Dr Chika Robertson PhD, MMus, BA, honARAM
As the recipient of numerous violin prizes, Chika Robertson was awarded fellowships to prestigious music festivals including Aspen, Tanglewood and the Mozarteum, working with distinguished conductors such as Ozawa, Tennstedt and Bernstein.
Chika studied the violin with Eudice Shapiro of the University of Southern California, where she was a Teaching Assistant, was awarded the Chamber Music Prize and received her MMus degree magna cum laude, and with Dorothy Delay of the Juilliard School. She played in the Hollywood film studios, led and managed the Schoenberg Institute’s USC Contemporary Music Ensemble and was the operations manager and principal for the Los Angeles Chamber Players. She was raised in Spokane, Washington and benefited from first-rate musical tuition from an early age from Helen de la Fuente, Alan Bodman and Martin Beatus-Meier.
Following her arrival in England, she performed regularly with numerous highly acclaimed ensembles including the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Lontano and London Sinfonietta, giving many first performances in London and abroad both as a chamber musician and soloist. She worked with esteemed composers such as Knussen, Adams, Henze, Pärt, Tavener, Tippett and Lutoslawski, and eminent conductors including Simon Rattle and Neville Marriner. In 1999 she was granted her PhD in contemporary violin pedagogy and performing practice.
Dr. Robertson is passionate about education and the involvement of music throughout the curriculum. She has always felt an inner urge to work with pupils of all ages and standards to develop their musical skills, exploring creative approaches to performing and teaching. Therefore, she has taught at the highest levels across all stages ranging from post-diploma, university and pre-school levels, and devoted over 20 years to continuing to build on the strong musical tradition at Cranleigh School and Cranleigh Prep School, where she was Head of Strings, Director of Music and Outreach Director – Music.
Chika is currently Professor of Violin at the Royal Academy of Music, Junior Academy; and is a Diploma Examiner and Professional Development Mentor for the ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music).
She has led numerous orchestras as a violinist and is a popular adjudicator and professional mentor for other professional violin teachers. She has performed with the acclaimed pianists Peter Donohoe, Elena Zozina and Mikhail Kazakevich. Chika has initiated and directed several highly successful programmes, including ‘Fiddle Fun’ for teaching the violin to children from the age of 3, and ‘SongTrees’, an intergenerational music project that links young people with their families and communities through musical memory and song, thus rediscovering and celebrating cultural heritage whilst promoting musical leadership skills for the Young and Talented. ‘SongTrees’ has innovative related branch projects, including its ‘Young Artist Musical Ambassadors (YAMA) Programme (funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England’), ‘Sound Bites’ (a ‘healthy living’ project funded by the Big Lottery’s Chances4Change programme with NHS South East Coast) and ‘ENRI-East’ (funded by the European Commission towards cutting-edge research into music and identity, in collaboration with Oxford XXI).
Chika Robertson is CEO of the Music Mind Spirit Trust.
MMST Trustees and Management
The Trust uses Music to understand complex social relationships and to connect people of different communities, ages and cultures. It focuses on music as a key to empower individuals and unlocking creativity through a variety of uniquely designed, research-based initiatives, drawing from its high level musical, medical and scientific knowledge and experience.
The MMST benefits from an eminent Board of Trustees and Management Committees, who actively provide a wealth of musical, scientific, educational and legal knowledge, incorporating principles of cultural leadership and business acumen.
MMST Trustees: Prof. Paul R. Grob MD FRCGP (Chairman); Mr Dominic Alldis; Dr. Peter Fenwick MB BChir (cantab) DTM FRC psych; Ambassador Karl-Erik Norrman; Prof. Nigel Osborne MBE, FRCM; Mr Martin Redfern; Mr Hayden Vivash; Mr Larry Westland CBE. Chief Executive: Dr Chika Robertson.
