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In the early 60s, I bought one of my favorite albums: Marcel Dupre - organist for Saint Sulpice in Paris, which has what many believe to be the finest organ ever constructed - playing Bach's 6 Schubler Chorales, the first of which, "Wachet auf, ruft unst die Stimme," BWV645 ("Awake, the voice is calling us") is one of Bach's most famous "tunes." These delightful, simple pieces are not what the mighty organ does most spectacularly, but the simplicity and elegance are relaxing.
there, for two Bach works for organ, Prelude and Fugue BWV 548 in E minor (nicknamed "the Wedge") and the Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543,
in recorded performances found on YouTube.
Though I long ago found these two to be among my favorite works for organ, their similarities had not really registered before this latest re-exposure.
I will have to see if in fact they were composed in the same time period; perhaps their catalog numbers being in close proximity is a hint.
Putting aside for the moment possible parallels between Wright and Bach, the act of simultaneously hearing a musical work and reading its score might
be compared to observing a building with the plans in hand. The analogy is of course imperfect, as the two forms are fundamentally different in the
realms they occupy: one exists in space, the other in time.
On another topic: hearing unfamiliar music of any kind for the first time has a predictable effect on me: I go through a recognizable temporal sequence.
That is, first I am aware that it's something new. Immediately, or somewhere in the first listening, I am looking for comparisons to things I have heard,
trying to place it in the world I already know. It is in the second hearing of the piece that its own attributes begin to surface, and I can assess the work
for its own sake. If it becomes a favorite -- something I want to hear again -- that fact is seldom revealed on initial exposure.
That's why I caution friends not to pass judgement too soon; one has to let the music in, and establish itself as something to love -- or not. Have others
had similar experiences with music ?
It seems we have several readers with their own Bach and other pre-Classical music experiences. I look forward to hearing what others have found.
Jim M and Peter have already mentioned works they like; I'd enjoy having those comments repeated here -- for a start ?
Roderick, you wrote, "I first heard Glenn Gould in his radio-broadcast performance with Bernstein and the New York Phil, when Lenny came out on stage
and renounced any blame for what was about to take place." That's hilarious; do you recall what was on the program ?
performance. The differences between the two forms are, again, obvious -- a building is built once, a musical piece is only known when it is (once, and
once again, and once more) performed.
Because a building is realized (virtually always) once only, so the architect works hard to see it brought to fruition faithfully and well. But he doesn't --
can't -- do that alone; he must depend on his client's faith in the project, and on the builder and his subcontractors, hoping that they all follow their
instructions to the letter.
The composer, too, depends utterly on his interpreters, every time a piece is performed. And that work will likely be performed for decades and even
centuries after he is gone from the scene.
We can only imagine what a building might look like "dressed" in different materials, or placed in an alternate setting from the one it was planned for.
The realization of those alternate versions of the building will remain a matter of imagination, perhaps produced by a modeler or other represent-
ational artist. Those alternates may or may not be ones the architect would approve of -- but the point is essentially moot; the architect gets one shot.
With music, every performance is an opportunity to try new combinations of instruments, new tempi, a new reading of the score. The composer has
presumably provided enough notation to assure a director or conductor of an "authentic" performance -- but no one would expect every performance
of a given piece to sound the same; there are too many variables.
The difference between building and music, here, is that the observer of an architect's work expects a single authentic "performance" of the "score,"
while the listener expects to hear something a bit different -- faithful, but at the same time fresh. As performance practice for any given genre of
music can be expected to evolve over time, works of music become evergreen, perhaps indefinitely ?
"... one exists in space, the other in time."
I'm no physicist, but it think space and time meet in the "Spacetime Continuum." At least that's what Minkowski seemed to believe.
Sgt. PepperÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a complete and total work, with only two slightly differing versions: stereophonic and monophonic. (The Beatles were present only for the mono mixes. They hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t yet realized the importance of stereo. Their next album, Magical Mystery Tour, intentionally explores the possibilities of stereo.) Any later remixes could be seen as multiples as in the case of a Japanese woodblock print.
Even though the album at times attempts to fake live performances using canned applause, the album was never intended to document a performance, or serve as a blueprint for future performances. It was a layered multi-tracked process more resembling the building of a structure, multimedia sculpture or painting.
