Quiet please, we are in the presence of greatness

When was the last time you listened to a piece of music by J S Bach? No – I mean really listened. Not just heard it.

Regular followers of this blog will have noticed that, until yesterday, I had published a post every single day without fail since starting on my LeapingTracks project.  Herr Bach has been the one to break this run.  But perhaps this is a fitting tribute to one of the world’s greatest composers.  It was not possible for me to listen to a few of his pieces and write a small piece on them in a relatively short period of time.  I found that I had to take my time and savour the music.  I had to take this post rather seriously, and give it respect.  It could not be rushed.

We are going to be spending a bit of time over the next few posts with a variety of Bach’s music.  And a pretty good place to start is his Brandenburg Concertos. Many people have written at length about these works. Here is a particularly comphensive essay if you would like to read more about them. And here you can listen online to the pieces themselves courtesy of the wonderful Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s ‘Listening Library’ – just do a search under ‘Brandenburg Concerto’ and each of the six will come up in the list.  There’s plenty of other fabulous things to listen to on this site as well – bonus!

I have two recordings of these works, one for concertos 1-3, and one for concertos 4-5. What is it that I like about this music? I like the balance of precision with fluidity. It is gentle, yet firm and full of purpose. The combination of instruments harmonises perfectly.

But what I like most about this music is that it makes you stop what you are doing to appreciate it. Not in a mega-heavy way. In a way which helps you to switch off from the demands and stresses of day to day life. In a way which helps you to gain some perspective and get to a calm, peaceful place.

It feels slightly wrong to pick out particular movements for special mention because they all fit together so well as a whole, but I’m going to anyway.  The 3rd movement (allegro) of Concerto number 3 in G major epitomises for me one important aspect of these works, and the Baroque period in general – the music dazzles and soars with running melodies, the instruments interweaving with eachother, always harmonising and complementing, while at the same time managing to keep their own identity.  The combined complexity and clarity which Bach achieves is stunning.

The 3rd movement (allegro) in the 5th Concerto in D major is another highlight for me.  This time, we have playful rhythm as well as clever fugal melodies.  There is also a wider variety of instrumentation here, with woodwind and harpsichord added to strings for additional texture.

There are a number of things coming together here – masterly composition, high quality musicianship, techonological advances to enable us to appreciate both.  Surely these are sufficient to help you pause and reflect just a bit?

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4 thoughts on “Quiet please, we are in the presence of greatness

  1. Very nice post. Thanks for putting into words the way I’ve always felt about Bach. It always makes me stop and listen, especially the Brandenburgs. Meticulous, melodic, fresh, bubbly, moving and so full of life, they make you feel so alive when you hear them. I always think of music as a direct window into a composer’s mind. It allows us to experience in real time the composer’s thoughts and emotions. This is why it’s so powerful and these pieces give us a glimpse of a profound genius and deeply feeling man.

  2. So Bach.
    I had a stressful job. I ran Bach continuosly in my office. I first listened to his well tempered clavior repeatedly as a young kid. (sp?)
    I am not you. I do not pretend to be. I don’t have your musical ear and talent.
    My daughter does though.
    Bach makes me feel hope.
    Beethoven makes me cry.
    What a wonderful bog you have.

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