Johann Sebastian Bach(1685-1750) Flute Sonatas Vol. 2
Sonata in B minor forflute and harpsichord, BWV 1030
Sonata in E major forflute and continuo, BWV 1035
Sonata in G minor for flute and harpsichord, BWV 1020
Sonata in C major forflute and continuo, BWV 1033
Trio Sonata in Gmajor, BWV 1039
In a letter to afriend in 1750 Padre Martini, a dominant figure in Italian music, wrote that heconsidered it unnecessary to describe the unique merits of Bach, who was quitewell known and admired, not only in Germany but everywhere in Italy too: hecould only add that it would be difficult to find a master better than him,since he could with justification be described as one of the foremost musiciansof Europe.
The importance ofJohann Sebastian Bach to Western music continues to the present. He was onceregarded as one who provided a synthesis, a summary of the skills and grandeurof the past, offering a perfection in his own period, but suggesting no wayforward. This view is now seen to be erroneous. The music of Bach is like avast lake into which rivers have flowed and which continues to provide hisposterity with a source of spiritual and musical refreshment. No musician cantrain for his profession without coming into contact with the music of this composer,arguably the greatest of all time. The works of Bach are, indeed, a compendiumof all that is needed for keyboard- players, violinists, cellists andflautists.
The biography of Bachwritten by Johann Nicolaus Forkel (1749-1818) and published in 1802, based onconversations with Bach's sons Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel andon other first-hand sources, remains the foundation of Bach historicalscholarship. In his catalogue of Bach's compositions Forkel regrettably passesover the flute sonatas with barely a comment: Many single Sonatas for theharpsichord with accompaniment of violin, flute, viola da gamba, &c., alladmirably composed and so that even in our days most of them would be heard byconnoisseurs with pleasure.
The history of theflute sonatas is not clear. It is probable that most of them were written whileBach was in the service of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen. At the time itcould hardly have been imagined that the small town of Cothen, thirty kilometres north of Halle, would be rememberedin history as one of the most important centres of music of the day. PrinceLeopold was a young man who loved music and who gradually expanded his courtorchestra to eighteen members. He engaged Johann Sebastian Bach as Kapellmeisterin 1717 and it is interesting to notice, as an illustration of the esteem inwhich Bach was held, that his salary was twice that of his predecessor. ThePrince was an accomplished musician himself and played the violin, viol andharpsichord and the court orchestra was fortunate in its harmonious workingconditions, with a friendly relationship and mutual understanding between themusicians and their patron.
All performances at Cothentook place at court, with other courtiers taking part, as they wished or asthey were requested. The reformed religion made no demand for church music,allowing Bach full scope for the devising of secular entertainments, although,from his previous and subsequent employment, posterity may remember him as achurch organist. The period in Cothen, however, saw the composition of some ofthe most significant instrumental compositions in Western music, the Two-and Three-Part Inventions, the French Suites, Preludes and Fugues (thefirst book of the Well- Tempered Clavier), the Sonatas and Partitasfor solo violin, the Cello Suites, the Sonatas for harpsichordand violin or viola da gamba, the Brandenburg Concertos, some of theOrchestral Suites and the Sonatas for flute and harpsichord or fluteand continuo.
Not many manuscriptssurvive from Bach's period at Cothen and most such material comes from thesubsequent period of 27 years spent in Leipzig. It seems, however,that many of the flute sonatas are arrangements of earlier compositions; the TrioSonata for two flutes and continuo was originally a sonata for harpsichordand viola da gamba and the last movement also exists in a version for organ.
The harpsichord part of the great Sonata in B minor has also beenpreserved in an earlier version in G minor. Bach later arranged a number of hisCothen works for the concerts of his Leipzig University Collegium Musicum, forwhich all the harpsichord concertos were devised. In arranging his earlier triosonatas for solo instrument and keyboard, he laid the foundation for a genrethat continues today. This type of sonata was transmitted, through Bach's sons,to classical and romantic composers.
The flute sonatas of Bachwere probably inspired by local flautists whose dexterity is obvious from thedemanding solo parts written by Bach in his cantatas and settings of thePassion. His visit in 1747to the court of Frederick the Great, whose ability asa flautist was well known, probably produced the Sonata in E major aswell as the Musical Offering on a theme provided by the King. Some of Bach'sflute sonatas (notably EWV 1031, 1020 and 1030) have been attributed to his sonCarl Philipp Emanuel, harpsichordist to Frederick the Great. Incontrast with the the younger composer's keyboard sonatas, it might besuspected that, if they were the work of Carl Philipp Emanuel, they werewritten under his father's influence or direct guidance. This in no waydetracts from the value of these works, which remain among the best loved ofthe repertoire.
There is adistinction to be drawn between Bach's works for solo instrument andharpsichord, such as the three sonatas with viola da gamba, EWV 1027- 1029, orthe six violin sonatas, EWV 1014-1019, and those written for solo melodyinstrument and continuo. The former have a composed harpsichord part and arefor the most part in a three-part texture, like the organ trio sonatas, BWV525-530. With the written harpsichord part this generally means threecontrapuntal melodic lines, one for the melody instrument, one for the righthand of the keyboard-player and the other for the left hand. The sonatas forsolo instrument and continuo provide the performers with a solo melodic partand a figured bass, a bass line with numbers that indicate the chord to be usedand on which the keyboard-player might improvise an accompaniment.
Bach's Sonata in Bminor for flute and harpsichord, BWV 1030, is thought to stem from a Gminor original written at Cothen. In its present form the sonata has been datedto the mid-1730s, the date of the surviving autograph. It opens in the expectedthree-part texture, the flute offering a phrase which is later repeated andcontinued, as the extended movement develops in rhythmic complexity .A gentlesecond movement in D major leads to a final Presto with imitativeentries of the theme first stated by the flute. The movement, in duple alla breve,continues and ends with a livelier 12/16 metre, in the manner of a gigue.