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The Big Idea for Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Opera, unlike many other art forms, did not emerge organically. It is therefore instructive to understand its early form as what Richard Dawkins calls a 'replicator,' "an organism that mutates through successive generations, sometimes with enough success to perpetuate the line and, at others, falling away as expendable and non-regenerative."

In today's lesson, the British conductor John Eliot Gardiner utilizes Dawkins's concept to solve one of music's great mysteries - why Johann Sebastian Bach never composed an opera. According to Gardiner, Bach seized upon an emergent genre, that of mutant opera, in order to infuse his church music with drama, and humanism. 

The rhetorical question went like this: "I do not know why operas alone should have the privilege of squeezing tears from us; why is that not true in the church?" Bach's music provided the answer, Gardiner argues, by bending the genre and "realizing a dramatic potency in music beyond the reach of any of his peers." 


  1. 1 Johann Sebastian Bach: Genre-Bender Extraordinaire
    Big Think Editors Big Think TV
  2. 2 What Radiohead Teaches Us About Musical Innovation
    Sam McNerney Moments of Genius
  3. 3 Bach's Habit of Imperfection
    Big Think Editors Big Think TV
  4. 4 Richard Dawkins on Why Science is Art
    Richard Dawkins


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