Classical Tyro

A Beginner's Guide to Great Music

Bach and the Internet's Pot of Gold


“When I finish playing one of the books of The Well-Tempered Clavier in one evening, I have the feeling that this is actually much longer than my real life, that I have been on a journey through history, one that begins and ends in silence.” – Daniel Barenboim, Music Quickens Time

In 1708, Johann Sebastian Bach accepted a job as organist, composer, and chamber musician for the Duke of Weimar. Even though the Duke raised Bach's salary in 1713 to keep him at Weimar, Bach felt snubbed in 1717 when the Duke passed him over for a job as Kapellmeister (Director of Music). Angry at the Duke, Bach decided to leave Weimar and take a job as Kapellmeister for Prince Leopold at the Court of Anhalt-Cöthen. When the Duke refused to give Bach an early dismissal from his job at Weimar, Bach made such a fuss that the Duke had him thrown in jail. During the month he was in jail, as the legend goes, he began composing his iconic work,
The Well-Tempered Clavier.

Bach
Bach completed his first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier in 1722, furnishing the world with preludes and fugues for keyboard in all twelve major and minor keys — a total of twenty-four pieces of music. Twenty years later, Bach completed a second book, again producing preludes and fugues in every major and minor key. All told, the two books of The Well-Tempered Clavier provide an encyclopedic record of Bach’s extensive understanding of the keyboard and the music it can produce.

“For the use and profit of the musical youth desirous of learning and for the pastime of those already skilled in the study.” – Bach's inscription to Book One of The Well-Tempered Clavier

Although the forty-eight pieces Bach composed for
The Well-Tempered Clavier stand collectively as a masterwork of music, they were most likely conceived by Bach primarily as technical exercises, a means of providing keyboard players experience at working with chords, arpeggios, and scales in every key. Indeed, the music has been used to train musicians of all nationalities and musical styles for almost 400 years, including many of history's best-known composers and performers

The Well-Tempered Clavier, for example, formed a foundation for the lessons delivered by Nadia Boulanger, the famous French teacher who trained over 1200 musicians, including composers of such disparate styles as Leonard Bernstein, Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, Quincy Jones, and Charlie Parker. Even though Boulanger was well known for helping composers develop their individual voices, she did standardize one element of her instruction — she required every student to memorize Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.

“Let the Well-Tempered Clavier become your daily bread. Then you will become a musician.” – Robert Schumann to Felix Mendelssohn

And now for the primary purpose of this posting: If you would like to find a pot of gold on the Internet look no further than the website that features the pianist
Kimiko Ishizaka playing Book One of The Well-Tempered Clavier in its entirety. Adding even more luster to that pot of gold is a collection of animated graphical scores from Stephen Malinowski, creator of the Music Animation Machine. Malinowski has created animated graphical scores for the entirety of Ishizaka's performance. (What a great time to be alive when treasures like this are so easily accessible!)

I have embedded Ishizaka's entire performance of the
Well-Tempered Clavier below, and to whet your appetite for Malinowski's work I have added a video of the Fugue in C major. I recommend visiting Malinowski's YouTube playlist featuring animated graphical scores of all 24 works from Book One.


Bach, Well-Tempered Clavier, Book One, Kimiko Ishizaka (piano),


Bach, Well-Tempered Clavier, Book One, Fugue in C major, video by Stephen Malinowski
and the Music Animation Machine (Kimko Ishizaka, piano)


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Ubiquitous American Music

As a supplement to my presentation at Rice University on classical music in the United States, I have embedded three pieces of music by American composers that are ubiquitous in concert halls around the world. For those not attending my presentation, I simply ask that you take time to enjoy the music. By any measure, these are three masterworks.

George Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue (1924)

Maxim Eshkenazy conducting the Symphony Orchestra of the Bulgarian National Radio,
Andrew Armstrong (piano)

Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings (1938)

Leonard Slatkin conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Aaron Copland, Appalachian Spring (1944)

Seikyo Kim conducting Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen

As a bonus, here’s a piece not heard often in concert halls but discussed at length in my presentation. In brief, it’s a piece that celebrates the democratic ideal — the uniqueness of the individual, as well as the responsibility of the individual to contribute to the community. (Keep in mind that Carter composed music designed to challenge the intellect rather than evoke emotion.)

