A Conversation with Bach

Ensemble Caprice with Matthias Maute(Photo: Ensemble Caprice)

It’s an age-old question…”If you could have a conversation with any composer, who would it be?”

The answer, at least for Dmitri Shostakovich.  Rather than simply speculate about the possibility, Shostakovich took it one step further and actually had the conversation.  It was 195o.  The 44-year-old Russian-born composer had been invited to adjudicate at the first International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition in Leipzig.  (It will next held in July, 2014)  Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier so impressed Shostakovich, that he composed his own cycle of piano preludes and fugues in all 24 keys.

So where is this conversation, you ask?  It’s on a new recording of the Bach Brandenburg Concertos by Ensemble Caprice.  Conductor Mathias Maute explained that the conversation came about in the Shostakovich preludes and fugue he selected for this recording.  He orchestrated them so as to open a portal between the 18th and 20th-century to allow Dmitri and Johann to converse with each other and, ultimately, with us.  Each Brandenburg is preceded by one of the Shostakovich preludes from Op. 87, with the exception of the first, for which Maute chose one of the fugues.

I hope other present-day musicians follow this example in the future.  I can think of no better way to show 21st-century listeners how music of the past can speak to us today.

Watch Dmitri Ashkenazy play the Shostakovich Prelude and Fugue, Op. 87