Bach has been hailed as a “Superman" by poets, philosophers and musicians. But rather than holding him up as an example of a supernatural man, I view Bach as a man whose spirit has transcended the essence of conventional humanity. So in that sense, Bach is rather supernatural, because as a mortal man he has nonetheless refined and distilled that which makes us artfully human, and elevated the essence of all humanity a little closer to heaven.
Bach: Prelude in C-sharp minor, WTC I, BWV 849
This is plainly and unreservedly an evangelical dialogue, placing a typically Bach introductory "interlude" in front of an "important aria", the role played here by the Fugue that follows.
As always, Bach does nothing by accident. The fugue, which he conceived as a very serious "appeal to God", dictates the evangelical prelude. Thus, when Bach wrote this prelude, he had a clear plan in his head - an evangelist answering the call of his creative mind with the substance of his inner voices as they are "singing" to him. This is the method he followed through this life, and through time and frequent practice, by calling on his instinct through exercises and appeals to logic, his creative process formulated plots, themes, forms, and in doing so redefined common practice of the day effortlessly. Eventually the ideas came so readily that the writing of new works approached the point of "automatism".
But, Bach would not have been Bach, if he had not endowed the "ordinary", in his exercises and presentation, with the Gospel recitative which imbued the properties and content of his inner self — he mirrored the notion of enlightenment, a deeply self-reflective person. Thus, we see Bach proselytizing his own story, thinking to himself through the dipping of his quill pen into ink, and writing his own musical and poetic chronicle of the German people witnessing the flourishing of Protestantism amidst the burgeoning cultural enlightenment.
As a result, we can see a completely modern image of Bach, the poet, introspectively reflecting deeply on reality, and through his music, depicting the "current moment". Instead of focusing on the Mental and cerebral process of a musician, Bach’s giant leap in the content of music was unhurried, humble in its humanity, disenfranchised from pyrotechnic externalities, and imbued with the honesty of a man “singing his own song”.
Beginning with Bach, music was born out of time and filled with deep inner content. Music was no longer simply decorative, ecclesiastical, nor a simple virtuosic manifestation; instead, music became a product of the human spirit, a self-sufficient art expressing more fully a person’s ever-deepening essence more than any other form of self-expression.
Bach: Fugue in C-sharp minor, WTC I, BWV 849
Simplicity and clarity are the introductory hallmarks, with music that is both introspective, and sublimely poetic. That is, it’s essence is romantic, and approachable in a way that is relatable to our modern taste and musical sensibilities. It seems to embrace the future thought processes of Goethe or Byron, only 100-150 years earlier. Think about that - 100-150 years in advance ! People hardly “sneeze twice" and half a century has passed. Luminaries, like Bach or Goethe, Thucydides or Pericles, though in time separated, sometimes by two millenniums, appear to share the same thoughts and feelings.
While the "Scenery" is changing around such monumental people, the "enlightened thinkers” and their ideas remain distinctly paramount, weathering changes of epoch and notion, unchanged in the import of wisdom and sometimes prophetic power of message, withstanding the test of time. As to the scenery – there were the various movements representing historic shifts in philosophical thought over the centuries: "romanticism", "classicism", "odism", then "postmodernism". Changes in taste and societal norms affected the details and construct of such things as Men and women’s fashions, but the basic reasoning behind attire remained. Similarly with language and symbolism; mentality vs. metaphor – both evolving in differing ways, due to contemporaneous social influences of the day, but, in many aspects, sharing the same concerns, cancers, and criterion over time – so, the same underlayment, but offering up differing surfaces. To that end, historians mark the eras according to their judgment of shifts in "trends" that "captured the masses" - from antiques to baroque, from "Renaissance" to "post-truth."
But one must not confuse the luminaries with the "masses". By keeping them separate, and focusing on them as the trendsetters, clarity should immediately come to framing the "epochs" – but we find that the given epochal names have really nothing to do with the great personalities who, through those epochs, have pulled mankind up with them closer towards a more “enlightened future." But, I was momentarily distracted. Back to the Fugue in C Sharp Minor. "Another" monument to the Protestant faith. But this is in form only. The substance still waxes poetic - Herr Bach is focusing his thoughts in his "favorite direction." Calvary, the cross of Christ, the Cross of man - Bach's Cross. Where else can a person cry out his own sorrows so fully, if not through the "Golgotha theme"? Thus we see Bach crying out here his many sorrows and pains in the endless Golgothic musical scenes.
