Tuesday, July 28, 2015
A long time ago-so long ago, I'm not exactly sure when, but I think it was no later than summer 1977,because my maternal grandmother was still alive, I was caught by a sequence in a moment on film seen on television. It depicted a young man studying. The music in the background, an orchestral version of Bach's Little Fugue in G Minor seized me, as it chased itself, twisted around, and came to a satisfying climax.
That was my introduction to Johann Sebastian Bach. There was a sense of something I couldn't name then in the music, something I don't even yet have the right word for. The closest I've ever come to it is that the fugue is a process--the theme's repetitions, overlapping, and build up all rise to a conclusion that is, somehow, inevitable. The sense is even stronger in a good organ version:
That's a 1960s version played by Marie-Claire Alain, and is the very one my other grandmother, the former opera singer and classical musician, gave me. I have very few vinyl records left, but I have that one.
I ran across the clip above, which was recommended to me by YouTube. It does not use John Williams's arrangement from The Paper Chase; it's Leopold Stokowski's, though, and captures the aspects of the fugue that hooked me for life.