What is the correct way to listen to Bach? Let me tell you. Luckily, it happens to be the way that I listen to Bach.
First, know that you must have 18th century ears. That’s right, you can’t sully your ears with any sensibilities outside of Bach’s time. This will only limit your ability to listen to Bach in full. Better not to listen to music at all than listen to it incorrectly.
If in doubt know that reading the score is the purest way of listening to music. I explain this to my neighbours whenever they have loud music on at night, but they never understand. Music is the loftiest of arts, and requires more from us than any other art form, such as sculpture, dance, or making bridges out of spaghetti. A regular approach of quotidian equanimity simply won’t do. You don’t want your carefully constructed bridge to collapse under the weight of your toy trucks.
Sometimes, however, it is acceptable to listen to Bach being performed by people, or even better, by a CD or record, so that that there are no people. For example, just recently I heard a person playing Bach they way they would have in the 1930’s, not the way the would have in the 1970’s. What was this so called “person” thinking? Don’t they know that that style is out of date? Bach definitely would not have wanted that.
And as such, you must have a 21st century face on while you listen to Bach. That is key. How else can you enjoy the many different recordings that all reproduce what Bach wanted? We must understand the way recording technology exists only to allow us greater access to the past. As new technologies get better, they are able to show us how much better everything was in the past, especially Bach’s past. And present.
We do not need to approach the future at all, as it only takes us further from Bach. We must understand what was happening in Bach’s time. To do this, we have to do more research and more study. I hope that happens soon.
And certainly do not try to listen to modern composers with either 18th century ears or a 21st century face. It just won’t do. Tonality is dead now! Only Bach knew how to use tonality. For this it is helpful to ignore all popular musical forms since recorded media began, as this type of tonality doesn’t count. Bach would never have written songs like the Beatles would he? How could he?
And remember, the greatest wisdom in the world can not be understood, just felt, on a harpsichord or organ, or perhaps another keyboard instrument, but not a piano. Anything but a piano. That is why I listen to Bach.