There are so many resources from which to glean information on the life and career of Bach that it would take a year of NFTB posts to cover it all. More will follow in weeks but to start it's important to note that he drew the strands of the Baroque period in music together to draw it to its full maturity. He was extremely devoted to his faith, the Lutheran church history, and the liturgy. A good text and tune were very important to him and he developed a very intricate relationship with both. Nothing was ever written down that didn't serve some important purpose in the larger scheme of things and he was known for hiding 'symbols' in this music. For example, a leaping bass line would represent the relationship between heaven and earth or the slow, repeated notes of the bass line in the opening movement of the cantata "Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zets, BWV 106" depicts the laboured trudging of Jesus as he was forced to drag the cross from the city to the crucifixion site. Sometimes he would even hide the spelling of his name in his works BACH=b natural, a natural, c natural and b flat.
As student of music I initially dreaded his music because you are forced to spend hours analyzing it harmonically. This makes sense from an academic standpoint because his works are really the perfect model of compositional technique due to the tight harmonies, clear bass lines, and his treatment of motivic themes. As a keyboard player and singer you come to appreciate the rich harmonies and subtle, yet specific details in his notation and articulation. It's the ultimate treasure hunt. Some of the earliest works young organists learn are Bach's Eight Short Preludes and Fugues. There is speculation as to whether or not Bach composed these little gems but regardless, his stamp of influence is present. A Prelude serves as an introductory performance, event, or an action preceding a more important one (like confession and forgiveness for example....). In our case this week and with these Bach pieces, a prelude is a complete and independent composition which precedes a fugue and is always regarded as joined with the fugue in a larger, two-part entity. A prelude also serves a very functional purpose in that it is less rigid in structure compared with the fugue so it enables the musician to warm up, get a feel of an instrument and allows for both the player and listener to establish a key center, better preparing the ears for what lies ahead. A fugue is polyphonic (two or more independent parts) and the voices are imitative based on one or more central and recurrent themes known as subjects. These subjects are introduced right away and pay attention as it moves through to the different voices. Bach was very clever in sneaking that subject in and out of different voicings.
We are moving into one of my favorite times of year, Lent. The pace of 'musical life' slows and we get the opportunity to really meditate on the life and word of Christ. I'm very open to a variety of musical styles and flavors as long as the music gives glory to God. As we explore these different musical styles perhaps it's a time of transfiguration for us as well.
As a special note, thank you to Kath Green for sharing her talent with us this week!