BACH’S MIND: Part 1

Text and Photography by Harvey Lloyd

This blog is part of a series entitled Secrets of Eternal Youth.

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Secrets of Eternal Youth is a Kerouacian road trip through the mental universe with a merry prankster at the wheel. Lloyd is Coyote, the Trickster, who brings us the fire of imagination that is able to see the quantum foam of the universe in the dancing of Jackson Pollack—that allows us to feel the wild excitement of being alive. Secrets is an explosion of metaphor that reprograms our synapses, stretches our minds, and reminds us that we are all youthful poets.

All photographs by Harvey Lloyd, Copyright © 2016

 BACH’S MIND
A Walk To The Stars

1

A man does not have to be an angel in order to be a saint

—ALBERT SCHWEITZER

DEUX EX CATHEDRA

I have desired to go

Where springs not fail,

To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail,

And a few lilies blow.

And I have asked to be

Where no storms come,

Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,

And out of the swing of the sea.

–GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS, Heaven: Haven

2

Stand over Bach’s shoulder. It’s 1724 and Bach just finishes a bitter argument with the burgomeisters of Leipzig. He is composing the St. Matthew Passion which he is certain will not be performed, or if performed, grudgingly. It is too big, too powerful, to filled with emotion. What is wanted in cold hearts of the burgomeisters is an inexpensive celebration of God, a paean to the Holy Trinity, not a work for the ages. Later, Bach smiles to himself and writes music. He does not even think of his problems. “My paradise is in my music. I was put here to praise God, not to make idiots happy.”

3

4

Outside my studio the sky is clearest blue. I think of many years of pleasure listening to Bach’s last, unfinished work, the Art of the Fugue. After thirty-five years and more of listening (it took ten years for me to hear the work as melody and architectonic grandeur) it remains ever fresh. The work grows more beautiful, like the sounds of the sea, the patter of rain, the murmur of the wind, ranks of cloudscapes and rainbows, a snow capped mountain range soaring into the heavens. Bach is of nature as nature is of Bach. The artist and the web of nature are distinct antipodes of a universal sameness — evolutionary poles that stretch across a cosmos of thought and action — the world entire. The Art of the Fugue plays in my heaven. Eternally.

5

The Art of the Fugue’ s opening chords and melody whisper songs of the sea and the winds, the tinkle of raindrops.. Can the chaos of sea and wind and rain be compared to the profound order, the mathematical precision and musical discipline of Bach’s fugues? There lies an insight into creating, that from seemingly random disorder, thoughts that gleam like the flash of scimitars and abruptly vanish, feelings that lull us, awaken our ardor or infuriate us; from these we somehow compose the melodies of our art, our life and our destiny.

Is the universe a colossal fuge played by the prime mover or intelligent designer? We enter the great organum of life as billions of random notes, genes tethered to a vast musical composition, the unplayed score of DNA, the spiral helix of neucleotides that play the music of life itself, life in its becoming, life that unfolds as themes with countless variations.

6

Life and art are music in waiting, music that like light, simultaneously exists as waves and discrete quantums or packets of energy, or like electrons, waves of probability waiting to be composed and played. Life waits to gain form from chaos, urged on by elan vital, the vital or creative force in all organisms that is responsible for growth and evolution. Is elan vital God? That is a tautology, a needless repitition of sacred mystery. Bach’s life sounds a river of music that runs downhill gathering momentum, gathering the tributaries of our growth and knowledge until it bursts out in crescendos, waterfalls, a sparkling glissando of burbling notes, music to all ears.

7

Silberman Organ in Dresden which Bach performed on

Let’s demolish the silly folklore image of Bach the struggling cantor of St. Thomas Church happily creating his twenty children and spilling out music like a fountain of colored lights. A clever artist manages to conceal most of his or her resentment and arrogance. The rich and powerful and the pop culture crazed public prefer a performing monkey, like “Mozart” in Amadeus, O’Keefe at Ghost Ranch, Warhol in wig or drag, or the photographer Edward Weston dressed in women’s clothes for a party in Carmel.

8

Bach was imprisoned for a month in Weimar by Duke Wilhelm Ernst because he wished to leave the Duke’s service. That probably convinced Bach that he should attempt to play the contented servant and fool most of the time and avoid worse trouble. To create music as Bach created music is to become drunk on the wine of the Gods. Bach’s musical heaven is no Elysian field of dreams with angels and cherubim floating around God. Bach stands apart, a snow capped peak, K-2 or Everest soaring into the heavens. To climb it takes time and great passion, like a mountain climber ready to risk dying of cold or asphyxiation near the summit of Everest. To decline Bach is to wander in the desert sipping brackish water. Creation and enjoyment of art are work enough for this world. Bach will not age. The music is a miraculous pitcher that never empties.

