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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Story of a Dance

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques

Bergamo shrouded in fog
no copyright infringement intended

(click here for the Romanian version)

What would be the relation between a town in Lombardy, an old manuscript in Edinburgh, a Shakespearean play, a capriccio for organ published in 1635 in Venice, a French painter belonging to Rococo, a poem by Verlaine, part of his Fêtes galantes, and two musical suites created by the end of 19th / dawn of 20th century?

This relation exists and all these places so distant in space, and artistic works so distant in time, with their creators and their interprets, all of them make the story of a dance.

Let's start with the town from Lombardy: it's Bergamo, at the foothills of the Alps. The town has a great musical tradition (Monteverdi, Tarquinio Merula, Locatelli, Donizetti, among others, either were born in Bergamo or activated there). The town gave its name to a dance, Bergamasca (Bergamask): a rustic dance, clumsy, awkward, and quirky, as people from that place were renowned to be in their manners. Well, actually a certain subtlety was in the background of the story: their clumsiness was the outer face of a sort of self-deprecating humor, and, as always, when someone makes the fool it's to fool you. Anyway, when Italians want to express buffoonery, one of the ways is to use the jargon spoken in Bergamo. That's it.

Bergamasca was known also far outside its birthplace: in France they named it Les Bouffons or Les Mattachins; in Spain they called it Matachíns; as for Italy (outside Bergamo), the name was Mattacino, or Mattacinata. From Spain, the Matachíns eventually traveled across Atlantic, to Mexic.

If the French term of bouffon does not need explanation, the matachin has a more complicated etymology. It could derive from the Venetian matinees (with jesters producing themselves in front of the attendance); it could also designate those teams of dancers who were going from town to town to play moralities in front of the churches (I think the first hypothesis is correct, and that the Matachíns from Spain borrowed the name from Italy / France; like the Italian Mattacini, they were wearing masks and were intrinsically self-delusive).

I found in The Musical Times (the book can be read on the web: http://books.google.com/books?id=5o0PAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA491&dq=bergamesca&hl=en&ei=s_HcTfbQD5GisQPA9OmhBw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=bergamesca&f=false) an interesting information: the venerable Advocates' Library from Edinburgh keeps a manuscript of lute music from around 1600. The score is called The Buffens (which is obviously a corruption of Buffoons, or Bouffons). The tune is identical with Bergamasca.

So the dance was well-known, and no wonder a reference appeared in a replica from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (v.360, according to Wikipedia): Bottom invites Duke Theseus to hear a Bergomask dance.

Scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream
engraving, 1796
authors: Henri Fuseli (artist), John Peter (engraver)
source: Library of Congress

no copyright infringement intended

Three composers were attracted by Bergamasca: a Pre-Classic, Girolamo Frescobaldi, and two from much modern times, Gabriel Fauré and Claude Debussy.

The first time when I heard the Bergamasca of Frescobaldi, it was in the interpretation of Father Iosif Gerstenengst, the organist of St. Joseph Cathedral in Bucharest: one of the greatest organists of Romania. I enjoyed going to the Cathedral especially in the evenings. Sometimes after the Mass, Father Gerstenengst was playing the organ for his own sake. It was divine.

Once I waited for the Father to leave the Cathedral, to ask him something: there was an LP with him performing the Toccata in D by Pachelbel, and I wanted to know whether it was D Major or minor. The question was of course awkward (to put it mildly), but I was enamored by the organ music (actually the LP had both pieces, the Bergamasca and the Toccata). He explained patiently to me that Pachelbel's Toccata had been composed prior to the well-tempered musical scale (not that I understood too much, but that would be another story). He then asked me if I could come one day near the organ, to see him playing. I was too shy to honor the invitation.

Prior to 1959 Father Gerstenengst had been the parson of the Catholic church in Resita, a city in the West of Romania. I went several times there in the eighties and nineties, and I visited the Catholic church. A young priest was serving there, enthusiast and good hearted. I was once with some friends and the priest invited us in the rectory. We stayed for a conversation in a great salon, with a pianoforte in front of an impressive home library: I looked with emotion at the piano; once, long time ago, the fingers of Father Gerstenengst had touched its keys.

