BACH’S MIND: Part 4

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

I return to Bach,  in a sometimes mad, often chaotic, and fortunately tuneful world. Who was this supposedly contented father with his family of musical children? What kind of children did he raise that left his widow, their mother Mary Magdelena to abject poverty after he died. Surely, he could not have been so selfless, loving and simple a person. Perhaps, genius that he was, totally absorbed in his music, he raised children who resented him, who secretly resented his genius even while the rich princes and patrons and the public applauded and enriched them.

Genius is one of th many faces of God. Some of His faces are too terrible to bear, to terrible to be near, to have to deal with every day, to acknowledge when you are uncertain of your own gifts. The face of genius can destroy those closest to the genius. The children of geniuses fail more than they succeed. Such a recognized genius as Einstein presented himself to the world as a jolly prankster with a mane of wild white hair, to disarm his foes, to insulate himself from envy, from the wrath of the gods or the powerful. It is not hubris or arrogance that genius possesses, it is certainty.

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Bach was known to have a terrible temper. He must certainly have writhed as Mozart, Beethoven and other musical geniuses writhed under the lash of princely systems that treated them as no more than gifted servants, indentured slaves, paid a meagre stipend to amuse their masters, and then, only if they were diplomats or subservient sycophants. Bach was a poor diplomat and a poor servant. He was in trouble most of the time and you may be sure that he knew it. He stopped short of destroying his livelihood, his opportunity to create music, as an artist must. No doubt he bit his lip when he could and concentrated on his own paradise–musical composition. I refer again to Albert Schweitzer’s text:

…They [Bach’s music] 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…

…The existence that, considered from the outside, seems all conflict and struggle and bitterness, was in truth tranquil and serene.

Perhaps. Let us give Bach his due and by doing so move ourselves closer to what we are and what he was, human beings caught in a world that willy-nilly cares not a farthing for our genius or our humility. That we arrive here by blind chance, that the world is not fair, that genius and good deeds may be punished, these solemn laws we already know. But do they really matter? Bach found paradise in his work, in his art, in his dedication to his god, not a god of wrath or a god of forgiveness, but a god that allowed him to create as no one had created before. And he knew it!

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        If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is

because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music

which he hears, however measured or far away.

–THOREAU, Walden

…Music is nearly unique among the arts in its capacity to inspire not just feelings but bodily movement: foot tapping, swaying, singing along. we dance and march to music, but not to short stories or architectural monuments or movies or light shows. We stumbgle to a five-four meter. When music swells or wilts, we do so also. We groove with a dance tune, or even a rollicking Bach fugue, in a way we do not with a painting by Wassily Kandinsky, for instance…

. . . music seems to work directly. It gets inside of us and controls us from within. In a passage quoted by Mr. Rothstein, [The Inner Life of Music and Mathematics, Time Books, Random House] Hegel describes music’s power “of penetrating with its motions directly into the inmost seat of all the motions of the soul…”

–KENDALL L. WALTON, The New York Times Book Review

 

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Music and photography are one, like two halves of a clam shell, mirror images, the one audible, the other visual, but no different. I listen to music. I make music with my camera because it is the only instrument I play. I peer into the visual noise of the world, for all the world like a composer, an arranger of light. Composition is the architecture of photography. A composer creates lovely patterns of notes, elegant calligraphy while writing out the score. I must find these musical patterns in the wild, seemingly random disorder of the world.

Is there a difference between music making and image making? I often must compose instantaneously, hanging from the open door of a helicopter or leaning out of a light plane window, seeking to capture the music of a sunset over Monument Valley or hovering in a helicopter close by the mosques of Istanbul in the dying light. Listen to this description of Bach’s musical notation for the Counterpoint XIII in The Art of the Fugue.

. . . Here we have two three-part fugues, each the exact and complete inversion of the other, their three parts being so contrived that the middle one of the upper becomes the treble of the lower, its treble becomes the bass and its bass the middle. For seventy-one bars Bach carries on this stupendous and orderly complication, each part in each bar being an exact inversion of the other, as though it were reflected in a mirror.

–CHARLES SANFORD TERRY,

The Music of Bach, An Introduction, Dover Publ. Inc., NY

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Terry writes that the motto-theme that begins the work “…in itself, is not interesting, though his treatment of it makes it so.” Here I disagree. I have listened to the Art of the Fugue a hundred or a thousand times. Over many years, the melody never ceases to sound a stately, fundamental melody of nature, robust and simple, like the wind in the trees, like surf on a distant shore, quiet, contemplative, serene. I could listen to it forever. Were this melody more striking, more elegaic or tuneful, I would have tired of it long ago. Bach mirrors nature in this theme, as in the entire work. His theme plays on my conscious and my unconscious. Nature, music, unity.

In my picture book, Sacred Lands of the Southwest, an image appears of Spearhead Lake in Monument Valley. It is just after dawn. There is no wind The waters are still, a mirror. Reflected in the limpid pool, one of the Mittens appears, an exact inversion. The entire pattern of the image is music. I make no comparison with Bach’s mirror fugues. There is similarity in discovery, in exposing nature’s subtle vision of herself, the ensembles that suddenly appear in the middle of random rock formations. A fractal encounter of music and order shimmers through the veil of chaos in nature.

