The Well-Tempered Clavier, composed by JS Bach between 1722 and 1742, remains one of the most innovative and influential works in the history of Western classical music. A website from Northern Arizona State U. sums up what essentially made Bach’s composition — a collection of 48 preludes and fugues spread across two volumes — so innovative, so influential.
One of Bach’s primary purposes in composing these cycles was to demonstrate the feasibility of the “well tempered” tuning system that would allow for composition in every key.
Another purpose of the Well-Tempered Clavier was to reveal how modern and progressive composition could be informed by conservative ideas. The Well-Tempered Clavier is an encyclopedia of national and historical styles and idioms. Its influences range from the white-note style of the Renaissance motet to the French manier. Ironically, half of this stylistic smorgasbord is expressed in fugue, a form that was out of date upon the cycle’s completion. Bach was of course aware of this. His hope was to defend the venerable form by demonstrating how it could absorb contemporary flavors.
If you’ve never experienced Bach’s piece, then I’d encourage you to listen to the 1960s recording by Glenn Gould. Or watch a section of the piece being performed on the All of Bach website — a site that will eventually put 1080 Bach performances online, for free.
Above, we have something a little different. Created by director and visual artist Alan Warburton, this newly-released video takes a famous section of Bach’s composition and animates it with pulsing neon lights. Describing what went into making this video, the Sinfini Music website writes:
Alan’s incredible design incorporated many thousands of separate CGI lights, every one of which had to be tailored to the precise duration of Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s note strikes. ‘I needed to find a way of automating the process of these turning on and off in time with the music,’ says Alan. With no midi file of the performance available, he was faced with the seemingly impossible task of matching every note of a stand-in midi file to the recording, by ear alone…
Then it was a question of rendering the animated data in CGI within the virtual space created especially for the animation. This too, was no mean feat, even for the army of cloud-based computers that had a hand in the task. Each frame took 15 minutes to render because of the thousands of calculations involved in activating each light as well as the shadows, glows and reflections required to make the scene look truly life-like.
Sinfini Music, which commissioned this project, has more on Warburton’s creation here.
Hope this gets your weekend started on the right, er, note.