I can't forget the first time I learned Bach's C-sharp major Prelude and Fugue from book 2 of the Well-Tempered Clavier. With the prelude, I was immediately drawn in and captivated by the incredible beauty and simplicity of the writing. With the fugue, I was completely and utterly perplexed by the disjointed nature of the writing. In more simplistic terms, I fell in love with the prelude but fell into frustration with the fugue. As with all of Bach's works, however, I have grown to love both and have managed to build a bridge connecting the two. For me, and keep in mind that this is really just my imagination that has conjured up this image, this set of pieces gives me a glimpse of how Bach saw Creation - the prelude shows us a spiritual view and the fugue, a scientific one.
In the prelude, Bach has yet again found a way to suspend time through music through a gentle harmonic journey. The first section, which takes up most of the piece, is a 4-voice choir, each voice with a different purpose. The bass lays the foundation while the tenor rides along above it with a constant eighth-note motor. It is this tenor voice that seems to motivate the rest of the voices, with the alto and soprano voices' alternating sixteenths gracefully ornamenting the slow flow of harmonies. After a gradual increase in intensity, the prelude then launches into a short, quick finale, with three voices imitating one another until we reach the end. I hear the first section as a representation of Life as it is being created by a creator - a weaving of beauty from nothingness into glory. The closing section serves as a celebration of this new creation - an act of unrestrained joy.
The fugue takes a more scientific look at Creation. Here we start with a few single cells, the 5 notes of the subject or theme being represented by 5 short eight notes. The three voices enter in rapid succession and without much regard to convention since the third entrance already turns the subject upside-down. After the initial statements of the subject, Bach begins to use these "cells" to create larger, more complex organisms, at times dissecting the subject into even smaller units, and at other times, expanding them and ornamenting them beyond recognition. Once we start to see these more complex creations, Bach inserts the subject in an augmented form, doubling the duration of each note so that no longer is the subject small particles of matter. Now the subject is a self-sustaining creation whose presence cannot be ignored underneath the other voices that surround it with increasingly ornamented flourishes of life which race on until the triumphant end.
Other posts in this series: