"The Concert" by Nicolas Tournier‘An Elegy for Bach’s Lost Cantatas’ by Lionel Willis The Society April 12, 2021 Beauty, Culture, Music, Poetry 6 Comments . Though many scores were lost, those that remain May well be thought the richest heritage Ever bequeathed by one blessed human brain: Incomparable gems on every page, Now reverently passed from age to age, But when the ink was fresh how roughly tossed Aside as passé! And who now can gauge How huge the treasure that was blindly lost Of which our world must now forever mourn the cost! “What does it matter? Music comes and goes,” Someone will shrug. Most music, it’s true. Like junk food for the brain, it fills up those Who know no better. Like a sudsy brew, Most music that the masses listen to Dulls with emotion. How Mammon rejoices To see earplugged consumers milling through His bedlam of manipulated choices! Most music’s a drug. Why lament a few lost voices? But music isn’t all the same. Bach’s kind, Where several voices join in harmony, Demands one’s close attention. All one’s mind Craves to sing too, following lovingly How the selection moves from key to key As one voice, then another, leads. A lot Of mental discipline, as you can see, Is both demanded by Bach’s art and taught By it. It celebrates the joy of taking thought. An enemy more fell than time destroyed Them as it has so much for which we care: The randomness that hisses in the void, Devouring hopes, laughing at our despair. Wilhelm Friedemann, Bach’s principal heir, At first ably conserved his father’s papers, But his strength flagged. Depression, booze and bare Necessity dogged him. Sold to the neighbours, Fragments were torn for weigh bills and lighters for tapers. When we revisit a familiar song We find new charms. In Bach we may well hear New works, for every time we sing along With well-known themes his further themes appear, As if the very randomness we fear Had somehow been enlisted by the soul To make fresh anthems in the inner ear, And through them all one lesson seems Bach’s goal: To show how every voice contributes to the whole. . . Lionel Willis was born in Toronto in 1932 and served as Professor of English Literature at Ryerson University in Toronto 1958 to 1992. His publications including The Dreamstone and Other Rhymes (The Plowman 2002), Heartscape, a Book of Bucolic Verse (Eidolon 2019). He currently lives in Toronto. NOTE: The Society considers this page, where your poetry resides, to be your residence as well, where you may invite family, friends, and others to visit. Feel free to treat this page as your home and remove anyone here who disrespects you. Simply send an email to email@example.com. Put “Remove Comment” in the subject line and list which comments you would like removed. The Society does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or comments and reserves the right to remove any comments to maintain the decorum of this website and the integrity of the Society. Please see our Comments Policy here. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window) 6 Responses Rohini Sunderam April 12, 2021 This is beautiful! Reply Lawrence Fray April 12, 2021 A great beautifully made, extolling the best music ever. It’s a tragedy that some cantata are lost; to misquote Oscar: humanity tends to know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Reply Cynthia Erlandson April 12, 2021 “Incomparable gems on every page,” indeed! Though I’m not a musician, Bach is my hero. I understand just enough about music to hear the incredible complexity and profundity in his compositions. His picture hangs, to inspire me, over my desk where I compose poetry. I am so glad you wrote this lovely elegy. Reply Paul Freeman April 12, 2021 I enjoyed reading about the tragic story running through this poem. For want of a better term your poem is a ‘page turner’ (or ‘stanza-turner’!). To light tapers? My word. It saddens me beyond measure to hear of treasures like this being destroyed. And yet in writing of about Bach’s lost cantatas, you’ve produced a valuable document yourself, Mr Willis, which is both a poetic and informative warning to us to conserve works of art through thick and thin. Later today, as I work on my long-postponed novel, I will put on Bach’s ‘unlost’ cantatas, which I see proliferate on YouTube. Thanks for the enlightening poetry. Reply Sally Cook April 13, 2021 Dear Mr. Willis — Thanks for a sincere tribute to the most masterful composer of all. I enjoyed reading about his heir, whose presence you cleverly inserted into your poem. Thanks very much for that valuable information. While I appreciate that you revere Bach, (as I also do), have you considered this: Bach never thought once about including everyone. He was a professional, and simply wanted to choose the best instruments to express his music. No matter what instrument, external or internal, the music always came first. We are now, in this time of smug virtue-signaling, in a situation where the individual seems insignificant, almost irrelevant. That spells doom for the artst. If Bach chose the chorale to express some of his music, he did not do it to bring people together – he did it to enhance his music, as it does. Thank you again for honoring this great man. Reply lionel willis May 8, 2021 Thank you, Sally. I take your qualification of your praise for my poem, mostly in its Moral-seeking ending, to heart. I think I agree with you about this age we are becoming familar with. Bach’s bow to democracy may have been merely an artifact of the polyphonic style which dominated his time. It may, however had had a potent teaching effect on later educated listeners after audiences were re-acquainted with his work in the 19th Century by Felix Mendellsohn. For every artist who is true to an art, all allegiance must be to the internal laws behind its beauty. So, I think, with J. S. Bach. Lionel Willis Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.