I was thinking of including this in my Music for Catastrophes series. I’d been playing it pretty regularly since June. It’s seven CDs - which was just enough to get me through this very f*cked-up year we’re in.
And well suited musically. After all, back when this stuff was composed (1722-1750) disaster was a daily occurrence. But people, come on! It’s not a competition! They couldn’t help it back then. Ours is self-inflicted.
But aside from that little happy coincidence, it’s really part of the World History Project.
First prompted by a reference to A Musical Offering mentioned in Godel Escher and Bach, and then numerous other references to The Well-Tempered Clavier, and finally, Radar O’Reilly being partial to the Fugue, I managed to find it all in one place.
I mean, how could I say no?
So here it is. The big magilla.
Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier (Das Wohltemperierte Clavier) / The Art of the Fugue (Die Kunst der Fuge) / Musical Offering (Musikalisches Opfer) Import, Box set, Collector's Edition
Johann Sebastian Bach (Composer), Davitt Moroney (Performer), Janet See (Performer), John Holloway (Performer), Jaap ter Linden (Performer), Martha Cook
You like how I put the German title in there, too? Pretty classy, right?
Anyway, there were a lot of talented people before Bach, but jeez, this guy is just off the charts. Great musician, great improviser, great composer. Their Prince, maybe?
So let’s break this all down.
The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 (CDs 1 and 2) and Book 2 (CDs 3 and 4):
Funny story: Back then the clavier (or to us, the harpsichord) was more or less just invented and people were tuning it in all sorts of different ways.
Along comes Bach, who says Enough of this different tuning sh*t. Listen, assholes! Here’s my way - the right way - to tune the damned thing, and by the way, if you don’t believe me, in my spare time, I wrote 24 tunes - each in a different key - just wrote to prove it. So everyone just shut the f*ck up, okay?
And that’s a direct quote. (Okay, I’m lying about that.) But what a badass!
And he does it very methodically. First C Major, then C Minor, then C sharp major, and then C sharp minor.
And you can just hear him thinking as he goes along What? Still don’t believe me? How about I do D Major and then D Minor? Here you go! Want more? Okay, here’s E, etc. all the way to G, and then back to A and B because you illiterate b*stards didn’t notice I didn’t start with A!
And if you think age may have mellowed him out, no. Twenty years later and he does another 24. Really, he was kind of an asshole.
But I guess you want to know what it sounds like.
Amazingly enough, not annoying. And Davitt Moroney can really play. He’s no Elton John or anything, but he’s not bad.
And it’s not too “fussy”. And you know what I mean by that. It doesn’t come with all those trills and flourishes that would me want to punch poor Davitt in the mouth. It helps that he’s not wearing the big wig. (A recurring theme in this series.) He just looks like a regular guy.
This music is peaceful (probably why I keep going back to it). Kind of like the Beatles “Because” played at various tempos and keys, except without the voices. That may not sound like much, but in classical music less is usually more.
“Prelude & Fugues in C major”
The Art of the Fugue (CDs 5 and 6):
This is designed music. Experimental if you will. And yet, he could just improvise it on command. I’ll assume he wrote these down first. Each one is made up of two separate melodies that weave around each other and sometimes combine to make a third one.
What a show-off.
But again, they’re not pompous or overbearing, just exploratory. You get the feeling he could have made it more complicated but he wanted to make sure you could follow.
And it hits that sweet spot of holding your attention if you want it to or letting you go do something else while it’s on while providing a perfect background.
So maybe the guy was mellowing.
J.S. Bach "Little" Fugue in G minor, BWV 578
A Musical Offering (CD 7):
This one’s more varied than the others. It’s actually got some other instruments on it. And simply lovely.
“Musical Offering BWV 1079 XVII. Ricercar a 6”
Bach to the Future:
This little adventure could have been a big waste of time. It had all the earmarks of being “work” - a huge rabbit hole I dug for myself that I could neither relate to or enjoy. If that had been the case, though, I would have discretely put it aside by now. But I still find myself putting it on.
So while I don’t love it like the best pop music, it does, in its way, stand as my album of the year.