4.01.2012

Bach Lottery 3: So many Sharps


I remember that terrible moment when the key signature totally has its way with you. My mom and I were sitting in on a rehearsal for Pirates of Penzance in Independence, no less. It was one of those patter songs about the weather which are so wonderful to watch... but so ominous to play: B Major, A-sharps flying at me like little flaming darts! I've grown as a musician a lot since then, but this pair of pieces really worked my brain. Here's what only one month on Prelude and Fugue 3 in C-sharp Major Book 1 and Prelude and Fugue 13 in F-sharp Major Book 2.

I've attempted to make my way through the WTC once before, starting in February 2008. I went in order and got as far as the triple fugue of C-sharp minor. I did make it through C-sharp Major though. As I worked through it this month, with its barrage of end of quarter papers, illnesses, and trips, I leaned heavily upon that last encounter. The Prelude is very exciting. I like to think of it as a toccata because of its extroverted verve and exuberance. Kendall pointed out that she was taught to really bring out the tied off beat that comes on beat 3 of measure 7 and elsewhere. It really makes it a fun roller coaster. When I worked on Chopin's Preludes I made what to me is a startling realization that Chopin had the WTC with him when composing/compiling Op. 28 in Majorca. Take a look at the first three notes of Bach's C-sharp Major Prelude. Now take a look at the first three notes of Chopin's D-flat Major "Raindrop" Prelude. Coincidence? I think not! The Fugue is the first time I really had to wrestle with the key of E-sharp minor before. So many double sharps! Such dissonance on beat 1! Together these pieces make quite the happy, type-A personality set. I really like how Glen Gould finishes off the Prelude with such nonchalance. 
Kay Nielsen
Kay Nielsen

You'd think that after getting comfortable with the E-sharps and B-sharps of the last pair that going back to F-sharp Major wouldn't be so bad. Alas, that's just when your brain freezes up and gets confused. At least it should stave off Alzheimers. As I explore the mysteries of Book 2 I am constantly surprised. The Prelude of Book 2 in F-sharp Major is a concerto in the double dotted French style. I like to take it a bit slow with utmost regality and taste, but not so as to ruin the flowing motion of the sixteenths when they take over. I think the juxtaposition of these two styles really make for an interesting commentary. Wonderful little recapitulations of the opening theme here and there and a rather lengthy tonicization of the submediant. The Fugue is a gavotte and still French in its constant trills. The harmonies get quite strange as the theme momentarily tonicizes the subdominant. I think it all very royal, and stately, and graceful. Hewett plays with such grace and has some fun too.


Up next:
Book 2, Prelude and Fugue 15 in G Major
and
Book 2, Prelude and Fugue 21 in B-flat Major

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