The Sheet Music Library (PDF) is a non-profit, subscription library of piano, guitar and vocal scores. Sheet music. Partituras. Partitions. Spartiti. Noten. Partituur. Партиту́ра. 망할 음악 Partitur. 楽譜 Musical scores. 乐谱 Nuty. Bladmuziek. Noty. Free SHEET MUSIC PDFs for educational purposes only.
Dutch pianist Joep Beving was catapulted into stardom when his self released debut album Solipsism, initially made for family and friends, was picked up by Spotify and brought to millions of ears around the world.
Joep Beving is a Dutch pianist, originally from Doetinchem but now based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He makes “simple music for complex emotions”. His work is often labelled as neo-classical, although Beving says he has more of a ‘pop approach’. Beving has also produced music for TV and cinema commercials.
Having studied music, sociology and economics, Joep Beving started working as a copywriter in advertising. His love for music quickly led him to Amsterdam based company MassiveMusic in 2003, where he was head of business development and strategy. In his spare time he wrote music under the alias I are Giant.
Considering himself to be an electronic music producer and/or jazz musician, Beving decided around 2008 that the music he was making didn’t really move his heart. He returned to his piano and his emotions started to flow into piano compositions. He started his own record label and released an album, Solipsism, in 2015. His music was included in several prestigious and massively popular Spotify playlists and before he knew what was happening his album had gained over 60 million streams worldwide, his Spotify artist account followed by well over a million followers.
His rise to online fame (and growing popularity all over the world, particularly in North America) was noticed by prestigious record label, Deutsche Grammophon. Beving’s second full-length release, April 2017’s Prehension, will be released worldwide.
They say you need three things to succeed in the music business – talent, timing and luck. Plus a little something extra to get you noticed. Joep Beving has all four in abundance.
At nearly six foot ten, with his wild hair and flowing beard, the Dutch pianist resembles a friendly giant from a book of children’s fairy tales. But his playing – understated, haunting, melancholic – marks him out as the gentlest of giants, his delicate melodies soothing the soul in these troubled times.
“The world is a hectic place right now,” says Joep. “I feel a deep urge to reconnect on a basic human level with people in general. Music as our universal language has the power to unite. Regardless of our cultural differences I believe we have an innate understanding of what it means to be human. We have our goosebumps to show for it.”
Joep’s music is the antidote to that hectic world of uncertainty and fear – a soundtrack for a kinder, more hopeful future; a score for the unmade film of lives yet to come. “It’s pretty emotional stuff,” agrees Joep. “I call it ‘simple music for complex emotions’. It’s music that enhances images, music that creates a space for the audience to fill in the gaps with their own imagination.”
As for the rest of Joep Beving’s story, it’s one of good fortune and better timing.
Joep (pronounced “Yoop”) first formed a band at 14 and made his live debut in his local town’s jazz festival. He left school torn between a life in music and a career in government. When a wrist injury forced him to abandon his piano studies at the Conservatoire and focus on an Economics degree, it seemed that music’s loss would be the Civil Service’s gain.
But the draw of music was too strong. “It was always in my heart,” he says, “and it always will be.” Reaching a compromise between his two conflicting paths, he spent a decade working for a successful company matching and making music for brands. “But I always had a love-hate relationship with advertising – I was never comfortable using music to sell people stuff they don’t need”.
In his spare time he played keyboards with successful Dutch nu-jazz outfit The Scallymatic Orchestra and self-styled “electrosoulhopjazz collective” Moody Allen, and dabbled in electronica with his one-man project I Are Giant. But, by his own admission: “It was not me. I had not found my own voice”.
That began to change during a trip to Cannes for the Lions Festival – the Oscars of the advertising world – when he played one of his compositions at the grand piano at his hotel… and people started to cry. “It was the first time I had seen the emotional effect my music could have on an audience.”
Encouraged by the response, Joep organised a dinner party for close friends at his home in Amsterdam, where he played them his music on the piano left to him by his late grandmother in 2009. “It was the first time my friends had heard me play music they thought should travel outside my living room. It was the push to pursue the dream of doing a solo album with just my instrument.”
A month later a close friend died unexpectedly, and Joep composed a piece for his funeral service. “I performed it for the first time at his cremation. Afterwards people encouraged me to record it so that it would be a permanent memorial to him. He was an extraordinary person.”
Inspired by the reaction, Joep wrote more tunes and recorded them in single takes over the course of the next three months in his own kitchen, playing in the still of night while his girlfriend and two young daughters were asleep. The result was his debut album Solipsism.
Turned down by the only record label he had approached, he paid to press 1,500 vinyl copies, with artwork by Rahi Rezvani (who also made the stunning video for “The Light She Brings”). Joep staged the album launch in March 2015, in the studio of hot Amsterdam fashion designer Hans Ubbink, and performed it there for the first time.
That first vinyl pressing quickly sold out, mainly to friends, and the songs were an instant hit on Spotify, whose team in New York added one tune – “The Light She Brings” – to a popular ‘Peaceful Piano’ playlist. “People started saving the tune, so they put another one on. Then they started liking the whole of my album.” Soon Solipsism was a viral phenomenon, with another tune, “Sleeping Lotus”, now over 30 million streamed plays. And all songs of both albums together have now been streamed over 180 million times.
As a result of his huge online success, Joep was invited to perform on a prime-time Dutch TV show. The following day his album knocked One Direction off the top of the charts. “Then, a few days later, Adele made her comeback – and I was history,” he laughs. But by then he had made his mark.
He was besieged by concert promoters offering shows, including a prestigious solo recital at Amsterdam’s famous Concertgebouw and his album found its way to Berlin when another friend played it in her local bar, “at 2am with everyone smoking and drinking Moscow Mules.” By chance, one of those night owls was Deutsche Grammophon executive Christian Badzura. After making contact online, they met when Joep performed at Berlin’s Christophori Piano Salon – and ended up signing with the world’s foremost classical label.
The first fruits of the new partnership are Prehension. A natural successor to Solipsism, it carries forward the musical and philosophical themes Joep identifies in his music. “I am reacting to the absolute grotesqueness of the things that are happening around us, in which you feel so insignificant and powerless that you alienate yourself from reality and the people around you because it is so impossible to grasp. I just write what I think is beautiful, leaving out a lot of notes, telling a story through my instrument, trying to unite us with something simple, honest and beautiful.”
Béla Viktor János Bartók (25 March 1881 – 26 September 1945) was a Hungarian composer, pianist, and ethnomusicologist. He is considered one of the most important composers of the 20th century; he and Franz Liszt are regarded as Hungary’s greatest composers.Through his collection and analytical study of folk music, he was one of the founders of comparative musicology, which later became ethnomusicology.
Paul Wilson lists as the most prominent characteristics of Bartók’s music from late 1920s onwards the influence of the Carpathian basin and European art music, and his changing attitude toward (and use of) tonality, but without the use of the traditional harmonic functions associated with major and minor scales.
Although Bartók claimed in his writings that his music was always tonal, he rarely uses the chords or scales of tonality, and so the descriptive resources of tonal theory are of limited use. GeorgePerle (1955) and Elliott Antokoletz (1984) focus on alternative methods of signaling tonal centers, via axes of inversional symmetry.
He rarely used the simple aggregate actively to shape musical structure, though there are notable examples such as the second theme from the first movement of his Second Violin Concerto, commenting that he “wanted to show Schoenberg that one can use all twelve tones and still remain tonal”. More thoroughly, in the first eight measures of the last movement of his Second Quartet, all notes gradually gather with the twelfth (G♭) sounding for the first time on the last beat of measure 8, marking the end of the first section.