My next point was going to be that the nature of a performance -- the instrument(s) chosen, the many other variables available to the interpreter --
will affect how a new listener reacts to a given, say, recording. Hearing unfamiliar music on familiar instruments might be more persuasive than
when the whole thing is a shock to the ear (more accurately, the mind) ?
It's the same notes in both cases, but there could hardly be a more striking contrast than that between a Wanda Landowska recording of a Bach
Invention and a Walter/Wendy Carlos transcription of same for the Moog synthesizer. And in the bad old days of the early Baroque revival, a
century ago, when Leopold Stokowski and others thought it was a dandy idea to transcribe Bach organ works for full orchestra (and, it turns out, vice
versa), listeners could hear the crisp harmonies and cadences of native Bach transformed into lush and schmaltzy string versions of the music --
bringing "culture to the masses" ?
http://www.stokowski.org/Leopold%20Stok ... ations.htm
That same revival, however, also brought us the sincere and probing research of early music carried out by the young Landowska, and her
subsequent teaching and performance career.
Not many of her recordings have made it to YouTube so far; here is her performance of Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue -- something to
demonstrate another side of the composer's spirit, a little "surprise symphony" to awaken the audience after being lulled by the Air on the G String !
Granted, her reading of the work might be compared by some to the romanticism of Stokowski, or as self-indulgent as Gould, with more rubato than
either of them -- but the unique piece (Bach indulging in a rare reverie) seems to call for something unusual from the performer . . .? The speedy
fugue is a welcome contrast to what came before, in any event. The sixteen-foot (bass) register of her instrument is fearsome !
(I could swear she's humming along with the piece, here and there. Shades of Gould . . .)
On the off chance that a reader wants to hear more from this performer, on this instrument, there's the two-plus hours of her Well-tempered Clavier, Book 1.
be found online opining that she "has never heard a harpsichord," an allusion to her unusual instrument, I guess -- this is an exemplary recording of the
work: plain, direct, scrupulously accurate performances, ornamented with restraint, perhaps precisely as written ?
The playing becomes if possible better, more compelling, as the work proceeds. The joy that emanates from this music is fully on display . . .
If the sound of the harpsichord is just too off-putting, there are many piano recordings on YouTube to try. Because the work consists of many short
"tunes" -- pairs of preludes and fugues, each pair in a different key -- one may dip into (and out of) the Well-tempered Clavier at will.
(An ad interrupts the second movement, a bar or two from the end !)
Bach brought the harpsichord, the piano of its day, from a continuo or accompanying instrument forward, to become the solo voice in an orchestral piece.
There are even pedal harpsichords; E Power Biggs, a popular performing and recording artist of the last century, famously reintroduced the instrument on
an LP in 1966, playing organ works just as Bach himself would have done when composing and practicing.
I'll bring back this slightly less avant-garde (not to say slightly more constrained) improvisation, as an elegy and farewell.
In some cases at least, YouTube follows this cut with something labeled "Take Two," the same tune recorded at the same session, clearly --
but a disappointment compared to the better-known side, and a lesson in "When it's perfect, move on. . ." ?
Compared to the Cecil Taylor above, this is about 80% of the way back to Bach, in both form and content -- isn't it ?
At 35:20 we hear of Bach the architect . . .
Bach oratorio, the St Matthew Passion, BWV 244, in a most extraordinary performance, conducted by Helmuth Rilling -- without a score, and with an
especially interesting portable organ carrying the continuo rather than a harpsichord.
This is an uncut version of the work, totaling just under three hours playing time. That will be too much music at one sitting for many, unless employed
as background to some domestic or other activity. It is perfectly all right to enjoy this long piece in multiple servings; for those of us who don't have any
German the pleasure is entirely in the musical abstract, untroubled by the sacred text . . .
But watching the video is a pleasure, as multiple cameras catch individual musicians at work. And the sound recording appears to have captured every
instrument and voice here, in an extraordinarily refined and moving performance.
Try listening to just the opening and closing choruses, to get a taste of this work via a couple of its highlights, which appear periodically throughout. At
1:07:35 we have the closing chorus of the first half of the work -- a special treat.
https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivec ... ew-passion