The Bergamasca of Frescobaldi is a work of great mastership: the composer succeeded in rendering the quirkiness, the awkwardness, of the dance, in a subtle way, which was far from simple. A lot of mastership is also needed to play it, and Frescobaldi made this warning: Chi questa Bergamasca sonarà, non poco imparerà! The ability to play this Bergamasca comes after much study!

Playing this organ work is reserved only for the happy few, and Father Gerstenengst was one of them.

Frescobaldi's Bergamasca is part of his Fiori Musicali, which sounds a bit curious: a secular dance included in a collection of liturgical music, near three great Masses! Well, at least Bergamasca hasn't remained alone: another secular tune (Girolmeta) keeps it company - two capriccios staying near Missa della Domenica, Missa degli Apostoli, and Missa della Madonna.

The collection was published in 1635 in Venice. Frescobaldi was by that time the organist of St. Peter Basilica in Rome; the three masses had been commissioned for a Venetian church (St. Mark's Basilica, according to some).

The Edinburgh manuscript, Shakespeare, Frescobaldi: history has known Bergamasca since Late Renaissance / Early Baroque. Of course the dance had much older beginnings: that region has been inhabited since the Celtic period.

And the story went on: the 18th century was the period of Rococo, when aristocrats discovered the charms of imitating the rustic life on an idyllic key. It was the epoch of Commedia dell'Arte, and of Fêtes Galantes, so outdoor parties with people fancy dressed and wearing masks were highly prized. Dances like Bergamasca got a new fame, as people were interested about buffoons, and about masks and bergamasks.

And now, if we've arrived at the Fêtes Galantes, it's Antoine Watteau who comes into picture. His works are a good case to argue for the differences between Rococo and the Baroque before: Baroque's grandeur (better said the self-awareness of grandeur) remained in the new period, while imbued with something mildly subversive. You also could think at the mischievous cunning hidden in the rustic Baroque of Bergamasca, however Rococo was another kind of an animal, so to speak: the pleasure, a bit perverse, to play like rustic while remaining an aristocrat. It was also a certain sadness hidden behind the manifest joy of life; looking like nostalgia, while being the opposite; a presentment that all this would end soon, that something terrible would come, erasing everything, and changing the social landscape forever. And the end came, as we know, with the French Revolution, that indeed erased everything.

Actually the whole Baroque with its grandeur, had the presentment of the end to come - I read once a very interesting essay authored by Costin Cazaban - a whole system of values was going to die, and the system reaction was to wrap itself in solemnity: a shield which of course would eventually prove as useless. Maybe I should come back to this later, as now I would go too far from the flow of the story.

Let's come back a bit to Watteau: here is a drawing by him; his skill in using the red and black and white, les trois crayons, is unpaired.

Antoine Watteau: Italian Comedians, ca. 1719
red, black, and white chalks, with stumping, on cream laid paper
Margaret Day Blake Collection
Art Institute of Chicago
no copyright infringement intended

Watteau, Boucher, Chardin, Fragonard: I had the occasion to see some of their works later in life, when I was already in my late fifties. I will not forget the enjoyment a friend of mine had in front of a Boucher, we were visiting the Met, and her face got suddenly a special brightness; for me Rococo was linked to my own experiences, my journeys throughout the cultural space of Mitteleuropa, and I wouldn't mention any place here, as it should be a shame to forget all the other places: Rococo in Central Europe is pervasive.

And the story of the dance went on. In the last decades of the 19th century it came to Verlaine to discover other potentialities in Bergamasca. This time it was a different view; for him quirkiness looked rather as a hidden desire of evading from the prison of normality toward a world of dream (and the nostalgia of not attaining it): his poem, Clair de Lune - a line imagines charmant masques et bergamasques ... following with, tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.
Tout en chantant sur le mode mineur
L'amour vainqueur et la vie opportune
Ils n'ont pas l'air de croire à leur bonheur
Et leur chanson se mêle au clair de lune,
Au calme clair de lune triste et beau,
Qui fait rêver les oiseaux dans les arbres
Et sangloter d'extase les jets d'eau,
Les grands jets d'eau sveltes parmi les marbres.