Theme. Four notes - “C sharp”, “B sharp”, “E”, “D sharp”. Or in his language - cis-his-e-dis. Starting with these modest four notes, almost spellbound, mystically concise, Bach "spins" them in his polyphonic cosmogony to a "universal scale." From the proto-universe, he develops his own universe. The art of the fugue is here, the world growing out from this seed of grain – Bach’s skill in writing this way is unmatched.
Cis-his is an abbreviation of the name of Christ. E-dis is interpreted very widely from many Latin phrases. From "Christ takes communion with me", or "I take communion", or "take me" Jesus. No riddles. Bach directly, “as always,” addresses Christ and talks to him. He entreats, reports, swears allegiance, and rushes towards him.
It is Gloria and the calling on the power of Christ from the mighty spirit of man. In the endless choral chanting that begins in the second part of the fugue, we hear the German spirit — the invincible Protestant spirit, the greatness of the German people, to whom Bach wanted or did not want this, he sang Hosanna.
For me, this is Bach's best fugue. By conciseness and indestructibility of the spirit. If you close your eyes and mentally give the voices to the choir, and Bach, of course, hears in this fugue gigantic, polyphonic choirs, stoked by faith, you yourself will be filled with this mighty power of faith. What? In yourself. It would be enough. Bach, after all, by singing Hosanna to the German people and Jesus, he sang about himself and his own faith in life and in himself.
Bach, Prelude in C-sharp major, WTC I, BWV 848
Prelude С Sharp Major from the first volume of the WTC. Whenever Bach’s music is on a program, the audience can always depend on the master composer to deliver an amazing aural experience. But as to what the performance and what interpretation will be chosen by the performer, the listener’s only certainty is unpredictability. There is a diverse universe of opinion and performance style, but I prefer to take a softer approach to the attack, and I try to tap into Bach’s soulful physiognomy. I take issue with performers who take a decadent approach to the music, focusing more on absolute adherence to what is on the printed page, rather than taking into consideration the enlightenment’s “logos” behind the notes, the religious and spiritual forces that motivated Bach’s soul. To broaden the appeal to new audiences, especially in today’s anti-classical social media environment, performers must not let an overly didactic approach to Bach take away from the emotional power his music was intended to bring to listeners.
I strive to make his sublime music sound bold, alive, fresh, and contemporary, much like I believe Bach’s music to be because, as I have said, Bach’s art was far ahead of its time; it is in many respects, almost prophetic in the way it seems to echo future styles – and it is absolutely never “wooden”. Bach should not be overtly followed like edicts from a “strict uncle”, or played funereally – tedium must be avoided at all cost ! It is the anathema to a satisfying listening experience. In summary, Bach’s 48 preludes and fugues must never be approached by performers as if they are tedious pedagogical music, or boring polyphonic prayers and didactic exercises that must somehow be enhanced by applying an overt elaborate virtuosity. This music is inherently imbued with the meaning of life, reflective of the nature of man – a noble creation meant to exhibit, and at the same time, to touch, the soul of mankind for generations past, present and future. There seems no limit in sight for the appeal of these masterworks.
But let us give the floor to Bach himself, who, having lost faith in the need to write church music, and wanted no to avoid the very tedium I discussed earlier, wrote to his patron: “I would be happy to continue my service to Your Highness, but I physically can’t write cantatas anymore. in Wilhelmsburg, I will rot here in prison to death. " Bach wanted to write from the heart music that would touch the soul – this was his mission and his purpose as he saw it as granted by the almighty.
If the prelude and fugue in C Sharp minor from the first volume, was an example of serious music, extremely rich in content, then the prelude and fugue in C Sharp major from the same first volume of the WTC is more light hearted, closer to what I would liken to "disco".
