JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685-1750)
THE SONATAS AND PARTITAS
INTERPRETED AS A LITURGICAL NARRATIVE THROUGH SCARED ICONOGRAPHY
The interpretation of Bach's instrumental music as having a thematic or programmatic dimension is not new - particularly in the case of the Solo Sonatas and Partitas. There has been an increasing trend to attempt to decipher these works through mathematics, numerology, gematria, etc. My approach has been more personal.
Though renowned for his instrumental compositions, the music and life of J. S. Bach is inseparably linked with the music of the Church and the Christian tradition. As a Kapellmeister (a prominent post in the church) for most of his career, Bach was in charge of composing music to celebrate the yearly cycle of the liturgical calendar. I think in no way is it a stretch to carry over the ideological influence of the sacred genre to his instrumental music, where we also find cyclical works. As a composer I can say it would be unusual to write works of such magnitude without an arch or narrative to lend them structure – even if one that remains ever personal and unspoken.
I have been performing these works for many years; they have fostered and accompanied my musical and personal development. Over the years, the interpretation of these works as a narrative of the events of the New Testament has crystallised within me. We see the Nativity in Sonata I, the life and decapitation of John the Baptist in the following Partita, the Passion and Crucifixion in the Ciaconna (Chaconne), followed by the exaltation of the Resurrection with the first turn to the major key with Sonata III and the unbounded joy of the final Partita. Repeated performances lent vividness to at first hazy intuitions until at last I experienced the entire drama unfolding before me with each movement.
I have chosen to use almost exclusively icons from the Orthodox tradition, as these images represent the first and oldest artistic heritage of the church and still bear witness to the clearest and most perfect archetypes of the seminal events of the Christian narrative. Alongside each video, I have given some hints about the unfolding of the drama as I have experienced it. I will not say too much, as to explain a mystery is to dispel its power.