Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Killing Rumours

Yes, the rumours are out there - musicians are all artsy-fartsy, wimpy even. Hey, I understand. The word "pianist" is funny enough. Careful, how you say it now.* Anyhow, where was I? Oh yes, musicians are a tough bunch. Case In point - Bach. (Happy Birthday by the way, Johann). Now, this guy was dedicated to his art.

When he was 20 he traveled - on foot - 400km (one way) from his house in Arnstadt to a place called Lubeck. And why would any sane person want to travel to Lubeck? He wanted to see an organist there by the name of Dieterich Buxtehude. Buxtehude was the foremost German organist of the day so Bach came calling to learn from the great master and perhaps score employment with him. Apparently, the choir he was responsible for back in Arnstadt was about as musical as a....well, I can't think of a good analogy here but Johann was looking for a change. The only problem was that he didn't have permission from his Arnstadt employer to take this trip. He was dismissed shortly upon his return.

And why did he return? Why go back to Arnstadt and substandard musicians when you could learn from a master like Buxtehude? Turns out even Bach had limits to how far he would go to pursue his love of music. One of the stipulations Buxtehude laid out as a condition of employment was that the successful candidate (Handel of "Messiah" fame also applied) had to take his fair daughter's hand in marriage. Now, I have yet to come across any record of Bach's take on this prospective bride but evidently he wasn't very impressed as he best a hasty retreat back to Arnstadt soon after meeting her. (Handel also did like wise).

Bach also later got into a fight with a bassoonist after insulting the guy. Who knew bassoonists were so sensitive? But the instrument does look like a piece of bamboo and the business end of a bong had a love child so there you go.** The scuffle came to blows and Bach even drew out a dagger and was prepared to defend himself when the bassoonist stumbled into his arms. The two fell over, grappling on the ground before a few music students pulled them apart.

Bach later spent a month under house arrest for forcing the issue of his dismissal. Sure, it was the county judge's residence he stayed in and not one of those dank, dirty dungeons but still...weren't all these old dead composers supposed to be and prim and proper, dull and boring? Bach was only a couple years younger than me at the time and I know confinement of any time drives me crazy.

So three little anecdotes of mental and physical toughness from Bach. Gifted organist? Definitely. Outdated compositional technique? Maybe. Wimpy?...This tough old Saxon? Never.

*This sentence may or may not be a reference to an event years ago where my sister who was perhaps 3 or 4 blurted out in front of polite company about how her big brother was a "pianist"....only she mispronounced "pianist" for another word which I won't mention. Yes, I was embarrassed at the time (even though I didn't get it). Yes, sis and I still joke about it.

**For the record, the bassoon is my favorite reed instrument.


Anonymous said...

Ha! That is hilarious - that was the first thing that came to mind when I was reading your post. Had to laugh out loud when I got to the bottom - was wondering if you would point out that it was me - I do beleive I got sent to my room for that!

NouveauBlogger said...

Good story!

Pianist....heh heh heh, he said Pianist.

Way Way Up said...

Haha! You were? Well, don't blame me :)