Just what would Bach have done with an electric guitar? The perfect question for a musicians’ pub debate over a drink or two! Whilst we ponder whether or not he would have jumped at the chance to write for the instrument and what any resulting composition might have entailed, I’d like to look at something that may well court controversy.
Revisiting earlier compositions and revising them to be played on instruments other than that intended by the composer or period is a subject guaranteed to raise the hackles of many a musical purist. The mere thought of adapting classical pieces for the electric guitar would be enough for some to send the cheeky young upstart instrument back to the ‘other side’ of music where it belongs! Joking aside though, we may be missing out on new possibilities as the electric guitar is far more versatile an instrument than just something for ‘popular’ genres, much in the same way that the piano is.
I was speaking recently to Daniel MacFarlane a performer and teacher specialising in electric guitars. He has spent a considerable amount of time adapting, learning and performing several classical works on the guitar, including Bach’s Cello Suites. I was intrigued. It’s very interesting to hear familiar pieces in a new light, some with distortion, and some without:
Given the ability to alter the instrument’s sound through effects and amps, the possibilities when composing for the instrument and potential ensemble combinations are broad and intriguing. The instrument seems to also blend really well with strings. Here is Daniel performing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons:
Personally, even though I adore the original instrumentation, I really like the combination of old and new together, and also the subversive element of the concept. I’d like to see more use and acceptance of the instrument in the classical genre, and especially in current composition. Of course, we can already find examples of its inclusion in pieces such as Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, Glenn Branca’s various Symphonies, Yngwie Malmsteen’s Concerto Suite, or Steven Mackey’s Physical Property. Composers, get writing!
I’ll leave you with a recent find, including electric guitar and voices – ‘Here Where Footprints Erase the Graves’ from Missy Mazzoli’s 2012 opera Song from the Uproar: