BACH IN ITALY, an imaginary journey





Let’s pretend for a moment that, during the different journeys he made to Hamburg in his youth, our Bach, not yet twenty
years old, had met an Italian prince who, in turn delighted by the young man’s music, took him back to Italy to gain direct,
living experience of the music in the courts of Italy. Bach would then have become a truly Italian musician, his music would
have been authentically “Italian” and it is likely that his whole artistic world would have been very different from that which
we know today. But this never actually happened: instead, the young man to whom all this really did happen, in exactly the
same years in which Bach was visiting Hamburg, was Georg Friedrich Händel, and his Italian prince was Gian Gastone de’
Medici. Instead, Bach’s relationship with Italy was essentially an idealized one. Bach never had a real living experience of
Italy and its music, which were perhaps more in the nature of a permanent object of desire for him.
The circumstances of his life, and perhaps also his character, shaped Bach into a quick and honest craftsman, appreciated
and revered in no more than a little corner of Germany, rather than the successful, cosmopolitan musical celebrity that
Händel became. Bach’s journey to Italy was always to remain a journey of the intellect, but it was no less real and fruitful for
all that. It is also possible to travel in the mind. And in that sense he made more than one Italian journey. Travelling and returning.
Whether copying Frescobaldi’s Fiori musicali, transcribing concertos by Vivaldi and other Italian (or Italianizing) composers,
or parodying Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, throughout his whole life Bach looked to the Italian masters and their music.

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