|Exploring Bach for His Gypsy Side|
|By Michael Beckerman
The New York Times
Sunday, November 8, 2009
"SO this musicologist wants to establish that the finale of Haydn’s last symphony (No. 104) is based on a folk song. He goes into the fields, finds a group of peasants and calls them over: 'Hey, do you guys know this tune? Dee-da-dah, dee-da-dah, duh-duh-da-ta-da duh-dah.' The peasants shrug their shoulders: never heard it before, sorry.
Twenty years later another musicologist comes by, finds the same group of peasants and says, 'Hey, lads, sing me your favorite song.' The peasants look knowingly at one another and start, 'Dee-da-dah, dee-da-dah ... .' The musicologist concludes that Haydn’s finale is definitely based on folk music.
Such are the vagaries and pitfalls of writing history. The past happened long ago and mostly far away. Reconstructing it even from meticulously preserved and ordered documents is a feat that requires the greatest skill, enormous luck and endless stamina, and it is usually at least half wrong anyway. So how can we recover the vanished past from invisible traces left by an oral tradition? Matthias Maute, a German recorder and flute virtuoso and composer, and the Ensemble Caprice offer tantalizing possibilities in “Bach and the Bohemian Gypsies,” a concert to take place at the Miller Theater at Columbia University on Saturday evening."
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Photo by Bill Blackstone