The aggregate is partitioned in the opening of the Third String Quartet with C♯–D–D♯–E in the accompaniment (strings) while the remaining pitch classes are used in the melody (violin 1) and more often as 7–35 (diatonic or “white-key” collection) and 5–35 (pentatonic or “black-key” collection) such as in no. 6 of the Eight Improvisations. There, the primary theme is on the black keys in the left hand, while the right accompanies with triads from the white keys. In measures 50–51 in the third movement of the Fourth Quartet, the first violin and cello play black-key chords, while the second violin and viola play stepwise diatonic lines.
On the other hand, from as early as the Suite for piano, Op. 14 (1914), he occasionally employed a form of serialism based on compound interval cycles, some of which are maximally distributed, multi-aggregate cycles. Ernő Lendvai analyses Bartók’s works as being based on two opposing tonal systems, that of the acoustic scale and the axis system, as well as using the golden section as a structural principle.
Milton Babbitt, in his 1949 critique of Bartók’s string quartets, criticized Bartók for using tonality and non-tonal methods unique to each piece. Babbitt noted that “Bartók’s solution was a specific one, it cannot be duplicated”. Bartók’s use of “two organizational principles”—tonality for large scale relationships and the piece-specific method for moment to moment thematic elements—was a problem for Babbitt, who worried that the “highly attenuated tonality” requires extreme non-harmonic methods to create a feeling of closure.
The cataloguing of Bartók’s works is somewhat complex. Bartók assigned opus numbers to his works three times, the last of these series ending with the Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1, Op. 21 in 1921. He ended this practice because of the difficulty of distinguishing between original works and ethnographic arrangements, and between major and minor works. Since his death, three attempts—two full and one partial—have been made at cataloguing.
The first, and still most widely used, is András Szőllősy‘s chronological Sz. numbers, from 1 to 121. Denijs Dille subsequently reorganised the juvenilia (Sz. 1–25) thematically, as DD numbers 1 to 77. The most recent catalogue is that of László Somfai; this is a chronological index with works identified by BB numbers 1 to 129, incorporating corrections based on the Béla Bartók Thematic Catalogue. On 1 January 2016, his works entered the public domain in the European Union.
Béla Bartók‘s Mikrokosmos Sz. 107, BB 105 consists of 153 progressive pianopieces in six volumes written between 1926 and 1939. The individual pieces progress from very easy and simple beginner études to very difficult advanced technical displays, and are used in modern piano lessons and education. In total, according to Bartók, the piece “appears as a synthesis of all the musical and technical problems which were treated and in some cases only partially solved in the previous piano works.”
Volumes one and two are dedicated to his son Péter, while volumes five and six are intended as professionally performable concert pieces. Bartók also indicated that these pieces could also be played on other instruments; Huguette Dreyfus for example has recorded pieces from Books 3 through 6 on the harpsichord.
In 1940, shortly before they emigrated to the United States, he arranged seven of the pieces for two pianos, to provide additional repertoire for himself and his wife Ditta Pásztory-Bartók to play.
All of the six volumes progress in difficulty, namely:
Volumes I and II: Pieces 1–36 and 37–66, beginner level
Volumes III and IV: Pieces 67–96 and 97–121, moderate to advanced level
Volumes V and VI: 122–139 and 140–153, professional level
The list of pieces is as follows:
Volume ISix Unison Melodies (I) (a) Six Unison Melodies (II) (b) Six Unison Melodies (II)Six Unison Melodies (III)Six Unison Melodies (IV)Six Unison Melodies (V)Six Unison Melodies (VI)Dotted NotesRepetition (1)Syncopation (I)With Alternate HandsParallel MotionReflectionChange of PositionQuestion and AnswerVillage SongParallel Motion with Change of PositionContrary MotionFour Unison Melodies (I)Four Unison Melodies (II)Four Unison Melodies (III)Four Unison Melodies (IV)Imitation and CounterpointImitation and Inversion (I)PastoraleImitation and Inversion (II)Repetition (II)Syncopation (II)Canon at the OctaveImitation ReflectedCanon at the Lower FifthDance in Canon FormIn Dorian ModeSlow DanceIn Phrygian ModeChoraleFree Canon
Volume IIIn Lydian ModeStaccato and Legato (I)Staccato and Legato (Canon)In Yugoslav StyleMelody with AccompanimentAccompaniment in Broken Triads (a) In Hungarian Style (for two pianos) (b) In Hungarian StyleContrary Motion (2) (for two pianos) MeditationIncreasing-DiminishingCounty FairIn Mixolydian ModeCrescendo-DiminuendoMinuettoWavesUnison DividedIn Transylvanian StyleChromaticsTriplets in Lydian Mode (for two pianos) Melody in TenthsAccentsIn Oriental StyleMajor and MinorCanon with Sustained NotesPentatonic MelodyMinor Sixths in Parallel MotionBuzzing (a) Line against Point (b) Line against PointDialogue (with voice) Melody Divided
Volume IIIThirds against a Single VoiceHungarian Dance (for two pianos) Study in ChordsMelody against Double NotesThirdsDragons’ DanceSixths and Triads (a) Hungarian Matchmaking Song (b) Hungarian Matchmaking Song (with voice) TripletsIn Three PartsLittle StudyFive-Tone ScaleHommage à Johann Sebastian BachHommage à Robert SchumannWanderingScherzoMelody with InterruptionsMerrimentBroken ChordsTwo Major PentachordsVariationsDuet for PipesIn Four Parts (I)In Russian StyleChromatic Invention (I)Chromatic Invention (II)In Four Parts (II)Once Upon a Time… (a) Fox Song (b) Fox Song (with voice) Jolts
Volume IVNotturnoThumbs UnderHands CrossingIn Folk Song StyleDiminished FifthHarmonicsMinor and Major (a) Wandering through the Keys (b) Wandering through the KeysGame (with Two Five-Tone Scales)Children’s SongMelody in the MistWrestlingFrom the Island of BaliAnd the Sounds Clash and Clang…IntermezzoVariations on a Folk TuneBulgarian Rhythm (I)Theme and InversionBulgarian Rhythm (II)SongBourréeTriplets in 9 8 TimeDance in 3 4 TimeTriadsTwo-Part Study
Volume VChords Together and in Opposition (a) Staccato and Legato (II) (b) Staccato and Legato (II)StaccatoBoatingChange of TimeNew Hungarian Folk Song (with voice) Stamping DanceAlternating ThirdsVillage JokeFourthsMajor Seconds Broken and TogetherSyncopation (III) (a) Studies in Double Notes (b) Studies in Double Notes (c) Studies in Double NotesPerpetuum mobileWhole-Tone ScalesUnisonBagpipe MusicMerry Andrew
Franz Schubert – Trout Quintet & Variations on Trockne Blumen & Piano Trio. Martin Helmchen, Christian Tetzlaff, Antoine Tamestit, Marie-Elisabeth Hecker, Alois Posch, Aldo Baerten. PENTATONE PTC 5186334 (2009).
Jean Reinhardt (23 January 1910 – 16 May 1953), known to all by his Romani nickname Django, was a Belgian-born Romani-French jazz guitarist and composer. He was the first major jazz talent to emerge from Europe and remains the most significant.
Reinhardt’s most popular compositions have become standards within gypsy jazz, including “Minor Swing“, “Daphne”, “Belleville”, “Djangology”, “Swing ’42”, and “Nuages“. Jazz guitarist Frank Vignola claims that nearly every major popular-music guitarist in the world has been influenced by Reinhardt. Over the last few decades, annual Django festivals have been held throughout Europe and the U.S., and a biography has been written about his life. In February 2017, the Berlin International Film Festival held the world premiere of the French film Django.
Stéphane Grappelli (26 January 1908 – 1 December 1997), born Stefano Grappelli, was a French-Italian jazz violinist who founded the Quintette du Hot Club de France with guitarist Django Reinhardt in 1934. It was one of the first all-string jazz bands. He has been called “the grandfather of jazz violinists” and continued playing concerts around the world well into his eighties.
