Brief Analysis: J.S Bach – “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor “

The Toccata and Fugue in D minor is the best known and most popular piece by J.S. Bach. There are nevertheless some doubts about the authorship of this piece. Many still believe that it was not written by the hand of Bach but an imitator by the name of Johann Peter Kellner (1705-1772), who had for student Johannes Ringk (1717-1778). It is indeed thanks to him if today we still possess a copy of the manuscript of this Toccata and Fugue. The original has unfortunately disappeared and this is the oldest copy. On this copy, no title or any other information, save for an “Adagio”. The work was only published in 1833 at the initiative of Mendelssohn, who liked to play it.



Tags: , , ,

Jordi Savall – Tous Les Matins Du Monde OST (1991)

tous les matins portada

Tous les Matins du Monde was the result of novel writer Pascal Quignard’s desire to bring to life a story about one of the greatest composers and perhaps performers of the the viola da gamba (“leg viol” in Italian, from the traditional position in which it is held), Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe, and his most famous student, Marin Marais. He partnered with writer-director Alain Corneau, who had been formally trained as a musician before switching interests to film-making in his youth. The writer built a fictitious novel around what little is known about “Jean” de Sainte-Colombe and later adapted it for the movie. The movie has a melancholic tone, suitable for what is known about the composer as a recluse, a trait that Quignard exploited to the point of romanticizing the legend to a believable but ultimately symbolic level as inspiration for the spirit of art.

There was a man who was perfect for the job, his name was Jordi Savall. This decision came as no surprise given that Quignard first found out about Sainte-Colombe from a recording Savall and Wieland Kuijken did of the French composer’s music in 1976 under the title Sieur De Sainte Colombe – Concerts A Deux Violes Esgales. Whether the consequent recordings by the duo of Sainte-Colombe’s music were at least in part due to the movie is unclear, but a second tome was released in 1992 followed by reissues of the older work several years later. Savall was already a well-known name in his world, but the movie boosted it to popular stardom as he became famous all over the world as a viol player and ensemble conductor.

The music in the soundtrack has a very private feel to it and stands in contrast with the contemporary religious music we know was for service. At the same time, it shares with it a quality of “introspection”. What this implies musically, exactly, is something that cannot be pinpointed easily and is probably a confluence of several different traits, similar to how the romantic “authentic” has been systematically analyzed by some in very interesting but abstract descriptions (for instance, simple, understandable melodies in the manner of folk music). The movie depicts a time of transition when a lot of the music that was being made by amateur nobility was increasingly being taken up by professional musicians playing in courts (this is, essentially, what separates Sainte-Colombe and Marais). Herein, the transcendental and the temporal and commonplace are juxtaposed.

This soundtrack consists most of pieces by Sainte-Colombe and Marais with a minimal addition of a few superb piece by other composers. Personally, I recommend “Le Bandinage” by Marin Marais  and the excellent addition of a piece by an anonymous composer simply titled “Fantasie en mi mineur”.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Music from Wolfenstein coder

From Apple II Bits:

The late Silas Warner, best known as the creator of the classic Apple II game Castle Wolfenstein, was also “a published author and talented musician and composer in the classical European style”, says Wikipedia. No links to his published writings are provided, but a pair of his musical works are available for download: the original composition “Variations on Sonata in A by Mozart (K.331)”; and Warner’s arrangement of “The Heavens are Telling, from The Creation”.


Tags: ,

Niccolo Paganini: Virtuoso or Devil?


Niccolo Paganini: the name is well known among violinists. He belongs to the exclusive club of musicians known as virtuosos.

Sickly since his birth on October 27, 1782 in Genoa, Paganini’s virtuosity was astounding. He began playing the violin at age seven at the insistence of his father, Antonio Paganini. Antonio Paganini was a mediocre mandolin player who forced his son to practice long hours. At the age of thirteen, Niccolo was sent to study with a famous violin teacher named Alessandro Rolla. Rolla, upon hearing young Niccolo play, refused to take Niccolo as a student because he claimed he could teach Niccolo nothing.

Niccolo continued playing and performing in his native land, and soon received a reputation of being the best violinist in Italy. People began to speculate about Paganini’s great talent, and began to wonder about his gift. Paganini became known as a “Hexensohn” or witch’s brat (de Saussine, Paganini 113). Paganini’s demonic reputation became so widespread that his talent was often attributed to the belief that he had help from the devil.

Paganini began touring Europe when he was in his early forties. At the time, no one had ever seen or heard anyone, or anything, quite like Paganini. For a time, Paganini capitalized on this difference by encouraging the rumors of his supernatural abilities. It was common for him to arrive at a concert in a black coach drawn by black horses. Paganini himself would wear black. Schwarz states that Paganini would enter the stage late, like a non-terrestrial creature, and bow to the audience(Great Masters of the Violin 181). Paganini’s stage presence increased the rumors of his dark affiliations and the rumors soon became outrageous. One of the most popularized reports explained his extreme dexterity with one string. Schwarz explains that many believed Paganini had been imprisoned for a love affair with only his violin for company. One by one, the three upper strings broke, leaving only the G-string. Paganini soon learned to play on the G-string alone because of his imprisonment (Schwarz 176). Paganini tried to dispel these myths later in his career, but it was too late. Paganini became known as a “technical wizard” (Schwarz 179).

