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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

121

Real G’s Move in Silence Like Passacaglia

...or, How Bach Can Change Your Life.

One of my former piano professors once said that if you were to sit down and copy out all of the music Bach ever wrote, it would take fifty years. Fifty years! Just to COPY it, not to bring it to life in your mind. The sheer volume of music he wrote — and its overall impeccable-ness — is astounding. Plus, he had twenty kids! How did he have time to go to work, write all of that music, and be a loving husband and father? While he was alive, Bach’s genius went unappreciated, and he was thought of as old-fashioned. All his kids were like, “Oh Dad, you’re sooo lame, all that stuff you write is sooo old, nobody really cares about counterpoint anymore. Can I skip church this week and go hang out with my friends?”

So, listen to this. Here is his Chaconne, or One of the Most Perfect Pieces of Music Ever Written. Watch an elderly Jascha Heifetz completely kill it on the first take.

Yes, I know it's long at 12:55. But it's so worth it, and SO GOOD. (Ed. – And available on Amazon.) Plus, the section that starts at 6:30! How can it get any better than that? If you’re looking for any semblance of peace and serenity in this insanely stressful world, there you go.

This is the last movement of his Partita No. 2 for violin, in D minor. A chaconne is a series of variations built on a repeating bass line (the term is interchangeable with passacaglia [pass-a-CAL-yuh], hence the title of this post). In other words, the basic harmonic progression is the same throughout, but what happens above that is where all the fun is. This is a classic example of it being about the journey and not the destination. Sure, it’s the same chords over and over again, but it’s what he does with them that's so amazing. Here's where we get into the territory where words fail, and I don’t think I could say it any better than Johannes Brahms, so I’m going to let him tell you how mind-blowingly wonderful this piece is:

“On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.”

If you would, for just a second, allow me some poetic license. Somehow, three hundred years ago, Bach wrote the biography of all of us. Imagine that the bass line/chord progression is … YOU. There's something constant about you throughout your life, but also, above that foundation, you wake up every day and live. You have experiences, you get your heart broken, you drink too much Qream and make horrible mistakes, you feel rapturous joy and terrible sadness. The surface of your life changes, but underneath it all, there is still your you-ness.

Mary Kefferstan is a pianist. She loves art, Herman Melville, and daydreaming about places to live besides Ohio.

121 Comments / Post A Comment

atipofthehat

"Hark! the infernal orgies! that revelry is forward! mark the unfaltering silence aft! Methinks it pictures life. Foremost through the sparkling sea shoots on the gay, embattled, bantering bow, but only to drag dark Ahab after it, where he broods within his sternward cabin, builded over the dead water of the wake, and further on, hunted by its wolfish gurglings. The long howl thrills me through! Peace! ye revellers, and set the watch! Oh, life! 'tis in an hour like this, with soul beat down and held to knowledge, - as wild, untutored things are forced to feed - Oh, life! 'tis now that I do feel the latent horror in thee! but 'tis not me! that horror's out of me! and with the soft feeling of the human in me, yet will I try to fight ye, ye grim, phantom futures! Stand by me, hold me, bind me, O ye blessed influences!"

Decca

@atipofthehat I read Moby Dick earlier this month, and Jesus Christ. One of the most exalted reading experiences I've ever had in my life.

EternalFootwoman

@atipofthehat O, what a great book! I might need to re-read soon.

Chanticleer

@atipofthehat My high school lit teacher told us we shouldn't read Moby Dick until we turn thirty (why...?), and as I am all about Obeying Instructions I've been waiting patiently ever since. Now when I fret about turning thirty at least I can rest assured that Moby Dick will be pretty awesome.

leonstj

Bach is the greatest ever. I'm not a huge classical music head or anything, but listening to the two Glenn Gould recordings of the Goldberg Variations, alternating between two takes on the same thing, and following those up with a trip through The Art of the Fugue (my favorite Bach of all) is basically a perfect way to spend a night.

chrysopoeia

@leon.saintjean This! Listening to Gould play the Goldberg Variations is like hearing the Goldberg Variations for the first time. It was like my brain opened up and finally GOT contrapuntal movement.

