As my friend put it, it is “All Bach All The Time” in my place these days, which is wonderful but overwhelming. One would guess that a lot of the work would be very cerebral: fingerings, sorting-out, mental gymnastics. That is true, and it takes a lot of patience– but much of the work for me is color/affect/energy. It is so easy for the stream of notes to degenerate into motoric motion, or autopilot, or on the other extreme: manic characterization. To find just the energy necessary to propel the piece forward, but not so much that it flails.

And then there are those “miracle moments” where you find exactly the right affect for the material. For instance I am playing the D major Toccata, which I had usually experienced as mainly a joyous romp of virtuosity (despite a mournful, central fugue in f# minor). But thinking about the opening section of this Toccata as walking music — I suddenly made the (fairly obvious) association to “happy pilgrims.” Bringing a sort of liturgical element into it (a piece I had viewed as entirely secular) made the whole piece now a kind of meditation or service –and also it has been Passion Week… The minor-key fugue could be Good Friday, and the final D major gigue/fugue Easter Sunday! I played the final fugue again, with the sense of (and I am not a religious person) “Christ is Risen!” and I swear it was entirely different (though I had always played it joyfully before)… but this purpose behind it, the sense of communal joy, and the PROCESS of the entire Toccata culminating, all of this worked. I will spend the week trying to recapture that moment’s inspiration.

Thus the form of the Toccata, its “sectional problem”–which I had never viewed as a problem, as these pieces are favorites of mine, but audiences seem to be puzzled to some extent–can be related to the parts of a Mass. The improvisatory sections linking the main elements are like “readings,” or pastorly reflections on passages heard… however you want to draw the analogy, it becomes of a piece, a ritual, a happening.

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One Comment

  1. Anonymous
    Posted September 18, 2005 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    this is cool. i’m a singer, and can really identify with wrestling to find new meaning in a piece of music. – hasn’t it all aready been done? what is the point? if it is technically good, isn’t that good enough? Nice to see that it isn’t. more stuff like this please…

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