Your soul is as a moonlit landscape fair,
Peopled with maskers delicate and dim,
That play on lutes and dance and have an air
Of being sad in their fantastic trim.
The while they celebrate in minor strain
Triumphant love, effective enterprise,
They have an air of knowing all is vain,—
And through the quiet moonlight their songs rise,
The melancholy moonlight, sweet and lone,
That makes to dream the birds upon the tree,
And in their polished basins of white stone
The fountains tall to sob with ecstasy.

Judit Ekhard, drawing inspired by Verlaine's poem
no copyright infringement intended

Verlaine's Clair de Lune is part of his poetry collection Fêtes galantes, published in 1869. Were we to see it as a stage in the story of Bergamasca, we should be extremely cautious, as the relation between the dance and the poem is mediated through the universe of Rococo: the bergamasques mentioned by Verlaine are those from the Fêtes galantes imagined by Watteau in his paintings; Bergamo and Frescobaldi are far away.

So, speaking about new potentialities discovered by Verlaine in the dance from the North-Italian town has little to do with the dance itself: rather it's about the charm felt by the poet in imagining the way people from the epoch of Fêtes galantes were imagining on their turn the dancers and buffoons of Italy's 17th century.

It is interesting at this point to try a comparison between two composers who were inspired by the poetry of Verlaine and created suites bergamasques, to see which of them went closer to the spirit of the original dance: Gabriel Fauré and Claude Debussy. Each created a Clair de Lune, inspired by the poem of Verlaine, each continued by composing a whole suite, rendering the spirit of the whole collection of poetry, Fêtes galantes.

The Clair de Lune of Gabriel Fauré was composed in 1887, for voice and piano (the quintessential French mélodie, wrote Graham Johnson in his Gabriel Fauré - The Songs and Their Poets). The suite, Masques et bergamasques, would come much later: it was conceived originally as incidental music, to accompany a divertissment (on a scenario by René Fauchois, imagining a story from the Rococo period: members of a commedia del'arte troupe spying on the amorous endeavors of the aristocrats who were in attendance).

Initially Fauré's Masques et bergamasques comprised six sections (including Claire de Lune); it is now played as an autonomous orchestral suite, with only four sections: Ouverture, Menuet, Gavotte and Pastorale. I listened it several times; I especially like when it comes to that part in which the melody of the Menuet remains in some kind of basso ostinato.

Gabriel Fauré: Masques et bergamasques, Op. 112
Ouverture (from an abandoned 1869 symphony)
Menuet (from the abandoned 1869 symphony)

David Shallon and Orchestra dell Svizzera Italiana
(video by arta2005)

Fauré 's suite is all about Verlaine and Watteau; starting from the poetry of Verlaine, rendering it in the language of music, aiming to create a reenactment of an epoch expressed in the paintings of Watteau.

As for Debussy, he started from Verlaine too, while also being interested in capturing some from the original spirit of Bergamasca. The quirkiness of the North-Italian dance came into the dissonances of Debussy's Suite bergamasque: an early artwork mirrored in the audacity of a modern creator.

When Debussy composed his Claire de Lune in 1890, the tittle was different (Promenade sentimentale); the inspiration was another poem of Verlaine (from his first collection of poetry, Poèmes saturniens, the cycle of Paysages tristes). The whole Suite bergamasque was created in 1890; Debussy continued to work on each part of the suite for another fifteen years. In 1905 the Pavane had become a Passepied, and the Promenade sentimentale had changed into Claire de Lune, one of the most beautiful piano pages.

Sviatoslav Richter plays Debussy's Suite Bergamasque
1. Prélude
2. Menuet

(video by truecrypt)

Sviatoslav Richter plays Debussy's Suite Bergamasque
3. Clair de lune
4. Passepied

(video by truecrypt)

And the story of the dance goes on...

