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Second Sight - Music with Wilfrid Mellers

11. Touching Touch-pieces.
Bach's Seven Toccatas for Harpsichord


<< Continued from yesterday

The D major Toccata -- the first of these early works in a major key -- is the most overtly flamboyant, as befits the key of trumpets, drums, and open-stringed violins. The opening flourishes exploit the sonorities of a large harpsichord, incorporating shivering tremolandi along with the habitual shooting scales and cascading arpeggios. And what caps this dizzy display is not seriously ordered fugato, let alone a full fugue, but a comically stilted allegro dance in duple rhythm, with octave leaps, mostly in two parts with chordal intrusions. If the G minor jig-fugue is a belly-laugh, this wide-eyed dance is a wry joke: which may be why it leads into another free section which, though marked adagio, is alarmingly capricious (goat-like in odorous acridity!) with quivering tremolandi and fiercely double-dotted rhythms. The vehemence of this section provokes a modulation from 'glorious' D major to F sharp minor which, as dominant to 'suffering' B minor, was thought to denote exceptionally heightened expressivity. In this key -- 'difficult' because precarious in mean-tone intonation -- unfolds a fugato section in three parts that intermittently deliquesce in chromatics: followed by an adagio recitative curiously marked 'con discretione' -- meaning, I think, nervously exploratory. Exploration generates another jig-fugue with a theme in two segments, one in rocking thirds, the other in stepwise movement alternating with prancing fourths or fifths. This fugue, in a frisky 6/16 rather than the G minor fugue's expansive 12/8, remains volatile in texture -- wittily potent but not, like the G minor, omnipotent. A cadenza-coda preserves the rocking thirds through whirring trills and clattering arpeggios.

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Copyright © 19 August 2001 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK






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