25 February 2009

Slings and Arrows of Fortune: Benjamin Bagby’s Beowulf & Epic Chamber Music

 Benjamin Bagby performing Beowulf

H    wæt. We Gardena in gear-dagum
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.

Literal tr.:
What! We of the Spear-Danes in old days
of the people-kings the power heard
how the princes their brave deeds did.

R. Liuzza tr.:
Listen! We have heard of the glory in bygone days
of the folk-kings of the Spear-Danes—
how those noble lords did lofty deeds.

S. Heaney tr.:
So: The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had
    courage and greatness.
We have heard of these princes’ heroic
M edievalist Benjamin Bagby performs the epic Anglo-Saxon poem, ‘Beowulf’, in his one-man drama on Saturday evening in Kansas City. Bagby performs on an historically-reconstructed six-stringed harp, part of which comes from remnants recovered from a medieval gravesite. The poem is the oldest extant complete poem in Old English, a narrative that tells the story of the chieftain, Beowulf, who defeats the monster, Grendel, in battle. The epic/mythical qualities of it are not unlike other Northern European epics, such as the Norse Eddas (sagas) or Kalevala.

B agby hails from a Germanic clan that emigrated from Jutland to northern England in about 630, and subsequently to colonial Virginia a millennium later. In addition to his activities as founder and director of the early music ensemble Sequentia, Benjamin writes about historical performance practice and teaches at the Sorbonne and North America. In 2003, Bagby developed the program ‘Chant Wars’ with Katarina Livljanic at Harvard. Bagby was educated at Oberlin College and at the Schola Cantorum in Basel. Bagby and Glagolitic chant scholar Katarina Livljanic were recently married.

T he ‘auspiciousness’ of the narrative of Beowulf is wonderfully portrayed by Bagby—whether you see him perform ‘live’ or on the excellent 2006 DVD. Having the work performed an old, old stone cathedral with hewn timbers for beams, and minimal central heating on a cold winter’s night helps to reinforce the momentousness of the epic. Beowulf aims to convey something of import to each contemporary listener, clan-member or not. Having the scary, decrepit manuscript projected in front of us adds still more.

 Beowulf manuscript, page 1
T he Grendle ‘fight scene’, I suppose, is what gets the most attention, in almost any casual reading of the text. The mechanics of story-telling and drama: these are what English teachers tend to focus on when teaching Beowulf. The sheer exoticness of a text so old as this tends to limit the serious consideration of why it is the way it is. The ambiguities in the manuscript itself offer prodigious challenges to translators, never mind interpreters or theorists or ordinary readers/hearers.

B ut as we hear Bagby render this in performance today—in this time of widespread terrorism, regime-change and unplanned succession; amid conflicted amity, globalization and disputed sovereignty—what strikes me most is the theme of unrelenting confrontation—the necessity and inevitability of it. The human condition is perilous, no end in sight, and victories are always mixed, pyrrhic ones. Glory is the harbinger of doom. This mortal coil is in fact and above all else a coil—a chute that leads precipitously to our unbidden shuffling off it. No one gets out of here alive.

C    oil  — (n.) a spiral; tumults, troubles; a noisy disturbance, fuss, ado; the bustle and turmoil of this mortal life; (v.t.) to cull or sacrifice; to thrash; to lay in rings or spirals; to turn; to mound up; to stir.”
T    he meaning might be: ‘when we have unwound and worked off this spool of mortality’.”
  —  Schopenhauer, ‘Parerga & Paralipomena’, Volume 2, §232a.
I n Bagby’s wonderful delivery we hear vocal/musical and stylistic elements of these confrontations. Nothing sung/said is merely a formality. Not all of it is ‘consequential’. But all of it is confrontational. Hwæt! No ‘arrival’ lacks a ‘departure’. What comes in must go out; what goes up must come down. Beowulf ‘confronts’ any and all who would cling to wishful thinking or self-delusion. The end is not ‘tragic’; it just ‘is’.

