Apr 222016


by Kirby Congdon…….

The harsh clatter of a bell tells us time’s up, attention! stop thinking, get out of the way. Or it can toll — letting us reflect, relieving us of distractions to iterate success or failure, celebration or commiseration. All these interpretations take only one note.

In the first Prelude of The Well-tempered Clavichord, BWV 846 so familiar to every piano student, Bach uses one note in the bass, like a bell, fourteen times consecutively in one great sweep while the right hand chords are busy elsewhere. We are usually taught to bury this note in the chords. We wonder is this great figure, Johann Sebastian Bach, doing this when we usually depend on his changing his tunes every two seconds to hold our interest? He dares to use one note as a kind of heart banging out its support of life itself?

Using one note over and over can, indeed, be a solace on the one hand or an articulation of insanity on the other with its almost claustrophobic pressure on us. That note, “g” in the lower clef, is, once more, a tolling of despair from hell and at the same time a confirmation of the steadiness of reality, much like having your dish of oatmeal every day at breakfast at the same time because you can’t cook, you are hungry and because it tastes differently too, depending on your mood.

In approaching Don Dorsey’s solos on a digital keyboard, Bachbuster, put out by Telarc in 1985, I felt intimidated by his professional handling of technology.

However, I was won over by the slow movement (labeled “Andante’) from the Italian Concerto BWV 97. What almost brought me to tears was the coupling of, again, one note in the bass. The same pair of notes in the same position in every measure is employed throughout this slow movement. This figure was much like a sedate tom-tom, or reminiscent of the heart’s continuous appeal. It has the steadiness of a locomotive on it destined track straight ahead to eternity or, on the other hand, the despair suggested by a large church bell. It was an experience. I went to another recording of hear the orchestral version. As I listened those double notes got lost as the music developed, dismissing them as easy harmonic supports. Mr. Dorsey, however, never lets go of their importance. As I say, it was an experience.

By the way, may I suggest, for those who play a keyboard, take a look at BWV 900 if you want a similar musical expression. Once more, the very familiar becomes transcendental.

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Kirby Congdon
Kirby Congdon found his calling in the time of the Beat Movement, his poems being published by the New York Times, The New York Herald Tribune and the Christian Science Monitor as well as countless small-press outlets. While influenced by the assertive stance of a new generation in literature, he preferred to set aside the spontaneous approach of his friends and use his work as an exploratory tool in establishing the new identity of his times as well as that of his own maturation. This search was incorporated in 300 works which were compiled in a bibliography by a Dean of the English Department at Long Island University in his retirement and made available in hard-back with an extensive addenda by the literary activists of Presa Press through their skills achieved from the University of Michigan and their own experience which commands a movement in itself of contemporary literary action.

Congdon’s work in poetry covers innumerable treatments of countless subjects in single poems, long treatments on a subject, and many collections of both serious thought and imagination through not only the poetry but through essays, plays and ruminations. Named the first poet laureate of Key West, he received a standing ovation for his reading honoring this position and was the featured poet in a festival celebrating Frank O’Hara in the New York region. He was also asked to read his work as well as give a talk on the country’s national poet laureate, Richard Wilbur, at a seminar honoring that man. Currently, Congdon is working on an autobiography and a collection of complete poems.
 April 22, 2016  Posted by at 12:30 am Issue #163, Kirby Congdon  Add comments

  One Response to “On Bach”

  1. Great article.
    I noted an error, but it appears in print so often as to merit an automatic excuse. The collected works of BWV846 are entitled “The Well Tempered Clavier” (tr) not Clavichord. The pieces were written to explore the “new” tuning systems which allowed performance in nearly every key and made modulation more musical. (The prevailing Meantone Temperaments did not)
    Today we mostly use Equal Tempered Tuning in which all keys sound the same. (Yawn)

    (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Well_temperament

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