the dullest day. And if my head is whirring too much, or I'm getting frustrated in bad traffic, or I just need to relax or stop a moment or remember what matters and find myself again - then I turn off whatever other music is playing, or abandon the news-life-sport-commentary of Radio Five Live, and go back to Bach.

I don't know if anyone else has music which has become "essential" in life. But somehow I have; and the music that found that place for me has never yet once grown tired (and I cannot say how many times I have listened to it in these last few years). That's a token of the quality of the gift right there. It is music that has brightened my mind and brought peace to my soul. Again - some gift. It is music that has accompanied me on countless journeys, so that tired and weary, I have not been alone as I have travelled. It fills the gaps. It is there at the moments that matter. Can music be a friend? It has befriended me.

Bach famously ascribed all his music to God's glory. This corner of his output, and this performance of this corner of his output, makes his words for me for an always answered prayer. And as I listen, I am always drawn with profound gratitude to hear the ever-speaking voice of God and to that deeper prayer and to that deeper music of which these notes are but an echo. A glorious, life-giving, essential echo.

So I listen again.

1 comment:

KWRegan said...

Well, you've made me interested to expand our Bach collection.

I'm getting intimation of a rather literal sense in which Bach's was "a musical offering": Take the thesis of this book as depicted on its cover, but imagine that the "smoke" of 0's and 1's is coming up from an Old testament-style sacrifice. If MIT's Seth Lloyd is right that space is a computational substrate, and that all information is preserved (even in a black hole---this was the subject of a bet Stephen Hawking conceded to John Preskill), then Bach's creations are eternal even apart from human ears. As are all of our acts and devotions...

For poignancy, Lloyd describes in the book how he was mountain-climbing with physicist Heinz Pagels when the latter slipped and lost his life, leaving Elaine Pagels of "Gnostic Gospels" fame a widow. And Hawking co-wrote with his daughter Lucy a children's story (first of a series) in which the father is resurrected out of a black hole...