04 September 2007
Bach to Bach
If music composition were a baseball game, Johann Sebastian Bach would be able to play any position on the field while being a heavy home run hitter, the Babe Ruth of the 18th century. Quite simply, he could write anything brilliantly. Even more he did it in such a way that it would translate from one century to the next and one instrument to another and still sound great in a new form.
Bach was the master of every classical music form during the first half of the 18th century, except opera. He wrote brilliant keyboard pieces, engaging ensemble works, profound church music and learned technical items. His particular genius was the fugue. He wrote 48 preludes and fugues for harpsichord, gathered into a two-part publication called ``The Well-Tempered Clavier'' (referring not to a keyboard in a good mood, but a keyboard that's been tuned a certain way; the collection contains two preludes and fugues in each of the 24 keys). This set Is revered by scholars, musicians and Bach lovers, but five hours of harpsichord fugues may be heavy going for beginners.
So what's a fugue? Think Row Row Row your boat on steroids. It is theme upon theme in overlapping sequence that always sounds great both as a single line and when layered on top of each other. J.S. Bach has never been surpassed as a composer of fugues, winding themes around each other in an intricate musical puzzle.
You have all heard the most famous fugue in virtually every old horror film and as the entry theme for phantom of the opera, Probably Bach's most famous fugues were written for the organ. The most familiar of all organ works, in fact, is Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. This version is the first You Tube. The second is exactly the same piece brilliantly updated for a new audience.
If this is the first time you have heard Bach, come on in the water's fine and you just might pick up a few recordings or spend an evening at your local symphony.