After that last post about getting discombobulated over the page turns in Bach’s Great Eighteen Chorales, some people suggested that I just memorize the music. Dear People, do you know that it is going to take two concerts to play all of this music? That is because I think it would just be too much to be heard in one evening, and just giving one Bach all-memorized recital would take a heap of work and preparation. Giving two would be insane (at least on my schedule!) And we are talking about 97 pages of 16th notes?!
Yes, I know that a number of organists have played the complete organ works of Bach from memory — among them Marcel Dupré, Helmut Walcha, Arthur Poister and most recently, Paul Jacobs. There may be others — but all of these good people were (are) in a different league.
When I was in graduate school, of course I had to give a memorized master’s recital — but then all I was doing back then was practicing four hours a day, going to class and writing papers. I didn’t have any other responsibilities. And the music for that recital wasn’t all-Bach, some of the most highly complex and contrapuntal writing.
When my son was a toddler, I gave an all-Bach memorized recital but also gave up eight months of my life to get up at 4 am to go practice before going to work, and then went back to the organ at the end of the day for more practice. My husband was responsible for getting the baby to the sitter every day, picking him up after work, and feeding him dinner. I got home late, and dinner was on the table.
Recently the New York Times published an article called “Playing by heart, with or without the score” and the author wrote: “Over the years I have observed that the rigid protocol in classical music whereby solo performers, especially pianists, are expected to play from memory seems finally, thank goodness, to be loosening its hold. What matters, or should matter, is the quality of the music making, not the means by which an artist renders a fine performance.” The reviewer specifically referred to pianist Emmanuel Ax using the score and wrote “beginning the program with the pensive Bach work was a musical gesture, not a time to showcase memorization. For me there was something touching about seeing a great pianist play a Bach prelude and fugue using the score. Every wondrous element of this complex music is right on the page. It looks almost as beautiful as it sounds.”
And then we get to the real reason for me playing these pieces for the Honolulu community anyway: to share this incredibly beautiful music and to take you all on a spiritual journey through the music of Bach.