The prelude is less substantial, but beautiful in form. It is a wonderful golden inlaid music box. A charming trinket, a very nice gift, a faberge egg, a beautiful necklace, say, for a noble lady. And do not look for any hidden meaning in this music. There is only one important directive – enjoy the beauty of the music for its own sake. And above all, be mindful that it is remarkable precisely because it is made the a remarkable man, the presently cheerful Bach!
Bach - Fugue in C-sharp major, WTC I, BWV 848
Fugue in C sharp major from the first volume of the WTC.
“Passing by Bach’s house, I often heard laughter, jokes, and cheerful playing of instruments. They loved the fast tempos.”
- From the memoirs of a contemporary of Bach
It would be a mistaken assumption to believe that one could only dance to the Preludes, (or, if one is a composer, to find dances IN the Preludes).
So now we consider a fugue in C-sharp major from the first volume. It represents the Pinnacle, the very top level of Bach's serious compositional technique and formal structure. While the Prelude’s “easy listening” dance is entertaining, reminiscent of a "music box", and inspiring rest and relaxation, the elegance of the fugue is fiery, and its forced leaps invite us to jump like goats.
And, if someone wants to "move in style" to the music, even nowadays this music has not completely lost its charming pastoral “danceri-ness”. But, at the same time – it timeless dance character, makes it seem right at home even in today’s discos, where it would not at all sound out of place, or seem like a dissonant work. The way that Bach’s music expresses the nature of dance, and the nature of man is timeless; the relevance and feel of this classic music seems not at all out of place or removed from the present era. Here we experience flirty verbal dialogue, the eternal love game, and charming movements. This music is Absolute freedom. The joy of life.
As you can see, polyphony and seriously composed forms in no way contradict the complete "frivolity" of content or tasking that a composer may choose to include in any given form. Nevertheless, I hope that even during my life we will be able, (at least in the minds of those who read our words, and listen to our ideas and performances), to freshen the general attitude of mass audiences towards classical music, to remove its stale stigma as imposed or implied by popular culture, and in so doing, increase the listenership of classical or serious music. I hope to show to, and educate listeners to help them discriminate between folks who create commercially produced mass-market consumer goods and those who are true artisans and classical masters. I intend through education and live performances to help reduce the inclination of folks to reject culture just because they are encouraged to pander only to music found acceptable by the media, the cultural elites, or government propagandists. I want to help new listeners to evoke "classical music" as life in all its manifestations, and not as some dried notion of music as an intellectual exercise, sterilized of history and soul, relevant only in an exaggeratedly provincial forum.
But let us again give the word to Bach and his “exalted patron”, who brought the composer to moral depletion and mental breakdown: “It’s very hard for me, it’s just impossible to continue to write only canonical church music, and even with this schedule: every month cantata and cantata for every church holiday. I have already written over three hundred cantatas, and my soul is completely exhausted! Handel in England and Vivaldi in Italy write secular music. I also have a lot of ideas, but I am not able to carry them out, because all my time is busy composing and performing cantatas.”
His patron’s vulgarly worded and inhuman reaction was to resolve that he would keep Bach incarcerated for a month, which in those days was often a death sentence. So the idea of releasing him to then write his own style of music, reviled by the elites of his day, was erudite, hollow and evil. Fortunately the composer and for posterity, Bach did get a chance to recover himself a little and to have his soul dance and love again in the world of music.
Bach - Prelude in D minor, WTC I, BWV 851
I feel "guilty" that for a long time I have not staffed or attended to the office of Dr. Bach.
It has been difficult without him. Now I intend to correct this situation and begin revisiting him, to renew the reception.
Prelude in D minor from the first volume of the WTC.
Why does it sound so modern? As if solo and bass guitar voices are being called upon to play virtuoso English rock. What is it ? Has it been teleported, perhaps, by Bach, who having come into our time, then flew back and laughed at us, having put this modern music for us on paper and sent it here ? Or, on the other hand, are we slowly moving “back to the baroque” time with our "rock" ? Well, it’s neither one nor the other. It is timeless, "eternal." Or, at least, very old.
Most likely, Bach wrote this prelude with organ improvisations in his head. By his time, such improvisations were already very popular and were heard everywhere in Europe. Ostinato in bass (basso ostinato) and arpeggios in the upper voice were typical attributes of secular organ improvisation. The organ, as an Instrument, gradually extended its reach beyond the boundaries of the church, religious themes and church "plots." But from where did this contemporary music come to be part of organ improvisations?