Bergomask scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream
Mikrokosmos production, 2007
no copyright infringement intended

(Old Masters)

(Paul Verlaine)

(Claude Debussy)

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Beyond B A C H - the Permutation Matrix of Zoltán Göncz

Zoltán Göncz: the permutation matrix in Contrapunctus XIV
no copyright infringement intended

I would like to come back to the question of the fourth subject of Contrapunctus XIV: the missing one. Let's recapitulate: Bach didn't finish Contrapunctus XIV (the last in the Art of Fugue), leaving it with three subjects. What differentiated Contrapunctus XIV to the rest of the cycle was that (beside it was unfinished) the main theme was missing, while present in all the other Contrapuncti: for this reason some musicologists even believed that actually it was erroneously considered as part of the Art of Fugue. On the other hand, the third subject of Contrapunctus XIV was no other musical sequence than B A C H, his signature. Naturally that incited the spirits, and people started to look for an answer to what would have been after B A C H, were the composer to finish his opus.

(Let me mention for people less familiarized with fugues, canons, polyphony and all that stuff: subject, theme, and motif are equivalent - all three define the same thing, namely a sequence of musical notes that constitute the vortex of a polyphonic piece - this sequence is played on each voice, where each voice starts this sequence a bit before the previous voice has finished it, which leads to a complex sound in which the melody is wrapping itself - also, let me mention that the fourteen fugues composing the Art of Fugue carry the title of Contrapuncti).

One of the strongest opinions about what was missing in Contrapunctus XIV was brought by Gustav Nottebohm in his article published in 1881. Nottebohm believed that the fourth subject, that was missing, should have been the main theme of the Art of Fugue: Contrapunctus XIV had three sections, and the third one was broken off shortly after the exposition of its subject (B A CH ); a fourth section would have come naturally. He came to that conclusion by studying the structure of the first three sections: it was like they claimed a fourth section to complete the whole.

Nottebohm was followed by other musicians who had more or less similar arguments. It was in the first decade of the 21th century that Zoltán Göncz had the idea of constructing a Permutation Matrix to make obvious the correctness of considering Contrapunctus XIV as potentially a quadruple fugue.

I showed the Permutation Matrix of Zoltán Göncz in the image above and I will refer briefly to each matrix within it (it is actually a set of matrices that follow a permutational logic)

The first matrix on the left shows the beginning of first section of Contrapunctus XIV: the first theme is introduced on the four voices (bass - tenor - alto - soprano). The introduction is followed by a development during which the four voices take again and again the theme and work on it (by using specific mechanisms like transposition, inversion, stretti, etc).

The second matrix shows the beginning of the second section of the Contrapunctus: the second theme is now introduced on the four voices in a different order - alto - soprano - bass - tenor. The development of the second section mixes the two themes, which is possible because each one follows its own sequence of voices: it means that never the two subjects would come on the same voice in the same time.

The third matrix shows the beginning of the third section: the third theme (the famous B A C H) is introduced on the four voices in the order tenor - alto - soprano - bass (which is different from the order followed by each of the previous two subjects).

The fourth matrix shows the continuation of the third section: a development which mixes the three themes which makes possible a fourth section where a fourth subject should be introduced in the order soprano - bass - tenor - alto (the fifth matrix). Finally, the sixth matrix shows the development of the fourth section, where all four themes are mixed.

The whole demonstration can be followed in an article by János Malina, published in 2007 in Hungarian Quarterly:

Based on this, Zoltán Göncz created a reconstruction of Contrapunctus XIV, where the third section in finished and a fourth section follows, using the main theme of the Art of Fugue.

