The film is about how spiritual experience of gentleness, genuineness and sophistication is slipping away from human life into moments of disinterested meditation in musical form, which the talented and more than talented professionals provide us because of their love of music and for financial reward.

The film provides for viewers endless impressions of the absence of spiritual meaning and spontaneity in everyday life of the people we observe. Straub and Huillet while depicting the life of the intelligent people (connected with Protestant Church and with art) in the 17-18th century – don’t find in them any emotional spark or any impulsive smile. The directors emphasize that the reason for these people’s existential misery is not just the conditions of their lives, but their life style, their very manner of existing.

Especially for the American movie-audiences it seems necessary to add that the impression from the life of Bach and Anna Magdalena and other musicians or the children in the church music schools is as bleak as American life today if it wasn’t for the noisily pompous athletic events, pop-rock-rap…etc. music, the joys of consumerist shopping, TV-sitcoms or animation cartoons for children and adults and Hollywood entertainment magically lifting us up and out. Bach and his colleagues in the music world didn’t work (and searched for work) less than Americans today, but they look and move like people who don’t know anything except their everyday work. It takes some time for us the viewers to understand that for them having a job wasn’t so much a matter of survival through their profession but – salvation from a meaningless life. For them it was an ontological way out from the absurdity of a life.

Johann Sebastian, Anna Magdalena, their children or their colleagues didn’t know today’s demonic structure of mass consumerism and entertainment – so, for them the choice was between a crude nudity of just living and sublime challenges of spiritual creativity (available to them in the measure of one’s talent). For these people the way of indulging into Marcuse’s “repressive de-sublimation” was, thank god, historically absent – not created yet. So, for them the channel of making living and searching for meaning was the same – from everyday life to meaning and sublimation, from meaninglessness to a sublime world of (musical) meditation. But the problem of this situation is that the way back from spiritual creativity elaborated as profession to life again is not effective because of structural incompatibility of professional competence and craft (with particular emotional sensitivity) and existential matrix itself. On its way back to life the trembling artistic inspiration blended with spiritual experiences, like in serious music, is unable to become part of life (sensitivity to spiritual music continues to exist as a special isolated part of the psyche not only in artists but in the music lovers as well). In other words, the artists and admirers of the serious music are continue to live according to a not attractive existential logic – no matter how strong influence the emanations of spiritual music may have on their souls. When even the most sensitive listeners of spiritual music feel the dissonance between “rudeness” of life and the “beauty” of music they will tend to continue to live according to the laws of factuality and necessity. Here, we are getting close to the “nucleus” of Straub and Huillet’s concept of their film. Even a musical genius like Johann Sebastian Bach lived a typical life and even his music wasn’t able to “change the world” – the “moral dirt” of everyday survival and rivalry is as intact in front of a genius as it is in front of the messiah.

This is the tragedy of Johann Sebastian’s being as that of an artistic genius, according to Straub and Huillet. We see Gustav Leonhardt playing Bach with a combination of modesty and ambition. He always shows Bach as being much more “solid” than everybody around without making him look, as if, on emotional stilts, and still his Bach is part of dreadfully despondent life. It’s almost the inevitable paradox of artistic genius locked in a desolated ordinary life. And we today who have unexpectedly found ourselves under a twofaced monarchy – a military power with a face of profit-money and a profit-money with a face of military power – are especially sensitive to Straub and Huillet’s portrait of Bach’s life – in their film about how spiritual experience of gentleness, genuineness and sophistication is sliding away from human life into spiritual moments of disinterested meditation in musical form which exceptionally talented professionals provide us for the sake of love for music stronger than their love for life.

Gustav Leonhardt impersonating Bach

Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet in the beginning of their cinematic life

Jean-Marie Straub almost a decade after the death of his wife and creative collaborator Daniele Huillet

Usually in Straub/Huillet’s film the scenes where Johann Sebastian and Anna Magdalena are together, depict their playing music or rehearsing with each other. Here, we see Bach and his wife in a moment of intimate touch.

In this still we see Straub/Huillet’s satiric representation of two kinds of children according to the worldview dominating in Germany amongst the church music circles during Bach’s life time. The first type consists of the little angels supporting the heaven from falling, as a part of church architecture. But the second are real kids as a choristers boys in a church music school. According to John Eliot Gardner, a recent Bach scholar, Johan Sebastian in his childhood was mentally and physically abused exactly in several church music schools, which Straub/Huillet depict in their film.

Posted on Jan, 15 2018 –   Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet – “The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach” (1968) – How Creative Genius Can Triumph Over Life-As-Work And Work-As-Professional Specialization by Acting-Out Politics