Atheist Watermelon

@leon.saintjean i once made out with a guy to not one, but both of the glenn gould recordings, plus whatever Bach organ transcriptions (hee hee organ hee hee i am so mature) were after them on the recording. That guy probably had a serious case of blue balls afterwards.

Decca

@leon.saintjean Have you read The Goldbug Variations by Richard Powers?

leonstj

@Decca - I have not, but I will now!

Decca

@leon.saintjean It's an odd one, difficult and bizarre. But worth it!

SomeGayGuy

@leon.saintjean Have you heard about the crazy techno-awesome thing they did to "recreate" Glenn Gould playing live? I learned about this from one of the CBC guys involved. They basically got some nerdy music-loving software nuts to note-by-note program one of Glenn Gould's recordings of the Variations based on extensive listening and playback of the recording and the programmed result. They were so nuts that they heard in one spot a sound that was generated by Gould depressing a key but not all the way that the hammer struck the note!

ANYWAY, they rigged up this player piano after all of that and recorded it in state of the art recording technology. BUT THAT'S NOT ALL. They put a crash test dummy guy at the piano bench with microphones where his ears would be and recorded it there too SO YOU CAN PUT ON HEADPHONES AND HEAR KINDA SORTA WHAT GLENN GOULD HEARD WHEN HE WAS PLAYING IT (minus the Gould wailing, natch. There's no real way to duplicate that, but I'm sure everyone can do their own impressions).

Bittersweet

@SomeGayGuy: But the wailing really made it Gould. (This is also why I could never make out with someone to his Goldberg Variations - it'd be like he was in the room with us or something.)

Reginal T. Squirge

Whatever you do, don't mention Dessa.

Alibi Jones

@ReginalTSquirge@twitter But I think of her every time I see/hear the word chaconne now! Sorry, can't be helped.

The Lady of Shalott

"What passion cannot music raise and quell?"

Atheist Watermelon

obligatory Bach joke:

Why did Bach have so many kids?

Because his organ didn't have any stops! ahahahaha. hahaa. *cough, cough*

OxfordComma

@LittleBookofCalm : HA!!!

miwome

@LittleBookofCalm Steeeaaaaaalinnnngggg

Atheist Watermelon

P.S. Thank you from a (clearly, exceptionally mature) musician for this post :-)

Maven

Posts like this are among the MANY reasons I love the Hairpin.

cuminafterall

One of the best professors I had in college said that Baroque aesthetics were all about spirals. He was talking chiefly about architecture, but I think it applies to Baroque music too-- the variations spin outward but the bass keeps it centered on the same point.

rivetingrosie

Thanks for posting this. I've been on a classical music kick, mostly listening to a lot of Rachmaninoff and Schumann (mostly a lot of piano) and so on... and I almost forgot how awesome Bach is. !!

Bittersweet

ASLKJA;LJFASKLJD;ALSKJFDA;LKLJASDFJ J.S. BACH!!!

*deep breath*

I've never figured out how Bach's music can contain both the Entire Universe and that Small Grain of Sand Over There. Or how the Music of the Spheres issued forth from a sort of squat, solid middle class German guy who was kind of grumpy and worried a lot about money.

Life's pretty freakin' wonderful, isn't it?

Bittersweet

@Bittersweet: If you wanted some more Music of the Spheres to go along with your Chaconne, this will do nicely.

camanda

Bach is wonderful. My favorite bit of writing on Bach was by Douglas Adams. I'm too lazy to go get the book right now and see precisely where it might have come from, but Douglas Adams wrote a smashing essay on the fifth Brandenburg that was (re?)published in The Salmon of Doubt, and this paragraph is about the harpsichord.

