Bach and the essence of things

Bateman’s Bay, NSW

What speaks to us … in Bach … is a strange transfiguration,

a break-through into the realm of essence … Erich Neumann


You’re in the cabin playing Bach Preludes and Fugues

on the harpsichord keyboard, practicing those endlessly

repeating themes which plait sounds together in intricate


interweavings. Notes chase each other in ascending aural

spirals, as impossible as Escher’s uphill water. Descent is

in rivulets and waves. The sound is spare, simple but the


music lays down dignity as a fundamental, insists on the

reach of the human spirit, persistence in the face of … as

uplifting as the gums outside – stature tethered to beauty.


I’m down on the beach with the cormorants. Long bodies

zoom in from Pelican Island where they’ve been fishing

and preening all day – their own patch of paradise. Feathers


combed by northerlies, wings hung out to dry, probed by

fingers of sunlight. The birds roost in the gums which circle

the bay. The forest’s breath is loam, peat, eucalypt – earthy


intimacy. One bird launches into the space above the water,

flies stately aerial circuits. Another follows, close on its heels.

The birds rise and fall with the thermals, moving in tandem,


then in counterpoint. Dark notes, flying lazy looping fugues

in the gathering dusk, chasing what is elusive to humans.

The sky pours an avalanche of colour into the waiting ocean.




We have our own versions of the fugue, moving contrapuntally

and in tandem, like the music. Now you play, I listen, filled with

reverence at the sounds which emerge from your hands, hands


which know the keyboard so intimately, know me likewise …

That a human could compose this pure, liquid simplicity … that

you could coax beauty out from where it lies latent – in notes


on the page, the keyboard, your own dexterity and whole heart.

True to the chase, like Bach was. It’s all here, the music says,

the essence of everything dear, drenching this very moment.