Music

"Soli Deo Gloria"

Houssmann portrait of Bach
Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach by Elias Gottlob Haussmann



First Principles

There are two kinds of music: The music of Johann Sebastian Bach and everything else. His music will forever be the first and final frontier[6]. It appears tremendously hard for anyone to transcend what Johann Sebastian has created in terms of music nor there seem to be any higher pleasure than actually listening to and/or playing his music.

Bach's music has a strange property: If you understand it, you automatically understand and can judge all other kinds of music, but the reverse is not true: You may not necessarily understand his music if you understand only a different kind of music. Therefore, one may claim with some certainty that "I understand music" is virtually synonymous to "I understand Bach's music".

The previous implies a sort of transcendent universality which only exists with his music. It is therefore not a coincidence that Bach has been called The Father of All Music and The Immortal God of Harmony.

It appears that Bach was the only human who has ever managed to connect directly to The Source of Everything, whatever this Source was or may be. This man's mind must have been immersed in harmony, 24 hours a day.

The author's love for Bach's music has led him closer to what he considers to be a deep investigation of the Christian faith. This has resulted primarily from the author's desire to interpret correctly Bach's music on the piano.

In the author's opinion, one cannot be a true Bach fan unless one has delved deeply into the internals of the Christian faith.

The author's favorite motto here is Matthew 7:16: "By their fruit, ye shall know them" and Matthew 11:29: "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls". Bach's music is rest for weary souls. Joyous soul refreshment. Are you tired? Weary? Disappointed? Feel bad? Feel like nobody cares? Somebody did: The entire musical output of Bach is aimed at helping you. Without fanfares, without boasting, without requiring credit, done in quiet and under severely adverse circumstances, aimed to calm and sooth the weary and tired soul. As such, Bach's fruit directly corresponds to the glorification of Jesus Christ (who in turn, according to Scripture glorified God), so his incredible music certainly conspires tremendously towards not only the validity of Christianity (in an ideal form and (perhaps?) detached from denominations) but also towards the kind of characters it shapes, when applied judiciously.

Bach has done so much work in the name of Christ that many people have espoused the Christian faith simply being in awe of his work. It is no accident he has been called "The 14-th disciple". This has a double meaning as with many things Bach: First, the number 14 was a sort of a signature for Bach himself, which he often used encoded in his music: given A = 1, B = 2, C = 3, etc., then B + A + C + H = 14. Second, if one considers him as a true disciple, he is indeed the 14-th one, after the apostles voted and elected a new disciple (the 13-th: Matthias) to replace Judas Iscariot (one of the 12): Acts 1:26: "Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.".

Some Favorite Bach Works

The last five works are in the author's opinion the epitome and apotheosis of all human creation. If this author was in charge of the Arecibo Observatory, he (agreeing with biologist Lewis Thomas) would instruct the astronomers of the observatory to transmit all of Bach's works continuously, in a cycle, into all directions in outer space, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, every year, as long as humanity is alive. Such an act is a virtual guarantee that whoever's out there, will finally recognize us as somewhat civilized and might spare us when hard times come by.

  1. Adagio from Sonata No 5, BWV 1018. (YouTube)
  2. Prelude for (originally) Lute, BWV 999 (subsequently put in the collection of Little Preludes & Fugues).
  3. Prelude #3 (BWV 872) from the WTC book II.
  4. Prelude #10 (BWV 855) from the WTC book I.
  5. Passacaglia in Cm (BWV 582). (YouTube)
  6. Chaconne from Partita No. 2 for Solo Violin in Dm. (YouTube)
  7. Prelude & Fugue in a-moll (BWV 543). (YouTube)
  8. Prelude & Fugue in Bm (BWV 544). (YouTube)
  9. (Little) Fugue in Gm (BWV 578). (YouTube)
  10. Mass in B Minor (BWV 232). (YouTube)
  11. Saint Matthew Passion (BWV 244). (YouTube)
  12. Saint John Passion (BWV 245). (YouTube)
  13. A Musical Offering (BWV 1079). (YouTube)
  14. The Art of Fugue (BWV 1080). (YouTube)

