1 ene. 2008

Maryrose Larkin is also participating in this project. If you want to join in (anyone else?) I will link to your posts.

UPDATE: Joseph Duemer too.

... and Utopian Turtle Top

Caveat: I am not a musicologist or musician. Just a listener.

Initial thoughts. Bach is known for his polyphonic lines, but with the unaccompanied cello Suites there is one single line rather than numerous ones in counterpoint. (There are chords, but even those are usually played as arpeggios.) To get all the harmonic richness in this basically "linear" music Bach uses arpeggios: melodic lines that use all the notes of the triad. He also needs to exploit the full range of the instrument in order to get the fullness of sound. You never miss the presence of an accompaniment.

A lot of tension is created through the savvy use of intervals: the contrast between low and high notes, close and distant intervals. Try to sing the melodies and you'll see what I mean.

These pieces could be considered "technical exercises" or etudes, but they are much more than that. These and the unaccompanied violin partitas and sonatas are among my favorite parts of Bach, and Bach is my favorite in the European tradition of "classical" music. (Bach is not classical of course but baroque.)

I am using a version recorded by Yo Yo Ma, and looking at the scores from time to time. I am not doing comparisons between him and Casals, Rostopovich, etc... YYM plays with great clarity, minimal ornamentation and vibrato. He has an intuitive sense of phrasing. I am not going to offer extensive comments on his playing. Those using other versions as they read this series can still follow along, since my main focus is the music and not one particular interpretation of it.

Suite 1 in G Major. I. Prélude. (In 4/4; moderate tempo)

This music is instantly recognizable! This is often the piece used in a television commercial or a movie score.

The basic rhythmic pattern is a series of eight sixteenth notes of which the third and the fifth are the highest in pitch and thus the most prominent. So the ear catches the pattern of higher pitched notes on the three succesive eighth notes: the "and of one," "two," and the "and of two" in the first half of each measure, and the "and of three" "four," and the "and of four" in the last half of the measure. The result is an emphasis on weak beats (2 and 4 rather than 1 and 3) and an implicitly polyrhythmic group of three notes. The 1s and 3s are the weakest here, in that they are the lowest in pitch. They serve as the acompaniment, the harmonic base.

There are no repeat markers in the prelude. What is repeated is that arpeggiated pattern, numerous times, with many small variations, before building to a climax in the final measure. He'll try out some new ideas from time to time, and then return to that familar pattern. The effect is one of soothing horizontal lines stretching out through space. It is both calming and engaging, hypnotic and mentally stimulating. I sense a dignified solemnity, but nothing overly solemn. The tempo would be slow, if the piece were written in quarter notes, but since it's almost all sixteenths, it is more of a medium tempo.

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