- Project Summary (tl;dr)
‘The Bach Project’ is a new recording of Bach’s Lute music, arranged for and performed on the 7-string guitar by guitarist and Fellow of Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Michael Poll, in 3D sound. This hasn’t been done before. It is an ambitious project benefitting the public, schools, and musicians….the world! It will be recorded at the eponymous Abbey Road Studios. Running the project is dependent on hitting the $18,000 target, which goes towards running costs alone.
I’m Michael Poll. I’m a classical guitarist and a conductor. I have been playing music for 22 years. I was 14 when I started noticing special patterns in the music of Bach. Sequences. Cyclical progressions. Harmony. An approach to composition that mimics nature, using the Golden Ratio, Phi, as a guiding structure.
The Bach Project brings Bach's music to life here in the 21st century: I am fusing modern instrumental practice with historical techniques and doing it all on an instrument that is built specially for the job by American master luthier Robert Ruck.
Bach left manuscripts for two complete instrumental suites for Lute, the predecessor of the modern classical guitar, and for the Bach Project I will record them using state of the art technology in one of the world's iconic recording studios: Abbey Road.
A seven string guitar is a special musical creature: the range of the modern guitar plus five notes taken from the double bass. This instrument makes it possible to play Bach’s music in its original register, as he heard it.
Each movement of a Bach suite can take up to 80 hours to internalize on a regular instrument; on a 7-string that number is much higher.
The complexity and intricacy of Bach’s music and the years required to study and understand it make it antithetical to the break-neck pace of modern life. This project is the culmination of 20 months of scholarly research, and your support of it is support for the value of thought, deep learning, and the slower things in life. Bach’s music is art that does not reveal itself on the first, second, or third hearing, and so I hope to share a recording of this music for you that you can take anywhere, wherever you go.
By supporting this project you’re not only supporting me and my artistic journey, you’re making a statement to the world and to the music industry that classical music matters. In our time music is used to sell any number of things (iPhones, cars, subscriptions, you name it) but this recording is not about selling anything—it’s about sharing in a great artistic tradition from which we can all take joy. And it is only possible with your support.
- The Community
If the project is successful, Michael will take the repertoire from the Bach Project CD on a tour of 10 free concerts for inner-city schools without a significant music provision: 5 in East London, and 5 in Philadelphia.
- The Research:
Bach arranged his own music extensively: the first piece on the album, the E Major Suite for Lute BWV 1006a has a Prelude that exists in not one, not two, but three versions and in four different places: it is the Sinfonia that opens Cantata 29 "Wir danken dir Gott, wir danken dir", the opening Sinfonia of the second half of Cantata 120a "Herr Gott, Beherrscher taller Dinge", the Prelude of the Partita for Violin BWV 1006 and the Prelude of the Suite for Lute BWV 1006a. By arranging it once again for the modern guitar, I follow in the tradition of great guitarists of the 20th century, nearly all of whom made their own arrangements of the music of Bach. What the research into Bach's own practice and that of these other arrangers has shown me, however, is that arrangement is essentially a statement of aesthetic: it is a compositional act that draws extensively on stylistic norms of the time as well as the personal taste of the arranger. As such, my desire to leave intact Bach's original bass line reflects my own inclination towards historical performance, and yet using a guitar instead of a lute keeps the project firmly grounded in modern instrumental practice. That it is a seven-string instrument helps to bridge the gap in technical possibility between what is possible on a modern six-string guitar and a Baroque twelve-course lute.
Probing into the nature of artistic decision making, into the details of how and why Bach transcribed his own pieces has informed not just the 'what' of this project but the 'how' as well. Understanding Bach's diverse influences even within the genre of the unaccompanied instrumental suite, dance styles and practices from four regions: France, Italy, Germany, and England and compositional ancestors as varied as Corelli, Lully, Reincken, Buxtehude, and his own Bach forebears, help the music to come alive for me as a performer and add color and nuance to an otherwise black and white musical score. The goal of this project and this research is to make these insights come alive in music for artist and listener alike.
- The Repertoire:
Bach Suite for Lute BWV 1006a in E Major
While we are not certain, as best scholars can tell, Bach wrote the musical material for the E Major Suite initially for the violin and most likely during his time in Köthen (1717-1723). We don't know when he made the transcription for lute, but we know it is his as there is an autograph manuscript that survives today in the Musashino Academy in Tokyo.
The counterpoint (how the notes move one against another through time) indicates this later period. The suite, which begins with a Prelude, is followed by six dances: a Loure, a Gavotte, two Menuets (sic), a Bourée, and a Gigue, and features Bach's only extant French Loure, with an uneven 6/4 rhythmic structure (a dance that was archaic already at the time Bach was riffing on the form.) These are stylized pieces, meant for listening not dancing, but all the same treat the rhythm of the dance with the utmost respect and integrity. And at the end you get to dance a classic gig!
Bach Suite for Lute BWV 996 in E Minor
It is more difficult to speak authoritatively about this suite as there is no surviving autograph copy of the work. Our understanding of it is via a copy by Johann Gottfried Walther, a contemporary of Bach, whose manuscript is for lute-harpsichord, an instrument with the acoustic properties of a lute but played with a small keyboard. It is in a much earlier style, in stark contrast to the E Major suite, and features the most remarkable first movement, where lines that imitate each other are always entering too soon (read: in stretto!) and yet always sound to be in the right place. It also features a Prelude followed by dances: an Allemande, a Courante, a Sarabande, a Bourée, and a Gigue. Unlike in the E Major, though, this final moment is a raucous Italian Giga, in 12/8 meter, with rapid-fire notes throughout the piece, sometimes in three voices!
- Where does the money go?
From this I will not earn any money--the money that you pledge is allocated solely to the expenses involved in providing the recording and concerts that I discuss above.
- Your support is making a dream of mine come true: to work with the finest audio professionals in one of the most iconic studios in the world. This is important since the quality of each piece of equipment and each set of ears that operates it has a direct impact on the quality of the final result. Working with leading experts in the field comes with commensurate cost, and that is where the majority of the money raised here will go. (Use of the studio costs $1,200/day, plus hourly fees for the engineer and the producer. Once the project is ready, there is also the cost of a mastering engineer There are also significant costs to designing, printing, and distributing the disk, as well as the cost of shipping it to all of you (there are no hidden shipping fees after you pledge!) I also believe that everybody deserves access to live music, and so a small portion of the money will make it possible for me to bring concerts to five schools in London and five in Philadelphia.
60% Recording, Studio, and Post-Production Costs
15% Printing and Distribution Costs
14% Educational Performance Costs
8% Kickstarter (and their payment processor's) Fees
3% Shipping Costs
Risks and challenges
I released my first CD, Tapestry, in 2014 and as such am intimately familiar with the process and challenges of bringing a recording to market. It is a highly labor-intensive process, from logistics, to repertoire, to production and release, which means it is always possible that there could be a delay. In order to minimize that risk, though, the repertoire has been selected and arranged for the 7-string guitar. The biggest rate-limiting step at this point are the expenses associated with using first-rate audio professionals at a world-class studio to make the best possible production.
This is music that I have found incredibly moving and profound, and am looking forward to bringing it to life together with you!
- (30 days)