If you were able to catch the opening episode of the newest season (season 4) of Black Lightning on the CW, you were probably struck by the dramatic music in the background. This episode entitled The Book of Reconstruction: Chapter One sets up an emotional journey that our favorite electric superhero has to make through his own inner turmoil. Fresh off the wounds of the lives lost in the war against Markovia, Jefferson Pierce AKA Black Lightning has to wrestle with his inner guilt. The biggest focus of this guilt is the loss of his lifelong friend William Henderson whose death he feels personally responsible for.
In the opening scene of this episode the camera starts off upside down and slowly rotates 180° until we see Jefferson (played by Cress Williams) standing over a grave. This camera movement is symbolic in representing how the world feels upside down to this character. Within this swirling effect created by the camera we hear a drawn-out F# minor chord on violin. This opening sound is both dramatic and sullen which sets the tone perfectly for the emotion of Jefferson Pierce and the overcast graveyard setting we are being introduced to. This first chord is the opening to the first movement of the very famous Sonata for Violin Solo №1 in G Minor, BWV 1001 by Johann Sebastian Bach. This first movement “Adagio” is the perfect piece for this opening scene.
History on Sonata for Violin Solo in G Minor
This sonata for violin solo is one of six pieces written by Bach in his Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin in the early 18th century. Originally completed by 1720 (but not published until 1802), these works have become standard repertoire around the world performed by student and professional violinists alike. The specific movement heard in the first episode of the fourth season of Black Lightning is Adagio from the first work in this particular collection of Bach’s work. While the key signature of the original manuscript makes it seem as though this Sonata is in D minor, this was just a conventional way of notating in the Baroque era and it is really in G minor as stated in the title.
The first performance of these works has been suggested to be by either Johann Georg Pisendel or Jean-Baptiste Volumier. The performance heard in this opening scene was by world renowned violinist Thomas Zehetmair. While he originally recorded this collection of works when he was 21, this particular recording is from his newest recording of the piece done in 2019.
Why This Piece?
There is a plethora of solo violin works in the world. So why did Kier Lehman and the Akils (the music producer and powerhouse creative team behind the shows featured songs) choose this specific violin sonata? I believe there are few factors which played into this selection.
The first factor that makes this piece a viable candidate is the key. Everyone learns from a young age to associate music in a major key with happy emotions, while minor music matches up with the melancholier feelings we have. That being said, this opening scene is all about the remorse that is swirling around in Mr. Pierce’s head (another reference that is linked to the camera angle of this scene). This would make it severely off base and unsettling to the audience to hear music in a major key being played in the background. There would be a disconnect between the others factors of the scene, such as the look on the Jefferson’s face, and the music.
Professional music supervisors such as Mr. Lehman make very intentional and detailed choices when selecting music for their shows. This piece is no exception when you consider the instrumentation within it. Many works for solo violin are written with accompaniment such as piano or continuo. This particular selection, however, does not have any instruments besides the lone violin. This is representational of how alone Jefferson Pierce feels in this moment as he stands alone in a graveyard mourning the loss of his best friend. When we hear only violin it leaves an emptiness in the rests of the music that is almost equal to the space left in the heart of someone who has lost a loved one.
The melody of this piece has a quality to that can be described as haunting. This is fitting considering that this opening scene involves Jefferson having a conversation with his father, who has been dead since he was a kid. As the camera shows the first look at Henderson’s grave, we hear the melody go through a series of descending notes F# D# C# C. This melodic descent gives a sense of longing, especially with the agogic accent put on the C# by Mr. Zehetmair. Later in the scene we see Jefferson’s late father walk up to stand beside him and ask him “You’re not going to say anything son?”. Right as the camera pans out to show a full side by side of the two men, the violin resolves into octave C# notes. This coinciding with the memory of Mr. Pierce’s father sighing and stating that he “misses this city” gives a sense of release. A sense of tension between the two characters transforms into a sense of nostalgia as the topic is changed. The next few sections of the Adagio fade further into the background providing a quiet foundation that doesn’t get in the way of the conversation happening over it. A dramatic pause after Jefferson states “there’s no more Black Lightning’s world” creates an emphasis on the next declaration that Black Lightning’ is dead. This is reflected in the melody as there is a grand pause between phrases before leaping into a drawn-out arpeggio which sounds just as dramatic as this new turn of the conversation. As the final moments of this graveyard scene fade out the melodic violin is maintained over the transition into the next scene.
In this next scene, this g minor violin sonata starts as background music once again as the focus is put onto the radio broadcast being played in the car. Attention is brought back to the piece as the movement picks up intensity and we see a boy walking while holding his violin. Faster rhythms and a succession of double stop chords bring up the pace of the melody. In a similar fashion, we start to see the boy with the violin getting attacked by cops and Jefferson getting angry about it. Both of these aspects of the scene would bring an increased heart rate for those involved just like the increased rate of notes being played by the violin. The moment of truth happens when the cops tell Jefferson to get back into his car and he angrily refuses. At this point in the movement the violin is playing faster, scalar passages with a more spiccato (quick and bouncy) bow stroke. This yet again demonstrates an even further increase in pace and intensity as tensions rise. This tension finally snaps as Jefferson says through gritted teeth “I’m tired of this” and electrocutes the two cops with his famous Black Lightning powers. A shift occurs in the music as well as we are thrust suddenly into the 4th movement of the sonata “Presto”. By definition this movement is more energetic with many more notes involved in the melody. This combined with the visual aspect of lightning shooting through the cop’s bodies really makes the scene feel suddenly brash and chaotic. Right after the cops fall, the musical atmosphere shifts into variations on major arpeggios which give a sense of triumph as the hero of the show takes down the two bad cops. About forty-one second into this movement of the piece is a major resolution that leads us into the iconic Black Lightning Theme by Godholly produced by WaterTower Music.
This piece is in stark contrast to the main hip hop vibe that protrudes through most of the Black Lightning series. This is why it was perfect to start off this reconstruction season. A feeling of everything being different in Freeland needed to be reflected in the music that opened up the show. Sonata for Violin Solo №1 in G minor has so many contrasting sections that fit well together in different contexts. The music team at CW recognized this fact and utilized multiple parts of the sonata to fit their needs. It was sonically a mirror image of the emotions being portrayed in the few opening scenes and it was only when we saw a glimpse of Black Lightning come out of Jefferson Pierce that we heard a shift back to the theme.
Black Lightning (TV series)
Black Lightning is an American superhero drama television series, developed by Salim Akil, that premiered on The CW on…
Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin (Bach)
The sonatas and partitas for solo violin ( BWV 1001-1006) are a set of six works composed by Johann Sebastian Bach.
Thomas Zehetmair - Askonas Holt
Thomas Zehetmair enjoys enviable international acclaim not only as a violinist, but also as a conductor and chamber…
Watch This: The Akils On Black Film And TV You Can't Miss
She's the brains and showrunner behind two hit BET series - The Game and Being Mary Jane. He's a producer and director…