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Book details
  • Genre:MUSIC
  • SubGenre:Genres & Styles / Classical
  • Language:English
  • Pages:226
  • eBook ISBN:9789834271305

Sacred Images of the Well-Tempered Clavier

by Meng Chan

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This book contains Meng Chan's discovery of coded religious themes and images in the 48 preludes and fugues of J.S.Bach \[1685–1750\]. These pieces of keyboard music are collectively named by Bach : 'The Well-Tempered Clavier'. The first book of 'the well-tempered clavier' of J. S. Bach contains the coded images and messages from the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible; and the second book has a central theme of 'the second coming of the Lamb of God' containing many coded images and messages from 'The Book of Revelations'. Some of the coded Images in 'the well-tempered clavier/ book 1' are: Prelude and Fugue 1: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth \[fugue\]. The earth was without form—and the spirit of God moved upon the face of the water \[prelude\]. Prelude and Fugue 8: is about Moses, the burning bush and the Ten Commandments. Prelude and Fugue 12: Noah's ark \[Prelude\]. The covenant of the rainbow \[fugue\]. Prelude and Fugue 15: the Immaculate Conception \[prelude\] and the birth of Jesus \[Fugue\]. Prelude and Fugue 18: Jesus' crucifixion. Prelude and Fugue 24: Jesus died for the sins of men \[Prelude\]. For God so love the world that he gave His only begotten son—\[fugue\]. Some of the coded images in 'the well-tempered clavier/ book 2' are: Prelude and Fugue 15: the miracle of turning water into wine \[prelude\]. The Angels' adulation of Jesus as the Lamb of God \[fugue\]. Prelude and Fugue 20: The 'Book of Life' of the Last Judgment \[prelude\] and Christ's Second Coming bringing the New Heaven and New Earth \[fugue\]. Prelude and Fugue 24: Jesus shall come like a thief, when He is least expected \[prelude\] and He shall come as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords \[fugue\].
There was always a tradition of mysticism in religious music writing. For example. Cathedrals were built to facilitate the resonance of the perfect intervals, or try to, with the belief that the perfect intervals are holy and pure. Also, religious compositions often include cryptic symbols and images in the manuscripts. Bach must have been aware of this tradition and I believe that he decided to take this practice to a whole new level with these 48 prelude and fugues, and then was happy to let the music have a life of its own without the burden of their hidden themes. As a musician, he probably thought it wiser to conceal the method of his creative opus, for fear of his composition not being taken seriously because of its unusual premise; or was he only interested in using this method to find fresh thematic material? The hidden images however, must give the music very novel and unusual musical motives compared to other compositions by conventional means; this accounts for their originality and freshness. Personally, I think Bach honored the music manuscript in this manner because of the importance of the written notation as a technological device responsible for the elevation of his art throughout the centuries. After all, he had already written volumes of religious music with words, praising God. This one is specifically to thank God for the gift of musical notations. With an accurate system of notation, the art of music is able to rise above an oral or improvisational tradition, to allow every generation to learn, dissect, select and improve on the music of others. It is in this maimer, that Bach acquired his encyclopedic knowledge of his art; of course he is thankful for the humble musical notation, the vehicle of musical evolution. Looking at the front pages of this book, one common reaction may be: 'this is too good to be true! That all these images can be planted in the 48 prelude and fugues by design and planning, encapsulating Christianity's trilogy of its past, present and future, namely, the Old Testament, the New Testament and the second coming of Jesus.' If this is true, it certainly brings another layer of complexity to the already awe-inspiring and revered contrapuntal genius of the 48 prelude and fugues. In this book, I set out to prove that Bach most certainly did use theology in a systematic way as a springboard for this most arduous and complex musical creation. Like solving a puzzle, I offer a sacred image for every one of the 48 preludes and fugues. The clarity of the images comes from the consistency of Bach's code and the meaningful progression of their subject matter. One clue to its religious content is Bach's dedication to the glory of God in reference to this monumental opus. Bach inscribed the initial S.D.G \[Soli Deo sit Gloria- Glory to God Alone\] at the reverse side of the last fugue of book I (B-minor). This is a quotation from the Latin translation of Romans 16:27 and Jude 1:25. This autograph can be seen in the mus. ms Bach P 415 of Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Prussischer Kulturbesitz. It turned out that Bach had infused meaning to the choice of any and all elements of musical composition. The elements such as time signature, key signature, note values, number of parts, the interval between the notes, the grouping of notes, the position of the parts plus all the elements of notation such as rests, accidentals and ornament can be used to signify something. Even the conspicuous absence of certain element is sometimes significant. Some meaning are purely visual, many are by associations and some are made clearer when the music is played; one example is the prelude of 'Jesus calms the Sea' where the harmonic range and progression re-enforces the narrative.
About the author
# About the Author # Meng Chan is born in Malaysia. He attended St David's High Scholl in the small town of Malacca. Even though he was the most active musician in that all boys' school, serving from national anthem accompaniment, talent nights to school concerts, most people were not aware that he had a most unusual musical education; or rather the lack of. His parents felt that the gentle art of music was more appropriate for a girl. Indeed his sister was given piano tuition for many years. However, it did not stop Meng Chan learning to read music and play the piano all by himself. The adults tolerated this eccentric pastime of a child and let him be; in this way, he gained fluency and familiarity with the classical repertoire from Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin to Debussy through self-study. At age seventeen, piano teacher Wong Pin Ling heard his playing, and was much impressed with his easy, natural piano technique and keen musical sensibilities. She suggested that he should seriously study, and gave him his first lessons. A few months later, to test his fluency, she put him through an ABRSM \[Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (UK)\] examination, in the highest grade offered- Grade Eight. He passed with distinction. Encouraged, he went on to study with a few more teachers in Europe. One teacher he worked with was particularly intrigued by the natural abilities of gifted children, the author of "the pianists' talent": Harold Taylor (UK). In that book, he probed the mysteries of seemingly effortless learning of Children in their chosen field. Unusually, this mentor encouraged his self-reliance, and a trust in his own problem solving capabilities. On hindsight, Meng Chan is very grateful for that affirmation, happily leading him onto the paths of many musical explorations. He also benefited greatly by his study with Peter Katin, who offered great insights due to his encyclopedic knowledge of the piano repertoir. Though regretting not benefiting from an early formal musical education, he does credit much of his discovery of the coded images of the Well-tempered Clavier to his early habits of self-reliance; where he had to think through every note and every technical difficulties by himself, and never had a 'received opinion' to lean on. Meng Chan's motto has always been: every note must be understood clearly in their context, before it can be played truthfully.

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