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What is visual music? Is is patterns of symmetry, tonality, atonality, asymmetry, dissonance, rhythm, structure. Nature makes a staccato chiaroscuro, patterns of light and shade, flashes of light across a marbled landscape, cacophony of the quiet desert folded on its canyons and gorges, the hush before the thunderstorm that shatters dry washes. Flashes that illuminate the distant mountains beneath theirshrouds of black clouds with bursts of brilliance too short to capture on film except at night or dusk when you can leave the shutter open until a lightning bolt flashes. These are random patterns, signs of chaos, fractals made up of millions of volts that impress us with their sound and fury and their beauty, however disordered they appear.

Aloft, during my photo flights over the the continents of the earth, I often see patterns in a grand scale of tens of miles that echo patterns observed when I walk the calligraphic, abstract rock formations of Weston Cove at Point Lobos Reserve in California. Music in the soul reflects music in the outer world. The eye is attuned to music, but it must look hard and find the radiant elegance of nature’s inexhaustible forms, the treasures that make the heart pound and sanctify the inner being. We are madly in pursuit of beauty all of our lives. We willl hear. We see.

Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty–a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show.

–BERTRAND RUSSELL, The Study of Mathematics

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In the preface to ICELAND, a book of aerial photographs by Klaus D. Francke [Edition Stemmle, Zuriche] Thor Vilhjálmsson writes:

This land where we strive to don new masks to conceal our character, gouge from walls of stone or lie with our faces in the grass and hear the trickle of a rivulet. Pause awhile. For you must learn to listen. And the eye must adapt. Learn to read the signs of this overwhelming wasteland which is no wasteland, to listen to this silence which is no silence. To perceive the smallest thing in the world of power, delicacy in the vastness. Mild clear tones among these wonders.

Listen to the song of the silence which is never stilled; that resonant silence. Hear the brook, perhaps a mere rivulet, hear it sing, with strings of violin or harp, its arpeggio to the thundering orchestral accompaniment of the torrent flowing through its canyon, driving its way through the rock of the land, and never ceasing to carve new images in the stone, which awaken spirits, trolls and giants.

You are part of this nature, and it is part of you…Continue to compose in your way about this land. This land. Iceland.

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I do not know Iceland, though I would travel there. I know the coast of Chile in the south, the Darwin Mountains and the Beagle Channel, the icy melodies of glaciers and dark blue waters, the winding channels that play a hundred thousand melodies, and the wrecks of ships that sound a threnody to lost dreams. We flew among these pearly toothed glaciers, venpmous in their green and azure ice castles, crevassed and damned to us if we faltered in our whirling helicopter.

I know the music of the shallow turquoise and green waters that play tunefully among the Exuma Cays south of Nassau. From 1,000 or 1,500 feet, these arabesques and scimitars of unfolding loops and channels sound a high note above the raucous murmur of our engine. Flayed on Neptune’s bosom, the emerald tresses of the sea writhe, coil and wind a serpentine choral to hallucinate the mysteries of gargoyles and chimeras engraved like colossal masks on the shifting sand and stone plateaus that lie beneath the the cays.

I hear music that plays like a flute around the minarets of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosques bordering the Sea of Marmaris in Istanbul. I hear the tinkle of the waves scant feet beneath our hovering helicopter at dusk, while a mile away, the string lit minarets sparkle like stars against a ruddy sky.

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I listen enchanted, to the bass boom, the digiridoo moan and bluster of the winds round Ayer’s Rock at sunset as we flew our course. The rock resounded like a double bass note, rising red and gigantic from the desert flatlands of five hundred mile and more, the unforgiving Outback. We kept our distance out of respect for the sacred rock, the dreamtime monolith of the Aborigines, the native Australians.

I walk the steep stone terraces of the Great Wall, listen to my overtaxed heart thump a dissonant rhythm, up a hundred steep steps, down another hundred, up two hundred more, as far as the eye could see. Patterns, patterns now, the ancient stones that the emperor vainly built to hold back the wind, the Tartar hordes, they wind over the mountains, a veritable theme and variations,battlements and towers harsh notes against the sinuous crenelated walls.

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At eighteen thousand feet we gasp for breath with the window open in the twin-engine aircraft. I hear jagged music of Andean peaks that poke through clouds. Ten thousand feet below, Macchu Picchu lies hidden, her Inca music stilled from our view, the wind singing through our stretched wings. We circle slowly over Iguazu Fall’s crescendos, music of the father of waterfalls, a bass cascade of notes risen from a hundred streams that tune the maelstrom like a colossal piano, sing like the chorus of Armageddon and murmur loud,  roar of death and drowning,
–the pilot will not slow the helicopter.

We circle the baroque music of the the Doge’s palace, frozen music, the arches and pearl white streaked marble facade, the murky green waters of the Grand Canal, and the arpeggio of the basilica. The campanile thunders it solitary grand note in the square of pigeons. Flotillas of gondoliers play grace notes in the rare clear air. I can see the mountains in the distance.

Thor’s hammer strikes the great drum of the fjords in Norway. The sea roars its mellifluous way into the snow capped mountains; glaciers grind silent glissandos of frozen melody. The dark, waters murmur far below. Waterfalls cascade a gleeful tintinnabulation down the sheer walls to the green farms perched on the few nearly flat hillsides.

Just as my fingers on these keys

Make music, so the self-same sounds

On my spirit make a music, too.

WALLACE STEVENS, Peter Quince at the Clavier

 

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