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A Bach A to Z

A to Z - E
E is for Emotion

Extracts from interviews with  Alan Rusbridger, Andrew Marr, Ian Bostridge and Simon Russell Beale, which will be broadcast on Radio 3 during 'A Bach Christmas'.

"The first time that Bach moved me to tears was after the birth of our first daughter. I went home from hospital and listened to the B minor mass, that exuberant, magnificent choral opening which is followed by a fugue with the orchestra and the choir - a five part fugue. I know a bit about fugues and maths because I did music O level which meant composing a lot of Bach fugues and learning all about the relationships between tonic and dominant and the separations and inversions. The Kyrie is an exercise in mathematics, that's what a fugue is but its so much more than that, it's fluid and fluent and entirely natural. "
Alan Rusbridger


" People always talk about Bach as being the ultimate intellectual and mathematical composer. I'm not musically trained but I find Bach mentally stimulating, he excites me. I can almost feel my brain getting hotter as I listen to Bach. Emotionally he means a lot to me too - I find Bach consoling, it's almost like meditation. I'll stop the car and listen to something out of the Goldberg Variations or the Well Tempered Clavier - he takes me to a different place. "
Andrew Marr


" I like to listen to Bach non-vocal music as a sort of grounding - maybe Martha Argerich playing a partita. It's got this incredible intellect and emotion. The way that something as intellectual as a fugue weaves together and plays itself out is one of the most extraordinary things in the music and moves me every time."
Ian Bostridge


"Everyone always goes on about Bach's mathematical genius and logic and if you listen to things like the Goldberg Variations or the Musical Offering that is perhaps principally what you are listening to, but I've always found him an intensely emotional composer. The story-telling of the human pain and story of Peter in the Passion has always moved me. 
I went through my life with those pieces close to me. Sitting in a room at university, a friend put on the famous recording of the St Matthew Passion with Peter Pears as the Evangelist. In the section where Peter denies Christ, the Evangelist goes right to the top of his range on the words 'he went out and wept' - that really hit home and I realised that this man was a highly emotional composer - I've always clung to that."
Simon Russell Beale

    Read what others have said..

    Keith Frazer, London
    For me Bach sums up what it is to be a feeling human being. No emotion is left untouched be it a despondent low or a magical high. Bach purges the soul. There is always the feeling that there is something higher and greater that enables me put things in their proper place. No other composer has done that for me. I remember hearing the Prelude from Lute Suite III and thinking: ' This is the only music I ever need to hear.' That feeling has never diminished.

    Jeremy Cheltenham
    For me JSB bypasses the analytical part of the brain and goes straight for the soul. I realised this when I stopped thinking about his music as being metronomic and formulaic. Maybe this bold excercise in broadcasting has made a good case for the bbc to make a new radio or even tv channel dedicated to the great man and his work

    Martin Oehme
    In Bach's works one can find the intire cosmos of human feelings. Because of his great mastership one feel those emotions quite deeply listening to Bach's music. For example every year the parts of the Christmas Oratorio scored with trumpets take me to a state of sheer enthusiasm. The arias make me rhapsodising.

    Lucy Grant
    I was introduced to the Christmas Oratorio in 1969, when expecting my first child. We lived in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, and had only just got a record player. I was lonely and in pain with severe backache. My husband, an absentee exploration geologist, bought it in Sydney, and brought it to me before disappearing into the bush for another 6 weeks. He said that Bach was the ultimate solace. I remember playing it, pacing up and down the room in tears. It was so beautiful I thought my heart would break, and it was indeed the ultimate solace for me at that time, and it is still. It was the Decca recording with Ameling, Watts, Kraus and Pears.

    Nigel, Manchester
    As a schoolboy in the 60s, the first classical LPs I ever bought where the Brandenburgs ("Ace of Clubs"), closely followed by the Oistrakhs playing the double violin concerto, and I couldn't get enough of them: they reached right inside me at once, seeming to access a powerful complex of emotions which no other music comes close to. I have been puzzling over this, and I think the reason Bach's music has this effect on us is precisely because it is so highly structured - the security and boundless confidence of the forms somehow allows all possible emotional states to be contained and expressed within them, often several emotions simultaneously. It is emphatically music of the heart. Driving back to Manchester from Liverpool last night, the minute the extracts from one of the cello suites began to play, I was in tears: and the same again this morning with one of the Brandenburgs. Bach says everything to me.

    John Brooke, Berkshire
    Let's make a tribute also to a great champion of Bach's music- Paul Tortelier. Tortelier declared the following about the Prelude to the Sixth 'Cello Suite: I have a vision before me. Bach has built a cathedral in the air. I see Chartres Cathedral as it appears from a distance in summertime, when the upper part can be seen rising above the wheatfields. It seems detached from the ground, floating over the golden wheat. The beginning of this monumental Prelude rings out like a carillion- forceful and joyous. How can I put it? Like a cathedral that flies in the sound of its own bells. He finishes-'heaven forbid any purists should come upon these comments'. From Paul Tortelier-A Self-Portrait, Blum, London,1984. 'First comes Bach- then all the others.' Casals.

    Tina, Cardigan
    Bach has always meant purity of tone to me, mainly because I played the preludes and fugues as a child. Now, with A Bach Christmas, I have experienced a whole range of emotion while listening that has taken me completely by surprise. When Wayne Marshall played the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, I found myself overwhelmed. As I was alone at home I could give myself wholly to that experience - I turned it right up, knelt between the speakers and sobbed my heart out! It was tremendously cathartic, but at the same time I was also appreciating the intricacy and power of the music, the amazing tone of the organ and the brilliance of the organist. It was an extraordinary moment.

    Polly London
    I feel Bach in every sinew. I was brought up with a pianoplaying and Bach adoring father, who would be speechless with emotion at the end of a live St MP (an annual event - the Steinitz one). Gradually his love of JSB has grown in his children. Bach for me is where I get feelings of spirituality, eternity and soul - as a non-believer. His music is my inspiration and , with nature, poetry and family and friends, complete enrichment.

    A Bach Blog

    Bach Blog


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