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Moeser to lecture on the music of Bach

Photo: Moeser to lecture on the music of Bach (Carson Blackwelder)
James Moeser, Chancellor Emeritus and Professor of Music at UNC, is doing a lecture on Bach over spring break in association with CPA Moeser has had a lifelong love of music, playing the organ since he was a young boy.

UNC music professor and former chancellor James Moeser will lead a series of lectures about Johann Sebastian Bach on March 6 and 7.

“The Genius of Bach” will be presented by a partnership between Carolina Performing Arts and the William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education.

The lecture series will precede performances of the composer’s greatest works by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir in Memorial Hall on March 13 and 14.

Staff writer Carson Blackwelder spoke with Moeser about his love of Bach, his plans for the lecture series and the importance of learning about the revered musician.

DAILY TAR HEEL: What is it about Bach that makes you love his music?

JAMES MOESER: I’m an organist, so Bach’s organ works are the most important contribution to the whole literature for that instrument. So it is personally, from playing the organ, that I came to love Bach’s music.

And as a person who has also conducted the choral works of Bach — and as a church musician — I have an appreciation of Bach’s contribution to the music for the church.

And finally, there is both a musical and spiritual component of Bach’s music that I think sets him apart from almost every other composer.

DTH: What is your favorite Bach piece? Do you have any of his music on your iPod?

JM: (chuckling) What is my favorite piece? That’s really hard. The “Mass in B minor” might be my favorite, but I have so many favorite pieces of Bach that it is really hard for me to single out a single work.

And I don’t have an iPod.

DTH: What do you hope that people will get out of your lectures on Bach?

JM: My intent is that I can help them to understand some of the complexity and also understand the context in which Bach wrote this music. Just to increase their appreciation for what they are hearing.

DTH: What sets Bach apart from his contemporaries?

JM: He was the consummate composer of what we call the Baroque period. Bach mastered the French style, Italian style and he was German. He could compose and speak in all of those languages. He was the total master of his time.

DTH: If you had to summarize what the Baroque period was in just a few words, what would you say?

JM: The Baroque period was roughly 1600 to 1750. It is a wonderful 150-year period in Western Europe. It was a period of great artistic achievements — Bach and Handel are the most talented figures of the epoch. It is one of the most interesting periods in music and cultural history.

DTH: Do you have any fond memories that you associate with Bach’s music?

JM: Yes, playing and conducting them both.

DTH: Why do you think it is important for young people to listen to and learn about Bach?

JM: I think Bach’s music is really eternal. I think he speaks to every generation.

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The wonderful thing about Bach’s music is that it is beautiful on the surface, so without any understanding of what’s going on inside, you can appreciate just the exterior beauty of his music.

But what makes Bach really fascinating is that the deeper you dig into the music — by the way there is mathematical beauty, architectural beauty, there is philosophical and theological meaning — the deeper you dig into this music, intellectually the more interesting and exciting it becomes.

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