BACH l'oeuvre pour orgue

Jean Guillou, Grandes Orgues de Saint-Eustache, Paris (12 cd set)

CD1   Toccatas et fugues (time 72:22)
CD2   Préludes et fugues (time 72:01)
CD3   Préludes et fugues (time 71:22)
CD4   Sonatas en trio (time 69:27)
CD5   Fantaisies, passacaille, pastorale (time 74:59)
CD6   Partitas (time 76:27)
CD7   Clavierübung (troisième partie: messe pour orgue) (time 74:25)
CD8   Clavierübung (suite) - chorals - duetti (time 76:34)
CD9   Orgelbüchlein (time 64:10)
CD10 Orgelbüchlein - choral Krinberger (time 58:25)
CD11 Chorals de Leipzig (time 76:32)
CD12 Chorals de Leipzig - chorals Schübler - Oeuvres divers (time 68:33)

 

THE BEARER OF THE KEYS

Reconstructing a scene from a tragedy by Racine that has been learned and recited so many times, or rethinking it from the inside, or quoting it in public, or indeed underlining a phrase to which one particularly wishes to draw attention, or, finally, representing it in the perspective of its overall dramatic architecture, with phrasing such that by its accentuation and respiration it calls into being a new manner of existence for that work by revealing a hitherto unsuspected aspect: such are the manifestations of what we call "Interpretation", and what we might also call "Tradition".

Music possesses a striking particularity as compared with the other arts, for the musician conceives a work as a dream in sound, unaware of the true nuances, the intentional inflections. Even if we have been witnesses of the first performances, these never cease to change through the influence of thought processes that are enriched with new elements, or, rather, new preoccupations. If a composer is also the performer of his music, his performance will nonetheless be that of a stranger as far as the original instant of the work is concerned. This is why any performance is necessarily the act of an "other", the action of a bearer, of a messenger whose responsibility it is to present and represent.

What is the meaning of "performance" or, as is said in French "interpretation", if not the "translation", "traduction" (in French), "Übersetzung" (in German) of the written language into a sound language? "Translate" is to be taken in its fullest meaning: "transducere" (in Latin), to lead from one language to another.

Music thus lives through the translations that are made of it, and these latter hold within themselves the successive significations that are sometimes far removed from each other. Instrumental language becomes in this way a generator of "unfaithful beauties". It is also, however, the only way of "making audible" - of making known - one of the aspects of this being in that perpetual transformation and anamorphosis that is the musical work of art, most of the implications of which will no doubt have escaped the notice of the composer.

What is the performer/interpreter, if not the "bearer of the sound", charged with inserting artistic abstraction into the world of sound phenomena? To be sure, the criticism that can be levelled at an overly expressive performer will be based on his supposed excesses. These excesses are, it should be pointed out, what interests the poet to the highest degree. "The struggle between the partisans of the "resolution" method, as is said in scientific language, and the partisans of the "invention" method has never been as keen as at the present day". This remark from André Breton's L'Amour Fou is in perfect agreement with the care taken by the true performer, whose hope should also be to construct a new image of the work which thus becomes charged with hitherto unsuspected energy and power. This one ideal will deny all right to "tradition" and will divest it of meaning, a concept which supposes the never-ending repetition of one and the same image and of the same gestures applied to the same music and based on imitation of the imitator, in other words refuting any desire to make a personal analysis so as to limit oneself to "straightforward" concern.

The style therefore should not appear to be the result of acquired principles, but rather the correct consequence of a real-life musical experience. However dedicated a performer's life and work may be to the music of the past, they are unable to ensure that music is perceived as an acquired foreign language, the poetic vibration of which will awaken in him, if he is gifted with original thought, sensitivity and an intelligence utterly different from those of his predecessors. Forgetfulness of the present does not mean that the performer has not been born in the enlightenment of his own century, that he is not subjected to its influences, that he has not heard different kinds of music, even if he rejects them. Why then simulate sensitivity, and refuse to these composers of the past the resonance and reasoning of new and topical thought processes that could only be of use to them, making them live again as though having found a new source of air.

