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Bach's Greatest Hits

(Text as at 14/10/2016 22:14:53)

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Introduction

  1. I shouldn’t be writing this Note, as it’s not on my list of things to do during my ever-diminishing span of years, but I need closure on a temporary obsession.
  2. Some years back I came across the 170-CD set of Mozart’s complete works, and play these CDs as background music while doing philosophy. In general, the music is non-invasive and drowns out other distractions. Romantic music is no good in this situation as it interferes with one’s thought processes.
  3. More recently1 I managed to get hold of the equivalent 160-CD set of Bach’s complete works. Again, in general the music rambles on pleasingly in the background without causing too much of a disturbance, but occasionally it forces its way into consciousness and grips me for a day or so until I’ve managed to purge it from my system.
  4. Three pieces by Bach have especially2 caught my attention this year3. These are:-
    • St. Luke Passion – BWV 246
    • Passacaglia & Fugue in C minor, for organ, BWV 582
    • Chaconne from the Second Partita for solo violin.
  5. Finally, a fourth – and much shorter – piece, Sonatina, BWV 106, for two descant recorders.
  6. I revise this Note from time to time as a result of checking that the YouTube files are still there!

St. Luke Passion
  1. The first is the St. Luke Passion4 – BWV 246. I was obsessed by this as an undergraduate back in the early 1970s, but when I heard it again recently as a background ramble after nearly 40 years was unsure what all the fuss had been about. But when I actually focussed on the piece – to the detriment of my philosophy – the intimacy and understatedness of the work forced itself upon me again.
  2. I do fall prey to sentimentality on occasion, and ended up playing the final tenor aria (Laßt mich ihn nur noch einmal küssen) over and over again. I cannot see how anyone can sing it without bursting into tears.
  3. I’d not thought that the St. Luke Passion would be on YouTube, but there it is, including a take of the tenor aria just referred to:-
Passacaglia
  1. The second was the Passacaglia & Fugue in C minor, BWV 582, for organ. Wikipedia: Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582.
  2. The main wonder of the piece for the non-organist – apart from the tunefulness of the “ground” and the intricacy of the variations – is just how the performer can play the base register “ground” with both feet while also playing with both hands, especially as sometimes – especially in the fugue – the ground assumes variant forms with running passages. Any wrong note thundered out by a wrong-footing would be immediately obvious and ruinous. The videos are interesting in showing how it’s done.
  3. Some examples from YouTube6:
Chaconne
  1. The third set of pieces are the works for solo violin – in particular the Second Partita Wikipedia: Bach - Partita for Violin No. 2 and of course its fifth and final movement, the Chaconne. This is the main reason for writing this Note.
  2. It seems impossible that the same piece of music that seemed to be a slightly discordant racket going on in the background can force itself upon your consciousness so that when properly attended to can be appreciated as – what one modern virtuoso (Joshua Bell – Wikipedia: Joshua Bell) claims9 as “one of the greatest achievements of any man in history”.
  3. There’s lots of discussion as to whether the violin can bear the weight of this music, and there are piano and guitar transcriptions. To quote the programme notes that came with my CDs (in this case by Clemens Romijn) “Bach seems to demand the very most of the violin, or perhaps even more, more indeed than it can cope with. Many passages, particularly those with frequent double-stopping, cannot be performed literally.” These notes claim that (almost) no-one other than Bach himself could have played them at the time they were written, and that he probably had himself in mind as their performer.
  4. My view is that only the violin can express the emotion – mostly grief – required of the chaconne, which was allegedly written when Bach heard of his wife’s death while he was away on a trip with his employer.
  5. There’s also a question how the pieces should be played – with or without vibrato, with or without frenzied dynamics, and the like; also, how fast. This is part of the general question whether a Baroque piece should be played in an authentically Baroque manner, should this be known. My uneducated view is that the chaconne should be played with great emotion, but not so as to risk breaking the violin. That’s how I like it, anyway.
  6. The real purpose of this Note is to list the YouTube10 recordings of the Chaconne that cropped up when I did a search. No doubt the links will fail after a while, but alternative links will presumably become available. They are (with brief comments):-
  7. Bach/Busoni piano version: Initially, I thought this a barbarous idea, and it does lack some of the delicate intensity of the solo-violin original; but some of the renderings are good, for instance:-
    • Valentina Lisitsa: Link.
    • Evgeny Kissin: Link. Or Link.
    • Helene Grimaud: Link.
    • Arthur Rubinstein: Link. Very gentle.

Sonatina
  1. This is very short piece (less than 3 minutes), but requires careful listing.
  2. There are two versions - one where the main tune is played by two descant recorders, and the second is a piano transcription.
  3. While the piano version is wonderful, and recorders are usually horrid, the recorder version is "the one" for me. Bach knows what he's doing - the purity of the recorders' notes means that when the two play a semitone apart the acoustic "beats" probably12 enter into the experience and make it especially tingly.
  4. Anyway, the links are:-



In-Page Footnotes:

Footnote 1: This was Christmas 2011.

Footnote 2: Of course, almost everything Bach wrote was wonderful, but you can’t focus on everything to appreciate them properly, and some pieces become over-familiar.

Footnote 3: This would have been in 2013.

Footnote 4: Footnote 5: Footnote 6: Obviously, the sound quality is better on CD, but these give an idea, and also the videos allow you to see the technique – and appreciate the amount of footwork that goes on.

Footnote 7: This is part of a cycle. Link (Defunct) is the same recording.

Footnote 8: It may be – it’s the same video; while it gives indications of being super, the actual audio file is mostly poor and sometimes dreadful!

Footnote 9: Not too immoderately, in my current view. It’s “up there” with the Sistene Chapel and all that.

Footnote 10: As with the Passacaglia, the sound quality is better on CD, but these give an idea of the variety of interpretations, and also the videos allow you to see the technique – and appreciate the amount of energy put into the performances.

Footnote 11: These comments are based on a live recording made in Perlman’s relative youth, at a St. Johns, Smith Square lunchtime concert. Unfortunately, the copyright holders blocked it.

Footnote 12:


Printable Version:



Table of the Previous 4 Versions of this Note:

Date Length Title
21/07/2016 16:12:00 18732 Bach's Greatest Hits
05/04/2016 23:19:41 18732 Bach's Greatest Hits
26/03/2014 19:09:07 10885 Bach's Greatest Hits
20/11/2013 10:46:34 7921 Bach's Greatest Hits



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14/10/2016 22:14:53 1007 (Bach's Greatest Hits) Theo Todman's Blog



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