Sunday, January 13, 2013

The St. Anne Prelude and Fugue 

by Johann Sebastian Bach

Performed by organist, Peter Hurford

For those who read music having the printed score available as the performance unfolds helps us see the wonder of the way this magnificent piece is constructed. 

The Prelude is comprised of three distinctly different themes introduced in succession, then reintroduced and developed with differing harmonies and textures. It ends with the same thematic material with which it began but harmonically altered to add further poignancy and drama to the conclusion.

The Fugue is made up of three interconnected sections each a separate, fully developed fugue unto itself. If you don't know what a "fugue" is, please just listen, and it should reveal itself to you. 

The sturdy, relatively-simple first section is built on the opening phrase of the hymn tune called "St. Anne," which most of us know today as "O, God, Our Help In Ages Past." 

The second section of the fugue introduces a lively running figure developed against itself in counterpoint combined with the St. Anne hymn tune introduced in the first section.

The third section introduces yet-another strikingly different, highly energetic theme, then develops it in counterpoint with material from the second section. The work is brought to a glorious conclusion of unsurpassed grandeur and magnificence when the St. Anne theme from the first section is reintroduced in the bass as a powerful underpinning thus combining all three thematic elements so brilliantly it could only be described as breathtaking.

It has been suggested that the tripartite (three-part) structure of both the prelude and the fugue represents the Holy Trinity. Whether Bach consciously intended this symbolism or not, surely there could be no clearer demonstration of three different elements working interdependently to form a whole greater than any of its parts than the St. Anne Fugue. 

I've listened to this work hundreds of times over several decades. It has always been a humbling, awe-inspiring experience that never fails to raise goose bumps, and it remains so to this very day.

~ FreeThinke


  1. After I've run my Sunday errands, I will make time to listen to this!

  2. Ah! This soaring music takes us to places we've never before visited.

    I hope that more people stopping by this blog post will take the time to listen to such magnificent music!

  3. Dear, AOW, as I've said many times in different ways, we may provide a cultural "oasis" in The Desert of Dolor and Discontent, but like the proverbial horse, but we cannot force anyone to partake of the riches we have on display.

    "Classical Music" is generally complex, highly developed and extended far beyond the gnat-like attention span Modern Pop Culture and Technology have inculcated in the past several generations. To the uninitiated classical music looks "hard," so they tend to bypass it.

    I imagine too many people want to believe that Bach and all the other great composers produced this stuff just to show off and make other people feel small and inadequate.

    Instead, of course, it is one of the very greatest Acts of Love and Revelation of God's Immortal Truth ever bestowed on Mankind.

    My only wish is that more people could enjoy and appreciate the significance of these things as much or more than I have.

    But then isn't that just how sincere, practicing Christians feel about the Gospel, itself?

    Love, Truth, Beauty, Intelligence, Creativity and Principled behavior -- all essential to fulfillment, all synonymous with Life and Spirit.

    The greatest thing about Truth, of course, is that it cannot long be denied, despite Herculean efforts to bury it under mountains of trash or suppress it with violence.

    God lives and reigns eternally, whether we recognize and acknowledge Him or not. It's idiotic to think we could possibly "hurt," "damage" or "deprive" almighty God.

    Our efforts in that direction serve only to deprive and damage us of abundant life.

  4. Darn FT it's Peter Hurford playing. I was hoping to hear you. ;-)

    Exquisite, though demanding even as a listener. You simply can't 'be' anywhere except inside Bach's intricate musical architecture.

  5. Hi, Viburnum,

    Yes like most really good things it requires something from each of us. It's NOT background music, theater music, cabaret music or dance music that's for sure, though it makes the MIND and SOUL dance like nothing else once you really get into it.

    I do have a 45-minute CD of myself playing organ compositions I composed, myself, -- including Variations and Fugue on we Shall Overcome, if you would believe, but the selections, though professionally recorded, are awkwardly spaced, and I haven't the faintest idea how to separate them into smaller, more manageable segments -- and even less knowledge as to how they might get posted here or at YouTube.