To be true, dictated sensations are not sensations. Furthermore, the artiste's attitude reveals more than he can know of himself. This is the place to note the extent of the difference between what the theatrical world calls a "reading" and an actual theatrical performance. A mediocre performer will only ever give a "reading", a performer (interpreter), however, will convey the temporal reality of the music, and since temporality is necessarily a matter of vibrations, a good performance can be nothing other than vibrant, drawing the aesthetic towards the dramatic, i.e. towards action upon man and towards intensification.

No, it would be a limitation on Johann Sebastian Bach's music to want to insert it into a historical frame in which it can only be inserted by being reduced to the level of the work of an ordinary musician, hemmed in by the customs and the language of his own time. Johann Sebastian Bach always overstepped and contradicted the latter. Note also that the pleasure given by a work from 1700 to a reader or listener of 2000 is the result of conditions so novel, of correspondences so very numerous, that even the most profound, the most subtle composer of 1700 would not have had the slightest inkling of it. This is why the very idea of philology is mere nonsense in connection with a work so intemporal, so far removed from the manners of its period.

Similarly, it should also be pointed out that the use of the organ of Saint Eustache should not enter either into this spirit of principle and dogmatism I have just denounced. This instrument, of which I am the titular player, was, for practical reasons, quite naturally chosen for performing and recording live the ten concerts of the complete Bach works, at the rate of two concerts a week, in the Festival d'Art Sacré.

Bach's output is so varied, so diverse in its material, its style, its architecture and its dimensions that it requires, on the part of anyone who wishes to present it to listeners in all the variety of its inventiveness, a sense of analytical discipline which should itself develop in accordance with various criteria.

Historical criteria, doubtless; yet not in order to shape these works by treating them in the same way as those of other composers of the time, but rather in order to observe and communicate the influences on the works in the mind and in the intentions of the composer. It is not necessary to mention Buxtehude's influence, which was considerable and which can be seen in some of the Preludes and Fugues, that in C minor BWV 549, for example, or the Fugues BWV 576 & 577, and even more so in the Toccata in E BWV 566, of which the subdivision into two fugues on the same theme, albeit with differing rhythms, and the intermediary recitative, the introduction, and the pedal figure, remind us of Buxtehude at his finest, and require registration that is itself a reminder of the way in which this composer would have been performed. It is, however, true that the very bulk of the first movement reminds us even more of Handel's finest overtures- Bach was, indeed, intuitive in many different ways.

Yet it is also from this historical view-point that one should consider the Fugue on a theme by Corelli, BWV 579, or the Canzona or the Fantasia con Imitazione, and indeed the Prelude and Fugue in A minor, the short BWV 555, works that are so characteristic of this period in which Bach was fascinated by Italian music from the Renaissance to the 17th century, a repertory he read and sometimes transcribed. Just as a young painter will copy the masterpieces of previous generations, Bach imitated, rather as Marcel Proust did when writing pastiches of the authors he had studied in depth, analysing the stylistic peculiarities in great detail, to the point of creating texts more characteristic than those of the authors themselves, in more concise language, with an accumulation of exterior detail. Similarly, Bach went beyond what these composers had to offer, reaching a kind of hyper-Italianate style that exceeds the characteristic features of Frescobaldi, Rossi or Corelli. This is particularly the case with the final chord sequences in the above-mentioned Prelude in A minor, and in the Fugue itself, with those rising chromatic figures so typical of Frescobaldi. These works should therefore be given colour and meaningfulness, "historicity" requiring strongly Latinised registrations and phrasing. The same desire will guide our performance of Variation VIII of the Partita "O Gott, du frommer Gott", BWV 767, which is so like Gesualdo or Monteverdi in its chromaticism and nostalgic lyricism.

Even more special, indeed frankly archaic, is the Chorale "Durch Adams Fall", BWV 705, in the style of Gabrieli, written out entirely in uniformly long note-values. It is like attending a service in San Marco, in which the brass majestically project the brilliance and splendour of the music.

To be true, there are also rhetorical criteria, and that goes for a considerable part of this music in which nothing gratuitous can be perceived, in which everything is deduction, commentary, implication, demonstration even, and also affective and emotional declaration. This Prelude in B minor BWV 544, for example, in which the various melodic figures, the introductory declamatory call, and the arabesques that develop from it, as also the passing episode, will all require solo voices capable of differentiating them, of setting off their opposing characters and asserting their powers of conviction.

