Friday, February 5, 2016

David Bowie and the Baroque(?)

When I heard the opening of Bowie's final album, titled "Blackstar," I almost immediately began an aural analysis  of the harmonies he employed(something I did not expect to undergo), simply because of the paucity  of the harmonic choices he made. From the beginning of the music, the imagery dealt around two chords; namely, the sub-dominant with lowered third followed by the dominant within the key he chose. With the occasional entry of Bowie's voice and these two harmonies, followed by the ensuing expansion(still limited) of both the harmonic language and his vocal message, I realized that, for me,  I was listening to Bowie's use of Minimalism, which we hear in the two masters of that form, Phillip Glass and Steve Reich.
Fusion of the machinations of a Rock giant and these two powerful composers?
Then came my realization that Bowie and Glass knew one another, and were in conversations  from time to time. That, plus the 'Low' Symphony by Glass, based upon Bowie's "Low" recording,  and Glass in his unabashed  recognition of David Bowie as a major creative Voice.
Which took me back to  two terms emanating from both the Middle and High Baroque periods; namely, Passacaglia and Chaconne, both rather interchangeable, in that these terms signify decided limitation on  usage of material by employing either a bass(called Ground Bass) consisting of a constantly repeated statement, or a constantly repeated harmonic expression -  in either case, the music born of these kinds of circular direction is what we hear as a composition. Bach and the great English composer  Purcell championed the use of these designs, which persist past the Baroque period, through Brahms, in his fourth symphony, and the magnificent Chaconne he brought forward.
Minimalism, for me, stems from the Baroque, with its Passacaglia and Chaconne, because of the conscious efforts of the composer to purposely employ limited material in order  to form a complete idea.
Obviously, Bowie, in his contacts with Glass, must have discussed the process of Minimalism.
What I wonder about is the question:
Was Bowie aware of the connection between the works of Glass, and the tap roots of Minimalism stemming from  the purposeful  limitation of material  as projected by the composers of the Baroque?
By the way, I find Bowie to be a powerful projector  of his message in his final  incarnation, and am deeply impressed by his gifts.



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