BACH'S PRELUDES: 1708-1744--A Persona...

BACH'S PRELUDES: 1708-1744--A Personal Context

Posted in the J.S. Bach Forum


Rowville, Australia

#1 Sep 27, 2008

For many years I have been interested in William Wordsworth’s famous, but now little known, poem Prelude. This great--at least to some enthusiasts of belles-lettres--autobiographic al poem, written over half a century, 1800 to 1850, played a role in the formation of my own autobiographical prose-poem. I have also had an interest in the concept of prelude and the role of this concept, this prelude, in the Baha’i teaching program, a concept, a term used by the then leader of the international Baha’i community in his letter of 18 July 1953.(1)

The first use of the term prelude in keyboard music goes back to the late Renaissance. These preludes were free improvisations and they served as introductions to larger and more complex pieces of music. Johann Sebastian Bach(1685-1750) wrote many preludes which were paired with fugues.(2) Fugues were written for voices or instruments in contrasting modulated keys. These fugues, a difficult term to define, had a series of musical sequences that lead successively in imitation of each other. When all the voices and their melodies were over an episode of connective musical tissue was added that lead to another series of entries and episodes in the fugue.

Bach’s two books of preludes, his famous the Well-Tempered Clavier, are regarded as one of the world’s great intellectual treasures. They were composed in two books: one from the years 1708-1722 and a second completed in 1744.2 The charming elegance of his preludes belies the difficulty of their mastery. I like to see Bach’s life and his preludes as a prelude to the life of Shaykh Ahmad(1743-1826), the great precursor whose life was but a prelude, to the Revelation of the Báb(1844-1850).-Ron Price with thanks to (1)Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith: Messages to America: 1947-1957, Wilmette, 1965, p.117; and an internet site on (2)Bach’s the Well-Tempered Clavier, 19 September 2008.

And those wondrous Brandenburg concertos,
a collection of six instrumental works composed
in the years 1708 to 1721 are widely regarded as
among the finest musical Baroque compositions.

I remember one of my philosophy professors back
in 1963 mentioning them--written with those preludes
and with Bach’s production of some twenty children
before he died 100 years to the month before that
martyrdom of the Báb in the city of Shiraz in 1850.
Yes, all those preludes and fugues,1 some gloomy,
some dismal, some reflective, some happy, but all
thought-provoking, played with feeling and emotion,
very agreeable to the ear, demanding attention and
admiration on many levels, not boring or predictable
then or now for millions of humans over 260++ years.

Preludes before preludes before yet more preludes,
before the greatest of preludes, which could take
almost any form, but in the same key as the fugue
and as a preparation for the listener’s ear and mind
for what was to follow—an exposition and endless
repetitions with their connective tissue eventually
leading to a mass conversion as a result of a chain
of events, momentous, catastrophic in nature and
deranging the world’s equilibrium, reinforcing
the numerical strength of the Force I have been
associated with for fifty years since the Kingdom
of God on Earth began its slow prelude period---
unobtrusive, seductive and insinuating itself into
the sad-harrowed-up hearts and souls of humanity.

1 J. S. Bach’s Preludes & Fugues: Books 1 & 2. Each book was composed of two sets of 24 Preludes & Fugues.

Ron Price
20 September 2008

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