Bach Performance Notes

This week it seems that my life has become again bound up with that of J.S. Bach, that protean (and Lutheran) master of the Baroque.  Musicologists frequently cite the dualistic character in the life and work of Robert Schumann, but Bach, although he fails to name his muse (apart from a trinitarian vision of Christian savior, that is) is also dualistic in his effect.  His style is both cosmopolitan and national, cerebral and visceral, full of, as Louise Young writes of Japanese imperialism, “ossified weight vs. mercurial dynamism.”

Which is to say that playing his music is both fun and difficult.

Along the lines of previous post-performance exhortations and assessments, I’ll tease out a few remnants from this morning’s performance in the hopes (eh, the expectation!) that said document can serve as another foundational block in the Steps to Parnassus.  Sure, perfection is unattainable, but isn’t that the whole point of playing an instrument, carving out a piece of writing, or heaving sighs at visions of die ewige Weibliche? Die ewige Weibliche zieht uns hinan!

Grundlage: Foundations are either wholly sturdy or reveal their shoddiness under duress.  Don’t be like a corrupt cadre who socks away time chasing gold when you should be pouring concrete.  Which is to say that foundations are, by definition, laid early and intentionally.  Interpretations of a given piece, will, of course, change over time, but — just as Nietzsche said there is no substitute for having worked hard in undergrad — there is no substitute for having put a piece to the woodshed every day for a two- or three-week period a few months prior to the performance at hand.  Little mishaps or playing merely adaquately when the line could have shone with brilliance brings one to this point just as surely as train wrecks.  Foundations!  成为基础成为基础没有基础就没有技术就没有艺术吧。 Habit is the essence of craft.  Practice is the pedal tone, the tonic, the Hauptton, the basso profundo of the morning.

Allein oder Gemein? Alone or performing with a partner or ensemble, one’s mental train changes significantly.  I realized this today in the guts of the program, in the moment of stark silence before starting the Bach Prelude in d for unaccompanied cello.  (Maybe I could emphasize the solitary nature of this endeavor by using the German phrase for “unaccompanied cello,” which is  “violoncello unbegleitet.”  Yeah!  that’s fine, strive to be unbegleitet when you aren’t gemein/sammlung andere kraefte wie Emile Durkheim/keine Worter werd’ die Wettbewerb kurz stricken/Donner und Blitz macht hell im Gesicht/unheimliche Wut im Fuβ was tragst du/Johann Sebastian was sagst du/aber schweigend bleiben sein/fuer wann heller Nacht naeckt am Strand lauft, dann ist alles los/wie verlorene Doppelgriffen weinen zu dem Vater suchen/ploetzlich wacht auf und deswegen macht etwas neu!/mit festen Bogenstrichen fuehren sie selbst/entaeuscht mit anderem, nieder from pelts of seaweed rise up from the deep/Heinrich Schutz mag ich dich so sehr/lehren Harmonien/schwer und compliziert, deine Klingen sorgt mich tief/Brust schwollen mit Bilder von Alpen/so zuruck kommen wir jetzt, meine alte liedvoller Freunden/von Macht und Kraft bitte sie mich aufzubauen, ich bin nicht gestorbene jetzt!/und jetzt mit eine neue jetzt…bis Berlin, bis Wien, bis bald)

Well, there may be more to come, but now it’s begun.  To beginnings, and to Vivace first movements!

Adam Cathcart with Bach-thundering harpsichord at Pacific Lutheran University, March 3, 2010

March 1 Commemorations in the DPRK

Given the documented backlash against their disastrous currency revaluation of November 30, 2009, one would imagine that the Korean Workers’ Party leadership in Pyongyang would want to avoid open mention, much less endorsement, of loosely organized mobs of citizens demanding freedom from tyranny.

Yet occasionally, the calendar imposes its own sort of tyranny, forcing the Party into contortions which, in the end, are better than damning silence:

March First Popular Uprising

Pyongyang, March 1 (KCNA) — Ninety-one years has elapsed since the March First Popular Uprising took place in Korea.

It was a nationwide patriotic struggle to achieve the liberation of the country from the Japanese imperialists’ rule and win the sovereignty of the nation.

After illegally occupying Korea early in the 20th century the Japanese imperialists had infringed upon the Korean nation’s dignity and sovereignty with a mediaeval military rule, turning the whole land of Korea into a large prison without bars.

