Saturday, July 17, 2010

Yoga, Rostropovich, and Bach; Prelude from the First Cello Suite

Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007) was a first-rate musician with a distinctive and colorful personality. In this clip he intuits a connection between Bach and breathing that is a fundamental part of the practice of Yoga.

As the opening shot changes focus [0:12] notice the drops of rain on the window. Rostropovich mentions rain and a church just after playing half of the Sarabande from the first cello suite on piano:



In a wonderful blur [0:57] one imagines that Rostropovich meant that the music he had just played depicts soft rain, here at the center of the joyous and "youthful" first suite. But this time he is literal. The church to which he refers [1:03] is the Vézelay Abbey in the Burgundian region of France, where his recording of the complete suites was made.

Before leaving to make his recording, he analyzes the first phrase of the opening prelude. He connects the architecture of this phrase directly to breathing [2:21]. Rostropovich found yoga in Bach.

We often associate yoga with movement. It is not movement alone. It is creating a connection to breathing.

"Its constructive process is like the process of generating energy," he says [2:27], likening the first two-and-a-half measures to an inhalation. Exhalation is the point at which "the creative impulse that initiated the phrase is reversed."

As Rostropovich plays the complete phrase [2:51-3:02] one can inhale and exhale in a deep meditative breath that follows the music itself.

One needs to be in a generous mood to allow his calculation for golden mean [3:37-4:11], but what is important is that the timing relationship between inhalation and exhalation is not equal, but that we are building heat by taking in a deep breath.

He plays two complete breaths [4:31-4:49] from the opening of Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-sharp minor, and he finishes his analysis by playing the first complete phrase-breathing [5:45-6:06] from the C major prelude from book one of the Well-Tempered Clavier.

The wonder of Rostropovich is the ease with which he helps associate the elemental in Bach with the cornerstone of life-force; breathing.

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