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29. Prelude and Fugue in D major from Book 2



IT SPEAKS TO ME       Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject)


The vast majority of music in the Western world, both classical and popular, is created out of the same bank of twelve different notes, the notes of the chromatic scale which give us the root notes of the twelve major and minor keys. It often seems extraordinary how so many different pieces of music have been created out of the same twelve notes. Different in terms of all the musical parameters such as tempo, dynamic, articulation, rhythm, melodic shape, harmonic structure, instrumental colour and density of texture. And also different in terms of emotional resonance. Why do some pieces created out of these twelve notes make people cry? Why do some make people laugh? What is that makes some pieces memorable on one hearing and others not on ten? What is it that gives music the power to shape people’s consciousness, to raise the spirits, to inflame the passions, to still the mind? To show people how the same group of notes can produce very different resonances I often get beginners on the piano working by improvising with a simple pentatonic scale. Try this yourself - taking the notes C - D - E - G -A in the right hand and the popular chord sequence C (I), Am (VI), F (IV), G (V) in the left hand. Listen to the sound world and the emotional resonance while you improvise. If you are not confident enough to play two different hands together like this, find a friend and try together! If the left hand creates some form of rhythmic structure, the right hand will feel freer to improvise on the top. Now, taking the SAME five notes in the right hand, move the A an octave lower so that your hands now over the notes A - C - D - E - G. Move the pattern in the left hand so that you play the chords Am (I), F (VI), Dm (IV) and E (V). Improvise again and listen to how the emotional resonance has changed. This is all to do with a change of ‘centre note’ from C to A and the consequent change of feel from major to minor mode. Different modes are different ways of ordering the same group of notes so that the ‘centre’ note changes. This in turn creates a different pattern of tones and semitones, and this registers on our ears as creating a different emotional resonance. If we take the notes of the C major scale but start on the note E then we have a mode where there is a semitone at the beginning. This mode, called Phrygian, is used a lot in Flamenco music and many people will hear something Spanish sounding about this mode without knowing why. If in contrast we take the same notes starting on F, then we have a mode with a sharpened 4th note : F, G, A, B. (A very different sound and feel from the more normal F - G - A - B flat) This mode will resonate with people who know the Bach cantata Es its genug and the Berg Violin Concerto where it is quoted. Gabriel Faure’s song Lydia also uses this mode very appropriately as the name of the mode is the Lydian. Generally speaking, however, improvising in this mode will create more of a modern jazz resonance than a classical resonance - the sharpened fourth, especially when combined with a major seventh chord (e.g. F - A - C - E) creates a harmony which is full of dissonance but which sounds emotionally very rich. Obviously when it comes to composing or songwriting an understanding of different modes and different harmonies broadens the emotional palette. However, many emotionally powerful pieces of music use amazingly simple material. The simple descending scale that makes the theme in the famous Pas de Deux from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. The simple repeated arpeggios patterns at the beginning of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. The simple chord progression of the opening to Handel’s Zadok the Priest or Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. The reason certain pieces of music are played over and over again has to be because people respond emotionally to them. Schoenberg really believed that by the twenty-first century we would be going round whistling twelve-tone or atonal music. We are not. This is not to say that there is not an enormous emotional power in atonal music, but it is to say that for most people the simple diatonic scales and harmonies have a more direct emotional impact. (And sadly very few people seem to whistle any more anyway…..) The emotional resonance of the different Bach Preludes and Fugues takes time to reveal itself. This is not music which gives up its secrets on one hearing but rather rewards the player or listener who stays with it for a long time. What I have been personally rewarded with here is a deep sense of emotional connection between particular Preludes and Fugues and particular Bach Flower Remedies. It has and continues to be a fascinating and intriguing journey.