Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Public Domain: Bouree

Jethro Tull: Bouree


One approach to this week’s theme is to find traditional songs. I’ve done that already, and I will again later this week. But most classical music is also in the public domain. And that brings me to Bach. I would say that Bach perfected the art of the fugue. If you’ve ever sung a round, you have an idea what this is. In a fugue, one instrument starts the melody, and the next starts it later, and then the next, and so on. The overlapping parts produce the harmonies and also the overlapping rhythms do their part. Bach would do this with a theme and then variations, and it always worked.

This transformation of something simple into something richer is a hallmark of Bach’s music, even when the fugue is not involved. For this reason, his music appeals to a wide range of musicians today outside of the classical genre. Case in point: Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. Anderson actually has some classical background, and he has recorded a version of Bouree with an orchestra. But this was the first recording he did of it. In Jethro Tull’s hands, Bouree becomes a folk-rock piece with jazzy overtones. Bouree became one of Jethro Tull’s signature tunes; fans expected to hear it at their shows, and often did. There are several live versions of it available, and the group improvises and plays with the arrangement, so no two versions sound the same. But Anderson and Co never lose track of the beauty of Bach’s original melody.

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