Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Voices and Destiny, Counterpoint and Fugue

Bruce Adolphe [link to his web site] has written one of the most beautiful album notes I have ever read for the ``Bach, Beethoven, Haydn: Juilliard String Quartet 50 Years, Vol. 2'' CD. [link on allmusic] Here are some excerpts:

The word fugue, to many music lovers, implies a technically complex musical edifice, cerebral by nature and rigid in its architecture. Actually, a fugue is---like all valued formal procedures of our musical heritage---the embodiment of a metaphor, a way of understanding the world. ...

Counterpoint exists everywhere in life; it is as natural as overlapping conversations at the dinner table, ... Our minds, too, are involved in constant counterpoint: even as we cross the street while thinking about our work, we are engaged in higher-order counterpane activity. Counterpoint, in music, is the simultaneous but independent activity of voices. The degree to which the voices are heard as separate but equal (which works in art if not in life) or as co-dependent is up to both composer and listener.

Fugue is a particularly spiritual kind of counterpoint: it has to do with destiny. The question of free will and destiny is fundamental to human discourse, and naturally has its artistic manifestations. By virtue of its controlled procedure, its predetermined technical to-do list, it projects in music a sense of something larger than self. The self is fairly obviously represented by the subject (as the main motif of a fugue is called). The musical journey that is then designed by the composer---following a much freer procedure than most noncomposers imagine---related the story of the protagonist (subject) asserting his will out in the deterministic world (fugue). ...

Bach is regarded by musicians as the master of fugue because he found the perfect balance between vertical and horizontal music, that is, between harmony and melody. What this means is that the metaphor is at its richest. Harmony is destiny, it is the controlling element, the underlying foundation; the melody is free will, it is the movement between vertical pillars, the assertion of self. Because Bach perfectly balances harmony and melody, he creates a profoundly complex spiritual design which is universal in meaning. ... --- Bruce Adolphe, album notes, Bach, Beethoven, Haydn
I am not sure if he fully appreciates the depth and relevance of what he has written. In my experience, people (specially artists) often have profound wisdom without knowing it! :)

1 comment:

  1. 2016-12-07: I watched this 4-part BBC series from 1972 yesterday, John Berger's "Ways of Seeing". The first part is an amazing meditation on the nature of meaning, point of view, movement, and time:

    https://youtu.be/0pDE4VX_9Kk

    ReplyDelete

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