Friday, January 11, 2013

Lyric and Bach

Anderszewski's beautiful Bach performance last month roused my curiosity and I have been exploring Bach on the piano--an area I have stayed away from until revisiting the Two-part Inventions last summer.  Those remarkable pieces were utterly transformed by approaching them not as a student but as a teacher, in a way putting myself in Bach's shoes, imagining what I would most like my child to get from them.

Sounds pretentious, but it's not meant to be.  After all, Wilhelm Friedeman, for whom he wrote the pieces, heard his father play every day and was probably played to, so this collection must be full of highly personal musical moments, including a large dosage of improvisatory whimsy as well as subtle vocalism.

Looking at the D minor English Suite in this light I realize that what repels me in most Bach playing on the piano are the relentless repetitive pitches.  Played vocally, i.e., lyrically, this repetitive quality disappears: the pitch A rising is not the same as A falling; an ornamental three-note rise is not the same as a linear three-note rise.

In What Might it Mean I postulate a rule:  "Like goes to like," meaning that a run of eighth notes cannot lead to or land on a quarter note or half note.  When observed this simple rule leads to an improvisatory quality in the Prelude that is far more interesting than the rhythmically predictable approach all too often heard. The simple act of articulating the tone of "arrival" with a fresh attack engages the ear and the spirit in a refreshment that seems to live and breathe.