Elliot Carter, Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano (1961)
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Bach, Organ Fugue in C minor, BWV 546 (c. 1717)


For the students in the
WILL program at WNMU who attended my recent class on Bach, here's the latest animated graphical score from Stephen Malinowski and his Music Animation Machine.

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Bach, Suite in E minor for Lute, "Bourée" (c. 1717)

Sometime around 1717, Johann Sebastian Bach composed the Suite in E minor for Lute, which includes a Bourée as the fifth of six movements. Over 250 years later, in 1968, Paul McCartney borrowed the Bourée as an inspiration for his song “Blackbird” on the Beatles' White Album. A year after that, the rock group Jethro Tull included the Bourée on their album Stand Up, providing even more evidence that Bach's music is ubiquitous in our culture. (For more information about what I'm saying, as well as a video showing how McCartney used the Bourée to create "Blackbird," see my blog titled “The Ubiquitous Bach”)

For what it's worth, a "Bourée" is a seventeenth-century French dance with two beats per measure.


Andreas Martin, Lute


Paul McCartney, "Blackbird"


Jethro Tull with Ian Anderson on flute at the AVO SESSION Basel, Switzerland

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Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, First Movement (c. 1721)

Concertos normally feature a cadenza in which the orchestra quits playing and the soloist demonstrates virtuosity with an extended solo passage. This video of one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos features a three minute cadenza by the harpsichordist beginning at 6:38. Although I enjoy the cadenza and find it impressive, I can't erase from my mind what the English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham said about harpsichords: “Sounds like two skeletons copulating on a corrugated tin roof.” (Once you see some things, you can't unsee them.)


Paul Begala, harpsichord / Otto Büchner, violin / Paul Meisen, flute 
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The Ubiquitous Bach

What type of music do I most enjoy? The answer depends on my mood. Some days I turn to folk, jazz, or rock. If I'm in the mood for something from the classical repertoire, I must make a choice about whether I want to hear something form the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, or Modern era. If I decide to hear something from the Romantic era, I must then decide whether I’m in the mood for Chopin, Brahms, or Mahler.

So much music. So many choices. So little time.

Portrait of J. S. Bach
I will say, however, that no matter what type of music I choose I’m likely to bump into Bach — I can't escape him. HIs music is everywhere, imposing itself on all types of music and entertainment.

I turned to an old episode of
Northern Exposure recently and caught the character played by Barry Corbin drinking wine and listening to the Goldberg Variations. A few days later I was streaming Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator and heard Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Every week or so I hear Jon Batiste greeting one of Stephen Colbert’s guests with something from Bach. After Sarah Silverman sat on Colbert’s couch, she asked Batiste, “What was that?” Batiste answered, “Bach,” as if Silverman should have known. (She should have.)

I hear Bach’s influence in songs by the Beatles, as well as the introduction to the Door’s
Light My Fire. When I listen to jazz, I often hear music derived from Bach.

No matter where I’m going, there I am — listening to Bach. Bach died over 265 years ago, but more than any other composer his music is ubiquitous in our culture.

Just look at the information below.

