Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Bach Day #4: Orpheus in the Underworld?

Well, life definitely caught up with me today, and although I did get some work done on something new, it's not quite ready yet.

So, we return to the winter of 2009 and a Bach recording I've always been pleased with. As described in this post, the recording was made pretty informally, with a few tidying-up edits made later. It was originally posted without score, which I added in 2011. The video only shows the orchestral score, from which I more or less made up a version (it helps that the keyboard part covers much of the material). Someday I should create an honest-to-goodness notated piano version, but that will have to wait.

The music is better-known as the slow movement of the composer's Violin Concerto in A Minor, but there is a harpsichord version of this concerto in G Minor. As so often happens with Bach, music that seems perfect on one instrument can turn out to be pretty satisfying on another as well. Here's what I wrote about this back in Aught Nine:
I hear the slow movement of this concerto as a sort of "Orpheus Taming the Furies" dialogue. True, the orchestra isn't as gruff as in the famous "Orpheus" movement of Beethoven's 4th piano concerto, but there's a stubbornness in Bach's bass ritornello that the solo passages seem intent on melting. The final solo statement is a miracle of sweetness and simplicity, so perfect that there is no concluding ritornello. It's less a victory than it is a unification of opposing forces. Honestly, I can't really put into words what happens in this musical dialogue, so I figured I'd just play it.
There are many compromises at play here. First of all, all those long, suspended notes the violin sings can really only be imagined as sustaining that way in a piano version. Second of all, I didn't have an orchestra available when I slipped into the recital hall early this morning, so it's just a dialogue between my two hands, not a violin (or piano) vs. orchestra. I did my best to incorporate the orchestral violin parts, but I'm inconsistent about that. Third, I only had about 15 minutes, so I just sat and played, and when I had a couple of slips, I backtracked a little and then stitched things together later this afternoon. It's far from perfect. But, whatever. I really love the way it sounds this way, and in some respects the fragility of the piano sonority just adds to the impossibly beautiful writing.
In 2011, when I added the video, I also added this comment:
I remember that when I first heard this music years ago, I found the repetitiveness of the bass line to be a bit annoying; but perhaps it's supposed to be that way, and I think it's quite telling that the R.H. melody gets the last word.
I've also always been puzzled by that rhythm in the bass - the stubborn "Furies" rhythm. Although I believe it should basically be played as written, the fast notes always somehow feel more like triplets. I think I'd thought that's what they were from a recording I'd heard before I ever saw the score.

I can't really put my finger on what I mean exactly. I actually tried having a synth record this with a rhythm halfway between the "16th + 2 32nds" and a triplet, and I also tried just adding a tiny bit extra to the triplet (so that each measure ends up being a tiny bit longer), but I couldn't generate what I was hearing. So you're just stuck with my performance! Perhaps after three days of me bragging about robo-performances, it was about time the computers lost one.

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