“Bach: A Passionate Life” by John Eliot Gardiner [BBC Documentary]

Great news for Bach’s admirers. The new BBC2 feature documentary on Bach is available in youtube since a couple of weeks. The documentary is presented by John Eliot Gardiner , a renowned conductor and expert in Bach’s music. It is extremely interesting and insightful, as it offers a fresh look into Bach, his time and his music.. as well as makes it easy for us to imagine the daily life of Bach. I found particularly interesting the proposed psychological profile of the personality of Bach and the passionate interest and admiration shown by Gardiner.

In a recent article in the Guardian, Gardiner noted that “he [Bach] is in deadly earnest in probing the human condition, even at its murkiest, and every bit as intent as Goya was later on to rationalise the meaning of life”. The documentary shows how.

Excerpts from the BBC presentation:

In the documentary, made by Leopard Films, John Eliot Gardiner conducts his award-winning Monteverdi choir and orchestra in specially shot performances from Bach’s masterworks: the St Matthew Passion, the St John Passion and the B Minor Mass, as well as extracts from some of his secular and sacred cantatas.

The programme reveals a complex and passionate artist, a warm and convivial family man who shows a rebellious spirit while struggling with the hierarchies of state and church. Despite the cramped conditions of his life in Leipzig, and despite rarely venturing outside a 60-mile radius of the city, he wrote timeless music that today enjoys world-wide fame.

John Eliot Gardiner undertakes a tour of Bach’s Germany and sifts through the relatively few clues we have about Bach, some newly found, to paint a full picture of Bach, crucially focusing on the music itself as the best evidence we have to understand the real Bach.

Mark Abouzeid on Multiculturalism

Photographer Mark Abouzeid explains in this video what motivated his project Non Sono Clandestino on immigrants or foreigners living in Italy. On the one hand what he says is (or at least must be) clear and obvious to every one of us… but on the other hand it is necessary, probably now more than ever, to repeat and remind people these simple truths as misconceptions prevail in some regions. It is a fact that immigration brings more to the host country, both economically and culturally yet intellectually dishonest politicians systematically stigmatize their minorities to win votes. Non-Europeans living in Europe or new European citizen shouldn’t be held accountable for an economical crisis they have nothing to do with. Most of these people come from countries where the term ‘crisis’ simply isn’t used because it is the norm..
It is just too easy to use “foreigners” (or women, or gays, or muslims .. or whatever minority you can think of) as scapegoats.

Isn’t ironic that in hard situations where people are expected to get back in touch with their fragile humanity and where identification with the poor becomes easy and therefore compassion towards him grows… we see the opposite happening ? How can we explain that the greeks, facing a terrible economical situation, are choosing to become neo-nazi (with some associations distributing food depending on the color of the people) instead of more compassionate and open ?
What do we make of the words of Darwish when he said :

… and we may get rescued from our story together: you are so much yourself . . . and I am so much other than myself right here before you!

In times where spirituality and ethics are vague or out-dated concepts, people act in unexpected ways… and the greedy and deeply unethical modern politico-economical systems make things worse. That’s why basic humanistic reminders are necessary. With words… or even better with photographs. Indeed, photography is at the crossroads between politics/social affairs, history, art and what we call reality because of its authentic and real nature (probably more than Cinema).. Photography not only show things as they are, but also reveals and materializes them.

Here are two photos I particularly like from his project The New New World (Il Nuovo Nuovo Mondo) where Mark recreated Renaissance portraits as Photos:

mark-abouzeid7

renaissances

Whenever the road lengthens the meaning renews …

If I Were Another
Mahmoud Darwish

If I were another on the road, I would not have looked
back, I would have said what one traveler said
to another: Stranger! awaken
the guitar more! Delay our tomorrow so our road
may extend and space may widen for us, and we may get rescued
from our story together: you are so much yourself . . . and I am
so much other than myself right here before you!

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If I were another I would have belonged to the road,
neither you nor I would return. Awaken the guitar
and we might sense the unknown and the route that tempts
the traveler to test gravity. I am only
my steps, and you are both my compass and my chasm.
If I were another on the road, I would have
hidden my emotions in the suitcase, so my poem
would be of water, diaphanous, white,
abstract, and lightweight . . . stronger than memory,
and weaker than dewdrops, and I would have said:
My identity is this expanse!

If I were another on the road, I would have said
to the guitar: Teach me an extra string!
Because the house is farther, and the road to it prettier—
that’s what my new song would say. Whenever
the road lengthens the meaning renews, and I become two
on this road: I . . . and another!
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Source.