Everything is from the same place. From the "people". Spanish-Gypsy incendiary dances, jig, tarantella. All this hot "folk-pirate art" gradually migrated to the guitar cadenzas of the Spaniards, the dances of the French and the British. Tarantella jumps or leaps came from the Italians. From the middle of the 14th century, these melodies, movements, cadences, and musical and dance ideas began to form. Our "rock" was not born today. It goes straight to us from the lower classes of the society of the first centuries of the Renaissance.
Liberation of the human soul from the medieval "frost". Culture, in particular musical culture, is a very "fragile thing." It has been formed over centuries, millennia. (It can break overnight). After all, the jumps of gigue and tarantella were also revived with the “Renaissance”, after the millennium of medieval hibernation of human mental and physical freedom.
Therefore, listening to one kind of incendiary motifs and musical turns, we feel like “blood plays” in us, only, we don’t understand that part human experience plays in us, blood infused by millennia of dances, songs, battles and victories “mixed” with love and the intimacy of beloved and intensely deep feelings. Did Bach think, while writing this prelude, about the roots of the music that stirred his blood? I do not dare speak "for Bach". Although I suppose he did not not. I think that, for him, it was the most ordinary of organ improvisations, which he then varied in different ways for different instruments. It would be the height of hubris to assume that Bach thought about “Spaniards,” “Gypsies,” “Italians,” and “Pirates” when he chose to incorporate these incendiary ornamentations of flames and “ballads,” just to then conceal them in modest intellectual forms such as preludes.
But, it will be useful for us to know how old the “wine of music” is, which even now awakens and burns blood in us, reaching us in the form of rock, jazz, “classics” and carrying in itself the oldest roots of life, human relations, experience, life of ancient European and pre-European cultures. Music is our story, our experience, our feelings. Our life is in its sounds.
Bach, Fugue in D minor, WTC I, BWV 851
What makes the Fugue such a remarkable form of musical narrative is that it forces the composer and the listener to concentrate. As a form, the Fugue already attracts attention. Not just superficially, but deeply. It has Depth in form. This is true Regardless of what content the composer chooses to flesh it out. But “Multi-HuedFugues" can not be the principle term used to describe it. The art of the fugue does not tolerate variegation. The multi-hued fugue will not work in the strict form, because the form of the fugue requires utmost brevity. And all other forms can be "tinsel-multi-hued." Even a sonata. This is why Bach was so attracted to polyphony. Especially in the art of the fugue. He is a composer who has something to say, and he states it through a work which is an exemplar of a most concise and honed musical form.
What else about the fugue makes Bach so wonderful, and what about the form so drew him to use it ? Firstly, he was able to fill its music with rich content. The whole scope of mankind and the life of man lives within his fugues. He includes a diversity of material from street songs to the most complex states of mind and material. Bach was the first to conduct a “metaphysical divide” between ornamental music, in which he also had no equal, and music of mental state, souls, and state of mind. People still have not really learned to see in the music of Bach a person with all the richness of the human life, of spirit and of thought. Perhaps it is the inability to see the personality of the composer because of the nature of polyphony. No other form is so densely filled with rich content as the fugue.
Apparently, thanks to the fact that he was supremely adept in the use of all genres and forms of composition, Bach became the first among composers who knew how to do so personally and completely express himself thru his craft. Before him, no one before owned a composition from a purely craft point of view. For him, composition became as natural as breathing, and not just an exercise in formulaic construction. Further, Bach was able to transfer his personality to music. Fully. And the first one to do so.
