Monday, March 11, 2013

A Musical Mountain (part two)

On Mondays and Fridays I'm blogging a six-part series on one tremendous piece of music. This is part two. You can catch part one here.

On Friday we started to explore Cesar Franck's epic Choral no. 3 in A minor. I introduced you to the tragic, lyrical tune that is at the heart of this amazing piece. Today, we'll delve into the other strand of this Choral's thematic heritage:


It is actually the very first thing you will hear when the piece begins, and, like the tune from Friday, you will also hear it return in many guises. But I'd also like to comment on the theme's paternity. It reminds me of something:


That is the opening of a Prelude in A Minor by J. S. Bach. I've only played the opening of it because it's been a few years since the last time I played it and I don't have a recording. Besides, we don't want to get distracted. (Although, if you want to listen to it later, its catalog number is Bwv 543. James Kibbie has recorded the entire Bach catalog and put it online which is a good place to look for it.)

Now then, that opening salvo is followed immediately by this sonic buildup, which also reminds me of a little Bach:


That's from the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor, again right near the opening. I bring this up because I want you to be aware of how frequently composers speak from within their traditions; conscious of the great contributions of the past, Franck seems to be almost quoting from it, though he will soon use the material in a new way.

Now that we've been introduced to the dramatis personae it is time to see how they interact to bring us this musical narrative. But first we need to take a little detour into one major episode that we haven't covered yet but will absorb our attention for nearly five minutes in the piece's middle. That's on Friday.

go to part three

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