MMST Cultural, Scientific & Medical Advisory Board: Dr Peter Fenwick, MB BChir (cantab) DTM FRCPsych, Consultant Neuropsychiatrist and Neurophysiologist; Prof Paul Grob MD FRCGP; David Lorimer & Character Scotland; Dr Lyudmila Nurse, PhD, Sociologist of generational and cohort studies, social monitoring, analysis and evaluation; Mary Shek; Prof Nigel Osborne, MBE, FRCM; Jonathan Willcocks; Prof John Zeisel.
MMST Associates, Supporters and Partners: Arts Council England; Arts & Business South East; A & R Associates Ltd; Big Lottery Fund, Cedar Court Care Home (Cranleigh); Chances4Change; Cranleigh School; ENRI-East; European Cultural Parliament; Health Education Wessex; Kuumba Youth Music; Live Music Now; National Lottery; Oxford XXI; The Royal Academy of Music; Stonehill House Care Home (Haddenham); The Wates Foundation; X-System Ltd; Youth Music. We would also like to acknowledge generous support from the late Lewis L. Golden OBE JP FCA and Patrick Brenan OBE FCA. We are delighted to be supported by public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
Registered Charity No. 1110646
Registered Company No. 05263552
Professor Paul Robertson
For nearly forty years the late Professor Paul Robertson performed throughout the world as leader of the internationally renowned Medici String Quartet, of which he was a founder member. They recorded and broadcast prolifically and appeared at International Festivals across four continents.
He drew on this top level performance experience, together with his profound knowledge of Music and the Brain, to create unique insights into our innate ‘hardwired’ systems of Integrated Intelligence.
In his work Paul brought together analytic ‘cognitive’ systems thinking with more intuitive ‘subjective’ musical experience, to illumine the complex contemporary issues around Leadership, Organisational Intelligence, Learning and Creativity etc.
As well as a previously busy international career of public speaking, corporate presentations and consultations, he wrote and broadcast. His original and passionate delivery (which always includes an element of musical performance and illustration) took him into many different arenas.
In 2008 he began to suffer severe health problems and performed only for special occasions.
In addition to being a Visiting Professor in Music and Medicine to the Peninsula Medical School (where he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Medicine degree), he was a Visiting Fellow to Green, Templeton College, Oxford; Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts; member of the European Cultural Parliament and an Associate of the RSM.
Until his health problems curtailed travelling and other professional engagements, he was a Visiting Professor in Art and Leadership to the Copenhagen Business School, a Cultural Leader of the World Economic Forum, Davos and National Endowment of Science, Technology and the Arts, as well as for other international organisations.
Together with Chika as co-founders of the Trust, Paul focused his energies in developing activities of the Music Mind Spirit Trust.
Photos and further information about Paul and Chika Robertson and family:
Paul (and family) receiving an Honorary Doctorate of Medicine from the Peninsula Medical School
Paul has the honour of meeting HRH Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall at Buckingham Palace recently.
Paul with actor Alex Jennings and members of the Medici Quartet
The Medici Quartet
Drawing on 40 years of world class musical performance The Medici Quartet is a leading international ensemble with an extensive distinguished discography.
During their long career they regularly worked with a wide variety of leading composers and performers and created a recorded discography of more than 40 records including a highly regarded Beethoven Quartets Cycle (on Nimbus Records) the seldom heard Saint-Saëns Quartets and many other creative collaborations such as with ,saxophonist Barbara Thompson (Virgin Records), Sarod player Wajahat Khan, ‘Hymn’ by Alan Bennet and George Fenton (BBC Records), George Martin Presents, The Mozart and Brahms clarinet 5tets with Jack Brymer etc.
It is in order to continue a tradition of such musical ‘apprenticeship’ that the Quartet now welcome the opportunity to mentor talented young groups by performing with them in Sir John Tavener’s remarkable ‘Towards Silence’.
At different periods they were also ‘resident’ quartet to the universities of York, Lancaster, Kingston and Surrey.
In 1996 Channel 4 Television broadcast a three-part series entitled Music & the Mind, performed by The Medici Quartet and presented by their leader Paul Robertson; these programmes combined music and science to explore the power of music in human life, cognitive and emotional development and health.
