Death Melodies Series: Johann Sebastian Bach

by Mike Arsenyev
February 7, 2013 –

johann_sebastian_bachThe Death Metal Underground (DMU) is proud to present the Death Melodies Series (DMS).

The primary function of the DMS is to expose metalheads to Classical Music that they might enjoy.

If it’s Baroque, don’t fix it.

Our first in the Death Melodies Series will feature some Baroque pieces. The Baroque Period followed after the Renaissance Period and was roughly from the beginning of the 1600′s to mid 1700′s. The emphasis on tonal harmony was established during this time. Opera was also introduced amid the Baroque term.

This article will focus on Bach, which is one of the most prolific Classical composers that ever lived. Bach gradually became blind as he aged, however his disability didn’t stop him from composing. Other noteworthy composers of this era were Handel, Scarlatti (x2), and Vivaldi. Nevertheless, the DMS will be showcasing more of the dark, ominous, and powerful pieces.

Bach’s most assaulting weapon was the organ, though he also played and wrote pieces for violin, viola, and harpsichord.

There is debate about transcriptions for Bach’s organ work for other instruments. Hipsters like Glenn Gould would claim that they do justice transcribing it to piano, though piano was invented during Bach’s life and he didn’t compose any melodies for it because he found it somewhat lacking. Glenn Gould just wanted to be hip, different, and make money doing it. Orchestrated versions of Bach’s work tend to add more parallels, which Stokowski portrayed:

Here is another example of an orchestrated rendition:

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10 comments

  • Antonio Espinosa

    Really cool idea. How about some Lute suites? They might not be dark but they shred pretty hard.

  • SCHUMANN

    Bach himselft transcribed many violin concertos
    into harpsichord concertos etc…
    Fortepiano of 18th century had quite a weak sound
    and cannot be compared to sound of later grand piano…

  • donkbet

    1. As mentioned, the “fortepiano of 18th century had quite a weak sound” and “and cannot be compared to sound of later grand piano”.

    2. If you want to rag on Gould, you’d have to do alot better than “just wanted to be different” and “make money doing it”. I’d say the man has an profound understanding of counterpoint, a view corroborated by many top pianists. Gould has also made multiple organ recordings of The Art of Fugue, by the way, so I really don’t think he was settting out simply to be different.

    3. I don’t understand how an article on Bach could forgo the basics of counterpoint, canon and fugue, and instead choose to dedicate a large proportion of it to instrumentation, largely a red herring. For those wanting more, this link is mandatory: http://www2.nau.edu/tas3/wtc.html

    4. “Nevertheless, the DMS will be showcasing more of the dark, ominous, and powerful pieces.”
    Bad idea. While metal mostly benefits from this treatment, the same approach falls short for classical music because classical, unlike metal, embraces all emotions of the human condition. As such, only choosing “dark” pieces seriously shortchanges many of classical’s greatest compositions, and indeed hints at attempts to build an identity instead of caring about the music first and foremost.

  • Ahmed

    Gould played the klavierworks like a robot; all notes are treated equal. This kills the music, and I’d rather listen to a lively performance on a kazoo.

    1. donkbet

      “Gould played the klavierworks like a robot; all notes are treated equal.”

      A popular opinion, but I think it’s a stretch to say that all notes are treated equally – subtleties in phrasing, touch and dynamics are all there in his playing. If you don’t believe me, open a midi file and play a Gould recording next to it: they are quite markedly different.

      I think this reputation probably stems from his style to maximise contrapuntal clarity and constant rhythmic “drive”, which results in quite rigid adherence to exact rhythm. Some call it “perverse intellectuality”, “emotionless” or some other variant. Others find that this style actually brings out the pure compositional genius of Bach, and is actually brimming with emotion and Romanticism. It’s true that Gould is largely a polarising figure, and his opinions over his playing is largely a matter of taste, but saying that he played completely emotionless music and “like a robot” is an unfair stretch.

      If you want to pursue this:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtSgwCWoLEM

      One of the greatest fugues in both WTCs. This interpretation has constant forward rhythmic motion and maximum clarity in all four voices, something most slower attempts at characterisation don’t. This is a more difficult listen than those “lively” recordings that make certain parts obvious for the listener, but ultimately more rewarding (imo, obviously) for those seeking total immersion in the interaction of voices.

      “I’d rather listen to a lively performance on a kazoo.”

      True, but we disagree on what a lively performance is. Bach’s music is great on the human voice, the glass harp, half-filled glasses of water and probably even pitched farting (though probably to a lesser degree) – maybe we can all agree on this.

  • Moses

    The comments about Gould are totally unjustified. He is one of the best performers of Bach’s keyboard works. Bach never had a chance to write for a modern piano (the pianos of his time were in the early stages of development), but it makes sense to use an instrument which can emphasize individual contrapuntal lines.

    Statements like “Gould just wanted to be different” are nonsensical and half-formed opinions that do no justice to the intention of this article. Gould WAS different, and when it came to Bach his method of interpretation worked perfectly. Perhaps it’s necessary to mention that Baroque music is NOT romantic music, and should not be interpreted as such. At the same time it is not necessary to try and ‘recreate’ the original context of the work. At the end of the day what counts is not style but the depth of a performers insight into the emotional content of the music, and Gould undoubtedly possessed this insight when it came to Bach.