The Right to Write

Archive for April 2009

Neil Gaiman opens up this unique book with darkness – a hand with a knife – and a baby.

The baby is a curious boy and while the mysterious “the-man-Jack” murders the baby’s family, the boy escapes from his crib and toddles out of the house unbeknownst to the-man-Jack, thus saving his life.

He wanders into a graveyard where two ghosts, Mr. and Mrs. Owens, find him. After much contemplation, the residents of the graveyard decide to keep him and to give him the freedom of the graveyard. Bod is, however, not allowed outside the graveyard in case he is murdered by the people who killed his parents.

Mr. and Mrs. Owens will be his father and mother, and Silas, who is the keeper of the graveyard and the only one who can wander beyond the gates of the graveyards, will be the boy’s guardian.

After further contemplation, the residents of the graveyard decide on a name. Thus, Nobody “Bod” Owens is christened. He’s normal boy…well, except for the fact that he lives in a graveyard and all his friends are ghosts.

But all that changes when Bod is about five. He meets a girl named Scarlett Amber Perkins. When Bod and Scarlett visit a barrow – a place where people keep their treasure – they meet the Sleer, a creature whose master went away and promised to return but never did. Three weeks later, Scarlett’s father gets a job in Scotland and she is forced to move.

In what seems like a twist to the story, Bod goes to a normal school. Silas lets Bod go to school on one condition: he is not to be noticed. Living up to his name, he’s a Nobody there; even the teachers have no idea who he is.

In time, the good in him comes out the way it usually does in most fictional and TV heroes. He tries to stop some school bullies by teaching them a lesson, using skills that he learned from the ghosts. It works but people start paying attention to him.

After nearly being arrested for scaring the bullies, Bod stops going to school and life returns to “normal”. However, something has changed. Bod has tasted the outside world and he gets more adventurous.

There are two illustrations to choose from, this is the less scary one.

There are two illustrations to choose from, this is the less scary one.

He visits a part of the graveyard that has been forbidden to him ever since he could remember. There he meets a witch by the name of Liza Hempstock. He befriends her, and makes it his mission to get her a headstone, as witches didn’t get headstones in the olden days. It just wasn’t done.

He gets her the headstone, and Liza develops something of a crush on him, despite him being only about 12. In the process of getting the headstone, he makes his presence known to the Jack-of-all-Trades, a group of assassins whose best assassin is the-man-Jack.

While this book is certainly one of a kind, it has some amount of predictability. Scarlett comes back from Scotland with a Scottish accent that makes her feel very out of place. Heck, it makes me feel out of place for her, just thinking about it.

When Scarlett returns to the Old Town where Bod’s graveyard is, she meets the-man-Jack in said graveyard. She and her newly-divorced mother are charmed by “Mr. Jack Frost”, and when she meets up with Bod, she unknowingly leads Bod to “Mr. Frost” while trying to help him find his parents.

Thus, the chase ensues. The four remaining Jacks show up and they all go after Bod. He cleverly traps each of them to their deaths, until the final one, the-man-Jack is left. Bod finally frees himself from the Jack-of-all-Trades and gives the Sleer their new master – the-man-Jack. Scarlett is really shocked, and wants to never see Bod again. Sadly, they don’t reunite.

This book is certainly a refreshing one to read. It’s well written, the plot is well thought out and it’s realistic. It’s a children’s book in so far as there are no swear words in it. But when reading this book (and possibly losing a night of sleep over it), you don’t feel like it’s a children’s book at all, as there are so many layers to it. It’s certainly a book you won’t regret reading – or losing a night’s sleep over.

When you think of classical music, three composer’s names tend come up: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach

Despite them all having been around at different times (though Mozart and Beethoven met briefly in Vienna), they had something in common. They were all geniuses. And they were all not appreciated in their own times. Later, though, the works of Bach was rediscovered by Felix Mendelssohn, who arranged for a performance of St. Matthews Passion in 1829. It was a resounding success and it earned Mendelssohn much acclaim at the early age of 20. After that performance, Wolfgang Schmieder began indexing Bach’s works giving us that lovely “B.W.V” next to a number that we now see beside every one of Bach’s pieces.