Rhetorical also is the central section of the Fantasia in G, also known as the Organ Piece BWV 572, constructed on a simple descending scale of which the harmonic support, in a constant, gradual rise, will require some spacing out of the thematic entries, a progression that will better bring out the insistent, increasingly elaborate and ultimately dramatic eloquence of the music. Then, its sudden and abrupt cessation makes us leave this world of musical discourse, leading us on to pure poetry.

The moment has come to mention a work unique by virtue of its essential playfulness and, once more, its rhetoric: the Prelude in A minor BWV 569. Entirely constructed from a tiny element that might well be referred to as a final cadence or concluding remark, it is here, exceptionally, that Bach wanted to amuse himself by creating, perhaps in the spirit of a challenge, a half-humorous, half-sentimental work, based on a subject that could be compared with a formula such as "Thank you very much" or "That is my opinion". The result is a suite of varied commentaries that are so subtle, sometimes so sensitive, that one feels inclined to support them and illustrate them by imaginative, shifting registration which corresponds to the various external features in all their sensitivity and humour. Yes, I particularly recommend listening to this work for its originality, and also because it is little known and unnoticed, if not misunderstood and neglected.

A further necessity for rhetorical expression can be felt in many of the chorales in the Orgelbüchlein. Here, a tone of religious eloquence is expressed by a style in which each voice holds a meaning that must be clearly brought out. The bass, for example, in the Chorale BWV 600, the tenor in the Chorales BWV 601, 602 & 603, should be highlighted by more sustained registrations, as should the spacing out of the scales in the Chorale BWV 607, to mention but a few instances. Over and beyond their religious import and, to some extent, the narrative element, these chorales in the Orgelbüchlein form some of the most luminous examples of musical rhetoric, for each subject, the Lutheran chorale melody, is decorated, adorned with musical figures that are so varied, so deliberately novel, and developed in accordance with a logic that is so rigorous and so inventive, that one cannot but admire this, especially as these musical works are veritable miniatures, like those amazing paintings of the Dutch Renaissance in which one is able to examine distant details with a magnifying glass, or - another example - some of those multiple marquetry inlays that decorate the stalls of Lotto in Bergamo, in which the sciences of perspective and geometry dazzle and hide mysteries of alchemy. These chorales are miniatures in which duration is minimised or celebrated, yet they are above all poems, that are deepened and made more moving by the canons and the superposed rhythms, just as the discovery of an alchemical revelation will simply accentuate the purity of a line or the grace of a curve of Lorenzo Lotto. This poetry finds its high point in the Chorales: "The Old year has gone" BWV 614 and "O man, weep for your grievous sins" BWV 622, of which the tragic eloquence, stemming directly from Monteverdi or Gesualdo, can only arouse the most intense emotion every time it is listened to or played.

Dramatic indeed are these works seen to be in which, in highly controlled abstraction, and without even the help of a text, Bach brings to life for us inner events that are more profound, more lively than those in the finest operas. This is how we should experience the Fantasia in G minor BWV 542, which, contrary to what has been said in this regard (the same is true of the Chromatic Fantasia for keyboard), is by no means some arbitrary improvisation. It is (like the Chromatic Fantasia) a monodrama portrayed with exceptional forcefulness and comparable with no other work of its time - unless it be another work by Bach. Harmonic intertwinings of uncommon boldness, the like of which one only finds again in Wagner, contrasted episodes full of languor or else mortally threatening like this passage of descending scales beneath the other voices that are rising chromatically, and the final proclamation, all this produces a poem of rare intensity that the performer cannot declaim with too much breadth or variety of sound.

Bach's music is hardly lacking in works that might be qualified as being dramatic, the Variation X, for example, from the Partita "Sei gegrußet" BWV 768, with its two successive textural styles, one narrative, with a wealth of emotional byplay, the other, the chorale itself that, in its sparse simplicity has become the preponderant and decisive voice. These two styles, in consequence, require registrations of contrasting character, for the one a cornet, for the other a trumpet to bring out the opposition.

The Dorian Toccata BWV 538 can certainly be called dramatic in its force and rhythmic movement, the inexorable nature of which shows us that this work hides irresistible inner pulsations. Similar in nature, the Toccata in F BWV 540 makes use of a double introduction in canon and a double pedal recitative before developing a form in three sections on an arpeggio subject whose wilful character can only be asserted with increasing strength as it progresses towards a ringing proclamation.

The great Chorale "Allein Gott" BWV 664 in A major, exemplifies yet another kind of dramaturgy, the texture of the trio - luminous, vivacious and dynamic - leading us towards the irresistible climax of that lyrical arpeggio, its enveloping curves tracing moments of pure Halcyon pleasure. The chorale carries us away like an epic poem, albeit an epic poem of pure praise.

Finally, the "Vater unser" BWV 682, the admirable "Vater unser" of the Clavierübung, reveals unaided the very essence of a dramaturgy that is entirely articulated by a theme of rare expressive complexity with its ornaments and appoggiaturas. This is why the performance of such an intense and dramatic work should be guided by the term...

Expressive, as this will direct its development throughout a form that is of extraordinary and conscious complexity. First and foremost we indeed admire a Trio Sonata developed from this theme characterised by ornament and appoggiatura. Its textures weave a work which, as Petrarch wrote, cannot but leave us stupefied with wonder". Yet certainly even more is this the case if we notice that within this Trio Sonata are inserted, in equal note values, all the lines of the chorale melody, to which, as the fifth voice, a canon at the octave replies.
However, is not our "stupefaction" increased when we read through or listen to this immense work of J.S. Bach? Beneath the term "expressive" could be grouped many examples, such as the Fantasia in G minor mentioned earlier, or the Prelude in B minor BWV 544. The fugue that follows this prelude is particularly well integrated if one considers that its theme alone, in its linear simplicity and its return upon itself, seems to be an illustration of ophidian theory, which considers the representation of a snaked curved back on itself in a perfect circle as an image of the origin of the world. The evolution of this circular theme which is later, in the final section of the work, grafted onto an exclamation which becomes a second subject soon superimposed definitively onto the first, unfolds itself like a poem heavy with sensual and emotional significance.

The three great chorales of the Clavierübung BWV 669-671, Kyrie, Christe, Kyrie, are imbued with the same feeling, the latter in particular, starting with a theme that is especially short and straightforward (in fact, the first three notes of the Lutheran chorale), though even in these initial bars, appearing in all the voices and soon inverted, it gives rise to a lyrical progression unique for its day. The same progressive concept is found in the Chorale BWV 735 "I want to say farewell" in D major: a progression that is prophetic of Wagner's lyricism. Our observation is far from being an exaggeration if one thinks that these repeated, paroxysmic proclamations, leading to an acclamation, are not to be seen again until Tristan. There, in this Kyrie chorale, this lyrical progression is suddenly interrupted, just as happens in the central section of the Fantasia in G major. However, whereas the latter opens a period in which time stops, in which the arpeggios are dispersed as though into weightless space, in this case, the chorale ends with a lamento, the chromatic sobs of which recall the "Crucifixus" of the B minor Mass: drama once again, though internalised and sublimated.

We cannot abandon the word "expressive" without returning to those masterpieces that Bach called Partitas and yet which are so different in nature from the Partitas he wrote for harpsichord. All the Partitas for organ are based on the variation principle. 1 refer here to the Partitas with the exception of "Vom Himmel hoch", which will receive separate analysis. The idea of variation, before Bach, was purely rhetorical, and was to remain so after Bach until Beethoven. A variation was nothing more than a new disguise, of more or less shallow import, entailing perhaps a transformation of the rhythm or the harmony and an increase in the weight of the instrumental texture. J.S. Bach was the first to make the variation a medium for drama and expression. With him, variation became metamorphosis, each variation exposing the same subject in a new psychological context, and, born of a new feeling, the work thus becomes a succession of tableaux, revealing the man as creator deeply embedded within a landscape in which lights create the subjects. This was indeed a novel concept, and it did not resurface until Beethoven and Schumann. Be it "0 Gott du frommer Gott" or "Sei gegrüßet", the succession of the new tableaux presented by each variation demands from the performer a poise which goes quite beyond standard registration and phrasing, implying an act of commitment in which "play" and "diction" become the components in a monodrama suggested and dictated by the stylistic message. Although any good performance must by definition be…

Thematic to the extent that the latter leads to better articulation, to a highlighting of the architectural elements, attention must be drawn to the Trio Sonatas. Their respective forms divide them into movements with one theme or with two. As the principle of the trio sonata is to individualise the voices by assigning to each a different keyboard, the tonecolour of which brings out the voices character, it is possible, if the organ has four keyboards, to bring out each entry of the theme more clearly by attributing a different manual to each voice. These different sound silhouettes will help the listener identify the themes in one or other of the voices and enable a better architectural analysis as well as give more intensity and more meaningful dramatic life.

