There is something unfailingly refreshing about playing Bach. I think it may have been Andras Schiff who said that it was like taking a musical cold shower, getting rid of all the grime accumulated from playing other music, and I think I agree with that.
It is the clarity of line and the purity of thought that is so thoroughly impressive, gesture always used for some end rather than for the sake of the gesture itself, avoiding that which irritates me so much about some music from the Romantic period. Amazingly, that clarity and purity never seems to falter, never at all.
I was reminded of this over the weekend because I was playing the first of the master’s trio sonatas for solo organ, a piece to focus the mind and punish any sloppy gesture if ever there was one. In these works each of the three lines is individual and yet part of the whole, taking its own share of the musical argument.
What makes them so physically demanding is that hands and feet are placed at the service of this equality of writing, and the traditional weakness of the left hand (for right handers such as me) must be overcome. Likewise one’s pedal technique needs to be light yet precise, almost balletic.
In many ways, playing these pieces well brings its own reward, so the presence of an audience makes little difference to me apart from the knowledge that any tiny slip will be heard very clearly indeed, but it is good to be able to share such wonderful music with other people, joy indeed to be able to weave it out of Bach’s notation.