The Quartet were renowned for their dramatic programmes for string quartet and actors, which revealed the intimate relationship between the composer’s work and his life & times through the imaginative conjunction of music and readings. Initiated by Paul Robertson, ‘The Kingdom of the Spirit’: Beethoven through his Letters by John Caird and Michael Kennedy’s programme about Sir Edward and Lady Elgar at Brinkwells entitled ‘Wood Magic’ were performed many hundreds of times.
Despite formally retiring at the Harrogate International Festival in 2007, The Medici Quartet continued to perform together particularly to perform Sir John Tavener’s remarkable ‘Towards Silence’ (which he composed for them) in which they mentored and performed with gifted young quartets. (See Towards Silence section of this website). They appeared in ‘Hymn’ by George Fenton and Alan Bennett, which is another wonderful piece created for them.
‘The playing is full of virtuosic compulsion and energy, harnessed in the service of a grand and dignified conception of the music’ – Gramophone
‘They are one of the most perfectly balanced quartets in Europe today, each strand wonderfully clear and beautifully focused…yet there is always a feeling of spontaneity’ – The Yorkshire Post
Medici Quartet History:
As a young quartet the Medici established an unrivalled reputation in contemporary music, premiering a host of new works. Many leading composers, including Elizabeth Lutyens, John Taverner, Richard Rodney Bennet, Maxwell-Davis etc., dedicated significant compositions to them.
At the start of their career they were mentored by members of the Aeolian Quartet and shortly after their remarkably successful Wigmore hall debut (1974) were taken under the wing of the formidable manager Mrs. Emmy Tillet.
Shortly after they were signed up to an international recording contract with EMI and invited to play with the great English pianist, Sir Clifford Curzon with whom they learnt most of the piano quintet repertoire. It was Curzon who generously took it upon himself to help these four young musicians become something truly artistic.
It was the extraordinary experience of learning Elgar’s Piano Quintet with Curzon that first sparked Paul’s interest in exploring different ways to share with audiences the process of interpretation as well as the performance.
Directed by John Caird (Director of ‘Les Miserables’ and a host of other eminent productions) and Cordelia Monsey, creative collaborations were established with the principal classical actors of their generation such as John Thor, Sheila Hancock, Derek Jacobi, Tim West, Prunella Scales, Dorothy Tutin, Eleanor Bron and many others.
Paul’s continuing interest in exploring the implicit meanings of music has taken many forms over the years. For more than twenty years he worked alongside leading scientists to explore the neurological and scientific basis of music. This work reached a wide public with his highly acclaimed Channel 4 television series ‘Music and the Mind’.
Along with his busy concert schedule, he was in constant international demand as a speaker and lecturer at medical, scientific and educational conferences as well as business colloquia. For a number of years he was a Cultural Leader at the World Economic Forum in regular conversation with business, media and political leaders.
In 2001 Paul was awarded a fellowship by the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts [NESTA] to explore the musical, mathematical and spiritual foundations of Bach’s work for unaccompanied violin, ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Earth’. He was invited to present a programme of talks and lectures as Singapore’s first ‘Artist in Residence’ to inspire their ‘Connected Creative, Singapore’ initiative.
In order to better understand non-notational and improvisational techniques, he initiated immensely successful musical collaborations with Classical Indian master, Wajahat Khan, in his ‘Sarod Quintet’ (Koch records) and with the famous jazz saxophonist Barbara Thompson, ‘From Berlin to Broadway’ (Virgin records).
He also created a cross-over disc with legendary record producer George Martin in his superlative Air Studio. This included performances with guitarist, John Williams, Johnny Dankworth and Jack Brymer amongst others.
His collaboration with Ashridge Management College consultant, Hugh Pidgeon, created a unique programme entitled ‘The Gift’, in which the members of the Quartet explored conflict resolution within performance. ‘The Gift’ was presented at the World Economic Forum, Davos where Pau was a Cultural Leader.
His project, ‘The Pursuit of Perfection’ with Ashridge consultant Hugh Pidgeon, developed an area of work Paul considered of particular significance for our contemporary culture.
In 2004 he was inaugurated as Visiting Professor in Art and Leadership to the Copenhagen Business School. He was also a Visiting Research Fellow to Templeton, Green College, Oxford.
