Friday, March 28, 2014

All the guff on music notation

Here is a terrific webpage, giving us the good oil on musical notation. It includes this wonderful graphic:
Would I be churlish if I said that, much as I like the picture and the article, it is a bit like a road sign, which makes a lot more sense to people who already know where they're going.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Bach's Biggest Hit?

A trivia question for you:
Who wrote Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor?
If that sounds silly, you may not have encountered the earnest discussion about this piece, which has been taking place since the 1960s. The current Wikipedia article points out that this piece of music was not published until 1833, during the revival of interest in Bach's music, fostered by Felix Mendelssohn and others.
Bach wrote over 2000 pieces of music, of which we have about 1080. Probably many of the ones that are lost are recyclings of existing works. Bach recycled his music like I recycle jokes! A true Eighteenth Century greenie!
But only twelve of his works were published in his lifetime, and he had to pay for half of those to be engraved!
Many scholars think that this piece of music is not in the style of the great master's other organ works and sounds like it was created later than Bach's lifetime by an anonymous composer. Others say it is a transcription, maybe by Bach, of a lost solo violin piece.
But distinguished Bach scholar Christoph Wolff is happy to ascribe it to Bach, but in his early days.
It would be disappointing if one of the few universally known pieces by Bach was in fact written by someone else!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Discovering Bach

I think my original impetus to study Bach  came from singing his Jesu, meine Freude motet and the B minor mass at Newcastle Conservatorium, under Michael Dudman's expert direction. 
After that,  I mainly only experienced the great instrumental works, like his keyboard preludes and fugues and the Brandenburg Concertos.
In 2002, I bit the bullet and bought the Teldec Bach 2000 set, which was discounted from $2200 to $1500 and includes all 1080 of Bach's extant works.
I listened to every single CD and nearly drove my wife mad with the 71 CDs of cantatas, because Harnoncourt's boy sopranos are out of tune in at least six of the CDs and they are not appealing performances.
In 2007, I had the opportunity of participating in ABC TV's Einstein Factor on the subject of J S Bach. I went down the gurgler on the second episode and only won the first one by one question. But i learnt a lot more about Bach during my preparation!
But when I discovered John Eliot Gardiner's Pilgrimage series, I began collecting them, and at a very attractive price. His Monteverdi Choir's performances are invariably beautiful. They make exploring the cantatas a very pleasant task.
These days you can do it all so cheaply! The Teldec set has been reissued for $300, but without the terrific booklets [though I believe they are online].
Gardiner's stuff is all freely available on Spotify and there is a wonderful abundance of first rate recordings of Bach's music on Youtube.