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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Back to the Future with Bach

He's alive and well - in Hollywood

From time to time I pick up a book about science and scientific discoveries in my so far fruitless attempts to better grasp how the modern world around us works. I still can't explain radio telescopes or jet engines or nuclear fission or micro-waves, to name but four.

If I could creep under the skin of the great scientists I might get to think and feel like them and see what they are on about. That is why I like to read anything and everything they have written ranging from Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time to non-scientist Bill Bryson's science-guide-for-laymen A Short History of Nearly Everything. Of the great scientist-writers one stands out for me, and he is Albert Einstein.

Everything Einstein wrote is stunningly thought-provoking. Some of it is on the edge. Here is one quote I don't understand but which I feel is profoundly exciting :

“The distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion, however persistent”.

Now, I don't know whether we will ever be able to travel through time but if Einstein has anything to do with it, and it may be a lot, the answer is yes. So, acutely conscious of my lamentable lack of knowledge and leaning heavily on Einstein's quote, allow me to imagine that at some point in the future, hopefully in our own life-time, we can go backwards and forwards in time.

Let me take it a stage further: if we can go back and forth, then we could invite people of the past to return with us to the present. Calling all past people: watch out for time-travel entrepreneurs for soon they shall be on their way, hurtling through time, contracts in hand.
Here is my not-so-fanciful story of a possible encounter. Imagine our intrepid entrepreneural time-traveller aiming for Köthen, Germany, the capsule dial set for 1720.

"Oh hi, JS, great to meet you" says the prospective manager, stepping out in Baroque disguise.

JS (Mr. Bach to you and me) is persuaded to step into the time machine and back to the future. He has signed a contract which guarantees him not only a return to the past at any time of his choosing but also board and lodging in any city of the present. Being a sly entrepreneur there is one clause in small print: Bach can reveal his true identity only with his permission.

Where does Bach in his new life regard his musical future as most interesting, secure and renumerative as he surveys the modern world and its' opportunities? Remember he can choose where to make his name but not actually reveal it. He is not an avant-garde artist and loves the music of the past. He is a fine player, arranger and musical director. He also has a family to support.

Casting his eye around he plumps for Hollywood. It fits all the familiar requirements. In his previous life he had a cantata deadline, a new one every Sunday. In his new life he has a film-score deadline, a new one every 2 months. He is asked by the movie mogul music-hirer:
"Do you mind rearranging music by other composers?" No, he is used to that. He is asked:
"Can you conduct the orchestra?" That's OK by Mr Bach too, for in his previous time he chose the players, trained them and directed them in performance.

Hollywood is fine, for between films he can pick up commissions and look for other opportunities, hopefully with a happier outcome than long ago when in an unsuccessful endeavour to gain new employment he composed the Brandenburg Concertos, thereby creating the greatest failed job application of all time. Just to think of the effort he put into that sends a shiver through Bach's body. No, he thinks, I am not going back to that.

So our friend the entrepreneur bides his time and when he judges it right makes his announcement as to the identity of the composer rapidly making a name for himself. Bearing in mind that at this point in the future people are just getting used to time travel, this is a major news story. "Rising Hollywood composer claims to be Bach back from the Baroque!" scream the headlines, this time more than just a play on words. You would think from our present perspective this would be an amazing, wonderful, brilliant event. Everyone in Hollywood would invite him to their garden parties and arts' organisations the world over would compete for his services. But, sadly no.

Questions are asked. Doubts are raised. Surely the real Bach can't be that guy driving around Hollywood in a station wagon with a brood of children and a young wife filing her nails learning to play the piano? That man who claims to be Bach can't be the one who writes music that sounds like Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, Gershwin, Ennio Morricone, John Williams and Michael Nyman all served with lashings of his own admittedly distinctive personality? Good he is, but his music has nothing to do with the Bach we all love and admire. No, this Bach can't be the same Bach who wrote all that Bach stuff. And if he is Bach why didn't he say so before? Let's have a DNA test to prove it... And so the controversy rolls on much to the delight of our time-travelling entrepreneur - the more publicity the better.

Artist's impression of Mr Hollywood Bach's DNA

He has also signed up Vivaldi and Beethoven whose true selves are still disguised. Vivaldi can't believe his luck and lives on the other side of the Hollywood hills from Bach (just as Stravinsky and Schönberg did in the mid 20th century). He has taken to film music and studio production like a duck to water. But Beethoven, well he is different. He hates the world around him, especially Hollywood, and leads a reclusive life in a New York basement apartment writing incomprehensible modern music.

Let's get back to Bach who can't believe he is now the centre of a media circus. Everywhere he goes come the photographers. He is accused of being a fraud, and his manager of being a conman. A DNA test is useless since there is none left over to compare to. He offers to compose a piece in the style of the old Bach to prove both Bachs are one and the same. But academics and respected critics dismiss this as a gimmick on the grounds that you don´t have to be Bach to compose like him.

And so into the fray steps Einstein who by this time is a past master of time travel. With amusement he witnesses the furious controversy about the true identity of the time traveller. With alarm he listens to calls for the arrest of the entrepreneur.

He phones Bach and says:
"Why don't you come over some time so we can chill out and play music together, just like I did in the old days with Heifitz?"
And so he does, but as they play together Einstein can't keep time. Bach puts up with this for a while until he turns round and utters the unforgettable line, as violinist Heifitz had done too: "What's the matter with you Albert, can't you count?"

From his lofty perch Einstein watches people squabbling and arguing where he hoped for accord and common purpose. I can just see him shrug his shoulders and mischievously misquote himself saying:

“The distinction between past, present and future -regarding human behaviour - is only an illusion, however persistent.”

Read more:
Stephen Hawking: A Brief History of Time, 1998.

Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything, 2004.

Albert Einstein: Ideas and Opinions, 1954.

Albert Einstein quotes:

Listen to:
J.S.Bach: The Brandenburg Concertos, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, 1999. http://www.amazon.com

J.S.Bach: Anna Magdalena notebook for harpsichord, dedicated to his young wife. http://www.amazon.com

February 2011

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=359 .
© 2019.

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