Those of you on “the mailing list” got your postcards in today’s mail. In addition, I sent out a round of press releases to the media about my upcoming concert, “Bach Clavierübung III: The German Organ Mass” on Sunday, October 30 at 7:00 pm at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu.
In the press release, I wrote the following statement: The work also contains much numerological symbolism with special significance of the number three representing the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. There are a total of 27 pieces in all, which is 3 to the power of three. Both the “Praeludium and fuga” are in the key of E-flat (3 flats) and each contain three major themes including a triple fugue.
Wow! My question is, did Bach do all these “3” things deliberately or is it just coincidence? If you check Wikipedia, you will find an entire article on the Clavierübung called “Numerological significance” in which Christoph Wolf writes that there are three groups of pieces framed by the “Praeludium and fuga:” 3 chorales on the Kyrie in “stile antico,” then 3 short versets on the Kyrie with time signatures of 6/8, 9/8 and 12/8 (all divisible by 3), then 3 settings of the Gloria. These nine mass settings (3×3) refer to the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost). Then of course, as I said earlier, the Praeludium and the Fugue both have three sections, and the fugue in fact ends with a triple fugue—that means it has three subjects! The fugue can be divided into 36, 45 and 36 measures each, and not only are those numbers evenly divisible by 3, you can also add the digits together to all equal 9. (Add 3+6, or 4+5 and you get 9, which is 3×3, the magic Trinity number.) And Bach chose the key signature of three flats besides! All these number 3s make my head spin!
The number 12 also has meaning in this work. There are 12 catechism chorales—instructional hymns to teach Christianity—on the Ten Commandments, The Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Penitence and Communion. As you know, the number twelve also refers to the number of Jesus’ disciples. Oh, that clever Bach!
I went back to a previous post I wrote called “Bach the numerologist” where you can find other examples of this type of symbolism in Bach’s works.
Whether all these numerological references were deliberate on Bach’s part, or whether it is just coincidence, all mean that Bach was a Genius, for sure!
By the way, last night’s Wednesday Evensong was John Renke’s last service at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, a much smaller and intimate congregational service which I was fortunate to attend. It began with Ryan Klein, oboe, playing a Bach Siciliana accompanied by John on the organ, and ended with Padraic Costello playing an original composition on soprano saxophone while John improvised—both of which were absolutely transcendent and gorgeous. And then “former members of the Cathedral Choir”, yes, this is the way it was listed in the bulletin (Naomi Castro, Padraic Costello, Karol Nowicki and John Renke) sang an absolutely sublime rendition of Palestrina’s Sicut cervus for the anthem, which was videotaped by Yoko Kokuni. (Try clicking the picture below to view the Facebook video)