"You hear it ticking over, trotting, having a little canter here and there, getting a bit frisky, and then taking a trial run as its helpers encourage it onward, keening with bated breath. It hauls itself back in again, does another quick circuit … and then the other instruments fall silent. It stands free and alone, pawing at the ground, breathing deeply, gathering its strength, trotting forward…and then it makes its move — running … hurtling … flying … climbing … clambering … pushing … panting … twisting … thrashing … pounding at the ground … pounding … pounding … suddenly breaking away, running onward desperately, and then, with one last little unexpected step up in the bass, it’s home and free — the main tune charges in triumphantly and it’s all over bar the weeping and dancing (i.e., the second and third movements)."

It's still tremendous to me in the best way that Bach remains accessible to humanity after so many centuries and so many changes in musical aesthetic, and not just accessible, but still good, noticeably genius stuff, even to an untrained ear that can't put a finger on it. That you can always write something fresh and new on Bach, and that someone else can be introduced to him and feel that sense of awe.

dale

Bach is my hands-down favourite*, although I hold most of them in awe for having so much beauty in their heads and then sharing it!

*the Cello Suites! Brandenburg! The Well-Tempered Clavier! Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring! Sheep May Safely Graze!

joie

@dale The Cello Suites! ahhhh! Bach never goes out of style.

dale

@heyits It's true. Also: why do we have major Hollywood movies about Beethoven and Mozart but none (I'm aware of) about Bach? *GET ON IT, DIRECTORS*

Decca

@dale I heard Schwarzenegger was in talks to play him in an upcoming biopic?

joie

@dale because there's nothing sexy to Hollywood about Bach...he produced tremendous amounts of music without any of the drama of Mozart and Beethoven. And yet what he produced has laid the foundation for so much of what we consider music today. It's stunning. Rossini said, "If Beethoven is a prodigy of man, Bach is a miracle of God." And really, that what Bach is, a connection to something that for the rest of time seems to flit on the edge of consciousness. Some call it God, other the divine, I just think it's the power of music.

I could wax poetically about music all day.

dale

@Decca I..would develop an uncontrollable tic that involved me punching the people involved if that were true.

SomeGayGuy

@heyits Oh, and did you ever read a bit about how Beethoven that Bach was born with the wrong name? Instead of being a stream (in German, Bach), he was indeed the ocean!

Decca

@dale "I'll be Bach"

Maria

Thank you.

Ellie

It's nice to see classical music written about with the same kind of enthusiasm as contemporary music. I'm not a musician or a classical music geek but I love, love, love baroque music. I love early music with period instruments a little more though. The best concert I've ever been to in my LIFE was an early music with period instruments concert from a Viennese group that I saw at a museum in Croatia in July 2007. I basically died. It had that transcendental quality where the instruments briefly sound like human voices. I had that thing happen where tears come to your eyes not because you are feeling emotional but because of some sub-conscious limbic system reaction or whatever it is.

I once read Alex Ross's essay about how he only listened to "classical" music and never rock or pop until one day he realized that Pink Floyd reminded him of Mahler which was briefly exciting when I was like 16 but then I kind of got past it (I loved Pink Floyd, but I don't love Mahler). That's my association with people raving about classical music the same way they usually rave about contemporary music. Which I support in general.

phlox

@Ellie I am reading that Alex Ross book now! I'm in the chaconne essay, which is about the origin and transformation of the chaconne, which started as a dance/party style, and then the composers got a hold of it and Bach came along and used it to make something as gorgeous as this.

Bittersweet

@Ellie: You don't love Mahler? Having a hard time computing...wait, your ears work, right?

Atheist Watermelon

@Bittersweet MAAAAHHHHLLLERRRR!!!!!! Ellie, I urge you to give Mahler another listen. Mahler is AMAZING. I think the problem is that a lot of people decide that they're going to sit down and listen to a Mahler symphony, and put it on, and get bored. It's an acquired taste- I'd recommend listening first to his Kindertotenlieder (Songs for Dead Children- OMG So fucking sad. but AMAZING.), and the fourth mvt of the 5th symphony (his most played work, and I think the best for introducing you to it). Also this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4zScwFBMTs THERE ARE NO WORDS. Bernstein <3 <3 <3

Bittersweet

@LittleBookofCalm: Kindertotenlieder is amazing, but I just can't go there too often, especially as a mom. The 9th symphony is my favorite, especially the first 4-5 minutes. Neatly answers the question, "Is there really such heartbreaking beauty in the world?" Yes, yes there is.

