The Mathematical Genius of Bach

Spitalfields Festival
The Mathematical Genius of Bach
Goldberg Variations

James Sparks, City of London Sinfonia, Alexandra Wood 
Christ Church Spitalfields, 30 June 2022


The opening concert of the Spitalfields Music Festival referred back to The Spitalfields Mathematical Society, a club that met from 1717 in taverns around Christ Church Spitalfields. Its aim was to give “the public at large an opportunity of increasing their knowledge, on terms so easy, as to be within the reach of every individual, who has a taste to cultivate, or curiosity to gratify.” It educated the working-class men of the district, who included “weavers, brewers, braziers, bakers, bricklayers”. It merged into the Royal Astronomical Society in the 1840s. The Festival continued the Society’s role of educating with a talk by James Sparks (University of Oxford) on the mathematical genius of Bach, illustrated with a performance of the Goldberg Variations, while the audience had access to interactive maths puzzles.

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Festival de Saintes

Festival de Saintes
Abbaye aux Dames: la cité musicale, Saintes
14-22 July 2017

The Abbaye aux Dames was founded in 1047 by the Count of Anjou as a Benedictine abbey for women, usually of aristocratic origin. Around 1120, the Abbey church was altered and the spectacularly carved west end facade and belIMG_20170717_094834230.jpgl tower were added. Internally, the Romanesque triple-aisled basilica was altered, rather inelegantly, by inserting two enormous domed cupolas into the original external walls, resulting in a bit of an architectural mess. After two major fires in the 17th century (which destroyed the cupolas), the church was restored, and impressive new convent buildings were added, with cells for 45 nuns. During the Revolution, the Abbey first became a prison (1792), and then a barracks (1808). In the 1920s, the Abbey complex was purchased by the town of Saintes. In the 1970s, restoration of the monastic IMG_20170716_191740421.jpgbuildings (abandoned since the war) was started and, in 1972, an annual Festival of Ancient Music was created, later becoming the Festival de Saintes. In 1988 the Abbey was launched as a cultural centre by President François Mitterrand, and in 2013 it became la cité musicale, housing a Conservatoire of Music and a range of year-round musical activities, including many for young people. The former nun’s cells now sleep visitors and guests of the Festival.
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