Back to Bach! – WKCR’S Christmas Bach Fest Anchors The Spirit for 8 Days

Wall to Wall Bach Festival

But did Anna Magdalena write half of it?

Listen to Bach for eight days and contemplate whether Anna Magdalena wrote a lot of it!

Listen to Bach for eight days and contemplate whether Anna Magdalena wrote a lot of it!


WKCR announces the annual Bach Festival 2019, which this year is the 42nd anniversary of the BachFest tradition. For the eight-day period from 12:00 AM on December 24th through 12:00 AM on New Year’s Day, WKCR (89.9 FM and will dedicate all broadcasting to the works of Johann Sebastian Bach.

WKCR.FM, the Columbia University Radio Station at 89.9FM, has come to the rescue once again of all those living in the citadel of commercialism and capitalism on the East Coast, New York City, and around the world on line during the Christmas excess, and provided a calming restorative for the spirit beset by crowds, Christmas specials, Christmas trees, present wrapping and finally too much turkey and cranberry jelly and roast potatoes and the best available sherry, claret, and port, and started playing nothing but pure Bach 24/7 all the way from December 24th to the first hour of New Year’s Day.

In other words, a BachFest of Bach 24/7 for eight days straight, though this year there was a slight interruption at about 10pm on Christmas Eve when a special program for imprisoned immgrants and their families was played by special request to the station manager, who goes by the handle Son of Man.

Eight days of nonstop Bach may sound to some as indigestible as overdone Christmas turkey, but in fact you may find it is as we do amazingly easy to keep on and on playing on a decent quality radio or two without feeling overexposed to what the supreme composer of the West was able to do with the same thirteen notes per octave as all the composers before and after him in the history of music who somehow were not often able to come up with the same glorious result, where even the single keyboard of a harpsichord is able to yield music of enormous stature and sublime perfection of design, without imposing on the listener the smallest demand of unwanted adaptation to unfamiliar or unexpected style or key or harmony, simply because the paradoxical characteristic of Bach is that somewhat like Haydn however magnificent the result he never seems to stray too far from the universally acceptable and understood basic level of the musical material he plays with to bring us music which might sonically challenge or jar us, despite the many chords and harmonies which close analysts burrow in to highlight and find again only in the last century, but which Bach includes naturally as speaking immediately to us without them seeming radical at all, working them into something completely original and precious and perfectly beautiful within bounds of comfort that would straitjacket most modern composers into routine banality.

The fact that Bach was forgotten until Mendelssohn discovered his manuscripts wrapping fish in the 19th century probably reflects this almost unique quality of seeming to be always familiar and comfortable in vocabulary even though always very great. They just didn’t appreciate at the time how immensely vast and universal was his achievement, because it was so accessible.

Such is the attraction however, especially nowadays, of the constant ripple of rhythm that pervades and binds Bach’s every composition more than any other classical composer from solo cello to cantata and oratorio to Passion that it now seems that as long as newcomers are introduced to this music it will be played forever, and WKCR’s contribution with this annual Christmas BachFest is as essential and vital a contribution to world musical culture as the rest of its splendid musical programming, which includes such similar jewels in its crown as festivals of great jazz players when their work will be explored for a whole birthday or even for days by well informed hosts such as the always hyperinformative Phil Schaap, New Yorkers to whom many famous instrumentalists are or were family, during a period in this city when on the jazz front it matched Vienna in the classical era as a center where the greatest could be encountered live.

So listen all you want to this splendid unfurling of the greatest compositions of all in every mode and enjoy it without any fear that this river of aural delight will ever pale into staleness in the swamp of stagnant shoreline backwater of neglect and obscurity but will continue to pour into the wide sea of general attention, and quietly absorb it in the background or foreground of your consciousness with such a brimful of satisfaction that even the inevitable and rather abrupt and ruthless ending to it all after after an hour or so on New Year’s Day at 1 am or a little later will not seem so much like a rude truncation of something that should last a few days longer but will last days longer anyway in your mind as you digest the whole royal repast.

You can donate in gratitude to WKCR

Those who wish to back the unique quality and contribution of WKCR to musical life in the 21st Century should know that any donation they make will fill in a vital gap in the station’s resources, since it receives no financial support from the university apart from providing its premises and associated services and those among the students and other friends of the station who present the programs on air and help administer the library and run the equipment are unpaid volunteers, and there is a need for funds to rescue and repair sound equipment and add to the library where every dollar counts, particularly in an era where students are much more challenged than before by tuition costs and the college continues to neglect what should be acknowledged as a jewel in its crown, particularly in an era where classical repertoire is at a continuing disadvantage commercially.

In fact the new station manager Jeremiah Aviles plans an on air discussion on ways outsiders can benefit the station in the coming months.

Did Anna Magdalena compose much mighty Bach?

Meanwhile as listeners let this endless stream of marvelous music flow over them they might like to contemplate the possibility that much of it was actually composed by his second wife Anna Magdalena, a provocative idea that was launched a number of years ago by a scholar in Australia who noticed that much of the manuscript in her hand was evidently not laboriously copied from Bach himself but set to paper in a vigorous and masterful manner that suggests powerfully it came from her own mind free of all the simple carefulness that marks a page copied from another.

If you wish to note who the performers are at any point go to the playlists page at WKCR and choose the day and time, regardless of the section headings which may be unchanged from the normal programming titles for that time slot.

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