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The Music of J. S. Bach and Tobin Mueller
Cover of Flow
Flow: The Music of J. S. Bach & Tobin Mueller
available on Spotify, YouTube Music, Apple Music, Amazon, Qobuz

Jump to: Liner notes, Disc 1Liner notes, Disc 2Notes about Johann Sebastian Bach

See also: Reviews

Fanfare Best Recording 2015

FLOW is the second album of The Masterworks Trilogy. It achieved Fanfare Magazine's 2015 Editor's Choice Award.

FLOW is an exploration of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and how his music has come to affect my own playing and composition. Just as I did with Claude Debussy and other Impressionists in Impressions of Water & Light and with Chopin in Of Two Minds, Disc One features Jazz-influenced interpretations of well-known Bach pieces. (Hear selected tracks below.)

FLOW also illustrates the master's influences on my own music. Disc Two includes two original suites for piano written after working through the Bach repertoire. (Liner Notes describe exactly which Bach piece inspired which of my compositions.)

FLOW represents my first double album. It is intended to be one part homage and one part internal romance. New Age, Neo-Classical, Modal Jazz, Impressionism, Musical Theatre and Baroque all combined during the evolutionary process of rehearsal and subsequent composing. As I fell in love again with the music of Bach, I stumbled upon new perspectives. I invite you to fall in love, invent, and stumble with me.

FLOW has been included in Fanfare Magazine's 2015 Want List, their Editors' Choice "Not To Be Missed" recordings.

This two-CD set of Tobin Mueller’s jazz piano excursions may be the pianist-composer’s most ambitious and sophisticated recording project to date. The first disc strikes the listener not only with Mueller’s skill as a pianist, but with his comprehensive grasp of Bach’s form and structure. But it is the second disc, where he allows his immersion in Bach to inspire his own compositions, that Mueller’s inventive voice speaks most colorfully and persuasively. The two original piano suites are imbued with a transcendent feeling for the connections between nature and music and for the cyclical energy of the human experience... Genius."

Fanfare Magazine, October 2015.

Flow, as a psychological concept, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus and enjoyment. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. When I first heard Mihály Csíkszentmihályi present this idea, I immediately thought of the music of J. S. Bach. There is a constant forward motion to Bach's music, a sense of infinity in each detailed variation and fugue, as if every motif is precious and no amount of improvisation will ever exhaust the possibilities his imagination can generate. If there is music that serves as a metaphor for the ecstacy of flow, it is Bach's.

I also wished to embrace the sense of timelessness one achieves when in the state of flow, to bridge the centuries and let Bach's 300 year old manuscripts inspire me to find new expression and joy at the piano. I wanted to add to his rippling themes and variations.

There is a marvelous tradition of reinterpreting Bach: from the orchestral transcriptions of Esa-Pekka Salonen to Wendy Carlos' electronically enhanced Switched On Bach; from the a cappella vocals of the Swingle Singers to the throaty saxophone of Yasuaki Shimizu; from Jethro Tull's progressive rock flute Bourée to Jacques Loussier's consumate jazz piano combo, Bach to Bach Trio. There are many, many fabulous musicians who have reimagined Bach's music (Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, E. Power Biggs...). Like them, I mean only respect; I merely wish to add to Bach's magnificent legacy, to pay tribute.

I thank Bach and all those who've taken his music to heart, deeply, and found a new voice in the taking. I hope those who love Bach will have that love increased - and those who do not know his music will take the time to discover its wonder and depth.

Flow - Disc One — Liner Notes by the composer

The Disc consists of music written by Johann Sebastian Bach, rearranged and performed by Tobin Mueller.

