Less can be more

Prelude & Fugue in C, Well-Tempered Keyboard Vol. 2 J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

"All Who Love and Serve Your City"


This morning’s prelude is from Bach’s Well Tempered Keyboard – an encyclopedic demonstration of playing and compositional techniques of his day. It’s also encyclopedic in that it consists of a Prelude and Fugue in each of the 24 major and minor keys – the first such set. It was also the second such set as he wrote two volumes. (‘Well Tempering’ is a way of tuning keyboards so you can play in all the keys – a new idea at the time).

By the way, the beginning student keyboard of Bach's day only had four octaves, 49 keys (even cheapie Casio keyboards from Costco have 61), and on such a keyboard, ‘Middle C’ is actually in the middle (not true of the modern piano or organ keyboard). The entire Well Tempered Keyboard can be played on this minimal 49 key student keyboard. (I'll have a visual aid on the piano keyboard, and I'll improvise the postlude on this same four octaves.)

One of the pathological beliefs of our day is that ‘happiness requires more, More, MORE!’ A bigger house! With even more stuff in it! And more everything! But with an ever increasing human population generating more and more waste, and consuming more and more finite resources faster than they can be replaced, that belief will literally kill us.

And is the belief that ‘more, More, MORE equals happiness’ even true? I say NO! Less CAN be more (or certainly enough!), but imagination will be required to come up with ways to replace ‘greed and gluttony for yet more More MORE’ with something more sustainable and frankly more satisfying. I don’t have the answers, but hell’s bells I think we had better start asking these questions.

In a small way the Well Tempered Keyboard reminds us of this. It’s considered a cornerstone of Westerm music – pretty much every composer of note from Mozart through Stravinsky had copies on their desk and knew it well. And yet – it was composed for a measly four octave keyboard. Sometimes less can be more than enough. Especially when imagination is brought to bear. After all, imagination and the gumption to act on it truly IS limitless.