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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bach du Lieber! Some Ruminations on Bach's Organ Music

So I'm riding on the R train today and I fire up my "classical" iPod. (Yes, dear reader, I carry two!) I put on a disc Simon Preston playing Bach's organ works. This excellent set of recordings was my "first" Bach set. A few years later, I traded the original six-disc box for a different set--the Peter Hurford recordings on Decca. Recently, the Preston set was reissued (for the second time!) as a "complete" 14-disc box. I have found it thoroughly enjoyable.

Anyway, I'm listening to the most familiar of all Bach compositions, the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Yes. The Vincent Price music. The one that (in orchestral transcription) opens the movie Fantasia. Mr. Preston's performance caused me to open my ears and hear the work as if it was for the first time.

It is quite a wonderful thing about music that a compelling performance of a familiar piece causes even the most jaded listener to hear it with a fresh perspective. In this case, I heard the voice-like qualities of the upper-lines of Bach's fugue, and was struck by how the figured bass resembled the accompaniment heard in baroque arias. The sense of joy and robust folk-rhythms hidden in the polyphonic textures came bursting to the fore. The effect of this performance was like the stripping away of layers of preservative linseed oils from the Dutch masters, in order to show the jumping, vibrant colors underneath.

As the disc continued, more treasures were revealed. (Yes, I'm listening on an iPod but the tracks are still organized by the original discs they are uploaded from.) Much to my fascination, I heard (in the next track on the disc) the passage that inspired Beethoven to compose the opening of his mighty Ninth Symphony. The echoing organ figures and call-and-response were borrowed outright for the Ninth, altered slightly and became part of musical history.

I guess I'm listening to Beethoven's Ninth next. Who knows what I'll hear?

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats