Some people hinted to me on the absence of Bach, when I speak about music - Smeets among them. One can imagine that some connoisseur frowns his eyebrows seeing Mahler mentioned between the Dutch "composers" Zwart and Asma. Some somebody, a Dutch organ player, commented the grandson of Jan Zwart, who in a newspaper was very kind about his grandfather and called him a good composer: one kilo of musicpaper of Zwart will be overshadowed by one single music sheet of ... followed some names of composers who, according to standards of the market place, earned themselves a place in the Pantheon.
Willem Breuker, a Dutch musician, reportedly said: there is no such thing as popmusic or classical music; there's only good music and bad music. I agree, but the problem remains: what to say about the intrinsic quality of music?

In American diplomacy some famous words have become dogmatic, certainly not for the last time spoken: He may be a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch
It is perhaps a bit rude to quote this, referring to Asma and Zwart, but ... well, if they are sons of a bitch regarding organ music then they certainly are my sons of a bitch!

Bach then. A few days ago, by some whim of fate, I played a CD which gathered Bukowski and Bach, in space and time. I bought it long time ago. I had good reasons for buying it, but there were also reasons, beside the point here, that I never opened the box.

Yes, Bach is great. Okay, I once commented on Hildesheimer who, in honor of Mozart, wrote ... to be sure, Mozart‘s greatness is immeasurable ... with the question how then is it possible that the artist, even within his time, is so little universal, always so recognizable - not only for us, who can see and touch all of his creations, but also to his contemporaries? If I hear music and the question is: Bach or not Bach - my score is more than 90 per cent.
And I could appreciate the disparaging comment of an - admittedly rather obscure - English encyclopedia on music that stated that Bach was a bit overestimated: an industrious man, certainly, but in the end also more of the same.

About that CD. It was the Dutch Willem van Ekeren who connected poems of Bukowski with musical lines of das Wohl temperirte Clavier.
Fascinating, but also confusing. Compromising good memories of mine. I do like Bukowski's poems as a valuable object of art. But it doesn't reflect my view on life.

Van Ekeren connects you know and I know and thee know with the prelude in f (WtC I). It doesn't fit with my memory.
I had bought an apartment in Amsterdam and sold my house while the apartment still was under construction. I found temporary space in the very center of Amsterdam, part of a few houses around a courtyard. There was no place for my baby grand. One of the houses was owned by a man, Jan Jaap, who lived there with his daughter. He had a piano, and I was invited to enter his house whenever I wanted and to play his piano. On his piano I found the first part of the Well-Tempered Clavier, and skimming it through I tried also that prelude. I liked it, so I practiced it.
Jan Jaap became some kind of a friend, and remained so ... until his unexpected death. He took his life - I guess he didn't know the joy that sometimes comes along out of nowhere.

Then there's the fugue in D (WtC I). My now dead brother played it, a bit ungainly I would say ... square tones you know.
Mio fratello scomparso meant a lot to me. Nothing of him makes me thinking of a balloon seller, neither do I want to think of criminal guys when I hear that piece of music - the subject of the connected poem balloons. Now I remember him watching the fighting in Vietnam from his sickbed: look, I'm trying to stay alive and they are killing each other.
I didn't like this fugue, I never wanted to play it.
But thanks to him I got a good sense of Bach. He owned a LP with the toccata's BWV 532, BWV 543 and BWV 548 performed by the French Marcel Dupré. Especially the great BWV 548 I find still touching, not only because of its musical greatness, but also because of these memories.

Listen ... well, too bad I can't make listening you ... to one of the Bach-CD‘s in my house DE OCCULTA PHILOSOPHIA. It is a performance of the first violin sonata and the second partita (the partita with the Ciaccona) recorded by the Spaniard lutenist Miguel Moreno. And the Ciaccona is also rendered by Emma Kirkby (soprano) and Carlos Mena (countertenor) as Chaconne Tombeau: a common musical form to commemorate the death of a notable individual, in this case the composer‘s beloved Maria Barbara Bach. For their Bach they took the alternative course of the Bach of the numerical symbolism. They found the text they are singing hidden between/in the notes.

Smeets, when hinting me about the absence of Bach, wrote about his Bach. I'll let him speak for himself.

You never mentioned Bach, not even in a footnote. The absence looks ugly and I gave it some deep thought how to correct that, no! to get rid of it. So take this:

In 1976 an envelope with banknotes emerged from under my mattress. Years before I had been able to afford myself to put them there for hard times and seeing them made me decide immediately that the times indeed were hard. So I bought recordings of the instrumental solo pieces composed by Bach, violin, cello, keyboard. I preferred the cello suites because they made me think of singing trees. As a kid, trees had been important for me but I feared singing - I would have liked to, but I lacked courage. The cello suites made the balance, they made me sing along with them. Many years later I could not resist buying a Vega banjo, vintage 1923. Plus the solo cello scores. I had not learned to read music but I was determined to climb those trees myself. Oh boy, the horror days of correct spelling, of finding the right positions on the fretboard. I tried four brands of strings (Pyramid is rather costly but there is nonesuch), I experimented with various gauges of the strings (0.9, 011, 0.13, 0.20 and 0,9 is my definite choice). Not to mention the trouble it took to find all the right dimensions of the bridge. Eventually, the instrument linked me with the cello suites, intimately. They are in my body know and they don't make me think anymore of singing trees. Although I still can touch them and we still sing along, they escape my grasp and roll on like mercury happily keeps rolling out of grip. My Vega comes as close to the sound of mercury as you can get.