2013 Overture

I believe that the first and last steps in any human undertaking should be based on Beauty and since this is going to be my first post in 2013 (I’ll try to be more active from now on … at least for a couple of weeks) I propose to listen to this wonderful Overture:

Carl Maria von Weber (1786 – 1826) was a German composer (as well as conductor, pianist, guitarist and critic) who is considered to be one of the first great composers of the German Romantic school and an direct influence to many composers (Chopin, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Stravinsky, Berlioz, Wagner, …etc.).
This Overture is taken from his famous opera Der Freischütz that was a key composition in the history of classical music. I particularly like it because of its power, drama and uplifting energy. I had the pleasure and chance of listening to a live performance of it yesterday night at the Royal Opera house (Spain).. it was quite a thrilling experience.

A tribute to women : Bach’s keyboard Partitas

The six partitas BWV 825-830 are among the last of Bach’s keyboard suites to be composed. They were published from 1726 to 1730 as Clavier-Übung I (“Keyboard Exercise”). The title-page of the first partita, published in 1726, reads as (italic is mine):

Keyboard Practice, consisting of preludes, allemandes, courantes, sarabandes, gigues, minuets, and other galanteries, composed for music lovers, to refresh their spirits, by Johann Sebastian Bach, Actual Capellmeister to His Highness the Prince of Anhalt-Cöthen and Directore Chori Musici Lipsiensis. Partita I. Published by the Author. 1726.

Ref.[1] argues that Bach was strongly inspired (on ‘inspiration’, cf. this post) by Johann Kuhnau, his predecessor at the post of director of music in Leipzig (where Bach took office in 1723) as a sort of homage mixed with with pride. This is what [1] says:

Bach’s partitas were modelled on Kuhnau’s Neue Clavier-Übung; from this work Bach took the general title and the name ‘partita’ (or Partie). Without this historical tie, it is difficult to explain why Bach decided to publish this sort of entertainment music at this particular point in time. Kuhnau, in fact, published two sets of Clavier-Übungen, in 1689 and 1692 respectively, each containing seven partitas. They were some of the best-known keyboard works at the time in Germany. Bach’s partitas can, therefore, be seen as his homage to his predecessor, not by nostalgic means but by ‘new compositional challenge’. This is evident in the stylistic contents of Bach’s sets as if his intention was to update Kuhnau’s original contributions. The break with Kuhnau is also apparent in the shape of the collection. Bach wrote only six partitas, and not seven. (In fact, we learn from a newspaper advertisement on 1 May 1730 that Bach hesitated about writing a seventh.) The key scheme of the collection is different; Bach took the idea and developed it from his predecessor. Kuhnau’s scheme was a simple one, based on ascending scale: the first set explores major keys only (C–D–E–F–G–A–B-flat), while the second uses minor keys only (c–d–e–f–g–a–b). Bach’s key-scheme (B-flat–c–a–D–G–e) starts from the point where Kuhnau left off, and mixes major and minor modes quite randomly. Here, yet again, Bach goes one step further than Kuhnau: Bach’s scheme is, in fact, a sophisticated sequence based on gradually expanding upward and downward intervals—viz. 2nd up, 3rd down, 4th up, 5th down, 6th up—which, effectively, forms a hybrid, two-dimensional (or crescendo) shape.

The result was astonishing and far surpassed the earlier work of Kuhnau. As J.N. Forkel in his pioneering biography of Bach (1802) says : “… such splendid keyboard compositions had never previously been seen or heard. Whoever learnt to perform any of these pieces to a high standard could make his fortune in the world”.

These partitas are so beautiful, sensual and… complex, that I find it apropos here to pay (a very modest) tribute to the female (keyboard) interpreters of Bach. They not only mastered the extremely demanding music of Bach, but also had to impose themselves and find their way in the man-dominated world of classical music.

Let’s start wit the beautiful Maria Tipo interpreting the full set of the partitas:


Another complete set, this time by Tatiana Nikolayeva (cf. this post about her) is available here :



The first Partita in B flat, BWV 825, by Rosalyn Tureck



The Partita No 2 in C minor, BWV 826, by Martha Argerich



The Partita No.3 in A minor, BWV 827, by Tatiana Nikolayeva



The Partita No.4 in D major, BWV 828, by Eunice Norton
Click here to watch in youtube. (cannot be embedded).



Zuzana Ruzickova playing the Partita No.5 in G major, BWV 829 (harpsichord)



Christiane Jaccottet playing the Partita No.6, in E minor, BWV 830, in harpsichord


Agi Jambor playing the 6th Partita, in E minor, BWV 830 (Yes, it’s my favorite partita)




And last but not least, here’s one of my all time favorite performances; a wonderful interpretation of the Partita No.6 in E minor, BWV 830, by Tatiana Nikolayeva



… and many other great artists this post couldn’t cover.
I hope that these wonderful pieces did refresh your spirits as Bach intended them to do.

References:
[1] Yo Tomita – The Six Partitas

Links:
- Bach’s Partitas for keyboard
- Great Women Pianists
- Women at the Piano