BACH’S MIND: Part 2

Text and Photography by Harvey Lloyd

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

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

 

PART II: THE CATHEDRAL

Bach’s music transcends an illusion of reality created from five billion years of evolution from a whirling burning ball born from vast clouds of dust to a green planet, humans, and the beauty of Gaia, the earth mother. Music takes us into the cathedrals of Bach’s mind where great chords and eloquent chorales create paradise. What is holy is the art surpasses imagination and creates a holy cosmic stage for the great orchestra of the universe to perform music that surpasseth understanding.

1

Milan Cathedral where sometimes Bach played

We embark on a miraculous voyage through Bach’s mind. Dead ahead looms a cathedral, a veritable Everest of a cathedral that soars up until it vanishes above the clouds. Flying buttresses sweep up like great desert monoliths. They crash against huge piers joined to stone arches cloaked and shrouded in mists and clouds. Fly on wings of your imagination to fifteen or twenty thousand feet. You see the cathedral’s pink granite spires flayed by brilliant sunshine. The spires poke steeples and belfries high above boiling lightning struck layers of dark cumulus clouds to project through wispy layers of pale alto-stratus clouds. They appear granite towers topped with eternal snow, decorated with down spouts carved into gargoyles.
You view this colossal edifice, vast, baroque, monumental like Gaudi’s magnificent cathedral in Barcelona, like Chartres outside of Paris, like the Duomo in Florence or St. Peter’s in Rome, erected on a scale and of proportions unimagined of by mortal architects, inconceivable; the sheer flamboyant size and presence of this fantastic cathedral stuns your eyes. You blink.

2

Back down to earth, you decide to walk through gates burnished gold by the setting sun, a titans’s portals. You meander into the edifice to emerge under colossal arches, beneath a god or a titan’s wheel, a stained glass rose window that coruscates and fires a thousand scintillating lights. Softly, somewhere in the distance you hear a rustle of wings, a sound of distant thunder, a peal of bells or is it organ music? You feel like Gulliver, dwarfed in the land of the giant Brobdingnagians. You look up. Fog or mist half hides the upper portions of the pillars whose circumference seems ten times that of the gigantic sequoias. You can’t see the dome of the cathedral at all. Blinding shafts of light stream in through clerestory windows hundreds or thousands of feet above you. Light blares through stained glass illuminating the stonework with rainbows. A wind blows, a wind from the sea or the plains or is it the jet stream? A few drops of rain fall. You become aware that this church creates its own climate.

3

The opening bars of Bach’s last great and unfinished work, the Art of the Fugue, play softly on an organ. Is someone practicing? Who? Where? You look up. Sunlight glistens from a veritable vertical railroad yard or oil refinery like collection of parallel polished gold pipes that vanish into swirling mists. Beneath your feet lot sized granite flag stones show indentations of countless feet. They are polished as though by centuries of tread. Thunder, or is it chords, rumble through the cathedral. The volume of sound increase, like the sudden rise of heavy seas before an oncoming hurricane. You lurch, totter, fight to stay erect. Waves of sound and turbulence buffet you the way a jumbo jet’s wake batters a small propeller plane.

4

You regain your balance. You walk on towards the choir and look up again. You abruptly think that you must be dreaming. Angels, angels or deities with translucent wings, visions that appear as willowy, white butterflies, pale and yet radiant, gleaming as though phosphorescent, fly slowly around a singularity, a region of infinite density, a brilliant nebulae of stars surrounding a black hole, or are the pinpoints of light mathematical dewdrops? The immense halo, or such it seems, coruscates with the brilliance of a thousand suns. It flares and shimmers like a mirage, flaring and winking in and out of clouds and mists, eternal yet ephemeral. You turn away, blinded, puzzled, frightened. Is this the source of energy that powers this place? Is this the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end?

5

You hear a rustling sound as of a wind storm in a lonely forest or is it surf breaking on some distant shore. The sound rises. You hear (is it a miracle) the overwhelming choral block of “Et incarnatus,” “Crucifixus,” and “Et resurrexit,” written late in Bach’s life followed by the mighty credo, all from his B-Minor Mass. Do you hear music? Or do you seem to hear music? Winds roar, whine and scuffle intermittently. Lightning, bolts flicker then crescendo into a fire storm, a crystalline network of livid, green and blue veins of light that suddenly illuminate the lower part of the dome that soars so high above you that it appears black with the blackness of outer space. Perplexed, you walk on through the nave of the cathedral towards the chancel. The altar, as far up as you can see, is empty. Ah, could you but rise into the thin air to confront the organist. Who or what is He who must be hidden in tumbling mountains of clouds shot through, with fresh lightning bolts that coil and crackle high around the dripping pipes. A great roar, a rush of air, gigantic wings? It is air pumped into the immense pipes which shudder in the storm.

