First of all, I want to say that I absolutely love this prelude and fugue. For whatever reason, they make complete sense to me. Even though they are different from one another in terms of the amount of energy with which they are imbued, playing them puts me in a bit of a hypnotic state, leaving me to feel as though my mind and spirit have been returned to a more peaceful, balanced state. I know, I know...I can imagine that I'm sounding a bit crazy at this point, but I can't help it. This is one of those prelude and fugue sets that is simply magical to me.
So what is it that makes these pieces have this effect on me?
The one image that repeatedly comes to mind with this prelude and fugue is the image of a spider, spinning a web. As there is symmetry in a web, there is also symmetry in both of these pieces; when one voice goes up, the other voice goes down; when one voice plays the fugue subject as written, and another places the fugue subject upside-down. Here are two excerpts that I scanned to show what I'm talking about.
First a clip from the Prelude:
And now a clip from the fugue:
I even find looking at excerpts such as these calming. To be able to see and hear such beauty in symmetry is remarkably refreshing.
So are there any differences between the prelude and fugue? Yes, absolutely, and it's the contrast that makes this set an exquisite pair. In the prelude we find ourselves in almost a mechanical, fast-forward drive from beginning to end without any rest. Going back to the spider-web example, it's a bit like watching a spider spinning its web with a time-lapse setting. And in the fugue, we are given the time to watch our spider spinning at its own pace. And because Bach chose to write this as a fugue with only three voices, there is delicacy that is maintained throughout which mimics the delicacy of the web perfectly. The step-wise and chromatic nature of the lines remind me of the creepy-crawliness (I know, not a word) of spiders' legs.
Wait... what's that crawling...up... your... arm?
Oh, and here are the videos. Enjoy!
and the Fugue:
Other posts in this series: