This presentation was read by Chiara Bertoglio and Maria Borghesi at the website's launch, on September 22nd, 2019, in Dresden. Watch the video here!
The idea of creating a website about J. S. Bach in Italy came to us a few months ago when discussing the findings of our research on the reception of Bach in our country. Both of us had observed that, contrary to common belief, Italy is can be numbered among the “Bachian” countries. Starting already in the eighteenth century with Father Martini and his legacy, and continuing throughout the following centuries, Italy has seen a great abundance of creative engagements with Bach and his music. We have found countless transcriptions and arrangement of Bach’s works realized by Italian musicians; numerous editions, both in the field of critical editing and of the so-called “instructive editions”, which bear witness to the evolving performance style and to the continuing interest in Bach’s works within a pedagogical perspective. We have read many written works, both in the field of research proper and as concerns the popularization of Bach, as well as music criticism and historiography or aesthetics, often finding original perspectives which may be indebted to Italy’s particular religious/confessional demographics. We have found several Bach festivals, some of which were (or still are) sustained for years in a row, as well as many Bach-themed series within the major (and many minor) concert seasons of the peninsula. We have catalogued hundreds of recordings made by Italian artists, both in the field of historically informed performance and on modern instruments, including also numerous transcriptions for unusual instruments. We have ascertained, in short, that the enthusiasm for Bach is a constant feature in the Italian musical panorama; that it has thrived in many, very different ways, thus bearing witness to its continuing vitality and creativity; that it is fruitful and fecund both as concerns the scholarly studies and the creative output.
Yet, the discovery of such a rich background came somewhat as a surprise even for ourselves, though we counted on such results for the very development of our research. We therefore realized that Italy does not lack a passion for Bach; it lacks, possibly, the capability of communicating it both within and outside its geographical and cultural boundaries. And even though both research and artistic creativity flourish best when original paths are trodden, the knowledge of what is happening and has happened within a particular geo-cultural context is certainly the prerequisite for every forward-looking undertaking.
In order to favour this knowledge, both inside Italy and outside it, and in consideration of the linguistic barriers which may impede the transfer of knowledge on an international plane, we have designed a website which, in our aim and hopes, should work as a showcase for both scholarship and artistic production about Bach in Italy. As is everybody’s knowledge, a website offers many advantages: it is relatively easy to update, it can reach audiences worldwide, it can embody hyperlinks which favour the intertwining of information and knowledge, and it can interact with other websites in a direct and immediate fashion. Moreover, when a website is also connected with social media pages (such as those on Facebook and Twitter) it can also help building a community of scholars, artists, music-lovers, students, researchers and performers who can share ideas, knowledge and expertise.
A website, moreover, can also reach readers who have very little or no previous knowledge of Bach and of his music, and who may find it when, for example, searching for known tunes or for information due for a school essay. Thus, by providing those readers with easily accessible, scholarly reliable, and yet understandable information, we hope to contribute also to a greater appreciation of, knowledge about and interest in Bach in our country.
Finally, we aim at creating not only a “virtual” environment in which the encounter and exchange among Bach lovers will be possible, encouraged and fostered, but also at favouring opportunities of personal interaction “in the flesh”. It is well to know about music, but this cannot be separated from the experience of live music performed under one’s eyes; it is well to discuss on Bach’s works on a web forum, but it cannot replace the emotion and impact of a direct encounter. Therefore, we aim at balancing the presence of jsbach.it on the web with actual opportunities for real humans to meet with each other; these will take the form of both scholarly situations and events for the popularization of Bach.
The portal, which has been launched at the Symposium "Bach at the Dawn of 2020" at the Hochschule für Musik in Dresden on Sept. 22nd, 2019, is structured into a series of sections, which should interest a wide variety of users.
Those wishing to be informed about the recent scholarship about Bach in Italy will find numerous resources in the bibliographic section, which lists the most updated scholarly studies along with works which have a more didactic or entertaining perspective. For many of these studies, an abstract will be found by clicking on the links; when this is allowed by copyright laws, a pdf copy of articles and books will be also uploaded or linked. Regular updates about such publications will be provided to those who subscribe (for free, of course) to the newsletter of jsbach.it, which will be issued approximately twice yearly in Italian and in English. This literature list comprises works about Bach written by Italian scholars, works about Bach available in Italian and works about Bach and Italy in any language.
