Friday, March 17, 2006

J.S. Bach in Michigan?

Once, when an acquaintance praised Bach's wonderful skill as an organist, he replied with characteristic humility and wit, "there is nothing very wonderful about it. You have only to hit the right notes at the right moment, and the instrument does the rest."

Bach had twenty children. The love he felt for his large family is evident in a heartrending letter Bach wrote on behalf of an erring son who had incurred large debts and then left his town: "What can I do or say more, my warnings having failed, and my loving care and help having proved unavailing? I can only bear my cross in patience and commend my undutiful boy to God's mercy, never doubting that He will hear my sorrow-stricken prayer and in His good time bring my son to understand that the path of coversion leads to Him."

As Dr. Ingram demonstrated in lecture, Bach is one of the most productive, gifted, and seminal genius-composers in the history of music. One can easily devote years of study in order to fully explore Bach's music. We can only have the briefest of introductions to him now, so please consider examining him more fully on your own later.

There is a book entitled, "Gödel, Escher, and Bach", which explores the relations between the music of various composers on the one hand, and the concepts of algebra, artificial intelligence, and visual patterning in art on the other. This book is worth reading, because it shows the algebraic algorithms which various composers used in their works, and how those equations also show up in the visual arts (painting, drawing, etc.) and in literature.

Bach borrowed, e.g., the literary structure of chiasmus and created a musical analogue to it.

But Bach also has a Michigan connection!

Several years ago, a man was looking through some old used books in Frankenmuth, Michigan. He found and purchased some old German books. When he took them home and began to read them, he realized that these books were from the personal library of J.S. Bach! Bach had written many comments and notes in the margins of these books, just as most students do. The notes have been carefully copied from these books and published in a book of their own. "Bach's Marginalia" is an example of the kind of discoveries you can make if you have a good education and spend your time paging through old books!

At first, it might seem odd that Bach's book would end up in Michigan. But in the decades after Bach's death in 1750, millions of Germans came to the United States. In fact, more people came from Germany than from any other country. Naturally, these people brought all kinds of personal possessions with them, including a few old books!