Preferred Performances on the Piano

There were monumental fights in the corresponding Bach newsgroup relating to whether Bach should be played on a piano or on a harpsichord. In the author's opinion, the piano allows for greater depth, perhaps such as the depth that the composer himself intended but was unable to witness, until the development of the later pianos. When the author was a teenager in 1982, the author's father told him about Glenn Gould. After listening to Gould for many years, in the author's opinion, Gould essentially proved that Bach can be extraordinarily played on the piano and settled the issue of interpreting Bach's music on any keyboard instrument. His recordings of concertos BWV 1052-1056, 1058 and his 1981 recording of the Goldberg variations practically put a lid on the issue of playing Bach on the piano, with most modern pianists who have Bach recordings always being compared to him. The listener will immediately recognize Gould's genius when he listens for example to his perfect rendition of Bach's Fugue 23 in B major BWV 892, from book II of the Well-Tempered Clavier, . However, the author disagrees with several of his interpretations. Here's the author's opinion[5] on his Well-Tempered Clavier Book I and Book II. Note that although this author disagrees with some of Gould's interpretations on the piano as per the above examples of WTC I and WTC II, the author's opinion on Gould remains unaltered as far as Gould being the absolute and final authority on Bach's interpretation on the piano. This opinion is of course not an accident and has been supported universally, since one of Gould's recordings is one of the entries in the Voyager Record.

Preferred Performances on the Harpsichord

The author's favorite performances of Bach's music on harpsichord are by Isolde Ahlgrimm, who used an Ammer pedal instrument with two claviers. These are on LP's bought by the author's father. The author is not aware if Philips has re-issued her recordings on CDs. If you find any of her Bach recordings online, buy them without hesitation!

Isolde, an Austrian harpsichordist, has been labeled "widow Bach" by many German and Austrian newspapers, before her death in 1992. Whenever she gave public performances, the crowd went absolutely nuts.

Her performances have been termed "historic", both concerning style and concerning value. Some actual favorites are:

  1. Prelude and Fugue #5 from Well-Tempered Clavier, book I.
  2. Prelude and Fugue #2 from Well-Tempered Clavier, book II.
  3. Prelude and Fugue #16 from Well-Tempered Clavier, book II.
  4. Fugue #22 from Well-Tempered Clavier, book II.
  5. Prelude and Presto from English Suite #6 for keyboard.
  6. Gavotte I and II from English Suite #6 for keyboard.
  7. Gigue from English Suite #6 for keyboard.
  8. Prelude from Partita #1 for keyboard.
  9. Allemande from Partita #1 for keyboard.
  10. Courante from Partita #1 for keyboard.

Preferred Performances on Lute-Harpsichord

The author's favorite performances of Bach's music on the Lute-Harpsichord are by Gergely Sárközy, who uses an instrument of his own making.

Hungarian Gergely Sárközy is a master of several instruments and an amateur instrument maker. His main instruments are harpsichord, organ, cello, viola da gamba, rebec, various types of lute, koboz, classical and flamenco guitar, psaltery, bagpipe, gemshorn, Jew's harp, xylophone and other percussion instruments. The following recordings are from his Hungaroton HCD 12461-2 Lute-harpsichord CD recording:

  1. Entire Suite on YouTube.

Preferred Performances on Guitar

The author's favorite performances of Bach's music on guitar are by Dakko Petrinjak, John Williams, David Russel, Gergely Sárközy and the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet.

  1. Prelude-Presto from Lute Suite No. 3 (Dakko Petrinjak, 9 MB .mp3).
  2. Chaconne from Partita No. 2 (Gergely Sárközy on YouTube, pt.I).
  3. Fugue For Organ in G Minor ("Little"), BWV 578 (Transcription for Four Guitars on YouTube).

Preferred Computer Performances

Lately, the machine aided by judicious editing and musical talent has proved to be superior to even Gould. John Lewis Grant using Giga-Studio has rendered Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier in a way which the author finds totally fascinating.

Some Amateur Performances by the Author

Here is the author performing[1]:

  1. The beginning of Beethoven's Waldstein sonata.
  2. Bach's little Prelude No. 6, from the collection of Little Preludes & Fugues (LittleP6).
  3. Bach's lute Prelude BWV 999, from the same collection (LuteP).
  4. Bach's Prelude & Fugue No. II, from the Well-Tempered Clavier, book II (P FII).
  5. For comparison, here (PreludeFugue2BII) is the above Prelude & Fugue No. II, arranged and sequenced on the author's computer[2].

The Philosophy of the Bachian Fugue

The Bachian fugue is the apotheosis of communication. It communicates perfectly to the listener the existence of perfect order, therefore it is virtual proof that The Supreme Creator exists and has allowed the composer of the Bachian fugue to be a vehicle for His message. Hence, composers who desire to write fugues in the style of Bach have an additional responsibility towards the listener. In the words of Bach himself: "The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.".

To create a good Bachian fugue, a composer has to master ideal interval relationships between notes, which is something that depends heavily upon mastering ideal numerical ratios, in addition to mastering correct musical aesthetics. Many modern composers have a fundamental lack of these.