W hy are there four funerals in Beowulf? Some people make a big thing about thematic repetition and the rhetoric of ‘aftermaths’. Yes, well... As a person descended from Scandinavian ancestors and as one who has read the Eddas since I was about 15, these epics and skaldic ‘lays’ and so on are just profoundly weird. At 3,182 lines length, its epic-oid length does lend to it something of the status of holy scripture—something more canonical and purposefully-structured than a clan fable.

B ut the monster slaying and fight scenes are playful—not unlike modern fantasy lit, if you ignore the extreme agèdness of the manuscript.

T he repetitions in Beowulf might be thought to be driven by the poetics or vocality of the thing. But the repeats have meta-linguistic effects, too. There is a normative fugue-like texture—which makes us notice the variations or ‘counterpoint’. These come alive in Bagby’s performance, whereas they are likely otherwise to remain mute on the printed page. You have to experience the thing ‘live’ to really ‘get it’.

T he epicness of Beowulf is conveyed by many aspects of its style—for example, the namelessness of many of the speakers. We don't know the messenger’s name; we don’t know the name of the mourning woman at the end of the poem; we don’t know the names of the retainers who ride around Beowulf’s funeral pyre. We’re not meant to know them; their names aren’t important to the story-as-epic. In fact, selective anonymity is part of what makes us know it’s an ‘epic’.

T he poet’s point of view is one recalling some much earlier time—and Bagby’s performance, a reenactment of that recall. He brings that recalled world “forward”, into the Present, just as the poet did into his own Present.

I  ask myself, ‘Why?’ Why would anybody want to do this, as a performative sort of social or collective memory? For what purposes? What good would it do?

F or the poet, this wasn’t a clannish or courtly entertainment—nor, for us, is it some minor amusement to be consumed quickly and forgotten. It has real substance—weight. It’s a timely political statement—according to John Hill. He notes that the medieval world was “institutionally more complex... church and clergy, king and court. It was socially stratified for different levels of nobility and landholdings, including slavery, and was economically organized for both mundane and prestige trade... Wessex and Mercia and other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms are in a world of sometimes-hostile arrivals and departures, of aetheling tensions and assassinations... Perhaps the narrative pulse of Beowulf ... might be taken by Anglo-Saxons as a model, for their times, of good customs, heroic/fame-enhancing behaviour, and great kingship in at least two forms: the two-generational Danish model and the Beowulfian model of sovereignty, enlarged to include broader kinship amity.”

A    rrivals, especially unanticipated ones, are electric with possibilities—with unexpected surprises ranging from the pleasant and desired, to the tense and potentially dangerous, to the terrible and unwished-for... Departures are often auspicious, full of promise and hope, although they also signify terror's monstrous flight... Each human departure involves an enlargement of possibility, with Beowulf's departure from the Danes being the most expansively promising one in the poem... In those moments, either positive or negative outcomes are possible, indeed sometimes intertwining or sometimes just lurking as potential. They inform the social action of the poem even as the many arrivals and departures create its overall and variable narrative pulse.”
  —  John Hill, p. 5.
I n comparable fashion, the globalized world of 2009, torn by conflict and economic recession as it is, is institutionally still more complex. More complex, even, than just one year ago. Traditional governance and sovereignty are seriously disrupted in several parts of the world—including, so it seems, here in the U.S. Regulatory institutions seemingly have been co-opted by the very people and organizations who they were intended to regulate, with catastrophic results.

I n other words, Beowulf is way more than a ‘creative anachronism’ or medieval ‘curio’ or museum-piece. It’s a parable for—oh, say, now.

 Risden book
K ennings’ are a significant feature in Beowulf. They’re evocative phrases that stand for everyday things. They’re not cute euphemisms/amphilogisms, nor are they comedic sarcasms. They’re not coy ways to avoid saying an ‘unlucky’ word—like ‘death’—thereby to avoid inadvertently inviting the thing-that-shall-not-be-named into your midst (as the Tlingit and other traditional peoples believe).

