THE BACH-SCHWEITZER PROJECT
A debut album of Bach's solo violin Sonatas & Partitas
Drumming traditions of West Africa
“The wonder of Bach is unequalled in any other art.
Human nature is hollowed out until it is takes on a god like profile.
Through Bach’s music God becomes more human,
And human becomes more divine.
This is the work of Bach.”
- Pablo Casals
Reflections on Bach’s unaccompanied violin Sonatas & Partitas
Several years ago, a seed was planted in my thoughts by a colleague and friend. He told me “in Bach’s music we are shown the world as it is whole.” These words resonated something within me that has grown over the years into a powerful conviction – the fruit of which is the foundation this project. At that time, I had decided to abandon my music studies at The Juilliard School in New York City in order to travel to West Africa to volunteer and study West African music. It was here in Tanje, in a small fishing village in The Gambia, while playing my violin for strangers I hardly understood, that I discovered the universality of music - particularly the music of Bach.
Every evening, because it was my only sense of familiarity in a completely foreign environment, I played some of Bach’s solo violin sonatas for myself. One day, some curious Gambians asked me if I would show them my “strange singing.” I decided to play the Bach Chaconne for them. For these Gambians however, listening to music means to respond physically and vocally to the music. For new audience however, listening to music means to be moved, not only emotionally, but also physically. Upon hearing the opening chords of the Chaconne, my audience immediately responded with singing, clapping and dancing. I was a little shocked. I had never before witnessed such jubilant response to the Bach's Chaconne before. I continued to play however, and after a short while my collaborators became outwardly quiet. It is impossible for me to articulate what happened next, or how it happened. All I can concretely describe is finishing the Chaconne thirteen minutes later and looking into the eyes of one of the people for whom I had just played. I experienced a deep sense of connection with everyone there... It was as if all the barriers between us had momentarily been lifted.
I have played the Bach Chaconne for many years. I have played it in very remote places and under unusual circumstances --- for fishermen on the docks of a fishing village in Greece, at the party of one of Portugal’s most important investment bankers, at train stations in Italy, and in the barn of a dairy farm in Ontario. Every time I play this piece, I feel that it draws its listeners inward to touch something deep within us which can transcend all limitations of physical space and time. It is as if this music speaks a language that is universally understood. The great French organist Charles-Marie Widor expresses the mystery of Bach’s music in the following way:
“Bach is on the whole the most universal of artists. What speaks to us through his work is pure religious emotion; and this is one and same in all men (human beings), in spite of the national and religious partitions in which we are born and bred. It is the emotion of the infinite and the exalted, for which words (alone) are always an inadequate expression, and that can find proper utterance only in artistic expression. For me, Bach is the greatest of preachers. His music tunes the soul to a state in which we can grasp the truth and oneness of things, and rise above everything that is paltry, everything that divides us. By thus conquering artistic and religious mankind, Bach fulfills a mission to our time, which will never rise above the barriers that the past has erected unless the great souls of the past come to its aid. We are made one by what we admire in common, by what we revere in common, by what we comprehend in common” (CM Widor, 1907).
The premise of this exploration is that Bach’s solo violin sonatas and partitas posses this ability to transcend barriers. They touch something that is universal to every human heart.