Atheist Watermelon

@Bittersweet mahler 9 yummm... I love the last movement but it's basically like all foreplay and no orgasm... it keeps building up the tension in the same way over and over again and then just as it's about to explode- oh look, a squirrel!

OxfordComma

I love how Jascha's fingers look like they're petting the violin--
he is a working visual on how to evoke sound.

And oh, Bach,
You are so lovely.

Bittersweet

Argh, my link above cuts off 2/3 of the way through. Try this one instead.

zayetz

I saw Christian Tetzlaff perform all of Bach's solo violin works, including Partita #2 last night, and I've been dying to talk about it.

phlox

@zayetz So tell us!

AnalogMetronome

@zayetz CHRISTIAN TETZLAFF! Please tell us right now I am dying.

zayetz

@MademoiselleML uhhhg it was so good. and he's so handsome! I know nothing about violin playing, but he makes it look like the violin is part of his body and he just like, TALKS with it.
and he's cheeky! when he plays, I mean. the lady next to me just kept sighing and gasping.
Also, I am wondering what Christian Tetzlaff was doing in Durham NC which is where he was last night.

Bittersweet

@zayetz: Tetzlaff! We saw him play the Berg concerto with the BSO several years ago, which is...not my favorite? But he made it sound so amazing (and played part of a Bach partita for an encore).

AnalogMetronome

@zayetz Duke concert series? I am jealous! I am from Raleigh originally but am off at school right now so I missed it. I sort of felt the same way when they had the Emerson and Takacs quartets there last year...like what are YOU doing here?! But I wasn't complaining, I actually got to go to those (spoiler alert: Takacs was better than Emerson).

Atheist Watermelon

@MademoiselleML the Takacs is just awesome. The Emerson has amazing recordings- their C Major Schubert String Quintet with Rostropovich is just so incredible- but their live performances tend to be disappointing, unfortunately.

zayetz

@MademoiselleML yes! Duke Concert series is the greatest thing about Durham. I moved here for grad school and sometimes I wonder what I am doing here. and then I remember : 5$ tickets. (also maybe the weather)

L M
L M

@zayetz I saw Tetzlaff do the whole cycle at Alice Tully years ago and it was my favorite. I do NOT like Heifetz's Bach, ever ever ever. great for C19 things, but I really don't care for his Bach. (I am fussy about my Bach.) (oh, and violinist here.)

zayetz

@Lucia Martinez How long did it take him when you saw it? When he did it here it took him 2 hours (playing time) and the intermission was only about 20 minutes long. Also he barely paused between pieces. it seemed almost rushed to me. but I don't know, maybe that was just another interpretation? I'm curious what you think as a violinist.

L M
L M

@zayetz waitwha??? when he did it in new york, it was a two-night program, 3/3, straight through the book. 2 hours is...is that even possible? the chaconne (at a normal) tempo is usually 14-15 minutes, and the fugues aren't exactly brief... it would be really rushed, I'd think. exhausting, at the very least. you don't need more than a pause between movements, but more than that between each sonata/partita.

L M
L M

@zayetz oh god, the more I think about it, the more my wrist hurts. ALL OF THEM AT ONCE. gah.

zayetz

@Lucia Martinez yup. he started at 7 and we were out the door by 9:45. the show was meant to be an hour longer than that. it almost seemed like he was trying to beat a record, or get out of there. Still breathtaking, of course, but fast. It was hard to get into some of it at that pace. The Gavotte en Rondeau from the 3rd Partita was fun though. he took maybe 4-5 minutes between each sonata/partita.

