Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Research Paper on Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach Research Paper

I listened to three different performances of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 from the twentieth century. Even though these were essentially the same movement, each sounded very different. I listened to the first performance recorded in 1950, the second recorded in 1968 and the fourth recorded in 1987. Beside from small differences within each piece, I found that a major pattern is as that the century progressed, the tempo of each piece increased. This is also obvious because the first piece lasts about fourteen minutes and the last is about nine minutes.


Other things I noticed were that the second performance used a cello and the fourth used a harpsichord. The use of different instruments gave the pieces different feels. I thought that the fourth sounded more chaotic at times when the music in the others seemed to flow. The second performance has a whimsical-like manner to it. Also, with the later performance the quality was noticeably better, due to technology; and technology does not allow for error. This may not be necessarily a good thing because as a listener we may believe that this is the way a performance is always going to sound and we many be disappointed if we hear it performed live.

Some things I noticed were that the first piece has many moments when there is minimal instrumentation, while at the same point in the music in the other recordings it is louder and there is more instrumentation. I felt that the first piece lost my attention in some sections of the music, but I enjoyed these same sections in the second and fourth performances. Another contrast is that that the ending of the first performance is long and drawn out, however the fourth performance ends in a bang and catches our attention because it is unexpected.

I thought it was curious that the tempo increased noticeably from the first to last recording. This can prove that we may never actually know how Bach, or other composers, intended their music to sound like because we do not have recordings of it. Therefore we cannot say which is better or more correct. I do not believe that the musical work resides in the musical score because of these discrepancies. It does lie, however, in the performance and we the audience can choose how we like it best and make an assumption that this is the way the piece was intended to be played.

However, we should not assume that more recent recordings done with advanced technology are necessarily better. One should take the time to listen to various recording and understand the essence of the piece. After listening to three recordings of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, in my opinion I like the second performance best.

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