Y es, the kennings are alliteration- and meter-appropriate “fits” for the contexts where they occur in the text. But they’re far more than that—and it’s ‘cool’ to hear Bagby perform these gems and pour into them their real, full-blown meaning.

F or example, the skald calls the clan ‘Spear-Danes’—evoking a bellicosity that maybe Danes aren’t so famous for anymore. He calls the sea a ‘whale-road’—this evokes a liveliness and interspecies danger that we scarcely think of anymore, in the era of modern ships, and commoditized human-centric seaway-as-inanimate-resource, and GPS nav. A king is called a ‘ring-giver’ or, at other times, a ‘breaker-of-rings’—evoking not only autocratic privilege but merit-based social generosity and, alternately, unjust/capricious renunciations by those who wield power. The king as ‘guardian-of-hoards’ suggests not only personal wealth and power but a devotion to the public interest and the commonweal—far more public-centered than current or recent notions of a ‘Strong Unitary Executive’.

  • Sleep-of-the-sword—Death
  • Mighty-wanderer-of-wastelands—horror, Death (Grendel)
  • Raven-harvest—battle-field corpses
  • Battle-sweat—blood
  • War-friend—sword
  • Mind’s-worth—honor, valor
  • Horse-of-the-whale-road—ship
  • Foamy-necked-floater—ship
  • Gold-friend—retainer, loyal knight
  • Gannett’s-bath—sea
  • World-candle—sun
T here are these many fantastic kennings in Beowulf. To me, the devices seem less ‘formulaic’ or prosodical or circumlocutory than they are ‘out-of-the-box-thinking-compelling’. Benjamin Bagby confronts us and helps us to constructively absorb this deeply disturbing tale and derive new contemporary meanings from it. Beautiful performing art, yes, it is that. But, in the same spirit as J.R.R. Tolkien once argued that Beowulf is the poet’s elegy for (and warning from—) a culture long-gone, Bagby exhorts us to hope and strive in order that our own cultures survive the epic challenges that we presently face.

T    he dyers of the wolf’s fangs
squandered the Reddened Swan’s meat;
The hawk of the sword’s dew
fed on the heroes of the field—
The serpents of the Geats’ moons
fulfilled the Will of the Irons.
   ... by Egil Skallagrimsson, warrior/embedded-journalist at Brunanburh.”
  —  Jorge Luis Borges, The kenning. New Yorker, 26-JAN-1976.

 Hill book

22 February 2009

The Composer Vanishes: Solving the Diffusion Equation Shows that Adès’s ‘Arcadiana’ is Really a Quintet with a Fifth Un-voiced ‘Phantom’ Part

 DSM. Entropy-diffusion from composer Thos. Adès, in absentia, to and through string quartet artists performing ‘Arcadiana’, iii

B   oth form and content in Adès’s music depend upon the multivalent conjunctions that may be derived from relatively elemental forms of continuity… Analyses of ‘Arcadiana’ illustrate the paradoxical nature of postmodern musical time, in which a narrative linear interpretation may emerge from the higher-level perception of locally-concurrent periodicities and trends… Rhythmic analysis entails identifying projections of duration and pitch, as well as processes of timbre and dynamics… In some cases, these interactions are mutually reinforcing; in others, they may embody reorientation or conflict, not to mention ironic deception.”
  —  John Roeder, Music Analysis 2006; 25:121-54.
A    dès’s music merits special attention because of the consistency with which it employs elemental continuities, and because of the variety of temporalities that the composer derives from them... Continuity [is] defined as an association between two percepts, formed when the second realises a mental projection that was made as part of the first. Generally, continuity manifests itself in sequences of successive pitches, or in series of pitch percepts that are not literally successive... It may also subsist in more abstract projections and realisations of duration...”
  —  John Roeder, p. 122.
T he Jupiter String Quartet delivered a wonderful account of Thomas Adès’s String Quartet Op. 12, ‘Arcadiana’ (Venezia notturna; Das klinget so herrlich, das klinget so schön; Auf dem Wasser zu singen; Et... (tango mortale); L’embarquenment; O, Albion; Lethe) [1994] in Kansas City on Friday night in the Friends of Chamber Music 2008-2009 series—this in a program that also included Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in A minor, Op. 13, and Beethoven’s String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2.

