New Year Bachfest

Solstice mantle.jpg



Around the time of the Year Turning, between Solstice, January first and my birthday, I light candles, review accomplishments, deepen friendships and plan for the future.

The planning for the future portion always brings me back to my collection of forty-eight Chaconne Series thumbnail sketches, only three inches square each, folded together into cycles of twelve, so I can more easily follow the transitions between individual drawings. I unfold the sections of twelve thumbnails into a big block on my studio floor so I can study the whole sequence together.

Inevitably, I see sections in the thumbnails that need revision. Although the overall concept and internal movement of the series has been documented in these small studies for some time, a few of the individual transitions have (stubbornly) never progressed past the vague question mark phase. These gaps are always immensely unsettling to me, so this New Year I decided to undertake some major Code Cracking to replace those empty question marks with something more promising and definite.

As I begin the process, I always ask the same questions. How can I make the internal flow of the entire series clearer? How can I make each individual drawing interesting, both on its own and as a part of a collective visual story? How can I best maintain a balance between introspection and outward appearance? How can I punctuate the high points in different sections with the proper drama?

These are questions that other composers must ask as well. For help with answers this year, I returned to the best possible (for me) inspirational source: several new CD interpretations of the Six Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin by Johann Sebastian Bach. My total collection so far contains ten different recordings, with more to come.

I divide these Bach violinist guides into two camps: the Meditators and the Intergalactic Astronauts. The Meditators emphasize the elegance, sophistication and beauty of Bach's musical architecture; the Astronauts prefer to touch down in territory marked Not for the Faint Hearted, where Bach's genius approaches near-blinding intensity. As I follow each trailblazer along on his or her personal exploration,  I try to translate their various musical insights into visual form.

This year, Gidon Kremer's 2005 recording of the Sonatas and Partitas stopped me in my tracks. Deeply thoughtful, technically mesmerizing and emotionally charged, Kremer's interpretations definitely fall into the Not for the Faint Hearted camp. Equally as impressive as the music were the CD's liner notes, which seemed to speak directly to me with an uncanny synchronicity, just as I was re-shuffling my new Chaconne project studies into their final places. Years ago, I unconsciously chose the image of a swirling spiral galaxy as the central visual motif for the drawings, whose many variations eventually return to their own beginning. You may imagine my astonishment when I read the following passage included in Kremer's CD commentary, written by his friend and musical colleague, composer Victor Kissine:

" the end of the chaconne from the second partita in D minor, we find it hard to imagine the possibility of repeating the path we have traveled, although at the conclusion we are indeed returned to its source. The musical thought (to use a favorite expression of Bach) is carried through to its conclusion with exhaustive completeness, but it still pulsates outside of a composition that seems perfect in its completeness.

Bach, of course, had his own techniques ? tonal, rhetorical and architectonic ? for creating this complete incompletion. Their common principle can be reduced to the opposition between gravitational attraction and the condition of weightlessness. Their goal is the expansion of the galaxy."

The forty-eight, revised little thumbnails laid out before me, with an embryonic spiral galaxy opening and closing the sequence, are carrying a similar message: 2011 will be a good year for more expansion.


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Sandra Dean published on January 11, 2011.

Violin Dreams was the previous entry in this news journal.

Oaxaca: Art is Everywhere is the next entry in this news journal.

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