MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI – JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
ACCORDING TO THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH, THE WORD ‘OUTSTANDING’ CAN BE USED WHEN SPEAKING OF EXCEPTIONAL ART, AN IMPORTANT MATTER, AND AN EXTRAORDINARY PERSON.
This contribution is meant for two figures embodying all those traits in the same measure. My choice, however, is subjective. After all, Michelangelo and Bach don’t have any shared direct points of contact, yet I do. Music connects me to them. It doesn’t take much to find Bach’s contribution; Michelangelo’s music, as it were, is channelled by literature, better said his poems. They were put to music by Hugo Wolf and Dimitri Schostakowich. Three songs by Wolf, while Schostakowich put a suite of eleven songs to music. Together, the composers succeeded in writing songs for bass and piano accompaniments. I was lucky enough to sing these songs in concerts.
Michelangelo di Ludovico Buonarroti Simoni was born in Caprese, Tuscany, in March 1475 and passed away shortly before his 89th birthday in Rome. He was one of the most important painters, sculptors, architects, and poets of the Renaissance. At the age of 13 he started studying fresco painting in Florence, at 14 he started training to become a sculptor. Lorenzo di Medici was his patron and sponsor. He moved to Rome at the age of 21. Two opposite works from his sculpting period hail from that time: a Bacchus statue completed for a cardinal and the wonderful Pietà in Saint Peter’s Cathedral. After five years, he returned to Florence and was commissioned to create the larger-than-life statue of the David. For a good 375 years, the David was placed in an outdoor square until it was replaced by a copy and the original was moved to the Academy of Arts to ensure better protection; in the intervening time, it has been fitted with an earthquake-resistant socle. After Michelangelo completed the ceiling frescoes started in 1508 for the Sistine Chapel, he obtained the commission in1534 by Pope Clemens to carve the large altar picture in the Sistine Chapel, the Last Judgement. A monumental work measuring more than 14 m in height depicting a good 200 figures. It’s impossible to dojustice just with a few lines to Michelangelo’s masterpiece.
I’ve mentioned three of his main works: the Pietà, the David, and the Last Judgement. Now, I would ask you to direct your gaze upon Michelangelo the poet. A poet wearing manifold masks, from the refined honourer of poet Vittoria Colonna, sarcastic accuser of Pope Julius II – by whom he felt persecuted -, or forceful wordsmith in a 1512 sonnet, penned just moments before the eve of the Reformation wherein he accuses the Pope and clergy of exploiting the faith of the believers: one unswaying trait throughout his production is his eloquence. I hope this inspires you to pick up any book on the matter and delve deep into this fascinating, outstanding personality. I will let Michelangelo, the poet, have the last word by quoting one of his epigrams from 1544. ‘They do believe me dead I, who still shed delight on all the world living in thousand souls in breasts of lovers true. No death controls, taking one soul alone. I am not dead.’
Johann Sebastian Bach was born in 1685 in Eisenach and passed away in 1750 in Leipzig. He’s the most important representative of a large family of musicians and, as if that weren’t enough, he’s also considered the best composer in the history of music by many career musicians. In 1735 he wrote a ‘musical chronicle of the Bach family’ where he described 53 musically-inclined relatives. He was a composer and a virtuoso organ player, and became the most famous precentor of the Thomas church in Leipzig in 1723; today, it seems impossible to us he was only the third choice for the post. Georg Philipp Telemann was chosen first, yet he refused after receiving a salary raise in his domain of Hamburg. The second application favoured Christoph Graupner, Kapellmeister in Darmstadt, yet his landgrave refused to accept his dismissal, so he had to turn down the post; Bach finally became precentor at the church und musical director of the four largest churches in Leipzig, a post that he carried out for 27 years right until his death. Once again, it seems unfathomable to us that his works were forgotten soon after his death, until they resurged during a Bach euphoria in 1829, sparked by staging the Matthäus-Passion directed by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Bach’s musical portfolio includes every area without opera. Bach’s musical heritage is outstanding, regardless of the shape it takes: sacred and profane cantatas, oratorio, masses, passions, instrumental music, sheets for organ or harpsichord, the famous Goldberg Variations, The Well-Tempered Clavier, and The Art of Fugue which he modified and expanded in the year before his death. According to Bach’s understanding of music, it should be made ‘to honour God and wash over the soul.’
He signed many compositions with SDG, ‘Soli Deo Gloria’, meaning Glory to God alone. Outstanding – The world is bursting with outstanding people. Everyone can become outstanding in many ways. Take notice of the extraordinary in your everyday lives. It always surrounds us.