Bach Lottery 1: E Major Extravaganza

The key of E Major is quite a happy key. Today I say "Tchüß!" to two amazing prelude-fugue sets from Books 1 and 2. It was much like playing a dance suite with diverse pieces held together by a common key signature. Beautiful!

The first thing that comes to mind at this juncture in the journey is the diversity of interpretive options available to the Bach performer. To start with: tempo. Bach did not write tempos; my Palmer edition actually has a list of tempos several performers or writers have assigned to each piece. But it's essentially up to you. After that you can think about articulation, phrasing, dynamics, hand shapes, etc. You can also change your mind. I had a few observations that offered a different interpretation to Kendall on pieces she's been working on for most of her life. It's just such a very deep mine of discovery.

Pauline Baynes
Book 1, Prelude 9 in E Major: This prelude is pretty easy going: compound meter, built on solid (yet graceful) triadic gestures. Kendall pointed out the importance of the bass voices to bring out important tonal moments, especially the chromatic, self-confident cadence to each section. Perhaps it has a bit of the style gallant in there, happily functioning alongside it's learned style counterpoint. Charming.

Book 1, Fugue 9 in E Major: This fugue deserves to be fast and for that reason I always avoided working on it before. I found my self equal, however, to the challenge of the patient work required to feel it in the hands as a living, jocund, impish thing. I'm noticing more and more Bach's pension for a quick punctuated question (something of an intonation or attention-grabbing overture ta-daa) followed by an extended or rambling answer. In this case it revolves around a sixteenth note wave-like figure which sometimes seems to loose itself in repetition in between moments of dramatic and exciting mega-waves. The ending section requires some fancy hand sharing of the middle voice so as to not put the hands in awkward situations. Wonderful moments and quite a thrill! PS notice the fake entrance, sounded by the second voice, a mere moment before the last one comes in. The same pattern comes in at the end.

Book 2, Prelude 9 in E Major: This prelude had the feel of a dance suite number, sort of like an Allemande but in an easy triple time. It's one of those common(-er) binary preludes with repeat signs which inhabit book two. It could easily become a "section-fest" with one interesting/beautiful section of invertible counterpoint following the other, but the elements are arranged in a beautiful collage of moments in a much more narrative way. Expectations are defied by mode mixture, extensions of sequences to interesting places, and novel mixing of section order.

Book 2, Fugue 9 in E Major: The theme is famous and perhaps a little didactic: a slow ricarcar motif used previously by Froberger (twice) and Fischer (in Ariadne). Bach takes it further than anyone before him by changing the rhythm a bit, putting it in four voices, and using augmentation and inversion simultaneously with "normal time." I always imagine these slow moving fugues as rotating solar systems, cosmic Platonic/Miltonic spheres seen from the porch of heaven across the swirling desert of Chaos. (Yes, I am reading Paradise Lost.) Only a glimpse, but a glimpse into a beautiful, abstract, eternally important world.

Up next:
Book 1, Prelude and Fugue 17 in A-flat Major
Book 1, Prelude and Fugue 19 in A Major

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