AnalogMetronome

@LittleBookofCalm Schubert C Major Cello Quintet is probably my favorite piece written ever in the history of ever. And I love that recording, too!

PistolPackinMama

*sigh* I needed something this lovely today.

ellening

Yessss, YEEEEEESSSS! I adore this piece. I'm still at work, and trying so hard not to sway to the music at my desk.

miwome

Bach forever. My grandfather was an organist, so Bach holds an important, homey corner in my heart. My piano and music theory teachers always made me compose things (terrifying) and they always ended up super-contrapuntal and Bach-influenced.

Decca

My dad is a great lover of Bach and is of the opinion that serious music was effectively ruined with Beethoven. Give or take a Kreutzer Sonata, most days I agree with him.

Atheist Watermelon

@Decca aaaaaaaa really?!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cuT9Z5FkS8

Decca

@LittleBookofCalm I do love that piece - and a lot of Beethoven, actually - but I think my dad's point is about how in the Romantic era music became overly lush and wallowy, and overly personalised.

L M
L M

@Decca okay BUT what about messiaen? because life after the romantics! QUARTET FOR THE END OF TIME.

Atheist Watermelon

@Lucia Martinez <3 <3 <3 Messiaen yes. I played the qtet for the end of time a few years ago and it was one of the most emotionally taxing things I've ever performed- the 5th and last (cello and violin) movements kill me. And it's written for that combo of instruments because that was the combination of performers that were there in the concentration camp with Messiaen. *sob*

Atheist Watermelon

@Lucia Martinez not to mention Lutoslawski, who is vastly underrated IMO- the partita! piano concerto! concerto for orchestra! such beautiful, kickass music.

L M
L M

@LittleBookofCalm okay, so take the tragic backstory for granted and know that you're gonna cry. now make the violinist and cellist have cancer. my violin teacher and my quartet coach. may they rest in peace.

L M
L M

@LittleBookofCalm AND the fact that it's not just the instrumentation, but the very scoring for each part having to account for missing cello strings and piano keys. gah.

Bittersweet

@Lucia Martinez: So much life after the Romantics...20th century classical really kicks serious ass. Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Poulenc, Vaughan Williams, Szymanovski, Bartok, Schoenberg... (etc, etc, etc)

Atheist Watermelon

@Bittersweet oooh Szymanowski... I'mma be really annoying and post this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRrkrP88m4U Yes, it's me.

L M
L M

@Bittersweet well yeahhhhhh but I was trying to think of minimalist antidotes that weren't too...expressionist. ?

ugh the prokofiev quintet (for violin, viola, clarinet, oboe, and bass, because WHAT IS THAT SCORING) is the most fun thing to play EVER. especially the bit that sounds like a scooby doo-at-an-amusement-park theme.

Bittersweet

@Lucia Martinez: Satie? He was the consummate anti-Romantic.

Prokofiev is my favoritest, but I don't know that quintet. Will have to do find it.

AnalogMetronome

As a classical violinist, it would be difficult to overstate the appreciation I have for you and this post. Pieces like this are really the reason I play the violin (see also: the fugue from the 3rd Bach Sonata in C). The chaconne really is a microcosm of all of life and no matter how many times I've heard it it always moves me. It is so wonderful to find that someone else understands this! I feel so alone in my love of Bach (and Schubert and Beethoven and Brahms and and and) and now I don't anymore!

Tl;dr Hairpin, you are perfect. Bach even more so.

PS - Also, did you know that Bach wrote this shortly after the death of his first wife? *weeeeeeep*

Lili L.

Thank you for posting this. I love this piece and Heifetz' performance in particular so much that I considered trying to learn the violin. Instead, I picked up the (admittedly somewhat melodramatic, but WONDERFUL TO PLAY) Bach-Busoni version of it for piano. It remains my favorite piece for rage and grief.

Decca

This is the only Hairpin post tagged as 'Classical Music'. Moar! Moar!

candybeans

So lovely. So lovely, in fact, that my dog was moved to howl along to it softly, in her sleep.
ugh, why is there so much dust in this room? music makes me feel too many feelings.