Paganini’s technique was outstanding and unusual, but it was his satanic bearing which caused great crowds to attend his concerts. Schwarz states that “It was more than technical wizardry that attracted the masses: there was a demonic quality as well as an enticing poetry in his playing” (Great Masters of the Violin 181). One instance of superb technique being mistaken for supernatural guidance was the “duel” between Lafont, a famous French violinist of the time, and Paganini. Lafont had volunteered to give a joint concert with Paganini; however, people gained the impression that the concert would be a contest. Paganini was the unofficial “winner” of the contest. Schwarz states that Paganini “won” by improvising during the concert by adding octaves, thirds, and sixths (Great Masters of the Violin 172-173). Paganini was always eager to showcase his technique. Sachs states that Paganini, at a concert in Paris in 1832, played his Sonata a movement perpetual at an amazing twelve notes per second (Virtuoso 33). Most people find it difficult to imagine twelve notes in one second. Paganini managed to play twelve notes in the same amount of time it takes for most musicians to read twelve notes. Paganini’s talent extended from the mere mechanics of technique to innovations in technique.

Paganini is the father of modern violin technique. One innovation Paganini began is the practice of memorization. Violinists before Paganini always used music during a concert. Paganini, on the other hand, would boldly walk onto the stage, shake back his long black hair, place his violin under his chin, and begin to play without the aid of music. Audiences were astounded. They marveled at the thought of one man memorizing an entire program of music. The current practice of memorization was attributed to Paganini’s supernatural abilities. Paganini’s innovations were recognized as early as 1829 by the German violinist Guhr. Schwarz summarizes Guhr’s theories on Paganini’s innovations into six categories:

  1. scordatura, which is the mis-tuning of strings to enable the violinist to play in another key without shifting;
  2. unorthodox bowing, such as bouncing the bow on the strings;
  3. left-hand pizzicato, which allows a violinist to create the staccato sound without using the bow hand;
  4. an extensive use of harmonics;
  5. using the G-string for entire works;
  6. bizarre fingerings (Great Masters of the Violin 196)

All of the techniques listed above were new and created sounds never heard before. These new sounds which Paganini created caused audiences to react favorably, even if they thought Paganini was possessed by the devil.

Paganini’s appearance completed the image of the satanic violinist. Paganini’s dark hair and pale face contrasted, giving him an ethereal aura. The loss of his teeth in 1828 gave his face a sunk-in appearance, which added to his ghost-like image. Few concert goers were left unmoved by a performance given by Paganini. Boerne, a German poet at the time, described his impression of a concert given by Paganini: “It was a heavenly and diabolical enthusiasm, I have never seen or heard its like in my life” (Schwarz 185). Paganini’s ability to entrance an audience can be attributed to his physical appearance and to his technique.

The myth surrounding Paganini lingered even after his death on May 27, 1840. Since Paganini had refused the final sacrament, he could not be buried. His remains were kept in a basement for five years until his family petitioned to have them buried. Many people speculated on his refusal of the sacrament. Some said he did not believe that he would die, while others said he was a non-believer (Sachs 32). The result of his refusal of the final sacrament once again raised the question of Paganini’s origin.

Paganini’s origin was not in Hell as the myth propagates. Paganini’s accomplishments were due to his diligence and hard work. Few realize the amount of practice required to perform effortlessly. Paganini had the gift to not only create beautiful music, but to create an entertaining performance. At the high point of his career, every concert Paganini gave was sold out. The sensation Paganini created in the 1830’s can be compared to the Beatles invasion in the early 1960’s. “Paganini Mania”, like “Beatle Mania”, caused a change in the music style of the time. However, Paganini can also be compared to Elvis Presley, who began to lose popularity during the last few years of his life. Paganini, at the time of his death, no longer created the image that he had earlier in his career. However, in spite of all the rumors, Paganini managed to originate a style of music which is still alive today.

A Selected Bibliography
Saussine, Renee de. Paganini. New York: Hutchenson & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., 1953.

Sachs, Harvey. Virtuoso. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1980.

Schwarz, Boris. Great Masters of the Violin. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983.

No Comments

Tags: , , , , ,

Windham Hell – South Facing Epitaph

Darkthrone managed to conjure something far more stimulating to the imagination when they were inspired by horror and science-fiction movie soundtracks to create vast journeys of cosmic Death Metal. Windham Hell’s first album also follows from the deeper recesses of popular culture and cinema, fucking with the senses and expectations of the Metal listener through this Lynchian maze of psychological horror and ominous mortality. The first thing that’s evident about the musicians at work here, particularly the late Eric Freisen on guitars, is the uncustomary level of formal training demonstrated in these pieces, which bear close stylistic resemblance to the famous concertos of Antonio Vivaldi. The riffs that make up the bulk of actual Metal songs on this erratic album are nothing spectacular or unconventional but formed with the lead guitar in mind, acting much like the movie samples and vomitory vocals do to provide a kind of ambient feeling of suspended horror and panic that the leads then magnify through their virtuoso performances, building on the looming fear with sporadic outbursts of mental excitation. The rest of the album is a feast for those who would enjoy the subversion of popular culture through a post-modernist cutting and pasting of morbidly curious voices bridged with Classical flourishes, although may lose the attention of others. There is enough tastefully executed technique on show to keep this as engaging as possible, and a far superior album to the following Window of Souls.


No Comments

Tags: , , , ,

Classic reviews: