Bach To The Future

Pivoting off Paul Elie’s recent book, Reinventing Bach, Stefan Kanfer critiques the notion that new ways of listening to music have made the concert hall obsolete:

Within a few decades, recordings have gone from a metal needle in a plastic groove to a laser reading data from a polycarbonate disk to microchips stored in devices like the space-saving iPod and MP3 formats. Each invention made the listener’s life a little easier. Out went the bulky tweeters and woofers, the amplifiers and pre-amps. In their place came noise-canceling headphones. The trouble is, each invention brought with it a lower sound quality. Elie considers this is a small price to pay for progress. Live music, in his view, now “seems insubstantial and elusive, made somewhere once for a little while and then allowed to go away.” Committed concertgoers know that’s not the case. There’s no substitute for authentic in-person performances, whether the music is generated by a rock group on amplified guitars or a classical soloist on a harpsichord.

Elie scores one valid point: technology deserves a standing ovation for making Bach accessible to millions. But a listener content with sonic reductions is like a Rembrandt admirer satisfied with mass-produced miniatures.