  • Nelson Lee and Meg Freivogel, violins
  • Liz Freivogel, viola
  • Daniel McDonough, cello
I n 2008, the Jupiter String Quartet received the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, and in 2007 the Quartet won the Cleveland Quartet Award from Chamber Music America. This year is the final year in the Jupiters’ three-year residency with Lincoln Center’s ‘Chamber Music Society Two’. From 2004 to 2006, the Quartet was enrolled in the Professional String Quartet Training Program at New England Conservatory, earning Master of Music degrees in Chamber Music.

A dès wrote his first and, to date, only string quartet in 1994, under commission from Endellion Quartet in the U.K. The work is highly regarded by both performers and by theorists, and has been the subject of several important published analyses. The first several bars of the third movement (‘Auf dem Wasser zu singen’ [To be sung on the water]) are especially amenable to a kind of analysis that I think can shed light on the theme of the whole work—‘vanishing’ and mortality. That is what this post is about...

F ranz Schubert’s ‘Auf dem Wasser zu singen’ D. 774 (1823) is a setting of Friedrich Leopold Graf zu Stolberg-Stolberg’s poem, written in 1782—which Adès took as an inspiration/calibration for this third movement.

M    itten im Schimmer der spiegelnden Wellen
Gleitet, wie Schwäne, der wankende Kahn:
Ach, auf der Freude sanftschimmernden Wellen
Gleitet die Seele dahin wie der Kahn;
Denn von dem Himmel herab auf die Wellen
Tanzet das Abendrot rund um den Kahn.

Über den Wipfeln des westlichen Haines
Winket uns freundlich der rötliche Schein;
Unter den Zweigen des östlichen Haines
Säuselt der Kalmus im rötlichen Schein;
Freude des Himmels und Ruhe des Haines
Atmet die Seel im errötenden Schein.

Ach, es entschwindet mit tauigem Flügel
Mir auf den wiegenden Wellen die Zeit;
Morgen entschwinde mit schimmerndem Flügel—
Wieder wie gestern und heute die Zeit—
Bis ich auf höherem strahlendem Flügel
Selber entschwinde der wechselnden Zeit.

[Amid the glimmer of sparkling waves,
The bobbing boat glides like a swan:
Ah, the soul glides onward like the boat,
On shimmering, gleaming waves of joy;
For the sunset glow, shining down from heaven
Upon the waves, dances all ‘round the boat.

The rosy light winks at us
From above the treetops of the western wood;
Beneath the branches of the eastern wood,
The reeds whisper in the light—
In the reddening glow, the soul breathes
The joy of heaven, the peace of the grove.

Ah, alas, Time itself vanishes on dewy wings and I with It,
Into the weighty cradle of the waves.
Tomorrow, Time will fly away on glistening wings—
As it did today and yesterday and the day before—
Until I myself fly away from Time’s inconstancy
On yet loftier, more radiant wings.] ”
  —  Friedrich Leopold Graf zu Stolberg-Stolberg, ‘Auf dem Wasser zu singen’ [To be sung on the Water], 1782.
H ow does this piece work? What makes ‘Arcadiana’ ‘tick’? I look first at my rhythm metrics... These are not Fibonacci series... Ah, this quartet feels like a diffusion problem! Analytical solutions to heat- and mass-transfer problems reduce to solving partial differential equations (PDEs)—in this case, the so-called ‘heat equation’, treating the medium as a homogeneous solid under appropriate initial and boundary conditions. Hypothetically, the IC and BC can include convective and radiative interactions with the environment, but in the present example of Adès’s ‘Arcadiana’ I ignore convection and radiation possibilities.

