It’s not often that a composer is considered to represent the pinnacle of an entire era of music. But for Jared Jacobsen, the composer most synonymous with the Baroque period is undeniably Johann Sebastian Bach.
At 12:15 p.m. today, July 9, in the Hall of Christ, Jacobsen, Chautauqua’s organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, will present Bach’s work in the Tallman Tracker Organ recital, “J.S. Bach’s Musical C.V.”
Jacobsen said the setlist for the recital is comprised of pieces that help illustrate the story of Bach’s life.
“Bach was pretty much a worker bee,” Jacobsen said. “He spent pretty much his entire life in a small corner of Northern Germany. There were a lot of assorted royalty on the loose that were trying to out-do each other with perks. One of the perks, if you really had money, was to have your own court musician.”
Jacobsen said Bach spent his whole life working in that milieu.
“At least twice that we know of, he wrote pieces and sent them off without any introduction to the richer duke next door to see if he could get a better job,” he said. “One time it worked, and he got a better job, and one time it did not work. In fact, they threw (Bach) in jail for violating the terms of his contract.”
While in jail, according to Jacobsen, Bach “made lemonade out of those particular lemons” and wrote a series of organ pieces called the “Little Organ Book.”
“When it came to his music, Bach understood the rules,” Jacobsen said. “Music at the time of Bach had rules. There were certain chord patterns you didn’t go to, you weren’t supposed to use parallel fifths, things like that.”
But Jacobsen said Bach also bent the rules of his time — he just never broke them.
“His music was incredibly creative,” he said. “His marriage of words and music was probably better than anyone else in his time. Plus, he was a fabulous performer and player.”
Bach put the Latin phrase “Soli Deo gloria,” or “Glory to God alone,” on every piece he wrote, according to Jacobsen.
“That was sort of his working mantra,” he said. “He was an intensely faithful man, in terms of the church.”
Jacobsen said Bach wrote an entire cantata devoted to the evils of coffee, which in his time was considered to be a thing of the devil.
“(The cantata) is about a husband and wife whose marriage breaks up, because she just can’t stay away from the coffee,” he said. “It’s hilarious. As she gets jitterier and jitterier, because she keeps drinking more and more coffee, the music does that, too.”
Music like that, which tells stories as much as it pleases the ear, is part of the reason Jacobsen loves Bach’s music.
“He was very good at painting pictures with sound,” he said.