Friday, April 15, 2016

Johann Sebastian Bach and Art Tatum - How Does One Prioritize(if at all)When Listening To and/or Studying These Two?

Bach maintains his stance, of course, as one of the great powers  in the process of musical composition. For centuries the world has continued its orbit around the amalgamating  gifts of this man, who is the quintessential entity coming out of the late Renaissance by way of the miracles he produced in polyphony, which are so intrinsic a part of both instrumental and vocal creations we have become so familiar with. The Fugue, for instance - how many of us are aware that when a Beethoven or a Schumann utilizes fugal technique, the stylistic  'seepage' of the late Baroque becomes evident? It simply cannot be avoided. Samuel Barber, in mid-twentieth century, does very deftly give us an example of  extrication from this dilemma by utilizing jazz-like rhythms in his marvelous fugue in the piano sonata.
And so, it makes sense for one to consider the process of counterpoint first when we consider or listen to Bach. Certainly, no other composer exceeded the attainment level in the horizontal imagery of this master.
 However, a gentle prod serving as a reminder to the incalculable powers contained within his harmonic vocabulary might be in the over 200 chorale   harmonizations existing. In teaching harmonic analysis over the years, I used, and continue to use dozens of  Bach's chorales as  certification that this giant's harmonic visions were every bit the equal of his multi-voiced creations. Even today, I  become open-mouthed (metaphorically!) when I think of some of his truly prescient devices to create tension and release within the harmonic scheme of things, such as, for instance, the use of the leading tone and the tonic it moves to; but simultaneously. And so forth...
I often think of Art Tatum when I am immersed in the Bach experience, and for the same kind of reasoning:
When one thinks of Tatum, the first traditional reaction tends to  be   one's becoming mesmerized   by   the unequaled brilliance of his finger technique and resulting protraction of  extemporized  patterns - the same reaction, in linear tradition, to the polyphonic magic of Bach.
But, then, go to Tatum's harmonic  preferences  he adds to "Over the Rainbow."
We all are  familiar with the simple harmonies originally connected to this tune.
But listen to what Tatum does to (or for)a simple  tune; what Bach did for the transparent line  of the chorale - a direct parallel. Or, become seduced by the uses of  his  roaming modulations in another originally simple tune as "Tea for Two." Horowitz himself was totally won over by this arrangement.
Whether or not you agree with my  personal parallels between these two  musicians from worlds totally remote from one another, I hope that you will have had some fun in sharing your time with me...

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