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Paths Serene and Tempestuous

Recently a nephew sent to the immediate family suggestions for Christmas gifts -- for himself. Actually I found the list helpful: no BMWs or neckties made it, thus ruling out one option I had been seriously considering.If anyone is making a similar list to email to loved ones, I happily recommend one item that is a stocking-stuffer and not a budget-breaker.Andrs Schiff has a splendid new recording of both books of Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier" -- an inexhaustible world of joy for the price of a seat in the Met's Family Circle (and no nose bleeds).The notes that accompany the recording say:

Things in The Well-Tempered Clavier always come in pairs, but pairs that, unlike butterfly wings, display an essential asymmetry, if an asymmetry that will sound inevitable, even natural.Prelude and fugue are gate and path. The gate leads to the path, allows us to sense the path beyond it. Striding the path, we remember the gate that allowed us through.

I appreciate the image. The gates are not uniform, and the paths open upon vistas as varied as a young person's yearnings or an old person's memories.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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Recently a nephew sent to the immediate family suggestions for Christmas gifts for himself.

!I admire your virtues of tolerance. For me, it would be a toss up between:

The worst present I ever got was a large painting bought at an outdoor market. It represented a bucolic scene. I was at first indifferent to it, and put it up on a wall with the plan to ignore it. But the thick paint and pale pinkish colors reminded me of puke every time it caught my eye, and my indifference became active dislike. Every time I saw it, I would think to myself: "My God, that's ugly!", until I made a habit of keeping my eyes averted from that wall. After a year or so I finally confessed my dislike (to the gift-giver's surprise and dismay), took it down and, I think, put it in the trash.Had I been more loving of the person giving the present, I would have silently suffered it to stay up, and perhaps, seeing it as a sign of their care for me, would even have grown to somehow like it. Music, at least, if you don't like it, you don't have to listen to it.

The Well-tempered Clavier? Well, though musicians would scorn this use, I have discovered that when, at my age, a brief nap will help me get through the day, nothing beats the WTC, though I fall asleep listening to Ton Koopman's harpsichord version on my ipod (the instrument's limited dynamic range is more helpful than that of the piano). Concentrating on the various voices, particularly those of the fugues, will do the trick every time. But then, though the story is probably apocryphal, Bach composed the famous variations for his pupil, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, to play for Count Keyserling (former Russian ambassador to Saxony), as a way to help K. overcome his insomnia.

"the paths open upon vistas as varied as a young persons yearnings or an old persons memories" --or refreshing naps!

Angela Hewitt's recordings of the Well-tempered Clavier (two to date) are sweet as well.

Yes, Hewitt is one of my favorites and her booklet notes are brimming with insight.

And Wanda Landowska of course, if you can stand the twang! She was my first introduction to Bach's keyboard works, and my young ears at the time were quite attuned by rock and roll to that sound ;-)

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