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"Bach" (Prepared for Time Magazine)

by Rosalyn Tureck (1968)

From the Rosalyn Tureck Collection,
Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University

Bach is an ideal world. His music reveals to us an order and a passion, a multi-colored world containing every nuance of sense and sensibility of emotion and intellectuality. The experiencing of this combination places me in another sphere of being. This sphere is the reality we all seek. It is not the ivory tower, it is not escapism. It is the reality of fulfillment of the greatest capabilities in expression through the most highly developed art any may is ever likely to reach. This sphere of being, which I experience in playing Bach, is not removed from life. My communication with my audience is profound and I know it to be so because they give me back so much. Their giving in return is, for me, more in their silence than in the applause which follows. There are many qualities of silence of which I cannot help but be acutely aware. Often the quality of silence from my audience is almost unbearable in its intensity and total absorption. The relationship between myself and the audience is so intimate that perhaps few persons experience such intimacy in their personal relationships. When music is capable of revealing so much about the human mind and heart as Bach's music does, there are no aspects of inner life that I can withhold from my audience. Bach is revelatory — his music reveals a way of life. A performer must be sensitive to perceive the connection of music and life, and capable of articulating these musically to others. Sartre said of Bach "he taught how to find originality within an established discipline; actually how to live." Bach's music influences me to the extent that my life is enmeshed with the qualities I have absorbed from it.

What does Bach's music mean to the listener and performer? When speaking of meaning, the listener and performer are on common ground — the ground of inner experience. The listener and performer become one, merged into one universal being — the experiencer. Individual responses vary according to personal perception and sensibility. One man said to me "I like Bach because I always know where I am with him. I can always keep my foot tapping." Others regard Bach as cool and thus quite the current fashion. These people go to Bach for too little and receive too little.

Bach is more than music. It reveals to us, who will listen and perceive, the world to which the highest ideals of man aspire. It is a framework of order and related structures moving in its own musical process, but it is fantasy, ardor, and whimsy as well. The freedom does not explode the order, and the order by no means restricts the freedom. Many people regard Bach as the musical representative of law and order. Poor Bach is placed in the category of the conservative and/or intellectual. The music is, in fact, a continual succession of intellectual miracles. Performers often cannot break through his fabulous architecture to find the soft pulsating beat of life and the exquisite sensibilities inevitable in the work of such a genius. These sleep in a state as of an enchanted being behind a formidable structure. The music is so rich, however, that it can be performed and enjoyed within limited aspects of its nature. But for the universal experience which is the stamp and nature of Bach's art, the music cannot be presented in portions as in a gruyere cheese. The deepest reality of the music, the composers' intentions, must be present in entirety. The composer's own dedications to his music always were given to the glory of God and to the refreshment of the spirit. He referred to music as expressing spirit, all else being "ranting and raving."

But Bach's spirit in his music is a totality. Everything exists there. To play this music, or to hear it as the totality it is, gives the experience such a sense of totality that one lives on another level.

The Goldberg Variations is a major representative for me of the totality of expression and experience which Bach creates. From a simple or rather apparently simple Aria, a set of thirty Variations are composed. Structurally, these are miracles of variety and imagination. For sheer keyboard technique alone, no music surpasses its variety for the keyboard devices contain everything ever written for a set of keys through the 19th century with the exception of octaves. When I perform these Variations, I prepare myself with an inner quality of encompassing the entire work instantaneously within me. One cannot play this work with the sense of ordinary succession of variations. For it is an acorn and the universe simultaneously, and this I feel before I begin the first note of the Aria. The actual ending of the Goldberg Variations is given to the return of the Aria. The initial statement of this simple opening contains the entire potential of the future. In my program notes on the Goldberg Variations, I say, referring to the return of the Aria at the end of the thirty Variations: "The return to the beginning, completing the life cycle, carries with it a fundamental sense of renewal, and yet reveals a new meaning in the beginning which is two-fold — the potentialities of the beginning and an infinitely greater understanding of its meaning as the result of the returning undergone and the full experience of these potentialities. This return to the beginning is one of the most sublime moments in music."

I was the first to play this work in its totality without a break, from beginning to end, lasting one hour and twenty minutes. At the end invariably I cannot get up from the piano stool for a little while, and I usually hold on to the piano itself as I take my first bows to the audience. There is always total silence between myself and the audience immediately following the performance. I always weep on reaching backstage, and continue to do so on each return from the stage. I do not weep for sadness, though that is present also, in the end. I weep for the sheer experiencing of everything that is life and death as we know it. The knowledge, the vision and a gratefulness for the fullness seen and experienced bring the tears. They contain joy, as well. Thus I say Bach inspires and brings us to a level of living highest in the potential of man. He brings us above the conflict, competition, and violence from which so many today turn with horror and distaste. The young people, their lives tremblingly suspended in the limbo of violent passions, desperately seek sense and sensibility. They feel intuitively what Bach expresses and reach out for this beauty of form and infinite depth of feeling. It is to them that the future of Bach must be dedicated. They need most and desire the way of life and fulfillment that the totality of Bach gives. And the performer must continually widen and deepen his own responses and perception in order to embrace and express the greater rather than the smaller Bach.