Opinion: We need Bach more than ever during “time of hard truths”

Posted on: April 10, 2020

Pianist Jeremy Denk performs selections from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier from his home, April 7, 2020. The performance was live-streamed by New York City classical station WQXR.

The late physician and writer Lewis Thomas once “wrote about a prospective attempt at contact with whatever living creatures might inhabit interstellar reaches,” writes James Oestreich in Thursday’s (4/9) New York Times. “What should we try to communicate? ‘I would vote for Bach,’ Thomas wrote, ‘all of Bach, streamed out into space, over and over again.’ … I would vote for Bach, too—especially at this time of hard truths…. But who am I to be privileged to wallow in Bach when so many people are suffering and dying of the virus? … A medical poet-philosopher of our own moment, Craig R. Smith, the surgeon-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital … writes daily updates about the coronavirus crisis to the hospital staff, which have attracted a following on the internet for their depth, candor, gentle and tough encouragement…. Ten years ago, Dr. Smith performed open-heart surgery to replace my congenitally malformed aortic valve…. I gave Dr. Smith a CD copy of Bach’s ‘St. Matthew Passion’ and fumblingly tried to explain that this music was one of my main reasons for wanting to live longer…. May Bach and his composing and performing colleagues help us all on what promises to be a long road to recovery.”