This is part two in my Bach series. Classical music, like a lot of classical literature, is ignored by too many people by virtue of the fact that it is shoved down our throats by cultural authority figures who treat it like healthy food: Good for you, so it must taste terrible. Not so- in most cases classical works of art are not only not demonstrably good for you in a moral sense, but are often strange beyond description. Off the top of my head Macbeth, King Lear, Moby Dick, and Dante’s Inferno, most of Michelangelo’s work (despite ostensible intentions of spiritual didacticism in the latter two) all come to mind. So too with Bach, but at this stage in our culture it takes some work to bring out this aspect in his compositions. Nobody has done this better than modern composer Wendy Carlos (known as “Walter Carlos” before 1972), who worked mostly with the Moog synthesizer. You will certainly recognize the sound if you’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, which features Carlos’ versions of Beethoven as well as original compositions. Carlos actually had a hit with 1968’s Switched-On Bach.
Here is Prelude and Fugue #2 in C Minor. As you listen, contemplate this passage from Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West:
For it was the wish, intensified to the point of a longing, to fill a special infinity with sound which produced . . . the two great families of keyboard instruments (organ, pianoforte, etc.) and bow instruments. . . . it was principally in Germany that the organ was developed into the space-commanding giant that we know, an instrument the like of which does not exist in all musical history. The free organ playing of Bach and his time was nothing if not analysis- analysis of a strange and vast tone-world. . . . the history of the modern orchestra, with all its discoveries of new and modifications of old instruments, is in reality the self-contained history of one tone-world- a world, moreover, that is quite capable of being expressed in the forms of the higher analysis.