It is with the same desire for better articulation that, where Bach had somewhat abbreviated the theme when played on the pedals (out of charitable concern for the performer), 1 insist on playing the theme in its complete form. This is the case in the second movement of the first Sonata, or again, with the first theme in the third movement of the sixth Sonata.

Another thematic interpretation arises in discussing the profile of some fugue themes. The various appearances of the subject require constant change and the play of light and dark, or else a sense of perspective given by changes of keyboard. In the Fugue and the Fantasia in G minor BWV 542, all the entries are highlighted in this way, as does the invocation at the heart of the fugue that leads it to its apotheosis.

The Fugue from the Dorian Toccata BWV 538 can only be dealt with by almost spectacular opposition between the appearances of the theme, its canonical responses, the voluble countersubject, and of the divertimentos that are always based on the same tiny fragment of the countersubject in a tightly-woven texture and an almost obsessional intertwining that implies sound treatment minutely and appropriately worked out, whereas the subject asserts itself with ever greater impetuousness in its glorious rhythm worthy of a cantata chorus.

The Fugue from the great Prelude and Fugue in E minor BWV 548 - another example of how true it is that every one of Bach's Preludes and Fugues presents a constantly novel architecture - requires registration that makes clear the double development of the fugue itself and the concertante episodes that supply it with ornamentation and give it dynamism. It is therefore necessary to highlight the contrast between the registration of the Full Organ for the Fugue proper, this latter constantly reappearing, and the delicate, subtle sounds of the "concerto" which have more the feel of chamber music. Only the final section, before the reprise of the exposition, can bear the conjoining of both registrations, as it reunites the fugal counterpoint with the instrumental development.

Speculative: this epithet could define a considerable part of J.S. Bach's organ production, without for all that compromising its expressive, emotional or dramatic intensity. Yet more than any other, the Partita "Vom Himmel hoch" BWV 769 (also called "Cancinic Variations") can be included under this rubric. If the compositional concept were to be illustrated by just one work, 1 think that work could only be this partita, which was indeed "composed" in accordance with an ever tighter and more complex plan, the main concern of which is to present a subject, the Lutheran chorale, in a context constructed entirely from itself, from its diminutions, its metamorphoses, its superpositions, its inversions and augmentations, in an unceasingly rejuvenated, clearly directed and abundant flow.

Far from limiting discussion simply to the profile of these canons within the character of the particular counterpoint, it is imperative that the choice of stops persuade the listener that all this alchemy serves but to bring out the dramaturgy which, though internal, is still vital and imperious. Without going into too much detail concerning the composition of the variations, it is nonetheless essential to state that the first two canons, one at the octave, the other at the lower fifth, present a texture that is luminous, almost naive and playful. In a quite different spirit, the following variation starts with an unsettling Aria, progressively underscoring and reinforcing assertive ideas within nonetheless melancholic and languid textures. However, these textures unfold above two other voices which, reiterating the first notes of the chorale in all kinds of guises, respond in a canon at the seventh. Above all this, the chorale in long notes enunciates the hieratic melody.

The fourth variation is to some extent a consequence of the preceding, in so far as a new Aria seems to lend it support by conferring on it the majesty and conviction that seemed lacking with the former. Yet here it is the Aria itself that is taken up in canon in the tenor, at the octave and in augmentation, such that this other voice uses up only half the melody by the time the variation comes to an end. Here again the chorale theme is heard in the bass, but the texture of the Aria never ceases to build on itself, rather like an orator who repeatedly adds new arguments to illustrate his speech so that, building up in tone and logic, it can conclude with emotion and absolute conviction.

The final variation is multifaceted. It starts off in a texture based on various phrases of the chorale to which respond, at the sixth, then at the third, an alto inversion. This first section is regularly marked by a bass pizzicato in which segments of the chorale are continuously quoted. Then, a second section commences with brilliant, light counterpoint, strangely jubilant, the task of which is to accompany the inner voices by exposing once more the chorale melody in inversion. This all ends with an accumulation of superimposed canons in an ever tighter stretto, full of drive and dazzlingly jubilant.

