Dedication and duty have been on my mind since writing my previous post which was inspired by the movie Testament to Youth.
That is perhaps why a recent newsletter announcing that March 2016 is the 331st anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach’s birth caught my attention.
Most of my baby boomer generation recognise the composer’s name and his exceptional musical abilities. What I had not previously known is that his music was not popular during his lifetime. For fifty years after his death in 1750, none of his music was published separately.
Bach’s genius was only widely recognised in the early 19th century after Felix Mendelssohn arranged a production of Bach’s “St. Mathew Passion”. Almost 100 years after its first performance.
Mendelssohn, a great composer and musician in his own right was largely responsible for Bach being recognised as one of the greatest composers ever.
I am not particularly knowledgeable about classical music or great composers. I like some classical music, Vivaldi is playing in the background as I write. I can now play some simple classical pieces on the guitar well enough for them to be recognisable. These are late developments, I wrote in this post how I had believed for most of my life that I had no musical skills.
What impressed me when reading about these two composers was their dedication to their music, their perseverance and the sheer volume of their compositions. All in an era with no electronic devices or equipment to make their lives easier.
Bach composed hundreds of pieces of music. He studied under the great composers and musicians of his time, he adapted styles and conventions from other parts of Europe and from earlier composers. He is reported to have walked 450km to Lübeck to study under a famous organist.
Mendelssohn was also a prolific composer, a pianist, organist and conductor. He was recognised as a child prodigy composing and performing from the age of 12.
His health was not good, he died at age 38 after a series of strokes, possibly aggravated by working too hard and a fragile temperament.
Two examples of men with extraordinary talent and the extraordinary dedication to their art to become two of the greatest composers of al time.
Mendelssohn was born into a wealthy family, Bach was not. Both had health problems. One died very young the other in his sixties. They were born over 100 years apart, one in the Baroque period, the other in the Romantic. Both achieved more than most did then and more than most do now.
Dedication that is rare today.
Working oneself into an early grave at age 38 is not a good example to follow. However the dedication shown by these two musicians and many others of earlier generations, in the arts, business, the military and government service is rare today.
Why should dedication be a rare commodity today?
Is it because of the endless distractions of a constantly connected world? Is it because it is fairly easy for most people (in the developed world) to escape starvation and homelessness without exerting themselves? Without having to walk 450 km to improve their skills?
Or is it because of political correctness, the age of entitlement, the conviction that all people have equal “rights” even though most are not ready to show equal effort or show equal dedication?
I don’t know the real reason, but I suspect that it is a combination of all of these.
photo – Wikipedia public domain