Category: B minor mass

Segues, spaceships and Suzuki

By , 1 November 2007 10:15 pm

This is an early blog this week as I am away over the weekend. For new readers and others, I try to post weekly, Friday evening, UK time. And those interested in commenting on the books may wish to know that there is a rather fun Lamb among the Stars Facebook group.

I have always been a fan of the segue: the art of seamlessly moving from one section or theme to another. (Mind you, it took me a long time before I realised it was pronounced seg-way.) Anyway, there are a couple of instances below.

I seem to have survived last week’s posting on JKR and the outing of Dumbledore. I was worried I would either get damned or praised for being anti-gay. One comment I made last week did though come back to haunt me: my criticism of her ladyship for tinkering with the plot post-publication. The reason was that I have been finishing the final edits on the Infinite Day (it is half-term: I get to work at home and drink my own coffee) and I realised that if I was to make any changes, now is my last chance. One change I would like to make but alas, it is in the first book and beyond recall, is where I mention a spacecraft named after Shih Li-Chen, someone who Merral recollects “was poet, church leader and unsurprisingly for early twenty-first century China, martyr.” In hindsight, I think it would have been more daring (and conceivably more prophetic) to hint that the martyrdoms for the faith had been in the West rather than the East.

The fact is that Christianity is alive and well in the East. If you wanted proof of that it was very audible this week with the long-awaited (and not just by me) release of J. S. Bach’s B Minor Mass under the conductor Maasaki Suzuki. For those outside the blessed elect of Bach fandom, let me explain. Although elements of the B Minor mass were written earlier, Bach compiled the whole work in in his final years. Two hours long and in Latin, it was quite unperformable in any church context, least of all in Bach’s own Lutheranism and seems to have been intended as a monument for posterity, summing up all that he could do. Anyway, it is one of the most perfect masterpieces of Western music and Maasaki Suzuki does it proud.

Suzuki, a Japanese Christian, and a very considerable musician, has been working his way for years through the vast canon of Bach cantatas (36 CDs so far and about 24 to go) to growing acclaim. What distinguishes his work is a polished musicianship plus – and here is the key – a sensitivity to what the text is saying. Apparently, he makes sure that his singers fully understand the meaning of Scripture. (There is a fascinating article on him and the growing Japanese interest in Bach here.) Anyway, they’ve just released his version of the B Minor and I downloaded it off eMusic for a very reasonable cost. It seems to me that he gets it wonderfully right; reverent without being slow; dramatic without being too theatrical and everywhere beautifully played and sung. It’s an awesome piece of music, and in his hands you can happily believe that no one has written anything finer. Even if it seems imperilled in the West, Christianity is alive and well in the East

And now ladies and gentlemen (roll of drums) for that rarity: the return segue. When the Voyager spacecraft was launched in 1977 – by now it’s about 9.5 billion miles away – it bore a golden disc with sounds and musical items on it. Bach was the most represented composer with three tracks. In discussing the choice of music, the biologist Lewis Thomas said: “I would send the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach . . . but that would be boasting.”

Just so.

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