Sunday, August 16, 2015

Musicians and composers can face pressures toward political correctness; a handwritten Bach organ manuscript

The newspaper of Virginia libertarian activist Richard Sincere led me to an article about political freedo of musicians to express their views in music.  The paper at hand concerns “post apartheid” South Africa, where songwriters feel forced to avoid political messages, link. That would probably be true in a number of other countries, most especially China. 

I’m reminded of the career of Soviet-era composer Dmitri Shostakovich (as here).  The first symphony was rather abstract, and the second and third had choral passages supporting communist revolution, but the fourth as an abstract continuation of the ideas of Mahler (and perhaps some Schoenbergian atonality) which apparently was viewed as elitist and bourgeois. Likewise the opera “Lady Macbeth” won disapproval.  The Fifth symphony is popular with the public, but somewhat rhetorical and politically correct (especially with the hollow triumph at the end).  The “Leningrad” is the most politically correct of all (as is the 11th), but the Eighth and Tenth show real artistic freedom (and the Tenth is often seen as one of the best.)

On another matter, I found a YouTube video showing the original handwritten score of J.S. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G Major, BWV 541.  The somewhat sketchy penmanship (of sixteenth notes) is interesting (compared what I went through at age 16 when I submitted a manuscript in black ink).  Maybe there is something to be said by writing out some ideas by hand first.

The actual work was one of my favorites.  When I re-entered dorm life in the spring semester of 1966 at the University of Kansas, my first roommate had a stereo and one classical record – a Columbia with Biggs playing this work. The repeated-notes theme in the Fugue has real emotional impact.  The Prelude was played this morning in church (Mt. Olivet in Arlington VA).


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