Joy of Man's Desiring
Like true desire, this melody led me into places I hadn't expected. Each chordal variation borrows from the one before yet adds something unexpected. Joy of Man's Desiring serves as an overture to this collection, both musically and philosophically. The 10th and last movement of Bach's cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147 ("Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life"), it was written during his first year in Leipzig, Germany. I begin with a variation that harkens back to the opening song (First Noël) on my Christmas album, Midwinter Born. What follows is a representation of my New Age roots as a pianist, me at the piano playing with progressions I've been experimenting with for 40 years. I emphasize the delicate beauty of desiring, the internal aspect of rebirth that curiosity and passion bring.
Well-Aged Bourée/Youthful Beret (variations in 2 parts)
Bourée in E minor is the fifth movement from Suite in E minor for Lute, BWV 996. This piece is perhaps the most famous piece among guitarists, although I first heard it played on flute by Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. My arrangement is in two sections. The first invokes the color of wine, blending Jazz, Blues, Impressionism and New Age (in the style of several of my arrangements from Impressions of Water & Light). The second section is brighter, more youthful at the outset, traveling through additional genre variations (the second of which steals a bit from Jethro Tull, as an homage). It gently morphs back into a well-aged sentimentality. I hope my play on words (bourée/beret) does not offend, but I played the piece wearing my beret and just had to put it in the title, somehow.
Re-Invention No. 13 (Two-Part Invention No. 13 in A Minor, BWV 784)
The Inventions and Sinfonias, BWV 772–801, also known as the Two- and Three-Part Inventions, are a collection of thirty short keyboard compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750): 15 inventions, which are 2-part contrapuntal pieces, and 15 sinfonias, which are 3-part contrapuntal pieces. They were originally written as musical exercises for his students. Bach wrote on the collection: Honest method, by which the amateurs of the keyboard – especially, however, those desirous of learning – are shown a clear way not only (1) to learn to play cleanly in two parts, but also, after further progress, (2) to handle three obligate parts correctly and well; and along with this not only to obtain good inventions (ideas) but to develop the same well; above all, however, to achieve a cantabile style in playing and at the same time acquire a strong foretaste of composition. The two groups of pieces are both arranged in order of ascending key, each group covering eight major and seven minor keys. The inventions were composed in Köthen; the sinfonias, on the other hand, were probably not finished until the beginning of the Leipzig period. As a perpetual student, I thoroughly enjoyed playing through these pieces to decide which ones to perform for this collection.
Well-Tempered Prelude No. 3 and Me
By "well-tempered" I also mean that the opening track does not deviate far from the original. I had not intended on adding any original sections to the piece, other than evolving its harmonic nature, tempo and adding repeats to extend its length, but the new sections simply came to my fingers as I played. That's why I added the "and Me" to the title. "Well-tempered" in Bach's title refers to the temperament (system of tuning); many temperaments before Bach's time were not flexible enough to allow compositions to utilize more than just a few keys. The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books 1 and 2 (BWV 846–893) consists of a prelude and fugue in each of the 24 major and minor keys in chromatic order from C major to B minor. (The whole collection is often referred to as "the 48").
Double Fantasia and Fugue
The blues progression used in the first section ("Double Fantasy") is inspired by the dramatic opening of Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor (BWV 542) for organ. I was originally going to play the actual Fantasia, but it didn't translate well to piano. However, the score inspired the blues chords I play under the improvised version of the theme from his famous Fugue in G Minor (BWV 578), also for for organ. The reason I use the term "Double" is that I also weave in the theme from Passacaglia in C Minor (BWV 582), mainly as a bassline variation. The second half of the piece ("Fugue") places the G Minor Fugue directly over the Passacaglia Fugue in Cm, which I am able to due by transposing the first phrases of the G Minor Fugue into C minor. Then the G Minor Fugue, with a few variations, edits and added notes, takes over. I end with a recapitulation of the blues fantasia, not just for balance, but also to remind the listener of the relationship between the original and my affectionate re-interpretation.
First Starfield (Prelude No. 1)
It is very difficult to listen to Bach's Prelude No. 1 from The Well-Tempered Clavier without thinking of Ave Maria (Bach/Gounod). The devastating simplicity and emotional power of Bach's Prelude, even without that famous melody layered over the top, is thrilling to play, an example of Bach's perfection. Still, I wanted to bring something new to the piece and decided to build on it's harmonic context by playing (mostly) parallel fifths both under and over Bach's single-note line. The effect, for me, was like a starfield of triads. If you listen closely during the last third of the piece, you'll hear me shift the downbeat accent to the second beat, lending to it a new rhythmic sense, as well. A new melody line evolved as I played, I thought I might add my name as co-author, in the Gounod tradition, but searched, instead, for a new title. I wanted to name it after the Mary of Ave Maria, also searching for uses of "triad," since the piece is based on them. I settled on "Mary's Garden," because it also spoke to the garden my wife tends in our back yard, started by her mother Mary. This way, for me it gained a triple meaning, maintaining the triad concept: Ave Marie, Mary of the backyard garden, and my wife as their living legacy. A starfield of triads, indeed.
In Anna Magdalena's Hands (Cello Suite 1, Prelude)
Although Bach's six suites for unaccompanied cello are some of the most frequently performed and recognizable solo compositions ever written for cello, the suites were not widely known before the 1900s. However, after discovering Grützmacher's edition in a thrift shop in Barcelona, Spain, at age 13, prodigy cellist Pablo Casals began studying them. He would later perform the works publicly, but it was not until 1936, when he was 60 years old, that he agreed to record the pieces. Their popularity soared soon after. The suites were most likely composed during the period 1717–1723, when Bach served as a Kapellmeister in Köthen. Bach's second wife, Anna Magdalena, transcribed many of his works, but this one is of special note, since no draft or copy signed by the composer survives. Anna's hand-written manuscripts have produced presumably authentic editions, yet many interpretations of the suites exist. My re-interpretation of the first movement is an homage to Anna Magdalena, who not only preserved many of Bach's works for posterity, but provided him a special love and care that is uncommon in this life. Although I edit out many measures and repeat others, the unchanged solo cello line runs throughout. I merely add romantically dense harmonies and expressive timing.