A charming Bach, that Bach of Smeets!

How is it that my Bach looks like?

It started with that evergreen BWV 565: the famous toccata and fugue in d. I must have heard it being performed by one of my brothers when I was ordered to bed -the turntable and the recording industry not yet arrived. I knew I wanted to play that. I never have had music lessons. But there was enough music around me to learn it bit by bit. I asked my sister to associate the first chord of psalm 42 on sheet music with the keys of our house organ. That made me recognize the other notes. First thing I did was playing the melody of the choral as a sequence of the first chord, (without knowing what sequences were).
The moment I became more or less independent, when I moved to a boarding house with an upright piano, in the place where I found myself a job, I bought the music sheet of that toccata. Within a week I practiced so much that I got it in my head (or in my fingers, I never know).

One of the many problems with performing organ music on the piano is of course: how to handle the pedal notes?
My lamented brother played also an organ fugue, which he played quite well and which I liked to hear him playing - BWV 575, I also practiced it - in which there wasn't that problem: only in the end a pedal point and some pedal notes which one easily can solve with the sostenuto pedal or the left hand.

By now I play chiefly music of Bach. Usually at the grand piano. But I have also a keyboard with a synthesizer module in which are stored some very good samples of organ sounds. So, more or less, I can choose the appropriate registration for an organ work I want to perform.
Obviously, sorry to say so, it enables me also to play compositions of Jan Zwart.

My bookcase has six shelves with CD's. Two of these are occupied by Bach. Mozart, second at arm's length according to Van Ekeren, only good when I was feeling good and I seldom felt that way (Bukowski), occupies only half a shelve.
But I have one principle: never put on a record or CD of the music I (try to) play myself. So frustrating!

Few Handel compositions on my shelves. Yet, I have bought a lot of samplers, CD's from the catalogues of the record labels. Among all these individual numbers al lot of arias of Handel, more than sixty. I collected these arias and compiled two CD's. Now, there is a weird difference between Bach and Handel. Although I love the music of Bach I cannot listen to a sequence of say 10 arias, leave alone 60. Those Handel arias I can listen to without a break.
I think it has something to do with the verdict of that encyclopedia: Bach is more industrious, Handel is almost unadulterated nature!
Okay, never is written, and never will be written, a finer aria than Vivaldi's Cum Dederit from Nisi Dominus.

I did not fall in love with the Well-Tempered Clavier, as a lot of people say they did.
There are who do not start the day without listening to or performing one of the pieces.
Another finds comfort in it in hard times.
According to Van Ekeren every single Prelude and every single Fugue is a feast. My God, mind you, 96 parties to celebrate.
As you can say of all good things which are abundant: too much of a good thing! Nevertheless, in addition to the performance of Gustav Leonhard on the cembalo, I have also a performance by Ivo Janssen on the grand piano. Well, if Glenn Gould is okay, then certainly Ivo Janssen is!

A lot of people like Bach.
I mean, a lot of people say they like Bach.
The St Matthew Passion ... ah, such a fine piece of music. Once I put it on the turntable when someone told me that. The first sounds of the opening choir, so touching. But that wasn't what she meant. It didn't take me much time to figure out what it was that she wanted to hear: the choral O Haupt vol Blut und Wunden. And that was all she wanted to hear!
Or that colleague of mine. He was sure that at home he had the 5 (five!) Orchestral Suites, all equally brilliant -and he hadn't even counted BWV 1070 of the son, Willem Friedeman - no Leen, absolutely sure! And his finishing shot: go and ask the shopkeeper!

My Bach is also: when there is some composition I like to play, but not written for keyboard, I make my own arrangements. It enables me to play more Bach than available in the shops, which is focused on the popular appeal.

And I do my own thing with Bach. The Well-Tempered Clavier, for instance - not so much as no footnotes, as well as adding notes!
The prelude in As (WtC I) is a fine piece. Still, I like it's fugue even more, but I find it difficult to play. So I replaced the last bar of the prelude with the last two and a half bars of the fugue. Like a cadenza. Wonderful!
With the prelude in G (WtC II) I did something like Van Ekeren. There is an adagio of Mendelssohn - sonata #2 for cello & piano - the opening bars of which are a choral variation. That choral fits so well with the prelude, that, from the moment I discovered it, I'm not playing Bach, no, I'm playing a choral by Mendelssohn preludiando with said prelude, to finish it postludiando with the last 12 bars of that prelude.

Well, in that way Bach is coming bit by bit alive, if only I made him turn in his grave.
Two dead persons brought alive, if only by memory.
Perhaps Bach, Bukowski and Van Ekeren made a dream come true with you know and I know and thee know and the Fugue in D (WtC I):
we will defeat death.

One thing for sure: no one played Bach like Bach did.
Another thing of which we can be fairly sure: no one plays Bach like the Dutch harpsichordist and organist Ton Koopman.
One absolute truth: no one will ever, never play Bach like Leen Karman plays Bach.
It's illuminating life - to know that in a certain way I may feel a bond with such big shots in music!
As we say in Holland: Voorwaar, geen kattepis! **)

*) For an explanation of these terms see my pages on Filosofia.
**) In English, literally translated: for verily, no cat‘s pee. English idiom: that's going some.