Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Little History



The structure of a piece such as this - Ave Maria - originally by Bach in The Well-Tempered Clavier, was adapted by Charles Gounod. It inspired Gounod to devise an improvisation of a melody over the C major Prelude (BWV 846) from the collection's first book. The structure of these pieces progress through the harmonics in different keys. Each set contains twenty-four pairs of preludes and fugues. The first pair is in C major, the second in C minor, the third in C-sharp major, the fourth in C-sharp minor, and so on. The rising chromatic pattern continues until every key has been represented, finishing with a B-minor fugue. It inspired Gounod to devise an improvisation of a melody over the C major Prelude (BWV 846) from the collection's first book. To this melody, in 1859, Gounod fitted the words of the Ave Maria, resulting in a setting that became world-famous. This exploration of musical structure is grounded in the fundamental scales generated from standing wave functions represented by relative string lengths.

Music has a unique capacity to move us, its harmonics resonating through our emotional centers and releasing the energies of the mind as well as the flesh. This kind of shared experience has the capacity to move us beyond our normal boundaries and engage us in a dynamic flow that becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Maybe this is the kind of experience that precedes and then builds the necessary synergy for reaching consensus on our human issues.

This idea was expressed long ago by William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride, 1697:

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
I've read, that things inanimate have mov'd,
And, as with living Souls, have been inform'd,
By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.
What then am I? Am I more senseless grown
Than Trees, or Flint? O force of constant Woe!
'Tis not in Harmony to calm my Griefs.
Anselmo sleeps, and is at Peace; last Night
The silent Tomb receiv'd the good Old King;
He and his Sorrows now are safely lodg'd
Within its cold, but hospitable Bosom.
Why am not I at Peace?