9

A joy of listening to Bach’s music lies in its inexhaustible capacity to evoke wonder, as God or evolution creating, never finished, never entirely understood, quantum physics, probabilities in perpetual motion, poetry of the spheres, the profound hidden beauty of the eternal, inexorable laws of nature. But what of the man who made this music. Bach describes peace of the soul, not with sermons or platitudes, but with music that flows like the blood of poets.

Who was this man who fathered twenty children and wrote music all of his life until he died, literally on his death bed? Who or what is God? Only in his manifestations may the Lord of Hosts be seen or heard. Not by the church, “…the cross upon which Jesus was crucified.” We explore the mind of Bach as we would explore an unknown continent or an unknown planet. Somehow, in the icy realm of a star studded billion or ten billion years of space-time, a singularity evolved, a mind capable of encompassing the cosmos; not a scientist, but a musician. Bach in music, Einstein in science, singularities in space-time, eternal co-workers on a cosmic map, a glittering tapestry of understanding.

10

Dr. Albert Schweitzer, healer and musician had his own view of Bach. He wrote in his two volume life of Bach titled J. S. Bach: “The unique thing about him (Bach) is precisely the fact that he made no effort to win recognition for his greatest works, and did not summon the world to make acquaintance with them. Hence the kind of consecration that rests upon his works. We feel an unaffected charm in his cantatas such as we do not meet with in other art-works. The grey volumes of the old Bachgesellschaft speak a moving language. They discourse to us of something that will be imperishable simply because it is big and true, something that was written not in the hope of recognition but because it had to come out of him. Bach’s cantatas and Passions are not only children of the muse, but also children of leisure, in the honourable and profound sense that this word had in the old days, when it signified the hours of a man’s life that he employed for himself and himself alone.”

The greatest and most profound musician of all time wrote for himself and for his love of God or Gaea, the Earth. Bach is the earth; he is the sun and the moon and the stars, and the storms that sweep the planet. Listen to his music. It never loses its innocence. Continue Schweitzer: “…If it is one of the signs of the great creative artist, born before his time, that he waits for “his day”, and wears himself out in the waiting, then was Bach neither great nor born before his time. No one was less conscious than he that his work was ahead of his epoch. In this respect he stands, perhaps, highest among all creative artists; his immense strength functioned without self-consciousness, like the forces of nature; and for this reason it is as cosmic and copious as these.”

11

Bach’s intuitive entry in his own no-mind or unconscious attuned him to nature, to evolution, to five billion years of the earth aborning, to the greening of the simian ape with the huge cerebral cortex, to the monstrous wiring and constant tuning of the galaxy of neurons inside, to the creation of music that presents the human mind as an expression of the heart of nature, of Gaea’s deepest thoughts, of the planet in rhythm with itself.

Again, Schweitzer: “…Music is an act of worship with Bach. His artistic activity and his personality are both based on his piety. If he is to be understood from any standpoint at all, it is from this. For him, art was religion, and so had no concern with the world or with worldly success. It was an end in itself. Bach includes religion in the definition of art in general. All great art, even secular, is in itself religious in his eyes; for him the tones do not perish, but ascend to God like praise too deep for utterance.”

12

Follow Bach’s prescient intuitive genius into the eternal workings of spacetime, the moment of insight when the clockwork of the universe stands still and the artist, now God’s instrument, plays on his great organ. We hear the undecipherable mysteries inscribed on mountains and rivers, tossed high into the heavens, transmuted into chords, tones, ground bass, the underpinnings of the earth, the passion and elemental counterpoint of nature’s music finally realized, Gaia, evolution’s tone poem.

13

Return to Schweitzer: “…In the last resort, however, Bach’s real religion was not orthodox Lutheranism, but mysticism. In his innermost essence, he belongs to the history of German mysticism. This robust man, who seem to be in the thick of life with his family and his work, and whose mouth seems to express something like comfortable joy in life, was inwardly dead to the world. His whole thought was transfigured by a wonderful, serene longing for death…and nowhere is his speech so moving as in the cantatas in which he discourses on the release from the body of this death. The Epiphany and certain bass cantatas are the revelation of his most intimate religious feelings. Sometimes it is a sorrowful and weary longing that the music expresses; at others, a glad, serene desire, finding voice in one of those lulling cradle-songs that only he could write; then again a passionate, ecstatic longing, that calls death to it jubilantly, and goes forth in rapture to meet it….This is Bach’s religion as it appears in the cantatas. It transfigured his life. The existence that, considered from the outside, seems all conflict and struggle and bitterness, was in truth tranquil and serene.”

Dr. Schweitzer reveals a deep of the unconscious, an order and a structure that rises above life and death, praise or petty criticism (might as well criticize a tsunami tidal wave, an earthquake or a cataclysmic eruption). The creative human mind at its finest reflects the strange bedfellows of order and chaos in the universe. That which appears the music of the spheres shining in the heavens turns out to be chaotic random fluctuations in the wave lengths of ephemeral particles in the foam of the quantum universe. All is holy.

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