6

Suddenly, quietly, you hear the opening theme of the Goldberg Variations played in a transcription from harpsichord to organ. You wonder. Did Bach silently hear his works played on different instruments when he composed them? You think of many transcriptions of the Art of the Fugue, quartets, chamber orchestras and of the quartet version of the Goldberg Variations. The music, incorruptible, pure, triumphant, peace that subsumes knowledge, music of the earth, of Gaea and of the spheres, the very music of heaven bides no medium; verily it transcends the instrument. You stare around you. Where is the organist? Bemused, you walk on although these flagstones extend to the horizon or is it space?

7

You hear a chorus, muffled at first, then louder. The opening lament of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion — ‘Come ye daughters, help me mourn’ — reverberates around you. The voices, anguished, unearthly, rise over a throbbing pedalpoint. You, yourself, from head to toe, vibrate like a reed in a thunderstorm… “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.” Jesus’s last words whisper through the air as a breeze bows down a field of wheat. Silence.
You realize that you are approaching the transept, the section that crosses the nave of the cathedral, separating it from the choir. The fog and mists clear briefly. You stare about suddenly aware that the carved stonework seems organic, cave like, natural in appearance as though you had clambered into a vast subterranean vault carved and fissured by aeons of erosion. You wander aimlessly to the right. You pause. Sharp, melodious tinkling chords emanate from jagged icicles or stalactites hanging from the cave. You recognize the preludes and fugues from the Well Tempered Klavier. Are you in a cave or is this part of an Arctic landscape? The music penetrates, clear, brittle. It crackles. You shiver.

8

Alert now and trembling, you walk under an ice rimmed arch into a cloister, whose entrance is half hidden by a curtain of warm, moist air. A formal garden with sculpted bushes and trees in long rows and bright with flowers stretches into the remote distance. Birds sing. You breath a delicate fragrance. Carved stone pots hold ethereal flowers, peonies, hollyhock, lilies and sunflowers. A flute trills a gay obligato from the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1. Completely at peace, you amble daydreaming around the cloister until you reach another arch curtained with a mist of moist air. Curious, you exit to find yourself back inside the transept.

A rainbow beam of light flashes on circular stone steps leading up into–? The rainbow radiates from the stained glass windows or are the windows frozen rainbows? You peer up, baffled by shifting, kaleidoscopic light patterns and the vertiginous thrust of these colossal windows that, mysteriously, curve up and up into a maelstrom of clouds. The gold streaked, pearl grey and silver clouds writhe and change colors like a fantastic visual calliope. You mount the circular stairs, slowly, step by step. The preludes and fugues of the Well Tempered Klavier echo faintly around you. You climb wearily, staring up into a light show. You climb, wondering, until you are exhausted.

9

You realize that soon you will be in the clouds. When you look down, you are seized with vertigo. There is no handrail, no support, only these giant steps. Suddenly, a booming chord played on the organ crashes around you. Rays of multi-colored sunlight stream through a hexagonal matrix of stained glass windows. Now you rise, suspended on the light, the pressure of the light, the solar wind itself. You penetrate through a glare, an oscillation of crystalline colors within turbulent roiling cloud layers. You reel, buffeted by winds. The organ music rises. Thunder rumbles. Strangely, inevitably, as though programmed, the thunder plays a rhythm, a ground bass continuo. You hear the melody and variations of the stupendous Passacaglia and Fugue in C-Minor soar over the rhythmic throbbing. Again you are buffeted by sound and shock waves. The huge vault shudders, creaks. You brace yourself. You feel at sea, tossed by a tempest that hurls wave mountains. The gale passes. You climb higher.

10

A heavy wooden framework surrounds you, a vast trestle or corral. What are those huge brass mortars aimed downward? They appear poised to fire or to drop bombs. The mortars ride on timbers attached to huge wheels such as you might find on a steam locomotive or in the belly of a gigantic ocean liner. You realize that they are bells! Who forged these cannons, these mortars of bells? Vulcan? You shudder and pass on, fearful that the bells may suddenly peal out your doom or your deafness.
You rise higher. At this altitude the air grows thinner. You gasp and breathe hard. Above your head, thin bands of alto-cumulus clouds streak the crown of the cathedral. You are now above the stained glass windows. Nearby, jagged metal peaks pierce the clouds. You fathom that these peaks are the tops of the organ pipes. The light softens and illuminates the keystone of the arch. You cannot accept that you are supported, held aloft, hoisted and carried by angels of light. Fluttery, feathery wings shroud and caress you in the dying light. Through a clerestory window you see the last rays of the sun. The boiling anvil like clouds outside redden and glow. You pass outside through the huge clerestory window, trembling at the height. The wind moans softly.

