I've often wondered what was the true face of JS Bach. This genius who raised a real cathedral of sound to the glory of God, this absolute master of counterpoint, whose music brings peace and comfort, what man was he really?
One of the few portraits of Bach Which have come down to us is that by Haussmann, Court Painter at Dresden. Bach is seen holding a fragment of a triple Canon for six voices, emblem of his erudite contrapuntal art.The Haussmann Image is Sebastian Bach as he wanted to be seen by posterity, and it is widely used in musical literature and CD presentations today . The physical appearance of Bach seems surprisingly disappointing: face severe , imposing look, double -chin, a wax figure, impersonal which tells us nothing about the personality of him.
It is true that Haussmann was a mediocre artist.
Compare for example with the portrait of Chopin by Delacroix (1838): the oblique composition, the angle of view , the broad brushstrokes and the face struck by light give an impression of mobility almost feverish, the face emerges from a background as undefined the composer's inspiration. Delacroix, who was friend with Chopin has captured the soul of the composer, beyond its physical resemblance ..Unfortunatly Bach did not experienced painter as talented as was Delacroix.
A few years ago, for the 323rd anniversary of the birth of Bach , a Scottish Anthropologist,Caroline Wilkinson, has created a 3-D representation of the face of the man who died in 1750 at the age of 65.
Wilkinson had developed a computer program that is capable of extrapolating the measurements taken from the subject’s facial bones. She has also used it to identify casualties in the Balkan wars and to reconstruct the face of Pharaoh Ramses II.
“We carried out a laser scan of the skull which allowed us to recreate
the musculature and skin of the face on our computer system .This is
really the most complete face that can be built from the available
reliable information.”Caroline Wilkinson used a first attempt to
"reconstitution" of Bach, conducted in 1894 by the anatomist Wilhelm His
and sculptor Carl Ludwig Seffner ,who did not hesitate to desecrate the
tomb of the artist buried near a church in Eisenach. Seffner has even
It is, she believes, about 70 per cent accurate: his friends,
apparently, would have recognised him right away.
The result is quite scary: a mixture of Mr. Clean and the Terminator, I still prefer the portrait by Haussmann. Leaving aside these pseudo-scientific reconstructions of bad taste based on desecretion...
Let us dwell instead on a few anecdotes which gives us a vision far more interesting and endearing of the personality of Bach:
In October 1705, Bach traveled 230 miles on foot to hear the great composer Buxtehude in Lübeck, fascinated by what he discovers he has been away 4 months instead of 4 weeks, which certainly did not please his employer !
Young man, he does not hesitate to draw the sword to defend himself against one of his students who has struck in the face.
In 1717 Bach was jailed one month on the orders of the Duke of Weimar "because of his stubborn attitude".
Irascible, he calls, in Leipzig, the Rector Ernesti "Dreckohr, Rektor" (Rector, ear shit "), he sent steal the wig of one of his musicians...
Well said character, independent spirit, uncompromising ... that takes us away pleasantly from the "image d'Epinal".
Bach was also a lover of good food: he enjoyed good meals with beer or wine
According to the number of his children, his appetite was not limited to the field of food...
He was not without humor, as evidenced by some secular cantatas and quodlibet Goldberg Variations combining the melodies of two popular songs: Ich bin so lang nicht bei dir g'west; Her ruck, ruck Her, ruck her ("Since long, I'm so far from you, approach you closer to me ") and Kraut und haben mir Rüben Vertriebene, hätt mein'Mutter Fleisch gekocht, so wär'ich länger blieben (" Cabbage and turnips kicked me out . If my mother had cooked the meat, I would have stayed longer ").
Modesty now: the musician said: "What I have achieved myself through work and application, another, with some natural ability, will succeed too. And also about the organ: "Just hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself." Or: "The goal of music should be just the glory of God and the refreshment of souls. If one ignores this, it is no more music, but twang and bellowing. "
This is finally a very nice portrait of this great man.
Therefore, I gladly would replace the Hausmann portrait by these two images that I find much more expressive:
Of course, the true face of Bach is not in our eyes, but in our souls. It is an eternal music, made up of formal perfection and infinite poetry.
But anyway, see this great man, hear him play, how he interpreted his works, I can not help but dream ... sorry for the bad english.