Mystery score

Mystery score

Monday, December 13, 2004

London Bach had a father.

'Oh well,' said Jack: and then, 'Did you ever meet Bach?'

'Which Bach?'

'London Bach.'

'Not I.'

'I did. He wrote some pieces for my uncle Fisher, and his young man
copied them out fair. But they were lost years and years ago, so last time
I was in town I went to see whether I could find the originals: the young
man has set up on his own, having inherited his master's music-library. We
searched through the papers -- such a disorder you would hardly credit,
and I had always supposed publishers were as neat as bees -- we searched
for hours, and no uncle's pieces did we find. But the whole point is this:
Bach had a father.'

'Heavens, Jack, what things you tell me. Yet upon recollection I seem
to have known other men in much the same case.'

'And this father, this old Bach, you understand me, had written piles
and piles of musical scores in the pantry.'

'A whimsical place to compose in, perhaps; but then birds sing in trees,
do they not? Why not antediluvian Germans in a pantry?'

'I mean the piles were kept in the pantry. Mice and blackbeetles and
cook-maids had played Old Harry with some cantatas and a vast great
Passion according to St. Mark, in High Dutch; but lower down all was well,
and I brought away several pieces, 'cello for you, fiddle for me, and some
for both together. It is strange stuff, fugues and suites of the last age,
crabbed and knotted sometimes and not at all in the modern taste, but I do
assure you, Stephen, there is meat in it. I have tried this partita in C a
good many times, and the argument goes so deep, so close and deep, that I
scarcely follow it yet, let alone make it sing. How I should love to hear
it played really well -- to hear Viotti dashing away.'

Stephen studied the 'cello suite in his hand, booming and humming sotto
voce.
'Tweedly-tweedly, tweedly tweedly, deedly deedly pom pom pom.
Oh, this would call for the delicate hand of the world,' he said. 'Otherwise
it would sound like boors dancing. Oh, the double-stopping...and how to
bow it?'

Patrick O'Brian, The Ionian Mission

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