Auschwitz, Christian Brembeck, Christoph Friedrich Bach, Daniel Ligorio, Dresden, Goldberg Variations, kitsch, Leipzig, Mendelssohn, Pere Portabella, Richard Brody, St. Matthew Passion, subway, The Silence Before Bach
The Spanish director Pere Portabella’s  film brings Bach’s music to life with a mysterious, magnificent blend of drama, documentary, and quasi-surrealist whimsy. Beginning with a scene of a player piano rattling off the Goldberg Variations (BWV 988) while rolling through a bright, bare loft, Portabella tickles the senses with a series of skits: a truck driver who plays Bach on the harmonica; Bach himself (the harpsichordist/organist Christian Brembeck) teaching his son Christoph Friedrich music via The Well-Tempered Clavier (BWV 846-69); a Bach impersonator hosting tourists in Leipzig; an orchestra of cellists playing a suite while speeding along in a sleek new subway car; a boat trip through Dresden, where the Goldberg Variations were commissioned, as a guide recounts the 1945 firebombing; a bookseller who speaks to a customer of the horrific abuses of great music in Auschwitz; and Felix Mendelssohn (Daniel Ligorio) discovering the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) on a piece of sheet music in which his butcher has wrapped meat. From puckish humor and borderline kitsch, a great and serious notion emerges: modern Europe was built on the foundation of classical music, which, as a result, endures tenaciously there.
Richard Brody, The New Yorker