If it's Baroque, remix it!
Why do I love Baroque music? Let me count the reasons. There's its amazing roster of creative geniuses, like Monteverdi, Schütz, Lully, Buxtehude, Purcell, Corelli, Bach, Handel, Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Telemann, Rameau — a lineup I'd put up against that of any other era. There's a wonderful sense of experimentation, improvisation, combination and recombination. You've got the emotional heights and depths, the profoundest expression of the spirit and the raunchiest expression of the common folk, some of the brainiest and some of the simplest music ever — often all of the above in the same piece. And you have music that engages, provokes, delights, but never, well, almost never tries my patience. (Digression: Were there misanthropic pundits gassing on about the short attention spans of people these days back then, too, or is that just a modern phenomenon?) There you have it: the coolest music ever, until the advent of the great musical invention of the 20th century, jazz. Which, come to think of it, I love for basically the same reasons.
One of the coolest things about Baroque music is that, to a much greater degree than the music of subsequent periods, it's open source, available for others to access, rework and redistribute. Baroque composers freely borrowed from themselves and each other. Turn a piece for one set of performers into something for some other performing force? No problem. The negative connotation that arrangements and transcriptions now suffer from didn't exist in the era, and generally doesn't exist even today when it comes to Baroque music. Put it this way: There are probably more transcriptions of Bach's music alone than there are transcriptions of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms and any five other romantic or later composers you could name combined.
And they keep on coming. Let me highlight three recent CD of Baroque remixes, if I may use the term that's come out of modern dance and club music. I'll describe them in ascending order of departure from the original source.
First, we have Canadian recorder player and conductor Matthias Maute and Ensemble Caprice, with a new set of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. Ho-hum, more Brandenburgs? Not so fast. The main innovation here is the preceding of each concerto with music from Dmitri Shostakovich's Bach-inspired Preludes and Fugues for piano, orchestrated by Maute. Nice idea, but I can't say it really does much for me. No, what caught my ear were the daringly zippy interpretations of the Bach. Oh, there've been fast Brandenburgs before, with the land speed record having been set, I think, by Reinhard Goebel and Musica Antiqua Köln. But whereas Goebel really sounds like he's cracking the whip to force fast tempos on the music, Maute & Co. make a far more convincing case, especially in the slow movements — not that the music has to go this way, but it can. Maute also does a fun rescoring of the ritornello (refrain) in the minuet that concludes the Brandenburg No. 1, the kind of playfulness clearly suggested by the music and by Baroque performance practice, but which would have gotten his hand slapped in Beethoven or Brahms. Not your same old Brandenburgs, praise be!
Ratcheting up the Baroque remix, next we have the adventurous violinist Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica with a CD called "The Art of Instrumention: Homage to Glenn Gould." Click on the link for info about how the project came about. As to the music, we've got eleven separate composers contributing two Bach-inspired original works and nine Bach transcriptions for varied chamber orchestra scoring. Considering how many cooks contributed to the soup, the flavor is pretty consistent: spare, pensive, melancholic, with lots of silence, string harmonics, quiet pizzicati and other subtle effects periodically punctuated with sudden outbursts. Then again, most of the composers come from what might be called the post-Soviet school of eastern Europe, which favors this style. Once again, Bach's music doesn't just survive such treatment, it thrives on it, the inherent genius of Bach remaining intact as others use him for their own perfectly valid artistic purposes.
Closest to the current sense of the musical remix is the new CD by British violinist Daniel Hope, joining the Berlin Konzerthaus Chamber Orchestra and conductor André de Ridder for Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons, "re-composed" by German-born Brit Max Richter. Re-composed? What's that all about? It means that Richter figuratively smashes the Vivaldi to bits, then reassembles it in a whole new way. You'll recognize the original Vivaldi stuff, all right, it's just all mixed up, with some parts left out, others in the "wrong" place, some new material mixed in and so forth. It's Vivaldi and it's Max Richter. It's Baroque and it's contemporary. I really like this and the other two above CDs, and will see to it that you get your chance to check them out on WFCR. So, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, but if it's Baroque, remix it!