Bach to Music
Well, yes, I have actually listened to music (classical only, of course!) other than my beloved Beethoven. Music can have marvelous effects on your memories, thoughts and mind in general. I had a very personal experience that I want to share with you.
Have you ever experienced joy, pure joy? I don’t mean some kind of delightful gatherings, great music performances, something that gives you considerable enjoyment, — what I mean is pure joy! I had such an experience recently at a time that I really needed one. It has to do with an innovative and brilliant piece of music done by Wendy Carlos some 50+ years ago. I wanted to thank her for that and googled a bit to find that she had a web site of her own. On that site you don’t email her directly and she doesn’t normally answer these posts — you can imagine, she has received literally thousands of such emails over the years and it would be a full-time job to answer a fraction of them. She is a very well known personage! She helped in the development of the Moog synthesizer, the first commercially available keyboard instrument, and came to prominence with “Switched-On Back” (1968), an album of music by J. S. Bach, performed on a Moog synthesizer, which helped popularize its use in the 1970s and won her three Grammy Awards. This is an elegant and bright presentation of Bach that makes clear the complex logic of some of his music as well as his brilliant use of point/counterpoint.
Following is an email I’m about to share with you and, to my great surprise, I actually received a response conveyed by the webmaster on her site, wendycarlos.com. It was a gracious and thoughtful response, but I will not repeat it here since it is not really under my authority to do so. What follows is my email (post?) to her that prompted that response:
I’m normally a (very) reclusive guy, but I have a personal story that I want to share with you. Just over five years ago, I lost my beloved wife of 49 years, Muriel Boland Shores, to metastatic breast cancer. She first was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, but with surgery and intense radiation, she was cured. Or so we thought. In 2010 we received the bad news of metastatic breast cancer. Muriel very much wanted to live, and she fought with all her strength, but in 2017 she succumbed to the inevitable at the age of 74. The last few years were hard, as she truly wanted to live and was bitter that the end was coming. After her passing I lived on in our home of 43 years for a year, but eventually couldn’t stay — Muriel was everywhere in that house and I felt that it truly needed a family, not a sad heart-broken old guy. A darkness followed me and I found it very difficult to feel any satisfaction or joy in living. Was there something I could have done to save her? A sad burden to carry …
Now on to music: I’m a Beethoven fanatic; to see why you could read one of my musings on my home page. It’s rather lengthy, so I won’t bore you with it here. You could read my story via this link if you’re so inclined:
But recently I started piano lessons and am trying mightily to learn to make my hands obey my brain when I play (well, only had a few months of lessons when I was 12 and I am 80 now). Seeing a variety of music made me realize that I should pay a bit more attention to two other greats: Bach and Mozart. So I purchased a few CDs of their music and searched my own (ancient) collection. Surprise! I discovered my 50 year old CD of “Switched-on Bach”. We bought that CD to play while our children were infants, thinking that somehow it might give their minds a head start (the choice was probably mine because of the mathematical quality of his music). It was a joy then for us to listen to it, and we did so many times. A few weeks ago, I managed to rip the CD to my MP3 player in order to listen to it as I exercise. But just to check, I listened to the pieces, starting with the exuberant sinfonia to cantata. It was sudden joy — true joy. Though I had no memory of a specific prior listening event, at that moment Muriel and I were listening together again, loving our children and each other, looking forward to bright futures. Tears welled up in my eyes as I felt that pure joy.
And it has happened again as I listen to that magnificent sinfonia, the touching “Jesu, joy of man’s longing” and all the other pieces. It’s funny, as I go through to pieces on my MP3, I still remember vaguely and anticipate the next piece before it plays. Memory is a funny thing.
So onward to the purpose of my message: I want to thank you, to give you my deepest heartfelt thanks for giving us and the world this sublime piece of music. From the bottom of my heart, thank you Wendy Carlos.
With my warmest regards,
Retired professor of mathematics
University of Nebraska Lincoln
That expresses my thoughts and feelings about “Switched-On Bach”, but I encourage everyone to get this CD (or the 2000 “birthday” revision of it) and listen to it — carefully and with attention. Listen to the exuberant and joyful Sinfonia to Cantata No 29, the touching and moving “jesu, joy of man’s longing” (more formally referenced in the 2000 CD as “Cantata No. 147, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147 Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”), the triumphant and magnificent Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, and all the other pieces in this work. I hope you are as moved as I am by the beauty and joy of all of it.