The Boss + Bach

May 11, 2014 • 4:39 am

For some reason I listened to these two song and decided to post them together. The first is a classic by The Boss, who, I might add, is only two months older than I am. He’s one of those similar-aged public figures, like Meryl Streep, by whom I gauge how well I’m ageing. (I’m not doing badly vis-à-vis Springsteen, but way worse than Streep.)

“Hungry Heart” comes from Springsteen’s album “The River,” issued in 1980. It’s hard to find good live performances of the song because for years Springsteen’s let the audience alone sing the first verse.

The beginning verse, in which a man simply runs away from his family and life, reminds me of the beginning of Updike’s Rabbit, Run, but on YouTube a bunch of commenters, not knowing the difference between fact and art, chews out The Boss for writing about adultery. I often think of this song when I get dispirited with the academic life:

This may very well be my favorite piece of classical music: it’s the last (allegro) movement from Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B flat major (BWV 1051; 1721), performed here in my favorite version, by Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert. It’s very bouncy—like Tigger.

Wikipedia notes:

The absence of violins is unusual. Viola da braccio means the normal viola, and is used here to distinguish it from the “viola da gamba”. When the work was written in 1721, the viola da gamba was already an old-fashioned instrument: the strong supposition that one viola da gamba part was taken by his employer, Prince Leopold, also points to a likely reason for the concerto’s composition—Leopold wished to join his Kapellmeister playing music. Other theories speculate that, since the viola da braccio was typically played by a lower socioeconomic class (e.g., servants), the work sought to upend the musical status quo by giving an important role to a “lesser” instrument. This is supported by knowledge that Bach wished to end his tenure under Prince Leopold. By upsetting the balance of the musical roles, he would be released from his servitude as Kapellmeister and allowed to seek employ elsewhere.

h/t: Natalie

47 thoughts on “The Boss + Bach

  1. It is rare to find a bl*g where someone will talk appreciatively about Bruce and J.S. in the same post. 🙂

    I think that those who deny one or the other worlds of either classic (to use the term loosely) and rock/pop lose out. There is so much to enjoy in both.

    1. Sub! There’e fantastic music in msny categories ( and crappy music, too). I remember having to decide between Yo-Yo Mz and The Stones live a number of years ago. I’m a huge opera fan but was also blown away by Bruce in Hamilton, On, kast year. He’s an incredibly generous performer!

  2. I first got turned on to Bach back in the 70’s when in Junior High by the the album Switched on Bach by Wanda Carlos. This was Bach music played by the Moog Synthesizer, which was hi-tech back then. I used to play it over and over on my parents big stereo console. Loudly. From there I moved on to conventional classics, but when ever I hear “Air on a G String”, or a “Brandenburg Concerto” I am swept back how long ago? Over thirty years?! Yikes.

  3. I wonder if differing musical opinions on Prof. Ceiling cat’s musical posts break the roolz? I’m about to find out I suppose.

    I’ve found almost every music post by Jerry to be wonderful. This post though for me combines me least favorite classical composer with my least favorite rock and roller. I can take the first 2 minutes of Bach, and I enjoyed this piece for that long, but then for me it’s monotony. I’m much more into later classical music.

    Hungry Heart sits atop my most disliked songs list. For me it is the ultimate combination sappy lyrics, over-wrought delivery, shouted over loud but dreadfully dull music. Like platitudes delivered “cranked to 11.” When I was young I couldn’t race fast enough to the radio dial to change it away from that song. (That and Styx’s “Babe.”)

    But on a positive note, I liked very much some of the songs from his his Born In The USA album (except that absolutely execrable title song, that album’s “Hungry Heart.”)
    And Bruce has aged well.

    My asbestos bathrobe has been donned….

      1. I am a classical musician and composer who takes a certain amount of pride in having eclectic musical tastes. I think Bruce is great, but this particular song doesn’t do much for me. Glad you like it though. Of course with Bach I think we’re talking about different talent! If you enjoy this gigue movement you might also like the last movement of Bach’s third cello suite (try Anner Bylsma on youtube). Also the “Gigue” Fugue for Organ, BWV 577 (I’m listening to Matthias Havinga play it on youtube). For the ultimate in “bouncy” try the Badinerie from Bach’s Suite No. 2 in B Minor – BWV 1067. There are several good videos to choose from. And after you come down from your gigue high, relax with the “Air for the G String” by the Modern Jazz Quartet and the Swingle Singers (the latter also have a version of the “Badinerie” that is worth hearing!

    1. To each his own. I can cope with that. 😉

      But “monotony”? Could you expand on what makes Bach’s music seem monotonous to you? One of things that musicians find so compelling about his music is that it is overflowing with tonal, contrapuntal and motivic relationships. There’s often more going on in a couple of measures of Bach than in an entire song by, say, John Legend.

