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Bach and Sex

 

 

Bach's music sexy?

Continue of discussion from: Bach the Evangelist Part 2

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 5, 2005):
<< He had 20 children by two wives. That means he had a LOT of sex. We have every right to be as solicitous of his sex life as of his religious life. His music is VERY sexy, actually. Every aspect of his life has to be somehow related to his music. >>
< Indeed, the soundtrack to a rogering is a pretty obvious possibility in interpretation of the keyboard fantasia BWV 922. Especially the buildup into the last page with the pounding chords in the left hand, and then the way the texture changes into the Presto...and then the more Adagio type of ending, after that. >
Example: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/
"Bach-BWV-922-ending.wma"

With an untexted and free piece like this, whatever goes through the listeners' minds is their own business. And likewise, whatever goes through a musician's mind playing the piece, during the flow of the notes and rhythms and accents, is his/her own business. The result is sound and it's not about anybody's presumed morals. An interpretation is either musically satisfying (as to any underlying dramatic drive that was allegedly in the composer's mind when setting up the structure and progression) in the resulting sound, or it could be done with clearer focus, more sensitivity to the composition's shaping and surprises, more boldness of differentiation.

So, is this piece sexy? All I can say is, I've played it rather like this manner in several concerts, sometimes more wildly, and listeners have reported afterward being very excited and pleased by what they heard...both in applause and in later comments. They didn't say it was specifically about anything in particular, but only that it was enjoyable and effective. I think a slower or quieter reading of the last few bars could work just as well, in a different way, and the notation doesn't make clear which would be "better". I've also heard it played with much less flair than this, more metrically square, and it was merely dull that way.

Leonardo Been wrote (June 5, 2005):
[To Bradlely Lehman] Nice to mention it.

The music intends to connect to life - this can (and in some people apparently did and does - so I have experienced, and so those of the opposite sex have told or shown to me - that it can) result in freeing up a very strong desire to connect sexually to the opposite sex.

The same intention or Energy, you find in Mozart's music, which accounts for the 'Mozart effect' too:

It is the intention (Energy) to connect to life.

And life consists of people, also of

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (June 5, 2005):
[To Leonardo Been] also of what or whom? I am intrigued by the truncation of your post.

Tom Dent wrote (June 6, 2005):
Bach the XXXXXX

Bradley Lehman wrote: < Indeed, the soundtrack to a rogering is a pretty obvious possibility in interpretation of the keyboard fantasia BWV 922. Especially the buildup into the last page with the pounding chords in the left hand, and then the way the texture changes into the Presto...and then the more Adagio type of ending, after that. >
If this is the A minor, this has been variously described as an 'early' work or even of 'doubtful authenticity'. Still, it doubtless records some energetic composer's Vorspiel (literal translation) and Liebestod (metaphor).

Now, I don't see anyone trying to relate Bach's consumption of food and drink to his music - with only one, quite obvious, exception. I have, though, seen the modern style of violin-playing referred to as 'sausage-making' on account of its uniformly full and meaty sonority. Conversely, one choral conductor I've sung with asked for 'lentil-shaped notes'.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (June 6, 2005):
Tom Dent wrote: < If this is the A minor, this has been variously described as an 'early' work or even of 'doubtful authenticity'. Still, it doubtless records some energetic composer's Vorspiel (literal translation) and Liebestod (metaphor). >
it not this energetic composer's last named item actually called Isoldes Verklärung? It was my understanding that the term "Liebestod" was someone's else appellation that has become attached to the Transfiguration of the lady involved.

Doug Cowling wrote (June 6, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] Actually, she finally has an orgasm and, as a Wagnerian heroine, must resolve harmonically and die.

Doug Cowling wrote (June 6, 2005):
Tom Dent wrote: < Now, I don't see anyone trying to relate Bach's consumption of food and drink to his music - with only one, quite obvious, exception. I have, though, seen the modern style of violin-playing referred to as 'sausage-making' on account of its uniformly full and meaty sonority. Conversely, one choral conductor I've sung with asked for 'lentil-shaped notes'. >
During the 1985 tricentennial, there was a Bach marathon in Toronto during which people were given a "Bach's Lunch" between concerts.

Leonardo Been wrote (June 6, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] Also of... someone you actually do love very much?

I have not intended a truncation, and there was no truncation in my post, in the post of

Charles Francis wrote (June 6, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < Example: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/
"Bach-BWV-922-ending.wma"
With an untexted and free piece like this, whatever goes through the listeners' minds is their own business. And likewise, whatever goes through a musician's mind playing the piece, during the flow of the notes and rhythms and accents, is his/her own business. >
Ever done a Rorschach test, Bradley?
http://www.stupidstuff.org/main/rorschach.htm

There's a dynamic envelope here, perhaps an organ piece by Bach? Everything is in stereo, but with a lot of echo. I notice some mirror fugues as well, and, of course, invertible counterpoint. Also, an allusion to a symmetrical temperament.

