Sunday, February 14, 2010


I have heard the Bach Chaconne on a xylophone , a marimba, cymbalom, and celesta,
on a eighteen-string fretted lute, on a guitar, and on a banjo, I think
--though this may be hallucinated--in a version for string orchestra,
which seems besides the point, and another for brass, which was worse,and in two left hand versions only for piano by Busoni and Brahms. A chamber version of The Goldberg variations
for string orchestra confounded recognition for a few moments, so unlikely did it seem.
As for the ART OF FUGUE:piano, harpsichord, organ, wind quintet, string quartet, 'cello
quartet, in broken consort with violins and viols, and as a viol
ensemble, as in the music of Coperario or Lawes'; also string orchestra, and marimba ensemble,
in which Bach took on an unexpected Indonesian aspect.And
tonite a very beautiful version of the final, unfinished fugue by
Luciano Berio conducted by Pekka Salonen in L.A.
Busoni's piano transcriptions and Stokowski's orchestral
transcriptions are both so much richer than Bach's originals that
they seem like baby Jesus in wrapped in jeweled couturier swaddling.
Frank Martin's idea of Bach is not the Bach of Villa Lobos, the Bach of the tropics,
and Schoenberg's Bach transcriptions are a sound-world away from Stravinsky's,
as Webern's are from Kurtag's. Wooden swords and hobbyhorses attend
almost all discussions of performance practice, but for the time the harpsichords
are nearly routed, though the oboe d'amore is adopted more and more.

How much of Bach do we actually hear? Charles Rosen criticized Glenn Gould's
attempt to create maximal contrapuntal transparency--or the ability to hear
all parts at once--with the counter-proposal that the human ear does not hear
that way, but dwells on one and then another feature of the music in turn.
Rosen calls this form of hearing "terracing".

I suppose I generally "terrace", but the attempt to hear all that is going on,
which only Gould and Gustav Leonhardt among keyboard artists fulfil,
fills me with a fleeting radiance, as if the ceiling of my understanding has been lifted,
which does not happen when I inattentively "terrace".

But Bach is larger than dogma.I was raised with the
wonderful old Klemperer recording of the St. Matthew Passion , which I
rejected during the first wave of Original Instrument performance as I
could hear the parts, the inner voices, when Nicolas Harnoncourt conducted
the St. Matthew Passion with his ensemble, the Concentus Musicus. Now I can hear in the Klemperer
recording something I would have never heard in it, had I not strayed from it,
which is the healing which this music brought to its performers and to its
listeners after the Third Reich and WW2. It is
entirely wrong from what we know of baroque performance practise.
But in the history of Bach performance it stands as a shining moment of truth.
"In heaven there are many Mansions."

Our music has a history, as well as being history , from its inception to the present moment.
It is important to treat our present moment as a fulfilment
of history, not as as being apart from history as a judgment upon it from some imaginary
Cartesian perch.
Bach more than any other composer, I suspect, acts as a laboratory for musicians--
he induces or provokes experiment--
hence those arrangements of organ works for brass, of concertoes for four harpischords
being turned into concertos for five theorboes or vice versa,
not to mention a cappella jazz arrangements, synthesizers etcetera.
There was a time when I subjected all to which I listened to rigorous prior inspection. Now I
just roll with the punches.

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