Leopold's Short Life: A Prelude and Fugue
Prelude & Fugue No. 2 in C Minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1, is the first Bach I ever played on the piano, assigned to me by my University piano professor in 1977. Although I loved Bach's music from my first hearing as a child, I was a latecomer as a performer. I experiment with the rhythms and chords, but maintain the over structural, although I edited out a quarter of the Prelude (which is arranged a bit like a Big Band piece), keeping all the Fugue. It is fascinating to hear Bach as 21st and 18th centuries merge/collide. This piece was composed in Köthen and I've named my version in honor of its Prince, Leopold, as well as Bach's son, Leopold Augustus, for whom the prince stood as godfather. Bach's son died in infancy. (Only nine of his 22 children survived him.) Prince Leopold died from smallpox at age 33, after the disease took his only son and second daughter. There is something about the drama of Bach's original score, combined with the dissonances I've added, that made me think of the many shortened lives Bach dealt with during his time.
Sleepers Wake
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Awake, calls the voice to us), BWV 140, also known as Sleepers Wake (from Six Chorales of Diverse Kinds for organ) was composed in Leipzig, first performed on 25 November 1731. The cantata is a late addition to Bach's cycle of chorale cantatas, completing the cycle he had begun in 1724. Movement 4, the chorale I base my piece on, is itself the foundation for the first of Bach's Schübler Chorales, BWV 645. I ignore the part sung by the tenor, concentrating instead on the backing orchestration. I simplify the piece further by condensing it, sometimes using variations as harmonies played over the melody, and transforming the bass line into a repeated Blues-Jazz groove. The altered chordal harmonics accentuate the sense of sleepiness. The right hand improvisations represent the voices whispering, gently calling us to awake.
The Clown Dances and Dreams (a medley)
There is a duel sense of frivolity and introspection in this piece. The title is meant to imply both exploration and self-abandonment, finding a way forward while being swept away by internal forces outside one's control. The fluidity of push-and-pull. The clown is the sad kind, the one who plays with shadows more than spotlights. As I play, I move from reinterpreting Bach's written notes to flights of fancy that carry me far away, only to lead back, then diverge again, like a clown both attending to then carelessly forgetting his audience. I love the juxtaposition of styles, linking time and influences, moods and settings. Searching for the current of abandoned thought. This medley is inspired by Bach's Fugue No. 7 (BWV 852) and Prelude/Fugue No. 4 in C# Minor (BWV 849) from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1.
Bach On Vaudeville (Two-Part Invention No. 8 in F)
The working title for this piece was "Two Parts Invention, One Part Intervention" and was to be a medley of several pieces, but once I got rolling, Bach's Two-Part Invention No. 8 in F took over. I expand on the original a bit, adding an intro (based on internal variations), repeat the first section with increasing chord and note substitutions, add an extended section of 16th notes toward the end, and have fun with rhythms throughout. After I had rearranged the piece, I renamed the piece "Bach On Vaudeville," in keeping with the lightheartedness of the arrangement, although @1:32 it does a dramatic turn, as any good Vaudeville sketch might.
Bach Backstage (Two-Part Invention No. 9 in F Minor, BWV 780)
I was originally going to pair this piece with Track 9, in a medley, but Invention No. 8 (Track 9) became a stand-alone number and, after playing around with Invention No. 9, I simply couldn't bear to change any notes. The short work is so tightly conceived, I found simply learning from it, bereft of any desire to rearrange it. Instead, I reinvisioned the backstory: after pleasing the audience with Bach On Vaudeville's mixture of Tin Pan Alley and silent film melodrama, Bach sneaks backstage and plays this number on his private upright, in order to regain his center. I play the piece as written, with a faster tempo and a few altered ornamentations. A perfect example of "Flow."
Night At The Theatre (Minuet in G)
The Minuet in G is included in the 1725 Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach (BWV Anh 114) and, until 1970, was attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach. However, it is now universally attributed to Christian Petzold. It is a beloved melody, childlike yet elegant, and I wanted to include it here, for I will forever associate it with Bach, as will many others. My version calls upon my career in the theatre for its style and storytelling nature. The first half could be a stage tune from early Broadway; the second half is more contemplative, an inward moment, perhaps a heart rending soliloquy. It's intersting how some of the rearranged phrases remind me more of Chopin than Bach. But it is what the moment led me to, and, above all, for this project, I need to stay in the flow, wherever it takes me.
The "Air on the G String" was one of the first Bach works ever recorded, in 1902. Part of the melody was incorporated into Procol Harum's 1967 hit, A Whiter Shade of Pale. I can still recall the first time I heard Bach's Orchestral Suite #3. The 2nd movement "Air" left me breathless. Such grace, beauty, perfection. I hope you sense my own humility and wonder as explore these variations. I could've kept playing, on and on. The walking base never to wants to stop.
Encore and Amen (Prelude No. 21 in G Minor)
One last homage: I play The Well-Tempered Clavier Prelude No. 21 in G Minor playfully, edited, with fast and fun variations. I wanted to leave listeners filled with the energy of an infinite mind. It ends solemnly, however. I tried several triumphant, happy endings with flashy flourishes and kept discarding them. The collection needed to end with an Amen. And so it does.
Flow - Disc Two — Liner Notes by the composer

