1 + 1: music of Philip Glass and J. S. Bach
I began conceptualizing a J. S. Bach and Philip Glass recital in the beginning of 2011, following something of a Glass renascence for me around the winter holidays and a pre-existing condition for Bach (whom I had been thinking about almost exclusively for nearly a year at that time).
The exact correlation that piqued my interest was between Glass's Mad Rush and the third movement, an adagio, of Bach's Toccata in E-minor (BWV 914). The adagio is essentially a twenty-five-measure improvisational cadenza, and its natural arrival points are all arpeggios flourishing into chords, with short, scalar cadences linking these moments together. Mad Rush is what one might call the "typical" Glass: triplets and sixteenths over eighth notes, arpeggios, repetition, a ruthlessly mathematical internal structure.
What I loved about these pieces was the amount of space in each of them, and a confident yet unassuming assertion of what a piece could be – in terms of form, theme, and content – or rather what it could be without. There is this idea that an ornament (or rhythm or interval or cadence) can be a non-melodic subject of a piece and give that piece direction without suggesting any kind of overt dialogue between the parts. Reduced to their elements, these pieces stand so contrary to melody-centric "Western music" that they question our ideas of what it means to be music at all.
Glass' Wichita Vortex Sutra and parts of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, rather than sharing a type of melodic style or subject, each relate a similar lesson to us about how we understand the progression of a piece. Rather than the idea that a repeated or familiar melodic line brings us from beginning to end, the elements typically of secondary consideration to the listener (ornaments, cadences) are recast as the subject and, in their simplicity, call that listener to understand all the components within the greater narrative. It is a requirement of critical listeners of all music, both melodic and non-melodic, but when the melody – that element which is integral to our popular musical culture – is removed, we are given the primal foundation of this structure and are allowed to evaluate it in a new light.