The music of the senses

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Something of His Art:
Walking to Lübeck with J S Bach
by Horatio Clare,
Little Toller Books 2019 (2018).

October 1705. Bach, at just 20 years a church organist in Arnstadt, applies to his superiors for a month’s leave to hear the music of Dietrich Buxtehude in Lübeck, 250 miles (400 km) to the north. His purpose, he told them, was “to comprehend one thing and another about his [Buxtehude’s] art”.

One autumn three centuries later the writer Horatio Clare followed some of Bach’s footsteps for a BBC Radio 3 series called Bach Walks (first broadcast as five programmes in 2017), this time to “learn something” of Bach, the man and his art. In company with a producer director and a sound recordist he attempted to catch a flavour of what it must have like for the energetic and ambitious young composer travelling on foot up the Old Salt Road, moving from south of the Harz Mountains northwards to near the Baltic Sea.

Two artists, then, one taking as close as was possible to the other’s path from one rather conservative culture to a more cosmopolitan environment: would it be possible for Clare to learn something more than the bald facts of Bach’s going and for the listener (and, now, reader) to learn from the writer’s experience?

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