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23. Prelude and Fugue in B major from Book 1



GROWS                    Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!

Once as a teenager I spent two whole days tracking the use of the four instruments in the first movement of Mozart’s String Quartet in G, K387 onto squared paper. It was the sort of exercise that now could easily be done by computer, working out the exact percentages of time that the various possible combinations of instruments in the quartet play for. I remember being totally absorbed in this self-set and by most criteria utterly futile task. And I also remember a real sense of pride and well-being that emerged with the completion of the task. I suppose many people might have developed a whole career from this obsessive tendency. From archers to code breakers to computer programming geeks to cricket statisticians there is probably no limit to the human fascination with order and pattern in numbers. With ‘the 48’ there is a simple satisfaction with the fact that there are twelve notes in the chromatic scale, two modes (major and minor) and two books, making a total of exactly 48 Preludes and Fugues. Repetition of patterns are everywhere. Although we may sometimes think of the universe being chaotic and unpredictable, in fact the same mathematical pattern occurs in a myriad of forms. This is the spiral pattern based on the Golden Ratio which connects with the Fibonacci series of numbers 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89,144 etc. The power of fractals, where the macrocosm mirrors the microcosm. Take a look at the link below before reading on….. It is not surprising that when it comes to being creative, human beings have also discovered the power of this particular pattern and ratio. And so it is that this pattern is hidden away in a lot of musical compositions, as in the note lengths in the sixth (unison) movement of Messiaen’s Quatuor pour le fin du temps. As people become older it seems that the need for pattern, for order, for regularity, becomes greater.Any disruption to routine, however slight, can become a great burden. It is as if we imagine that if we hold on firmly enough to what we ‘understand’ - which is order and pattern - then the business of decay, chaos and death will somehow not affect us. And yet in contrast to this the experience of anyone who has spent time meditating is very different. The mind here does NOT follow orderly patterns, will NOT be tamed into order and controlled to move along pre-set pathways. No, the mind wanders freely, and sometimes very fast, between all sorts of fragments of the past and the future. Meanwhile, the observer watching this movement continually tries to latch onto some events because they seem pleasant or desirable; tries to escape from some other events because they seem unpleasant or undesirable; and otherwise judges the content that arises as bland and boring. This internal mental chaos is the raw material of meditation, and is of course the reason why so many people claim to be ‘no good’ at meditation. They imagine that it should be about having experiences of calm and orderly beauty and simplicity like we see in the Golden Ratio in the natural world. It seems then that the human condition is forever in the midst of chaos and forever seeking order. No wonder the order and pattern of numbers are so desirable. No wonder the music of composers which express order and pattern are so popular. No wonder that lots of people remain resistant to music that they hear no pattern in. As a piano teacher I am used to many people’s fear of improvisation. The way to encourage people here is essentially to build confidence by limiting the possibilities. Thus for instance using three pitches only to improvise is a good starting point, then when people are both confident and starting to feel bored adding a fourth and then a fifth note. Structured improvisation around simple chord sequences, modes and rhythmic patterns can be taught and learnt quite easily. Totally free improvisation, however, is quite a different animal. This is indeed music making thrown into the reality of listening to what is really going on right now, however chaotic it might be. It is not often that totally free improvisation makes for a coherent listening experience, but for the players it can be the most liberating of all forms of music making. We all need to find a balance between discipline and freedom, between order and chaos. We need this to experience both the extraordinary beauty and the immense fragility of the planet that we inhabit. We also need it to connect with one another at a soul level. Music is without doubt a great medium for developing this balance between discipline and freedom, between order and chaos. Enjoy!