Today is the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach. The essayist Lewis Thomas, musing on the question of what signals earthlings ought to broadcast to outer space in case alien life forms were listening, wrote, “I would vote for Bach, all of Bach, streamed out into space over and over again. We would be bragging, of course, but it is surely excusable to put on the best possible face at the beginning of such an acquaintance. Any species capable of producing the music of Johann Sebastian Bach cannot be all bad.”
Before we humans get too proud of ourselves, though, we should remember that, especially during the last twenty-five years of his life, Bach was often underpaid, unrespected, and unhappy. The composer who’s now universally revered was forced to supplement his earnings by playing weddings and funerals, and when his co-citizens weren’t dying from disease in sufficient numbers, it was hard for him to make ends meet.
This has been A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.