Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sarabande Incantation

The sarabande from Bach's third lute suite is as much incantation as dance.

It was a work born of contradictions: Either the third lute suite or the fifth cello suite is an adaptation of the other...which was first? (There is no conclusive evidence). The sarabande fits easily on three systems of staves, but it takes three minutes to perform. Bach's handwriting is hurried but the music is meditative.

This performance on lute is by Jakob Lindberg:



Bach slurs groupings of four tones in each measure before the bass is struck. The four tones stretch into an augmented sonority that bends into a triad. In the third measure an extra upbeat is added to mark the phrase closing.

The next four measures are mirror-like with the bass ringing first in a contour inversion of the four-tone collections. Notice how the notation of the last quarter beat of the 7th measure needs to be continued on the next staff; this situation could easily have been fixed with even the smallest amount of thinking ahead. Bach was fixed like a laser on the idea, ever in the moment.

Measures are filled with 8ths and motion increases into the cadence in the relative major. The repeat [0:36] takes us back to the opening and Lindberg's only ornament is to double the tones in the added upbeat.

The second half of the binary form begins at [1:07] and is parallel to the opening section in gesture but developmental in harmony. An extra four-bar phrase is added [1:37] in brilliant synthesis.

"When you finish the sarabande," said Rostropovich, "you're left with the impression that time is going on at the same pace, and that your breathing continues in the same rhythm." This is a movement that stamps us with an impression of celestial mechanics.

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