different trains – Reich / Bach


     “Saint-Lazare Gare, Normandy Train (1887) 

            Claude Monet


since I’m on the subject of trains, let me
once again highlight a piece that, to my 
mind, is one of the most significant 
works of the 20th Century, Steve Reich’s
Different Trains“, an extraordinary 
homage to the victims of the Holocaust 

it is in three movements, America – 
Before the War”, “Europe – During the 
War“, andAfter the War“, Reich
recounts his impressions of train trips
that marked him throughout, therefore
this is an autobiographical work, as 
well as being an historical document,
and add to that a profoundly moving 
musical meditation on a pivotal 
moment in our history

I used to say that if you’re going to 
open your mouth, you should be 
either entertaining or informative,
preferably both, otherwise keep 
your mouth shut, many took 
offense, I must’ve been 

but, I would opine, life is short, 
you’ll have to, I’m afraid, deal 
with your own shortcomings

Reich here has no shortcomings,
though at first you think this might 
be a long trip, with so many 
repeated musical clusters, not to 
mention the strident atonality, it  
soon becomes evident that this  
piece is amazing, a personal and
powerful evocation of a particular 
transformational event seen 
through the eyes of an innocent,
an American child, a poet, 
experiencing, however 
metaphorically, the horror of this
defining moment

style and content, information and 
entertainment, indissolubly gel to 
deliver an unforgettable experience, 
my own such pivotal moment 
would’ve been the Cold War air raid 
shelters, the nuclear threat

Reich holds on to Classical 
conditions by a mere thread, tempo, 
however variable, is solid throughout 
as a rock, dictated by the prepared 
tape that the instrumentalists must
follow rhythmically like a clock

another divergence from the 
Classical model is that tonality  
and recapitulation, apart from the 
repetition of musical clusters, is 
entirely jettisoned 

note, however, the same use of 
repeated clusters in Bach, to 
simulate propulsion, the 
minimalism of the 20th Century is
already prefigured in Bach’s stuff

plus ça change, as we say in French,
there is nothing really new, in other
words, under the sun

in the spirit of juxtaposing items
to discover much more than the 
sum of their parts, listen to Bach’s 
Second Suite, in D minor, for 
inspirational clarification 

R ! chard

psst: there were no trains at the time 
          of Bach, I should note, they were 
          a product of the later 19th-Century,
          its Industrial Revolution, see, for 
          instance, here, or above