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Re: GG: Bach with little sense of humor??!!

Excellent exhibits, Bradley.  Grade: A+

True, Bach didn't write too much slapstick humor like
Mozart did later, but a lot of what Bach wrote
has intellectual humor.  Fugues and cannons by their
nature represent being 'chased' and 'caught' in ways
that tickle the funny bone intellectually.   Also the
clever use of compostitional techniques like inversion,
augmentation, diminution, etc... that Bach employs
to great effect also tickles the funny bone.  GG loved
this stuff.

Here's another example to ad to the exhibit: every third
variation in the Goldberg Variations is a cannon, but each
is at a greater interval.  Each interval gets wider and wider,
kind of like playing a game to Bach as he composed each


Bradley Lehman wrote:

> >Bach didn't appear to have a great sense of humour though, but him being a
> >German, this should not come as a shock :-)
> Yuh-HUH!  Bach with little sense of humor?  Please demonstrate.
> Meanwhile I present a set of exhibits:
> Exhibit A: St Matthew Passion, the humorous passage where he
> depicts Jesus' followers running around like headless chickens since
> he's taken away.  (Movement 60 in the Neue Bach-Ausgabe
> numbering: "Sehet, Jesus hat die Hand..."; in bar 34 the text is
> "verlassnen Kuechlein", "deserted chicks".) Throughout this
> movement there are two oboes da caccia squawking away in
> ridiculously ornamented lines that really do sound like chickens.
> One is not "supposed to" deploy "hunting oboes" for that, or to inject
> humor into such a serious story, but there it is.  (Unfortunately, this
> passage is usually underplayed.)
> Exhibit B: The fugue on the mailman's horn call in the Bb Capriccio.
> Exhibit C: The story about Bach petitioning his employer for extra
> remuneration during a particularly mild winter.  His reasoning was that
> fewer people than usual have been dying from the weather, and he was
> losing expected income from not playing the typical number of
> funerals.
> Exhibit D: Keyboard Partita in A minor, Burlesca: the weird staccato
> notes in the right hand.  Also the way both hands are moving in octaves
> in bar 32 and then suddenly the right hand has an unexpected rest.
> Same partita, next movement, Scherzo: at the beginning of each section
> he has the left hand playing four notes, then three, then two, then one, a
> natural diminuendo...fooling the listener into hearing the barring the
> opposite of the way it is.
> Exhibit F: WTC 1, E minor fugue: the whole passage from bar 15 to 20
> is very weird.  First he sets up the unexpected pattern of two groups of
> six notes (instead of the prevailing three groups of four), then he gets out
> of it by putting both hands in unison...unisons in a *fugue*?!  It isn't as
> if
> he couldn't think of anything more contrapuntally robust to put there.
> has both hands
> Exhibit E: First Brandenburg Concerto, first movement, everybody
> playing along in duple rhythms except the horns, which are playing
> a series of traditional horn calls in triplets.  Incongruous.  Also, the
> second trio there which features two horns vs three oboes in unison:
> very weird sound (sort of like a funky village band), and the oboe line
> is a horn-like part with all the arpeggios.
> Exhibit F: his notoriety for choosing wacky organ registrations.  He
> would pull combinations that his observers thought would never work,
> but then he'd make them work beautifully by the way he played.
> Exhibit G: Magnificat, the movement about the rich being sent away
> empty.  The flutes suddenly cut off before the final note, which is left for
> only the continuo to play.
> Exhibit H: The final movement of the orchestral suite #4 in D, the
> "Rejouissance".  The staccato notes, phrasing, and syncopation
> mess around with the triple meter throughout this.
> Exhibit I: The Quodlibet in the Goldberg Variations, juxtaposing
> popular songs.
> Exhibit J: Christmas Oratorio, the movement where two sopranos
> and an oboe are passing an echo around the building.  Sometimes
> the order of the echoing changes.  Also, sometimes the echo singer
> jumps in and completes the phrase instead of the main singer.
> Exhibit K: The Coffee Cantata.  All of it.
> Exhibit L: The extremely long harmonic sequence in the finale of the
> D minor harpsichord concerto.  It keeps going around and around so
> long that we wonder where it's going to get off.
> Exhibit M: Partita in G, menuet.  The hands alternate in such a way
> that it becomes very ambiguous where the beat is supposed to be.
> Exhibit N: Brandenburg Concerto #5, early version (see the Hogwood
> recording or the NBA edition): the harpsichord solo is laced with odd
> chromatic stuff.
> Exhibit O: French suite in E, menuet: the left hand gets fixated not only
> on its rhythmic pattern but also on a very limited set of notes.  It has the
> same response to whatever the right hand leads with.
> Exhibit P: Toccata in D, finale: the gigue-fugue suddenly breaks into
> notes twice as fast.  If the gigue has been going along at a quick tempo
> already, these are almost too fast to hear (or to play).  Exhilarating and
> funny.
> Exhibit Q: Sonata #6 in G for violin and harpsichord.  The second
> movement (Largo) ends with a half-cadence that sets up the third
> movement...and then in the third movement the violin does not get to
> play at all!
> Exhibit R: First movement of D minor harpsichord concerto: Bach pulls
> a viola joke here, with a keyboard solo passage accompanied by viola.
> Exhibit S: All the cuckoos in the Art of Fugue, Contrapunctus 4.  The
> way that much of Contrapunctus 2 "swings" with ties across the beat is
> also pretty funny.
> Exhibit T: The fact that all of the Art of Fugue can be played by one
> player, two hands...except for *one* note.  One!  (Bar 59 of one of the
> three-voiced mirror fugues: try reaching low G, high Bb, and middle C#
> simultaneously....)  Then when he rearranged these strict mirror fugues
> for two players, the new material has nothing to do with either mirroring
> or thematic content.  The originally strict lines are broken up as the fresh
> music wanders into and around and through it.  Yet it sounds like the
> original parts are still there (the auditory version of an optical
> illusion),
> and it's also an orchestration for the stereo spread of two instruments.
> Brilliant!
> Exhibit U: First movement of the solo flute partita in A minor: can be
> taken as a joke on merely mortal flute players who need to breathe.
> Also, the last note (extremely high A) is almost impossible to play on
> the flutes of Bach's time.
> Exhibit V: The sound of B-A-C-H hidden in the bass line of Brandenburg
> Concerto #2, first movement.  (Bb - A - C - B natural)
> Bradley Lehman, http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl
> Dayton VA