There is no guarantee that intensive studies in musical theory or harmony will make one a good Bachian fugue composer. Fugue Composition and Counterpoint are usually the last university courses prospective student-composers have to take after they master the fundamentals of harmony. Creating a good Bachian fugue is probably the most demanding and difficult task in this world. Accordingly, witness such fugues by the great composers, such as Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Vivaldi, Scarlatti, etc.[4].

Cool Johann Sebastian Bach
Original image source: Meme generator

Bach-like Compositions

Some compositions in the style of Bach by the author[2][3]:

    1. Fugue for Prelude BWV 999 (piano/guitar/harpsichord) Score pdf link.
    2. ibid (church organ).
    3. ibid (2 guitars, one 16 string).
  1. Prelude and Four Voice Fugue opus 1 Score pdf link.
  2. Soli Deo Gloria Fugue opus 6 Score pdf link.
    1. "Joke" Fugue opus 7.0 (2-guitars, piano, harpsichord).
    2. ibid 7.1a (church organ). Score pdf link
    3. ibid 7.1b (Bright Grand).
    4. ibid 7.1c (Nylon String Guitars).

Other Compositions

Some compositions not in the style of Bach by the author:

    1. Source Unknown, opus 4, (QTMI 4.1.2, MacOS 8).
    2. ibid, opus 4, (QTMI 7.6.6, Win).
    1. Echoes from the Deep, opus 5, (QTMI 4.1.2, MacOS 8).
    1. Passacaglia I on 1.1, opus 8a, (QTMI 7.6.6, Win).
    2. ibid II on 1.2, opus 8b, (QTMI 7.6.6, Win).

Theme & Structural (in-)Variants Used With Some of the Compositions Above

Form: Structure: Symmetry:
Template (T's and t's) C|-G-A-G| Partial mirror A
Theme part #1: T1 |C|-G-A-G|-C| Extended template #1: Mirror A, palindrome
Theme part #2: T2 C|-G|-A-G|-A| Extended template #2: Partial mirrors A, G
Source Unknown Aria |X-Y-X| Mirror Y, with T1X and T2Y
Passacaglia I, II Passacaglia |Z|-|Z|-...-|Z|,with 6 voices and |Z|=|X-Y-X| Compound mirrors |Z|, with voiceσ(n)=|T1-T2-T1|∈Z, σ∈S6=Sym(M) and M={1,2,...,6}
Sub-theme:t C|-G-A-G|-F-G Extended template #3: Partial mirror A
Main theme: T t-A-F-G-E-F-D-E Sub-theme extended: Combinations -X-Y-Z from last notes of T2t={A,F,G}
Modified sub-theme: t* t|-A-G-F|-A-G-F|-E-G Sub-theme extended: Combinatons -X-Y-Z from last notes of T2t={A,F,G} repeated
Modified theme: T* t*-F-E-D-F-E Modified sub-theme extended
Counter-subject#1: cs1 A-F-G-E-F-D-E Last 7 notes of T: Combinations -X-Y-Z from last notes of T2t={A,F,G}: Contra on t
Counter-subject#2: cs2 B-A-B-C-B[7] Contra on T (second entry)
Counter-subject#3: cs3 |A-G-F|-A-G-F|-E-G-F-E-D-F-E Combinatons -X-Y-Z from last notes of T2t={A,F,G}: Contra on cs1
Counter-subject#4: cs4 C-C-B-A[7] Second Contra on cs1
"Joke" Fugue opus 7 Double Fugue, with 4 voices 4-voice fugue on T and T* with Contras csi in 3 episodes
"Joke" Fugue opus 7.1 (revision #1) Double Fugue, with 4 voices 4-voice fugue on T and T* with Contras csi in 5 episodes

Some favorite compositions in the style of Bach by other composers (some stored on Sound Cloud. Couldn't find links to the original Church Organ .mp3's, sent to the author time ago in private communication):

  1. Perpetual Motion Fugue by Charles A. Gazzari and Michael J. Starke.
  2. Inexhaustible Fugue by Charles A. Gazzari.
  3. Passacaglia & Fugue by Leopold Godowsky.

Bach's Skull

Here's Bach's skull, superimposed on the famous Kanth sketch which appears on some of Isolde Ahlgrimm's recordings on LPs. Isolde Ahlgrimm had submitted a similar photo at the time of those recordings, which is contained in her WTC II album, and from the notes contained therein, the author quotes: "We submitted this photo to prof. J. Weninger, Head of the Institute of Anthropology at the Vienna University, who issued the following expert opinion: 'It must be admitted that in this case, the contours of the skull fit so well into the silhouette of the head that a respective relation is absolutely conceivable'."

