About neuroscience and music (mainly classical). Exploring the relationship of music and the brain based on experience of two careers.

November 22, 2012


Every so often a new book enters my world like a Hamas rocket landing in Tel Aviv (well, no analogy can be perfect). Such a book, Reinventing Bach by Paul Elie did so yesterday heralded by a a review, as brilliant as the book itself, by pianist Jeremy Denk ("Why I hate the Goldbergs," Nov 7), "the best music writer in America" according to music-writer Alex Ross of The New Yorker

Elie: "So familiar is the language of revival that we can overlook how fully it pervades the discussion of the arts--classical music, opera, painting and scupture, dance, literature, drama. The good thing is going out of the world, threatened by questionable forms of progress, and stands in need of revival. This is the story our society has told itself about the arts for a century or more--really ever since the arts were firmly established in this country--and the arts themselves thrive on the notion that they are threatened with extinction.... The drumbeat of revival in classical music--often set up in opposition to the shriekback of a popular culture enchanted with technology--obscures the fact that, for most of a century now, technology has been the means of classical music's survival."

Elie tells a fascinating story of the "revival of a traditional art through the technology that was supposed to be its undoing...the reinvention of Bach in the age of recordings." 

And be reassured that " the sudden ubiquity of recordings...didn't stop people from playing music "live." Perhaps "the spread of recorded music dealt a blow to amateur music-making and to music in public life--and that it banished classical music to the margins. But it is impossible to deny the extraordinary quality of the music-making in...the sixty years between the time when Pablo Casals recorded Bach's cello suites in London and Paris and the introduction of the iPhone in California. That was a golden age, and we know that it was because we can hear the music for ourselves."

I have read a lot about JS Bach, but Reinventing Bach is a revelation. After reading Jeremy's review, I downloaded the book ($12.99) to my eReader.

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