For the first three decades of his career, he was billed using a gallicised spelling of his last name, Grappelly, reverting to Grappelli in 1969. The latter, Italian spelling is now used almost universally when referring to the violinist, including reissues of his early work.
The rhythmic traits for which jazz is known and at which it excels—groove, swing, speed, heat, cool, polyrhythm, conversational interaction among players, dense and irregular improvised motives and phrases, antiphonal call and response, and more—are all but absent in ISC. Most modern jazz group performance emphasizes strict periodicity with terriﬁc forward momentum created by players’ rhythmically propulsive contributions. Formidable mastery, poise, and virtuosity are needed to play.
Tempi are characteristically either fast enough to scare off would-be pretenders, or, just as daringly, cooled off to an unruffled “ballad” speed, and steady in either case. The metric backbone is the succession of harmonies with the beat usually actualized and propelled by the walking quarter notes of the bass and the drums’ “ride” cymbal. Though harmonies change on measure downbeats and sometimes middles, the beats in between—beats and in a four-beat measure—are stressed to create a driving backbeat.
Solo performances and recordings are almost exclusively the provenance of pianists, who could use the left hand to simulate the roles of the rhythm section, with either walking bass lines or the evocation of earlier styles such as stride or boogie-woogie. Monk himself made extensive use of these latter techniques on his own solo records, as well as on the unaccompanied numbers that were generally included in his live sets. Solo performers such as Art Tatum would also “extemporize,” straying from steady time in introductions, quasi-cadenzas, and so on. For Monk, though, a solo ballad like ISC was an opportunity to stretch time in a far more radical manner, eschewing steady time almost completely.
Swing, an idiomatic variation of the timing of the subdivided beat, depends on underlying regularity. It involves a dynamic relationship between measured periodicity and the realm of unmeasured music, rhythmic freedom that can be implied through soloists’ styles. This dynamism in turn references a melodic vernacular—the sense that a soloist is “speaking through their horn.” Some would argue that this has to do with the lyricism of the human voice, others that it represents some kind of middle ground between a discursive, rhetorical European way of making music and a more interactive, poly-rhythmic African approach. Others might say that both are true or that it simply feels good, and that, having been discovered and developed at the turn of the twentieth century, it proved irresistible.
Monk’s ISC can be said to swing only in the colloquial sense of being compellingly musical, that is, simply because he is saying something in a distinctive way. But strictly understood, swing can exist only against a conception of steady time, and in this recording nothing keeps time.
Except ﬂeetingly in a few spots, it is impossible to move the body in any regular pulsation to Monk’s playing. He is clearly not keeping steady time internally—or else he has a very different clock. If we listen intently for the regularity most bodies crave—and which we expect from familiarity with more standard versions of the song—we must jolt in and out of time with him. The slow regular beat of the tune’s harmonic progression remains impassively present, a law both obeyed and mocked. Monk often played solo ballads in this manner, a meditation with outbursts, with an aﬀect both reverent and ironic. In live performance with a group, this number would be surrounded by tunes that swung hard. In other words ISC’s rubato is heard—and is meant to be heard—in terms of the absence of jazz’s most authentic rhythmic traits, and of Monk’s abandonment of them in the service of other qualities.
One of the most ergonomic inventions in human history, the piano and its eighty-eight-key action are among jazz’s essential European legacies. Its technology has empowered musical cultures as distant as Burmese and African American to adapt it to their own idioms, extending out from the panoply of European approaches to the instrument on completely unforeseen trajectories. Jazz piano’s trajectories crisscross and meld into a great tradition of their own.
No one gains entrance into the pantheon of jazz pianism without a strongly identiﬁable voice on the instrument. The differences among pianists are bread and butter to jazz lovers, from earlier era virtuosi like Jelly Roll Morton, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Earl Hines, and Art Tatum through beboppers like Bud Powell and Mary Lou Williams and on to a diversity of post-bop players far too numerous to cite or describe. But, as we have said, even among these names Monk comes in at a different angle due to a tightly bound combination of pianistic idiosyncrasies, harmony, and rhythm.
Yet we cannot properly appreciate these elements outside the context of what his peers developed for the instrument. Keyboard concept, technique, and historical currents conspire to shape pianists’ approaches. All pianists have to consider multiple aesthetic issues determining what kinds of textures to favor in developing a style.
Individual tunes suggest their own approaches, but players develop idioms that carry over from tune to tune. Voicings can be played with from one to ten ﬁngers—or sometimes, in Monk’s case, with ﬂattened palms. Overall motion can be dense or sparse. The hands can be independent or interdependent. One can move freely around the entire keyboard or stay closer to its more conventional, “vocal” center. Nuances of touch, phrasing, and dynamic are essential.
Piano styles also group historically. The “orchestral” ways of playing that developed in jazz’s ﬁrst few decades were strongly inﬂuenced by brass band marches and ragtime, and by the fact that before World War II jazz was primarily dance music. Pianists of those years tended to provide a clear beat and full harmonic support. Some, like bandleader Count Basie, favored economy of notes and texture. In contrast, there was nothing in piano technique or harmony that Art Tatum could not execute astonishingly, nor did he hesitate to infuse most everything he played with the encyclopedia of approaches at his disposal, in all kinds of combinations and throughout the entire range of the keyboard.
Bebop was for listening, not dancing, and its speed an excuse for cutting—that is, outplaying and stumping cohorts. The competition nudged piano technique to become lighter, ﬂeeter, and sparser. The walking bass and drums safeguarded the time so pianists needed to do less in that regard, and the bass register was to some degree forsaken. Bud Powell’s style often rested on a chassis of insistent, rhythmically irregular, somewhat grating left-hand “shells” (the root of the chord played in the bass register, plus the seventh directly above it). Jutting from below, they cut in under single-line right-hand melodies that looped around the upper two-thirds of the keyboard, equaling Charlie Parker’s saxophone lines in their density and irregular phrasing.
In the 50s, jazz cooled off, tributaries of eclectic styles blossomed, and it became necessary to know how to play in many ways. Red Garland could imitate the fast-moving close harmonies of big band saxophone sections in passages featuring thick, parallel, two-handed chords moving with melodic gestures. Wynton Kelly emphasized idiomatic blues riffs. Inﬂuences of Cuban and Brazilian styles, and of modern European composition, gradually took root. But in the main, Powell’s saxophone-like approach to the right hand prevailed, while in the left hand many developed harmonically richer voicings, deployed somewhat like Powell’s shells.
Analysis of Two Peers
Compare ﬁgure 4.4’s transcriptions of the opening of I Should Care as played by Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans, two strikingly different but equally iconic pianists of the time. Peterson, stylistic and technical heir to Tatum, plays solo here with mid-range voicings of up to eight notes, some with left-hand shells, most containing all triad tones and the seventh. As mentioned earlier, he doubles the harmonic rhythm to quarter-note speed, which allows interpolation of tritone substitution dominants preparing the V and the I chords of mm. 1-2. The Eb7 at m. 1, beat 4 is voiced with a pungent #9 in addition to the seventh chord itself. Peterson exploits the hidden presence of an F# major triad within this sonority, playing it with the right hand to separate it from the Eb major triad
Figure 4.4a. Opening measures of Oscar Peterson’s version of I Should Care (transposed to D from the original key of Bb). From Soul-O!; Oscar Peterson, solo piano. Figure 4.4b. Opening measures of Bill Evans’s version of I Should Care (transposed to D from the original key of C). From How My Heart Sings!; Bill Evans, piano, Chuck Israels, bass, and Paul Motian, drums.
