Tuesday, October 07, 2008

October: The month of Brahms, Bach, and Cigars

The sun is presently setting over Philadelphia, it's yellow incandescence illuminating my room as I bemoan the fact that I spent the most beautiful day so far this Fall practicing behind a veil of stained glass. This is my favorite time of year, and, barring one of those vexing Indian summers, October is my favorite month. Today, one needed a jacket to get to the coffee shop. Perfection.

It's not just the weather, though. It was in the month of October that I first studied Bach's B Minor Mass in depth. At Peabody, we had a music history professor who spent weeks on this work until we finally understood just how profound it really is. I have classmates who never set foot in a church but who light up with joy at the mere mention of this piece.

Near the end of October, we were administered the very (in)famous "drop the needle" test, in which the professor started various movements of the Mass in any old place, and we were to write down what it was. (Many persist in getting the Patrem omnipotentem wrong, because of the continuance also of the clause Credo in unum Deum.) In that month of listening to Bach, I was changed.

That was just about ten years ago now, but I continue to make a ritual of listening to the Bach B Minor Mass every October. It marks a certain cycle for me, and, I must say that its vitality fits the fresh, colorful, autumnal weather. The best example of this is the first movement of the Gloria:

This enormous work won't fit into the context of the Mass. Nevertheless, there is a great deal to be learned from this fountain of inspiration. In its own way, it is its own liturgy, an act of worship by the greatest composer who ever lived. Download it to your iPod, get a nice hat, light a good cigar (I had a very nice La Flor Dominicana recently), and take a walk while listening to this gem.

And don't forget the Brahms Requiem. That's a good October piece, too.

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