Bach 360°: Being Bach

Friday, March 22, 2013

Free Download: Bach's Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue

Johann Sebastian Bach has suffered from the somewhat humorless and dour image presented by some of his portraits. Unlike Mozart or Beethoven, he’s never been the subject of a blockbuster movie biography. And he wrote a lot of religious music, usually for a church or court, earning a comfortable but never lavish salary.

But Bach also led a colorful life, full of professional intrigue, unjust treatment and domestic misfortune. He was married twice, sired 20 children and played keyboards with deftness that won him many public admirers and the derision of religious authorities.

Even Bach connoisseurs may be surprised by some of the lively details in the composer's biography, from his early years as a quasi-orphan to his final decline in health (possibly due to diabetes, though there is plenty of debate about this). Here are a few that caught our attention:


Twinkle Toes: As a virtuoso organist, Bach was especially admired for his footwork. After seeing a recital, a colleague marveled how Bach could, "by the use of his feet alone – while his fingers do either nothing or something else – achieve such an admirable, agitated and rapid concord of sounds on the church organ that others would seem unable to imitate, even with their fingers."

The Organ Whisperer: “As a boy, Bach certainly involved himself with organ builders and probably was constructing organs quite literally,” said Paul Jacobs, the chair of Juilliard’s organ department. “He was always inside them, evaluating these great machines and making them into artistic objects.” Bach was frequently hired as an organ consultant, evaluating the instruments and making sure their air supply was working properly. Some church leaders may have felt a bit nervous when inspector Bach showed up.

Bach behind bars: We think of Bach as a pillar of rectitude, but he sometimes came into conflict with the church authorities for adding too many embellishments to the music. He frequently argued with them and was accused of being absent from his duties – off drinking at a local pub.

Bach’s headstrong nature may have gotten the best of him when he asked the Weimer authorities to be released from his duties in order to assume the Kapellmeister job in Coethen. “He may have used some strong language that offended the ducal or ducal administrator,” said Bach biographer Christoph Wolff. The former employer refused to grant his release and there was a struggle between the noblemen over Bach; for this the prodigy was thrown in jail for about six weeks.

The 4,000-Mark Bribe: In 1722, Bach applied for an organist's position St. Jacobi's Church in Hamburg, but he is not accepted since he refuses to pay his prospective employers a bribe. After Bach withdrew his name from consideration in Hamburg and Johann Joachim Heitmann was given the job, Heitmann promptly paid 4,000 marks in gratitude.

A Path to Blindness: Bach had two unsuccessful eye surgeries – almost unheard of in the mid-18th century – to restore the vision he lost from years of toiling on his craft by candlelight. In 1750, he visited the Chevalier John Taylor, a flamboyant, traveling English eye surgeon who was known to operate before crowds in the town square – and then skipping town when the patients took their bandages off. After the two surgeries, Bach developed a painful infection and was completely blind when he dictated his final work. He died a few months later, some believe due to the infection.

Free Download: Lise de la Salle plays Bach's Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue (Naïve)*
The young French pianist Lise de la Salle recorded an album of Bach and Liszt in 2005, highlights of which are included in the new release, Lise de la Salle: A Portrait. 
Available at

Listening Highlights for Friday, March 22 (all times are approximate)

6 am “Schlafe, mein Liebster” (Sleep, my dearest) alto aria from the Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248

7 am  Cantata: Herzlich Tut Mich Verlangen BWV 727

8 am  Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C Minor, BWV 1060

9 am  French Suite No. 6 in E (will be a well-known interpreter)

10 am  Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565

12 pm  Cantata BWV 208, “Was mir behagt” (“Hunt” Cantata)

2 pm  Cello Suite No. 6 in D Major, BWV 1012

3 pm  Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, BWV 1041

5 pm  Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major, BWV 1047

6 pm  Keyboard Concerto No. 2 in E Major, BWV 1053

7 pm  Cantata BWV 60, "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort"

8 pm Mass in B Minor, BWV 232

→ View the full day's playlist

*Not into Facebook? This download will be included in this week's WQXR E-Newsletter.


