Life, the Universe, and Everything

I just had a transcendent experience listening, to all things, Prof. Peter Schickele.

My iTunes had selected 1712 Overture and other musical assaults to amuse itself with, and I was only half listening to Bach Portrait, which Schickele wrote for the tricentennial of J. S. Bach’s birth in 1985. It is a hysterical (of course) parody of Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, with majestic music interspersed with quotations from writings from the great man, tagged with the phrase “And this is what he said.”

Only with Bach, it was from his letters to his employers, constantly carping about his pay in escalatingly specific terms. The portrait is overwhelmingly of an underpaid, embattled, and cantankerous artist. We surely know what he felt like and what that kind of situation can do to our creativity.

Finally, Schickele narrates, “Johann Sebastian Bach, umpteenth musician of the Bach family, is everlasting in the memory of music lovers. For, surrounded by adversaries, this is what he said. He said:” and then Schickele starts to sing the melody from “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” in its entirety.

And all you can do is weep in gratitude and awe, knowing that what any artist “says” is largely unrelated to the travails of his quotidian existence.

2 thoughts on “Life, the Universe, and Everything

  1. I should have said that Schickele’s voice, of course, is of a scratchy tone, and he sings it with a seemingly random, almost scat-like collection of dee’s and dah’s, so at first your impulse is to laugh. And then, of course, you realize that you’ve been sucked into that divine melody.

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