When I drift away in dozing, will You softly light the candles
And touch the piano with Your kind, strong fingers,
Set stern fugues of Bach and stately themes of Handel’s
Stalking through the corners where the last disquiet lingers?
Dorothy L. Sayers, Christ the Companion, in Catholic Tales and Christian Songs (1918).
About twelve years ago I discovered the foregoing poem — Dorothy Sayers’s requests to “big brother Christ” — and was particularly struck by this stanza. In large part, that was because I was just then learning to love the music of Bach. But there was also something about the image: music “stalking” disquiet through corners. I could feel in those corners a heavy, lonely disquiet, and then — ah! — sound waves, dancing through the heavy still of the night, their light steps chasing away the lingering disquiet.
When I pick up a stringed instrument to set music stalking through the disquiet corners of my house, I nearly always think first to play something by Bach. And I can tell you: the effect even of two measures of Bach is magical. His music is like aural athelas (let the Tolkien reader understand).
So imagine my delight in reading this wonderful essay by Sarah Clarkson, in which she considers a story about the premier of one of Bach’s cantatas. Take up and read.