“Bach is the reason I became a musician” – Glenn Gould.
The importance of J.S. Bach in Glenn Gould’s personal life cannot be overstated. Gould’s meteoric rise to international prominence in 1955 with the release of his Goldberg Variations owed a tremendous debt to Bach. Glenn is universally recognized as being perhaps the finest Bach ‘specialist’. His understanding and interpretation of the composer resulted in his unrivaled recordings of Bach’s work. Many other pianists have also recorded Bach, but in my opinion, none have been as brilliant at communicating these compositions with clarity and emotional impact as Glenn Gould is able to convey to the listener.
J.S. Bach has been a source of inspiration to countless other artists in many different genres of the musical and artistic world. Artists ranging from classical to jazz to rock’n roll to hip hop have all been inspired by his genius.
In the case of the legendary jazz musician, Nina Simone, (1933-2003) Bach played an enormous role in her personal and professional life, just as in the case of Gould. As a child prodigy at the piano, with perfect pitch, she too was introduced to Bach by her piano teacher at a very young age. Once Nina began to appreciate him, she fell in love with the master and he remained the love of her life until her death. “The music always came first”, and that was due to Bach. Nina wrote in her autobiography, “I Put a Spell On You”, ‘He is technically perfect. When you play Bach’s music you have to understand that he’s a mathematician and all the notes you play add up to something- they make sense. They always add up to climaxes, like ocean waves getting bigger and bigger until after a while when so many waves have gathered you have a great storm. Each note you play is connected to the next note, and every note has to be executed perfectly or the whole effect is lost. Once I understood Bach’s music I never wanted to be anything other than a concert pianist. Bach made me dedicate my life to music.’
For those of you who do not know the history of Nina Simone, it is important to realize that she applied to attend the Curtis School of Music, but was rejected due to the fact that she was Black. This was a blow that altered the course of her life drastically and a blow that she never truly recovered from. Nina Simone became a legend in the world of jazz, both in her playing and her singing and also in her song-writing. It had always been her dream to be the first Black classical pianist to play Carnegie Hall. In 1957 she did appear in Carnegie Hall, as a jazz artist. At this time she wrote a letter to her parents in which she said, ‘I’m finally in Carnegie Hall, but I’m not playing Bach’.
Even though Nina Simone was a world renowned jazz performer, she was, throughout her career, constantly drawing on Bach in her improvisations. She also wrote the song, “Love Me Or Leave Me”, inspired by her love of Bach.
Some other notable musical artists who have been influenced by Bach include, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Paul Simon. It was surprising to me to discover that Paul McCartney heard the Brandenburg Concerto No.2 and was inspired to add a trumpet in the same styling in the song, “Penny Lane”.
Returning to Gould; he stated; “For Bach you see was music’s greatest non-conformist and one of the supreme examples of that independence of the artistic conscience that stands quite outside the collective historical process”. To me, this quote encapsulates how I feel about Bach and his two devout musical disciples, Glenn Gould and Nina Simone.
Take a few moments out of your day and find Nina Simone’s recording of her 1987 live performance at Montreaux of ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me” in the style of Bach, and check out Glenn Gould’s Art Of The Fugue, Contrapunctus XIV (Fuga a 3 Soggetti), -truly divine, and both pay a great tribute to the greatest musician that ever lived with love and brilliance.
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