M any analytical solutions of the heat equation refer just to the simple one-dimensional situation, with a ‘heat capacity’ c, a ‘diffusion coefficient’ k, and a ‘loss term’, φ, to account for dissipation of energy as diffusion proceeds.

 DSM. Diffusion equation with dissipation term φ
T he Endellion Quartet recording of ‘Arcadiana’ is the only one currently available. But, obviously, it is not possible to separate the four parts in the stereo channels. So I transcribed each part into Finale®, played each track individually, ripped myself MP3s from those, converted to WAV files, and began examining entropy as a function of time using FAWAV® and MATLAB®’s signal-processing toolbox.

 DSM. Wavelet-transform entropy analysis of viola part, mm. 1-4, ‘Arcadiana’, iii
T he results surprise even me. Using Crank-Nicholson finite-difference math to solve the 1-dimensional diffusion equation for propagation of entropy S(t), I find that the entropy pulse in the viola part diffuses to the cello, which appears to be sitting a “virtual 1,600 msec” away. Then the same entropy pulse appears, diffusing to the vn2 part with a smaller peak amplitude and more spread-out, consistent with a non-zero ‘dissipation’ within the expressive ‘medium’ constituted by the music. The vn2 appears to be located, according to the Crank-Nicholson solution of the diffusion equation, at a distance of about 2,100 msec from the cello. Further downstream, vn1 experiences the diffusing entropy pulse, at a virtual distance 1,200 msec away from vn2.

 Example 11a from John Roeder, ‘Co-operating continuities in the music of Thos. Adès’, Music Anal 2006; 25:121-54
A   dès often combines such elemental durational and pitch continuities within a single stream so that their realised projections are made to reinforce one another ... a series of regularly increasing and descending pitch-intervals unfolds [in ‘Arcadiana’, iii] within a sequence of regularly decreasing durations.”
  —  John Roeder, p. 126.
T   he effects of harmonic confluence may lead to a blurring of streams, and thus to a clear sense of temporal interaction, not merely co-operation. Example 11a renotates and simplifies the first eight bars of the third movement of ‘Arcadiana’ in order to foreground the two streams of activity which characterise this passage. In the pizzicato stream, the instruments alternate transpositions of the accelerating expanding-interval motive... The registral and transformational termination of the motive’s accelerating free-fall imparts a frustrated potential energy to its final interval that finds only tentative release in the contrasting tremolos of hexatonically stacked perfect fifths...”
  —  John Roeder, p. 141.

T hese results by themselves were fascinating to me. But then I got to thinking. Who is the ‘source’? The patterns account for the palpable, organically-sensible relative locations of four performers experiencing an entropy wave. But where is the entity who emitted this entropy wave? Can we use the PDE solution to impute where that ‘phantom’ source is ‘located’ with respect to the 1-D positions of the other players? (Click on the jpeg below to download the Excel spreadsheet with the C-N results in it.)

 DSM, Crank-Nicholson solution for entropy-diffusion in mm.1-4 of Thos. Adès’s ‘Arcadiana’, iii
A nd the answer is, ‘Yes’! If we take the ‘source’ of the entropy wave to be the composer in-absentia, then the diffusion equation says that that invisible, inaudible phantom is located about 3,200 msec upstream of the viola (jpeg at top of this CMT post). This piece is a quasi-quintet where the fifth player is absent!

A ctually, encouraged by the preliminary findings above today I’ve begun to do more calculations from other sections of this movement. And it appears that not only do the four string parts move around with respect to each other, as evidenced by the diffusion of entropy pulses propagating between and amongst them, so too does the phantom of Adès move, hovering at times very nearby one part and at other times watching the quartet at what is apparently a great distance.