There is one aspect of some Bach works that is usually neglected, the...

Recreational aspect. It is however certain that the noble speculations with which his works are imbued sometimes led the composer into the realm of game play, and this became for him a form of spiritual enjoyment, or quite simply an expression of happiness. It would be truly impossible to take a different view of this Fugue in G major BWV 550, with its repeated notes that return like some kind of introduction, a folk dance, the repeated calls of which are so many invitations to an exhilarating round.

I have already mentioned, under the rubric "rhetoric", the Prelude BWV 569 which, clearly, has all the more reason to appear here in that its character undoubtedly takes its origin from a spirit of wit and humour. The same is true of the Fugue in G major BWV 577, in a dancing jig or tarantella rhythm, its infectious gaiety spouting forth in bubbling instrumentality that should be distilled by light phrasing and luminous, lyrical registration.

The spirit of playfulness also pervades the fugue from the Prelude and Fugue in D major BWV 532. Its theme, consisting of three repeated notes followed by a descending formula repeated five more times, is answered by a countersubject which acts rather like the comic old man in A Midsummer Night's Dream whose sole task is to approve what is said to him by repeating, "indeed, indeed, indeed". It was tempting to attribute different registrations to the subject and the countersubject, which, thanks to specifically assigned manuals, would have allowed the listener to identify them throughout the fugue, like two characters in a theatrical entertainment. This bantering humour puts one in mind of Some of the sonatas of Scarlatti, an exact contemporary of Bach, whose brilliant style lies between humour, mischievousness, even, and melancholy.
Playfulness, rhetoric, architecture: these are the poles of the fugue from the Prelude and Fugue in A major BWV 536. The theme appears to be in quadruple time, though it is actually notated by Bach in triple time, giving rise throughout the fugue to a kind of swaying, floating rhythm which is the source of great dynamism. The many canons are generally accompanied by a mobile, fractured counterpoint, the lightness of its character encouraging us to give an almost concertante, chamber-music instrumentation with multifaceted and joyous registrations. It was indispensable to draw attention to a fugue in such a special and original style.

Bach always has a great sense of Architecture in his grand frescos, constantly showing us new kinds of balance, new arrangements of arches, pilasters and ornaments. Most of the great Preludes and Toccatas fall into this category. The Fugue in C major BWV 547, for example, with its very short theme, is a kind of concentrated fugue, with a double exposition that bear the seeds of future development and lyrical elaboration similar to those whose originality 1 extolled in connection with the subject of the great Kyrie of the Clavierübung. A third exposition soon appears, this time with the theme inverted, and then a fourth with both versions superimposed and also more and more interwoven, leading to a final episode in which the pedals bring out the theme in long note values beneath unexpectedly far-reaching modulations over which each appearance of the theme is grafted and drawn towards other developments. Finally, after these same long notes, now inverted on the pedals, a Coda provides a veritable fabric of clear, yet tightly woven responses. All this architectural sophistication demands, from the performer, a graduation of the registration that makes clear the various perspectives, each coloration corresponding, through the play of light and dark, to the aisles of the edifice that has been constructed with such imagination and precision.

I believe that there is a mystique in performance that corresponds to the outer life of a work, a mystique of which the intensity and the depth will tend to converge with those of the work itself. There is a tangible world, which is superimposed onto the mysterious world of musical style. Just as the eye produces, as a kind of echo to each colour, a corresponding colour by "completing" it, so the ear, the mind and the fingers of the organist should provide a reply in sound which becomes as it were a possible symmetry of the score. The organist, as he chooses his registrations, inhabiting as he does the heart of the score he is trying to grasp and reproduce, can only hear what he imagines and imagine what he hears. There is nothing more abstract than this score which lies before one, and there is nothing more concrete and precise than this kind of orchestration which renders it immediate, present and audible.
The Fantasia, or Piece for Organ BWV 572 to which I previously referred when discussing rhetoric, is like an edifice of which the two outer wings oscillate between the playful spirit of this brilliant recitative that acts as a curtain-raiser, a kind of instrumental tune-up, and what might be considered the illustration of the very process of construction. And so this broad, imposing aisle is built up progressively before us, drawing us on, raising us up, and yet it is suddenly interrupted to suspend our forward march, our life even, on an act of waiting, of poetical premonition. This piece is a triptych, and I have commented upon it three times.

