As you all know, we just finished our Winter Fundraiser. Dymphna and I are grateful for all the people who took the trouble to hit the tip cup and keep us going for another quarter.
(By the way — winter is here with a vengeance, at least in the Northeast. As I write this, New York is expecting to get slammed with up to two feet of snow. We’re just getting a little snow here, but the ground is white tonight.)
The remarkable thing about last week’s fundraiser was the variety of locations that our donors came from. So many states and countries, a lot of them places that we hear from only rarely. So many small donations, people just giving what they can, but adding up to enough to maintain Gates of Vienna.
It’s inspiring in a way that I find hard to describe. It’s good to know that what we do here means that much to that many people.
Over the past couple of days I exchanged several emails with one of our British donors who happens to be an afficianado of Johann Sebastian Bach. Long-time readers know that I am devoted to Bach’s organ music. From time to time I go off-topic and post videos of performances of Bach’s music on various pipe organs (and sometimes the choral works, too).
Our reader sent a link to a YouTube of one of the six Trio Sonatas, the first movement of BWV 529. He referred to it as an example of the way Bach takes the listener to what seems to be the climax, the resolution of the theme. But then he carries the music further, into something even more sublime, as if to say: “You thought that was all, but there is always more.”
That made me think of one of the other Trio Sonatas (which I happened to be listening to in the car every time I went out last week), so I wrote him back to cite it as another example of what he was describing. I had to struggle to put into words my experience of the music. The section below is adapted from what I said in my email.
I love the Trio Sonatas. In fact, it was a CD of Marie-Claire Alain playing the Trio Sonatas (l’orgue Schwenkedel de la collégiale à Saint-Donat, 1981) that really hooked me on listening to Bach’s organ music. That and the St. Anne’s Prelude and Fugue. That was about 27 years ago, and I’ve been exploring the organ works ever since. I listen to them over and over again, and never grow tired of them. And I can always find something new, something I never noticed before, particularly if I acquire a new rendition.
When Dymphna gave me the complete Bach organ works played by Marie-Claire Alain, I heard some new versions of very familiar pieces, and picked up on things I hadn’t noticed. That was even true of the Trio Sonatas — in the new CDs, Ms. Alain was playing them on a different organ, and probably years or decades apart from the version I had acquired earlier, and — wow! I hear new things!
I know exactly what you mean about the crescendo to an apparent resolution, followed by a new crescendo to an even greater resolution. I’ve noticed that in other works, such as the Dorian Toccata and Fugue, or the Passacaglia and Fugue. And there’s another example from the Trio Sonatas, the third movement (Allegro) from BWV 525.
This version was performed by Kay Johannsen (location and organ not listed):
The piece is broken up into four discrete sections, each about a minute long, with three false finales (1:03, 2:02, 3:00). You think the music is done, but then it starts again, yet not quite the same, and more exquisite each time. When each section begins, you hear the bass and one hand on the treble in a simple progression that starts off almost unitary, and then magically divides itself into separate strands that weave and dance around one another until the resolution and apparent (or real) finale.
I’m not musically illiterate — I can read music, and played a French horn (badly) when I was in school as a kid. But I have no musical ability, and lack the vocabulary to describe my musical experience. I can hear it, but I can’t make it. Over the years I’ve learned that there are almost no fans of Bach’s organ music who don’t also play it, or at least attempt to. Since I don’t move in those circles, I rarely get to discuss it with anyone — I simply listen to it, immerse myself in it, fall into the whirlpool of magnificent sound. There are really no words to describe it. “Sublime” is good, but not quite enough. “Religious rapture” is as close as I can get.
That’s the first time I’ve ever attempted to put this stuff down in words — how strange!
Some people don’t get this music; they just can’t hear it. After posting one of my Bach videos, I got an email from a guy who wanted me to explain what was so great about this stuff. What could I possibly tell him? If you can’t hear it, you can’t hear it.
I told him I felt sorry for him that he had to miss the experience. I said that listening to the organ music of J.S. Bach was like opening a window into the parlors of heaven.
We’ve had a few stragglers since the Day Seven post on Sunday. Here’s the final amazing list of places:
Stateside: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming
Near Abroad: Canada
Far Abroad: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Finland, France, Germany, India, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, and the UK
Our profound gratitude goes out to all of you. I’ll see you in about three months, after the snow has melted. Maybe while the forsythia is still blooming, but probably before the irises are out.