CurlsMcGirlypants

Ugh, ughhhhhh, Heifetz!! He was kind of a jerk. And he does that horrible thing where he rolls back on the chord to the bottom after already playing it. It's a modern way of playing this piece that I don't think does justice to Bach. I understand WHY musicians do it now, but I still think it's unnecessary.

Either way, I'm glad to see this piece written about on here!

I would also like to submit Rachel Podger's version of the Ciaccona:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zjyga0cJjeo

She plays it on the Baroque Violin and does a lovely job.
(sorry you guys, I'm studying Historical Performance on Baroque Violin, so I'm totally geeking out here)

CurlsMcGirlypants

@CurlsMcGirlypants I also wanted to point out that the Ciaccona is a dance!! Most of the movements in the Partitas and Sonatas are based on dances (e.g. Correntes, Allemandes, etc.). It's important, and tends to alter how a performer conceives to play it.

AnalogMetronome

@CurlsMcGirlypants You are studying HP! Where (if that is not too weird a question to ask on the internet)? I am applying to grad school in regular non-HP violin performance right now. Music majors unite?
Also, I love Rachel Podger! And Julia Fischer's Bach, although I know it's not as authentic.

lexsaur

@CurlsMcGirlypants I was just coming here to post Rachel Podger's version! I have, um, a lot of interpretations of unaccompanied Bach on my computer, but Podger wins every damn time.

And I'm also loving that there are apparently several HP violinist hairpinners, myself included.

CurlsMcGirlypants

@MademoiselleML I'm studying at IU! Haha, I didn't think it was that weird of a questions for an internet convo. :) Music Majors unite, for sure! Where are you applying to? (that's probably a weirder question to ask, hah)

Rachel Podger won a place in my heart for her Bach recordings. I generally don't like most recordings of the Partitas and Sonatas, but I think it's because once we learn them, they become so personal it's hard to understand or enjoy another person's interpretation. That's just me, anyway.

CurlsMcGirlypants

@lexsaur Fantastic! Hurray for HP! :D
Are you currently studying as well, or are you out of school?

lexsaur

@CurlsMcGirlypants Finished now! Undergrad at McGill, Masters at the Royal Academy of Music.

CurlsMcGirlypants

@lexsaur Awesome, congrats! :)

AnalogMetronome

@CurlsMcGirlypants I know a bunch of people at IU! (Such is the classical music world, though.) I almost applied there and then their prescreening was too much rep to do by December 1. I am applying to U. Minnesota, Boston U., and Eastman. Auditions coming up next month, gulp. Right now I am finishing up at Vanderbilt.

Also I totally agree about having a hard time appreciating Bach recordings--they are such personal pieces. I almost always refrain from commenting on people's Bach in studio class because I just feel it's not my place to tell them how they should play their Bach, like I'm prying into their personal lives or something. I guess I'm going to have to get over that if I ever want to actually teach people...

Atheist Watermelon

@CurlsMcGirlypants I went to IU!!! Aaahhh!!! I loved it there so much. Are you still there?! I did part of my bachelor's and an AD (piano) with Naoumoff there a while ago...

L M
L M

@lexsaur HP violist here, and yes to Podger. and no to Heifetz. but yes above all to Tetzlaff.

AnalogMetronome

@Lucia Martinez You are a violist!? String players are the coolest club, truly.

L M
L M

@MademoiselleML damn, violinist, sorry. (though like all violinists I also play viola, I just don't have one. and I hate alto clef.)

AnalogMetronome

@Lucia Martinez So maybe it is just the violinists who are the coolest club! Guys we should all get together and play Telemann for four violins or something!

ETA: I am too excited about this.

lexsaur

@MademoiselleML Do you think that if we branch out to The Awl we can get a continuo section?

AnalogMetronome

@lexsaur The Hawlpin Baroque Ensemble: Now recruiting!

