News - Not So Breaking
by Rich Capparela




 

Minimalist Knock Knock
from the Los Angeles Master Chorale 3/26/06 Pre-Concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall
 

It was with great pride that I co-hosted with Music Director Grant Gershon the 2005-2006 season Listen Up! events for the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

One program celebrated minimalism as part of the two week "Minimalist Jukebox" festival presented by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The composers on the program included Arvo Paert, Meredith Monk and Michael Torke (who was kind enough to join me for part of the presentation).

I asked the audience if there was anyone in attendance who had NOT heard the minimalist "Knock Knock" joke. A large number of hands went up. I then led the group through a round of Knock knock. Who's there? Philip Glass. Philip Glass who? Knock knock. Who's there? etc.

I then explained that earlier in the day, with the vocal assistance of my wife Marcia, I had put together a very brief tribute in honor of the concert.

What followed was this half-minute long multi-track recording. All voices are those of yours truly and Marcia. I hope you enjoy it.


Minimalist Knock Knock

 

Did Bach Write his Most Popular Piece?
from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A haunting tune, but is it really Bach's?
Sunday, October 30, 2005
By Andrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Like the children who mask their identities while trick or treating, Halloween's most famous music 
is in disguise.

For at least a century, Johann Sebastian Bach's memorable organ work, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, 
has embodied the eerie and the supernatural.

You've all heard the spiky opening half trill and ensuing demonic descent. It's enough to send a chill 
down the spine: De-de-Deeeee, De-de-de-de-deee-De.

Films such as "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and "Tales From the Crypt," not to mention countless cartoons, 
use it to set a spooky ambiance. It has even invaded the musical realm, adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber 
as the main theme of "The Phantom of the Opera." Many also will remember its appearance in Disney's 
blockbuster film, "Fantasia," and you can hear it at Mellon Arena when the Penguins' organist reflects 
a malevolent turn of events on ice.

Turns out Halloween's soundtrack also has been cloaking its true form: The Toccata and Fugue probably 
was not written by Bach and almost certainly wasn't written for the organ.

In music circles, that assertion is as scary as it gets.

It's not every day such a famous work gets shaken to its foundations. However, scholarly consensus 
is building that the baroque master did not write his most well-known organ work.

Solving the mystery

The clues lie in the music. For one, Bach's manuscript copy of the Toccata -- the handwritten original 
-- is lost, if it ever existed. That means attribution can't be certain; it's akin to trying a murder 
case without a dead body.

Like a good mystery, the sources are questionable, too. The earliest copy of the Toccata was done by a man 
with a reputation of passing off spurious works under Bach's name.

However, the biggest questions arise when the Toccata is examined stylistically.

"It is a little worrying when literally the first and last notes of a piece of music raise doubts," 
writes Peter Williams in a seminal article about the Toccata in the journal Early Music in 1981.

Williams' argument stems from stacking up many small odd points about the piece. There's the name -- 
Bach's generation would have called it "Praeludium et fuga," not Toccata and Fugue -- and a progression 
of notes Bach never would have allowed.

"Bach's greatest inspiration is invariably revealed through his complete mastery of the 'rules,' " 
writes Bruce Fox-LeFriche, who raised the Toccata subject again last year in Strings magazine.

The evidence of rule-breaking includes doubling at the octave and the curious minor cadence that ends 
the Toccata, both not heard elsewhere in Bach's organ output (usually even a work in a minor key concludes 
with a major chord). The Toccata also brims with harmony and counterpoint bordering on simplistic for the 
masterful composer.

"No other Bach fugue contains such feeble part-writing," writes Fox-LeFriche, citing the "complete absence of
 contrasting rhythm, contrary motion or a least a few notes that don't slavishly follow the subject."

In short, the Toccata and Fugue approaches nothing Bach ever wrote for the organ, or ever wrote at all.

"It is certainly very different than any of his organ works," says Don Fellows, organist at St. Paul Cathedral 
in Oakland. "There are parts that don't fit the hands."

Some argue that the Toccata was the product of a young and adventurous Bach. Chief among them is venerable 
scholar Christoph Wolff, whose painstaking attempts in his "Bach: The Learned Musician" to explain away its 
oddities and keep the work in Bach's canon only reveal what a stretch it actually is. It's not that Bach 
wasn't capable of writing music out of the norm (he did plenty of that), it's that this Toccata flies in the 
face of his basic principles.

Compared to learned Bach in compositions such as "The Art of Fugue" or "The Well-Tempered Clavier," the 
Toccata and Fugue in D minor is facile, dramatic and eccentric.

And, if past evidence can be used against him, this would not be the first Bach work that is now considered 
to be by someone else: The keyboard Minuet in G and the aria "Bist du bei mir" are some of the others.

Removing the mask

Scholars now think the Toccata was originally a violin piece Bach transcribed.

"If you know the piece you can just see it was written for the violin," says Don Franklin, a Pitt 
musicologist specializing in the composer. "It has idiomatic figuration for the violin [and] the 
initial statement of the fugue subject can easily be played on the D string, crossing over to touch the G string."

The opening of the Toccata, too, is violin-like, offering "the solo violin an opportunity to drop down 
through its four strings," writes Williams. And there are other nuances that add up to an organ piece 
covering up its origins.

