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How Bach turned frailty into musical genius


In his biography “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven,” English conductor John Eliot Gardiner portrays the German musician as a man all too human, with a weakness for women and beer and who was not alien to self-doubt, much unlike the one we revere in the bronze and marble of statues. This evokes a quote attributed to Bertrand Russell, according to which fools are always so certain of themselves while wise people are so full of doubts. These were the components that, by dint of work, made Bach a genius whose fame grows as it keeps passing the test of time, century after century. It runs on a different mechanic than the instant notoriety, or notoriousness, that social media can engender today, Andy Warhol’s prescient and proverbial “fifteen minutes of fame,” of a future that is already here, like these women who became overnight celebrities with a “selfie” photo because mother and daughter resemble so much in beauty and, a little eerily, age. In his own time, Bach was perhaps less famous than his prolific peer and friend, Georg Philipp Telemann. History has been passing on judgment since.


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