Friday, May 28, 2010

bach and more epistemology

True to my procrastinating nature, I have yet to write program notes for several pieces featured on tomorrow's concert. A friend of mine once said that "working ahead is for sissies who can't stand the pressure." In theory, I try not to agree, but in practice, my adherence to this maxim is unquestioned.

So lets talk about Bach's G major Cello Suite, shall we?

Likely one of the most oft appropriated selections from Bach’s oeuvre, the first cello suite has achieved "pop" status—featured in a myriad of television commercials and films alike. The complete suite is comprised of the oh-so-familiar prelude, followed by a series of dance movements. As it is accessible to the ear, I needn't really go into musical style, harmonic language, etc. Certainly crafted with incredible skill (my God!), the musical forms are not too difficult to grasp. The music is "pretty" and we like that.

Most compelling however, is the use and implications of the dance. I've talked before about the eighteenth century's fascination with the body and in Bach's suites (and the violin Partitas, for that matter) it takes on a new complexity. In conjunction with the deeply religious overtones of the music, Bach's stylization of once lascivious and lewd dance forms contribute to a musical aesthetic elegant, intricate and dense. The result is the interaction of spirituality/learned-ness and physicality coalescing in Hegelian unity.

Bach is of particular interest to me for this reason, especially given my more recent research on changes in acquiring knowledge between the Renaissance and the late nineteenth century. Still lit by the Scientific Revolution's afterglow, the beginning of the eighteenth century (Bach's most prolific period) was enlightened by empirical thought. Particularly pert for our discussion of Bach is the epistemological shift occurring between the onset of the early modern period and the nineteenth century. Where the former looks to break from Scholastic dogma via empiricism, the latter idealizes the mind, perpetually seeking transcendence. Like his classical-era artistic offspring, Bach is partially interested in the physical sensations of living, "practice" (read: empiricism). And it is this context that his use of dance forms becomes truly compelling. Combined with his overt religious affiliations, references to the physical (the "low" dances) become apt descriptors of the dichotomy of the epoch.

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