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From Leipzig to LA

Mary Vanhoozer: From Leipzig to LA (2018)

An interdisciplinary retrospective on the Protestant Reformation

Music by Bach and Rodriguez performed by Mary Vanhoozer with an essay on Bach and theology by Kevin Vanhoozer

From Leipzig to LA is Mary's debut solo piano album, which includes the complete keyboard partitas of J. S. Bach as well as Partita Picosa, a newly commissioned work by composer Josh Rodriguez. 


As an avid lover of Early and Baroque music, Mary studied performance practice techniques with renowned lute performer and scholar Paul O’Dette at the Eastman School of Music. These classes gave her deeper insight into the music of J. S. Bach. Her post-graduate work has included learning and recording the complete Bach partitas for keyboard.

From Leipzig to LA, also includes a new commission composed by Josh Rodriguez. Partita Picosa includes older dance forms as well as rhythms and dance forms of contemporary significance. Furthermore, this project was conceived as an interdisciplinary project. Theologian Kevin Vanhoozer lends his insight on Bach and theology in an essay included in the album liner notes. The project as a whole both acknowledges the rich tradition and heritage of classical music as well as welcomes fresh and contemporary perspectives. The album will be available for purchase on Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby in April 2019. If you are interested in purchasing this 3-disc set, please contact the artist.

Program Notes for Partita Picosa

Like Martin Luther – the Augustinian monk-turned-revolutionary who translated the biblical text from Latin into the people’s German – Bach has taken what once belonged to the elite (represented by the courtly dances) and has made it available to the masses without spoiling its form. My Partita is perhaps the inverse; it was my aim to take the sounds of my time – Latin American folk dances and popular music styles such as rock and electronic dance – and to reimagine them in light of the classical forms of Bach’s time. Furthermore, since this album was conceived as a retrospective on the Protestant Reformation, I wanted to organically weave Christian imagery from Bach, who is self-consciously Christian, into the fabric of the music. Each movement reflects my efforts from a different angle. 

I.               Toccata con salsa

Similar to Bach’s 6th partita, my work opens with a toccata, and its Spanish title loosely means “with hot sauce” – a reference to the spunky Latin American rhythms that percolate throughout. This movement, like the name Hannah, is a palindrome; symmetrical structures are often associated with eternity (as in Olivier Messiaen’s music) because they do not move toward a teleological climax but reflect cyclical patterns instead. After the ragged chords of the middle section, all the previously heard music is played backwards, creating new syncopations throughout familiar textures – ending at the beginning.

II.             Ballerina in a Box (Minuet)

A subtle moodiness underscores an elegant tune that floats through this minuet-like movement. To my mind, I envision a ballerina (perhaps trapped?) in a box. This image also works as a beautiful picture of humanity’s finiteness: movement within a limited space. Death gives life meaning and urgency; theologically speaking, that meaning is refined by the fire of the Word of God – one that claims divine purpose in all things.    

III.           La Fuga del paralítico (Fugue)

While I did not begin writing my fugue with a specific picture in mind, I began to notice an uneven lilt emerge from the music. This brought to mind an episode from the New Testament where Christ commands a paralytic, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” (Gospel of St. Matthew Ch. 9). I imagine a scene of joyous discovery and humor as this man relearns how to walk, run, and dance (hence the title that translates from Spanish as – the flight of the paralytic). Furthermore, the form of a fugue offers the listener a unique picture of a theologically informed life. Sections featuring the subject (principal melody) alternate with improvisation and variations on the subject; in this way, the form reflects the Christian approach to spiritual growth – one in which theological statements (doctrine) are daily improvised upon by the Spirit-led faithful. The ways in which disciples walk may be may differently even though they're following the Way of Jesus Christ.

IV.           Mourning into Dancing (Passacaglia)

Slow and harmonically modest, this passacaglia’s ostinato reflects a sense of emptiness and loss. Halfway through this lament, refrains from a 16th century tune from the Genevan Psalter – a setting of Psalm 30 bearing the lines, “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing…” – descends from the high register of the piano. This modal melody remains as the original ostinato returns, thus transforming the funeral-like 4/4 dirge at the opening into a 3/4 dance. The harmonies are chromatically enriched and the dance concludes with a fragment of Bach’s chorale, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

V.             EDM Finale

One of the characteristics of electronic dance music (EDM) is the buildup of rhythmic and harmonic tension leading to the “drop” which releases the tension and propels the listener to physical participation. In doing so, a crowd of careworn, broken strangers is unified into a celebration of raucous joy and freedom from self. This movement, that includes a brief quote from Coldplay’s Sky Full of Stars, seeks to communicate the delight of surrender and the new life that comes from letting go.

Josh Rodriguez