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Rock meets Bach
September 2000

Anyone interested in music, and by interested I mean interested in listening to it without any preferences and prejudices, will come to the conclusion that music is ... well ... music. Humans seem to wish to express themselves using all kinds of instruments creating melodies and/or rhythms.

Music represents the flow of time. No beginning, no end. It just flows through the domains of time we create in history and personal life. Music is ... is ... is ...

Johann Sebastian Bach was one of the first composers who realized that music is a sequence of sounds based on rhyhtm and vice versa. He wrote numerous pieces of music, but as far as I'm concerned, the most outstanding one are clearly his concerts for solo cello.

What you get is pure music played by one instrument covering rhythm as much as melody. The music sounds like "new age" stuff, though it's pretty much "old age". Bach creates a flow of emotions by continuously coming back to certain themes of melody. I'm not quite sure how he created his music, nor how he interpreted his works. But I am pretty sure that he didn't say much about them because they were self-explanatory. Just melodies in the frame of rhythm.

What's going on here? Well, Bach's music demonstrates the basics of music in such a pure way that it's hard to come up with something else. Blues is considered to be pure, but in comparison with Bach it's already complicated.

Rock musicians have based their music on quotations from Bach. There's a whole section of rock music called "art music". Procol Harum, Yes, and others are bands the music of which is based on Bach's accomplishments.

This is not a question of "stealing from Bach", but rather an expression of exploring for some pure notes.

Bach teaches us purity in terms of melody, and simplicity in terms of rhythm. He arranged his music along the lines of simplicity in every aspect. Even his grand pieces of symphonic style are pieces which follow this principle.

Once I sat in the famous Kreuz Kirche of the city of Dresden (Germany) and I was listening to Bach's 'Matthaus Passion". Not really one of these classical pieces of music I would have selected to listen to. But relatives had the tickets so I followed them.

What can I say? Bach blew me away because of the way he composed the choirs. Being ignorant of his music, I told my relative, this music is even better than the Beach Boys. It was breath-taking to listen to what Bach had composed. Unbelievable sequences of melodies and chords which are as lively as anything else you may be able to listen to today.

I guess what I'm saying is: look back sometimes, and you may find the source of what amazes you today.

Kenny G is a DJ who runs his own web-site which he named A Popular Guide to Unpopular Music. You'll find heaps of resources there, which in one way or the other deal with the issues raised in this column.

Thank you for reading.

P.S.: Here's a web-site I came across today, which is called Bach Digital. Great stuff.

Copyright © by Eberhard Wenzel, 1997-2001