 John Roeder, Mus Analysis 2006; 25:121-54, Example 1c, Arcadiana, iii, mm. 1-2
 John Roeder, Mus Analysis 2006; 25:121-54, Table 1
J ohn Roeder’s wonderful 2006 article in the journal Music Analysis—on coordinated continuities in Adès—is a great contribution to our understanding, illuminating a number of the features and mechanics of what Adès is doing. But I think what we have here (in entropy-diffusion evidence) is far deeper and far more symbolic (of Adès’s theme of mortality and vanishing) than Roeder and others have thus far recognized. What Adès has constructed here is nothing less than a statistical physics ‘diffusion chamber’ in which the four living performers together create an acoustic entropy field that strongly implies the existence/presence of the music’s creator. We are each familiar with the diffusion of a solute like sugar as it dissolves in a cup of tea; we are each familiar with the diffusion of heat by conduction through the cup from the hot inside to the surface that we hold in our hand. And the diffusive/dissipative effects that Adès has crafted here also strike the performer/listener as intuitively, empirically, palpably familiar. The fact that we can quantitatively model them and analyze them with pretty fancy math tools does not in any way diminish the fact that the underlying cognitive physics that Adès is using is utterly elemental, utterly organic.

A rcadiana’ is very difficult to play, yes. But when played well, the quartet evokes a physical reality that belies the technical difficulty. The very memory and spirit of the person who is absent are reanimated by the performers. We sense Adès’s presence through the implied [silent] fifth voice that is the source of the entropy waves that percolate throughout the other four parts. I find this deeply beautiful, as I hope you do as well. Thank you, Thomas! Thank you, Jupiters!

W   e are particularly fond of the ‘Arcadiana’ quartet. We wish Thomas would get busy and write more quartets.”
  — Daniel McDonough, Jupiter String Quartet, 20-FEB-2009, remark over supper.

 Jupiter String Quartet

20 February 2009

Nicholas Kitchen, Whale Rider

 Nicholas Kitchen, Right Whale with white callosities

A   s I began to learn these Sonatas and Partitas when I was young, I first looked at this one and I thought of it as a great, white, snow-capped mountain. And, then, here was another wonderful white mountain. And another one… Six beautiful white mountains. But with the passing years and as my understanding of them grew—as I was able to stand back and benefit from the perspective—I came to see them in a new light. The glistening white violin Sonatas and Partitas [BWV 1001-1006] are like the white callosities on the head of a giant whale. What Bach created in these works is far bigger [than we might first imagine, or than we can ever really fathom]. Each is a part of one giant, living thing.”
  —  Nicholas Kitchen, pre-concert remarks, Park University, 19-FEB-2009.
O    n the east coast of New Zealand, the Whangara people believe their presence there dates back a thousand years or more to a single ancestor, named Paikea, who escaped death when his canoe capsized by riding to shore on the back of a whale.”
  —  Whale Rider, 2003.
I t was exquisite and devastating, Nicholas Kitchen’s performance of the Bach violin Sonatas and Partitas last evening, the culmination of a series of lectures and master-classes he had given over several days at Park University in Kansas City. The scope and scale of the 3-hour-plus concert were tremendous; the staggering panoramic beauty, pathos, and joy of it—these pieces that are so seldom heard all in one sitting.

K itchen’s thoughtful remarks prior to commencing each Sonata-Partita pair were almost as delightful as his playing. A further treat for us in the audience was to read as the pages of Bach’s original score were projected on a large screen behind Kitchen, as he played from a chest-high tripod-mounted laptop PC controlled by a foot-pedal-actuated Page/ScoreTurner.

 PageTurner, FooTime pedal
F or ‘historically-informed performance’ (HIP) buffs, the experience was even more deeply fulfilling and illuminating because of this feature. The digitized Bach manuscript flowed by. Kitchen gently tapped the left-hand pedal button to return up-page for the repeats. We saw on the projection screen each and every one of Kitchen’s decisions in real-time, on-the-fly: his interpretations of every trill and mordent; his judgments about every appoggiatura—everything.

