Thursday, September 06, 2007

She Never Gets Old

In the movie A Beautiful Mind, which stars Russell Crowe as Dr. John Nash, there is a scene which I was reminded of as I practiced J.S. Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in g minor, BWV 542 this evening. In the movie, Nash, a schizophrenic, is suffering from hallucinations of imaginary friends--people who've been around in his mind for years. He seems utterly unconvinced that these people are imaginary. That all came to an end one night, when Nash's wife had started the car--intending to leave for good. She pulled away from the curb, and out runs Nash into her path. "She never gets old!" he said. "Marcy never gets old." From this, Nash was able to determine that Marcy wasn't real.

She never gets old. That's what I was thinking about this Bach fugue this evening, although it is most certainly real, however difficult it might be to fathom that such a work was conceived by human genius. The incredible thing about it is its durability, the fact that it can stand up to almost any interpretation. One can play it with varying textures, or with one consistent texture. There are few pieces of music that can withstand such treatment; most become monotonous without some variety of texture or color. Moreover, the fugue works not only with a variety of possibilities with respect to organ registration, but it is also suited to other instruments. And on those other instruments it is just as compelling. It can withstand a broad range of tempi, a number of approaches to articulation, even dotting the rhythms (for practice only). All this, and Bach's fugue still comes out sounding like a work of art, of genius.

Perhaps these considerations are what have shored up Bach's music to withstand the test of time so well. She never gets old.

Despite all of this, Bach's work is demanding like no other, in my opinion. The work to gain accuracy and the requisite transparency cannot be measured in hours, although it is surely a labor of love. But ultimately, this durability thing is what I'm getting at right now. It just hit me tonight, and I'm kind of thinking out loud here. But this seems to be worth pondering.

What other music is as durable as Bach's? You may call in the Spanish Inquisition if you like, but I think even chant depends upon certain kinds of treatments. One of my teachers has opined that Bach stands at the fulcrum of Western music, that all music before him was leading up to him, and that all music after him has been founded upon his work. Of course, this teacher is a Lutheran:) But I think he has a point.

Well, help me out with this brainstorm.

A treat: Here is a performance of said fugue by Mr. Aarnoud de Groen. He should be thanked for putting such a respectable performance on YouTube. You would not believe the garbage I had to listen to before finding Mr. de Groen's recording.

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