Flatten the Curve

In a fun play on “Flatten the Curve”, I thought I’d include two preludes and fugues  (in “F” and “C” – get it) from Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier – Book 2 as played by the incomparable Edward Aldwell. Ed was my counterpoint teacher at Curtis (he also taught for many years at Mannes!) and he’d often start out our classes by sitting down and playing through one of these preludes and fugues which would then form the basis of our study that day – pure heaven. 

Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier – Book 2 as played by the incomparable Edward Aldwell
Flatten the Curve

Fun fact – I still have lots of my counterpoint exercises in a file folder in my desk (I know, I’m a geek) – and one of my most prized possessions from my student days is a counterpoint I wrote where I managed to write a very long, step-wise line (that followed all the rules) – and which Ed circled and wrote “AWESOME bass line!”

I follow the Bach with the final two movements from Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (Sanctus/Benedictus and Agnus Dei). As much as I adore the 9th Symphony – I have always felt the Missa to be his greatest achievement. Maybe because it’s so much more choral/orchestral throughout. I first heard it when I was around 13, tagging along with my grandmother to Tanglewood Festival Chorus rehearsals – and then finally hearing it live at Tanglewood with the BSO and TFC – Colin Davis conducted. I vividly remember how relentlessly Davis rehearsed the chorus on the exclamations of “pacem” in the Agnus Dei – trying to get just the right explosion of hopeful energy…a great rehearsal!

(Fun fact #2 – I still have a score autographed by Colin Davis, Joseph Silverstein (the great BSO concertmaster) and John Oliver (TFC founder) – another prized possession!)

Listen carefully to the incredible orchestral transition between the Sanctus and Benedictus – the musical equivalent of preparing the table for communion and then that glorious moment when the violin solo appears high up in its range and descends, as if it’s the holy spirit, from on high to be present in our reality…one of Beethoven’s most inspired moments. I could do an entire lecture on the Missa Solemnis alone…but I’ll just leave you to listen to this glorious creation!

I follow that with Aaron Copland’s incredible a cappella setting of the first several verses of Genesis, In The Beginning – I first heard this work at Tanglewood as well…on a Friday Prelude concert that was given over to the TFC. This is another work one could do an entire lecture about – but I’ll leave you just with the suggestion of listening carefully to the choral refrain “…and the evening and the morning were the (1st, 2nd, 3rd….etc) day” – stunning harmonic shifts that connects us in surprising tonal ways to each new day of creation. The final moment, when God creates man – “and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” – is among the most stunning moments in the a cappella repertory…this work isn’t nearly as well know as it should be!!

I leave you this week, with Stephen Paulus’s The Road Home – balm for the weary soul looking for the shelter and comfort of simply going home; in a fabulous performance by Conspirare, Craig Hella Johnson’s awesome chorus in Austin. After that – two excerpts, also with Conspirare, that are just infectiously happy – “Unclouded Day” arr. by Shawn Kirchner and Craig’s own arrangement of Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run”.

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