Professor Robertson wrote:
‘Music is a universal experience and for centuries human beings have engaged with it whilst wondering at its power. We can now begin to appreciate how musical forms and structures precisely mirror the underlying neurological forms and physiological structures that create them. There is a new and burgeoning interest in establishing a biological basis for musical experience. Whilst such pure scientific exploration is facilitated by non-intrusive brain mapping, it is driven by a far more powerful urge to understand the mysteries of music. By mapping the structures of the Musical brain we are revealing the maps of both Personal Identity and the Implicit Laws of Social Relationship.’
The Music Mind Spirit Trust’s project portfolio also includes:
The Bach Project
Art, Mind and Spirituality
Performance Participatory Workshops
Learning and Special needs provision.
The Bach Project is a multi-dimensional performance-cum-workshop that uses a combination of solo violin, eurythmy, baroque dance and voice to explore the inner world that lies behind the enduring appeal and challenge of some of Bach’s greatest music.
As an international performing musician for over 35 years, Paul Robertson was increasingly drawn into the science of musical experience – how musical forms and structures create meaning by mirroring our underlying neurological forms and physiological structures.
Based on Paul’s research as a NESTA Fellow (National Endowment of Science Technology and the Arts), the Bach Project took shape using the composer’s sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin as foundation for an exploration of the structures, psychology and spirituality that lie behind this powerful music.
In a fascinating journey, we discover:
• Bach’s affirmation of his Lutheran faith and hope in redemption and resurrection
• Dedication and love for his wife and family
• Symbolism of French Baroque dance forms and Illumination from Eurhythmy
• Revelation through hidden Chorales
• Application of “Gematria” – sacred number alphabets encoded within the music
• Contemporary practice of the “chaconne” (fixed bass) to represent the constancy of the supreme God
Workshop participants share in the unravelling process of interpretation and performance. In so doing, they gain valuable insights into Bach’s music and its timeless relevance. For some, the experience initiates a personal spiritual voyage of discovery.
Where God meets the artistic impulse
By David Honigmann
Published: March 15 2005 02:00
But the point where art, religion and the brain really came together was in a discussion by Paul Robertson, lately leader of the Medici Quartet, of Bach’s D Minor Violin Partita. Robertson exposed the intellectual framework behind the piece, both in planetary terms (western scales mirroring the music of the spheres) and, following Helga Thoene, the German musicologist, its numerological secrets. As a tribute to Maria Barbara, his dead wife, Bach encoded their two names into the piece; but also, read in various ways, the Agnus Dei and the Kyrie Eleison. And the implied baselines below the solo violin echo the Lutheran death chorales. The monumental Chaconne that concludes the Partita is literally a monument to Maria Barbara: buried in it, in the numerical system of the Gematria, whereby different letters correspond to different numbers, are the Credo, the Sanctus and “Media Vita in Morte Sumus”.
To illustrate the dancing styles implied by the sections of the Partita, Robin and Christine Stokoe demonstrated Baroque dancing to Robertson’s accompaniment, looking like candelit oil paintings sprung to extravagant life, the very picture of Enlightenment art. Robertson concluded by playing the whole of the Partita: when he finished, he was trembling, as well he might. In these masterful two hours, art, religion and the brain were triumphantly reconciled.
Louis XIV ‘The Sun King’ dancing the Chaconne
Sponsorship and Foundation Support:
NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts)
Acknowledgements to collaborators in the Bach Project:
Alan & Maren Stott – eurythmy
Professor Helga Thoene – mathematical de-coding analysis
Robin & Chris Stokoe – baroque dance
Learning to Connect
Meaning, Emotion and Connection
in JS Bach’s work for unaccompanied violin
Sacred and Profane: The Bach Project
For the past five years Paul Robertson, leader of the Medici String Quartet and an international expert on music and the mind, has been working with Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin. Approaching the music as a performer, and supported by his knowledge of the relationships between music and emotional life, he has brought together a team of practitioners and researchers to make sense of the complex interconnectedness of Bach’s music and explore its relevance for the way we live, think and feel today.
