Bill ’n’ Bach | National Review

Bill ’n’ Bach | National Review

William F. Buckley Jr. at his favorite instrument, the harpsichord

Today on the homepage, we publish a piece called “Great Companions: On Bach, Beethoven, and other musical friends of mankind.” My assignment: “Say something about the music of the West and what it has meant.” So I’ve said a few things, beginning with the subject of Bach — a subject as vast as the universe. I quote the column that William F. Buckley Jr. wrote on the 300th anniversary of Bach’s birth. Bach, like Handel and Scarlatti (Domenico Scarlatti, not his father, Alessandro), was born in 1685. That was a helluva year.

“Three hundred years ago on March 21,” WFB wrote, “Johann Sebastian Bach was born. The event is as though God had decided to clear His throat to remind the world of His existence.”

If WFB had a favorite piece of music — and what music-lover truly has a favorite piece, with so much to choose from? — it was Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Readers might be interested in an article published in the New York Times, October 4, 1983:

Rosalyn Tureck played the Goldberg Variations at Mr. and Mrs. William F. Buckley Jr.’s house in Connecticut the other night. She came a day early to reacquaint herself with their Bösendorfer piano. The day of the performance, she practiced in the morning, the afternoon and into the evening while the host went sailing and the hostess repotted her begonias.

Here’s a little more:

The music lovers began to gather at 7:30 P.M. Since the drawing room was filled with chairs, Mary Sykes Cahan of the Metropolitan Museum and Henry J. Heinz 2d of the 57 Varieties took refuge among the chintzes in the sun room.

Mr. Heinz looked exceedingly fit for a man who celebrated his 75th birthday in London with Queen Elizabeth, then again in New York at his wife’s fireworks extravaganza. Mrs. Heinz, he said, had taken the evening off. Pat Buckley could understand that, though she never takes a night off, and she drifted about solicitously in yards of ecru and beige-striped chiffon sashed at the hips, and sandals.

“Usually I go barefoot,” she confided. “Shoes are a concession to the guests.”

The Times account concludes as follows:

Overfed New Yorkers began to head home, and the curtain fell on yet another of the Buckleys’ lovely days.

It’s hard to believe that such a world existed, but it really did.

Rosalyn Tureck made recordings at the Buckleys’, including of Bach’s Partita No. 6 in E minor, which you can listen to here. She was a guest of WFB’s on Firing Line, here. She was a guest again for a later episode on the legacy of Glenn Gould (another pianist known for Bach). That one, I cannot find online — perhaps some whiz can.

Toward the end of his life, WFB very much admired the recording of the Goldbergs made by Simone Dinnerstein, a young American. He and I listened to it together. And he invited her to his home to play the work, which she did. Her recording, by the way, is here.

In that column of his, written on the occasion of Bach’s 300th birthday, WFB said, “If a human being exists who is unmoved by the B-minor Mass, it should not surprise that human beings exist who are unmoved by democracy, or freedom, or peace. They have eyes but they do not see, ears but they do not hear.”

Anyway, that’s enough on this subject, here in the Corner. Again, my “Great Companions” piece is here. (Bill was a great companion himself — one of the best ever.)

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.