This disc consists of music written and performed by Tobin Mueller.

The music in CD 2 are more influenced by composer-pianists Keith Jarrett, Thelonious Monk and Fred Hersch than by Bach, however, there are phrases that would not exist if I hadn't just spent the last 6 months rearranging dozens of Bach pieces. I am convinced Bach colors every phrase, for he is still looking over my shoulder. Without a doubt, this is music that would not have been written if not for Bach and this project. I have never written a piano suite before, so just the form is a direct influence. In addition to the two suites, there is one live recording piano duet that will be offered as bonus track.

Mueller’s compositions are firmly grounded in an impressive musical technique and far-reaching understanding of past idioms, at the same time that they are bold, sometimes playful, often rebellious excursions into uncharted territory. The gift that Flow bestows on the listener is the insight into the dialectical truth that from form comes freedom."

Bach’s use of accidentals (sharps and flats) to lift or lower the tonal center of a phrase, or to modulate between phrases, is so smooth and logical, the listener rarely realizes the key has changed. Perhaps it’s because there’s always a ghost of the original key magnetically calling, like a mother’s voice never forgotten. How these accidentals and tonal shifts affect melody, harmonies, chord progressions, as well as the emotions of the listener, is what I’m exploring. This technique is most obvious in the first movements of each suite, when the themes are laid out, but can be heard throughout. Although these pieces may not seem rhythmically or harmonically connected to Bach, the use of accidentals is. His mastery pushed me to delve into new uses in my own music. I am continually searching for a different harmonic setting that might emotionally alter the listening experience.

Suite: Flow
Suite: Flow...
Tide Pools - Suite: Flow, first movement
As Keith Jerrett said, music doesn't come from music. It comes from whomever plays it, composes it, improvises out of it. By working on Bach exclusively for the past months, his chord substitutions and relentless logic are now part of me. But so are all the other experiences, people, histories and reactions that have made me who I am this day. On another day, who knows what different music would have resulted?