This rich and revealing project involving music, dance and gesture, includes a connected series of performances, recordings, new research and a range of workshops for different audiences and participants in the UK, Europe, the US and elsewhere.
The Project Team
Project Leadership and Performance: Paul Robertson, violinist and lecturer
Project Management: The Music Mind Spirit Trust
Baroque Dance: Robin Stokoe & Chris Stokoe, teachers, researchers choreographers and performers
Emotional Gesture: Göran Krantz and Maren Stott
Hugh Pidgeon: Management Consultant
The Educational Framework
Most great music from western and other traditions draws on and speaks to the multiplicity of human experience: intellectual and emotional, spiritual and sensual, active and responsive, creative and appreciative. It reflects but also extends its historical context. Much of the power of the music lies in its ability to connect or reconnect disparate aspects of experience, combining science and art, the personal and the universal.
Bach’s Partitas and Sonatas for solo violin – pre-eminent among them the Partita in D minor with its justly celebrated Chaconne – provide a particularly rich terrain for a detailed and in-depth exploration of the interconnectedness of music. Religious faith, mathematics, personal experience, musical tradition, and contemporary dance styles come together in a complex whole. Some of this is immediately accessible through the music itself; some of it is hidden. Our approach is interdisciplinary, and is grounded in performance.
We work with educators, students, practitioners, historians and others to explore the connections in Bach’s music and apply the results to our own experience and understanding. We are working with
• artists and art historians
• musicians and musicologists
• dance specialists
• managers in the public and private sectors
• mathematicians, physicists and other scientists
We offer workshops linked with presentations, lectures and performances. The workshops are interactive: there is no better way to understand the spiritual significance of a chorale than to sing it; and no substitute for experiencing the rhythmic interplay of dance and music than literally to go through the dance steps on which Bach drew for his Partitas. Similarly, the affective gestures contained in music and movement are best experienced and understood through activities designed to draw them out.
Workshops are tailored to suit the needs of particular groups. A typical workshop runs from 10 – 5 and includes presentations with illustrations, practical sessions and discussion. Full day workshops are followed by an evening performance by members of the team. We are also able to offer half day workshops, illustrated presentations, or workshops spread over a number of days.
The content of the workshops can also be focused to address the particular interests of the group. In addition to the obvious engagement with music and movement, we can explore the music and the experience it represents through the perspectives of mathematics, philosophy, cognitive development, the physiology of emotion, team-building and leadership, and the resonance between the structures of music and musical instruments and the visual arts and architecture.
For further details and an extended discussion of the educational potential of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas and Paul Robertson’s work, please see Information Sheet 1. See Further Information (below) for details of how to get a copy of the sheet.
A full day’s workshop with evening performance starts at £1,500 depending on the organisation and its resources.
Music Mind Spirit
The Bach Project is one of a number of projects developed by Music Mind Spirit, a Trust set up to generate research, information, educational events and dialogue on the relationship between music and our spiritual, emotional, intellectual and neurophysiological experiences of the world. Other projects currently include Swansongs, an exploration of the role of music in the treatment and understanding of dementias such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s syndromes. The Music Mind Spirit website carries detailed information about these and other projects.
For further information including an Information Sheet and biographies of all the team members, please visit our website: www.musicmindspirit.com
Paul Robertson’s work on the Sonatas and Partitas of JS Bach has been supported by a Fellowship from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. The Bach Project has received a generous award from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
Revealed – the secret spiritual messages in Bach’s Masterpieces
Paul Robertson on new research which shows the composer hid personal messages of faith, hope, love and dedication in his music.
When JS Bach wrote his six Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin he was in his early thirties. Married and with seven children to support, he was working under the patronage of Count Leopold of Coeten.
The Sonatas and Partitas are masterpieces. Beautiful and moving, they are as musically complex as they are technically demanding. But they are in many ways mysterious. Why did Bach, master of polyphony and counterpoint, create some of his greatest and most personal work for a single violin, an instrument essentially dedicated to playing one note at a time?
