NEW Pathway: “A Musical Offering: The J.S. Bach Unhurried Listening Lab”
The Founders’ Education Series: The Quadrivium
“What Newton was as a philosopher,
Sebastian Bach was as a musician.”
-C.F. Daniel Schubart, 1784-1785
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Those interested in joining our FREE seminar on Bach, please scroll down to the bottom of this page. There you will find a simple sign-up form.
The Pathway’s Plan
4th Quarter 2023 (Oct-Dec): Cello Suite No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012; and the great “Chaconne”, Violin Partita in d-minor BWV 1004.
1st Quarter 2024 (Jan-March): The Well-Tempered Clavier and Keyboard Works.
4th Quarter 2024 (October-December): Concerto and Ensemble Music
1st Quarter 2025 (Jan-March): St. Matthew’s Passion
Start date: Tuesday October 3rd, 2023
Day/Time: Tuesdays, 12 noon/11 AM Central/9 am Pacific.
Session length: 1.25 hours
Instructors: David Saussy
Pathway Duration: Open, Quarterly
Cost: Quarterly Slow Reading Subscription, $250. One subscription to our slow reading program gets you access to all slow reading pathways, discounts on special programs, and up to 3 liberal arts counseling sessions per quarter.
The Design of the Pathway, “Musical Offering: The J.S. Bach Listening Lab.”
Before the age of specialization, music was traditionally considered a liberal art, a member of the mathematical “quadrivium.” Western art music, arising out of sacred music and polyphony and developing far beyond it, presents complex ideas of great inventiveness and inspiration.
Music notation as the great composers used it, and as we still use it today, has its origins in Pope Gregory’s edict to standardize and make available hymns, as well as Guido d’Alezzi in the 11th century. Western art music – from Bach to the art of improvisation we call jazz – is anchored in the ability to notate and score compositions. Musicians are listeners and readers before they are performers. They must interpret the texts and to do this and they must become more sensitive listeners. As listeners in the J.S. Bach Listening Lab we will avail ourselves of the same body of textual matter, as we explore together the musical event that has been interpreted in various performances.
Great musical compositions, like any of the greatest works of human thought and imagination, are not only aesthetic experiences, but objects of wonder that awaken our minds and hearts and arouse our questioning intellect. They inspire us to listen more deeply, to find out as much as we can about them. Learning is an essential part of the musical event.
A contemporary critic of J.S. Bach’s time likened the Bach to Isaac Newton, whose name and work had been spreading quickly across Europe. Music after Bach would never be the same again. So says Christian Wolff, Bach’s latter-day biographer, “The sheer scope and breadth Newton’s intellectual endeavors…find their analogy in the enormous unparalleled range of interests and enterprises that characterizes Bach: the complete, the learned, the perfect musician.”
The J.S. Bach Listening Lab is an invitation to slow down and listen more deeply and appreciate the great gift of music written by “the complete, the learned, the perfect musician.” This learning pathway, modeled on our Slow Reading Pathways, involves careful listening and thoughtful conversation about what we are hearing in the music of J.S. Bach. This first instantiation of the Musical Offering: The J.S. Bach Listening Lab, will concentrate on select solo instrumental and keyboard music by our composer, the “learned musician,” J.S. Bach. Not only will we listen, but we will listen deeply, by learning to analyze and dig deeply into the music using the notation in a text in a high quality score.
There are many lectures and biographies written about music, but opportunities to converse and think together directly about what we are hearing in this complex art form are rare.
Our work is to learn how to talk and think about what we are hearing. Each week we will listen to several interpretations of select instrumental pieces, reading the manuscript notation as we go. No prior experience in musical notation is necessary: additional instruction and support will be given on reading notation. Our study will be supported on occasion by readings, to help us place the works we will be studying.
Who is it for?
- Those who wish to get acquainted with the tradition of western classical music, and Bach’s music in particular.
- Those without experience of written notation, who would like to learn how to read and appreciate music.
- Those with experience of written notation, and who would like the benefit of a conversational practice to help develop their reflections on music.
- Those who love music, and want a unique experience in conversation.
- Those who want to combine their love of learning with a love of music
What is the aim of a conversation (what learning experience should I expect)?
Our approach to the music will be conversational rather than lecture. Serious conversation allows discussants to meet the musical event and texts on the basis of discussants’ own questions – thus promoting a more active and intimate relationship to the material. Conversation aims for reflective understanding of music based upon a sustained work with the musical text and musical event, as well as dialogue with fellow collaborators. We will avail ourselves from time to time of scholarly matter to help fill out context, but the primary focus of this pathway is the building of reflective understanding about music event itself, rather than amassing facts and historical data outside our reflections. This information can be gained anywhere – but reflective understanding is rare.
Most musical learning opportunities are one of two sorts. One sort aims to serve needs of the instrumentalist or performer, and the other the listener. The needs of each group are related but distinct. Opportunities for the listener fall under what we call “music appreciation.” These courses, which typically take the form of lectures, usually treat of everything but the one thing that matters most to the listener as a listener, the musical event itself.
The aim of A Muscial Offering: The J.S. Bach Listening Lab is to serve the listener, by placing at the center of attention the one thing matters most the listener as listener, the musical event itself. We will approach the musical event by means of conversation, the purpose of which is to stir up and sustain an active and thoughtful experience of the musical events that form classical music, rather than passive mode of music listening.
Reading Musical Scores
It is not necessary to know how to read musical scores in order to build musical understanding. Learning to read scores, however, can help articulate what we are hearing, as well as launch and sustain pathways of questioning that otherwise would be too difficult to open. Our aim is a basic one: to know enough about the notation to be able to follow along with the music, and determine at any point where the music corresponds to the score. You can learn to read music by listening and attempting to follow along with the score.
Supplementary lessons could be given as needed to help introduce and familiarize individuals with musical notation.
Books and Resources
For music listening: It is recommended that you sign up for and even subscribe to a streaming service like Spotify or Apple Music. You will have access to thousands of recordings that will be useful for this course and for further musical explorations.
Digital Bach https://www.bach-digital.de/content/index.xed
Historical Musical Instruments http://www.orpheon.org
Renaissance and Baroque Composers Chronology https://web.archive.org/web/20070208215140/http://plato.acadiau.ca/
Johannn Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician by Christian Wolff
Bach’s Musical Universe: The Composer snd his Work, by Christian Wolff
Interested to see what a seminar on Bach is like? Sign up below, and join us for a FREE unhurried listening conversation on J.S. Bach’s music.
Discussion Focus: Cello Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007: Prelude. We will be listening to several interpretations:Pablo Casals, Rostropovich, Yo Yo Ma, Truls Mork. Free PDF of Score of Prelude for registrants.
When: Tuesday, September 12th, 11am Central
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