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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Comparison: Bach Contrapunctus IX on the banjo? Absolutely

By John Terauds on July 17, 2013

 

Jayme Stone
Jayme Stone (Vanessa Heins photo)

Just as I’ve been working on a banjo collaboration for “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” for church this coming Sunday, I ran across a video of Toronto-native banjo player Jayme Stone and bandmates playing a section of J.S. Bach’s Art of the Fugue. It reminded me for the umpteenth time how adaptable Bach’s musical language is.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds

This comes on the heels of reading an recent essay by a prominent, veteran period-performance musician who railed against arrangements of Bach’s music. He cited a string-trio arrangement of the Goldberg Variations as a case in point, referring to it as “a modern horror.”

Is it a horror to bring Bach to life for different audiences in different contexts?

Since Bach didn’t actually specify instrumentation in the Art of the Fugue, I thought I’d share the Stone’s video with the banjo of “Contrapuntus IX,” a four-part double-fugue, and include a few other versions so we can compare attributes:

Now, the Canadian Brass:

The Emerson Quartet:

Glenn Gould:

Winston Choi:

Matteo Messori:

And beatboxer Jack Stratton:

Because I work as a critic, I feel I need to tell you my favourite from this set: It’s Messori’s beautifully paced interpretation, which uses time to define what would otherwise be undefinable on a harpsichord. Stone & co. also manage to walk the fine line between music and mathematics. There is poetry here that is lacking in most of the other interpretations.

Which is your favourite? Do you think any of the interpretations is “a modern horror”?

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
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