A chronicle of Johann Sebastian Bach's life, eschewing drama to focus almost entirely on his music. Narrated by his wife Anna in voiceover, it consists largely of static scenes of Bach conducting and/or playing his brilliant compositions. Written by
Mike D'Angelo <email@example.com>
Gustav Leonhardt portrays Bach in his only performance as an actor. He is a music scholar of International renown, specialized in the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, and a harpsichord virtuoso whose Bach recordings (both as harpsichord player and conductor) are the finest to be found in recording History. See more »
The harpsichord music we hear in the opening scene bears no relation to the movement of the harpsichordist's fingers - he is playing a completely different piece. See more »
OK, I'll cut this a little slack for being made in 1968, though this does not fully excuse the horrible sound quality. Stereo became common 10 years before, yet this is in mono, with compressed, over-modulated, sometimes severely distorted sound, recorded on an optical film track, with background noise. I saw better-recorded educational films shown on a 16mm projector in class as a kid. Hmmm, maybe this was the audience for this project -- an educational film for European music classes?
On the plus side, videos of musical performances were not as common as now; I wish they were. It is interesting to see a performance, especially keyboard or orchestral, even if the camera is static. But you need first-rate sound... and color. This is filmed in black and white. I love black and white, but this is washed out and fuzzy.
I love classical music, especially Bach. What makes Bach unique is not his use of melody, which was more fully exploited later, but his use of interweaving contrapuntal lines, requiring the listener to follow multiple instruments simultaneously. This is largely lost in mono, especially with this muddled sound. This makes me suspect that the producers didn't really understand the music. However, at least having the visuals of the performers helps a bit to recapture some of that polyphonic interplay.
The performances are adequate. But today with modern sound technology, and the wide variety of performances and interpretations, often on period instruments, these performances seem hopelessly stodgy.
The concept was not entirely off the mark: filming Bach with period instruments, performers dressed in period clothes, with historical settings, is interesting. It would have been more interesting with audiences, for that's how the music would have been performed, but then you would need more costumes. In color with digital sound, this might have been striking, but in black and white, even the costumes are boring.
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