T he fluid lines and elegance of Bach’s own hand—the wavy thirty-second-note beaming; the capricious, dashed slurs and ligatures, whose agile ink-shapes belie Bach’s certitude and exuberance while his almighty pen flew across the manuscript paper: the music is ever so much more alive when we see this! For Kitchen to use the laptop and real-time m.s. projection in a concert performance was a gesture of great daring and generosity—especially for the many Conservatory professors and students in the audience. (Pray that MSwindows/MacOS does not crash! Pray that there is no electrical surge from a passing thunderstorm!) Hell, the feat that Kitchen accomplished was a soul-baring tour-de-force, the likes of which I had never seen before. It was like seeing the live video feed from a mountain-climber tackling K2, wearing a helmet-cam during the ascent. If ever a performance were to merit a standing ovation, this was it!

 M.S., Bach Sonata No. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001
I n the past I’ve heard Nicholas perform as a member of the Borromeo Quartet, but in that ensemble setting I’d never adequately heard the delicacy of his technique nor comprehended the nuances of his interpretations—purely a limitation of my hearing acuity and of my attention, not a fault of Borromeos. The 1730 ‘Baron Vita’ Goldberg ‘Guarneri del Gesú’ does allow a range of gorgeous possibilities. And these Sonatas and Partitas do admit a wide range of emotional topography to cover. But this! The prodigious polyphony and multi-stopping. The louré/portato/cantabile that articulates each note without a hitch! The arpeggiati: traversing extreme rock and ice, solo, without a belayer. The ornamentation-world-without-end, amen. Desolation in minor keys, beyond any you have known. Joy in C major and E major, enough to heal almost anything. OMG. An air-tight exposition of the eternal dichotomy of Fate and human empowerment: how can they co-exist?

Y ou’re inexplicably caught up by a strong musical ‘current’ that pulls you into its emotional ‘undertow’ for three hours straight. You go ahead: you give in to it; you let go! You go with the Whale! If you count 16th notes “one-ee-and-ah, two-ee-and-ah”, most melody notes occur on ‘numerals’, not on ‘ands’. But in these Sonatas and Partitas we hear Bach (and Kitchen) pushing the melodic line onto ‘ands’, for the sheer effect that it has. Multiple lines—a solo instrument, manifesting multiple vocal lines and multi-voice leading simultaneously—especially with double-, triple- and quadruple-stops. One voice on the numeral-labeled downbeats; the other voice on upbeats. The ear and the mind follow each. The spontaneous effect is to cause us to recognize our own inner-voice/conscience, in dialogue with our conscious ego. Neither has a dominance or superior power; both are legitimate and necessary parts/aspects of the ‘whole’ self. At least that’s what Kitchen’s interpretation of Bach’s figuration does to me as I listen… Maybe you, too.

 Nicholas Kitchen, photo © Christian Steiner
  • Sonata No. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001 (Adagio; Fuga [allegro]; Siciliano; Presto)
  • Partita No. 1 in B minor, BWV 1002 (Allemanda; Double; Corrente; Double; Sarabande; Double; Tempo di Bourée; Double)
  • Sonata No. 2 in A minor, BWV 1003 (Grave; Fuga; Andante; Allegro)
  • Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004 (Allemande; Corrente; Sarabanda; Giga; Ciaccona)
  • Sonata No. 3 in C major, BWV 1005 (Adagio; Fuga [alla breve]; Largo; Allegro assai)
  • Partita No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006 (Preludio; Loure; Gavotte en rondeau; Menuet I; Menuet II; Bourée; Giga)
W    hen I have presented this cycle before, I have found audiences very moved by the enormous architecture and profound emotional content of it—all drawn from the tiny ‘box’ of one violin.”
  — Nicholas Kitchen, program notes, Park University, 19-FEB-2009.
T    his is the very womb and bed of Enormity.”
  —  Ben Jonson, ‘Bartholomew Fair’, 1614.