Regarding the Bach influences in this piece, the rising and falling chord progression may have been a direct result of working on such pieces as "Air" and Prelude No. 8 in Eb Minor (BWV 853, from The Well-Tempered Clavier), with references to the Sciliano from Concerto for Oboe No. 2 in F (BWV 1047). The working title of this first movement was "Dancing Among The Tide Pools" but that seemed too cumbersome for the music that resulted. The endless ebb and flow of tidal water becomes a metaphor for the gentle yet persistent power with which small tugging acts of love bring us daily sustenance. The final variation of block chords represents the tide pools as the water recedes, isolated and waiting, yet teaming with life and memory.

Momentary Undertow - Suite: Flow, second movement
This Goldberg-esque variation of the first movement borrows from Impressionism, evoking a sense of undertow. I swayed with the swirl of shallow currents as I played, like submerged seaweed. The middle whole-tone arpeggio section represents the moment in which the undertow kicks in. Although the piece may seem more akin to Beethoven's Für Elise, it was composed after listening to Bach's Chorale Prelude, "In dulci jubilo" (BWV 729). In my mind, it also conjured the elder couple from Cabaret, Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz ("Married"). Such is the wandering might of imagination.
Yin and Yang - Suite: Flow, third movement
Yin and Yang can be thought of as complementary (rather than opposing) forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts. In this particular piece, it stands for connecting the two styles of play, represented by the opening chordal section and the following arpeggio section. These sections take aspects of the Suite: Flow and provide additional treatments/variations.

The idea of Yin and Yang might also be applied to this entire project, with Bach being the Yin to my Yang. It is interesting to note how the title of a piece can change its musical qualities, not just in how a listener approaches it, but in how the arranger might interpret it. The working title of this first movement was "Finding The Center." I had composed the opening chordal section and the arpeggio section before I had figured out how to combine them. They were purposefully disparate. I was intentionally planning to show how two very different styles could not only work together, but create a kind of synergy, a sense of resolve and connection. It would be a starker contrast than similar juxtapositions found elsewhere in the Suite. I worked on the transition for days without finding what I wanted, a "center" that was title worthy. In my final take, I played a short four chord riff providing a simple bridge to the arpeggio section, forgoing the idea of a composed "center" transition. Later, while waiting for the train, the title "Yin and Yang" came to mind and I felt suddenly satisfied. It would do a nice job of highlighting one more aspect of "flow" while getting rid of the "center" concept. Funny, how a title can make you happy.

This particular piece deconstructs and distills the more complex chord progressions I use in other movements of the Suite: Flow. But I hope it helps to provide a point of reference to hear where they come from. A sweet flow, I hope.

Salmon Ladder Variations - Suite: Flow, fourth movement
Merging the influences of Monk and Bach, this piece creates a sense of urgency by choosing notes slightly above or below normal target points, like a salmon struggling up a cascading ladder, against the discordant current. Using a modified blues progression, I set up short repeating sections, like steps, a metaphor for climbing, fortitude and discovery. As the improvised melody ascends then slips back, the hard-struck piano keys bring to mind the jumping, threadbare salmon. The lush chordal mid section is a pause in which the salmon reflects on the immortal drive toward procreation, the flow between meaning and death, wonder and birth. This is a piece I would never have tackled without first going through the Bach gauntlet. It was hatched from the roe of logic and balance, like a newborn swimming toward structure amid the chaos.
Bird In Migration - Suite: Flow, fifth movement
Bird In Migration combines a right hand inspired by Charlie Parker and a left hand ostinato (derived from the Italian word for "stubborn") that hints at a Baroque-Blues pedigree. As opposed to this piece being a morphing of Bird and Bach, it is more of a Bach purge, a song written after too many months of living with the precision and grace of the Baroque master. The whimsy of melody and timing was inspired by birds on the wing, as well as Bop improvisations. The courage it takes to migrate twice a year to places where instinct and wordless learning pulls you, that is a virtue all its own.
Curved Surfaces - Suite: Flow, sixth movement
This piece consists of variations on themes introduced in the opening movement (Tide Pools), I employ a 6/8 modal New Age style derived from 6-string guitar fingerpicking, which was how I first learned to play by ear when learning the piano as the youngest child in a family of excellent guitarists. The feel of this movement is also derived from the final movements of several of Bach's French Suites: the gigue. A gigue is a lively baroque dance originating from the British jig. It was imported into France in the mid-17th century and usually appears at the end of a suite. The gigue was probably never a court dance, but was danced by nobility on social occasions. In early French theatre, it was customary to end a play's performance with a gigue, complete with music and dancing. My version seems more a memory of dancing than an actual gigue, yet, somehow, I thought that apropos, since my memory is so full of Bach at the moment.

