While the advent of technology has improved the lives of many, a much quieter revolution is happening around us. Modern computer technology is going beyond simply furthering the reach of traditional forms of music; it is rapidly transforming the way we approach them. One of the most interesting manifestations of this phenomenon is a creative idea of sorts by an online music portal from the United Kingdom. London-based Sinfini Music has skillfully rendered Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier into a visually-entertaining animation that promises to redefine the way we look at music.
Johann Sebastian Bach was a well-regarded musician and composer from the Baroque period. Born to a family of musicians on 31 March 1685 in Eisenach, Germany, Bach got involved with music at a very early age. As a composer well-known for developing his own style of music, he delved into harmony more than other composers of his time, often with surprising results. Although Bach’s works were mostly written for the harpsichord, Bach managed to perfect the art of dissociating his music from any particular instrument. Thus, a particular piece could be played as well on a harpsichord as on a guitar. For all his talent and ingenuity, however, Bach’s style was considered to be old-fashioned during his time and he was more well-known as an organ player and even an organ repair consultant than as a composer. It was not until long after his death in 1750 that interest in his works picked up.
In 1722, while living in Köthen, Bach compiled a collection of works meant for performance on solo keyboard, known as The Well-Tempered Clavier (Das Wohltemperirte Clavier). He famously said that he wrote the collection "for the profit and use of musical youth desirous of learning, and especially for the pastime of those already skilled in this study". It consisted of preludes and fugues played across the 24 keys, starting from C major, then moving to C minor, C-sharp major and C-sharp minor, and ending with B major and B minor. This collection of 48 pieces was given the catalogue numbers Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV) 846 to 869. Twenty years later, while living in Leipzig, Bach released another collection of similar pieces, also known as The Well-Tempered Clavier. The two collections later became known as Book 1 and Book 2. As things turned out, The Well-Tempered Clavier became so well-received that it was performed in its entirety by Lugwin van Beethoven around 1782, when he was only eleven. Bach’s famous work also inspired Frédéric Chopin, Dmitri Shostakovich and other well-known composers to write their own preludes.
Today, the 21st-century version of the timeless classic has been brought to us by Sinfini Music. The modern, visually-enhanced rendition of Bach’s Prelude & Fugue in C Major (BWV 846) was painstakingly put together by director and visual artist Alan Warburton. Based on the original performance by Frenchman Pierre-Laurent Aimard, the digital transformation was achieved by first recording a simultaneous performance on an electric piano by American music visualisation specialist Matthew Bain and then transferring the digital notes to special software for processing. The end result is a mind-blowing display of lights that coincides with the playing of the right notes at the right times with the right duration, all happening in a virtual Bach museum and a covered carpark. The five-minute-long visual treat lends a contemporary look to the age-old classic and will no doubt be a fresh way to engage the modern audience. This truly is a way for even non-pianists to appreciate classical music.