    Frankly, since they are nothing to ashamed of, I'd love to put them on YouTube, but would need the services of a tech-savvy assistant who was also knowledgeable about music to do it right.

    Know anyone who might apply for the job? ;-)

    ~ FT

    PS: Peter Hurford is one of the very best in the field. I know of no one who plays the great organ works of Bach with more authority -- or more "heart."

  6. Followed along with the score for a while but I'm not knowledgeable enough to appreciate it from that point of view. Now I'm playing it as "background music," so there! Organ is a little heavy for that I must admit but as a mood-shaper for the day there's nothing like Bach.

  7. Oh... I read the headline and I thought it said 'fudge."

    Anyway, although not chocolaty, it is beautiful...

    Happy Sunday, Mr. FreeThinke!

  8. "It's NOT background music"

    I know. Most of my classical collection is banned from my car for having caused too many missed exits. I once wound up in Lehighton courtesy of the Mahler 5th.

    "I'd love to put them on YouTube, but would need the services of a tech-savvy assistant who was also knowledgeable about music to do it right."

    Looking into that. Since you're on Blogger it seems you're halfway home already. The trick is, it has to be uploaded as a video, but Window's Movie Maker allows you to import the audio files and then add pictures. That accounts for all of the still photos.

    Trying that now for a recording of mine.

  9. Hey! It works! It's not even difficult. If you're signed into Blogger when you go to YouTube the 'guide' at the upper left will lead to the links to get started.

    I'll go back and add captions later, for now suffice it to say I was seriously impressed by the Great Plains on my trip west last summer.

  10. HEY! I lost my access as FreeThinke, just because I was trying to check out Viburnum's advice.

    I KNEW it would be a disaster. Every time I try to do ANYTHING on my own with software I get screwed.

    HELP! HELP! HELP! ;-)

  11. Ut Oh! I can't imagine what you did. Try closing your browser, reopening it and logging back in.

  12. If you weren't logged in here, and tried setting it up independently using the same email address it probably changed your password. Signing out of your YouTube account will sign you out across Google ( Blogger, YouTube, gmail, etc.) If you changed your password while there, use the new one. I don't think it ever asked me for one, but I was logged in at the time.

    I'll check back from work to see if you've succeeded.

  13. FT,
    Have you got your computer glitch straightened out?

  14. Sorry I pushed the panic button. I sorta kinda maybe figured it out for myself last night.

    Haven't tried to post at YouTube yet -- we'll see what happens there. I have a different ID there, because they wouldn't accept FreeThinke.

    Don't get me started bout the number of times I've been tossed off YT and couldn't get back in. PITA!

    Sorry to be a bother.

  15. Glad you made out OK. They gave me the same grief about my nick being already taken. Did you try the Windows Movie Maker for the audio?

  16. A serious question, FT.

    What is the future of classical music (or maybe I'm asking about music in general). Last Sunday was my pretty regular attendance at the Isabella Gardner Concert and I am continually struck by the advanced age of the audience.

    Exposure to great music (and I don't restrict that to strictly classical) is diminishing and could largely die out except for a few venues with the funding to carry on. Fugue? Today it's largely some metal guitarist doing a few arpeggios on standard blues chords and a two bar hook that passes for melody.
    I think it's one of the reasons the populace is becoming such shallow thinkers.

    Viburnum, when I miss an exit it's usually opera.

  17. Duck,
    Last Sunday was my pretty regular attendance at the Isabella Gardner Concert and I am continually struck by the advanced age of the audience.

    I've attended a few recent concerts (classical music). The overall age of the audience wasn't elderly, but I must say that few young people were present.

    Here in the D.C. area, some of our best classical music performance groups have gone belly up. Sad.

  18. I share your concern, Ducky, but I attribute the sad phenomenon you describe to political and cultural forces with which you often appear to be in sympathy -- the debacle produced by the counter-culture aggressively promoted as a morally-superior "improvement" on traditional values and mores.

    Once Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n Roll took over, the death throes of America the Beautiful began.

    The same thing -- except for the rise of these "charismatic," cult-of-personality, "mega churches" which are much more about show business than Christianity -- has happened to church attendance. Old gray heads sitting in the pews -- and their numbers are steadily dwindling.

    But it's much more complicated than that. I'm sure you realize by now that I am no Philistine, and anything but a mindless chauvinist. I agree with you that forms of music other than that which-is-popularly-termed "classical music" can be eminently worthwhile, but much of what-passes-for "music" today is either a simple-minded waste of time or out-and-out garbage.

    We might say, "As Music goes, so goes the nation."

  19. "...the rise of these "charismatic," cult-of-personality, "mega churches" which are much more about show business..."

    IMO this comparison is stronger and more deeply applicable than you realise, because except for lavishly produced extravaganzas which are much more about show business than musical appreciation, all live music is struggling -- not just the serious music.

    Maybe its because a typical audience member goes out more rarely due to the recession, but for whatever reason, when they do go out what they demand is the expensive productions; and in order to put on the expensive risky productions, producers have to choose the safest shows. That's why live music is so conservative and risk-averse. Serious music is a risk, and what's more it doesn't come across well framed by pyrotechnics and light shows (although that doesn't stop them from trying) which makes sense for less serious music.

  20. Did you stop to listen to the St. Anne, Jez?

    The score happened to be available at this particular performance, but it's probably an unneeded distraction for those who cannot read music -- and even for those who can.

    Music on this sublime level -- the only level that interests me deeply -- needs nothing visual to help the listener enjoy it "better." Bach's sublime eloquence has spoken brilliantly for itself -- to those with receptive ears -- for nearly 350 years.

    As I usually do, I listened to several different recordings available on YouTube before selecting this one to post. I had hoped to find Andre Marchal's incomparable performance from the 1950's, but this -- by one of his most apt and devoted pupils -- was the best I could do, and frankly it's bloody marvellous.

    I won't trouble you with my opinion of costumed, miked-up, heavily amplified, electronically produced "music" accompanied by strobe lights and screaming mobs.

    If you have come to understand me at all, you would already know what I think about that anyway.

    ~ FT

    PS: One of the reasons we don't get on better is your habitual use of condescending phrases such as " ... this comparison is stronger and more deeply applicable than you realise ..." How could you possibly know what I do and do not "realis?" You may not have meant it the way I interpreted it, but that's how it feels when I come upon such a remark. It may seem a small point, but there appears to be an assumption of superiority in your manner that does rankle. I'm not trying to pick a quarrel with you, just making an observation. There's no need either to apologize or remonstrate, believe me.

    If it's any comfort I never have been able to understand how and why the howling, bawling, stomping, whining drone that "popular music" became n my youth has met with such enormous success. All I hear is that it taps into an enormous reserve of some peculiar need to express resentment, rebellion, rejection and repudiation. It seems to me to be a concerted effort (pun intended) to drive Sanity, Serenity, Joy, Romance, Humor, Respect, Reverence, Patience, Loyalty and Devotion straight out of the culture never to return again, if possible.

    If it weren't for Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Debussy, Ravel, Richard Strauss, Mahler and Hugo Wolf, et al. I'm sure I would have lost my mind ages ago.

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  22. Didn't listen to your video (not often available to devote my attention completely to a video at the computer), although I have heard the piece before -- I'll make a point of checking out this performance at some point though.

    The video of the score reminded me of this, which is brilliant in a very different way:
    Giant steps.

    I hope that my own opinion of extravagantly presented but bland music was obvious too.

    I know there's no apology necessary but nevertheless I am sorry, because I only intended to congratulate you on an apt comparison and extend it. I think condescension must be part of my manner, but may I remark that it also seems to be part of yours? If we can't tolerate it in each other, what hope does anyone else have?!

    (perhaps we're both missing the mitigating inflections that would soften the impact if we were fluent in each others' local dialects)

    "[pop music] taps into ... some ... need to express resentment, rebellion, rejection and repudiation."

    But of course! Prokofiev comes to mind almost as readily as Nirvana.



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