New England Suite
New England Suite
River Ice (Winter) - New England Suite, first movement
A driving yet gentle chord progression combines the restless/purposeful movement of New Englanders with the seasonal grace of its natural surroundings. The rhythms also harken back to New England's American Indian roots, in a stylized way. The shifting meters are like patches of river ice, conforming to the shoreline, then breaking off into the current, melting, changing shape. Starting in winter, I move through the seasons with each movement of the suite...
Ghostly Bells (of Independence) - New England Suite, second movement
The half-step chord progression that opens the piece (and sees countless variations thereafter) is the initial haunting of the bells, tolling throughout New England's history. Constantly changing keys help to evoke a sense of differing times and places, tied together with a common theme of Independence and Self Reliance. One interpretation of the piece might place the climax at about the 1:40 minute mark, well before the piece is even half finished. This was intentional, since the ghosts had their heyday will before the present, yet continue to assert themselves as the future unfolds. Hints of differing styles appear between the tolling bells, from Irish melodies to Island rhythms to a dreamy quote from Yankee Doodle, adding to the fabric of New England life. Not just Ben Franklin is conjured within these phrases.

There is also a sense of Coming Spring in the forward drive and overall improvisational feel. I don't mention this in the title, since "of Independence" became the parenthetical notation, but I consider it placed correctly within the overall seasonal flow of the movements.

Lighthouse (Spring) - New England Suite, third movement
There is nothing more iconically New England than a lighthouse. They can be seen from nearly every beach. They protect nearly every harbor. Representing the lonely sentinel, they light the way, a series of singular voices bringing insight, illuminating the darkness, helping us to escape injury during our perilous voyages forward. It is this sense of intellectual Spring, of renewal, that I try to capture. The waltz feel brings to mind the turning motion of the light as it sweeps the foggy harbor with upright clarity, not sentimentality. In the middle of the piece, the past asserts itself (by way of Bach's Fugue #4 from the Well-Tempered Clavier, BWV 849), a signpost signifying where we have come from. Then the waltz returns. I like to think that way I play the recapitulation becomes a precursor to the dawn. An Emersonian internal rebirth.
Train (Summer Tango) - New England Suite, fourth movement
Subways, Metro-North and Amtrak are aspects of daily life for many New Englanders. As someone who lived in Manhattan and later moved to southern Connecticut, trains have been my economic and social lifeline. (I haven't owned a car for 2 decades.) Trains embody the vibrations of connection and anticipation. Although there is nothing inherently "summer" about trains, they share a sense of freedom and the illusion of limitless energy. My repeated rhythmic continuum represents the feeling of the rails beneath. Right hand chords evoke the train whistle. Phrases stop and start like the Metro, pausing at every town on the way home.
Nor'easter (Early Autumn) - New England Suite, fifth movement
Instead of representing a Nor'easter from the point of view Nature, getting caught up in the extreme weather of the event, I center, instead, on the sense of wind against windows, the sound of rain on the roof, the feeling of being inside as the storm surrounds, pauses, surrounds again, then moves on. There is a cozy quality, safety within an oasis apart from the fast-paced world, one gets while hunkered down in the middle of a nor'easter. The bluesy section is that moment when you think it has passed, a moment of relief and recall... and absolute relaxation.
Berkshire Shadows (Late Autumn) - New England Suite, sixth movement
Autumn - the season, the stage of life, the state of cleared mind and reverie - is my favorite time of year. I've employed a simple theme and variation, with each individual leaf (note), each sculpted tree (musical phrase), each sunlit rolling hillside (major chords) and shadowed valley (minor harmonic colors) expressing itself as a unified vista. I hope this piece expresses my abiding adoration for Autumn's ever-changing plumage, it's sense of exuberant quiet and restful vigor. There is no more inspiring place than the Appalachian Mountains in Autumn.
Bonus Track:
One Body of Man, a duet
One Body of Man, a duet was recorded live at Lawrence University in 1998. The music is a series of variations on a them from my off-broadway musical "Creature," based on the Frankenstein story. In the stage play, it is sung by the chorus which is made up of body parts, all of which contribute to the awakening Creature. This track is a duet (duel) performed during the Rain Bather recording sessions by Doug Schneider and Chris Mueller. It did not make it onto the Rain Bather album and I've been looking for a project to attach it to for 16 years. I finally found one.

