The guy I've been dating for the last few months bought tickets to the upcoming Northwest Bach Festival concert at St. John's Cathedral. My musical tastes run to country and bluegrass music, and I'm worried that we'll run into some of his friends at the concert and I'll appear uncultured. Can you give me some snappy things to say about Bach or help me to "get" Bach so I can be more than just incredible eye candy on my guy's arm?
-- Worried in Colton
The Classical Goddess (who's had enough implants to be eye candy herself) has a few suggestions. You could idly drop how disappointed you were that there was no Crucifixus Bass in the Magnificat (one of two pieces being conducted by Gunther Schuller during the concert at St. John's on Friday). Or marvel openly and gushingly at Bach's inverted counterpoint. But I suggest that you focus on the word painting of the Magnificat.
First, you need to know that country music learned its word painting from Bach. Think about it. Look at that country classic, "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys." The word "cowboys" is sung very low, almost swallowed into the texture of the music, while the much-preferred career choices of "lawyers and doctors and such" is rhythmically emphasized and sung in a higher range. The songwriters were heightening the value judgment of the text by contrasting high and low pitches. That's one aspect of word painting -- clearly the writers of that song knew their Bach.
The Classical Goddess recommends the following for your word-painting excursion at the Bach Festival. Rule No. 1: Make sure someone is singing if you are looking for word painting -- word painting requires that words be present.
Rule No. 2: Choose a word in the text and listen to what Bach does with that word. For example, the opening Chorus celebrates the word "Magnificat" (magnify). So what does Bach do with this word? Through the music, he MAGNIFIES it. He e x p a n d s it and enlarges it.
The word in question can hardly contain this irrepressible music. By attaching itself loosely to this word, the music expresses the full impact of the idea of magnifying the Lord. This rousing Chorus may tempt you to start doing the Wave in your row, but The Classical Goddess advises restraint. Classical types, after all, tend to be ossified.
Other words in the Magnificat to listen for are humilitatem (lowliness) in the first soprano aria of the work and misericordia (mercy) in the first duet of the piece.
And before I leave the subject of the Magnificat, I want to say "duh" to those readers who asked why it is Magnificat rather than Magnifidog.
Dear Classical Goddess,
I am a beginning adult pianist and am starting to play some Bach. I have heard of The Well-Tempered Clavier by Bach and see that it is listed as part of the upcoming Bach Festival, but I don't know anything about it. Is there a companion volume called The Ill-Tempered Clavier?
-- Wondering in Post Falls
The Classical Goddess has always found the title The Well-Tempered Clavier misleading. Yes, yes, we all know that the Well-Tempered part refers to the early 18th-century systemization of the distance between the notes of a scale that allowed keyboardists to play in all twelve keys. Blah blah blah.
What's annoying about the words "well-tempered" is the suggestion that what lies within these two volumes of Preludes and Fugues are works of moderation -- works designed to mollify, to restrain, works that aim for a middle ground, works of composure and equanimity. Screw that! I here announce my campaign to find a new title for this great work. A title that reflects the explosion of moods and extremes of character within. Petitions to follow. Suggestions for the new title will be most welcome.
You can hear some of the endless invention of this work at Sunday's Bach Festival concert at the Davenport Hotel featuring harpsichordist Mark Kroll. Kroll will perform eight preludes from the WTC. Each of these Preludes offers an entirely different world of sound, from the gentle undulations of the Prelude in F sharp Major (Volume I of the WTC), to the exploration of melancholic discontent in the G minor Prelude (Volume II of the WTC). Here is dancing, here is grief, here is grief that finds its way to dancing in spite of itself. Here is lively banter, resolve... It's all there, yours for the taking.
In answer to your cheeky inquiry about the possibility of an Ill-Tempered Clavier, I can only say that colleagues of J.S. Bach may have nicknamed the piece just that, as a reference to its sometimes irascible, pain-in-the-ass composer.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & hose readers who want to be seen mingling at the la-de-dah Spokane Club might want to attend Saturday's Bachtail Hour. Sip a Bachtini and listen to the music of Bach as filtered through both jazz and classical musicians. Enjoy songs by Kurt Weill and vocal works by Vivaldi and Handel.
Long ago in Leipzig, Bach and a group of his students gathered to perform his secular works at a place called Zimmermann's Coffeehouse. The Bachtail Hour at the Spokane Club is the Bach Festival's closest approximation yet of that tradition.
For this weekend's full Northwest Bach Festival program of concerts, the Classical Goddess suggests that you visit www.nwbachfest.com or call 326-4942 or 325-SEAT.