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Comments [22]


Why is your new program, OLD SCHOOL, a mere one hour? You have inflamed our Bach and Before cravings, and I am suffering withdrawal pains that can not be assuaged by such a short show! You give opera-lovers 3 1/2 hours on air, and a 24/7 streaming channel. Early music lovers deserve the same!

Apr. 07 2013 10:21 PM
janedoe0a from NYC

There's no such thing as "too much Bach."

Thank you, QXR.

Mar. 31 2013 12:37 PM

Much too much Bach. Skipping regular programs is especially annoying.

Why did you not do what you did for the Mahler centennial and put continuous Bach on a secondary channel ?

Mar. 30 2013 07:42 PM
Jim from Cold Spring, NY

To me, Bach 360 is an arrogant and presumptuous programming decision. I like Bach well enough, but this is too much of a good thing. I suspect there is no composer many listeners would want to listen to exclusively for ten days.

Mar. 30 2013 10:50 AM
Timothy Kiehn from New York City

Perhaps your All Bach program's impact will be more far reaching than intended. Several years ago, Dr. Lewis Thomas, man of medicine and letters, was asked how best for us to communicate with "others" in the universe. He replied as follows: "Perhaps the safest thing to do at the outset is to send music. I would vote for Bach, all of Bach, streamed out into space, over and over again. We would be bragging of course, but it is surely excusable to put the best possible face on at the beginning of such an acquaintance. We can tell the harder truths later." (in The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, 1974).

Mar. 29 2013 07:45 PM
tatyana from New York

I strongly believe that it was a very bad idea to put everybody on Bach's diet. Especially dedicating it all to Easter celebration. People of different religions are listening to WQXR and for all greatness of Bach's music, it is 50% Christian religious music. With all my love to WQXR and Bach, I simply turn to another station, to avoid all that.

Mar. 29 2013 09:45 AM
Jon B from Lawrence, New York

Instead of a Bach Festival why not just have a seperate Bach Channel the way qxr did for Beethoven in November and Xmas music in December.

Mar. 28 2013 05:10 PM
Pam from NY Metro

I am loving every minute of Bach 360! A fantastic idea; with special programming such as Bach 360 and Beethoven Awareness Month QXR has gotten more creative, in-depth and interesting since joining the NPR family. Thank you for this glorious festival of Bach at the perfect time during Holy Week.

Mar. 26 2013 01:58 PM

Bach 360 has given me a great excuse to 'share' WQXR all weekend. Bach on!

Mar. 24 2013 05:51 PM
Peter Feldman from New York City

I never gave any money to WXQR because your programs are very repetitive.
I do not like anymore to listen to your broadcasting.
I cannot listen Bach music all day.
Your marathon broadcasting all Bach music is a BAD IDEA.
I HAD TO DISCONNECT WXQR and tune another radio because it is impossible for me to listen a radio broadcasting only Bach music.
i can also listen beautiful classical music programs streamed online by radios from all over the World.
It is not good for the cause of Bach and much less for the cause of WXQR because all kind of EXCESSES give negative results !!

Mar. 24 2013 12:50 PM
Dian Chiamulera from Pelham, NY

TOO MUCH Bach! I listen to WQXR for the variety of classical music, composers and artists that fill my life with joy. This is Bach OVERLOAD. I'm missing all the other greats that bring beauty to my life.
D.N. Chiamulera

Mar. 23 2013 02:49 PM
Rosanna from NYC

"Bach is forever." (Pablo Casals) Thank you so much for this glorious programming: I'm in ecstasy!!!!! It was wonderful having the Collegium Vocale Ghent "Mass in B Minor" from 8-10 PM 3/22; however, I agree with the above comment RE too casual announcing. David Garland should have named ALL the major soloists at the outset! Clayelle Dalferes is commendably attentive to such basic details, but some others skip over them. I'm also a longtime fan of the annual WKCR-FM Christmas Bachfest, especially their traditional cantata request segments. Since WQXR emits a stronger broadcast signal, it's even better hearing you play them. The soloists with oboe accompaniment sound divine! Merci mille fois!

