JS BACH Pre­lude in C

Stay­ing with the greats Brid­get Mer­mikides tran­scribes a true mu­si­cal mile­stone from Bach’s Well Tem­pered Clavier for solo clas­si­cal gui­tar.

Guitar Techniques - - Contents -

Brid­get Mer­mikides ar­ranges and tran­scribes a true mu­si­cal mile­stone by the mighty Jo­hann Se­bas­tian Bach for clas­si­cal acous­tic gui­tar.

Al­though Jo­hann Se­bas­tian Bach didn’t re­ceive sig­nif­i­cant ap­pre­ci­a­tion dur­ing his life­time, he is now a con­sid­ered one of the great­est and most in­flu­en­tial com­posers of all time. His stag­ger­ing body of work is now uni­ver­sally praised and adored by mu­si­cians. His tech­ni­cal con­trol and deep ex­pres­sion has had a pro­found in­flu­ence not just on Western Art mu­sic but also on a range of di­verse id­ioms in­clud­ing mod­ernism, metal, jazz, pop, elec­tron­ica, tango and be­yond. Many speak of his mu­sic as be­ing of such mu­si­cal per­fec­tion, that it has some kind of higher ‘Truth’, eter­nal through the ages. When it was sug­gested that a Bach piece might be in­cluded on the Voyager probe as ev­i­dence of earthly in­tel­li­gence to any alien life­forms who might in­ter­cept it, a col­league of as­tronomer Carl Sa­gan ob­jected, say­ing: “That would be just show­ing off”.

I’ve selected Bach’s ever-pop­u­lar Pre­lude in C ma­jor, the open­ing piece from The Well-Tem­pered Clavier. Com­pleted in 1722, this book of 24 pre­ludes and fugues for key­board (one for ev­ery ma­jor and mi­nor key in a par­tic­u­lar ‘well-tem­pered’ tun­ing sys­tem) was writ­ten at a time in Bach’s life where he had a sup­port­ive pa­tron and an artis­tic free­dom to hone the in­stru­men­tal and sec­u­lar as­pects of his craft with some au­ton­omy, as op­posed to the gru­elling and of­ten re­stric­tive work­ing en­vi­ron­ment he en­dured for much of his later life.

The Pre­lude in C Ma­jor is made up largely of a re­peat­ing (and quite ‘gui­taris­tic’) ar­peg­gio pat­tern that trav­els through an ex­quis­ite har­monic pro­gres­sion. Bach’s ge­nius is ev­i­dent in the way that he takes the largely ‘func­tional’ har­mony and im­bues it with el­e­gance by the use of in­ver­sions (which of the chord de­grees is in the bass), voice-leading (how one chord moves to the next) voic­ings (how the notes are spread out) and pedal tones (the use of static notes against a mov­ing har­mony). For ex­am­ple

Pre­lude in C is one of those pieces that sounds like it should be rel­a­tively easy, but turns out to be some­what tricker than ex­pected.

no­tice how the sim­ple C ma­jor chords in bars 1, 15, 25 and 29 – which any lesser com­poser may treat as iden­ti­cal - dif­fer in terms of voic­ing and in­ver­sion as the piece pro­gresses. There’s also a beau­ti­ful use of ma­jor 7 chords pre­sented in third in­ver­sion (7th in the bass) in bars 8 and 16 (C/B and F/E re­spec­tively) - a gor­geous and pro­gres­sive sonor­ity. Many pieces from this pe­riod would end with I-IV-V7-I (C-F-G7-C), but Bach cre­ates a won­der­ful and so­phis­ti­cated end­ing from this sim­ply frame­work. For ex­am­ple a C7 is in­cluded in bar 32 (a ‘sec­ondary dom­i­nant’ of F) to move to F and then a C pedal tone in the bass is sus­tained through bars 33 and 34, which - with the G7 chord - above it cre­ates an en­gag­ing ten­sion.

This is one of those pieces that sounds like it should be rel­a­tively easy, but turns out to be some­what trick­ier than ex­pected. Al­though the ar­peg­gio pat­tern is repet­i­tive, rhyth­mi­cally even and not too fast, the key­board voic­ings are of­ten close in the bass, re­quir­ing slurs, stretches and some oc­tave dis­place­ments to make the piece playable on the gui­tar.

I’ve kept to the orig­i­nal key of C ma­jor, but used drop D tun­ing which widens the range of pos­si­ble voic­ings. As ever, be pa­tient in prac­tice – us­ing the tab cap­tions to help you through the trick­ier sec­tions – and you’ll be re­warded with an ex­tra­or­di­nary piece to en­joy for years to come.

Bach: the over-used term ge­nius re­ally does ap­ply here

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.