There are works that touch by virtue of the weight of poetry they contain, yet sometimes even more so through the idea they inspire in the mind, the idea of the creative artiste himself. With such works, 1 can only try to reconstitute for myself by the processes of the mind the music that has been lost in the course of its generation, its conception. And then I say to myself that though music is an art of which the material communicated is of the simplest kind, yet this material conveys so little in comparison with what the creator's mind must have conceived! This is why the third part of this triptych awakens a whole series of dreams in which J.S. Bach, imagining these arpeggios in terms of different expressions, phrases and tempi, gives them a role to play that is at times contemplative, enveloping, diaphanous, ornamental, static, precipitate, written in the expectation that audition will itself bring the definitive if ephemeral representation.

Every work, even the shortest, can be seen from this architectural point of view, and indeed brevity often leads the Cantor to more concentrated, more detailed complexity. We can see this in many chorales of the Orgelbüchlein, or in the Duetti in the Clavierübung, especially the second in F, with its two intertwined canonic themes. This is where the performer can convey such a deliberate structure by projecting the themes in four highly contrasted registrations, and the same is true of the fourth Duetto, such an admirable fugue in its development and progression, so forceful that one seems to be listening to a big four-part chorus!

Architecture is also the word for the famous Passacaglia, that I should in fact be inclined to qualify as poetic and lyrical. The opening variations, the textures built up from very short fragments: an octave leap, a rising four-note figure, its inversion, four more notes of an arpeggio, a long scale figure stretching over three octaves, a flanking scale and more arpeggios, all this could not contain such expressive depth without great poetic intensity, and this latter must be maintained by an "instrumentation" that brings out the vocal responses, for these are converging observations and actions that accumulate within their form an ever increasing number of relationships and impressions.

Poetic also is this Pastorale in the purest bucolic style, the Arias of which, in the first and third movements, sing of man in nature, as did the finest poets and painters of the Renaissance.

Bucolic poetry also characterises the Chorale "Christ zum Jordan kam" BWV 684, of which the left-hand scales and right-hand arpeggios reveal a singular harmony of soul, ear and fingers.

Similarly, the Adagio that follows the Toccata in C, a grand Aria, and also the Prelude in G major BWV 550, of which the candid questioning leads us to open-eyed dreaming that is without drama and without worry, being the pure dream of a man content with water, air and light. Hence the sweep of the fugue, which is a dance.

Works from the past are indeed the remnant of what was. They are neither vestige nor memory, even if some theoreticians or practitioners wish to treat, even to "reconstitute" them as such. We have, alas, seen what happened to the mutilated Laocoon sculpture, brutally and miserably reduced to a status of antique. The past is indeed not what one thinks it is; for us it cannot be what it was. One of the missions of a work of art is precisely this, to make present what was past.

Any looking back cannot but ruin the Laocoon, returning it to the condition of a shred, of debris. The musician's mission is to turn what reaches us into reality, and to do so for our minds and ears as they are today. Any desire to restore the original appearance, any attempt at reconstruction, is empty aestheticism.

If every performance/interpretation is an act of divination, it will also be the attempted revelation of the primordial fire within a work, a conquest and an appropriation of the original inspiration. The musical work is in the tragic and derisory position of those gods, divine ship-wrecks, imposing, the stuff of fables, that emerge from their lethargy only when the reader, and here the performer, starts to believe in them by reactivating them. Whatever t e work that is played, the artiste will be noticed or not, whether or not he is the "bearer of the keys", to use André Breton's formula. Bach was, indeed, the bearer of an infinite number of keys, and many are those that will open locks in the present day. It is the performer who must find them- and bring his own. He must deliver the keys of the work, but also those of the contingent implications, the inner resonance it excites, as well as the magic alchemy of which it shows the dazzling reserves. If the performer's desire is just as forceful, he will reveal these resources through the play of synaesthesia in sound, which has greater powers of penetration than those of the idea, for they make use of both harmony and silence, revealing hidden incidences, processes of pure thought lost within the refuge of movement.


Jean Guillou

(Translated by Jeremy Drake)

Aanvullende informatie

  • Label: PHILIPS 468 082-2
Gelezen: 3677 keer Laatst aangepast op vrijdag, 18 mei 2012 07:52