C is for Cantatas
This is an extract from an interview with Alan de Botton, which will be broadcast on Radio 3 during 'A Bach Christmas'.
"One almost can't believe that so many of the cantatas are so great. With most composers one is lucky to get a few pieces of music that one really loves, with Bach there's just so much.
Of all Bach's music, the cantatas are particularly rich in tunes and repeated motifs. When I was growing up, I associated religious music with school hymns, the most untuneful, dreary things, but many Bach cantatas are incredibly jolly and full of playful flourishes. They can be Vivaldi-esque in their lightness, but also incredibly sad. If you're feeling sad there's nothing better than listening to some sad music and Bach's music is about the most touching, melancholic and poignant that I've ever heard - he's absolutely perfect. It's through Bach's cantatas that, even though I don't believe in Christianity, Christian ideas come to seem most plausible. It's always striking to realise that there was a deeply religious message to them and that one is supposed to listen to a piece of music and feel closer to God. When I listen, I feel closer to the emotional range which God inhabits even for secular people - feelings of wonderment, feelings of humility, feelings of one's own fragility, death - all of these things come to mind.
Bach is often described as mathematical and people feel the rigour of the construction of the piece of music but there's also always a lot of emotion in it. I love that combination of having something that's cerebral and rational and at the same time very emotional, not just in music but in life in general. I would like to be a person that's a bit like a Bach cantata."
Alan de Botton