Contrapunctus 14 - reconstruction: Part 1/2
Performed by Gyula Szilágyi (Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam)
Score published by Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart, 2006
(video by Matrix141414)

Contrapunctus 14 - reconstruction: Part 2/2
Performed by Gyula Szilágyi (Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam)
Score published by Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart, 2006
(video by Matrix141414)

(The B A C H motif)


Max Reger: Toccata in D minor, op.59 No.5

St Michael's Cathedral in Coventry
interior of the old church, c.1880
no copyright infringement intended

Max Reger: Toccata in D minor, op. 59 no. 5
Alistair Reid performs in St. Michael's Cathedral in Coventry
(video by AlistairCDReid)

(Max Reger)


Beyond B A C H - the Answer of Max Reger

For me, Bach is the be-all and end-all of music; true progress lies and resides in him alone
Max Reger

(The B A C H motif)

(Max Reger)

Labels: ,

Nil Mortalibus Ardui Est

Nil mortalibus ardui est - There is nothing steep for mortals - Rien ne saurait rester hors d'atteinte aux mortels - superb Horatian line - it was the only annotation a great-uncle of mine has made on the Book of Odes.

Truth is that Horace used it in his Ode 1.3 to critic the audacity of people: caelum ipsum petimus stultitia (we attack heaven itself with stupidity). I would keep though with my great-uncle: Nil mortalibus ardui est - Audentis Fortuna iuvat!

Here is what I found in the Hachette edition of the Odes:

Virgile allait visiter Athènes; Horace s’adresse au vaisseau qui doit emporter son ami et demande aux dieux une heureuse traversée; puis, il blâme Mévius (ennemi de Virgile) qui fut assez téméraire pour affronter la mer et les naufrages et, d’une manière générale, l’imprudence humaine qui provoque à plaisir la colère céleste; distiques formés d’un glyconique et d’un asclépiade mineur; date – on ne connait de voyage à Athènes fait par Virgile que celui de l’an 19 ; or, le premier livre des Odes est antérieur de quatre années à cette date ; on a proposé diverses explications ; il parait naturel de supposer que Virgile, lorsqu’il se décida à entreprendre ce voyage , en nourrissait le projet depuis plusieurs années et que, antérieurement à l’an 24 il fut sur le point de partir ; ce serait alors que l‘Ode aurait été composée.

(Virgil was going to visit Athens; Horace is addressing the vessel which must carry his friend and asks the gods for a happy crossing; then he blames Mevius (an enemy of Virgil) which was enough bold to face the sea and the shipwrecks and, generally, the human imprudence which causes with pleasure celestial anger; distiches made of a Glyconic line and a minor Asclepiad; date – the only known voyage to Athens made by Virgil is that of year 19; however, the first book of the Odes came four years erlier to this date; various explanations were proposed; it appears natural to suppose that Virgil, before deciding to undertake this voyage, had nourished the project for several years and even that, before the year 24, he was about to leave; it would be that year when the Ode would have been written)

Sic te diva potens Cypri,
sic fratres Helenae, lucida sidera,
ventorumque regat pater
obstrictis aliis praeter Iapyga,

navis, quae tibi creditum
debes Vergilium; finibus Atticis
reddas incolumem, precor,
et serves animae dimidium meae.

Illi robur et aes triplex
circa pectus erat, qui fragilem truci
commisit pelago ratem
primus, nec timuit praecipitem Africum

decertantem Aquilonibus
nec tristis Hyadas nec rabiem Noti,
quo non arbiter Hadriae
maior, tollere seu ponere vult freta.

Quem mortis timuit gradum
qui siccis oculis monstra natantia,
qui vidit mare turbidum et
infamis scopulos, Acroceraunia?

Nequiquam deus abscidit
prudens Oceano dissociabili
terras, si tamen impiae
non tangenda rates transiliunt vada.

Audax omnia perpeti
gens humana ruit per vetitum nefas.
Audax Iapeti genus
ignem fraude mala gentibus intulit.

Post ignem aetheria domo
subductum macies et nova befrium
terris incubuit cohors,
semotique prius tarda necessitas

leti corripuit gradum.
Expertus vacuum Daedalus aera
pinnis non homini datis;
perrupit Acheronta Herculeus labor.

Nil mortalibus ardui est;
caelum ipsum petimus stultitia, neque
per nostrum patimur scelus
iracunda Iovem ponere fulmina.

Thus the powerful goddess of Cyprus,
thus the brothers of Helen, bright stars,
and the father of winds guide you,
with others confined except for Iapyx,

ships, which you are keeping Vergil as
a loan to you; may you return him
unharmed to Attic territories, I pray,
and may you guard half of my soul.

