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Criticism of J.S. Bach By a Contemporary


“HE is really the most distinguished among the musicians. He is an extraordinary performer, both on the clavier and on the organ; and at the present time he has only met with one [Handel] worthy of being named as a rival. Several times have I heard this great man play. His dexterity is astonishing, and one can hardly conceive how it is possible for him to draw in and stretch out his hands and feet in so exceptional and nimble a manner, and also to make the widest leaps without striking a single wrong note, and, further, without, by such violent movement, disfiguring the body. This great man would be the wonder of all nations if he had a more pleasing style, and if he did not spoil his compositions by bombast and intricacies, and by excess of art hide their beauty. As he measures by his own fingers, his pieces are fearfully difficult to play, for he expects vocalists and instrumentalists to accomplish with their throats and instruments what he can do on the clavier. This, however, is impossible. All ornaments, all small grace-notes, and everything which, by rule, musicians understand how to play, he writes out in full, and thus not only are his pieces deprived of the beauty of harmony, but it is totally impossible to distinguish the melody. All the parts are alike as regards difficulty, and no single one stands out as principal part. In short, he is in music what formerly Herr von L— was in poetry. Bombast has drawn both away from the natural in art, from the sublime to the obscure. The heavy labor is admired, yet the exceptional trouble taken, being contrary to reason, profits nothing.”

Editors at THE ETUDE took the "he-who-shall-remain-nameless" approach with this excerpt and chose not to identify its author, a scornful gesture perhaps intended to wield editorial power over the posterity of the individual who wrote these words. This attack on J.S. Bach came from the pen of Johann Adolphe Scheibe, an otherwise respected critic whose reputation was diminished by his repeated trash-talking of J.S. Bach, a composer almost universally regarded as among the greatest in Western music. Editors at THE ETUDE also for some reason chose to blank out the name of Herr von Lohenstein, drawing a long emdash through what would have been his last name.

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