To find the answer we need to look at the complex of hidden meanings which, embedded within the music of each of these pieces, are only now – almost 300 years after they were written – being revealed to us. Count Leopold insisted that Bach write only secular instrumental works. In completing the three Sonatas for solo violin, Bach wove into the music a pattern of chorales which, virtually undetectable, are associated with the ecclesiastical calendar: Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.
The Count also demanded that Bach accompany him on his extensive tours of Europe.When, in 1720, Bach returned from one such tour he discovered that his wife, Maria Barbara, had died. Perhaps as a way of dealing with his grief he completed the three Partitas, building into these traditional Dance Suites a complex series of mathematical and musical references to his wife and children.
Today, thanks significantly to recent research by the German musicologist Helga Thoene, these magnificent and often perplexing works are yielding this multitude of hidden meanings, expressing faith and hope in redemption and resurrection, and personal love and dedication to his wife and children in a musical, mathematical tapestry of creed, song, dance and magic.
Drawing on this research, and following convivium the lead of my own intuitive awareness of the presence of these hidden meanings, I have become convinced that in writing the Sonatas and Partitas Bach was practising a very personal, spiritual, algorithmic system or schemata.
Following in the footsteps of a long tradition of ‘esoteric’ researchers and Bach aficionados, Professor Thoene has not only revealed the chorales lying hidden within these compositions, but has also finally ‘cracked’ a whole series of numerical/ alphabetical ‘Gematria’ (a system for converting letters and words into numbers, most commonly associated with the mystical Jewish tradition of Cabbala) upon which the music is composed.
It is interesting to note that in the early 1700s there was a ‘popular’ use of mathematical poetic conceits called ‘paragrams’, in which various ingenious number and letter devices and codes were hidden within odes and verses as a clever way of flattering patrons. Indeed, Picander, the author of many of the texts for Bach’s Cantatas, was one such ‘mathematical poet’ and follower of this fad.
As well as being intellectually stimulating, such artificially applied ‘games’ or ‘conceits’ also had a touch of danger about them, since they seemed to stem from a much more dangerous world – that of alchemy, magic and the Cabbala. The Lutheran Pastor Muller wrote in his 1707 study of Christian and Jewish Cabbala that ‘…this [Jewish] Cabbala is packed full of arcane arts, great idolatry, superstitions, deception and magic art.’
It is hardly surprising that Bach chose to be utterly discreet about his involvement with these traditions, but he left us some clues. Bach’s Bible, believed to be annotated in his own hand, shows the composer painstakingly marking references in the Old Testament, particularly those which refer to King David playing or singing to the Lord. Comments such as ‘This justifies the musician in the eyes of God’ are touchingly written alongside.
Despite the Lutheran antipathy towards these practices, we now know that, in great secrecy, Bach went on creating a series of personal ‘Christian Cabbalistic’ musical codes. Instead of the traditional Jewish systems, where letter names increasingly became associated with large multiples of ten, Bach’s personal ‘Gematria’ seems to follow a naïve Latin model as follows:
A = 1, B = 2, C = 3, And so on….
It is quite a straightforward matter to transliterate names into number.The name BACH, for example (B=2, A=1, C=3, H=8) totals 14. Using the same ‘Gematria’ it may well be that Bach identified himself – or at least his earnest desire to be a spiritually inspired and a truly ‘Godly’ musician – with David, the first great Biblical performer, whose own name (as a Gematria in Hebrew) also numbers 14.The numerological connections are extensive, for example:
J. S. Bach = 41, [which is also numerologically attractive as an ‘inversion’ of 14] Joh. Seb. Bach = 80 Johann Sebastian Bach = 158 Maria Barbara = 81
Other ‘significant’ numbers also present themselves: JESUS CHRISTUS (182); SANCTUS (92); AGNES DEI (77) and many others.There are also numbers of a mystical order such as perfect numbers, perfect square numbers, and so on. Esoteric numerologies of this kind can create in their practitioners a whole alternative reality that often tends to take on deeply superstitious, even magical potency. Even today, within a supposedly ‘rational’ society, such number-magic can play a curious part.
