It is Passover for us Jews and the Easter holiday weekend for Christians of the Western Communion. (Orthodox Christian Easter is in another week this year.)
The way in which Karl Richter conducted Bach’s immortal Matthew Passion, BWV 244, would nowadays be considered “Romantic”, and “not historically authentic”. Yet for sheer musical and expressive power, it has rarely been equaled.
Here is the full movie of the 1971 performance on YouTube (featuring tenor Peter Schreier as the evangelist):
A short biography of this amazing Bach performer can be read here. I had no idea that he was offered the position of Thomaskantor in Leipzig — musical director of the St. Thomas Church, the selfsame position Bach held! — at the age of only 30, but that he declined it on the grounds that (a) he felt 30 years too young to bear the weight of such a position; (b) he had built up an excellent ensemble in Munich and did not want to abandon it. Unspoken was probably (c) having fled the East German dictatorship with a single attaché case and the clothes on his back, he surely had no desire to move back there, even in a privileged position.
People would wonder about the punishing workload Richter subjected himself to. His parents both having died young, he apparently suspected the same would be his own fate and said “my time is now — we Richters don’t live long”. Indeed, he died in his mid-fifties of a heart attack while preparing for an upcoming concert tour.
Let Bach and Richter’s music speak for itself. Enjoy and happy Passover or Easter, as applicable!
A RedState writer named KiraAyn Davis (KAD) published a screed about introversion. While she makes some valid points about the pervasive victimhood culture and about people wanting to wrap themselves in the mantle of yet another victim group, she grossly overplays her hand when she argues that introversion doesn’t even exist. The title of her essay even suggests that introverts are really narcissists. Oh, for the love of dog…
I was told forty (40) years ago by a psychologist that I was an introvert. He did not in any way suggest there was any victimhood involved — that wasn’t a thing in the Europe of my youth — just that there is a temperament axis (one of the four Myers-Briggs axes, in his case) that spans all the way from complete extrovert to complete introvert with all shades in between. Also, that I was pretty far toward the introvert end of the scale. I have never seen myself as a victim for this—no more than I would for having blue eyes (somewhat rare in my ethnic group).
KAD argues that ‘normal’ (by which she means ‘extrovert’) people are also exhausted after being on their best behavior with company for two days. A number of FB friends sarcastically remarked they need a shot of alone time after two hours—as do I. (Just ten minutes of ‘processing time’ may do the trick.) My daughter — a textbook ‘socially outgoing introvert’ unlike her scholarly, curmudgeonly father — loves being in company and interacting with people, as long as she can ‘recharge’ periodically in a quiet room and process everything she just heard. (This temperamental trait confuses the heck out of some people, unlike the more classic introverts.) Still, many people mistake introversion for shyness or anxiety — I can assure you many classic introverts have no trouble raising their voices during a board meeting (and have less restraint about voicing unpopular opinions than classic extroverts) or lecturing to a large audience about a subject they are experts on.
The terms ‘extrovert’ and ‘introvert’ were originally introduced almost a century ago (in 1921) by C. G. Jung, although he meant them quite differently from their current popular usage. Basically, a Jungian extrovert seeks energy and validation from others (the more the better) and thrives on group pursuits, while a Jungian introvert finds them in the inner self — in being true to one’s moral and intellectual convictions — and thrives on solitary pursuits. Needless to say, certain fields of human endeavor are more congenial to the extrovert (or outgoing introvert) than to the introvert — and conversely. Some extroverts have told me they would go insane doing the work I do or practicing my principal hobby (fiction writing) — and I would probably absolutely ‘aspirate’ at most sales and marketing jobs and loathe having to do them. (On the other hand, an introvert FB friend of mine briefly worked in car sales when he was between adjunct lecturing jobs — and his boss was told by some of the clientele that they felt good dealing with an honest, direct car salesman for a change ;))
My friend “W.”, a polyglot like myself, is a classic extrovert. She loves working as an interpreter (since she gets to deal with people in real time) but when she was between jobs, the idea of doing long-form translation work was almost painful to her because of its solitary nature. I can interpret okay between certain language pairs, but definitely would prefer written translation work—long form and/or precise would be a plus, not a downside. Not because I don’t like interacting with people, but because like most introverts, I get joy not so much from pats on the back than from knowing I did the best job I could.
KAD has a point in that there is nothing unusual about introversion — but in making the point overzealously, she overreached and appeared to deny the concept itself. As H. L. Mencken famously quipped, all human problems have a solution that is neat, plausible, and wrong (often paraphrased as ‘simple, elegant, and wrong’). This applies both to those who are miscalling a completely normal temperament variation an affliction, and to those who seek to negate the very concept of introversion.
Today, J. S. Bach would have been 333 years old. In honor of the day, this organ piece.
A “Toccata” in Bach’s day was a virtuosic type of prelude with somewhat improvisational character—the word comes from the Italian verb ‘toccare’, which means both ‘to touch’ and ‘to play [a musical instrument]’. Bach actually wrote two “Toccata and Fugue” pairs in D minor: the extremely familiar BWV 565 with its stark musical contrasts, and the misnamed “Dorian Toccata and Fugue” BWV 538 with its driving perpetual motion in the toccata. It is actually in D minor rather than D dorian, but the (in the modern era) unusual notation without a key signature led to the erroneous nickname.
