Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
10 - 16 August 2000
Issue No. 494
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

BOOKS: a monthly supplement of Al-Ahram Weekly

Music to mirror every age

Sir-A great European wit once said that the best Europe had offered the world was its music and the best the Arabs had offered was their architecture.

And speaking of music this year the world is commemorating the 250th anniversary of world's greatest composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).

How better to describe Bach's music than to quote the leading British musicologist who recently said: "Bach's music has acquired a sacred authority for each successive generation and seems to be immune to the ravages of time."

Bach started off as an organist in his native Germany and then went on to compose his own music -- a vast amount by any standard. To give an idea of just how much music he produced, one European CD manufacturer has just issued 170 CDs of Bach's music and even then it is thought not to have included everything!

Bach composed every genre of classical music conceivable except the opera and the oratorio (Beethoven composed only one opera called Fidelio). He composed concertos not symphonies.

Bach was influenced by two other contemporary composers, Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707), a Danish composer living in Germany most of whose music was for the organ, and Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), an Italian composer. It is said that he once walked 40 kilometres to hear Buxtehude play!

Bach's greatest works are the six Brandeuburg Concertos, The Well-Tempered Clavier (Books 102), the Goldberg Variations and many, many organ works which include Toccatas and Fugues. And there are of course his oboe, flute and harpsichord concertos.

Bach's family was also very talented in music. Perhaps the greatest of them was Carl Phillippe Bach (1714-1788) who also wrote treatise which summarised the musical philosophy and practices in north Germany at the middle of the 18th century.

I recall during my student days in England that Oxford undergraduates were in the habit of referring to Bach's music as "long-hair music" and quite a few of them wore their hair long!

It is indeed a shame, in my humble opinion, that in Egypt while most people when asked about classical music immediately refer to Beethoven and Mozart very few have heard of Bach or the hundreds of other first class composers Europe has given the world.

Mamdouh El-Dakhakhni
Alexandria

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