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for solo classical guitar
first performance: 6 April 2008; Classical Guitar Arts Society, Pittsburgh, PA; Andrew McKenna Lee, guitar
availability: for sale
recording: Gravity and Air (SSR001-2009)


Five Refractions of a Prelude by Bach is a set of pieces based on J.S. Bach's Prelude for Lute, BWV 999. The five movement titles are:
1. Variation
2. Fixation
3. Fantasy (Perpetuum Mobile)
4. Nocturne
5. Toccata

BWV 999 has always been a bit of a curiosity for me, as it is fairly famous in the guitar repertoire in spite of its relatively brief, 1.5-minute duration. Unlike most of Bach's other preludes, which belong to dance suites or other collections of similar pieces, this one seems to be a solitary being, floating aimlessly amidst the vast expanse of Bach's output. This latter condition is what drew me to the idea of creating a much larger work around it — I wanted to expound upon certain ideas inherent in the original work, as well as refract some of them through a more contemporary musical language.

Each of the five complimentary pieces is, in its own way, based on the original Bach prelude, and they are all played attacca. It is not necessarily intended that the listener be consciously aware of references to the Bach throughout the work (although they certainly abound), but rather make more subconscious connections with fragments, gestures, and opaque references to the prelude and Baroque style in general.

The piece was originally conceived as a kind of ”counterweight” to another large solo guitar piece of mine, the Scordatura Suite, from 2003. While the Suite draws somewhat heavily on popular music influences and unorthodox tunings, Five Refractions was intended to be a more “classical” and formal work. I’m not sure exactly what this means, other than to say that while composing it I was fairly preoccupied with form and structure, to the extent that several of the movements (or portions thereof) can literally be “mapped” against the original Bach prelude. Furthermore, I established and followed a fairly strict progression of process throughout the work with regards to how I chose to treat harmony and pitch material. This was a first for me, as I tend to approach composing without too many preconceived ideas about development, and prefer to let these things come to me naturally while “in the moment.”