The mathematical codes are matched by musical patterns. Professor Thoene has uncovered in the Chaconne, the final movement of the D minor Partita, the Creed and Kyrie Eleision, as well as bar by bar representations of Bach’s own and Maria Barbara’s names and even those of their children and their children’s dates of birth.Whilst some of the chorales are hidden almost in the manner of complex cryptic crosswords, others clearly form the very substance of the music itself. All carry a precise reference to key events in the christian calendar.
Furthermore, as one might expect from this master of polyphony, even these codes are multi-levelled and often simultaneous, some based on note names, others on note lengths, others again on pitch differences. Bar numbers, movement proportions, and even visual notational motifs, all play a part.
Numbers traditionally associated with Jesus seem to have special importance and, as ever, Bach’s own musical signature – b/ flat, a, c and b/natural, occur at critical and significant moments. Often those bars which occur at the numbers associated with Christ act as a kind of nexus of events, overt and hidden, perhaps reinforcing a world view in which the saviour is both foundation and sovereign power.
It now seems extraordinary that all this direct musical reference has not been properly appreciated in the 280 years since the Sonatas and Partitas were written. Imagine a contemporary piece composed with TV soap tunes as its musical reference without anyone realising! Even more remarkable is that composers such as Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Dohnanyi, all of whom created ‘realisations’ or accompaniments of these works in order to explicate more fully their implied harmony and counterpoint, never discovered either the chorales or the Gematria.
When we consider that they shared Bach’s musical and ecclesiastical traditions, and would have continually heard and sung the chorales in Bach’s own harmonisation, Bach’s achievement in hiding these multiple musical threads becomes even more outstanding.
A divine marriage of the sacred and profane
It was a long and very hot day, and by the end of it we had been time which was not Bach’s, to show us what dance music was like filled with knowledge about Bach, hermeticism, gematria, baroque and, by contrast, how undanceable Bach’s partitas must have been. dancing, eurythmy.We had been told how the violin only plays Then came the longed for moment: the D minor partita in full. Paul single notes.We had listened to chorales and sung some hymns.We Robertson played the violin while Maren Stott performed eurythmy. had had lectures, demonstrations, coffee breaks and lunch. He named each section: allemande, courante, gigue.
In the eurythmy workshop, we not only learnt how to walk to eurythmy we were able to see the implied, silent music made Bach’s music and catch the rhythm of his beats by clapping, but visible, and the message Bach had hidden in the work. How he also how not to trip over each other in a dense circularity of people would have appreciated Maren’s ethereal understanding! And then reminiscent of sinners passing time in Dante’s Inferno. it came, the fourth part,
In the singing workshop we learnt that the Chaconne was a wild It is quite impossible to describe what was heard. Tears start to Mexican dance of the late 16th century which had become the rage my eyes at the recollection of it. That violin of single voice was in Europe, though tempered and restrained by the conventions of splitting into so many notes. It sang, it wailed, it screeched, it the time. squealed, it implored, it keened, it cried out with the agony of Christ.
The day was full of sparkle and interest, but very long and very, on the cross – so many notes and harmonics all sounding at once very hot, and by the end of it we still had not heard the partitas while Maren dipped and rose and flew about like a leaf on the wind. that were the subject of the course, nor understood why the The sound, the music, was supernal. The mind could not Chaconne was always referred to as ‘great’. Since there was a break comprehend it, but the heart could, and it listened in rapture, barely of two and a half hours before the evening concert, it was tempting able to contain its emotion. An audience of the 21st century sat in to give up and go home. utter transport, party to a private conversation held between Bach
Those that did not stay for the concert missed something. They and his God about death and resurrection. went home with all the ingredients but not the meal. Those that The day, which began somewhat chaotically, ended in order – came only for the concert enjoyed the meal without being involved the divine order that informs the universe, God’s music heard only in the secrets of its preparation. Those that were present for the by the heart and the intellect. A marriage of the sacred and the whole eleven and a half hours, transcending heat and tiredness, profane indeed. experienced sublimity.
