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18 Oct 2005

Bach's Algebraic Purity

By Fred Kirshnit [NY Sun, 18 October 2005]

If Johann Sebastian Bach could be resurrected 255 years after his death and walk the streets of Leipzig today, what would impress him most would not be airplanes or computers but rather that his music is still being performed. Highly influenced by the laws of mathematics, Old Bach plied his formulas with the care of a researcher but did not think that the finished product was anything special. He didn't even bother to preserve much of his immense output, and tossed off a brilliant sacred cantata every Sunday for his boys to perform as part of their general duties at St. Thomas's Church (he was also in charge of bussing tables there). There were well over 300 of these isochronous assignments and not a bad one in the bunch, judging from the approximately 200 that are extant.

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