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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

My Evening with Sebastian

I have never been the kind of person who particularly enjoyed practicing the piano. That I ever became a decent pianist is amazing in its own right, and thank God my skills as a singer and conductor have been such that I could make a living in music. If I were dependent on the piano, I would surely have starved years ago.

But on rare occasions, I get into just sitting at the keyboard and actually practicing, slowly and methodically practicing a piece of music. Such was my encounter yesterday evening with Sebastian Bach.On some inexplicable whim, I opened the score to the Well-Tempered Clavier, turned to the fugue in C minor and began to play. The preludes and fugues in the WTC are some of the most intricate and perfectly elegant pieces of music ever written for the keyboard. At the time of their composition, the practice of tuning an instrument to equal terperament, a system in which you may play in any key without retuning the instrument, was relatively new. Bach set out in his twenty-four preludes and fugues to show off the new system. And in typical fashion, he created a masterpiece of perfection.

There is something about Bach's music that is medicinal to me. The often irascible and defiant kappellmeister of Leipzig was so attuned to all things spiritual, so in touch and confident in his personal faith, that his music, practically every piece of it, is infused with a sublime serenity. As I sat at the keyboard, I started by slowly playing each of the three voices of the fugue alone. I wanted to hear the contour of each line; to discover where and when that individual voice should be in the forefront or the background.

As I began to put the voices together, the most wonderful, peaceful feeling came over me. It was as if time had stopped and I was floating in the air, suspended by the power and perfection of these brief two pages of music; pages which seemed at the time to hold the secrets of the universe.

Perhaps this isn't much of a story, but the place to which I was taken yesterday by my old and trusty friend Herr Bach was a beautiful one, and I want to go back there soon. And if you, dear friends, are not piano players, perhaps you would enjoy listening to someone like Glenn Gould, Angela Hewitt or Andras Schiff display the wonders of this marvelous music for you.

I wish you peace!

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