People did not, and still do not, fully comprehend or understand this fact. In part, this is understandable, since musicians that worked with Bach the composer see him almost in a religious way, as Bach is a great phenomenon. However, it will not be true if we don’t learn to see and hear Bach-the-man behind Bach-the-figure in the musical business. Meanwhile, Bach is incredibly human and natural in his music. We, and him, are “hindered” only by his “official duty”, because of which he has acquired the form of a religious minister in the absolute majority of his works. But, the hard work and fertile output of Bach allowed him to express himself as a secular man even in the most sublime religious works, masses, and cantatas. He became so consumed with the need to write religious writings that he blurred the boundaries between the human, filled with the spirit, and the "blood and flesh" of man as the scholar and religious zealot. In addition, he imbued his music with all fine forms of the personal, the dancing, motor skills, the "divine" and with an intimate sensuality. It is extremely interesting to consider and separate one from another in his works. When we learn to easily see the different faces of Bach in his music, he becomes very close and clear to us. In his music, even with the most didactic tasks of composition, we see the person everywhere. The stock of his sensuality was so great that even the church walls could not "hold it back". After going through the works of the Well-Tempered Clavier, we will recognize and become cognizant of Bach, the man. And here Bach has been, waiting for 300 years for us to truly find him.
Fate and history have closely allied him with the church and all its intellectual and anachronistic limitations. But none of this has limited his spirit - not at all is he limited to ecclesiastical, religious experiences. So, It's time to get to know Bach better as the man, casting off the cover of "mysticism", which obscures his true face from us as modern people. Partly because of the time separating us from him, partly because of the enormous size of his personality, partly because of the “religious cover” on his life and work, Bach’s human qualities have lost any hint of superhuman or mystical. But here, in this fugue in D minor before us, is Bach the man. In truth, he is approachable, and very directly understandable, if only we lay aside our long held biases.
If we are "unbiased", we hear a melody with simple modulations in the middle of a fugue with unpretentious sequences. Where Bach is still not doing well. This fugue is written without "internal burning", is not saturated with the idea and temperament. It is simply the work of a person who fixed his mental and cerebral state upon peace and fatigue, upon resignation to fate and an honest attitude to “work”. His goal was to write 24 works, one in each key. And methodically executed. And in each Prelude and fugue is, in part, an instantaneous snapshot of the state of his soul. It is most convenient for him to speak out through fugues, since they correspond to his character - concise and businesslike. Plus - he easily owns the form, which makes it as natural for him to speak out in fugues as it was for Chopin to speak through his miniatures, or Schumann in carnivals, or Shostakovich through quartets. Sometimes better, sometimes worse. Sometimes "burning with an idea", and filling with fire of temperament another fugue, or sometimes just doing work "on duty", fixing his state while writing a fugue, which always talks about his instant state of mind. For Bach, the Fugue is never a tribute to form or an exercise in composition. For Bach, the Fugue is the most intimate form of expression.
Bach, Prelude in C minor, WTC1, BWV 847
If all you say about this work is that - "this is a typical toccata", then that would be equivalent to - "saying nothing." We are so accustomed to speaking of music in an overtly over-thought and sophistic manner that literally the discussion becomes one of sterile, dusty chattel – to my mind, we are “throwing out the baby with the bath water” in our zeal to intellectualize the music. From many scholarly critiques, and intense studies which, by virtue of their over-reliance upon philosophy and historical rhetoric to explain or rationalize Bach, have let us know everything about Bach’s music except for what his music actually is, and what kind of person he is. The knowledge that musicians scholars share with us, and with themselves are like a detailed explanation of the"composition of the elephant." They know all about the elephant. Except for one thing - they cannot show us the elephant itself. And they did not see him. So it is with Bach. Tens of tons of waste paper are written about Bach, where everything that can and cannot be analyzed is analyzed. Except for one thing - what kind of person is Bach and what does he tell us in each specific piece. The task of our "Dr. Bach's office" will be exactly what remained and remains "in the shadow" for three hundred years - the image of Bach as a living man. Because, without knowing the Bach man, it makes no sense to talk about his music, and even more so, to touch it. And there is no better way to know a person, than to penetrate his music. So Let us leave the hysterically poetic cries of "Bach the God" to the poets and the musical intellectuals of the past, as they did not explain anything to us and they provided no clarity through their narratives. Such exclamations are not revelatory in the way I want to look at Bach as a man and master. As a professional performer, I want to rise above the ordinary and look into the essence of the issue. The essence of the composition and the content of the music AS the music. It is human content. For there is no other. Terms like "Inhuman" and "superhuman", "otherworldly" and so on from the field of historians and zealots only serve to burden the imagination, all in the cause of musical worship. But such baggage obscures the man, and my mission – which is to codify and clarify the phenomenon of Bach through the his art as a living person, not as a mummy would be treated, or as some artifact – we want to treat Bach with enthusiasm, to inspire excitement, to reactivate to rejuvenate the zeal which his music inspires – and we want to inculcate curiosity amongst the reverence, and revelation where there has been an emphasis on catechism.
