FAREWELL TO BACH for baroque orchestra (flute, alto recorder, oboe, oboe d' amore, bassoon, two solo violins, strings (3, 3, 3, 2, 1) and harpsichord.) 1998. Commissioned by the Scotia Festival of Music for the Tafelmusik baroque orchestra grants from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Nova Scotia Arts Council. Part of the project SPRING EQUINOX.

FAREWELL TO BACH for two solo violins and chamber orchestra (flute, alto recorder, oboe, English horn, bassoon and strings (4, 4, 3, 2, 1)). 1998. Part of the SPRING EQUINOX project. Score and parts available through PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.


Farewell to Bach is a palimpsest, a work written on top of another existing work, in this case the last fugue from J. S. Bach’s The Art of the Fugue. This is my latest addition—and probably the last—to a series of chamber works based on Bach’s swan song. It was commissioned by the Scotia Festival of Music in partnership with the CBC and the Nova Scotia Arts Council for Tafelmusik, Canada’s preeminent Baroque Orchestra for a premiere at the 1998 Scotia Festival where both Tafelmusik and I were in residence. It was the first time Tafelmusik played a work by a living composer, so making the connection with Bach in my work was a logical thread for this commission. There is also a more esoteric reason for this choice. The piece is a dedication to my late father who was then in his late seventies. It is a summation of my feelings about him and the incredible influence he has had on my development as an artist and a human being. Metaphorically, the Bach fugues represent the foundation upon which I have build and against which I have defined myself: they represent my father. This transference is not inappropriate, inasmuch Bach has been a point of strong artistic reference for me from which I am only now beginning to move away in search of a new paradigm for my musical thinking. In this sense, Farewell to Bach is indeed a farewell to the master who more than any other composer in history has left his indelible mark on the musical era we generally identify as western music. It is also a farewell to the man who gave me life and raised me in a way that I can only hope and pray to be able to raise my own child. The piece chronicles my own coming of age against the background and structure of my parents. Throughout the piece the string orchestra plays the Bach original with only minor modifications. In the first section the fugue is preserved intact. After the exposition, the woodwinds enter discreetly by threading together melodies and motivic material out of the existing notes of the fugue: the new music is born out from the fugue itself and learns ‘how to walk’ by selectively sampling existing information from the original material. Gradually it becomes more independent, introducing additional musical information, but within the strict guidelines of common practice harmony and counterpoint. While it sings along with the fugue, it does not actually participate in its structure, imposing instead a motivic structure of its own unrelated to the thematic content of the original. The second section is dominated by two solo violins who play extremely virtuosic parts juxtaposed on the Bach material. Both melodically, rhythmically and stylistically they are far more independent from the Bach original than any of the material in the first section. The pervading principle here is cultural counterpoint. With one minor exception the material for the solo violins draws its inspiration from non-western cultures: Celtic fiddle music, middle eastern folk, klezmer and even jazz. On the surface, the relationship between the two musics is tenuous, occasionally contradictory, but at a deeper level it is symbiotic and one of interdependence. The traditional concepts of counterpoint have been significantly expanded to accommodate radically different ways of thinking about melody, harmony and rhythm. The Bach fugue has been tampered with at a number of spots by repeating certain material to make the new structure possible and by ‘orchestrating’ the fugue in ways which engage the original material as a willing partner in the dramatic climaxes of this section. The fugue in the third section of the piece has been left incomplete by Bach at the point where he was beginning to combine the material of all three fugues into a single masterful contrapuntal summation. I stopped the quotation of the original a few measures earlier, at a half cadence where the interruption is slightly more intuitive, ending the piece with a short concluding statement of my own. The third fugue is a signature piece based on the B-A-C-H motif. As with the previous two fugues the Bach material is presented by the string orchestra. The woodwinds return starting with a lamenting statement of my own initials, C.H., and moving back to the spirit of the first fugue. They trace the process of the first fugue backwards finding peace and fulfillment in the musical company of a great master and in my personal memories of a great man to whose self-sacrifice I partly owe the fact that I am alive.

For more information on the make-up of this work, read the essay: The Art of the Palimpsest: Compositional Approaches to the Music of J. S. Bach

Premiere performance: June 6, 1998 by Tafelmusik baroque orchestra under the direction of the composer; St. Andrew's United Church, Halifax, Nova Scotia. The concert was part of the 1998 Scotia Festival of Music. The entire program consisted of three works by Hatzis: Farewell to Bach, Stylus (for baroque string quartet, also a world premiere performance) and Equivoque (a new version for harpsichord and tape all of which are based on J. S. Bach's The Art of the Fugue preceded without interruption by the actual fugues from The Art of the Fugue arranged by members of Tafelmusik. Farewell to Bach was performed again at the end of the concert as an encore in response to requests from the audience. This was the first time Tafelmusik performed a work by a living composer.

Reviews and Comments:

Performance Makes Festival History

The compositional procedures [Hatzis] used are complex and thoroughly consistent both with the deconstructionist principles of postmodernist art and Hatzis’ determination to integrate all the music [Equivoque for harpsichord and tape, Stylus for baroque string quartet and Farewell to Bach for baroque orchestra] according to Bach’s own principles. All this seems intricate and complex, perhaps, as the word palimpsest, a term that sends most of us scrambling to the dictionary, sounds dry and academic. But the works themselves were anything but. Hatzis’ postmodernist techniques (which he has since abandoned) couldn’t have mattered less. The music coming from the front of the church Saturday night was beautiful, fascinating, richly textured and compelling. And in the case of the last part of Farewell to Bach, based upon the letters of Bach’s name—B-flat, A, C, B—the work was intensely moving. [In] Equivoque the two tonalities fight for dominance in a playfully joyful way, discharging fountains of harpsichord notes like dancing lights...It was a living history both being made and being honored, but above all it was an evening full of enchanting sounds, assembled with consummate skill and a deft touch, whose only challenge to the audience was to open their ears.

Stephen Pedersen, THE CHRONICLE-HERALD (Canada)

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