Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bach's Walks

Written by: Andy Fein,  luthier at Fein Violins
Amy Tobin, and Angela Newgren

What is the craziest thing you have done to hear a concert? Perhaps you have hopped in your car and driven hours just to get to the venue.  Maybe you camped out in front of the ticket booth the night before the tickets went on sale. Or, for those raised on a strict diet of internet access, you might have been at the website, all info filled in, ready to hit the 'order now' button at precisely the moment the clock changes.

No matter what extremes you have gone to, I'm willing to bet that Bach has you beat. The famous composer, organist and music legend once walked 300 miles (!) all in the name of music.

Along with music, walking was one of Bach's hobbies. From the time he was young,
through his adulthood, he often traveled on foot. When Bach was 14 years old he received a scholarship to Saint Michael's school in L√ľneburg, Germany. Bach walked 480 kilometres (300 miles) in order to attend his new school.

While studying music in school, Bach followed the comings and goings of popular musicians in order to attend concerts. 45 kilometres (30 miles) Northwest of L√ľneburg is the city of Hamburg, which today is still one of the largest cities in Europe. The teenage Bach walked all 45 kilometres to go see organist J. A. Reincken perform there.

After completing school, Bach found a job at a small church as an organist, where he stayed for many years. In October of 1705, five years after he started, Bach requested a month's leave in order to see organist Dietrich Buxtehude perform- an organist well known by musicians but not the public. Bach walked an outstanding 400 kilometres (250 miles) to see Buxtehude. When he arrived, he soon found out that Buxtehude was performing a series of pieces for Advent (the month of December leading up to Christmas). Realizing he did not have enough time to walk back and request more time off, Bach made the decision to stay.

Not only did Bach stay through the Advent season, he stayed an extra few months after that, returning home in late February. Shortly after his arrival, he was greeted by the church authorities where he worked. A document still exists detailing all the rules Bach broke and the scolding he received.

Bach was allowed to stay with the church but soon started missing practices, claiming he had better things to do. When questioned by church authorities, Bach said he would start showing up to practices if the choir was given a proper director. The council gave Bach a week to decide whether or not he would remain committed to his job. He ended up staying, and the church fired  the choir director. Perhaps all that time spent walking gave Bach the confidence to be bold.

Another time, Bach walked 25 miles to Halle, Germany. He hoped to meet the famous composer G. F. Handel. Bach arrived just shortly after Handel had left.

Bach had not given up on meeting Handel, who he thought was the greatest composer of his time. He again walked the 25 miles to hear Handel's Trumpet Concerto. Although he did make it on time to that concert, he never met Handel.

Given that Bach had a heavy demand on his schedule and compositional talents in addition to his 20 children, perhaps the long walks gave Bach a chance to recharge his creativity, daydream, and compose in his head. 

How far would you walk to hear your favorite musician?

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