    2. Oh yeah, believe me I know how revered Bach is and why. He was part of my musical education and a bunch of my friends are Bach fanatics (and, not coincidentally, Gould fanatics).

      I get the Bach love intellectually, but I don’t connect emotionally to it at all.
      I think it’s mostly because as a kid I got into classical music through an initial interest in movie soundtracks, so the later romantic styles appealed to me (and then on to other 20th century styles, Stravinsky etc). So I can start appreciating from Mozart on, with progressing attachment to classical music taking off more around the time of Brahms.

      I realize also that I actually liked Springsteen popular songs quite a lot starting from the Born In USA album, and on to tunnel of love and some of his movie songs. It’s really the earlier Springsteen that I disliked.

      I also used to hate Niel Young, because I didn’t get his music (too into funk, jazz, prog rock, etc) and because it seemed every drunk at a party picking up a guitar would start warbling some Niel Young. Now I really love some of his music.

      Next up for me on my road to musical maturity: finding some smidgen of appreciation for Bob Dylan….


      1. Try starting with Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone. Like with Neil, or Leonard, you’ve gotta get over the voice…

      2. “Oh yeah, believe me I know how revered Bach is and why. He was part of my musical education and a bunch of my friends are Bach fanatics (and, not coincidentally, Gould fanatics).

        I get the Bach love intellectually, but I don’t connect emotionally to it at all.”

        My sentiments *exactly*. I know why he’s thought of as possibly the single supreme genius of Western music, but I too just can’t work up any emotional enthusiasm for the music. At all. It just doesn’t stir me because I can’t for the life of me find any heart and soul in it, only brain. I like my music to come through as though it was written by a real human being with a full complement of human emotions, and in this regard Bach just doesn’t cut it, sorry. Just arid strings of semiquavers a lot of the time to me, I’m afraid. I think that Vaal is, like me, a musical dyed-in-the-wool romantic (or Romantic) for whom Western music *really* gets going with Beethoven.

    3. Queing off of Vaal’s comment, I’ve found that there are two clear correlations regarding how much I like / dislike Rock / Pop music.

      1)The most “popular” singles from albums, those that receive the most air time, are almost never even close to what I like best on the album. For example, speaking of Styx, Man in the Wilderness and Castle Walls are two of my favorite Styx songs, but I would bet that most people don’t know or remember them. I have certainly never herd them on the air. I have to admit that I can’t think of a single song I like on the Cornerstone album though.

      2) The later the album the less likely I am to like the music. I am not sure if that is just because the odds of creating something special are low, and that having done so is what gets an artist signed in the first place, or what. A hypothesis of mine is that Rock is all about letting it all hang out, with style and attitude, and maturing just inevitably mellows that.

      In any case a good example that springs to mind is Creedance Clearwater Revival / John Fogerty. I’ve got no problem referring to CCR’s Susie Q or I Put A Spell On You as “great.” And then I clearly recall listening to an interview with Fogerty when he released his first solo album in the eighties, after having disappeared with the rest of CCR for years. He considered himself to have matured and become a much better musician. “I’ve taken this time to learn to play my instruments much better,” he said. The album was Centerfield. I wanted to like it. But, I just couldn’t. I found it droning and deadly boring. He may indeed have become a better musician, but I didn’t like the music.

    4. Born in the USA execrable??? Love the whole album. Darlington County…me and Wayne on the 4 th of Joooly. Such great driving music! Also love Hungry Heart ( although at doggie dinner time around here it has on occasion been bastardized into Everybody’s Got a Hongry Hounnnnnd.)

      Can’t beat Bach, either, except perhaps with Brahms.

  4. The middle movement of Brandenburg 6 is also sublime, if you’re in the mood for something more serene and contemplative.

    I’m highly skeptical that the instrumentation has anything to do with wanting to be released from the Prince’s service. This concerto was written no later than 1718, and Bach began working for the Prince only one year prior, 1717, and stayed until 1723. Plus, Bach was nothing if not practical. If he’d wanted to be dismissed, he’d simply have requested it (as he did when he made the decision in 1723 to move to Leipzig – and the Prince willingly granted it).

    Given his practicality, it’s likely that he was simply writing for what was available at a certain time: “oh, look, we have some violists and some gamba players (including the prince) – I’ll write something for them.”

    1. Just noticing WP gives the composition date of this specific concerto as 1721.


      The 6 Brandenburgs were compiled into the collection of, well, 6 Brandenburgs in March of 1721 and presented as a gift/audition to the Margrave of Brandenburg. But the individual concerti were written at various times preceding that. No 6 was likely the earliest in 1718.

  5. I like the Boss, and the Bach.

    Initially I did not like BS. All I heard from him was what was on the radio, and most of that was not to my tastes so I didn’t look any further. Then one day I heard his I’m On Fire. I really liked it. It was so different from my preconceived notions of what he was that I couldn’t believe it was him at first. I then took the time to try more of his stuff.