Joel Figen wrote (June 6, 2005):
[To Charles Francis] When I described Bach's music as "sexy," I was using the term in one of its vernacular usages to mean something like, "attractive and effortlessly but innocently sensuous," not "explicitly erotic." But words, like ink blots, sometimes elicit whatever we have on hand. Bach's rhythms are, to my hearing, mostly too square to depict eroticism (im)proper.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 6, 2005):
[To Joel Figen] When those rhythms are played in a "geometrical" manner (i.e. with a modern "Urtext" literalism having little or nothing to do with Baroque music), or a more "vitalist" and gestural manner by performers who are sensitive to the irregular shapes those notated rhythms represent? (See Taruskin's contrast for "geometrical" and "vitalist"....)

To play the rhythms in a way that sounds square and unsensual is simply to punish the notational system for not being precise enough; everything gets reduced to the round-off error of regularity.... What living/breathing things, whether they're being sensuous or not, move in ways that are regular and square?

Charles Francis wrote (June 7, 2005):
[To John Pike] Clearly, Thomas regards as aberrant the suggestion that Bach's church music may depict an act of carnal knowledge. However, given the complaint of the church authorities about young Bach taking a strange maiden to his organ practice, perhaps we should be open to such possibilities. Nevertheless, I also feel we should respect the right of others to react with righteous indignation to what is presumably considered to be musicology at its most corrupt, base and blasphemous.

As mentioned by another correspondent, words are rather like inkblots, in that their interpretation lies with the reader. Therefore, I would suggest that the perception of expert dissent as "poisonous attacks" is simply a particular reader's self-projection.

Joel Figen wrote (June 10, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] I approve of both t, actually. Some pieces or sections work best in a more geometric way, others in a more topological rendition. I don't like the term "vitalist," since I find life in both. Too much rigidity kills the music and so does too much freedom. The truth is usually somewhere in between. And there can be many truths, or we needn't bother playing the stuff...

As an example of a single work that includes both extremes, I cite the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in dm. The Opening scales and ensuing toccata-like sections need a fair amount of freedom, or they become mechanical. The ensuing prelude-like arpeggios want a great deal more interpretation. (As you know, they're written as block chords.)

But the remainder of the fantasia, usually referred to as a recitative, is really a magnificent spoof on grand opera, in the form of a series of recitatives sung by various characters, sometimes in duet, passing through more and more varieties of emotion, becoming less and less singable, and culminating in an arioso so forlorn that it must speak of unbearable loss and resignation. (Anyone who plays the Tierce de Picardy as notated at the end of the fantasia just doesn't get it, imho, even though it's written out in every edition I've seen. This one has to be minor :) Btw, I breathe this entire section as if I were singing it. I think it really has to be done that way. This is far more than a recitative. It's a complete Mad Scene. This could also be an example of how Bach played continuo, as you described in your paper on the subject: mostly just a chord here and there. At the beginning of the recitative the chords seem to be on the wrong side of the voice lines, perhaps an indication that this is a spoof. Nevertheless, it's incredibly fine music.

The fugue, the other hand, wants to be mostly square and geometric, not completely mechanical, but I'd say any interpretive devices should be fairly subtle: perhaps an agogic accent here and there, with slightly more freedom toward the end. The last two measures, however, I analyze as a recap of the fantasia, not as the ending of the fugue. Therefore it is to be played freely, and possibly amplified with a bit of improv. These are my interpretations, of course, and your mileage may vary.

I would also point out that it's possible to make a boring fetish out of things like notes inegales, agogic accent, and so on. Sometimes the beauty comes out best if you just play it more or less literally. The more crystaline the structure, the less it benefits from time warping.

Perhaps the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue is a musical description of what Sebastian did to the unrelated young lady in the organ loft that day? We'll probably never know. But it is very sexy music. In years past, way past, I used to slip the George Malcolm recording of the CF&F in between a stack of blues and acid rock LPs and play it for my pre-stoner buds. They all loved the Bach, and some of them described it as "This is an orgy for the senses. A Bach orgy."

Neil Halliday wrote (June 11, 2005):
Joel Figen wrote: <"....and culminating in an arioso so forlorn that it must speak of unbearable loss and resignation. (Anyone who plays the Tierce de Picardy as notated at the end of the fantasia just doesn't get it, imho, even though it's written out in every edition I've seen.">
There is an album entitled 'Selected Piano Works (of) J.S.Bach' which contains an expanded and developed version of the CF and F that makes use of the extended compass of the piano's keyboard (especially in the bass); both the Fantasia and Fugue end with a very 'black' D minor chord which seems wholly appropriate in the light of the preceding matetial. Perhaps this work is one instance where the instrument available to Bach (with compass about 4 octaves) did not allow him to fully develop the inherent potential of this music, which the piano score realises splendidly. (Every other piece in the album is note for note Bach; I see also that the BGA score has the ending of both movements of this work in D major)

Speaking of 'sexy' music, I agree this Fantasia definitely requires a 'triple X' rating; with its unbridled passion it is not suitable for the devotional mood required in a church service.

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Last update: June 11, 2005 16:41:04