Celebratory Bach: From the E Major Partita to the Cantata, BWV 29

J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E Major for solo violin begins with the famous and iconic Preludio.  Sweeping forward in a continuous stream of sixteenth notes, it forms a celebratory musical announcement. The opening bars employ a virtual pedal tone which remains rooted in E major for more than half a minute. Then, the music leaves “home” and moves through a series of adventures, only to return, triumphantly, in the coda. We get …

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Leonidas Kavakos Plays Bach: Sonata No. 3 in C Major, Adagio and Fuga

The Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos describes J.S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin (BWV 1001–1006) as “the most perfect music ever written.” The violin is an instrument which is usually associated with a single, singing melodic line. Yet Bach’s six suites open the door to a magical polyphonic world in which a single violin can create multiple voices. This counterpoint is especially vivid in the three fugues (included in the Sonatas) and the D …

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Bach’s “Canon a 2 Cancrizans” from “The Musical Offering”: A Divine Puzzle

The canon, which features one or more imitations of the same melodic line performed at varying intervals over a given duration, is one of music’s most intriguing contrapuntal devices. In The Musical Offering, BWV 1079, J.S. Bach takes this technique a step further with the canon cancrizans, or “crab canon.” Here, the melodic line can be played as written, and also in reverse, in a way similar to a crab crawling backwards. …

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Bach’s Triple Concerto in A Minor, BWV 1044: The Art of Recycling

J.S. Bach constructed the Concerto for Flute, Violin, and Harpsichord, BWV 1044 out of used parts. The outer movements were adapted from the Prelude and Fugue in A minor for solo harpsichord, BWV 894. The second movement was based on the Adagio e dolce from the Trio Sonata for Organ in D minor, BWV 527. It is likely that these two works developed from early pieces by Bach that have been lost. All of …

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Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E-flat Major, BWV 552: An Expression of the Trinity

In 1739, J.S. Bach published the Clavier-Übung III, a monumental collection of liturgical organ works which is sometimes called the German Organ Mass. The compilation begins and ends with two mighty musical pillars which have been catalogued as the Prelude and Fugue in E-flat Major, BWV 552. The latter has been nicknamed the “St. Anne” Fugue because its subject is strikingly similar to William Croft’s English hymn of the same name. The Clavier-Übung III is filled with …

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Bach’s Musical Offering: The Ricercars

J.S. Bach’s monumental chamber music collection, Musikalisches Opfer (The Musical Offering), was inspired by a momentous meeting. It began on May 7, 1747 when Bach met Frederick the Great in Potsdam. At the time, J.S Bach’s son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, was employed as one of the Prussian King’s most prized musicians. Frederick gave the elder Bach a tour of his palace, showcasing his vast collection of instruments, among which was a novel new keyboard …

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Remembering James Buswell

The violinist, conductor, and educator James Buswell passed away on Tuesday. He was 74. At the age of seven, Buswell became the youngest soloist ever to appear with the New York Philharmonic. He went on to perform with the world’s top orchestras and as a regular member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. From 1986 to 2014 he served on the faculty of New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. …

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