Oak and triple copper
was placed around my heart, which first joined
the fragile raft to the wild
sea, neither fears tempestuous Africus

fighting with the north winds
nor the gloomy Hyades nor the rage of Notus,
than whom there is no greater overseer
of the Adriatic, whether he wishes to raise or calm the seas.

What step of death does he fear,
he who saw with dry eyes monsters swimming,
he who saw the wild sea and
infamous rocks, Acroceraunia?

In vain, a prudent god separated
the lands from the incompatible Ocean,
if nevertheless the impious ships
dash across the untouchable depths.

The human race, bold
to suffer all things, rushes to forbidden sins.
The bold son of Iapetus
brought fire to the people by wicked deceit.

After the fire carried off from
it's heavenly home, decay and a new friend of
fever settled on the lands,
and slow fate first quickened the approach

of slow death.
Daedalus tried the empty air with
wings non given to humans;
the labor of Hercules broke through Acheron.

There is nothing steep for mortals;
we attack heaven itself with stupidity, and
we do not suffer for our crime
to put aside angry lightening for Jove.

Puisse la déesse souveraine de Chypre,
puissent les frères d'Hélène, astres éclatants,
et aussi le père des vents,
les tenant tous serrés hormis l'Iapyx, diriger ta course,

navire à qui nous avons confié Virgile
et qui nous en es redevable.
Aux rives de l'Attique, je t'en prie, mène-le à bon port,
et prends bien soin de cette moitié de mon âme.

Il avait, autour du cœur,
du bois de chêne et une triple épaisseur d'airain,
celui qui, le premier, se risqua sur la mer farouche dans une barque fragile,
et qui ne craignit ni l'impétueux vent d'Afrique

en lutte avec les Aquilons,
ni les sombres Hyades, ni la rage du Notus,
ce seigneur sans rival de l'Adriatique,
qui, à sa guise, en soulève ou en calme les flots.

Jusqu'à quel point redoutait-il la mort,
celui qui put voir avec des yeux secs, les monstres marins,
la mer déchaînée
et les terribles écueils acrocérauniens ?

C'est en vain qu'un dieu prévoyant a séparé les terres
et les a isolées par l'Océan
puisque malgré cela des barques impies
traversent ces flots qui devraient rester inviolés.

Audacieuse à tout endurer, l'espèce humaine se précipite
dans l'interdit profanateur;
audacieux, le fils de Japet, par une ruse funeste,
apporta le feu aux nations,

mais à la suite de ce vol en la demeure éthérée,
l'extrême maigreur et une multitude de fièvres inconnues
s'abattirent sur la terre, et la mort nécessaire,
auparavant lointaine et lente, pressa le pas.

Dédale a éprouvé l'inconsistance de l'air
avec des ailes étrangères à la nature humaine;
un des travaux d'Hercule consista
à franchir de force l'Achéron.

Rien ne saurait rester hors d'atteinte aux mortels !
Dans notre folie, nous cherchons même à atteindre le ciel, et,
en raison de nos crimes, nous ne permettons
pas à Jupiter de déposer ses foudres furieuses.



Friday, February 24, 2012

Exploring B A C H - the Ricercare of Alfredo Casella

Perhaps the Ricercare sul Nome di B A C H of Alfredo Casella brings in mind the oldest meaning of this form: to search, to play, to exercise - to explore a musical motif, a musical technique, to explore its mood; to meditate over it, over its context, over the world that made possible that motif, that technique.

An exploration made in the 20th century: the Ricercare of Alfredo Casella brings echoes from Debussy, or Ravel, or Enescu, while trying with delicacy to look there, at the times of Baroque.

Glenn Gould is perfect in rendering this piece: a man of the 20th century ignoring all that the 19th brought, speaking only the language of Pre-Classics.

(The B A C H motif)


Beyond B A C H - Gustav Nottebohm

The last, unfinished fugue composed by Bach, Contrapunctus XIV: is it a fugue with three or four subjects? Both answers could be considered as true.

