8th April 2014: Culture, or how I discovered Bach

I think it was 1994, and I was twenty-nine. I was in a charity shop in Lancaster, one of the smaller ones, down at the bottom of Penny Street. Ken and I wanted some more music both of us could write to — we were working on GURPS Celtic Myth. Z was a little kid. And it was the time when everybody was switching over from vinyl to CDs and getting rid of their vinyl. We still had a record player, and this was the beginning of me buying all the vinyl everyone else was upgrading from.

I’d heard of Bach, of course I had. I’d heard Cassandra Mortmain in I Capture the Castle say that he was like being repeatedly hit over the head with a teaspoon. As you can imagine, that was a little offputting. But I’d also generally heard “Blah, blah, high culture, boring, blah, pretentious, Radio 3, blah, Bach…” which didn’t do anything for me either. The thing that encouraged me to shell out an entire pound on the 2 record LP of Four Orchestral Suites (which I still own and still play all the time, though not as often as Three Double Concertos or the Brandenburg Concertos) was Civilization. Civ I, that is, the original Sid Meier game Civilization.

In Civ 1, there are 21 Wonders of the World, which each have various game-influencing effects. There are seven ancient, seven medieval and seven modern. They mostly have expiry dates — for instance Copernicus’s Observatory gives you twice as much production in your city until the invention of electricity, and Isaac Newton’s College doubles your science input until the invention of nuclear fission. You can build J.S. Bach’s Cathedral, and it makes two people in each city happy. It doesn’t expire. In the manual it says “The inspiration provided by Bach’s beautiful music does not end.” And that was intriguing. And it turns out to be correct.

So I bought the record, and listened to it, and I got into Bach in 1994 the same way I got into Leonard Cohen in 1988 and Bob Dylan in 1982, buying all the albums and listening to them over and over and telling my friends how great he is. And I discovered this weird thing where some people think that classical music has snob appeal and almost nobody loves it — some people appreciate it, and some people only pretend to, but appreciate is as far as you’re supposed to go. Very few people want to have conversations about which Brandenburg is the best. (Third!) I love Bach with no music appreciation vocabulary and uncritically.

Ever since that day in 1994 I have been one of the two people in every city made happy by it.

Posted in Human culture