Re-post: Bach Talk

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here.

If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here. New posts go up on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Starting on Thursday 5/7, I’m also doing a Storytelling and Sound project through Facebook, which you can check out by following me at Kris Faatz, Writer.

The content of this post originally appeared on the blog on March 22.

Today’s music is a pairing: a prelude and fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was one of the icons of the Baroque era (1600-1750) in music history, especially famous for his fugues. He was such a force that after his death in 1750, the next generation of composers had to come up with new techniques and styles to use in their music, because no one could follow Bach’s act.

Fugue is a complicated musical form that involves several lines of melody going at the same time. Every fugue has a short musical idea, called the subject, that gets passed between the different melody lines. The subject usually also has a partner, the countersubject. When one line of melody, or “voice,” has the subject, another “voice” often has the countersubject.

Writing a fugue means that you have to follow a lot of complex rules. You also, ideally, have to write a piece of music that sounds beautiful even if you don’t know about all of the compositional trickery going on. Bach was fascinated with fugue and made a lifelong study of it. He was a master at making it work.

His collection The Well-Tempered Clavier includes forty-eight fugues, two in every key it’s possible to write in. Each of those fugues has a companion prelude. In today’s recordings, you’ll hear the Prelude and Fugue in C sharp Major, from the second volume of The Well-Tempered Clavier. 

As you listen, see if you notice the different lines of melody working together, especially in the fugue. See if you can hear a musical idea that gets passed around between the “voices.” Then, if you’d like, imagine that the voices in the music are actual people having a conversation. What are they talking about? What kind of moods do you hear as the conversation goes along? As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

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