As it was left by Bach, Contrapunctus XIV has three subjects, and this is its title in the 1751 edition: Fuga a 3 soggetti. Only we should note that this title was given by Bach's son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, while in Bach's obituary it is mentioned a draft for a fugue intended to contain four subjects.

Contrapunctus XIV breaks off soon after the third subject (the famous B A C H) is announced. Were a fourth subject to continue the fugue, would it be any hint about it?

There is a hint: all Contrapuncti within the Art of Fugue use the same main subject. All but Contrapunctus XIV! Had Bach the intention to use the main subject as the coronation of his last fugue?

One of the first musicologists to try an answer was Gustav Nottebohm (a lifelong friend of Brahms and a keen scholar in the realm of Beethoven sketches).

Nottebohm published in 1881 an article where he made the case for Contrapunctus XIV as a quadruple fugue, with the main theme of the Art of Fugue as the forth subject remained undone. He also offered a completion of the work, as a proof of concept.

The ultimate demonstration for the quadruple fugue would be made much later, in the first decade of the 21th century, when Zoltán Göncz constructed the Permutation Matrix to produce the whole four sections of Contrapunctus XIV.

I tried to find the reconstruction of Contrapunctus XIV made by Nottebohm. I discovered it embedded within a section of a Passacaglia (based on the B A C H motif) created in 1993 by American composer Ron Nelson.

Here is how Ron Nelson describes his work (http://www.windrep.org/Passacaglia_%28Homage_on_B-A-C-H%29): a set of continuous variations in moderately slow triple meter built on an eight-measure melody (basso ostinato) which is stated, in various registers, twenty-five times... a seamless series of tableux which move from darkness to light... the textures of the B A C H motif are paraphrased (in an octatonic scale) in the fourth and fifth variations; the seventh variation incorporates Gustav Nottebohm’s resolution (altered) of the unfinished final fugue of The Art of Fugue; the melody from Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor appears once (also altered) in variation nineteen.

(The B A C H motif)


Art of Fugue: The Main Theme

The main theme in The Art of Fugue is this melody in D minor:

The Main Theme of the Art of Fugue
source: Pfly
no copyright infringement intended

Says Christoph Wolff, the governing idea of the Art of Fugue is an exploration in depth of the contrapuntal possibilities inherent in a single musical subject.
(Wikipedia: Christoph Wolff, Johann Sebastian Bach, the Learned Musician, page 433, ISBN 0-393-04825-X)

It is the main theme in the Art of Fugue, while also the missing theme in the last fugue of the cycle, the unfinished Contrapunctus XIV, and scholars have tried to find an answer to this: was maybe Bach intending to come to the theme in D minor and, add it after the B A C H motif, to complete the last fugue?

To illustrate the theme in D minor, here is Contrapunctus I:

And here is Contrapunctus IX, a more complicated piece: a double fugue:

For the recording of this video two instruments were used, as the author explains: a piano and a sampled pipe organ (an Ahlborn-Galanti Silbermann Archiv). The piano has MIDI Out (from a Moog Piano Bar) which was recorded and played back to play the organ.

Here is how the author created the video:
first he videotaped himself playing it, and recorded both the audio (from his Kimball grand piano) and MIDI (from a Moog Piano Bar attached to the piano). Then, he rerecorded the audio and MIDI for each of the four voices separately; he did this so that he could color-code the video based on voice and to get a performance that was a little cleaner (it also afforded him the opportunity to add a 16-foot stop to the bass line in a few places). The conventional score is from screenshots from the notation program Sibelius, and the bar-graph score was generated from the MIDI using his own custom software. All these things were assembled in Adobe Premiere and converted to Flash with the On2 Flix converter.

(The B A C H motif)


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Beyond B A C H - Arvo Pärt and the Minimalist Answer

A great image of Arvo Pärt, unfolding Bach's sonatas! Pärt is maybe the most obvious example of the profound link between Musica Nova and Baroque. Actually his passion goes much deeper, to the Plainsong and Gregorian Chant., to that very moment when Polyphony started to show its first buds.

