Saturday, March 1, 2014

Bach Bagatelles

March 1
          By Linda de Vries

On this date in 2013 John Eliot Gardiner was interviewed in the BBC Music Magazine. The dialogue focused on Gardiner’s new book, Music in the Castle of Heaven: A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Gardiner, who celebrated his 70th birthday in 2013, changed the way we listen to Baroque music through his use of period instruments in scholarly yet passionate performances of Bach’s cantatas, only one of his many accomplishments as a preeminent conductor in contemporary England.

It is Gardiner’s title, though, that provides our Bach Bagatelle for this date: Portraits of Bach.

Gardiner begins his book by recalling that on his way to bed he would glance up at a portrait of Bach that hung on the first floor landing of his family’s home in an old mill house in Dorset, England. The portrait, by Elias Gottlob Haussmann, had been delivered to the Gardiner home in a knapsack by a Silesian refugee who handed it over for safekeeping during World War II.

Although there are over 50 reputed portraits of Bach, the Gardiner’s picture is one of only two fully-authenticated portraits of Bach, one painted in 1746 and one in 1748. Here is that picture:

Johann Sebastian Bach

John Eliot Gardiner
Wait! There is yet another surprising connection to this date and this portrait. In October of 2012 a Bach portrait thought to be a Haussmann original or reproduction was sold at auction by Freeman’s of Philadelphia for $122,500. The painting had been discovered in a bank vault in Mountain Brook, Alabama!

John C. Jones, the art appraiser often seen on the PBS Antiques Roadshow and the History Channel’s American Pickers, wrote me today that on “March 1st of 2012 I was in the midst of deep contract negotiations, being the appointed broker, with the then owner of the Bach and the auction houses interested in wanting to represent the portrait.”

Wait again! As of March 1, 2014, the Voyager Spacecraft, launched in 1977, became the farthest human-made object from earth. The Golden Record with music from around the world launched with it included three pieces by J.S. Bach.

The eminent biologist Lewis Thomas, when asked what music he would want sent from Earth into outer space, answered, “I would send the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach.” After a pause, he added, “But that would be boasting.”

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