What hap­pened was, in the time of J.S. Bach there were no big or­ches­tras, so most of his mu­sic em­pha­sizes that bor­ing stuff like in­ner de­tail and emo­tion­al ten­sion and shift­ing sound­scapes. When he want­ed to write Big Loud Mu­sic, he wrote or­gan mu­sic. Which left mod­ern or­ches­tra con­duc­tors who re­al­ly liked Bach with not much to play. So Leopold Stokows­ki (1882-1977) solved that prob­lem by ar­rang­ing lots of Bach com­po­si­tions  —  mostly or­gan pieces  —  for big mod­ern or­ches­tras. This hor­ri­fied a lot of Bach purist­s, but the ar­range­ments are most­ly pret­ty great, and that Fugue, prop­er­ly called BWV 578, is a fine ex­am­ple.

BWV 578

Stokows­ki was a re­al­ly in­ter­est­ing dude and his life is worth read­ing about. Speak­ing as a hard­core Bach cultist, those ar­range­ments were all I knew about him, but I think now I’m go­ing to go have to check out some of the oth­er record­ings.

Now, Bach’s biggest, heav­i­est, most Dazed and Con­fused-like piece was prob­a­bly the big or­gan Toc­ca­ta & Fugue in D mi­nor, and Stokowski’s take on that is fine, but kind of miss­es the point, which is to show the au­di­ence a good time and get off­stage while they’re still cheer­ing wild­ly. And any­how there are just too many to­tal­ly great or­gan record­ings. The “Little” Fugue is short­er and tighter and al­so Stokowski’s ar­range­ment is awe­some­ly clever and en­ter­tain­ing. All the me­dia linked to in this piece should be played at a vol­ume like that of a good or­gan in a 17th-century church, which is to say: Real­ly. Fuck­ing. Loud.

I know no­body buys al­bums any more, but if you were go­ing do that, you’d prob­a­bly be a hap­py camper if you bought Bach by Stokows­ki, which is a whole record full of this stuff.

Look, I to­tal­ly sym­pa­thize with the original-instrument par­ti­sans who think this ap­proach is ba­si­cal­ly re­al­ly wrong. And I love a lot of their record­ings. And yeah, splash­ing this stuff across the 100 play­ers of a mod­ern or­ches­tra los­es as much as it gain­s. And nor­mal­ly, when I’m in a Bach mood, this isn’t what I turn to. But when I’m in a really-beautiful-music-by-a-big-orchestra, well yeah.

This is part of the Song of the Day se­ries (back­ground).

Links · Spo­ti­fy playlist. This tune on Ama­zon, Spo­ti­fy, iTunes. Now, as for video, do I ev­er have a treat for you. Here’s a 1969 broad­cast con­cert for schoolchil­dren fea­tur­ing Leonard Bern­stein, who ex­plains the back­ground and then pops a sur­prise out for the au­di­ence. It starts a lit­tle de­lib­er­ate but stay with it, you’ll end up smil­ing.

Now, for com­plete­ness, I must leave you with two oth­er per­for­mances. First, the mu­sic the way old Se­bas­tian Bach wrote it, ably per­formed in Swe­den by Elis­a­bet Wi­mark on a small or­gan with a lot of trans­paren­cy. If you stay till the end you’ll see why I sug­gest you stay to the end.

Now, you might won­der how Leonard Bern­stein fol­lowed up that Stokows­ki guest ap­pear­ance. An­swer: He went all steam­punk with a 1969-vintage Moog syn­the­siz­er.

Bernstein and Moog

The in­ter­pre­ta­tion, uh, has its mo­ments, but is worth watch­ing for the audience-reaction shot­s. Re­mem­ber, it was a schoolkids’ con­cert.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: John Cowan (Jun 07 2018, at 09:03)

A young lady from North Carolina

Tied fiddle-strings 'cross her vagina.

    With the proper-sized cocks

What was sex became Bach's

Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

—Isaac Asimov (whose poetry has a Brooklyn accent)


From: Jason (Jun 08 2018, at 10:24)

You should also check on the arrangement the Canadian Brass records.


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