The Internet Movie Database lists 979 movie and television soundtracks from 1931-2016 that use Bach’s music. This number has increased from 755 since I first looked at it two years ago for a class I was teaching on Bach, and I expect the number will keep increasing. Anyone who watches movies and television cannot escape Bach.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (Concerto in D minor)
  • The Butler (Partita No. 1 in B-flat)
  • The Iron Lady (Prelude in C major from Well-Tempered Clavier I)
  • The English Patient (Goldberg Variations)
  • Silence of the Lambs (Goldberg Variations)
  • Die Hard (Brandenburg Concerto No. 3)
  • The Godfather (Passacaglia & Fugue in C minor)
  • Sunset Boulevard (Toccata and Fugue in D minor)
  • Fantasia  (Toccata and Fugue in D minor)
Bach has influenced or been quoted directly in numerous popular songs.
  • The Beach Boys, “Lady Lynda” (Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring)
  • Procol Harum, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (Air on the G String)
  • The Doors, “Light My Fire” – Ray Manzarek said his keyboard playing was influenced by Bach
  • Jethro Tull, “Bourée” (“Bourée” from Suite in E Minor for Lute)
  • The Beatles, “In My Life” (listen for the Bach-influenced keyboard solo)
  • The Beatles, “Penny Lane” (listen for the trumpet solo influenced by Bach’s Brandenburg Concert No. 2)
  • The Beatles, “Blackbird” (see the video embedded below to hear Paul McCartney explain the influence of the “Bourée” from Suite in E Minor for Lute)
Bach has influenced or been quoted directly by numerous jazz artists.
  • Modern Jazz Quartet, "Fugue in A Minor”
  • Classical Jazz Quartet, “Brandenburg Concerto No. 2”
  • Donald Fox Quartet, “Variations on a Bach Fugue”
Bach’s music has been heard at numerous historical events.
  • After the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich sat by the ruins of the wall and played the "Sarabande" from Cello Suite No. 3 in C major.
  • During the Persian Gulf War in February 1991, Isaac Stern was preparing to play at Jerusalem Hall when an air raid siren sounded, obviously causing great concern for people attending the concert. Stern stepped on stage and began playing Bach’s “Sarabande” from Partita No. 1 for Solo Violin to calm everyone down. People in the audience sat through the rest of his performance wearing gas masks. (Stern's gas mask was kept offstage in case he needed it.)
  • For ten days after the September 11 attacks on 2001, public radio stations in New York City adhered to an all-news format. On September 23, WNYC-FM reverted to its classical format with a program titled “Bach: Solace and Inspiration.” The host, David Garland, described the music as something that would “reassure and renew the spirit.” Garland played Art of the Fugue, Goldberg Variations, Sleepers Wake, and Sheep May Safely Graze.
  • On September 11, 2002, Yo-Yo Ma played Cello Suite No. 5 in C Minor at ground zero to commemorate the first anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. The names of those who died were read aloud as Ma played.
  • On January 27, 2010, Steve jobs introduced the iPad to the press by playing Bach on iTunes. Jobs had been listening to Bach since he was a teenager. Yo-Yo Ma, one of Jobs’ friends, played at Jobs’ memorial in October 2011.
For almost 300 years, Bach's music has had a significant influence on musicians and composers, and it would not be stretching credulity to ask, “Who has NOT been influenced by Bach?”
  • Mozart studied Bach’s music and admired his ingenuity.
  • Beethoven thought of the Well-Tempered Clavier as his “musical Bible.”
  • Liszt memorized all forty-eight of the preludes and fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Books 1 and 2.
  • Chopin told his students that Bach’s music was “the highest and best school.” Chopin spent two weeks before every concert playing nothing but Bach and did not even practice his own compositions to prepare for a concert, playing only Bach.
  • Mendelssohn admired Bach more than any other composer. His family had long supported a Bach salon in Berlin. Mendelssohn re-introduced Bach to European audiences after he had remained relatively unknown to the general public for almost eighty years.
  • Schumann said, “Music owes as much to Bach as religion to its founder…. We are all bunglers next to him.”
  • Brahms said, “The two greatest events of my lifetime are the founding of the German Empire and the completion of the Bach Gesellschaft's publications."
  • Wagner proclaimed that the greatness of Bach was “almost inexplicably mysterious.”
  • Stravinsky went through a “neo-Bach” phase, composing music that used “the wonderful jolts, the sudden modulations, the unexpected harmonic changes, the deceptive cadences that are the joy of every Bach cantata.”
  • Villa-Lobos composed Bachianas Brasileiras, a collection of nine suites for various instruments and voice that were based on Bach’s style of composition.
  • Almost all modern musicians playing a keyboard instrument, string instrument, or wind instrument have developed their musical technique by playing Bach’s music.
There's so much more to say, but there it is … Bach is everywhere. You may find that it’s impossible to make it through the week without hearing Bach’s music or hearing a piece of music that bears his influence.

And why Bach? Why has Bach, more than any other composer, cast such an inescapable presence over music history?

First, let me state the obvious. Bach was a damned good composer, a highly skilled artist who gave us over 1100 pieces of music. In 1992, Phil G. Goulding published
Classical Music: The 50 Greatest Composers and Their 1000 Greatest Works and declared that Bach was the greatest composer of all time. In January 2011, a New York Times poll conducted by Anthony Tommasini also declared that Bach was history’s greatest composer. Even if he is not history's "greatest" composer, his music has certainly stood the test of time and remains as popular as ever.

