February 01, 2008

Gratuitous Musickal Observation

It's a curious thing which I still haven't really figured out yet, but the fact of the matter is that while I listen to a fairly broad range of composers and styles on a regular basis, when it comes to actually tickling the ivories myself I have for about a year now had virtually no interest whatever in playing the musick of anyone other than J.S. Bach.

Oh, on occasion I'll flip through one of my books of Mozart or Haydn or Handel. And sometimes I'll go even further afield (the other evening I had a sudden urge to play "Barafostus' Dream" by Thomas Tompkins, one of my favorite Elizabethan pieces). But I always wind up gravitating back to old Johann Sebastian. Go figure. (I've more or less dropped playing Beethoven. His musick seems increasingly vulgar to me. Again, go figure.)

I was messing about today with Bach's Keyboard Partitas, a couple of which I can play at least well enough to amuse myself. Two of my favorite dances are the opening Preambulum from Partita No. 5 in G major:

Bach Partita 5 Preambulum.jpg

and the opening Toccata from the Partita No. 6 in e minor:

bach partita 6 toccata.jpg

These two dances are polar opposites of each other in terms of character. The Preambulum is a delightful little romp - even its name has a geniality about it, suggesting a playful walkabout with no particular purpose other than the sheer exercise of it. The dance is full of stops and starts, fun hand-crossings and periodic outbursts of joyful energy. I always finish (at least when I hit a sufficient percentage of correct notes) with a smile.

Contrast that with the the e minor Toccata. Truth be told, I generally skip over the introductory chords because at least on a piano they sound too soppy. But there's nothing at all soppy about the fugal development of the main body. It has a somber and melancholy relentlessness that seizes you emotionally and just keeps squeezing. I am literally drained when done playing it and indeed, it is the only piece of musick I can think of that has ever caused me to tear up at the keyboard.

In his dedication, Bach said of the six Keyboard Partitas that they were "Composed for Music Lovers, to Refresh their Spirits." I think by "refresh" Bach had in mind something close to the modern concept of "working out". My spirits certainly feel like they've been to the gym after going through these pieces.

Posted by Robert at February 1, 2008 01:06 PM | TrackBack

Beethoven? VULGAR?!

Off with your head.

I do play only one Beethoven arrangement in my set, however. But then, I'm a guitarist. Bunches of Bach, though, of course.

(The online entity also known as Hucbald for musical purposes, Now The Beef of God for political rantings).

Posted by: Angus Dei at February 1, 2008 07:12 PM

Do you ever play the Allemande from the 4th partita? It is perhaps the pinnacle of the entire set.

Posted by: TAFKAQ at February 1, 2008 07:44 PM

I've tried it casually a couple times but for some reason all those triplets throw me. I'll have to listen to it more closely and then take a more focused crack at it.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at February 1, 2008 08:38 PM

The extremely long lines and repeated suspensions allow—even demand—a very leisurely andante. And the final cadences of each half are among the sweetest in all Bach's keyboard music. I trust your efforts will be repaid handsomely.

Posted by: TAFKAQ at February 1, 2008 09:17 PM