Click here to see more videos.

Johann Sebastian Bach
Portrait of Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach's dedication to expanding the role of the organ, harpsichord and clavier led to elevating all keyboard instruments from continuo to solo instrument. In many ways, the keyboard came into its own due to Bach's vision and virtuosity. When I went to college, 300 years after Bach's death, his music was the first assigned to me by my piano professor. Amazing, when you think about it.

Bach's compositions highlighted his skill in contrapuntal invention and his flair for systematic improvisation. His musical family background (they were a very famous musical family) and his noteworthy talent as a young organist helped him find work throughout Germany. His access to musicians and scores and instruments as a youth, however, only explains the excellent craft he developed, it doesn't explain his originality as a writer. What he cherished above all was composing. Known for tightly woven music of powerful sonority, he developed an eclectic, energetic musical style that was not without controversy, in his day. In it, foreign influences (Italian and French) were combined with an intensified version of the pre-existing German musical language. Bach synthesized it all and became the greatest Baroque composer.

During the Baroque period, many composers only wrote the framework, and performers embellished this framework with ornaments and other elaboration. Bach notated most or all of the details of his melodic lines, leaving little for performers to interpolate. This accounted for his control over the dense contrapuntal textures that he favored.

Bach's devout relationship with the Christian God in the Lutheran tradition and the high demand for religious music of his times placed sacred music at the centre of his repertory. Lutheran chorale hymn was the basis of much of his work. He wrote cogent, tightly integrated chorales, larger-scale structures that took a great deal of subtle, elaborate planning. And great passion. Bach's music breathes with depth and passion, loss and longing, even as it exudes mathematical balance and precision.

Bach was employed by Prince Leopold, in 1717, and moved to Köthen. Prince Leopold, himself a musician, appreciated Bach's talents, paid him well, and, for the first time in Bach's career, gave him considerable latitude in composing and performing. The prince was Calvinist and did not use elaborate music in his worship; accordingly, most of Bach's work from this period was secular, including the orchestral suites, the cello suites, the sonatas and partitas for solo violin, and the Brandenburg concertos. Bach also composed secular cantatas for the court. During his years with the Prince, Bach embraced dance music, perhaps the most important influence on his mature style other than his previous adoption of Vivaldi's music in Weimar. I draw heavily from this period in the pieces I've chosen.

Bach produced collections of movements that explored the range of artistic and technical possibilities inherent in various genres. The most famous example is The Well-Tempered Clavier, in which each book presents a prelude and fugue in every major and minor key. Each fugue displays a variety of contrapuntal and fugal techniques. When contemplating these pieces, I can't help but wonder at Bach's infinite imagination and ability to take any fragment of music and make hours and hours of never-ending variations. Just that thought brings me joy.

On his deathbed in the week before he died, blind and in the aftermath of a stroke, Bach had a friend play his organ chorale on the hymn “When We Are in Greatest Distress.” Even near the end of his rope, Bach’s lifelong perfectionism endured. He dictated a number of revisions to the chorale. He renamed the piece, giving it a title from another hymn: “Before Thy Throne I Now Appear.”

He wrote 20 pages of music for every day of his 65 years. Yet, in some ways, I think he just scratched the surface of his genius.

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Play button 1 Tide Pools
Play button 2 Momentary Undertow
Play button 3 Yin and Yang
Play button 4 Salmon Ladder Variations
Play button 5 Bird In Migration
Play button 6 Curved Surfaces
Play button 1 River Ice (Winter)
Play button 2 Ghostly Bells (of Independence)
Play button 3 Lighthouse (Spring)
Play button 4 Train (Summer Tango)
Play button 5 Nor'easter (Early Autumn)
Play button 6 Berkshire Shadows (Late Autumn)