Another major reference section is the list of recordings, which currently comprises nearly 200 CDs, LPs and boxes (all of which are entirely dedicated to Bach) and which will, in turn, be constantly updated. There is a searchable database, which can be sorted by BWV number, performer, year, label etc., as well as separate pages organized by time-slots, in which the CD covers can also be seen. This allows users to see, at a glance, which works appear to have stimulated the attention of Italian performers most – this is the case, for example, of the Goldberg Variations which have been recorded by at least eleven pianists, six harpsichordists, but also by organists, guitarists and orchestral ensembles. Along with well-known masterpieces such as The Art of the Fugue, the solo violin or solo cello works and the English or French Suites, Italian performers have also a marked interest for lesser-known works, in particular (as can be imagined) for those which have conceptual connections with Italy, but also unrelated with it. It may come as a surprise to know that already in the Sixties a team comprising several Italian organists had recorded Bach’s complete works for the organ, and that another contemporary team of organists has recorded the works for the organ written by the Bach family. Even the study of the CD or LP’s cover is revealing of the underlying concept of Bach found in the Italian market, with the presence of religious imagery and of geometric shapes.
There is also a “Who’s Who” section, which puts under the spotlight those individuals or groups who are engaged in a constant fashion with Bach’s performance and/or scholarship. By providing a brief information about their contributions to the field of Bach interpretation or studies, a short overview of their biographical details and their contact information, we hope to help establishing this national and international net of communication and reciprocal knowledge.
A similar approach lies behind our listing of the Bach festivals and concert seasons, which include both those which are currently on stage and those which have interrupted their activity. This provides the users of our website with a reference net allowing them to access information about the concert activity focused on Bach in Italy, as well as with resources about Bach which are provided by the individual festivals and seasons.
Relatedly, but with a more pronounced focus on providing opportunities to listen to Bach’s music performed live, another section of the website lists the most important Bach events in Italy in the current music season, thus allowing those interested in Bach’s music to have an overview of the not-to-be-missed concerts.
All of the preceding sections are very much open to integrations, suggestions and improvements. Even though we have created this website on the basis of our scholarly and musical training, and we aim at maintaining it at a high level of reliability by carefully selecting the materials to be published, we also desire this portal to partake in the shared information which characterizes the web. Thus, there are specifically designed and easy-to-use forms through which both the authors of publications and those who know about them are very welcome to submit their indications.
This process aims at facilitating the constant updating of the website, whose sections will be continuously improved and enriched; at the same time, through the newsletter, the news section and the social media, we will keep those interested in our website informed about the most exciting novelties in the field.
As we have previously said, the human aspect is at least as important, for us, as the virtual environment. Thus, we have already two projects underway, directed respectively to the scholarly community and to the general audience, which have precisely the aim of favouring the direct encounter of people and of knowledge.
We are currently working on an international conference, which should take place in Turin at the end of 2020, and aiming at gathering scholars, performers and students from the global Bach community; it will be organized in partnership with the Conservatory of Turin and with the Coro Maghini, which organizes the most important Bach Festival currently active in Italy. This will ensure the constant interaction between the historically-informed component of performance, the creative reception of Bach in the modern world, and the most recent development of scholarship worldwide; the focus of the conference will be, of course, “Bach and Italy”. A Call for Papers will circulate in the forthcoming months; it will be reviewed by a Scientific Committee composed by some of the leading figures in the field, and will invite papers and lecture/recitals on aspects relating both to Bach’s “Italian” inspiration and to the Italian reception of Bach.
Moreover, in partnership with an Italian tour operator and the Accademia Maghini, we are also organizing a tour for Bach lovers during the BachFest of 2020. The exciting programme of the Leipzig Festival is likely to attract and to fascinate professional musicians, amateur performers and music lovers alike, thus facilitating the interaction among these categories of people in an informal and inspirational setting.
All of these projects, as has just been said, have been developed in connection with other extant realities in the field of culture and art. Those interactions which we aim at establishing and cultivating on the personal level with other scholars and performers are already being realized on the institutional plane in order to facilitate the creation of new cultural projects.
As you can see, therefore, even though our portal has been launched recently, it has already a history and a story to tell, and it has ambitious plans for its future development and for establishing an impact on the Italian and international culture. We hope that those associations and research centres which have preceded us, sometimes by centuries, will also welcome this effort and support it in a true spirit of cooperation and sharing. We heartily welcome all suggestions, constructive criticism, proposals and networking ideas which will certainly enrich our project and help it in its growth process.