L M
L M

@MademoiselleML ummm yes this needs to happen. heh I remember playing the four-violin stuff in high school when we were short on decent anything-not-violins. except this time we could have a drinking game? shot for every missed note!

then we get a proper quartet and sight-read shasty and play the same game. HA.

lexsaur

@MademoiselleML Audition only, though. We have standards.

Atheist Watermelon

@all Hairpin chamber music sightreading party in NYC...?! I have a nice upright piano @ my place! And you guys know that nothing is better than drunken sightreading! :-D

Atheist Watermelon

@LittleBookofCalm Although I must say that re: the continuo stuff, my figured bass realization skills are... lacking... haha.

L M
L M

@LittleBookofCalm I HAVE SCORES. all the bach & mozart & brahms violin & piano sonatas and suites, as well as some hipper french things (enescu, anyone?).

Atheist Watermelon

@Lucia Martinez ooh, awesome! I have a bunch of piano parts to trios/ violin and viola sonatas that people I worked with walked out with their parts of... meh. I also have complete copies of the Franck v.s. and the Brahms clarinet/ viola sonatas. Were you talking about the shostakovich quintet earlier?? I have that!!...If we have specific ideas of stuff we want, I work with a bunch of Jyard/ MSM kids, so I'm sure I can tap them for library parts. I'm technically on the accompanying staff at Mannes, but I don't know if that grants me library access (i've never tried)... In any case I'm sure we can scrounge up a lot of music.

GoCeilings

Sometimes I don't get around to hopping on and looking at The Hairpin because I feel like I've read it all already. Then you put up a Bach post and I realise we still have plenty to talk about.

Miss Violet

Oh, thank you thank you thank you for this wonderful post. I love seeing classical music get as loving a treatment as popular music!! My mentor was a devotee and passed his love of Bach on to all of us. When he passed away a few years ago he had just finished recording Scott Joplin's complete works, alternating with working on the Well-Tempered Klavier. He believed that Bach will teach you how to learn any other kind of music - and it's so true.

In fact, at his memorial service, one of his former piano students told a story about how he was so resistant to working on Bach because it wasn't sexy and cool like jazz. Our teacher told him "You know Bach had 20 kids, right? So you know he looooved the sheets... Now play it."

SomeGayGuy

@Miss Violet BACH IS FANTASTIC. And not wanting to poo poo statement by amazing mentor (who is obviously like a hojillion and a half more accomplished than I am and probably didn't mean his statement literally), Bach only gets you so far when studying certain musics. For instance, he does almost diddly squat for you when studying monody, like the Gregorian chant repertoire, or the chant of Hildegard von Bingen. He does even less for you in musics (such as that of India and Africa, just to name a few) which have highly developed theories of rhythm. Western classical music didn't develop music outside of duple/triple time until like the 20th century when the *folk music* of the Balkans is in such "weird" meters as 5 and 7. Dead white guys might have known how to dance at one point, but they definitely didn't have rhythm.

Miss Violet

@SomeGayGuy I hear you, absolutely. I should have specified that he would have us sightread cantatas to warm us up before rehearsals - rehearsals for more western classical music. You are absolutely right about chant and non-western rhythmic situations. However, perhaps it is the precision of Bach that does help you with other music - everything lines up exactly the way it's supposed to and you can instantly tell when the chord is wrong. Bach doesn't make mistakes.

In the long run, perhaps the most important thing one can learn from Bach is respect for the composer's choices. If the composer set it a certain way it is your job to learn the notes they way they wanted. You have to learn the notes the right way before you can interpret them. I do think that learning Bach can make us better musicians, regardless of the kind of music we play.

Logos

Fun fact: Bach was actually able to copy his (oft weekly) cantatas in Leipzig in due time ... because he had his children work as copyists! Holla! :D

(And only 10 of the 20 lived. Sadness.)

lexsaur

My other favourite Passacaglia:

http://youtu.be/HBVX35qecWA

Logos

@ lexsaur - how about THIS sucka, BWV 582? It's like a passacaglia wasn't enough - and Bach just said: watch me write a fugue using the ostinato for a subject - aw yeah!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F51uHpH3yQk

SomeGayGuy

@Logos Apparently, Bach was able to assess the suitability of musical themes as fugal subjects listening REAL TIME. Shit, that man's brain. HIS BRAIN. It's like being able to imagine shit in like 6 dimensions or something frightening like that.

