The Rambler :: blog

Monday, August 23, 2004

Bach Chorales 

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Now, this site, curated by Margaret Greentree, seems well worthy of a mention. Like the Well-Tempered Clavier site I linked to a couple of months ago, this one also came from my professional overhaul of a rather bloated database of music links. And once again this one stood out a mile from most of the others. Bach's 371 chorales hold for me a curious place in music history. For a start, 'the Bach chorale' is almost unique in that it is something that almost any music student will learn how to write at some point in their studies. Whilst there are other large, coherent compendiums of musical style - Vivaldi's concerti, Schubert's songs, Scarlatti's sonatas, Chopin's piano pieces - because of their simplicity, and brevity, the Bach chorales are the only ones that are consistently taught, and at a relatively early stage (I started writing them at 16). What this did for me, as someone who had youthful aspirations at composition, was cement them in my mind as both a guidance (not stylistically, but in terms of voicing, and vertical balance they can't be bettered) and a resource. There is something so abstracted about them that they can serve as springboards towards another composition. I wrote a few pieces - all rightly languishing behind my desk - that bore some relationship to a chorale. What they meant for me compositionally, I think - and were I to begin composing again, I'm sure this is from where I would start - was that the chorale sketched out an extremely durable form which could have many things poured into and onto it, and that would aid (to a point of course) a certain amount of musical coherence.

The whys and wherefors of how I went about this in different pieces is for a future post perhaps, but the discovery for me of the complete chorales online is exciting, and something that I'm sure many composers as well as musicologists would find tremendous value in, so much applause to Greentree for maintaining her site over the years.

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