Friday, December 16, 2011

J.S. Bach's Clavier-Übung III Performed by Jean Gillou


"Sacred texts exist to be reprinted, repackaged, translated again and again," says CounterPuncher David Yearsley of "the Bachian bible of organ music" — This is Johann – Get me Rewrite. The author mostly reflects on "his first published volume of organ music, which was to appear as the third installment of his Clavier-Übung—Keyboard Practice—series," noting that "Bach’s ambitions for his first public book of organ works grew even while the project was in production at the engravers," and expounding:
    The collection as it was initially conceived was stridently Lutheran: it began with austere, antique settings of the German-texted versions of the Kyrie and Gloria of the Reformer’s German Mass, and then proceeded to monumental settings of Lutheranism’s founding chorales underpinning the Catechism: the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism and Holy Communion. Thrown in for good measure would be a six-part treatment with double pedal of Luther’s austere setting of Psalm 130. Almost all of these melodies are archaic in profile, their modal character hearkening back not only to Luther’s 16th century, but to the Catholic past. Bach demonstrated not only his brilliance at subjecting these hymn tunes to renaissance-style contrapuntal manipulation, but also to fitting them into the most up-to-date musical styles—clothing the Lutheran body not only in the academic robes of evangelical doctrine but in the fine fabrics of the French court or even Venetian carnival. The modal by turns revered and made modish. Yet, as Bach’s followers were at pains to argue, this concession to fashion was itself rendered timeless by the great man’s recourse to strict counterpoint, as when Bach treats the chorale in canon against itself in long notes while the other contrapuntal voices in feet and hands comment with graceful gestures.

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