SomeGayGuy

@Logos AND HOLY SHIT, can we talk about the insanity of his double canons? Like, canons are kind of annoying as it is (basically writing a melodic line where if you took an exact copy of it and just started playing it later, it still sounds good) and doing it TWICE in one piece? For my piano skills double canon project at conservatory, I totally ripped off his In dulci jubilo, not gonna lie. But it's not like you do any better, so why not stand on the shoulder of giants?

In dulci jubilo BWV 608:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HB92LhDThSM
(I'm not too wild about this performance, but at least you get to see the nuttiness of the printed score)

Logos

@SomeGayGuy OMG you ripped off 'In dulci jubilo" ? AWESOME.

And yeah, Bach's brain. Man alive. There's this anecdote - I think CPE wrote it in funeral notes or a memorial or something for his dad - in which it's related: Bach would listen to someone else start to play a fugue, and nudge the person sitting next to him (CPE, in this case) whenever one of the permutations came up in the way he predicted. Like, triple invertible counterpoint OR SOME CRAZY SHIT LIKE THAT? He'd be all: "CALLED IT." And he could also apparently pinpoint the player's mistake(s), if any, and then predict when all the wheels would come off the piece as a result.

I love picturing him in some church just grooving along, listening, and then wincing all, "Whoooops, that's gonna hurt." And then grinning when IT DOES and the organist gives the 18th century KEYBOARD SMASH.

Doug Henwood

Oh yes, wonderful. Szeyring's version is the one I grew up on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiNbjuSEURQ

Cat named Virtute

Oh this was beautiful. Thank you, Mary.

Tulletilsynet

"stopped on way back at
Korvette's & traded in two
records Phyllis gave me
for Christmas -- Elizabethan
& Jacobean songs: ugh:
I got 3 of Bach's
cantatas instead:
somebody may have written
music before
or after Bach but
it wasn't necessary:"
(Archie Ammons, Tape for the Turn of the Year, "4 Jan.")

pilcrow

I registered just to say thank you for this post. Bach really is everything amazing about what came before him and after him. I feel like he is the fulcrum of music.

And Heifetz in his sweater is pretty funny.

treeskier170

the first 30 seconds and i'm tearing up

Psychbucket

Here's a Bach-related link that satisfies those geeky needs, too.

http://strangepaths.com/canon-1-a-2/2009/01/18/en/

jordank

For all of the other violinists / amateur musicologists – check out Violin Dreams by Arnold Steinhardt (Guarneri string quartet’s first violinist). He focuses on his struggle with interpreting the chaccone (among other pieces and his general career…), and includes a CD of his first full recording of BWV 1004, then his 2nd interpretation when he revisits it 20 years later. It’s an easy read about his musical pilgrimage. I enjoyed it very much.

@mademoiselleML, Steinhardt goes and PLAYS the chaccone for Bach’s wife at her grave, because he wasn’t sure anyone had ever done so. HOW touching.

Achyvi

I love watching these kind of videos! The enjoyment is twofold, too--it's wonderful to listen to, and a joy to watch.

They also make me a little sad, though, because I'm almost to a level where I could start to learn these pieces (or other cool-sounding things, like Bruch's first violin concerto), but not advanced enough that I can learn them well on my own without a teacher. Like, I can slag my way through most pieces, but if they're going to sound kinda shitty forever because my technique is not quite there, it's very discouraging. DAMN YOU BOONDOCKS AND YOUR LACK OF NON-BEGINNING TEACHERS.

Angela Saunders@facebook

That is the best headline I've read in ages. I read it a while ago and it's STILL stuck in my head. So clever!

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