Bach Lottery 12: Half Way There

E. Dulac

The dust has settled and I find myself on the other side of UCSB finals, both those taken and those given, holiday celebration, both Christmas and New Years, and now surreptitiously and without much ado back in school and in full swing of the challenging pace of a new quarter. As I think back on this past month these Bach pieces made a scanty appearance, scanty, but truly rewarding and necessary and graceful. Amidst all the pressures of TAing and writing and getting to the bus stop on a scooter in the rain, I fondly recall these pieces as reminders of why I got into music in the first place and how important it truly is.

Book 1, Prelude and Fugue 18 in G-sharp minor
I have always liked this pair. The prelude has a built in metric tension as it tries to figure out if it's 2+2+2 or 3+3; in the end the question is left unanswered. The theme saturates the texture and peeks out in inversion or fragments in a most illusive, dream-like manner. It's a very soothing, crooning minor. The fugue packs a lot of character into its subject: conjunct beginning pierced by an alarming tritone-as-leading-tone-to-the-dominant leap, trickling out in a repeated note figure. That leap up is so exposed and poignant, a rhetorical question that is posed but never really answered. I find this fugue somewhat operatic in its often restrained drama and even has a bit of secco accompaniment in the plunked chords. Perhaps the answer to the tritone lies in the grinding dissonances near the end.

Book 1, Prelude and Fugue 24 in B minor
This prelude is a testament to the beautiful possibilities of imitative counterpoint. The piece is hand candy: the left kept busy trundling along in steady eighth notes while the right negotiates the tension and release of two voices. The fugue is intimidating. So Largo! So many pages! Such finality in the Fine! Such reverence in the S.D.G.! In the few times I made time to read through this epic piece I found myself spiraling out with cosmic bodies. Measure by measure you encounter these vast subjects and countersubjects and strings of sequences and fragments of themes, until you loose track of where you are, how long you've been there, how many pages you have left. It reminds me of Pier Jacopo Martello's description of music as conscious sleep, something that takes you away into a dream to deposit you back on earth ready to continue with life. Good stuff.

Up next:
Book 2, Prelude and Fugue 4 in C-sharp minor
Book 2, Prelude and Fugue 18 in G-sharp minor

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