Wife-husband team offer Bach, and more Bach this weekend in Housatonic
GREAT BARRINGTON — In their dream home outside New Brunswick, N.J., organists Renee Anne Louprette and George B. Stauffer have a pipe organ and piano in their two-story living room and an electronic organ, harpsichord and piano in their music room, which also rises two stories.
At home or in concert, the wife-husband duo command keyboards separately or together; sometimes they play duets for organ, some arranged by Stauffer, at a single console. Though original four-hand organ works are rare, he points out a precedent for his arrangements. Mendelssohn, he says, arranged Bach pieces as organ duets and "wrote some duets that are just super."
Bach looms large in this family, as you might expect from a pair organists. Stauffer is, in addition, a Bach scholar, currently writing a book titled "Why Bach Matters."
"Without question," he says, "Bach seems to be growing in importance. I mean, you find his image, and his music and quotes from his music, everywhere now. It's almost difficult to avoid Bach. So the music seems to be gaining in popularity, and one has to question why that is."
It's Bach that the couple will bring to the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House on Main Street in Housatonic at 2 p.m. Saturday in a lecture-concert program for the Berkshire Bach Society. Stauffer, dean emeritus of the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, will speak, introducing the five works and showing how they illustrate Bach's stylistic development. Louprette, coordinator of the organ studio at the Rutgers arts school, will perform.
Both have wide teaching and performing careers. Louprette teaches and is organist at Bard College; she performed one of the last organ recitals at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris before it burned last year. Her recording of Bach's "Great Eighteen Chorales" on the Metzler Organ in the chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge, England, was named a Critics' Choice by The New York Times. Stauffer was organist at Columbia University before beginning his 19-year deanship at Rutgers.
The pieces on the Housatonic program are the Prelude and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 549a; "Pastorella," BWV 590; the "Great Eighteen Chorales," BWV 653-661; the Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 537, and Bach's transcription of the allegro third movement from Vivaldi's Concerto in C Major ("Il grosso mogul"), BWV 594. The program is sponsored in part by the Berkshire Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
In a telephone interview, Stauffer said the pieces range in character from "Pastorella," four pastoral dances suggesting shepherds dancing at the Nativity, to the set of chorales, possibly Bach's last work for solo organ, which survived his death only in a copy preserved by two of his students. "Il grosso mogul" (a reference to the Grand Mughal Akbar, of the Mughal Empire) is "just good fun" to wind up the afternoon.
Currently on a year's sabbatical, Stauffer will return to teaching in the Rutgers music department in the fall. Among several projects he has his eye on is a new introductory course on music. "I feel we've got to have a livelier, more engaging introductory course to capture the next generation, or we're going to lose them," he says.
He also wants to do a course with a neurologist — so far unnamed — on how the brain processes music and "what makes it such an integral part of human existence." His major project is the book on "Why Bach Matters."
The catalog of Bach's works numbers well over 1,000, and books about him and his music seem almost as numerous. A recent addition, for example, is John Eliot Gardiner's "Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven," presenting a rebellious and resentful side of the composer along with his brilliance.
"Why Bach Matters," which will be published by Yale University Press, grows out of Stauffer's previous Bach book, "The Mass in B Minor." In a talk planned for London this week, he outlines four themes ranging from technical to philosophical:
Technical level: "Bach really opened the music world to professionalism. His pieces can't be played by amateurs." Demanding a graduated technique, his works still form the basis of keyboard study. "You can't fake it. There's nowhere to hide."
Creation of international style: French, Italian, French, German and Polish styles were beginning to merge. Especially in the B Minor Mass, Bach's last major work, "this international language which we take for granted through Mozart, Beethoven and others was really initiated by Bach in his mature works in Leipzig."
Bach's recycling of materials: "He used his own compositions as the basis for new compositions." In the mass, he reassembles pieces "like a giant Lego set." The precedent "has emboldened modern composers to take his music and recast it" for synthesizer, keyboard, voice, jazz, what-have-you.
Bach's confidence: "He just seemed to be supremely self-confident about music and about the need for order in music, and how that order could then be transferred to life itself." Stauffer cites sculptor and media pioneer Otto Beckmann: "Bach's music puts in order what life cannot."
For himself, Stauffer adds: "I think in these turbulent times we find a lot of confidence from the strength of his works." And so, another book on Bach.
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