Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Going for Baroque

On Saturday night I played in a concert of Bach and Handel. The Bach was the Magnificat in D, the Handel the Dettingen Te Deum. As I have remarked elsewhere, Handel's music is arguably more interesting to play than simply to consume as a listener (an opinion shared by my wife, though as she plays the clarinet she only ever gets to play him in arrangements, though there are plenty of those by such exalted chaps as Mozart). I've just been watching clips on Youtube, and none of them really conveys the enjoyment to be had from seeing just how Handel works his magic.

The Bach, on the other hand, is as much fun to listen to as it is to play. I'll share with you my two personal favourite parts. First (though it comes last in the running order) is the Gloria. Bach weaves the most extraordinary web of notes for each of the three repeats of "Gloria" (...Patri, ....Filio,...Spiritu Sancti) before reprising the opening Magnificat music for the "Sicut erat in principio".



But the best bit of the Magnificat is one I didn't play in. It's tempting to think of Bach as a cerebral composer, working out his amazing structures and counterpoint and harmony, and all a bit soul-less. With a few exceptions Bach's music isn't overtly emotional heart-on-sleeve stuff, and seems to us nowadays perhaps a little detached. The aria Esurientes implevit bonis (He hath filled the hungry with good things) is not by any means emotional, but surely it is the coolest piece of music written in the entire baroque era. It has a kind of swagger about it. If the Sharks and the Jets decided to sing Bach, this would have to be the piece they'd choose. At least, that's how it strikes me.



While Bach normally keeps the emotional temperature in his works fairly low, he does just occasionally rock out. Here is my all-time favourite piece of JSB, the finale of his Christmas Oratorio. Of course, even while letting rip with some of the most joyous music ever written, he has the choir singing the tune of the chorale from the St Matthew Passion (perhaps better known as the hymn "Oh sacred head sore wounded") to remind us that there is sadness in store for the wee lad. But hey, right now, let's party....

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