So let’s begin with the Toccata. What is it? What does the name tell us? In itself, Almost nothing. Tokare (ital) - touch, cool touch. How one should "Play" on the instrument. It only says that when conceived, this genre became a spontaneous manifestation of emotion. Man sat down at the instrument, or picked up the instrument and "played." From the the beginning of the"Renaissance" to the present day was a time of explosive human creativity. In music, in particular, this gave rise to an infinite number of new forms, one of which was the toccata. Spontaneous virtuoso improvisation. And what does it carry in itself, as a developed genre? Emotion. Which one? Using today's language of "political correctness" and definitions of behavior. In our time, a person with enormous difficulty, often ridiculously trying to “sort out” his conscious and subconscious emotions and reflexes, it is perceived as manifest of aggression – so in a similar vein I can say with confidence that the toccata is a manifestation of aggression in music. That is, it is spontaneously aggressive music making, an improvisation of aggressive emotions. It can take on a variety of "shades." But that would be dependent on the temperament of the person. In the case of the good-natured Schumann, toccata becomes the joy of work, the happiness of creation. For Wagner - comic, caricature passion of destruction. Beethoven has sometimes brought to bare remarkable images of human perseverance and determination. Reckless courage in the desire to find the meanings of life and express the stubborn movement towards freedom. And sometimes the comic manifestation of temper of German character,which does not go unnoticed, even among watchful comedians, often making fun of Beethoven for the loss of proportions in his expression of feelings and aggressive emotions.
But here, Bach is extremely harmonious. Despite his very German character and temperament. And the German inclinations sometimes lean towards musical quick-tempered-ness, like musical gunpowder. One need only recall the episode when Bach flared up during a rehearsal with a chorus, stabbed, without hesitation, a chorister with a knife. Nevertheless, in music at least, Bach copes with his aggression, framing the emotion of aggression into an elegant jewelry form. Where the blood boils, when it threatens to strip but the shape of the thinnest vessel, through which it boils and boils, it still does not serve to destroy. Instead it translates into a golden musical bond of courageous improvisation, which ends with a completely Spanish daring cadenization. With courage and grace of torero. His cadenza in this prelude unites both the Gallic courageous grace, and the German knightly nobility, and the English and Italian graces of a male knight. This is Bach in a "big” way. He not only holds in his blood all subsequent German composers, from Beethoven to Richard Strauss, but also the characters of many European nations. Bach is indeed "very big." In his small strong body, the blood of Europe is immixed and was embodied in music, as through a melting pot of European peoples. Through one body, one soul. A very big man - Bach.
Bach: Fugue in C minor, WTC1, BWV 847
In this fugue we hear one of the main features of the German character - elastic, inflexible stubbornness. Or, as they often say today, and befitting this music and the character trait that it expresses - German "obstinacy". It is One of the main features of the character of Bach, and indeed one of the main features of the German people, which helped them overcome the most difficult adversities. But, also, a dangerous trait that, when let to run in the wrong direction, out of control, leads to the German horrors of the 20th century.
This stubbornness is one of the main features of Beethoven’s music and character. And, even thematically, we will find everywhere in “Ostinato Beethoven” this dramatic German pedantic proud obstinacy. So, now we have one of the main features of Bach’s character. Some may argue that often fugues are picked up by composers from the folk melodies, or something they heard day-to-day, quite apart from an original theme being written by the composer. Of course. Indeed, very often the composer writes fugues on subjects of other’s creation or choice, and not on his own source material. But the composer will generally never consider using a theme that does not share a common structure and character with his soul. Moreover, in the development of the fugue, he will surely develop music in accordance with his spiritual structure, reflective of his character traits.