Arvo Pärt composed in 1994 a Concerto piccolo über B-A-C-H for trumpet, string orchestra, harpsichord and piano: his answer to the challenge to show the way beyond B-A-C-H. I wanted badly to find a recording, it was impossible. I would have seen how a composer belonging to the Minimalist school was dialoging with Bach; or how could he emphasize the way Bach would sound whether wrapped in Minimalism.

What I found was another work of Arvo Pärt: Collage über BACH - Sarabande. Maybe some answers to the above questions would be found in this work.

(The B A C H motif)

(Arvo Pärt)

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Beyond B A C H - the Answer of Liszt

Liszt is fantasizing at the piano, surrounded by the whole artistic elite of his time (the whole event was imagined, of course, by the author of the painting): Dumas-père, George Sand, and Daniel Stern are seated; Berlioz (or maybe Victor Hugo), Niccolò Paganini, and Gioachino Rossini are standing; Byron observes the gathering from a painting hanged on the wall; the statue of Joan of Arc is on the far left; a bust of Beethoven is on the piano; it's made by Anton Dietrich; and the piano itself is made by Conrad Graf.

A great gathering, no doubt about it. Could you imagine Bach among them? Let's re-phrase this question: was there a Romanticist empathy for the Baroque? Generally not, and it seems to me that the passion for the architecture of Baroque music came back in the twentieth century: Schoenberg, Webern, and all others ejusdem farinae were building a totally new world, hence their keen interest for the basic structures (while Romanticists were rebels living still in a well-established universe).

All this is true, while the case of Bach is different. Maybe because his genius has transcended epochs. And it was the Romanticist period that discovered Bachian transcendence. During the epoch of the great Classics he was considered sometimes a bit too old for their taste. It was Mendelssohn who made obvious his perpetual importance.

What have Liszt seen beyond the B A C H bar, the last bar of Bach's last work, the Unfinished Fugue?

The Fantasy and Fugue on the Theme B A C H is the answer brought by Liszt: a dialog between Baroque and Romanticism; an exploration of Romanticist potentialities within a Baroque work; a Romanticist journey throughout the Baroque realm.

(The B A C H motif)


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Liszt: Liebesträume

The apartment of Liszt in Budapest
source: Tamcgath

Liszt composed three piano works, calling each one Liebesträume (Dreams of Love). The most popular remained the third. It was inspired by a poem of Ferdinand Freiligrath. It is about unconditional love and the tragedy of love loss:

O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst!
O lieb, so lang du lieben magst!
Die Stunde kommt, die Stunde kommt,
wo du an Gräbern stehst und klagst !

Und sorge, daß dein Herze glüht
Und Liebe hegt und Liebe trägt,
So lang ihm noch ein ander Herz
In Liebe warm entgegenschlägt!

Und wer dir seine Brust erschließt,
O tu ihm, was du kannst, zulieb!
Und mach ihm jede Stunde froh,
Und mach ihm keine Stunde trüb!

Und hüte deine Zunge wohl,
Bald ist ein böses Wort gesagt!
O Gott, es war nicht bös gemeint -
Der Andre aber geht und klagt.

O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst!
O lieb, so lang du lieben magst!
Die Stunde kommt, die Stunde kommt,
Wo du an Gräbern stehst und klagst!

Dann kniest du nieder an der Gruft,
Und birgst die Augen, trüb und naß
- sie sehn den Andern nimmermehr -
In's lange, feuchte Kirchhofsgras.

Und sprichst: O schau auf mich herab
Der hier an deinem Grabe weint!
Vergib, daß ich gekränkt dich hab!
O Gott, es war nicht bös gemeint!

Er aber sieht und hört dich nicht,
Kommt nicht, daß du ihn froh umfängst;
Der Mund, der oft dich küßte, spricht
Nie wieder: ich vergab dir längst!

Er that's, vergab dir lange schon,
Doch manche heiße Träne fiel
Um dich und um dein herbes Wort -
Doch still - er ruht, er ist am Ziel!

O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst!
O lieb, so lang du lieben magst!
Die Stunde kommt, die Stunde kommt,
wo du an Gräbern stehst und klagst!

(Old Masters)