I made the mistake a couple of weeks ago of signing up for iTunes Match. I’m not going to go into the details – I don’t have the patience – but it has been a tedious, confusing, and occasionally frustrating process. The concept is fine, it’s the execution that lacks finesse.
Anyway, as part of this, I somehow lost all the ratings on my music. Everything else remained – my groupings, my genres, my playlists – but unfortunately all but a random few hundred of my songs lost the rating I had attributed to them. Over the last couple of days, I’ve been slowly re-applying ratings, which has necessitated often listening to some of the more obscure or less frequently played tunes to give an accurate reading. Along the way, I’ve played some for the sheer pleasure of it.
It would be a lot quicker if I didn’t pause so often to listen to this song or that tune – but then, isn’t that the pleasure of it? I’m only up to the B’s, so have a fair way to go. I’d be further along if I hadn’t been waylaid when I came to Bach. For mine, Bach is the composer of some of the most exquisite music ever written. I wonder sometimes how such beauty and insight flowed from a man who looked, according to his portraits, like a gruff burgher who might happily have chowed down on a bucket of chicken from KFC. Then those thoughts slip by as I am transported by his music, which so often seems to speak directly to my spirit. I am uplifted every time.
There are about a dozen of his compositions that are near to being perfectly sublime. They’re all rated 4 stars or above in my iTunes. My two favourite pieces are St Matthews Passion and the Glenn Gould recording of the Goldberg Variations.
I listened again today and the strange thought occurred to me that this is the music I would like played when the day comes that I’m laid to rest. St Matthews Passion is a soaring piece of work that sets the soul a tremble. It is beauty made music, transcendent spirituality given voice. It calls to mind great cathedrals of old stone and spires that reach to heaven. There is something timeless and eternal about the music that suggests that we are all on a journey, and with death simply pass from one state to another.
The Gould piece is different. The Goldberg Variations is a masterwork, but every other version pales besides Goulds. I imagine it being played as people enter the church (imagining that my funeral service might actually be in a church – I’m atheist, after all) and finding their seats. They sit contemplatively looking ahead and wait for the formal proceedings to begin. Gradually they notice the music. It is lovely they think, a gentle unfolding of a simple melody. The piano tinkles, slowly, sometimes teasingly, leading whence they don’t know. And as they listen they notice another element. They strain to listen. What is that? Is it…? Yes, it is. Accompanying the piano is the pianist, Gould, gently humming with the music. You imagine him playing, his eyes softly closed, utterly absorbed in the music, in the piano keys his fingers slide across. For the listener, it is shockingly intimate, wonderfully human. And that nails it.