AIMS Instructional Media Services, Bach is Beautiful, Beethoven, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Chopin, Don Draper, Jessica Wood, Johann Christoph Bach, long-playing record, Mad Men, Maria Barbara Bach, reception, Rip Van Winkle, Story of Bach, Tale Spinners for Children
Some of my favorite moments in Bach reception history come from commercial children’s recordings and films that tell his life story. I’m especially drawn to ones from the 1950s-70s that make his career trajectory map onto the postwar ideal of the “self-made man.” (This ideal has gained traction lately via Mad Men and the character Don Draper). Both Bach and Draper were orphans who grew up poor, worked their way up purely by the sweat of their brow, became breadwinning family men – all the while keeping a certain undomesticated masculinity that crops up in sexual proclivities, uncooperativeness at work, occasional stick fights, and maybe a stint in jail.
One example includes the Story of Bach LP, which was part of an enormous British series for children featuring biographies of famous historical or fictional characters (such as Beethoven, Chopin, or Rip Van Winkle). In this excerpt, C. P. E. Bach tells the story of his father J. S.’s life, including the part where he becomes an orphan and his brother Johann Christoph offers to put him up for awhile. And although the record is for children, Side B does include a brief reference to Bach’s sexuality when a church official nearly catches him “in the act” with Maria Barbara. Bach assures him not to worry, since she is a cousin. The official replies, “We’ve all heard of those kind of cousins.”
In 1970, AIMS Instructional Media Services released a film entitled Bach Is Beautiful (a play on the era’s “black is beautiful” movement) that gave a similar account of J. S.’s life. Synopsis: Bach was an orphan, had to walk thirty miles just to hear a concert, had to write out manuscripts by hand, and (lacking patrons) provided for his family only by the sweat of his brow. In the film, cartoons of Bach are interspersed with footage of 1960s listeners and performers of his music.