The Ghosts of D-Sharp Minor: Bach’s Prelude and Fugue, BWV 877 and Scriabin’s Etude Op 8, No 12

In an 1806 treatise, Christian Schubart described D-sharp minor as a key which expresses “feelings of the anxiety of the soul’s deepest distress, of brooding despair, of blackest depression, of the most gloomy condition of the soul.” Schubart concluded with the chilling statement, “If ghosts could speak, their speech would approximate this key.” In the early twentieth century, expressive variations between keys became blurred following the adoption of equal temperament in tuning. …

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Monteverdi’s “Pur ti Miro”: The Final Love Duet From “L’incoronazione di Poppea”

Claudio Monteverdi’s 1643 opera, L’incoronazione di Poppea (“The Coronation of Poppaea”), begins with a clash between mythological deities. In the prologue which precedes the first act, the goddesses of Fortune and Virtue each argue that they hold the most power over humankind. Soon, their disagreement is interrupted by the god of Love, who claims the greatest power of all, with the bold proclamation, “I tell the virtues what to do, I govern the fortunes of …

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Telemann’s Sonata in D Major, TWV 44:1: Bremer Barockorchester

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) was one of the most prolific composers of all time. The German Baroque composer produced 3,000 compositions, half of which have been lost. These include 1,700 cantatas, 600 orchestral suites, and numerous operas and concertos. Telemann was the godfather of J.S. Bach’s son, Carl Philipp Emanuel. Telemann influenced a younger generation of gallant composers such as C.P.E Bach, who would set the stage for the Classical period. Telemann’s …

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Handel’s Trio Sonata in B Minor, HWV 386: Richard Egarr and the Academy of Ancient Music

Handel’s six Trio Sonatas, Op. 2 (HWV 386-391) were written between 1717 and 1719 and circulated in a bootleg edition until their official publication in 1733. Following the “slow-fast-slow-fast” model of the Italian Sonata da chiesa (“church sonata”), these Sonatas represent the culmination of a form popularized by Arcangelo Corelli in the 1680s. Handel’s Trio Sonatas were scored for “two violins, two oboes, or two flutes and basso continuo.” In the Baroque period, composers …

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Bach’s Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564: A Rhetorical Flourish

In the autumn of 1705, the 20-year-old Johann Sebastian Bach took a four month leave from his position as organist in the German town of Arnstadt and set out on foot for Lübeck, nearly 300 miles to the north. The purpose of the arduous journey was to visit the famous organist and composer, Dietrich Buxtehude (1637–1707). Buxtehude’s musical influence can be heard in Bach’s Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564. …

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Bach’s Sonata No. 1 in B Minor for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV 1014: A Conversation Among Equals

The traditional Baroque trio sonata, developed by composers such as Arcangelo Corelli, typically consisted of two violins and continuo. The continuo involved a partially improvised accompaniment in which the keyboard player would be given the bass line and the harmonic “short hand” of figured bass notation. It was an arrangement which was not unlike the harmonic changes in a jazz chart. With the Six Sonatas for violin and harpsichord (BWV 1014-1019), J.S. …

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Bach’s Partita No. 5 in G Major, BWV 829: An Exercise in Spiritual Delight

J.S. Bach’s Six Partitas, BWV 825-830 were conceived as exercises for the body, mind, and spirit. Composed between 1725 and 1731, these were the last of Bach’s keyboard suites. Yet, they were published by the Leipzig-employed composer as “opus 1,” and offered “to music lovers in order to refresh their spirits.” This collection of Partitas (richly contrasting Baroque dances) fuses technical advancement with spiritual delight. They influenced later composers, from Brahms to Bartók. Bach’s earliest biographer, …

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