Figure 4.4a and 4.4b
he places in the left. The left-hand triad then slides down in parallel motion to the downbeat of m. 2, but in the right the A# moves to A while the other tones remain in place. This reveals an F# minor triad comprising the third, ﬁfth, and seventh of the DM7. The superpositions of triads and impeccable voice leading of this chord change are of a special richness in this region of the keyboard.
Shooting up in register, the F#7 chord on the second triplet eighth of m. 2, beat V is V of the B7 chord on beat 3, itself an applied V to the Em7 of m. 3. The F#7 is notable for its #9 (A) and the #5 (D), which is perhaps there only because Peterson has omitted the ﬁfth of the chord (C# ; see also ﬁgure 4.3, middle column and second row under “Chromatic Tones”). On the next beat, where he brings the melody to a local peak, the ﬁfth (F#) is again omitted, but both thirteenth (G#) and b thirteenth (G) are included. This B7, voiced with the root as an afterbeat, contains additional extension tones C and F that, combined with the others, conceal G# major, F major, C minor, and A diminished triads all at once. This sequence of lavish chords, texturally full and smooth, steady and propelled in rhythm and with a legato touch, give ISC sumptuous treatment.
Evans’s bass player Chuck Israels provides all the chord roots in metrically secure positions, so rather than double them or their rhythm, the pianist parries them with the left hand, playing deft offbeat rhythmic punches that converse polyrhythmically with the right hand’s intricate embellishment of the melody. Beyond this, however, Evan’s chord structures are similar to, albeit thinner than, Peterson’s. He remains in the piano’s central register, and he is equally fastidious about voice leading: the majority of the chord-to-chord connections proceed by step.
The elegantly contoured right-hand line begins by hugging the original tune, but transforms it completely after m. 4 (while still brushing the original C, B, and A in mm. 5-7). Evans sometimes uses melody to enrich the voicings, as when A–F# –D (thirteenth, #eleventh, ninth) is heard over the C7 chord in m. 8. He also gingerly clashes with them by using avoid tones, as with the F (#7) over the F#7b5 in m. 4, or the Eb similarly related to its Em7 harmony two measures later (see ﬁgure 4.3, left column and top row under “Chromatic Tones”). In both cases, though, Evans is careful to promptly lead by step to a more consonant resolution: the former moves up to F# at the end of the measure, while the latter goes directly down to D.
As we take up analysis of Monk’s ISC, we will ﬁnd that features creating continuity in these two short excerpts—stepwise motion, propulsive rhythm, mid-range voicing, and a consistent level of density and dissonance—are missing. Monk did not by any means invent the notion of favoring discontinuities in these parameters. He did not come from nowhere, and it is well established that his style is part of a lineage extending from before Duke Ellington, through Monk, and on to later ﬁgures like avantgardist Cecil Taylor, not to mention the many who deliberately emulated Monk in recent decades. To hear those connections is a project for another time that would enable a crucial historical and stylistic narrative. But to frame Monk against the prevailing, more conventionally tasteful modern jazz aesthetics illustrated by ﬁgure 4.4 is to hear him at his most inimitable and strange.
Charlie Rouse (ts) Thelonious Monk (p) Edward “Butch” Warren (b) Ben Riley (d)
Four In One I’m Getting Sentimental Over You Straight No Chaser Well, You Needn’t Epistrophy Blue Monk Sweet And Lovely Hackensack Rhythm-A-Ning Bright Mississippi Epistrophy(reprise)
Thelonious Monk is one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time and one of first creators of modern jazz.
Who Was Thelonious Monk?
Thelonious Monk is one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time and one of first creators of modern jazz and bebop. For much of his career, Monk played with small groups at Milton’s Playhouse. Many of his compositions have become jazz standards, including “Well, You Needn’t,” “Blue Monk” and “Round Midnight.” His spares and angular music had a levity and playfulness to it.
Thelonious Monk was born on October 10, 1917 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. When he was just four, his parents, Barbara and Thelonious, Sr., moved to New York City, where he would spend the next five decades of his life.
Monk began studying classical piano when he was eleven but had already shown some aptitude for the instrument. “I learned how to read before I took lessons,” he later recalled. “You know, watching my sister practice her lessons over her shoulder.” By the time Monk was thirteen, he had won the weekly amateur competition at the Apollo Theater so many times that the management banned him from re-entering the contest.
At age seventeen, Monk dropped out of the esteemed Stuyvesant High School to pursue his music career. He toured with the so-called “Texas Warhorse,” an evangelist and faith healer, before assembling a quartet of his own. Although it was typical to play for a big band at this time, Monk preferred a more intimate work dynamic that would allow him to experiment with his sound.
In 1941, Monk began working at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem, where he joined the house band and helped develop the school of jazz known as bebop. Alongside Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, he explored the fast, jarring, and often improvised styles that would later become synonymous with modern jazz.
Monk’s first known recording was made in 1944, when he worked as a member of Coleman Hawkins’s quartet. Monk didn’t record under his own name, however, until 1947, when he played as the leader of a sextet session for Blue Note.
Monk made a total of five Blue Note recordings between 1947 and 1952, including “Criss Cross” and “Evidence.” These are generally regarded as the first works characteristic of Monk’s unique jazz style, which embraced percussive playing, unusual repetitions and dissonant sounds. As Monk saw it, “The piano ain’t got no wrong notes!” Though widespread recognition was still years away, Monk had already earned the regard of his peers as well as several important critics.
The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz was established in 1986 by the Monk family and Maria Fisher. Its mission is to offer public school-based jazz education programs for young people around the globe, helping students develop imaginative thinking, creativity, curiosity, a positive self-image, and a respect for their own and others’ cultural heritage. In addition to hosting an annual International Jazz Competition since 1987, the institute also helped, through its partnership with UNESCO, designate April 30, 2012, as the first annual International Jazz Day.
The number of truly wonderful pianists is astounding. There are countless innovative and unique artists that have taken composition and performance to new heights. It can be easy to get discouraged with your own playing in the face of such greatness, but I’d like to point out that there is one thing every great pianist has in common, regardless of time period or style – they all were inspired by and influenced by those who came before them!
When I first started learning to play piano, I only played and listened to classical music. I wasn’t exposed to jazz until a few years later, and it took some time for me to understand and appreciate it. Jazz is fundamentally about improvisation in the moment. Playing jazz has taught me how to improvise a melody over any chord progression in any key, and while studying jazz, I’ve also learned how to harmonize a melody, add color tones to chords, and play basslines. Listening to jazz has taught me how to tell a story using music. Great jazz musicians do this by developing short musical ideas or motifs into long passages that are cohesive and meaningful.
If you are a classical pianist or a beginner that is interested in learning more about jazz piano, this list is for you! I hope that these recommendations can serve as a stepping stone for you to become more immersed in the world of jazz music. One of the best ways to get better at playing piano is to listen to great pianists, so I encourage you to listen to what these giants of jazz have to offer!
1. Thelonious Monk (1917-1982)
American jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk’s unmistakable flat-fingered playing has been heavily influential to many generations of pianists. Monk was born in North Carolina, but moved to New York City as a child, where, as a teenager, he began to gig as a professional pianist. His eccentric playing style is defined by unusual pauses and messy, angular melodies. He was known for suddenly standing up and walking around to watch the rest of the band play, as if he was in a trance. Monk stabbed at the piano with such a ferocity that he would sometimes hit notes adjacent to those he was aiming for.
One of my favorite jazz professors, however, told me that he thought that Monk never hit a note that he didn’t intend to hit. Monk struggled with unidentified mental health issues for a large part of his adult life, but his music was not affected negatively. On the contrary, Monk only wrote 70 tunes, but all of them have become immensely popular jazz standards, and he is now the second most recorded jazz composer of all time (Duke Ellington takes the number 1 spot). There will never be another Thelonious Monk, and it is well worth your time to listen to, understand, and emulate his captivating and carefree style in your own playing.