How did this wonderful composer come about to this earth? Well, let’s go back to the beginning…

The Time of Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach was born in 31 March 1685 and died in 28 July 1750.

Bach lived during the period of music known as the Baroque period. If you study Classical music, you will notice that pieces composed in the same era will sound similar. For example, if you were to compare Johann Pachabel and Antonio Vivaldi, they would both have about the same styles, such as the Poly-phony style in which there are two voices in one piece, and not just melody and harmony as it evolved into in the Classical period. If you don’t recognize the names, Johann Pachabel is best known for his Canon in D, the only canon he ever wrote, and Antonio Vivaldi is best known for his Four Seasons composition.

Sonata for single violin #1 in E minor BWV 1001, Johann Sebastian Bach

Bach's own handwriting

Another composer from the baroque period and J.S Bach’s contemporary is Georg Friedrich Händel – who later added an “E” to the “Georg”, changed the “Friedrich” to “Frideric” (though who could blame him – Fried-rich?) and dropped the two dots above his “ä” in his “Händel” when he moved to England and became a subject of the country, making him George Frideric Handel.

A person, who had much to do with Bach’s career and who could have changed it was Georg Philipp Telemann, who in his time exceeded Bach’s popularity greatly as he was offered a post in Eisenach as Kapellmeister over Bach. Despite that, Telemann and Bach may have kept up a strong correspondence with one another, and Telemann was even godfather of one Bach’s own son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.

Curiously, although Handel lived about 50 miles away from Bach in later life, they never once met – a fact which Bach regretted deeply.

When Bach was 10, he became an orphan and was sent to live with his oldest brother, Johann Christoph Bach. It was there that, at midnight, when everyone was asleep, he would creep down to his brother’s study and copy music in a dimly lit room. It may have been because of this that later in life his eyes gave out and he died shortly after a failed eye operation.

When J. S. Bach was 22, he decided that he was of the age to settle down and choose a wife. He had fallen deeply in love with his cousin, Maria Barbara Bach, and so it was perfect that they should marry. In those days, marrying one’s cousin was not scandalous at all, and considered okay as long as it was your 2nd cousin and not your 1st. Scary, isn’t it? Bach and Maria had seven children together, of which four survived childbirth.

They had a comfortable and happy marriage until Maria’s sudden death in 1720. According to Maria and Bach’s second surviving son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Johann Sebastian was away in the Carlsbad spa with his employer, the Duke of Anhalt-Cöthen, when Maria died. When Johann Sebastian returned to their home in Cöthen, he found out that she had died and had already been buried.

Bach took a year to mourn but looking after four children was not an easy task. He was a busy man as the Kapellmeister (director of music) to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen and so he married Anna Magdalena Wilcke in 1721 to help out with the washing up, presumably. Anna Magdalena was 17 years Bach’s junior and a very talented soprano singer. Bach wrote a number of compositions dedicated to her, most notably the Notebook for Anna Magdalena.

Together, they had 13 children, of whom six survived.

It has to be said that Bach, like Beethoven, was rather grumpy in his time, but perhaps that is to be expected of a perfectionist.

Bach looking rather grumpy.

And older Bach looking rather grumpy.

After Bach

Bach’s legacy lives on, and is an irreplaceable part of every classical musician’s repertoire. The Classical era gave us melodious composers such as Joseph Haydn, Johann Christian Bach, Muzio Clementi and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The Romantic period gave us breath-taking composers such as Felix Mendelssohn, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Frederic Chopin and Ludwig van Beethoven.

The Baroque music gave us many marvelous composers like Arcangelo Corelli, George Frideric Handel, Johann Pachabel and Antonio Vivaldi, but none like the great Johann Sebastian Bach.

Since Mendelssohn’s history changing discovery, Bach has garnered many admirers’, among whom, are Frederic Chopin, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. He has influenced thousands of young composers in both Classical and Rock/Pop genres. In fact, his Toccata and Fugue in D minor has been used in many rock songs. Bach has even been referred to as the “father of all music” – a title that has never been more true.

Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

April 2009


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