Bach’s spotless image

I just finished a big fat biography on J.S. Bach. I like his music, but one of my primary reasons for reading it was to gain an understanding of why he’s so sanctified as far as how he’s perceived and recalled in the cultural consciousness. He earned his money primarily from composing music for Christian religious services, so there’s that, resulting in a good chunk of his compositional cache sounding liturgical.

Still, as I made my way through the 600 pages, I had hoped to come across some mention of incidents depicting him as fallible or human rather than untarnished/invincible deity. He did land himself in jail once for insubordination against his employer, but it was a minor incident blown way out of proportion by his superiors. Anyway, it’s interesting how his pristine public persona runs parallel with the saintliness valued in Christianity, especially back in Bach’s day.

But then again, Christianity has been largely misappropriated, exploited and misunderstood by governments and religious institutions throughout the ages. I mean, part of the point of Christ was to put a human face on the practice he preached about, no?

Sometimes I muse over how Bach’s reputation and music would have differed had he and his ancestors lived in Buddhist communities and been employed by Buddhist institutions. The fat Buddha that we all know, after all, is depicted as very human. Laughing at nothing in particular, shirtless, lazy under a tree, a big belly from perhaps overeating.

Interestingly, the book (Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician) mentions that Bach was a pretty gregarious guy. But there are no examples illustrating this.

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