Old man Bach, born into a family of professional musicians and dead at the age of 65 after an English quack operated unsuccessfully on one of his eyes. There were generation upon generation of Bachs, it seems, although unlike Johann Sebastien, few are remembered today. I learned recently that he was the fifteenth member of his family to be christened Johann, and that no less than four of his brothers were also Johanns. Perhaps his father was too busy making music to come up with something more original, but whatever the reason, five Johanns’ in the family suggests a monumental lack of imagination. My guess is that for the Bachs the important thing was to perpetuate family names. But it is only a guess.
If I were only allowed to listen to one composer for the rest of the my life I think it would have to be Johann Sebastien, in spite of the spiritual risk I’d be taking. Bach makes the God of Luther quite real for me. So much so that I, too, want to cry out to him to “Have mercy!” Especially now.
I should probably apologize in advance to any Baroque purists out there for this particular version of “Ebarme dich”. It’s sumptuous and romantic and Klemperer-slow, and therefore a long way from contemporary notions that shape today’s ‘Alte Musik’. But it works for me. Such unbearably glorious, wretched, tender music. I simply can’t resist it.