It should be noted that in this prelude and fugue there is no artistic and dramatic contrast between the prelude and fugue. This differs from many preludes and fugues, where Bach deliberately provides completely different or contrasting characters for each of the pieces in the pair. Both the prelude and the fugue are “in the same spirit” here. In the prelude - an aggressive fire of life that was boiling in Bach until the end, without ceasing and "not aging." In the fugue - "German obstinacy", perseverance, persistence. Stubborn confidence. Apparently, one of the main features of Bach’s character allowed him to overcome any difficulties and “drag” the burden of an inconceivable amount of obligations on himself and in the service, and in the development of the “science of music”, to a huge family, and also engage in trade. Bach traded musical instruments to cover the high expenses that he had to bear. What Bach just did not do - and taught, and traded, and served and had time to have fun and have a nice rest. Listen carefully to the prelude and fugue in C minor. And you will experience a lively Bach, "stubborn", insightful, confident, a strong, hardened man of a difficult era in which to thrive. Having mentioned many reasons for which Bach spoke so fully and intimately in his preludes and fugues, I have not yet spoken of the most important reason why he speaks so freely on any topics in these short and rich works, naturally manifesting all the human traits of his character.
Preludes and fugues were the work of Bach’s life as a scholar in music and provided a vehicle well-suited for secular music, where he could talk “about himself”. These are not cantatas, nor do they originate from the results of official "church duties", or from "dances" – no, these are, in a sense, his diaries. He is not bound in these works by rules or strict formalisms, by any official duty, nor by the themes of the masters' entertainment, nor by the entertainment theme, nor by religions tasks. Here is Bach freeing himself, poised steadfast with a blank sheet of paper in front of him, on which he writes from his soul and about himself. It is likely, therefore, that he repeated the task, not confining himself to one volume of essays in all keys, so that he could provide both for himself, and for us, one more volume of his most intimate works. Just as nocturnes and preludes were the diaries of Chopin, and the Carnivals were the diaries of Schumann, with the quartets becoming the diaries of Shostakovich, so too are the preludes and fugues the diaries of Bach.
So now we have already considered the four "faces" of Bach: Prelude and fugue in C sharp, where Bach is light, secular, elegantly dancing and bewitching with a secular human charm. C sharp in minor - Bach in passionate prayer and the mystical gospel world. D minor - Bach in exhibiting the contrast of two opposite states - struggle and humility. And here, in the prelude and fugue in C minor, he aggressively, forcefully, and stubbornly overcomes the physical, transcending the limits of the living body. So many qualities of the soul he has already revealed to us, and all these in only four pieces.
Bach: Prelude in C Major, WTC1, BWV 846
What is especially charming about this prelude, which is beloved by both "young and old"? It is that it contains everything that they love about Bach. But this is Love, of course, subconsciously. It imparts what is most valuable about love - I love, because I love. And this work is loved because it innately quotes the innocent love of a child, a completely youthful, direct performance with cloudless harmonies in the key of C major. Cloudless literally. There are no sharps or flats. No shadows there. Only light. Some do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si. And that's all. So the secret is simple - a cloudless "heavenly" tonality and a childlike-Bach is immersed within it.
Oh, the idea of "exploiting" the simplest harmonies in C major might seem to suggest with a certain impurity of the soul, here, since the purest tonality of the "others" would be used to teach all sorts of "divine measures", deviations, shadows, dramas, melodramas and other beloved unclean "games" with shadows and light. But C major is the basis for a test for purity and intelligence – a way of using bright light to fully illuminate a subject. In full view, transparency does not suffer a fool, and an impure soul is without words. After all, it seems as though people love setting up illusory difficulties in life, which later on became painfully real to “overcome”; and then, once having overcome these hardships, people became proud of their ability to overcome that very adversity and hardship. Purity and intelligence are what is needed for a life without such mountains. And the one without the other forms the large "deficit" present in all of us.
But Bach is not like that. He is clean. Like a child? "Like", well, yes and no. The child is clean because of ignorance of spiritual impurities. Does not know "sin". But Bach, a mature man, clearly knows everything in the world. And he himself is “sinful,” and he “knew” everything. And clean. Not "soiled" in the world. This precious game of chastity played using a cloudless major is especially valuable. Yes, and played in moderato. Several modulations, several sequences, are played out, like slipping from one cloud to another, where the clouds are "tasty like marshmallows." And that's enough.
