Support! Shop our affiliates!
Sheet Music PlusFeatured Sale

Weekly Rampage Archives

Search for Keyword:  in Rampages 

Home Page

June 28, 2005
Vol. V, No. 14

"Flash in the Pan"
As I was playing Bach's Prelude and Fugue in A Minor (BWV 543) last Sunday for my prelude, I was thinking how hard it is to "show off" while playing Bach. The music is so demanding musically, technically and intellectually that the player has little energy left for self-aggrandizing. In addition, the music was written to express "the Greater" and not "the person" so its very nature resists coopting by the performer.

That's not to say that Bach's free works can't be played in a flashy manner however I don't see the point in it as the player is essentially throwing the baby out with the bath water. Flashy pieces are by nature more "flash" than substance. That characteristic is the antithesis of Bach's music which is all substance.

The expression 'flash in the pan' means, chiefly, 'a brief intense effort that produces negligible results.' For more, click here:

And that's not to say that flashy pieces can't be technically demanding. They usually are but that ruins them for me. Why work so hard to learn a piece that in the end sounds simplistic? That's not fun. Bach's music sounds substantial without sounding hard. Now that's clever.

Last week I heard a performance of Bach's Prelude and Fugue in C Major (BWV 545). The program notes described it as "rarely performed" and much was made of the Italian influence on Bach in this piece. I happen to know this piece and play it fairly often. For my taste, it was played much too quickly with the result that the many rich harmonic gestures were simply tossed away.

I don't doubt Bach was influenced by the Italian school however I don't feel it follows that that means the piece should be played in a flashy and presto manner. Homages come in all shapes and sizes. A) We don't know how fast Bach played in general let alone this piece, B) we don't know Bach's intentions homage-wise toward the Italians and C) we don't even know how fast the Italians played.

When trying to determine tempo, many people go to the fact that the organs of the day would have kept Bach and others playing more slowly in general than modern folk. That implies that they would have played faster if they could have. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Functional tonality has internal mechanisms that are available to the player. Do you just blow through that cadence or do you acknowledge it in some way? That interpretation is how the player communicates the music to the listener. If you've spent any time reading aloud, you understand that it's very different from reading to yourself. The faster and more machine-like you read, the less satisfying the experience for the listener.

I've often heard organists accusing other organists of grandstanding during church services. The implication is that the player is more interested in giving a concert than integrating his offerings into the service. Perhaps it's not the playing that needs adjusting but the service, to embrace a broader definition of worship. After all, a beautiful bird does not diminish Nature.

Click this link to read comments and offer your own:

Updated Pages
Composition Free Exchange:
Added is a composition by community member Will Rogers for Violin, Cello and Piano.

Musician Jokes:
Added is a joke about "The Dangers of Music."

RAMPAGE FLASHBACK (It was four years ago today, about)
Getting Religion, Part 2 June 15, 2001
Two weeks ago I highlighted an article about J.S. Bach by Bernard D. Sherman. If you visited Mr. Sherman's website, you may have read another article there, a review of the book "Bach and the Patterns of Invention," by Laurence Dreyfus. Mr. Sherman's review will give you plenty to think about even before you read Dreyfus' book.
Click the following link for more:


Have a great week!

Dan Long

Have an Opinion on this Topic?
If you would like to share your opinion or see what others have to say, please click here.

Weekly Rampage Archives: Click here for Back Issues.