The Beauty Of Bach

Kaya Oakes describes Bach’s last major work:

[N]ever performed in his lifetime, [it] was a full setting of the Latin Mass, the Missa tota. Lutherans had thrown out the Latin Mass; only Catholics practiced the long, elaborate ceremony. Bach presented a couple of chunks of the Mass to the Catholic King of Poland in an attempt to land a gig as the Polish court composer. King Augustus didn’t bite, but Bach later raided his own cantatas to finish the Mass. The shiver-inducing melody of the Agnus Dei is an exact replica of the melody of one of Bach’s earlier church cantatas from the Ascension Oratorio, and snatches of others can be heard throughout the Mass. The Mass in B Minor, like the Saint Matthew Passion, was mostly forgotten until the 18th century. Rediscovered, it became known as one of the towering works of classical music.

Oakes reflects on the distinction between Bach and rock:

The thing about rock music, in all of the forms that I’ve worshipped, is that it’s not about thinking. You have your cerebral performers, but rock music is about the body: the corporeal sensations of fucking, moving, imbibing, ejecting. It is not about the caverns of the mind. And those caverns are where Bach spent his lifetime chasing the intricacies of forms, twisting the ideas of what music can do, wedding it to mathematical possibilities, but never forgetting that, as Keats wheezed, Beauty is Truth. Beauty is the best thing we can point at in order to say “God.”