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Pauline Lerner

January 7, 2005 at 7:26 AM

I've had so much fun spending my Christmas gift money -- and then some -- on music, of course. One of my gifts was something that several people said, in a discussion on this site, that they'd like for a Christmas gift: a gift certificate at Barnes and Noble. I decided to buy something special, and that meant Bach. One can never have too much Bach. In fact, one can never have too many recordings of one's favorite Bach pieces played by different artists. I read recently that a newspaper reporter once asked Casals why he played so much Bach. Casals replied, "Because Bach is my best friend." Bach is just right for me no matter what mood or what stage of my life I'm in.

I bought two 2-CD sets. I know that I'll be able to listen to them for years without growing tired of them. The first set is the French Suites played by Keith Jarrett on harpsichord. Jarrett is probably best known as a jazz performer, but I love the way he plays Bach. He has an unerring ability to go to the very essence of the music. His playing is not minimalist or cold. It has real feeling. He finds the heart of the music and shows it to us, his listeners. I think that if Georgia O'Keefe had been a musician, she would have played Bach the way Keith Jarrett does. This aspect of Jarrett's style must be even more pronounced in recent years, since he's had chronic fatigue syndrome. He says that the name is not a good description of the illness, but he admits that fatigue is a big part of it. He has had to give up live jazz performances with improvisations since he can't keep up. He still records, and he also composes. I have a recording of one of his compositions, and it, too, has that quality of going to the very heart of the music.

For my second Bach 2-CD set, I bought The Art of Fugue played by the Juilliard String Quartet. I love this piece, and, for years, I have been listening to Neville Mariner's instrumental version. I know that I've been listening to it for years because I still have the vinyl recording. Bach wrote Art of Fugue for four voices, but he did not specify instruments. Many scholars and musicians believe that it is "made for" keyboards, but the Juilliard String Quartet feels differently. Of course, for us string musicians, a piece with four voices seems "made for" string quartet. I love the clarity of the sound with only four instruments. I'm more aware of the music as a conversation or interaction among four different voices. It is sublime.

I indulged myself in one more thing, a portable CD player. I considered this an indulgence because I didn't think I'd use it a lot. After all, I have a stereo, a boombox, and a computer which can play CDs. The I tried it. Wow! the quality of the sound is so much better than what I get with my boombox or computer, probably because there are no speakers to degrade the quality of the sound. I spend so much of my time at my computer. That's where I am now, listening to Art of Fugue with my portable CD player while I write. This is heavenly.

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