Robin and Chris Stoke danced in full costume to music of the Linda Proud
Schumann in particular was a man modelling,2 it is surely impossible to spiritual and worldly implication and obsessed with codes and hidden messages conceive of such an immensely complex suggestion. Guided in my exploration of and used them continually in his music, and in many ways ‘artificial’ abstraction as this by Baroque Dance specialists Robin particularly referencing his beloved Clara Bach’s being other than entirely conscious. Stokoe and Christine Stokoe, I have by means of musical and notational Whilst much of this ‘implicit’ content discovered another immensely enriching ‘devices’ and games. How he would have was clearly designed to be hidden, other way of directly experiencing Bach’s world. delighted in these glorious mathematical key elements which would have been self A more contemporary and yet equally and linguistic constructs! evident reference points to Bach’s powerful non-verbal evocation of this
A question that often arises is whether contemporaries, have become submerged ‘silent music’ is also explored by way of Bach was conscious that he was applying by history. One such very significant Steiner’s unique ‘embodied language’ – these organising principles.We might note ‘thread’ is that of Baroque Dance which Eurhythmy. In this I am working with Alan here Leibniz’s fascinating comment that had, by this time, evolved its own and Maren Stott, who feature in the ‘music is the human mind using immensely rich and complex language of workshops and performances associated mathematics that is unconscious, that it is courtship and communication. with the ‘Marriage of the Sacred and calculating’.While this is a very compelling Although Bach’s Sarabandes, Profane’ project. thought, and one which certainly acts as a Allemandes and Courantes were almost As with so much that is real in music, philosophical precursor to much con-certainly not directly intended for dancing, words cannot do more than distantly temporary brain science and computer they DO carry a whole ‘hinterland’ of both evoke a far richer experience. Bearing in mind the truth of the famous remark made
The significant and
by Bach’s first great exponent, Felix
Mendelssohn, that ‘Music is too precise for Words’, how could I summarise some of of sound that we call the more complex and subtle rewards of music is uniquely able this exploration?
to express the whole
Music is more than a mere patterning of sound; or perhaps we should say that gamut of human the significant and mysterious patterning experience.
of sound that we call music is uniquely able to express the whole gamut of human experience – emotion, culture, philosophy, intellectual and social and personal aspiration.
Great works of musical genius represent a culmination, or nexus, of all these qualities.This is why masterpieces such as the Sonatas and Partitas by Bach are capable of infinite exploration and interpretation.Whilst the specific language and gesture of music is necessarily redolent of its historical time and place, we must seek to understand and share this cultural lexicon in order to appreciate the music in depth. Howev er, through its personal reference points the music reveals itself to be a multi-dimensional, emotionally precise map of the human condition.
Albeit in their own very specific language, these six master works are an archetypal testament of the human spirit: a veritable ‘Soundtrack of the Soul’.
This article is taken from Paul Robertson’s forthcoming book ‘Drugs, Sex and String Quartets’Website: www.musicmindspirit.org
Copyright Paul Robertson August 2003
1 Professor Thöne’s main work on Bach’s unaccompanied violin music, and particularly the Chaconne from the Partita in D Minor, was published in Germany in 1994, and elaborated in the booklet accompanying the CD Morimur, with performances by the violinist Christoph Poppen and the four vocal soloists of the Hilliard Ensemble (ECM 2001). Other useful references can be found on the website of Music Mind Spirit: www.musicmindspirit.org.uk
2 As does his remarkable work on creating an entirely mathematical language, which never caught on as a truly objective ‘Esperanto’, but remains the foundation of some systems of library cataloguing and much other current thinking.
A MARRIAGE OF THE SACRED AND PROFANE: AN ALL-DAY WORKSHOP
The workshop provides attendees with the opportunity to take part in a unique participative exploration of the hidden structures and meanings of Bach’s work for unaccompanied violin, and their implications for the way we think, feel and act today. The workshop uses song, baroque dance and eurythmy to help gain an insight into the composer’s own powerful personal spirituality.
Paul Robertson with Robin and Chris Stokoe (baroque dance) and Maren Stott (eurythmy).