Don’t Worry, Be Bach-y

Bach-analia continues! WQXR is still crushing it! Yesterday’s theme was dance in Bach’s music. As someone whose dancing abilities call to mind unfortunate fish who have lamentably found themselves on a boat deck–in all senses of the metaphor–this is not a theme which speaks to me in the physical plane. I did, however, invent an awesome dance move a couple years ago, which hopefully Sib1 (a danseuse par excellence) can demonstrate on our first vodcast. Musically, however, dance is a perfect thematic lens for Bach’s music.

As much as we’d like to see someone in a powdered wig and breeches take part in a Freddy dance-off with Shelley Long, not many of Bach’s compositions (an intimidating list) are formally dances. And I know your first question is, as mine was, “OK, but what does Bobby McFerrin, that genetically anomalous musical instrument masquerading as a human being with a four-octave range, think about that?” Fortunately, he’s answered it for us, again in the Michael Lawrence documentary.

In Bachy McFerrin’s view, Bach’s music has an inherent “danceability.” And when he breaks into his inimitable style of “singing” classical music, it’s hard not to know exactly what he means. There’s no thudding bass, no drum kit to let you know that the time is propitious for a bump and grind and grope or two. Thank every star in every heaven, there is not a pumping fist in sight. So it’s not a “root” thing, if you know what I mean. I think it’s the rhythm of the lines themselves, like when we used to write metered poetry, that provide that get-up-and-put-your-powdered-wig-on-and-go momentum. But it’s not just that. The neat thing is that those rhythmic lines are simultaneously carrying the melody, unlike most drum and bass you hear in (cultured gasp!) popular music. And that melody happens to be just one more example of Bach’s endless, fluid lines that effortlessly whirl and surge around the scale like the Man on the Flying Trapeze. It is unique. Again, I think this is part of why Bach “makes sense” to bluegrass players. Without further ado, the Man Wonder:

One commenter on that YouTube clip helpfully supplied what piece B. McF. is singing: it’s Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor. Here is Itzhak Perlman, one of my sib’s favorite fiddlers, be it on a roof or at Lincoln Center, playing the entire thing. You’ll notice Bobby McDanceability only sang the first and third movements. Those are the fist-pumping ones. It’s a concerto and the middle part is boring. Oops, I mean andante. But form mattered in those days!

[Sorry, I can’t figure out how to embed that video. Dailymotion, you’re no YouTube!] Here’s the link.

Happy listening and ongoing enjoyment of Herr Bach’s birthday!


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