    I do find Bach to often be stern and a bit forboding. Sometimes technical, but pretty amazing. One of my favorite recordings I have of Bach is this MHS release Johann Sebastian Bach, Orchestra Of St. Luke’s ‎– Four Concerti For Various Instruments. In particular, Concerto In C Minor For Oboe And Violin sounds amazing on my B&K monoblocs / B&W DM640s. Just close your eyes and the real world disappears.

      1. Oops. I didn’t even notice that until I came back and saw your comment.

        Maybe a blindfold and some Febreeze would help?

          1. That is one of the more awesome covers ever done in the history of covers, but I’m not sure “sexy” is the proper word to describe it!

  6. Even though my mind boggles at someone not “getting” Bach’s instrumental music, since it is so much more aurally complex than later Classical and Romantic music, I can can still understand their viewpoint. But once you begin to plumb the incredible depths of his vocal music, I don’t understand how someone could not be moved profoundly. To hear the St Matthew Passion is to glimpse the power of religious fervour, with none of the evil side effects! I still am moved to tears when the countertenor sings Erbame Dich. And some of the arias and chorales of the cantata are equally wrenching.
    Not an easy type of music to grasp, but it was entirely fitting that when they were discussing what to put on the sound recording that was included in the Voyages missions, and ssomeone suggested the complete works of Bach, the reply was that it wasn’t proper to brag.

    1. Erbarme Dich. Yup. I’m getting a lump in my throat just thinking about it.

      Try this performance. I think the use of the theorbo in the continuo is a nice touch.

      I’m playing continuo for the B minor mass next weekend. I hope I don’t ruin the performance by sobbing all the way through the Crucifixus.

        1. Nice tempo, and hey, you can certainly do worse than John Eliot Gardiner and the ensembles he conducts. Although I will say Kenny’s pronunciation is a little funny at times.

    2. I’ll check out some of Bach’s choral music.

      I just find his idiom sounds too restrictive to my ears. The originality or interest is almost all “vertical” in terms of contrapuntal and melodic interplay, but the rhythm and pace seems monotonous.

      I like the free-flow and unpredictability of tempo, volume, theme etc of more modern classical music.

      Of course, working within a strict idiom
      can be a source of ingenuity and brilliance.
      But you have to appreciate the idiom to begin with, to really connect with the music.

      It reminds me of the issue of my Father In Law and my two teenage sons. My Father In Law is a classical music fanatic. It’s all he’s ever listened to. When he hears the popular music my sons listen to he wrinkles his nose and says it sounds as primitive as cavemen dancing around the fire. “It all sounds the same.”

      He’s spent years taking my sons to the symphony (I can’t, due to hearing issues) trying to give them an appreciation of classical music. But after all this time what do my sons think? “Don’t tell Grandpa, because it’s nice that he takes us…but his classical music all sounds the same.”


  7. Bach is sublime. Sublime. I’ve been listening to that piece for 50 years and never heard that ensemble. I’m running out now.

        1. The only DElphine Galou I found on amazon was on a CD called Les Contraltos. Let’s hope she’s singing the Bach.

  8. I actually quite like the song, and
    I know the difference between fact and fiction, but I still dislike the opening verse-
    probably because the way the song is sung, and the audience’s reaction, glorifies the protagonist actions, when he’s actually being a total jerk.

    It’s part of the macho “a man’s gotta be free no matter how much it screws some woman over” trip found in so many so rock songs (never mind the kiddies).

    I first heard it in my 20s, and knew more than one guy who did the same thing with the same excuse, and at the time I was sympathetic to the message.

    Just like ‘Darlington County’, though here we are all invited to laugh along at the goofball hero’s delusions about himself and his buddy. At least now, anyway: when I first heard it,in my 20s, I missed the satire and totally identified with a couple of wastrels buying a beat-up piece of crap and driving 800 miles on a rumour of a job (Vancouver to Ft.St John, in my case).

  9. Bach is intellectually satisfying music, which is why many do not enjoy it. I am not one of those. Bach’s music can be described as almost mathematical.

    You can get an appreciation of this by reading Douglas Hofstadter’s book “Godel, Escher, Bach: The Eternal Golden Braid”. But a warning: It stretches to 750 pages and is very heavy reading.

    My favourite popular music group is Jethro Tull. Their music can also be described as intellectual which is why they have never been very popular. However, after 40 years, they still perform live in and around Europe (30 concerts over the next three months).

    Here is Jethro Tull’s version of Bach’s “Bouree”.

  10. I’ve never been an enthusiast for Springsteen, but I was exposed to Bach at a very, very early age and his music enthralled me, it made me “high” and in a rapturous state. It still does. I absolutely love Bach’s music.

  11. Very chuffed as a lover of this site, and a viola player specializing in baroque music I get Brandy 6 here!

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