Bach's skull
Skull & Kanth sketch

Preferred non-Bachian Music

There are naturally tons of noteworthy music - old & new. Follows a small preferred sample list (by no means exhaustive) - approximately starting with modern times and sorted backward of some music this author considers worthy when he decides to listen to something different from Bach for a change - unfortunately too long to be analyzed individually, so just pointing at a general YouTube reference for the reader's convenience in finding out more about it:

  1. Greek Othodox Church
  2. Vangelis Papathanasiou
  3. Eleni Karaindrou
  4. Nikos Scalkottas
  5. Manolis Kalomoiris
  6. Greek Classical
  7. Greek Folk/Traditional
  8. Hans Zimmer
  9. Oystein Sevag
  10. Ennio Morricone
  11. Arvo Pärt
  12. Tabula Rasa (Arvo Pärt)
  13. Trevor Jones
  14. Jerry Goldsmith
  15. Tyler Bates
  16. Instrumental Suite (Theodorakis)
  17. America America (Hatzidakis)
  18. Manos Hadzidakis
  19. Tibetan Singing Bowl
  20. Eternal Om Sounds
  21. Mahamrityunjaya Mantra
  22. Dark Litanies
  23. Dark Ambient (Atrium Carceri)
  24. Space Ambient
  25. Ambient (Robert Rich)
  26. Vaughan Williams
  27. The Planets (Holst)
  28. Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussorgsky)
  29. Romeo & Juliet (Tchaikovsky)
  30. String Quartets (Brahms)
  31. String Quartets (Beethoven)
  32. String Quartets (Schubert)
  33. Sergei Rachmaninoff
  34. Piano Concerto (Chopin)
  35. Piano Concerto (Schumann)
  36. Montagues & Capulets (Prokofiev)
  37. Requiem (Mozart)
  38. Messiah (Händel)
  39. Harpsichord Suites (Händel)
  40. Antonio Vivaldi
  41. Jean Philipe Rameau
  42. Henry Purcell
  43. Francois Couperin
  44. Domenico Scarlatti
  45. L. Boccherini
  46. Georg PhilippTelemann
  47. Celestial White Noise

Trivia

  1. Can you name the composer of this fugue? (2.8 MB .mp3)? That's the author's most favourite Bachian fugue. If you can locate it among the composer works, please email this author to outline the work number so he can use it as a reference, here.
  2. Which composition of Bach does it remind you of?

Miscellaneous

  1. A Mathematical Analysis of Fugue #4 from Well-Tempered Clavier's Book I. For classic analyses of fugues, consult the .pdf scores of Bach-like Compositions, above.
  2. Bach was an avid Tobacco Smoker.
  3. More music executables, at Sound Cloud and kunstderfuge.com (.mid format).
  4. Answers on Quora.

Notes

  1. The recordings except the last one from the author's sequencer are low quality 8 bits, at 22kHz and mono, since they had to be ported into the author's computer through a rather small microphone. The Waldstein excerpt sounds a bit better, as it was recorded professionally when the author was an undergraduate at U of I, during his quarter piano exams in 1988, at the music department's auditorium. No editing has been done on any of these, except to normalize the volume a bit.
  2. Created with Virtual Composer and MuseScore.
  3. Entry for a fugue competition by pianist Tjako van Schie, based on Lute Prelude BWV 999.
  4. Although Glenn Gould for example is known mostly as a pianist, he was also a composer. It is not accidental he interpreted Bach's contrapuntal works so well. He also wrote two major works which are indicative of his composing genius:
    1. So, You Want To Write a Fugue? (YouTube).
    2. String Quartet, opus 1 (YouTube).
    The first work is a super-complex human-voice fugue with many themes, on one level taking advantage of some of the standard tricks of the trade in a baroque contrapuntal composition outlining in a joking and humorous way the extreme complexity and difficulty of a good Bachian fugue and on another level giving a useful recipe to prospective fugue composers. The second work is a wonderful semi-modern and slightly atonal quartet, where his "darker" non-Bachian side can be seen.
  5. Only after fair piano studies:
    1. ages 7-18, with Κρινώ Καλομοίρη (daughter of Greek composer Manolis Kalomoiris) and Παύλος Βεντούρας (Athens National Conservatory).
    2. ages 19-25, with Theodore Edel (University of Illinois at Chicago).
    3. ages 30-38 (Athens National Conservatory).
  6. Of course, there are hundreds of other composers of serious music who have noteworthy works - too many to analyze here deserving further detailed studies, but this page is mainly dedicated to Johann Sebastian Bach, as an always relevant time anchor to all kinds of music, both in terms of style and it terms of overall diachronic quality.
  7. Dedicated to the author's father (BABAC).

Citations