The second reason that Bach’s music has become ubiquitous comes from its flexibility. Bach's music can be taken out of the early eighteenth century and easily transferred to the instruments and styles of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Bach’s music can be transposed and transformed to adapt to changing technology. It can be adapted to almost any format or medium, from chamber orchestras to full-size orchestras, from lutes to rock bands to digital performances. Bach’s music lends itself to constant reinvention. We can also listen to it as it sounded in the eighteenth century, and it will still sound great to the modern ear.

There's no doubt that long after everyone reading this blog is gone, the world will still be listening to the ubiquitous Bach.


Paul McCartney explaining how Bach influenced his song "Blackbird"


Modern Jazz Quartet, Fugue in A Minor


Yo-Yo Ma Playing Bach at a September 11 Memorial

The inspiration and much of the information for this blog came from Reinventing Bach by Paul Elie,
a book I highly recommend, as well as the other books shown below.





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Stephen Malinowski: Celebrating 10 Years of Music Animation on YouTube

Some people are synesthetes and claim to see various colors when they hear music. I’m not one of them. I would like to be. I would love to be able to visualize the tapestry of sound that so easily sets fire to my emotions. I would love to see what it looks like when my emotions change from sorrow to joy with a single key change. Music affects how I feel, but it doesn’t evoke color in my mind’s eye.

StephenMalinowski_forWikipedia_2011
Fortunately, I have Stephen Malinowski and his Music Animation Machine to help me with that. Malinowski creates animated graphical scores for great pieces of music, and I faithfully follow his YouTube channel, waiting for his newest creations.

I have always enjoyed following printed musical scores while listening to music. Knowing what’s in a score brings music to life. I can see individual notes and voices as they weave together, generating music’s magic. Following a printed score helps me understand how a piece of music is organized and grasp the musical narrative.

Malinowski’s animated scores serve the same purpose — and they do it with much more power and excitement than printed scores. His videos allow me to see what I am hearing and anticipate what is coming. The persistent forward motion of beautiful shapes and colors in Malinowski's videos has forever changed how I hear music. Malinowski helps me understand what it must be like to have some form of synesthesia, a condition for which I would seek no cure. If synesthesia would cause music to conjure up colors in the manner of a Malinowski video, I would welcome the diagnosis.

Malinowski published his first YouTube video — a recording of Bach's
Toccata and Fugue in D minor — in December 2005, and I am posting this blog in celebration of the tenth anniversary of that event.

Although Malinowski has posted over 365 videos in the last ten years, that first video has remained his most popular, receiving over 25 million views on YouTube. (That's right,
25 million!) Malinowski recently told me via email that his first video of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue was “crude and the recording was poor.” He recorded the music for that video on a synthetic pipe organ and decided to celebrate its anniversary with the creation of a new version. His first choice for the new recording was organist Hans-André Stamm, and Malinowski was thrilled when Stamm agreed to collaborate.

Here's how Malinowski described his newest version of
Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. (The video he is describing is embedded below. The toccata begins at 0:05 and the fugue begins at 2:26.)

“Since 2005, I've been developing tools and techniques for visualizing music, but for this video, I decided to keep it relatively simple (as a tip of the hat to the simple original video) and not distract from Stamm's performance: I use balls for the fast-moving parts of the toccata, rectangles for the toccata chords, and octagons for the fugue. The three-note motif that is the seed of the piece is highlighted in red."

Thank you, Stephen Malinowski! Thank you for bringing so much pleasure to those of us who love classical music and for introducing millions of people to classical music who might never have listened to it without you.


Performed by Hans-André Stamm on the Weyland organ in the Catholic parish church
Heilig Kreuz in Köln-Weidenpesch Cologne (Köln), ca. 1992.


As an encore, I invite everyone to follow the links below for a few of my favorite videos from Malinowski's Music Animation Machine. Enjoy!

Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Second Movement

Debussy, Syrinx (for solo flute)

Satie, Gymnopédie No. 1

Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring, Part 1

Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring, Part 2

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Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, BWV 1048 (1721)

“I love the Brandenburg Concertos and think they are so rhythmic, and so full of life, and so related in a way to jazz.” – Dave Brubeck, 2007

1st and 2nd Movements (2nd Movement begins at 5:53 – a short movement)


3rd Movement

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra
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