Does music really have any value?
We live in a fractured, damaged world where it is sometimes hard to understand why people think the way they do, or do the things that they do. One of my favorite books is Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. His argument is that when a person squanders their energy on things that have require no expenditure of psychic energy the person is no longer able to control their thinking or behavior in a rational way and become open to any kind of dangerous programming.
I believe this is one of the reasons that those in power fear music and the arts in general. They (whoever they are) feed us a gargantuan diet of entertainment that poses as art, but requires no true involvement or effort. Violinists and musicians in general pose a true threat because whatever level we are at, we choose to govern our own lives by incremental challenges that stretch our thinking and sustain our ability to question.
Bach is universal because his music personifies that threat of rationality. It has stood the test of time and varied usage by any number of people in so many fields of artistic endeavour, never once yielding a solution so definitive that there is nothing left for anyone to do with it. Which is why I am thinking about the E major Preludio...
It’s a strange piece that evokes endless discussion about the notorious ‘figure eight’ (or whatever you want to call it) passage where even the greatest violinists on occasion seem to lose a step at the end and then get back on track somehow. Much time has been spent explaining the reason for this phenomenon and some fantastic violinists on this site have generously offered a variety of practice methods for getting it even and under control. I have nothing more to offer on this topic.
However, I was very interested to see the Youtube video by Nathan Cole Bach on the Road, aimed at this work. Nathan generously teaches the violin for free and anyone who doesn't devour what he has got to offer is just plain bonkers.
I was however, very struck by his initial commentary about the Preludio. Something to the effect that this is a real virtuoso showpiece that has to be played brilliantly. I’m too lazy to check his exact words, but he makes no bones about his interpretative approach and it is not hard to see where he is coming from. Another point to bear in mind is that he is ‘brilliant’ so why not? Great Bach indeed!
What, however, happens if one chooses to think of this work as an amiable stroll in a sunny park, occasionally stopping to look at a tiny flower, nesting in the shade of a magnificent tree? In real terms, instead of playing it fast and (with the exception of players such as Nathan) not really getting it quite under control, why not play it slowly? At the very least, can’t we get rid of the ‘horrible happening’ where a usually musical student plays the opening well at a reasonable tempo and then suddenly increases the speed exponentially in this notorious section? At least follow the logic of playing something difficult a little slower rather than a different tempo to the whole work....
I have long adhered to the brilliant school approach but, I was very surprised when I opted for a saunter the other day. During my walk in the park, I was struck by how half-decent bowing could be achieved by the ear if one calmed down and slowed down enough to actually be able to hear what was coming out of the instrument. I wonder if we really do have to spend so many tortuous hours practicing sooo many rhythms in the hope it will become right when we could just let the sound guide us? In the case of Bach I often turn to my artistic mentor, Joseph Szigeti, and was relieved to find that he does indeed stroll around the woods inhaling the air. Possibly we have my other mentor Heifetz to thank for this abundance of brilliance. Who knows?
But these are questions violinists can chew over and retain our sanity, rationality and deadly essence.
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