Recommended listening: “Locomotive,” “Blue Monk,” “Well, You Needn’t”
2. Art Tatum (1909-1956)
American jazz pianist Art Tatum is one of the most virtuosic pianists of all time. He utilized incredibly fast flourishes and a pulsing stride rhythm to dazzle his audiences. Art Tatum was so good, in fact, that he felt playing with other musicians slowed him down! Tatum’s use of extended harmony (adding notes like like b13ths and #9s to a dominant chord) was well ahead of its time, and would serve to be highly inspirational to later pioneers of jazz harmony like Charlie Parker. There is very little camera footage of Art Tatum playing, but it was often said that he made playing look effortless – he didn’t move around at the piano or make faces.
If listening to Tatum isn’t one of the most impressive things you’ve ever heard, consider this: Tatum was legally blind and mostly self taught! This means that he played the piano almost entirely through muscle memory and utilized techniques that he invented himself, like his famous “2 finger runs.” Oscar Peterson (one of the most phenomenal jazz pianists of all time, also included in this list) confessed that he was intimidated to play in Art Tatum’s presence, and at one point said that “Tatum scared me to death.”
Recommended listening: “Elegy,” “Tiger Rag”
3. Herbie Hancock (b. 1940)
Herbie Hancock is a living legend, and remains one of the most well-known pianists of all time. Hancock was a child prodigy, but his career was jump-started when he joined Miles Davis’ Quintet in 1963. There is a famous story about how Miles Davis once told Herbie Hancock before a recording session: “Don’t play the bottom notes,” but Herbie misheard him say “Don’t play the butter notes.” Because of this, Herbie changed his entire outlook on how to develop accompaniment harmonically, because he thought Miles was telling him to not play common chord tones.
Thereafter, Herbie Hancock was responsible for advancing an unorthodox style of jazz harmony that sometimes abandoned traditional chord changes entirely in favor of colors and rhythm, which played a large part in the birth of a wide ranging style known as jazz-fusion. He still plays and records music to this day, and serves as the LA Philharmonic Creative Chair For Jazz, as well as Institute Chairman for the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.
Bill Evans was an American jazz pianist best known for his work with his own trio and for his playing on the best selling jazz record of all time, Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue. Evans was classically trained, and studied composition and classical piano interpretation at Southeastern Louisiana University and the Mannes School of Music in Manhattan. His classical training gave him a unique approach and a tamed virtuosity that fueled the modal jazz and bebop playing he later became well known for.
Evans was very deliberate in his playing, and in interviews he was clear in his belief that students of music should not approximate or guess during the learning process and should instead foster a strong, foundational understanding of music.
He believed that “jazz” is a style of playing music that is fundamentally about about improvisation over a framework, and not a genre of music with a specific sound. He described playing jazz as “Making one-minute’s music in one-minute’s time.” Evans often utilized large, impressionistic block chords to harmonize a single melodic line, which gave an effect reminiscent of a jazz saxophone section playing Debussy.
Recommended listening: “Minority,” “So What,” “Waltz for Debby”
5. Keith Jarrett (b. 1945)
Keith Jarrett is an American pianist whose inimitable style has won him awards and accolades in both the jazz and classical worlds, an exceedingly rare feat. His 1975 album, The Köln Concert, with worldwide sales of over 3.5 million copies, is the best-selling solo album in jazz history, as well as the best-selling piano album of all time.
Keith Jarrett’s intense study of classical and jazz music make his improvisations and interpretations of existing musical material supremely unique. Jarrett’s style often involves playing multiple musical layers simultaneously, which can sound as if there are multiple pianists, or even multiple pianos, rather than just one! Jarrett is known for being very animated during live performances, sometimes shouting or standing while he plays.
He is also particular about live performances—insisting that audiences must be extremely quiet and not take photographs, because even small distractions ruin his concentration during free improvisation.
Recommended listening: “The Köln Concert,” “Jasmine,” “Landscape For Future Earth”
6. Oscar Peterson (1925-2007)
Oscar Peterson was a Canadian jazz pianist with a flamboyant, virtuosic striding style that was reminiscent of the elder Art Tatum, and is widely considered one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. Tatum was a model for the younger Peterson, and in order to catch up to his idol, Peterson practiced six hours a day for decades! In addition to his love for Tatum and boogie-woogie, Peterson was classically trained and drew a wealth of influence from JS Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, as well as Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos.
Oscar Peterson’s playing was littered with extremely fast and swinging 32nd-note melodic improvisations. One thing to notice as a listener, is how each note Peterson plays is extremely precise—I think there is a little bit of a cleaner, more thoughtful execution in Peterson’s playing than in Art Tatum’s wildly creative flourishes.
Recommended listening: “Blues For Bird,” “Cherokee,”
7. Brad Mehldau (b. 1970)
Brad Mehldau is an American jazz pianist and composer known well known for his jazz trio and for his virtuosic contrapuntal interpretations of rock and pop music. I was first introduced to Mehldau because of fantastic covers of songs by three of my favorite pop artists: Radiohead, The Beatles, and Elliott Smith. Mehldau is able to seamlessly blend the pop framework present in artists like this with a refined jazz sensibility. Another aspect of Mehldau’s work that stands out is his willingness to embrace synthesizers and electric pianos as worthy musical tools that, despite sounding and feeling different than the piano, are as useful the piano itself.
Some other pianists on this list, like Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, are known for their dislike of using electric instruments. Mehldau’s pop influence is clear in the production and sound of some of his recent records, like Highway Rider, which features punchy, clean drums and a bright, full and rounded piano sound that would fit in well on an indie-rock record.
Recommended listening: “Exit Music (For A Film),” “Sky Turning Grey[For Elliott Smith],” “Memory’s Tricks”
8. Hiromi Uehara (b. 1979)
Hiromi Uehara, known professionally as just “Hiromi,” is a Japanese jazz pianist and composer. Watching Hiromi play is mesmerising – she’s a fantastic performer, and her shows are extremely energetic and engaging. She improvises incredibly difficult rhythmic and melodic figures seemingly effortlessly, and without even looking at the piano. You have to see her play to believe it! She studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston in the early 2000’s, where she was mentored by Ahmad Jamal and Richard Evans, both of whom helped her to release her first record. Since then, she has maintained a successful solo career that has included leading her own jazz trio. Stylistically, Hiromi’s music is hard to pinpoint.
She says that she’s been influenced by many kinds of music, from classical and jazz to metal and rock and beyond. There is a joyful wonder in her work that transcends genre, and there is little doubt that she will continue to grow as an artist and influence generations of pianists yet to come.
Recommended listening: “I Got Rhythm”
9. Dave Brubeck (1920-2012)
Dave Brubeck is most well known for his top selling record Time Out, which includes classics like “Take 5” and “Blue Rondo A La Turk.” Brubeck’s writing often employed odd time signatures and sometimes even multiple tonalities in his compositions. “Blue Rondo A La Turk” is a great example of both of these idiosyncratic compositional tools at work. Brubeck’s iconic work with sax player Paul Desmond was instrumental in the development of “cool jazz,” which is a relaxed, downtempo style of playing that contrasts sharply with the zany upbeat nature of bebop. Brubeck’s piano work was often a contrast of improvised sing-song melodies and bombastic block chords with accented rhythms.
Recommended listening: “Take 5,” “Blue Rondo A La Turk,” “Unsquare Dance”
10. Vince Guaraldi (1928-1976)
American jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi is most well known for writing the music to the animated Peanuts TV specials, including A Charlie Brown Christmas, as well as the feature film A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Guaraldi had a careful, plaintive touch to the piano. His solo lines are highly melodic and often sound more like what a saxophone player or a singer would play than a pianist. He was fond of strong rhythmic vamps in the left hand, playing large block chords with both hands, and chromatic turns that involve dragging fingers from a black key to a white key – a pop piano technique that is frowned upon in the classical style.
