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Posted December 24, 2000
In this collection of harmonized chorales we have 371 pre-existing melodies, that Bach, in his capacity as a church organist, harmonized--that is, set to four parts. The soprano typically singing the pre-existing melody and the alto, tenor and bass in accompaniment. These are among the great jewels of the Western repertoire. This is the student's harmonic bible. No one studies harmony at any school on this planet who doesn't have Bach Chorales sitting on their desk. They are the greatest examples of functional harmony, the processes of functional harmony, how to work within this harmonic world that exists. They are a perfect balance of melody because each voice has its own part and functional harmonic control. . . . I wish I had time to simply sit down and start from the beginning of the book and play the whole thing for you . . . these chorales are on my piano all the time. And when you need a snack, when you need sustenance, when you need to clear your head, you just put the Bach chorales on your piano. I mean, that's what I do. And you just play through a bunch of them. I don't write in the style of Bach, no one writes in the style of Bach anymore, and I'm not writing four-part chorales when I'm sitting down and writing a piece of music. Nevertheless, what Bach tells us about cleanliness of ideas, clarity of thought, balance between harmony and melody, all of the lessons we all need to learn no matter what style we write in can be found in these chorales. And the challenge Bach had was to take these pre-existing melodies and make them work with harmonies that didn't actually exist when these melodies were created. My friends, many of these chorale melodies come from the Renaissance, before the resources of functional harmony were available. It's hard to harmonize stuff that therefore wasn't meant to be harmonized. And yet Bach finds a way. So they are miracles; I can not stress that too hard, I can not stress it too often. They are miracles of clarity, of purity, of the balance between melody and harmony, between extravagance and control and they are among the most important things Bach ever wrote, the most important things we can own, and unless you are a musician or a harmony student, you're likely not even to know about the Bach chorales, and that's a shame, but now you know a little about them at least. Professor Robert Greenburg, PhD. The San Francisco Conservatory of Music. 'Bach and the High Baroque, part II,' Lecture 10. Audio Cassette, The Teaching Company, Spingfield, VA: 1998.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.