J. S. Bach: Arioso - Betrachte, meine Seele (aus Johannespassion, BWV 245)

5 parts5 pages02:013 years ago2,579 views
Cello, Violin(2), Harp, Bass
The two most sublime, breathtaking minutes of Bach's Passion According to St. John, with 'cello and harp subbing for Basso and lute.

This brief, but sublimely subtle and understated meditation in the heart of Bach's Passion According to St. John, BWV 245, occurs immediately after the Evangelist has told of Jesus' scourging, as a preface to the lengthy tenor aria, "Erwäge, erwäge, wie sein blutgefärbter Rücken" pondering the bloody rainbows on his back which reveal God's Salvation, parallel to the alto arioso "Erbarm' es, Gott!" in the St. Matthew. As per the central doctrine of the Lutheran theology of the Cross, the present movement meditates upon the cognitive dissonance between the bitterness of the torture Jesus is enduring and the sweetness of the salvation it grants the faithful:

(German text in the score): "Consider, o my soul, with anxious delight, with bitterly troubled heart, thine highest Good in Jesus' sorrows, how from thorns that pierce him the flowers of the keys to heaven (one Sanskritesque -compositum-, "Himmelsschlüsselblumen"! (i.e., the primrose)) blossom for thee; thou canst pick much sweet fruit from his wormwood, therefore look unceasing upon him." (See Eric Chafe, "Bach's Johannine Theology" for deep understanding of this Barthold Heinrich Brockes-based text).

The aria is scored for basso, two viole d'amore (or violins with mutes), and lute. MuseScore has none of those, so, in the style of Mike Magatagan, I have substituted "classical guitar" and harp, which work really well here, and two pianissimo violins. I've put a plucked contrabass on the continuo tasto line. (Viole d'amore have sympathetic strings, but I suppose one can imbue additional compassion into any). I did not do any "arranging"; every note is Bach's (although I 'realized' some "recit appoggiature" as they ought be performed); I did a bit of "creative conducting" with subtle tempo controls, the way I would conduct if I ever could....

The degree of dissonance, especially unexpected "deceptive" resolutions, esp. to 6-4-2 chords (e.g., m. 4 first beat), tritones at key junctures and full flat-9 chords, is exceptional, even for Bach (the aforementioned St. Matthew arioso, "Erbarm' es, Gott", is similar in this respect). Perhaps even Bach didn't notice that the last two eighths of the second violin in mm. 8 and 11 are C#-C and Db-C respectively (i.e., Bach's chromatic vision and key-wanderings are broad).

The "guitar" part is written at concert pitch, and requires a "Drop D" tuning (guitars are usually written an octave up). The lute-like sound of the MS guitar made me swap out the harp I had been using ...

Appropriately to its text, the arioso speaks with a beatific sweetness, its gentle lute chords and runs against the pedal points (particularly the first (and identical last) two measures) embraced by the double helix of viola d'amore arpeggii about them. Yet, this texture is pushed and distorted to bring forth the grave dissonances of the Crucifixion, the ultimate and central dissonance and crossing of good and evil underlying this theology.

[10/27/2015 - change from harp to guitar, and pluralize # of heavenkeyflowers.]

JSB+BSG: El primer preludio (BWV 846.1 realizado con salsa)

4 parts6 pages024 years ago2,314 views
Piano, Organ, Percussion, Bass
An unconventional realization of the (inferred) figured bass of the First Prelude of the Well-Tempered Clavier in a very distant style.

This "hack" came about in 1999 when I was actively following the Buena Vista Social Club, and realized that the 1-2 1-2-3 1-2-3 rhythm of the renowned first prelude of the WTC in retrograde (i.e., played backwards) was a jaunty rhythm common in Hispanic folk/pop, 1-2-3 1-2-3 1-2! So I refashioned the first prelude, consigning a piano outlining the original to far in the back, and fronting a new chordal lead in the new rhythm on accordion (I use "reed organ" here; the accordion was too weak). To this I add steel drums in that rhythm. A fretless electric bass arpeggiates Bach's chords in three voices in six three-sixteenths notes per measure, underlaying the others with internal compound-line ("bajo descontinuo") counterpoint, spiced (i.e., "con salsa") with various chromatic blues fills and their inversions at key junctures; the latter, in fact, "solve" the putative problem of Schwencke's famous "bogus measure" between mm. 22-23.

The piece presents performance difficulties, as few electric bassists have a low-C extender (but an acoustic bass so equipped will suffice), and, perhaps more significantly, steel drum virtuosi competent in the alto clef are vanishingly rare :).

¡Disfruten, todos!

[5/22/2015 - added final G, cut back all accordion half-notes, and...go figure.]