Guaraldi’s playing is not always technically difficult, in contrast to some of the other pianists on this list, but his style is nevertheless unmistakably unique.
If anyone might be said to have had music in his blood, it is Johann Sebastian Bach. In the central German region of Thuringia where he was born, the Bachs were known as musicians, and had been for generations, in the same way that other families might be known as bakers or shoemakers. Sebastian’s father Johann Ambrosius was a professional musician-director of the Stadtpfeifer, or town musicians, at Eisenach-and the family home must have been a veritable beehive of musical activity, filled with the sound of practising, tuning, instrumental repair work, and music-making of all kinds.
Great versatility was expected of the Stadtpfeifer: despite their name (literally ‘town pipers’), they were expected to master string, wind, and brass instruments alike.
This cannot have escaped the notice of the child Bach, who might even have learned the rudiments of a variety of instruments himself. In any case, it is likely that he learned the violin, which he is said to have played as a youth ‘cleanly and penetratingly’, from his father, who was first and foremost a violinist.
Bach’s childhood musical experience
was by no means restricted to instrumental playing, however. As a member of the chorus musicus at Eisenach (presumably), Ohrdruf, and Liineburg, he would have taken part in elaborate polyphonic and concerted music at church services, thereby gaining experience that would prove invaluable in later years. And in view of his natural musical talent and ‘uncommonly fine soprano voice’, he was no doubt at some stage assigned the role of concertist (soloist).
The repertoire of the chorus musicus at Eisenach included fifteenth- and sixteenth-century a cappella music by Walter, Senft, Josquin, Obrecht, and others, as well as seventeenth-century German music by Michael Praetorius, Schein, Schutz, Hammerschmidt, and Johann Christoph Bach. Still greater riches were available to the Michaelisschule, which Bach attended in Liineburg. Its great choir library is lost, but according to an inventory of 1695 it contained over a thousand pieces drawn from seventeenth-century Germany and Italy. Composers represented include Schiitz, Hammerschmidt, Buxtehude, Rosenmiiller, Krieger, Strunck, Weckmann, Monteverdi, and Carissimi.
Since the Mettenchor (Matins choir) of which Bach was a member drew its repertory from this library, he must have become familiar with a vast amount of music both ancient and modern, from a cappella motets in the polyphonic style of the sixteenth century to relatively up-to-date concerted music for voices and instruments.
It is against this background of constant vocal and instrumental activity that we must view the young Bach’s decision to specialize in the organ and harpsichord. This should not be regarded as a sign of narrowing interest, but rather as the emergence of a specific focus amid ongoing wide-ranging musical experience. Between the ages of ten and fifteen (1695-1700) he received a thorough training in the playing of keyboard instruments in Ohrdruf from his elder brother Johann Christoph, who had studied with the family friend Johann Pachelbel in Erfurt and might be supposed to have passed on what he had learnt.
The younger Bach seems to have made astonishing progress: ‘In a short time he had fully mastered all the pieces his brother had willingly given him to learn’; and in 1702, at the age of seventeen and only a couple of years after leaving Ohrdruf, he was unanimously elected to the post of organist at the Jacobikirche, Sangerhausen (an alternative candidate was, however, imposed by the reigning duke). In the following year he gave the inaugural recital at the new Wender organ in the Neuekirche, Arnstadt, and so impressed the local citizens that he was offered the post of organist there. Before the recital, he had been invited to examine the new organ-a testimony to the reputation he had already established, at the age of eighteen, as an organ expert.
The question arises how he had acquired that knowledge when so young. The organ at the Georgenkirche, Eisenach, which his uncle Johann Christoph played, and the two organs at the Michaeliskirche, Ohrdruf, played by his elder brother (also Johann Christoph) were in constant need of repair; and the child Bach no doubt learnt much from discussing the problems with his relatives ( and perhaps with organ builders called in to carry out repairs) and from assisting them with routine maintenance work. Later on, at least by 1708, this direct, ‘hands-on’ knowledge would be backed up by detailed study of Werckmeister’s Orgelprobe of 1681, the best-known authority on the organ of the time, covering organ building, renovation, testing, tuning methods, and the duties of the organist.
It is not at all clear when Bach began to compose,
or to study composition, nor what form that study took. It seems reasonable to pinpoint the period of formal keyboard tuition in Ohrdruf, but there is no evidence that his teacher-brother Johann Christoph was a composer; and C. P. E. Bach told Forkel that ‘the instruction [he] received … in Ohrdruf may well have been designed for an organist and nothing more’. It has even been suggested13 that the young Bach might have sought primarily a virtuoso organist’s career rather than that of a composer.
On the other hand, he might have been inspired to pursue keyboard playing and composition in tandem by the example of two illustrious relatives of his father’s generation, the brothers Johann Christoph and Johann Michael Bach. Johann Christoph was not only church organist and court harpsichordist at Eisenach, where the child Bach, before the age of ten, would have come into close contact with him, but a ‘profound’, ‘great and expressive’ composer. Johann Michael, whose daughter Bach later married, was both church organist at Gehren and an ‘able composer’ of sacred vocal music and organ chorales.
A still more illustrious model for the young organist-composer was Bach’s brother’s teacher Johann Pachelbel, organist at Erfurt and Gotha during Bach’s childhood. Furthermore, during the first five or six years of the eighteenth century Bach would encounter three highly significant role models in the North German towns of Luneburg, Hamburg and Lubeck: Georg Bohm, Jan Adam Reincken and Dieterich Buxtehude. Reincken and Buxtehude, in particular, were versatile musicians of great professional expertise-at once virtuoso organists and erudite, technically accomplished composers.
Bach could hardly fail to observe that, unlike his Thuringian relatives-who earned their living simply as humble servants of town, church or court-these two North-German masters commanded considerable status and independence as artistic personalities in their own right. Nor, incidentally, could he have remained unimpressed by the rich musical life of the Hanseatic trading cities in which they dwelt, Hamburg and Lubeck. Hamburg, which Bach visited several times in 1700-2, was not only a great centre for organ and church music but home to the first German civic opera house, founded in the Gansemarkt in 1678.
Lubeck was the scene of Buxtehude’s Abendmusiken, events in which sacred works on the scale of oratorios were performed publicly in an extra-liturgical context on five successive Sundays each autumn. On 2 and 3 December 1705 Bach must have heard, and possibly taken part in, two such performances: Buxtehude’s funeral music for Kaiser Leopold I, Castrum doloris (Bux:WV 134), and his homage music for Kaiser Joseph I, Templum honoris (Bux:WV 135).
As for the study of composition,
there is no evidence in Bach’s case of formal tuition such as Handel received from Zachow; and C. P. E. Bach may well be stating no more than the truth when he declares that his father ‘learned chiefly by the observation of the works of the most famous and proficient composers of his day and by the fruits of his own reflection upon them’.
His insatiable curiosity, which he attempted to satisfy by the time-honoured method of copying music by hand, is illustrated by the well-known story of his copying out by moonlight a book of keyboard pieces by the South-German composers Froberger, Kerll and Pachelbela book that belonged to his teacher-brother Johann Christoph and that for some reason had been withheld from him. The book presumably reflected something of the repertoire that Pachelbel taught his pupils, for all three composers are also represented in a tablature manuscript belonging to another pupil, Johann Valentin Eckelt.
