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22. Prelude and Fugue in B flat mInor from Book 1




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


The illusion of control is very clear to anyone who starts to meditate. Until that point we may genuinely have thought that we are in control of what we think; after that point such a thought can only be delusional. It is so clear that the mind ‘has a life of its own’ and connects ideas, memories, fantasies and fears together in a dream-like way regardless of whether we are physically awake or asleep. In a similar way the illusion of solidity is very clear to anyone who starts to understand even the most basic things about post-Newtonian physics. Until then we can act with a sureness in life that the tables and chairs, the bricks and walls around us are solid objects; afterwards, such a thought is once again delusional. The Uncertainty Principle is clear that at the microcosmic level we cannot know at the same time where a particular particle is and how fast it is moving. This leads to the clear and well-established scientific and philosophical truth that the observer changes that which is observed. In other words there is no separate ‘me’ looking at an independently existing and separate ‘world’. There is rather a flow of energy between constantly changing energy-carriers. There is a profound sense in which ‘life’ cannot be pinned down by science any more than it can by religion. Indeed the popular idea of there being a great dichotomy between a scientific and a spiritual understanding of the cosmos is also revealed as delusional. What we have is a constantly changing flow of energy which defies being pinned down and labelled or captured for long enough to say what it is. Like the ancient apophatic theology which refuses to define God in any positive terms but uses language such as ‘inexpressible, incomprehensible, unknowable’, contemporary physics now talks about the vast majority of matter - say 98% - being filled with ‘black holes’. From the pianist’s point of view the relevance of all this is that music is created by the coming together in energy-flow of the composition and the performance. The player can change the sound by the slightest change in intention. When I ask pupils for the first time how they think you make a note louder on the piano the answer is usually something along the lines of hitting the key harder or with more force. The reality is that hitting a note harder or with more force will produce a harsher sound, but the dynamic or decibel level of the sound is dependent on the speed that the key is depressed. The faster you press a piano key down, the faster the corresponding hammer hits the string, the louder the resulting sound. The change in intention here will immediately produce a change in sound. Louder but not harsher, with the added bonus of much less physical energy being expended. Even more striking is the change of sound in a really soft chord once the player really understands their intention is to depress all the notes evenly and slowly. The sound then really sustains and has depth. From here it is just another small step to understanding the significance of weighting notes differently in a chord. A simple three note chord can be played in very different ways by making each of the three notes stronger in turn. This sort of practise of chords is invaluable in developing a more acute ear and a deeper awareness of the impact of intention on the resulting sound. Other aspects of music also come alive in a new way once you begin to look more closely at your intention vis a vis the sound. Articulation, phrasing, inner awareness of pulse - all make so much difference to the resulting experience. One of the most common lapses in awareness among amateur pianists is a difficulty of keeping the pulse steady during rests. In classical music the shortening of rests can completely ruin the architecture of a piece. The way through this is to feel the pulse living and breathing, right through the silence. Maybe like the black holes in the material cosmos which in a mysterious way are holding everything together, silence in music creates the necessary containing structure. The silence immediately before a performance begins and the silence at the end are vital. Think how powerful the silence is at the end of a work like Mahler’s 9th symphony if the audience holds back for a few seconds before releasing into applause. Think how powerful the silences are between the final chords of Sibelius’ 5th Symphony. Try making silences an essential part of your practising - before you play and after you play. And if there are silences in the middle of pieces that you play then always treat them as an essential part of the music.