Mar. 23 2013 02:44 AM
David from Freeport, NY

I understand that some people would not find ten days of Bach quite to their taste, but I love it and wish I could listen all day at work. I'm listening now and find it difficult to tear myself away to get some sleep. I'm looking forward to listening all of next week. And thanks for the commentary, as well.

Mar. 22 2013 11:00 PM
gg from syosset

I love your 360 Bach & the great selection of the performances.

The B minor mass though would have deserved a lot more introduction, mention of artists and explanations of the content. - not everyone knows the catholic mass, not everybody knows latin - This is such a massive work & it needs space - Space is important so that this music will 'talk to all' irrespective of religious beliefs or knowledge.

At a concert - one ponders options, performance practices, carefully looks up the artists and how they sing, their previous records, books the tickets, gets to the performance venue, finds the seat, looks at the program notes. At home, one finds the file, or the disk, reads the summary of what is going to happen, studies the artists & the performance practice, selects this special performance, or finds another one, find a special place to sit.. Normally at radio or tv performances, it is very important to capture the concert (like in this particular performance that you are broadcasting) or church atmosphere.

Just wedging the B minor mass in between all Bach & feed the stream, press the 'on button' - that is not right.

Mar. 22 2013 09:00 PM
NYEarthling from New York, Earth

Thank you for the abundance of Bach! Until now the staff at WKCR were the keepers of the week-plus Bachfest. Theirs is always from Christmas to New Years, and there's plenty of room for both in NYC.

Mar. 22 2013 07:54 PM
Eric Schatz

Everybody talks about the new sound, funny but it's still Bach and droll to me.

Mar. 22 2013 05:14 PM
Ed Enstrom from Pearl River NY

Fire the person who came up with this idea. I have turned off WQXR until this farce is over. Is this what I get from my contribution?

Mar. 22 2013 05:00 PM
Mark from Bufalo

Love the themed Marathons! Bach is sublime. Very interesting hearing the commentary, biography, and various interpretations. Looking forward to the next week--immersion in everything Bach!!

Mar. 22 2013 03:18 PM
Rob from Catskills

Bach bored,
OK, I like Bach, an hour, two hours, nine more days? Who came up with this? Are you going to do Beethoven? Mozart? next... please that's a joke, don't take me up on it! Wake me when it's over.....

Mar. 22 2013 02:40 PM

thank you for the Bach festival! i am very impressed with this brave programming move, and delighted to listen to Bach whole day long.

Mar. 22 2013 01:06 PM
Nina Morris-Farber from Sunnyside, NY

Elliott-- I don't believe it would be possible to play "everything Bach wrote" over these ten days, as you have been stating this morning. You'd practically have to become an all Bach every day of the year station to do that. Do you want to reconsider your phrasing?
Meanwhile, very glad to have it on, this season or any other. Thank you.

Mar. 22 2013 11:34 AM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

Sorry, WQXR, I can't go nine more days - I'll be listening to for the next week or so. They have a great program schedule for Holy Week through Easter Monday which includes, but is not limited to, Bach. Although I think that basically it is a good idea to feature a particular composer's music extensively, it would probably have been better to have done a Bach Awareness Month like you did for Beethoven, and have a special all-Bach music stream for those who want all Bach, all the time. I like Bach, but I just don't want to listen to his music continuously for 10 days straight. It's wonderful that we all have our own favorite composers (I could listen to all Bruckner, all the time but then I'd never get any work done!), but I think you have to be considerate of those who don't share the same tastes. Anyway, I'm sorry I had to go Chopin for another station to listen to during this time, but I just can't Handel Bach-to-Bach Bach! Don't worry, I'll be Bach when this is over! (I just couldn't resist!)

Mar. 22 2013 10:57 AM

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