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August 13, 2008


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A.C. Douglas

You wrote:

"In my view this is an acceptable 'truth', once which so very obviously holds Bach's 'truth' to be sacred. Paternoster just finds a new way to express it. That's also what was going on in the cello and percussion interpretation I just heard."

You here seem to be confusing interpretation and transcription. What you described in this cello cum percussion thing is NOT an interpretation of a Bach cello suite, but a *transcription* of same. The matter of interpretation and what is and what is not permissible is fraught enough without confusing it with another entity altogether, wouldn't you agree?

I addressed the matter of interpretation and "being true to the composer's intentions" on S&F some four years ago in a fairly lengthy (for a blog) article cleverly entitled, "On Interpretation", and my final word on the matter was, "A guiding rule is required, and — _mirabile dictu!_ — one is at hand, and that rule in all cases is the negative one of the physician's oath: _Primum non nocere_ — First, do no harm. [...] As a guiding rule, _Primum non nocere_ may not be much to go on, but it's a rule more than sufficient to save one harmless from perpetrating clear outrages...."

BTW, I very much agree with your comment concerning the indestructibility of Bach's works no matter how outré the transcription. To quote myself on the matter,

"Bach's keyboard works (organ included, of course) seem to survive, even thrive, under all manner of transcription. So superb is their construction that their fundamental musical aesthetic is not diminished one iota even when subjected to transcriptions as outré as those done for Wendy Carlos's synthesizer, and Ward Swingle's Swingle Singers. Or when subjected to the somewhat less outré but nevertheless Romantically excessive transcriptions for piano by Ferruccio Busoni, and even the grotesquely bloated ones for full orchestra done by Leopold Stokowski. In all these, Bach emerges unsullied and triumphant — always."


David Preiser


In technical terms, you're right. But philosophically and practically, I view them as the same thing, especially in the context of respecting the composer. As an arranger and transcriber myself, I approach that task (or try to) with the same mindset as a performer/interpreter. The sounds and colors of a transcription are inevitably different from the composer's intentions, of course, but the music itself should not suffer from the new voices. That's the rule I apply to any "experimental" interpretation from a performer, so I apply it here as well.

I still can't decide if I like what the percussion adds to the Bach. Perhaps if they worked on it more the timing would get better, which would really improve the result. As it was, there were moments when it certainly did enhance moment. On paper, it was technically forcing something that wasn't there originally, yet it was still in service of the music. That's the opposite of what Norrington and Dudamel have done, in my opinion, and that's where I'm coming from.

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