I can’t really critically evaluate the impact of Switched-On Bach ["Analog Ultra-Violence"], because I’m of an age where that album was my introduction to much of Bach’s work, so to me Carlos’ interpretations of Bach are the canonical ones. But I have trouble buying the argument that you can’t legitimately play Bach on a synthesizer because it’s just one musician’s choices as opposed to a whole orchestra. [...] You can certainly play most of Bach on a pipe organ, which is the 17th century’s large mechanical analog version of the synthesizer, with lots of different-shaped pipes and reeds emulating the instruments of its day. “Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor” really deserves to be played on a pipe organ, but if you’re not sitting in a church, a synthesizer and some large speakers will do the job.


Bill Stewart

J. Christopher Arrison responds:

I wholeheartedly agree, Mr. Stewart. You don’t need full orchestra to realize Bach’s works. But in terms of Switched-on Bach, the album is the multi-tracked work of a single person on an exotic instrument. This was simply revolutionary, influencing generations of musicians, spawning copycat albums, while also engendering a mild backlash from musty keepers’ of the old guard, put off by her novel approach. The criticism stemmed over style and crossover appeal, not her mastery. And, of course, not everyone in the upper echelon of the arts agreed. As Glenn Gould famously remarked, “Carlos’s realization of the Fourth Brandenburg Concerto is, to put it bluntly, the finest performance of any of the Brandenburgs—live, canned, or intuited—I’ve ever heard.”

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