May 10, 2007

Phantom Bach Music

Robbo has an interesting bit up today about the Bach Toccata and Fugue in d minor (not the far-superior Dorian one, mind you).

First, I have to disagree with Rob's reflexive dismissal of the Bach:Led Zeppelin analogy that Camille Paglia makes in the article he's initially discussing. I know it's a matter of taste, but I at least have experienced emotions inspired by the "heaviness" ("darkness"?) of the organ literature that are very similar to emotions prompted by hard rock and electric blues in the Zeppelin tradition. And I know plenty of rock musicians and metal fans who also like heavy baroque music.

Second, I share Rob's dislike for the Stokowski version of the T&F in d.

Finally, unlike Rob, for the reasons laid out in another article he cites (and which I cited about a year ago), I still believe that the T&F in d was not authored by Bach, at least not as an organ work. I had the privilege of attending a master class with Peter Williams back in 1999, and he delivered quite a persuasive argument that it was not a Bach organ work. Even when compared with other "youthful" Bach organ works, it just sticks out like a sore thumb. Williams then presented his compelling case that the T&F in d was most likely a transcription from a piece for solo violin.

For further reading, this article expands on Williams' core idea, but explains how the T&F can be "suspiciously" easy to re-transcribe for play on a 5-string cello.

Posted by JohnL at May 10, 2007 11:27 AM

I will start by explaining that my musical expertise is limited to my ability to play the stereo. I have no formal training, which from what I've encountered may well be a blessing.

I cannot for the life of me compare the Toccata and Fugue in d minor to anything remotely hard rock. In contrast, I find it uplifting and spiritual as opposed to denigrating to the human spirit as with most hard rock.

My favorite version is Tom Coopman's and I play it loud enough to be heard two lanes over when driving in traffic. Bach should be played so that it shakes the earth around you to be enjoyed by more than just your ears.

Posted by: T F Stern at May 10, 2007 09:02 PM

I would agree that some (but certainly not most) hard rock is denigrating to the human spirit. The current "death metal" bands that are the rage in Scandinavia come to mind. You and I can agree 100% as to the proper volume to play Bach. And there's nothing quite like sitting at the organ bench playing, where the music becomes a physical as well as auditory sensation.

Posted by: JohnL at May 11, 2007 07:06 AM

Hi John,

After you turned me on to the notion that Bach did not author the T&F in D Minor I decided to analyze it for myself by doing a solo guitar transcription of it. Hilariously, the fact that the guitar is tuned in fourths makes using the open B and E strings as the repeated notes of the subject and answer ridiculously easy if the piece is transposed to E minor. This makes me think the Lute could have been the original instrument.

Moreover, there is a blatant parallel fifth in the exposition that Bach would never have allowed for - he always at least covered them up with rests as in Contrapunctus I from the Art of Fugue - and for many other reasons, I'm 100% convinced Bach didn't compose it.

As for the Bach/Zep connection, hell yeah. I might be a "classical" guitarist, but I still play Stairway to Heaven in my set! LOL!

Posted by: Hucbald at May 14, 2007 02:40 PM

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Posted by: rmjxe at February 24, 2010 08:31 AM
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