Saturday, April 13, 2013

J.S. Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2, 6th Mini-Recital, Preludes and Fugues No 21-24

Click on the title in order to listen to the piece

In this pleasant piece full of sweetness and gentle affection Johann Sebastian Bach sounds like a representative of the “sensitive style” that followed his era. On first hearing it, you could think it had been composed by one of his sons. 
Three voices weave a fabric of smooth and flowing lines. The Prelude is a long piece, especially if the two parts are repeated, and its form points toward the classical Sonata, with a clearly distinguishable exposition, development and recapitulation.

The Fugue continues the pleasant mood of the Prelude in the elegant style of a Minuet. 

Central Park, NYC

As in the previous Prelude, long, flowing melody lines characterize this three-part invention, but the mood is completely different. There is deep sadness, there is also acceptance, as if over some irretrievable loss. It reminds me of a piece we sang in choir in High School, that had the recurring words : “I keep moving, because it helps to ease the pain.”

The Prelude has set the scene for a highlight, the most dramatic Fugue of the entire collection. The piece is dark and austere, to the point of being threatening. Enormous effort is required to create balance between opposing forces, and the music does not always sound pleasant in the course of the ensuing struggle. 
The subject appears rugged, fragmented. We are left with the feeling of an open ending on the 5th of the scale, because the second subject entry occurs before the last segment is completely finished. The countersubject, a chromatic line, increases the tension. 
The Fugue has five parts, each one presenting the subject in a different light. After the exposition, Bach uses the technique of stretto (overlapping subject entrances) in the second section. In the third section, the subject is inverted. The “idea” of inversion first occurs in the episode that precedes the section, like the creative spark that appears when you look the other way. The fourth section resembles the second in the use of strettos. This time, entrances of the inverted subject overlap. In the final section, Bach combines the subject with its inversion, and the fugue ends in a striking gesture of balance: a stretto with the subject in soprano and alto, and the inversion in tenor and bass. 
In Memory of 9/11, NYC

Add caption

The Prelude is a piece in free concerto form of bright and optimistic spirit. 

Message in the snow at the bus stop

In calm and solemn steps the subject ascends, covering the range of an entire octave. The tones of the melody outline the underlying harmonic functions of the cadence. Like a series of sunrises the subject entrances follow each other, and  everything seems directed upward towards the sky. 
The counterpoint also follows the structure of the triad, but in faster note values, that fill in the skips and spaces and create a dense texture. Interestingly, the first two of the three sections have a redundant 5th entrance of the subject, and as the piece progresses, subject extensions and episodes become more extensive.  

John Lennon memorial, Central Park NYC

The Prelude in B-minor is the only one that has a tempo indication: Allegro - fast, and literally translated: happy. It is a two part invention, whose voices are of equal importance. I think it is the interplay between “straightforward, on the beat” and “off-beat, syncopated, bouncing around” that make the piece so engaging and energetic.

Amish Horse and Buggy, Lancaster County PA

Bach ended Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier with a long and profound Fugue, a piece like a meditation on the labyrinth that is the journey of life. Book 2 ends with a dance. In spite of the minor key it has an upbeat spirit, as if to underscore joy and the power of resilience.    

Light and shadow, Central Park NYC