Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Bach Day #5: LOL

A couple of my Bach projects are dragging along more slowly than expected - music is hard! - so I'm going to lighten my own spirits on Day #5 of 11 with the silliest, most humorous music by Bach that I know. Yes, he wrote plenty of jaunty gigues and other dances which have lighthearted qualities, and his counterpoint can be effervescent. For some reason, for example, he seemed amused by C-sharp Major and wrote two of his giddiest fugues in that key:

[By the way, though I like Glenn Gould's approach to the Book I fugue, he plays the Book II fugue at a slower tempo than I could've imagined. It's SO slow, it's still kinda funny.]

Anyway, this is a lighthearted post about some music by Bach that is not just light or fun. No, this duet from the Cantata No. 78 "Jesu, der du meine Seele" is really laugh-out-loud silly, especially in this fantastic recording by the American Bach Soloists.

The text in English is as follows (translation by Pamela Dellal from the amazing Emmanuel Music archive):
We hasten with weak, yet eager steps,
O Jesus, O Master, to You for help.
You faithfully seek the ill and erring.
Ah, hear, how we lift up our voices to beg for help!
Let Your gracious countenance be joyful to us!
The way the two soloists chase each other around is clearly a whimsical take on the idea of following weakly in Jesus's steps. Perhaps not every recording/performance is quite on the same Goofy Greats level as the one above (and I mean that with all respect and admiration - just listen to their way with "zu dir"), but I do find the tone and bounciness of this music to be an outlier for Bach. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because I love his more typical fare, but it's nice to hear him letting his powdered wig down a bit.

The combination of that non-stop bouncing bass line and those twirling vocal lines makes the music seem a bit simpler and sunnier than so much Bach, even though there is still lots of cleverness in the construction.

I suppose maybe there's a certain kinship with the wonderful Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 (Desert Island material for sure) with its follow-the-leader soloists and simple bass line [listen starting at 48.12 here].

But as joyful and cheerful as that music is, it's just a little too dignified to be ridiculous. I'm glad Bach left behind at least one bit of music that cheerfully crosses that line!

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