Ellsberg and Bach

February 14th, 2010 by Collin Canright | Filed under History.

Two interviews caught my attention on Bob Edwards Weekend, one of my favorite radio shows. I grew up with TV and sometimes find it interesting that I’m a radio fan and haven’t watched network TV in close to 20 years.

I also grew up in a newspaper family that discussed the news all the time. One of the stories on the show today reminded me of the first news story I read daily, the Pentagon Papers story. By the time I was following it, The New York Times had published the Pentagon’s secret history of the Vietnam War given to it by Daniel Ellsberg, who researched the history and leaked it to the Times. Ellsburg was in hiding, the Nixon Administration and sued The Times, and its attempts to keep the story quiet, such as by breaking into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, were starting to come to light.

I was 12 and went straight to the paper after I got home from school. It was riveting drama.

Bob Edwards interviewed Ellsburg and the makers of the documentary, The Most Dangerous Man in America. I can’t wait to see it.

Bob Edwards also interviewed Eric Siblin, author of the book The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece. I love Bach but wasn’t familiar with the Cello Suites.

The story in the interview I found most interesting concerned the influence of politics on music. Casals became a political figure when he decided he would not play in any country that recognized the Fanco government. Bach would not have had that kind of political experience, Siblin said, but may have been influenced by political events in a rather profound way.

The King of Prussia in the early 1700s decided to militarize the country and do away with anything that didn’t contribute to the cause, including the rolay orchestra That orchestra, however, was one of the best in Europe.

Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthens hired the unemployed musicians and, in couple years later, Bach. So Bach has the best orchestra in the world at his disposal and writes some of the most sublime music ever composed, including some of my my favorite Brandenburg Concerti.

I remember reading on the back of an album my mom had that the art of baroque trumpet had been lost for hundreds of years. It makes sense if they had been written for the greatest players of the time.

This reminds me of the stories in Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers, in which he makes it clear that talent alone is not sufficient but circumstances beyond the individual contribute to success. As talented as he was, Bach apparently had political and military circumstances to provide the means of expressing his musical imagination.

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