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Chill with Bach

Born in 1685, Johann Sebastian Bach belonged to a dynasty ofmusicians. He spent his earlier career principally as an organist, latterly atthe court of one of the two ruling Grand Dukes of Weimar. In 1717 he moved toCothen as Court Kapellmeister to the young Prince Leopold and in 1723 made hisfinal move to Leipzig, where he was employed as Cantor at the Choir School ofSt. Thomas, with responsibility for music in the five principal city churches.Despite widespread neglect for almost a century after his death in 1750, Bachis now regarded as one of the greatest of all composers.

Choral & vocal music

Bach wrote a very large amount of choral music, particularlyin connection with his employment at Leipzig, where he prepared complete cyclesof cantatas for use throughout the church year. These works include the Mass inB minor, BWV 232, the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244, the St. John Passion, BWV245, the Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, and the Easter Oratorio, BWV 249, withthe revised setting of the Magnificat, BWV 243. Many of Bach's cantatas arelost, but historians can estimate that he must have written over 500 suchpieces. Most were written for church services, for Bach was expected to performcantatas every Sunday at the church. He also wrote secular cantatas for specialcourt occasions.

Organ & other keyboard music

Much of Bach's organ music was written during the earlierpart of his career, culminating in the period he spent as court organist atWeimar. Important sets of pieces for keyboard are the six English Suites BWV806-811; the six French Suites BWV 812-817, the Goldberg Variations BWV 988,written to soothe an insomniac patron; the Italian Concerto BWV 971, the sixPartitas BWV 825-830 and the monumental two books of preludes and fugues in allkeys, The Well-Tempered Clavier, BWV 846-893, the so-called \Forty-Eight".

Chamber music

During the period Bach spent at Cothen he was able to devotehis attention more particularly to instrumental composition for soloinstruments, smaller groups or for the small court orchestra. Particularlyimportant are the three Sonatas and three Partitas for unaccompanied violin,BWV 1001-1006, works that make great technical demands on a player, and the sixSuites for unaccompanied cello, BWV 1007-1012.

Orchestral music

The six Brandenburg Concertos, BWV 1046-1051, dedicated tothe Margrave of Brandenburg in 1721, feature a variety of forms and groups ofinstruments, while the four Orchestral Suites or Overtures, BWV 1066-1069,include the famous Air on the G string, a late 19th century transcription ofthe Air from the Suite in D major, BWV 1068. Three of Bach's violin concertos,written at Cothen between 1717 and 1723, survive in their original form, withothers existing now only in later harpsichord transcriptions. The works inoriginal form are the concertos in A minor and in E major, BWV 1041 and 1042,and the Double Concerto in D minor, for two violins, BWV 1043.

Tracks 1 and 18

Goldberg Variations, BWV 988: Aria       

The Goldberg Variations (published in 1741-42) offer aconspectus of Bach's wit and technical accomplishment, and herald a finalperiod in which he would continue to explore the use of a single theme, notablyin The Musical Offering and The Art of Fugue. Doubt has been cast on the storyassociated with the Goldberg Variations, yet it is a touching anecdote. Bach'searly biographer Forkel alleged that the insomniac Count Hermann Karl vonKeyserlingk, Russian ambassador to the court of Saxony in Dresden, hadcommissioned the work for performance by his protege, the young harpsichordistJohann Gottlieb Goldberg to amuse him during the hours of sleeplessness. TheVariations begin and end with the main theme, giving them a cyclic form whosesoothing effect would be the ideal treatment for an insomniac.

            Tohear the Goldberg Variations in full try:

            8.550078       GoldbergVariations

                        ChenPi-hsien (piano)

Track 2

Concerto for 2 violins in D minor, BWV 1043: Largo ma nontroppo

The famous Double Concerto in D minor, scored for stringsand continuo was written during Bach's period of employment as Kapellmeister atCothen, where the young prince Leopold, a keen amateur, showed a great interestin music that was only curtailed by his marriage. It opens energetically in theform of a fugal exposition, one solo violin following the other in emulation.There is a dialogue of remarkable beauty in the slow movement and a finalmovement in which the second violin follows the first in excitingly closejuxtaposition.

            Tohear the Double Concerto in full try:

            8.550194       Violin Concertosin A minor, E major and E minor, Double Concerto in E minor

                        TakakoNishizaki, Alexander Jablokov (violins), Capella Istropolitana,


Track 3

Harpsichord Concerto, BWV 974 (after the Oboe Concerto byAlessandro Marcello):

Adagio (Guitar transcription)

Bach himself was a distinguished and frequent transcriber ofhis own compositions and those of others. For the harpsichord he arrangedsixteen concertos drawn from various sources during his years at Weimar. One ofthe best known of his transcriptions is this one, of an oboe concerto by theVenetian composer Alessandro Marcello. Bach's transcription for harpsichord isheard here in a further arrangement for solo guitar. This shows Bach's interestin the Venetian solo concertos of the period, an interest later demonstrated inthe concertos he would write at Cothen. The quicker outer movements of theconcerto frame a moving aria in the slow movement, precursors of the movementsBach wrote for his own violin concertos.

            Ifyou would to hear the Harpsichord Concertos in their original form try:

            8.554604       HarpsichordConcertos I

            8.554605       HarpsichordConcertos II

            8.554606      HarpsichordConcertos III

                        MichaelBehringer, Gerald Hambitzer, Robert Hill, Christoph Anselm Noll & Roderick                      
Disc: 1
Goldberg Variations, BWV 988: Aria DC
1 Goldberg Variations, BWV 988: Aria
2 II. Largo ma non tanto
3 Adagio (arr. E. Voorhorst)
4 Toccata in C major, BWV 564: Adagio
5 Air, 'Air on a G String'
6 Erbarme dich’ mein Gott
7 Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (arr. for organ)
8 Magnificat in D, BWV 243: Et exultavit
9 The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1: Prelude No. 1 i
10 Ave Maria
11 Andante
12 Sheep May Safely Graze
13 Sarabande
14 II. Siciliano
15 Sonata No. 3 in E major, BWV 1016: Adagio ma non t
16 Cello Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007: Prelude
17 Goldberg Variations, BWV 988: Aria DC
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