In Llineburg, at the very beginning of the eighteenth century (1700-2), Bach must have encountered the music of Georg Bohm, organist at the Johanniskirche; and in a letter C. P. E. Bach at first described him as his father’s ‘teacher’ before crossing the word out and replacing it with ‘the Liineburg organist’. C. P. E. Bach can hardly have conjured the word out of thin air, and it might perhaps hint that Bohm occupied some kind of informal supervisory role.
In any case, it is clear from Bach’s early music how much he must have learnt from Bohm, as well as from the other North-German composers he encountered around the same time, in particular Reincken, Buxtehude, and Bruhns. Many of their keyboard works are included alongside the early works of Bach himself in two manuscript volumes compiled by his Ohrdruf brother Johann Christoph between about 1704 and 1713, namely the Moller Manuscript and the Andreas Bach Book.
It is more than likely that the young Bach was himself responsible for bringing these works south to Thuringia upon his return from Liineburg in 1702, and again, perhaps, after his Lubeck visit in the winter of 1705-6. In addition to North-German works, the two volumes include music from other parts of Germany, notably by Kuhnau, Zachow, Telemann, Pachelbel, and J. C. F. Fischer, as well as a certain amount of French and Italian music. Again, much of this music might have been made available to Johann Christoph by his younger brother, who seems to have had a voracious appetite for acquainting himself with music written in as many different styles and genres as possible.
The presence of Albinoni trio sonatas in the Moller Manuscript ties in with the youthful Bach’s study of Albinoni, Corelli, and Legrenzi, to which his works of the time bear witness. The French ensemble works in the two volumes, by Lully and Marais, are no doubt similar in style to the music Bach heard at Liineburg Castle, played by the French orchestra kept by the Duke of Celle. From this experience the young Bach is said to have ‘acquired a thorough grounding in the French taste’.
Moreover, in works by him, Bohm, and Telemann in the Andreas Bach Book we encounter the contemporary German vogue for transferring the Lullian style to the keyboard. At the same time, works by Lebegue and Marchand in Johann Christoph’s volumes show the youthful Bach making the acquaintance of original French keyboard music.
All these works, whether French, Italian, or German, contributed to the formation of Bach’s style and technique; and their gradual assimilation helps to explain the extraordinary richness and density of his mature music in all its manifestations.
Describing Bach’s first attempts at composition,
his first biographer Johann Nikolaus Forkel talks of his tendency ‘to run or leap up and down the instrument, to take both hands as full as all the five fingers will allow, and to proceed in this wild manner till he by chance finds a resting place’.
Despite the obvious element of caricature (like many later writers, Forkel tended to denigrate Bach’s early works, comparing them unfavourably with his mature masterpieces), one can recognize here a certain type within Bach’s early music: that which has its roots in his own developing virtuosity as a player and improviser. But contrary to Forkel’s implication, these works seldom degenerate into empty passage-work. For the young Bach, as for other playercomposers, ideas emerged from the very possibilities of his instrument, and from his own skill at exploiting them.
Thereby he made contact with a rich vein of fantasy that, pace Forkel again, imparts ideas of genuine value to the early keyboard works. There is an obvious affinity here with the so-called stylus phantasticus, or fantastic style, as exemplified by Buxtehude’s praeludia.
Here again, the composer’s own free fantasy, called forth on the spur of the moment by direct contact with his instrument, is the decisive factor. North-German praeludia of this kind no doubt made a powerful impact on the youth from Thuringia; but free fantasy is too spontaneous to be easily imitated, and the rhapsodic effusions of the D major Toccata, BWV 912, for example, are highly personal, which perhaps explains why they sound so romantic to our ears.
It is easy to see how this ‘most free and unrestrained manner of composing’ might have emerged of its own accord out of Bach’s training as an organist under Johann Christoph at Ohrdruf, particularly as improvisation would have been involved as an essential prerequisite for an organist’s career. But his aspirations to be a composer also have another, quite different source.
At an early stage he seems to have shown a remarkable aptitude for fugal and contrapuntal writing-though it must be confessed that we find nothing in early Bach to approach the contrapuntal achievements of the 25-year-old Frescobaldi in his Il primo libro delle fantasie of 1608, or of the 21-year-old Purcell in his ensemble fantasias of 1680. And although subject-based music, such as fugues and chorale arrangements, were often improvised at the time, their advanced pursuit in the long run required tuition or, at the very least, a careful, patient study of models.
This the youth willingly undertook, according to C. P. E. Bach: ‘Through his own study and reflection alone he became, even in his youth, a pure and strong fugue writer’.
Here we catch a glimpse of the studious Bach who, rather than using his fingers to call forth fantasy, set his mind to the art of construction in sound. From an early age he seems to have been drawn towards the learned, academic side of music-never for its own sake, however, but in the service of a strong, expressive content, for, as we are told by his son, he was ‘no lover of dry, mathematical stuff’. The development of the mind plays a key role here, and the young Bach showed exceptional intellectual ability, his school work repeatedly outperforming that of his older fellow students at the schools in Eisenach, Ohrdruf, and Liineburg where he was educated.
The two opposing elements of intellectual control and spontaneous fantasy tend to jostle for the upper hand in Bach’s early music. In time, however, the intellect would increasingly predominate to the extent that the composer’s reliance on his own instrument for inspiration gradually diminished. No weakening of fantasy was involved in this process, but that element no longer arose primarily from the interaction between player and instrument; instead, it emerged from within.
Even the player-composer of Bach’s early years, however, must have composed according to his own inner lights, so it is worth asking what personal resources he could call upon beyond agile hands and feet and a fine intellect.
Already we find some evidence of the personal characteristics that we tend to associate with Bach in his maturity. Considerable independence and single-mindedness are shown by the long, arduous journeys he undertook in pursuit of his educational and musical goals. Leaving his native Thuringia, home of the Bach family of musicians, in March 1700, just before his fifteenth birthday, he travelled over 200 miles north to Liineburg in order to complete his education.
On several occasions during his stay there he traversed the 30 miles from Liineburg to Hamburg in order to hear Reincken play the great four-manual organ of the Catherinenkirche. And later on, after his return to Thuringia, he journeyed over 250 miles on foot from Arnstadt to Lubeck in order to hear Dieterich Buxtehude, organist of the Marienkirche, and his famous Abendmusiken, lingering there for about three months ‘in order to comprehend one thing and another about his art’ despite having been granted only one month’s leave of absence. We encounter here a single-minded determination to further his personal aims as a musician, even at the expense of his public obligations.
The other side of this purposefulness, however, is an obstinacy and truculence, a tendency to take offence, which makes itself felt much later in Leipzig, but is already evident in his first post at Arnstadt (1703-7) in difficulties with students and the church authorities: he ‘had a reputation for not getting on with the students’, and even got involved in a brawl with one of them; and he fell foul of the local consistory for refusing to perform concerted music with the students, and for outlandish chorale playing (by local standards) during services.
We are told that he played for too long, but after being reproved by the superintendent, ‘had at once fallen into the other extreme and made it too short’. Again, in Bach’s letter of resignation from his second organist’s post, at Miihlhausen (1707-8), he complains of the ‘hindrance’ and ‘vexation’ he had experienced during his year there -words that bring to mind his endless disputes with the Leipzig town council in later years.
Although it may be right to impute Bach’s sense of annoying impediments at least partially to a municipality that ‘clung to old fashions and customs’, it seems most unlikely, in view of what we know of his failure to get on with the authorities elsewhere, that he was entirely blameless in the matter. And it seems natural to suppose that this stubborn, pugnacious side of Bach’s personality-his fighting spirit, to put it in a more positive light-was to some extent sublimated into the immense energy of his music. As a child Bach was no stranger to sorrow.