The Korean people’s grudge and resentment against their heinous colonial rule finally burst into a nationwide uprising on March 1, Juche 8 (1919).

It started in Pyongyang. Patriotic students of Pyongyang Sungsil Middle School, turned into a strong base of the anti-Japanese independence movement by indomitable revolutionary Kim Hyong Jik, and thousands of people gathered in the playground of Sungdok Girls’ School at noon and listened to “Declaration of Independence” before taking to the streets to stage a fierce demonstration, chanting “Long live the independence of Korea!” and “Japanese and their army, out of Korea!”

The number of demonstrators multiplied soon into more than 100,000 in spite of the Japanese imperialists’ brutal crackdown.

The demonstration spread over not only the whole country but also Manchuria, Shanghai, Maritime Province, Hawaii, etc.

Korean people who had suffered a miserable lot of an enslaved nation took part in the uprising in all parts of the country irrespective of occupation and religious faith, age and sex.

Within three months since the start of the uprising, more than two million people of all social strata joined the uprising and demonstrations and riots totaled over 3,200 times till the end of the year.

The March First Popular Uprising was a historical event which demonstrated the Korean people’s independent and patriotic spirit of not tolerating outsiders’ rule.

I am reminded of the difficulties Kim Il Song faced as a new leader in 1946, when uncomfortable resonance around March 1 centered on the obvious fact that Korea remained occupied by foreign armies.  As Chuck Kraus and I wrote in our article on the Sinuiju Incident (Journal of Korean Studies, 2008):

The resonant anniversary of March 1, or Samil, was approaching. As with the American occupation regime in the south, the Soviets in the north were challenged greatly by how to handle the popular sentiments that the anniversary would stimulate. In spite of intense Korean Communist Party efforts to reinterpret March 1 as a Bolshevik-led movement, Christian and student rallies and cries for political representation culminated on March 1, 1946. Schools throughout P’yŏngyang on February 28 were practically empty, as many students refrained from school to voice their opposition to the staged Samil celebrations. After a number of students were forced to march during the Samil parade, a huge crowd of Christians assembled to protest at a P’yŏngyang Presbyterian Church. Under close watch of Soviet soldiers, the crowd lingered until March 3. Occupation leaders responded to these protests by closing schools for several days and to again hold private meetings with school principals. Even then, however, students issued statements ignoring Soviet orders.

And don’t forget that propaganda slogans can always be altered for seditious purposes, as in this recent example from inside the DPRK:

Heoryong City Concentrates on Arresting Political Offenders Responsible for Alteration of a Propaganda Phrase
From January 31, 8 p.m. to February 1, 6 a.m., the propaganda phrase on a bulletin board in a bookstore in Osan-Dong, Heoryong City, was altered, which can become a big social issue. On February 1, there was a large crowd of onlookers who stopped on their way to work to look at the altered bulletin board. This issue was reported to the Central Department of Propaganda and agitation (CDPA) because it happened it the hometown of Mother Kim Jong-Sook.

On February 3, the CDPA criticized the officials of the City Party, saying, “The Heoryong City Party officials failed to provide residents with well-planned political lectures.” The CDPA issued an internal order stating, “The officials who allowed this political issue to arise should be questioned and held responsible; however, at this time, we will focus our efforts on arresting the offender and intensifying the lectures for the residents in order to promote solidarity.” The original phrase on the bulletin board read, “Building a sound ethos of learning political ideology.” However, someone had altered the phrase to read, “Building a half-hearted ethos of learning political ideology” by changing the consonants. The national Security Agency, in cooperation with the City Security Agency, mobilized members of Labor Organization and Youth Union to specifically ask the residents about their whereabouts in order to locate the offender.

image from Enki Bilal's bande desinee (accessed in a precious "free speech" space in the Alliance Francaise Pekin)

French Stories

In addition to these grabs from the Le Figaro photo blog (and one more of some beautiful monkeys in snowy Nagano), I’d like to recommend the work of Pierre Haski, former China correspondent for Liberation and presently the author of the “Chinatown” blog on Rue 89.  Why read this guy’s work?  Who else is writing such thoughtful analysis? Looking at the Sino-North Korean relationship in this post, he compares Chinese aid to the DPRK to the Marshall Plan.

But most of all, as I get ready for a Bach performance when the sun comes up today, there is this very endearing 2-minute video report on students in Beijing aspiring to enter the Chinese Academy of Film (via Aujourd’hui en Chine).