BACH, J.S.: Orchestral Suites Nos. 1-4, BWV 1066-1069
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Johann Sebastian Bach(1685-1750): Complete Orchestral Works
Volume 8: Overtures(Suites) Nos. 1-4
It seems that only a relatively small part of Bach's orchestral ceuvrehas been preserved for posterity. Much has been speculated about thereasons for the above-average losses in this particular field, but up till nowno really conclusive reasons have been found. The fact that so few works forinstrumental ensemble have survived particularly from the Weimar and Cothenperiods, during which the composer directed so many excellent ensembles, hasled many researchers to the hypothesis that Bach was obliged to leave themajority of his compositions in these places when he moved on to another post -a common custom for which much evidence can be found in many eighteenth centurydocuments; other considerations establish a connection with the distribution ofBach's compositions to his heirs after his death. Whatever the case, only onething is certain: that at the latest with Bach's death a veil of oblivion beganto sink over his orchestral works - partly caused also by a profound change intaste which began in the middle of the eighteenth century. Thus great effortwas necessary in the course of the Bach renaissance at the beginning of thenineteenth century to win back these works, which by then were completelyunknown even to Bach connoisseurs, into the performance repertoire.
Today Bach's orchestral works enjoy an enduring popularity once more.
Intensive study of this repertoire, which in spite of the regrettable gaps isin many ways incomparable, has led to the realization that only a part of theworks can be regarded as original compositions, whereas many of the concertosin the form in which they are known today represent transcriptions of pieceswritten earlier. Among the works of the first-named category are the BrandenburgConcertos and the three Violin Concertos, among the transcriptionsare all the concertos for one to three harpsichords, which are presumed to bebased on lost works for various melody instruments. The Concerto for fourharpsichords, BWV 1065 is a special case in that Bach did not take one of hisown works as a basis but, exceptionally, a work by Antonio Vivaldi. Comparativestudies on Bach's technique of rearranging works have led again and again tospeculations about the possible form and structure of the lost works on whichthe arrangements are based, and as a consequence to attempts at reconstructionwhich have resulted in pieces which are stylistically convincing and which haveproved their worth in practice; within the context of this recording theseworks are intended to help fill the gaps mentioned above.
The present complete recording of Bach's orchestral works illustratesgraphically the enormous musical variety and compositional quality of thissphere of his creative work. We meet the composer for the first time around1715 on his first pinnacle of mastery (Brandenburg Concerto No. 5) andaccompany him for approximately a quarter of a century up to the sublime worksof his maturity - the Overture BWV 1067 and the Triple Concerto BWV 1044.
From the middle of the seventeenth century onwards students associationsformed to make music became increasingly important pillars of society in themusical life of Leipzig. So when in March 1729 the Cantor of St Thomas's,Johann Sebastian Bach, took over from Georg Balthasar Schott (who had beenappointed organist at the New Church in Gotha) the direction of an ensembleoriginally founded by Georg Philipp Telemann, he also made sure of theco-operation of the most gifted young men of the town for his performances ofsacred and secular music; he was to direct the orchestra - with one shortinterruption - until around 1742. By means of these regular appearances, whichtook place in the warm season in Zimmermann's Coffee Garden and in winter in Zimmermann's Coffee House inKatharinenstra?ƒe, Bach was able to a certain extent to continue his Cothenactivities as conductor. For this reason instrumental and secular vocal worksalso playa particular role in his composing and performing activities in the1730s. Although none of the programmes of the weekly appearances of"Bach's Collegium Musicum" are known, at least part of the repertoirecan be deduced from the music which has survived from Bach's music library.
This apparently also included the four Orchestral Overtures BWV1066-1069, although the history of two of them (BWV 1066 and 1069) has not yetbeen researched in detail.
The Overture in Cmajor, BWV 1066 was perhaps written as early as Bach's Cothen period. Theperformance material which has survived, however, dates from the beginning ofBach's Leipzig period, which leads us to presume that the Cantor of St Thomas'shad already taken up contact with the student music associations at this time.
The extensive ternary first movement is followed by several melodiously gallantdance movements, in which the sound potential of an orchestration containingonly woodwind and strings is exploited to the full. A typical characteristic ofthis work is the emphasis on the upper part by means of parallel part-writingfor the first violins and the two oboes. Differentiations in tone-colour arebrought about by a trio group of two oboes and a bassoon separating itselfregularly from the full body of the orchestra.
In contrast to theserelatively early compositions, the Overture in B minor BWV 1067 is one of theworks dating from Bach's late Leipzig period. Presumably it is, in fact, Bach'slast orchestral work; the sources which have been preserved documentperformances around 1739 and in the middle of the 1740s. The Overture integratesthe principles of the concerto form into nearly all the movements, bycontrasting a flute treated as a solo instrument with an accompanying stringgroup. This special form of concertante overture, which seems to go backto Telemann, was taken up at the time by numerous German composers, among themthe Eisenach court musician Johann Bernhard Bach, by whom an overture withconcertante violin has been preserved. This work in its turn, preserved in theform of a copy originating from Bach's Collegium Musicum circle in Leipzig,seemed to have been the direct inspiration for BWV 1067. The B minor Overture is a work of austere beauty, in which contrapuntal ingenuity and melancholyexpression join together with precisely defined dance rhythms in an extremelyindividual combination. Bach made use here of the whole rich palette ofcompositional potential which he had acquired in the course of his life; the pluralismof style and form and the increased expressiveness and the permeation of thetexture with rationalism are already evocative of the later works of his lastyears.
The Overture in Dmajor BWV 1068 has been preserved in a set of parts dating from around 1731;additional parts added later prove that Bach's second?¡-eldest son Carl PhilippEmanuel borrowed this work of his father's during his years of study inFrankfurt an der Oder (1734-1738) in order to perform it with his fellowstudents in the Collegium Musicum there. It is one of Bach's most impressiveand magnificent orchestral works. The character of the work is determined to agreat extent by the sweeping first movement with its wealth of harmonicnuances; between the dotted rhythms of the grave sections which frame it a veryfast fugato Allegro section unfolds, which in places displaysconcertante features. No less fascinating is the famous Air whichfollows; above the constant pendulum movement of the bass the first violinssoar up in one of the most mysterious and tender melodies the composer everwrote,