This hypothesis fits. "Bach did a lot of transcription," says Franklin, also past president of the 
American Bach Society. Perhaps this Toccata simply lends itself to transcription. After all, Leopold 
Stokowski's orchestral version worked out pretty well in "Fantasia" and in concerts.

The evidence all points to the fact that Toccata does not match organ music of the time, especially Bach's. 
It does fit the period's string music, however.

"I don't know what it was written for, but many suspect that the violin is the next obvious instrument," 
says famed baroque violinist Andrew Manze. For those in the know, just think of the rapid alteration and 
quick runs of Vivaldi and Corelli string concertos, and you get the picture.

Manze, Williams and Fox-LeFriche are among those who have attempted to turn this werewolf of a work back 
into its original form, although transposed to A minor. "I tried to constrict myself to the sort of violin 
writing that Bach used himself," says Manze, whose version is found on the Harmonia Mundi recording "Portrait."

Most telling? While many consider the Toccata a somewhat tricky organ show piece, Manze says just the opposite 
about it on the violin: "It is not a terribly difficult piece to play."

Does it really matter?

Some skeletons in the closet can return to destroy the present -- such as the telltale beating heart of a 
victim buried under the floorboards or that long-dead mom hidden upstairs in a psycho's house. But the Toccata 
lives on as an organ piece. No matter how it got to the keyboard, it turned out to be a good thing. Its 
transformation is a happy laboratory accident that created a Mr. Hyde we all want to have around.

"You can still play it on the organ and appreciate it," says Franklin.

Music often gains other meanings. Certainly neither Bach nor the original composer intended for the work 
to have the ambiance of Gothic horror it now has. For that matter, they would not have dreamed the venerable 
church organ could ever gain a demonic association as a harbinger of evil.

And this Halloween, would you rather hear the Toccata on the mighty organ or the charming violin?

In the end, it matters less who wrote the Toccata and Fugue or what instrument was intended, but more that 
it still thrills us today. We just might want to remember that, like much on Halloween, the Toccata and 
Fugue in D minor is not entirely what it seems.

(Post-Gazette classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod can be reached at 
adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750.)

Copyright 1997-2005 PG Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

Giving Out Grammy - 2/8/04
(Reprinted with the kind permission of LARADIO.COM)
 

For a couple of years Rich Capparela has been helping out as a member of the Grammy Classical selection committee. "That means sitting in a hotel meeting room for a couple of days going through hundreds of submissions to decide if a recording is best categorized as say, chamber music or small ensemble. Male vocal or crossover? That sort of thing," revealed Rich.

This year Rich was asked to emcee the 8th annual Classical luncheon at the Biltmore. "The Grammys honored flutist Sir James Galway. After I'd agreed to do that, I got a call asking if I would be interested in just a little bit more. It wound up being a highlight in a 32-year career as a dj. Here's what 'a little bit more' involved:

* Pre-recording the 100+ '...and the nominees are...' announcements of the for the pre-telecast. The pre-tel has traditionally been something of an orphan at the Grammys, even though more than 90 of the 100+ awards are given out at it. This year they did it up right. The pre-tel took place earlier in the afternoon at the Convention Center. It featured a live band, a host, eight presenters, graphics, music performance and a stage. In other words, it was a fully produced 2 1/2 hour pre-Grammy show with nominees in attendance. A very cool event.

* I got to be one of the eight presenters actually opening the envelopes and getting to say '...and the Grammy goes to...' Evidently they've had some problems in the past with those obscure Classical pronunciations, so having a Classical dj do it worked well for them. For me, it was a chance to stand in front of an audience ranging from Weird Al Yankovic and Ricky Skaggs to The Blind Boys of Alabama and Foo Fighters and hand out a dozen classical Grammys. What a buzz! And what a challenge to reach across to an audience that I knew, for the most part, didn't care all that passionately about who got the best Chamber Music Performance Grammy. A little self-deprecating humor goes a long way in a room like that. To stand in front of that much diverse talent for such a joyous purpose. . . .

* Immediately following the Pre-Tel I was whisked up to a room at the Convention Center where I recorded eight or nine sets of recordings announcing all 90+ of the pre-tel winners. I finished about fifteen minutes after the Staples Center telecast began. Then, during the actual CBS telecast when the network went to commercial, screens in Staples Center came down and slides came on with stills of the winners accepting their awards. All the while there was my voice running underneath. It was the loudest I've ever heard my voice played back. I was okay with it.

The deal included a pair of tickets for the Grammy show itself. I brought my step-daughter Tehya as my guest. When I finally got to my seat to join her, it turned out to be in row eleven. Row eleven! Tarentino was about five rows ahead and Kenny Loggins was behind us (which, admittedly, says less about me than it does about Kenny Loggins' career these days). Sarah Jessica Parker kept on walking past us, as did Justin Timberlake and Courtney Love. Amazing.

Rich concluded his Grammy experience with a lasting memory: "The host for the pre-tel was Steve Vai, one of the greatest living rock guitarists. He played on many Zappa albums and just about anywhere else a band needed the ultimate musician. As we were getting to start the show Steve asked if the scripted introduction of yours truly was okay or if I wanted to add anything. I told him there was one thing. And so he obliged me my introducing me as 'The most awesome guitarist I've ever heard.' That got a laugh."

"I've gotten the impression that the Grammy folks might invite me do this again. Let me think about for a moment. Okay," Rich conceded.


Cardiff Studios Home Page