When only six years old,
he had to come to terms with the death of his eighteen-year-old brother Johann Balthazar, whom he must have looked up to as an apprentice of his father’s; and only three years later, at the age of nine, he had to confront an even greater calamity when he lost both parents within the space of about nine months (May 1694-February 1695). It is reasonable to assume that the deeply moving expressions of grief and meditations on death in his music, from the early Actus tragicus cantata ( Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106, c. 1707) onwards, had their roots in these devastating childhood experiences.
They may also have contributed to that ‘serious temperament’ that ‘drew him by preference to music that was serious, elaborate and profound’. Bach’s capacity for serious thought and feeling must have fostered the spiritual depth that we recognize in his mature music, but which is already apparent in some of the early cantatas, especially the funeral cantata No. 106, mentioned above, and the Easter cantata No. 4, as well as in certain early organ chorales, notably Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein, BWV 741. This deeply spiritual side of Bach’s nature was, of course, channelled into the Lutheran Church, with which he was intimately associated from his earliest years and almost continually throughout his life.
He would have gained early familiarity with the liturgy of the main service, the Hauptgottesdienst, structured around the Mass Ordinary (including German paraphrases such as ‘Allein Gott in der Hoh sei Ehr’ and ‘Wir glauben all an einen Gott’), with the words of the Lutheran Bible, and with the rhythm of the church year. And he would have become aware that the church, whether in words or music or in both combined, was capable of giving expression to our deepest feelings, either on occasions of great sorrow, such as the family funerals he had to attend, or of great joy, such as the wedding of his elder brother Johann Christoph in October 1694.
The church, whether in Eisenach, Ohrdruf, Liineburg, Arnstadt, or Miihlhausen, was beyond question his spiritual home, and it is in this light that we should understand his almost continuous involvement in church music from Eisenach onwards.
The divorcing of Bach’s sacred music
from its liturgical context and even from the meaning of its words is a modern, secular phenomenon that bears no relation to its true origins. The very depth of response, which cannot be overlooked in his church music, testifies to the intimacy of his involvement with the texts and with what they signify. From early childhood he must have dwelt on the meaning of the increasingly familiar biblical words he heard in church, begun to evaluate and compare different musical settings of them, and in time noticed that, in the context of the whole church year, they covered the entire gamut of states of the soul in relation to the divinity.
We approach here one of the most profound sources of Bach’s life as a creative artist. Through regular and intimate involvement with the church and its music, he must have learnt by experience that music, linked to appropriate words, could reach the very depths of our being and thereby offer fulfilment to the soul.
In the various churches where Bach was active in the 1690s and 1700s, he would have encountered a vast quantity of music, whether for organ, congregation, a cappella choir, or combined vocal and instrumental ensemble. At the heart of this music lay the Lutheran chorale, the German congregational hymn, with which he would have been acquainted from a very early age, having grown up with the Eisenach hymnal of 1673, the Neues vollstiindiges Eisenachisches Gesangbuch, which contained no fewer than 612 chorales. Hymnals of this kind formed the staple diet of Lutheran church music, and the child Bach must have been struck by the association of the old familiar melodies with sacred verse that constantly echoed the Bible and tied in with the specific occasion, the readings, and the sermon.
Much of the more elaborate church music that he heard or participated in, either for organ or for choir, would have been based on a chorale cantus firmus, employing time-honoured techniques of deriving a new composition from an existing melody.
The most popular chorales were employed in this way countless times by various composers, and at a very young age Bach must have learnt to evaluate and compare the different versions. This would no doubt act as a spur to his own creativity, for he must have been filled with a desire to emulate the best composers and their work. An organist’s duties typically included not only accompanying the congregational singing of chorales but introducing them with an improvised or pre-composed piece of music based on them. Bach would have learnt this art of ‘preluding’ from his elder brother Johann Christoph in Ohrdruf; some of his very earliest compositions, such as the organ chorales attributed to him from the Neumeister Collection, might have been written with this function in mind.
Organists also had to play preludes, fantasias, fugues and the like at the beginning and end of the service, and some of Bach’s early non-chorale-based organ music must have been designed to serve this purpose. Not all of it, however, for some of the preludes and fugues, alongside the suites, sonatas, capriccios, and toccatas, must have been written for performance in the home. It is impossible to draw clear dividing lines here, either in the function served by the music or in the instrument for which it was written.
The sources, rather than naming a specific instrument, merely describe the work concerned as ‘manualiter’ or ‘pedaliter’-that is, playable on manuals only, or requiring a pedalboard. Thus Bach, like his older contemporaries, was in many cases not writing with a particular keyboard instrument in mind, but for whichever instrument the player had to hand, either in church or in the home. All the composer had to do was to stipulate whether or not pedals were required; the player could then choose whether to perform the music on church organ, house organ, pedalharpsichord, manuals-only harpsichord, spinet, or clavichord.
The elaborate vocal music in which Bach participated at Eisenach, Ohrdruf, and Liineburg was of two kinds: on the one hand, a cappella motets in a traditional polyphonic style; and on the other, concerted vocal and instrumental music (sacred concertos, cantatas and so on) in a much more up-to-date idiom. Motet style and the closely related stile antico clearly made a deep impression on him, for he would return to it for certain movements of his church works throughout his career. But it soon became clear that his aspirations as a composer lay primarily within the field of concerted vocal and instrumental music.
Opportunities for this were limited in Arnstadt and Miihlhausen, mainly because, as elsewhere, concerted music was primarily the responsibility of the local cantor, while the organist, by contrast, was normally able to perform it only at weddings, funerals, or other special occasions. However, there were also local difficulties. At Arnstadt Bach found the student choir unruly and hard to get along with, and he consequently failed to perform concerted music with them-an omission for which he was repeatedly taken to task by the church authorities.
He may have done so, however, towards the end of his tenure: the two cantatas he would have had to submit for his Miihlhausen application might have been drawn from a stock he was building up in Arnstadt, rather than newly composed for the purpose. At Miihlhausen, Bach not only composed and performed occasional cantatas himself (among them, BWV 71, 106, and 131); he also ‘acquired from far and wide, not without cost, a good store of the choicest church compositions’ by other composers, for use not only in his own town church, the Blasiuskirche, but in local village churches too.
Here in Miihlhausen, as later in Weimar and Leipzig, his central goal was, in his own words, the provision of ‘a well-regulated church music to the glory of God’.40 It is obstacles to that goal that he cites, without going into details, as the grounds for his resignation after only one year.
THE BEST OF BACH Johann Sebastian Bach 1. Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F major, BWV 1046 Allegro (00:00) Adagio (4:43) Allegro (9:10) 2. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048 Allegro (13:40) Allegro assai (19:11) Allegro (24:05) 3. Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major, BWV 1049 Presto (31:42) Andante (36:37) Affettuoso (39:32) 4. Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B flat major, BWV 1051 Allegro (45:02) 5. Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C minor, BWV 1060 Allegro (50:38) Largo (54:59) Allegro (59:32) 6. Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067: Menuet (1:02:35) 7. Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068: Air on the G String (1:05:35) 8. Cantata BWV 147: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (1:10:07) 9. Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565 (1:13:32) 10. Harpsichord Invention No. 1 in C major, BWV 772 (1:22:23) 11. Harpsichord Invention No 8 in F major, BWV 779 (1:23:43) 12. Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067: Badinerie (1:24:42) 13. Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach: Minuet in G major, BWV Ahn. 114 (1:27:24) 14. Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach: Musette in D major, BWV Anh.126 (1:28:59) 15. Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006: Bourée (1:30:06) 16. Sonata for Viola da Gamba & Harpsichord, BWV 1028 (1:31:48) 17. Concerto in D minor, BWV 1059: 2nd Movt. (1:35:44) 18. Cello Suite No. 4 in E-flat major, BWV 1010: Courante (1:38:54) 19. Cello Suite No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012: Gavotte (1:42:32) 20. Cello Suite No. 6 in D major BWV 1012: Prelude (1:46:42)