11

You hear the theme from the Art of the Fugue, a solemn yet elegaic melody, a moonscape, or the Sea of Fertility on the moon, without color–a fierce white light, without motion–the depths of the ocean. It neither gladdens you nor distracts you. It is immutable. Two sheer granite spires, cathedral towers constructed on a scale you cannot accept or comprehend, gleam softly. They flicker in the corona of the dying sun. Far, infinitely far below the steep spires of the cathedral, stupendous waves topped with white surf roar in from a distant storm. The careening breakers, their spray filigreed in the gold of sunset, batter the stone feet of flying buttresses. The buttresses soar into the heavens, carved like great red sandstone buttresses and arches in the desert canyon lands. Soon the stonework and spires are silhouetted against a melancholy red alpenglow.

You are flying. Below you immense waves blunder atop waves, heaving up grey-green, black and silver mountains capped with creamy froth. You hear staccato double stops, chords from the stupendous chaconne in the Partita for Unaccompanied Violin No. 2. The notes float over the grinding roar and thunder of the storm. The air grows cold. You are circling over the nether part of the earth, high over the restless seas that ring the world round Antarctica. A wandering albatross gambols and cavorts a delicate dance on spectral wings, silhouetted in the aways suffused sunlight of the polar regions. The bird appears to dance to the music. It arcs and lunges at black wave mountains, wheels back into the clearing sky, making a line of loops, spirals and curlicues that never repeat–a cosmic thought or design to chaperone the severe order and tranquil turbulence of the violin partita. You pass high over the grim ice plateaus of Antarctica, rising to clear the fifteen thousand foot ice peaks, dazzled by the glare, cold, but not uncomfortable. A flutter of gossamer wings, silver sheened and glistening with pale rainbows, warms the air around you.

12

A sudden hush; the opening notes of the Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello No.3 split the icy air like a crystal cleaver, dark, moody. The sonata rasps and grumbles a chilling threnody to the lonely spaces in your heart, ice castles, top heavy, menacing sapphire and green icebergs, ice mountains, missifs carved from the frozen waters round your heart, the manifest frigid omniscience of the Ancient of Days, death’s spectre, colder than a tomb, colder than malice, colder than self-love. The music rumbles on, grating on your suddenly tired nerves, scraping and tormenting your agitated brain, now soothing, now brutal, a paen to the River Lethe, forgetfulness and desire, frozen.

13

Why, if indeed, you are exploring Bach’s brain, have you come to this lonely, desolate realm of ice? Bach was a family man, a father of many children, a solid, hard working citizen. Or was he? Did he write his music for love of the church or to receive his stipend in order to compose? Did he write his music for the Protestant liturgy, or was he more interested in the universal praise of God, creation, Gaia, evolution, the miracle of the earth, the daily miracles of the Hand of the Great Spirit? He saw little of the planet, yet his music sounds universal, a paean of joy to the handiwork of God and nature, a celebration of the human spirit. Was there a part of Bach the artist that was disdainful of anything but the act of creation? Who is God and who is man? Schweitzer said that Bach was dead to our world, in a state of eternal peace. In this desert of ice, the netherworld, is there not also our salvation. Bach’s mind perceived the integrity of creation, of nature’s handiwork through prescient understanding of the very nature of existence–music.

14

The polar regions remain lost in time, preserving the innocence of evolution, the myriad pathways to life and death frozen in a landscape at once stark, cruel, pitiless and beautiful. It is the sea ice in our spirits, the old ice compressed and hard as steel, that sustains the masterwork of all creation, that stiffens our spines and rejects the warmth and abundance of temporal existence, family duty, the social contract, the need for affirmation, validation–anything that interposes mortality between creation and aspiration, between the dialogue and the credo.

There is a music that marks the aeons of eternity with a single grace note of understanding. This music is one with the stars and the planets, with the ice and the volcano. It is the expression of evolution’s architecture, the cycle and the songs of the spheres. There are no straight lines in nature. There are nearly perfect ellipses in the workings of the galaxy, the procession of planets around suns and suns around the center of the galaxy. Music may be the final order of an intelligent evolution, the sound of God creating, of Gaia breathing, of the earth slumbering away the aeons. Perfection in life is evanescent, if not unattainable. That music that hangs on the air, that sings us to sleep for a thousand thousand years may be the only way that we will ever know paradise.

Massed voices rise in the cool air. You watch the starry wheel of the galaxy revolve in the night sky. Softly at first, like the call of a wild duck, the plaintive wail of massed souls celebrating the universe that surpasses understanding, the sough of the wind, a chorus of voices peal out and hang in the icy air. You hear from the B-Minor Mass…”Kyrie elision, Lord have mercy on us…Gloria in excelsis Deo, Glory be to God on high…Credo in unum Deo, I believe in one God…Osanna in excelsis, Hosanna in the highest…Dona nobis pacem, Grant us peace.” A duet, a clear soprano voice shreds the fabric of the night like a loon’s cry falling to earth. You awaken.

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