Below is a scrolling-score video — the audio is a performance by the great French organist Michel Chapuis, in standard pitch. Enjoy!
[No, I’m not dead yet — just absolutely snowed under in my day job. Here is a little blog post to keep the blog alive.]
Anybody who has ever played off a jazz lead sheet or ‘fake book’ is familiar with chord symbols like G (G major triad), Cm (C minor triad), D7 (D dominant seventh), G/D (G major triad with a D in the bass), and the like.
One ‘abstraction level’ above is the so-called ‘Roman numeral analysis’ which is found in music theory texts, particularly classical ones. It considers not the absolute chords but their relative position (and diatonic function) in the scale. For example, a 12-bar major blues in G corresponds to the progression G-C-G-D-C , and in C# to C#-F#-C#-G#-F#, but in Roman numeral notation, both would be I-I-IV-I-V-IV in their respective keys. Likewise, a minor blues would be i-i-iv-i-v-iv regardless of the key it is in.[*]
The system was invented by the eccentric classicist composer and music theoretician https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_Joseph_Vogler (teacher of Carl Maria von Weber) in the late 1700s. It is not a system that comes naturally to people with absolute pitch (since the same progression in different keys really sounds different to us) but it is an excellent ‘meta’ tool for describing commonalities between what may be very different compositions. Effectively, it is a form of notation that stresses function (as in ‘functional harmony’) — tonic (I), mediant (III), subdominant (IV), dominant (V), etc.
As already seen in the blues example above, major chords are indicated by uppercase Roman numerals, and minor chords by lowercase ones. Seventh, ninth,… chords take digit qualifiers just like in conventional chord notation, e.g., i9, Vb9, etc. A ‘+’ and a ‘°’ indicate augmented and diminished chords, respectively.
Inversions are indicated by suffixes like Ib (tonic, 2nd inversion) and V7d (dominant, third inversion) although I personally find the ‘b’ confusing due to its similarity to a ‘flat’ sign and prefer I/V and V7/IV, respectively. (In C major, these would correspond to C/G and G7/F, respectively)
Finally, out-of-scale chords are prefixed by accidentals # and ♭. For example, a Neapolitan chord in a piece otherwise in a minor scale would be written♭II
Rick Beato has a video here about ‘the four chords that killed pop music’.
What he really means is the progression I-vi-IV-V and its permutations like vi-IV-I-V, which some producers seem to think are nearly a prerequisite for hit singles. In Rick’s video, you can hear a plethora of examples in a wide variety of keys and styles (what do Taylor Swift and Iron Maiden otherwise have in common?! Or the choruses of Roxette’s ‘Listen To Your Heart’ and The Beatles’s ‘Let It Be’?). At a higher abstraction level, all of them boil down to just that pattern I-vi-IV-V, straight up or rearranged.
To be sure, if one is willing to escape the tyranny of simple triads and power chords, even I-vi-IV-V can be made interesting… And if one is not (e.g., because on a distorted guitar more complex chords quickly get muddy), then changing the scale to a more exotic one helps…
For instance, here is a video touting the Mixolydian mode as the ‘secret sauce’ of AC/DC
Leaving aside that AC/DC, while fun to play, is hardly a model of musical sophistication: What is he talking about? Let’s compare the diatonic triads on the major scale with those on the Mixolydian scale (more correctly: the Mixolydian mode[*]):
major (Ionian): I – ii – iii – IV – V – vi – vii°
Mixolydian: I – ii – iii° – IV – v – vi – VII
Yes, the major triads in the major scale are the familiar tonic, subdominant, and dominant — but the mixolydian one has them on tonic, subdominant, and leading tone! This automatically invites riffs like A-A-A….D-D-G…D-D-G-D-D-G-D-A-A (“Highway To Hell”) or E–D-A/C# (“Back In Black”), or …
They also use the Dorian mode fairly freely (“Hells’ Bells”, “Shot Down In Flames”,..)
Dorian: i – ii – ♭III – IV – v – vi° – VII
Now the Mixolydian and Dorian modes are, of course, very common in Anglo(-American) folk music — but yes, much of the character of different scales and modes derives from the chords progressions they generate. I will elaborate in this in a future post. Meanwhile, here are the biting observations of one of my musical heroes, Steven Wilson, on the music industry:
[*] The “Nashville number system” used by some country and gospel singers (including by Elvis Presley’s backup singers the Jordanaires) is a variant that uses Arabic instead of Roman numerals, with minor chords being indicated by a dash (e.g. 6- instead of vi). It was invented to facilitate transposition to fit the vocal range of the singer being accompanied.
[**] Technically, a scale is a sequence of notes/intervals covering an octave, a mode a different choice of tonal center (‘starting point’) among them. For example, the G mixolydian mode is generated from the C major scale simply by starting at G rather than C.