Is it perhaps possible to weep at the grave of a man having died 257 years ago, moreover in a distant land, without their being any blood ties?
It’s possible if that man is Johann Sebastian Bach, and those who are moved to tears at his grave are Armenia’s who have been nourished with his music, who perform his choral works and who live by the light of his genius.
That’s precisely what happened with us members of “Hover” Chorus (**) on October 3, 2007, when we arrived in Leipzig, the city where Bach lived for 37 years, died and was buried. It was the eleventh day of our tour through Germany. A concert wasn’t scheduled for Leipzig, but how could we pass by that city and not visit Bach’s grave?
There’s perhaps a lot to see in Leipzig, but we were only interested in St. Thomas Church, where the body of the God of Music rests. St. Thomas, in turn, is reduced to a marker of where Bach is buried. Indeed, many people just call it “Bach’s church.”
Before even entering the church, we heard the sounds of the organ. Perhaps that contributed to the very strong emotion that began to choke me. Then, when I entered the church and saw the plain flat gravestone with the inscription “Johann Sebastian Bach 1685-1750,” the tears were already freely flowing from my eyes. And not only mine. All the members of our chorus were experiencing an unforgettable moment of emotion, the likes of which they had never before felt. Only now did we understand why we had come to Germany. Only now did we understand what a great gift we had received. All of us were caught up in the solemnity and beauty of the moment. All of us, men and women alike, were moved. There was hardly a dry eye. Some were simply sobbing. However, they weren’t crying from sadness. All of us were experiencing an unprecedented feeling of catharsis, the rapture of miraculously finding ourselves in a magnetic field of supreme happiness. That was the climax of our German tour ‘s inimitable, touching, ennobling.
I went away from that simple, unadorned gravestone, in order to isolate myself in the corners of the church, to lose myself in the sounds of the organ floating beneath the dome high above the remains of this genius; to perhaps understand the mystery of that inexplicable emotion and ecstasy, which gave me goose bumps.
Bach’s music is the utmost spiritual nourishment of eternal value that man has ever created. The phenomenon of Bach is absolution for the sins of the entire world, so that this guilty world won’t be condemned to destruction. Without Bach’s music, this planet Earth would be so much grayer, what with the rigor and absurdity of existence, the inevitability of physical death. One might say, meanwhile, that Bach’s music regulates the chaos of life and the soul; his fugues, preludes, chorales, passions, fantasias, toccatas, and sonatas give full meaning to an otherwise prosaic human existence. The appreciation expressed to him quickly cross my mind: “Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Sebastian Hats (***), Johann Sebastian Astvats (****),” “His name shouldn’t have been Brook but Sea (Bach, in German, means brook)”;I’m thinking, what right does man have to be such a genius? This, since Bach, the creator of heavenly music, was not a saintly hermit, according to the testimony of contemporaries, but an ordinary mortal, who constantly created throughout his life, ate well and had many children. Meanwhile, that ordinary human being, through the music he created, is the one who perhaps has come the closest to God out of all people and throughout all of time. A smile comes to my face as I recall my older son, Arek, having listened to Bach’s chorales with full concentration at the age of four and scolded those who disturbed him. What was this four-year-old boy feeling from those brilliant, multidimensional chords penetrating the depths of the soul and forcing him to put aside his games, remain immobile and listen to the “conversation” of the organ until the end? My smile becomes broader when I recall that this same son of mine, upon becoming literate, deliberately signed the pictures he drew “Arek Bach” instead of “Bakhchinian.”
The initial shock passed. The cameras were readied for use. All of us egotistically wished to “become immortal” at the Immortal’s final resting place, which, as I said, is as plain as possible, with no sculpture or statue. Once we left the sanctuary, we wished to become immortal one more time at his monument that stands opposite the church. Among us there were jokers, saying, “Now the Germans will say, %u218What’s the connection between Bach and these Armenia’s that they’re crying like that?’”
It’s not only the Armenia’s. For all individuals who embrace music and, generally speaking, the arts, Bach represents the highest point reached so far by the creative talent of man.
Since our visit to Bach’s grave, the world appears in a new light. Human beings, with their passions, aspirations and the present stage of civilization, appear small and insignificant. “Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life” (Bertold Auerbach). Bach’s light, in turn, washes away every negative atom from the soul. It is impossible not to be better after visiting Bach’s grave.
* Artsvi Bakhchinian is primarily a film critic living in Yerevan, the capital of the Republic of Armenia. He is also an analyst for the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS), a leading independent local strategic research center, and writer on a wide variety of topics.
** Hover Chamber Chorus of Yerevan, led by Sona Hovhannisian, followed up its tour of France in December 2006 with a tour of Germany from September 23 to October 7, 2007, performing in 13 churches and concert halls.
*** Hats ‘s Armenian word for bread.
**** Astvats ‘s Armenian word for God.