6.01.2012

Bach Lottery 5: Thesis Month


This month was Thesis Month: 16 hours in the side office ticking away at a monolithic hydra of a document. I had more mental breakdowns than opportunities to delve into these lovely WTC pieces, but nevertheless there are a few observations I can point out.

John Bauer
The fourteenth pair from Book 1 in F-sharp minor stand out for their contrasting character; the Prelude is jovial in a fiery, toccata sort of way, and the Fugue is the very definition of mystery, solemnity, and pathos. I am constantly learning the Baroque, and especially Bachian, frustration or flexibility of the bar line in its relationship with the melodic and harmonic phrasing. The Prelude seems perfectly square in rhythm, but delightfully shifts the strong beat from 1 to 3 in the middle and has a great way of shifting back. The density of chords points to a robust volume on the harpsichord and a lot of fun on any instrument. The Fugue has that primordial, building-block character where the whole piece seems to be figuring out its own architecture. I've read somewhere that the strong decay of harpsichord strings would have made the long pauses between restrikes very ominous, tantamount to the long rests between the cadences in Chopin's Preludes 2 in A minor and 4 in E minor. Additionally, the piece is a four-voice fugue that delays the last entrance for so long that it comes as a surprise. I think that emphasizes the in-progress, construction feel of the piece, as though it can't quite make up its mind who it is.

The twelfth pair from Book 2 in F minor was completely unknown to me. Delightfully, the Henle edition I own is riddled with my grandmother's handwriting on these pages and it's wonderful to think of her working on the same passages. The Prelude begins by convincing you of its transparent simplicity, a baby-toccata with stylish suspensions and a contrasting section a bit like CPhE Bach's Solfeggio. But there's something interesting about its plainness that allows it to slip into unexpected places and take odd turns of rhythmic harmony. The best part occurs in the "recapitulation," in which the opening simplicity gives way to melodic figuration and bursts unexpectedly into the syncopated closing material. Very, very cool, and deserving of further analysis and time. The Fugue is surprisingly long and, in contrast to the above, contemplative piece, is very confident of its purpose in the clear, downward sequence, outlining a i-V-i progression. The texture gets a bit rowdy later on as the theme comes out in the Alto voice with a sort of drone in the Bass.

Up next:
Book 1, Prelude and Fugue 4 in C-sharp minor
and
Book 2, Prelude and Fugue 8 in D-sharp minor

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