Bach did not spread in marshmallow with sweetness. And the temptation is great. Few would keep such a measure in proportions. Sit down, even to improvise as a child and play with harmonies in a blessed way in C major, and he will “wind up” more “difficulties” and widen the thoughtful horizon of his physiognomy. Bach opened a delicate bejeweled box with heavenly clouds. Gave us a dip of "marshmallows on the air." And closed the box lid. Good - little by little. Measure, taste and simplicity. "Divine".
There are no other ways to achieve such simplicity, except through great suffering.
Bach: Fugue in C Major, WTC1, BWV 846
The Fugue in C major, corresponds as well as possible with the prelude. If you remember, in the fugue of the cross, of Jesus (in C# minor), the prelude was full of the languor of passionate gospel scenes. The languor before the music of the fugue,, where Bach speaks directly to Jesus, where through suffering and mystical inspiration he ends the fugue with a prayer to Hosanna, to God, to faith (and to himself).
Here, in the fugue in C major, after a completely “angelic prelude” (and if you want to depict angels through music, the perfect example is just what Bach does in his C major prelude) Bach continues the light-church motif in music. In the Fugue, the white paints of angelic robes become all the more dense, but do not change color. They do not become falsely gilded with the trite material which almost all artists use who do not have the gift of portraying Godly “divine simplicity”, nor can they use “gloomy minors” to “shade the goodness” creating the general contrast of sin.
This is the most difficult task that the artist can set out for himself to complete. We all remember how the artists break down on such tasks - from Alexander Ivanov, with his dead "Appearance of Christ to the people", or the unfortunate Gogol, who overheated to death on the task of showing light in the second volume of his death poem. Why are there Gogol and Ivanov, Dante "broke" on his "Paradise", after the brilliant "Hell". And what would Goethe do without Mephistopheles?
Bach can do anything. He can portray any light without a hint of shadow. And using only a small statement, like a little intimate fugue in his "diary" - WTK. Bach can create a whole mass in major. Without a single shadow, and it will sparkle like the everlasting light that we experience only by faith and hope. Bach knew light, happiness and peace in life. One of the very few artists that can do this in the history of the planet.
Without hesitation (the artist who overthinks the subject will find it impossible to create light - you must "know and be able") Bach chooses "the first available cantus firmus" - a song, which he probably sang during his childhood in church choirs. Such "cantus" were created throughout Europe from the early Middle Ages. What is their nature? Very, very simple. Any priest, anyone, even a parishioner with a loud voice, who was chosen to "read from the bible" has his own characteristic intonations of reading. Each person is unique in his voice intonations. We are able to identify a person by voice just as well as we can by appearance. But, while the appearance can mask the qualities of the character, the voice - never. And it is very easy to turn such modulations of the human voice into music and put them on a musical staff. With careful listening to each such "firmus" you can even determine the genesis. Where did the music come from - From the Italian church, from the French or Spanish.
I detect a distinct sound, the Protestant character of this simple melody. Within, I hear and see a Protestant pastor reading the Bible with the modulations conveyed through this simplest of narratives. I am sure that Bach was thinking about the Sunday service and the readings of the parts of the Psalms corresponding to the Sunday service. If you often go to church and hear the priests who daily read scripture there, each psalm, each reading, becomes musical in sound and meaning. It literally becomes living music itself. And, literally, any such reading can freely be transmuted into a musical theme. It almost automatically becomes music. Hence the endless number of tunes born during the Renaissance, the time of "waking up humanity". After the early dark-age medieval "frostbite".
So, the theme comes to us from the Sunday church, from the "spirit of God." Without the "evil one". And it perfectly matches the prelude, which, as should be within the prelude, is tender and freer, but speaks of the subsequent fugue, prepares us for it. Thus, the “bathing” in the paradise bushes of the Prelude is preparation for the serious and illuminated rite which underpins this fugue. It is Charged with “holy spirit." And then on Monday (after Sunday rites) you can begin the week refreshed, renewed by fresh energies. In Bach’s mind, I am sure that “thoughts were vital” and in this spirit, Bach writes, almost “automatically” his “holy”, snow-white to C major music.