Bach As You’ve Never Heard Him
Photo Hulton Archive/Getty Images Via Wikipedia Commons

Bach As You’ve Never Heard Him

While the casual classical music fan may easily list off “The Brandenburg Concertos” or “The Goldberg Variations,” the best of the Baroque era’s orchestral compositions, even the ardent will readily admit there is little we know about their author, the prolific and devout Johann Sebastian Bach. The man behind the music eludes us, especially compared to the well-chronicled lives of later Romantic period composers, like Frédéric Chopin. For author and playwright William Kinsolving, that enigma is the reason to put pen to paper.

“Bach has been a mystery, he’s been amorphous, he’s been put on a pedestal and worshiped,” he said over an interview at The White Hart Inn in Salisbury, Conn. Originally from New York City, he lives in Lakeville, Conn., with his wife Susan, poet-in-residence at The Hotchkiss School.

On May 17, Kinsolving will debut a filmed presentation of his new musical, “That Week With The Bachs,” at The Moviehouse in Millerton, N.Y. This staged reading was performed this past February at Grace Cathedral, an Episcopal church in San Francisco, Calif., which hosts an annual arts festival.

Inspired by the biography “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven" by British maestro John Eliot Gardiner, Kinsolving’s musical takes place across seven days in 1731, while Bach is employed as director of church music in Leipzig, Germany, working for the city council to provide music for the Saxony city’s multiple churches. Treated as more of a workhorse than the revered genius we think of him as today, Kingsolving described the Leipzig  period as “hell.”

“He was overlooked, he was taken for granted, and nobody paid attention to him — they just asked him to get the music done every week.”

The clock ticks, the stress builds… waiting in the wings are Bach’s second wife, the soprano Anna Magdalena, as well as his sons from his previous marriage — resentful of his young bride and fueled with ambitions to match their father’s talent.

Kinsolving’s approach is for the family to voice their fears and desires through song — that is, a marriage of music by Bach and lyrics by Kinsolving. Never mind that Baroque’s ornamental, layered melodies hardly exude the emotional cheese of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical theater ballad. Bach’s compositions don’t naturally call out for "Music of The Night" lyrics, nor do the works tell us much of his internal passions.

“Hearing that Baroque might seem distant, well, I accept that challenge,” Kinsolving said, undeterred. “The purists may have their way with me. But I haven’t run into anyone who said, ‘You shouldn’t have touched his music.’ It may happen, that’s fine. But this is a piece of entertainment as a musical comedy.”

Bringing Bach to life will be bass-baritone Phillip Skinner, whose career has included premiering the Philip Glass opera “Appomattox," and last year's honor of San Francisco Opera’s medal of recognition. Grammy-nominated mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, who has graced the stages of The Metropolitan Opera and The Paris Opera, acts as narrator to the Bach family affair in their creation of "Cantata 140."

Latest News

Quellas host Hotchkiss Library of Sharon gala
James and Linda Quella hosted the spring gala at their estate in Sharon.
Alexander Wilburn

The Hotchkiss Library of Sharon held its annual spring gala and auction on Saturday, May 18, at the Sharon home of James and Linda Quella, best known in the area for their family-run poultry farm, Q Farms, where they humanely raise chickens in their pastures.

The spring gala is a major event each year for the library to raise funds for its annual budgeting cost, explained Hotchkiss Library Director Gretchen Hachmeister. “We raise about 65% of our annual operating budget just through fundraising events. We get about 25% from the town and the rest, some grants, and then the rest is fundraising. The general budget supports just opening the doors and helping us do everything we do.”

Keep ReadingShow less
Trade Secrets still ‘a success’ in year 24

Bunny Williams opened her garden for Trade Secrets tour visitors.

Natalia Zukerman

Landscape enthusiasts traveled from far and wide for garden tours and rare finds at Project SAGE’s annual Trade Secrets event May 18 and 19.

The origin of the rare plant and antiques fundraiser traces back to a serendipitous moment in the winter of 2001, when interior designer and author Bunny Williams found her greenhouse overflowing with seedlings, thanks to her then-gardener Naomi Blumenthal’s successful propagation of rare primroses.

Keep ReadingShow less
North Canaan in bloom for Spring Fest

Products at Douglas Library's plant sale, part of North Canaan Spring Fest, were moving fast with about half the inventory gone by 10:20 a.m. Most of the plants were donated to the sale by Freund's Farm in East Canaan.

Riley Klein

The inaugural North Canaan Spring Fest filled the town center with festive fun Saturday, May 18.

Turning in any direction led to something worth discovering with local vendors and businesses going all out for the day. From Litchfield Art Festival at Lawrence Field to the craft market in the municipal parking lot and nearly all the shops in between, North Canaan was on full display.

Keep ReadingShow less