Bach’s “Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor” and the Power of Repetition

A simple idea or statement, persistently repeated, can take on a unique power. The idea seems to come alive, gradually seeping into our consciousness and demanding our attention and respect. Perhaps this is part of the profound magic of J.S. Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582, written sometime between 1706 and 1713 when the composer was in his early twenties. It begins with that simple, repeating statement- a quietly unassuming, stepping passacaglia …

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Bach’s “Easter Oratorio”: A Celebratory Retrofit

J.S. Bach’s Easter Oratorio was first performed at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig on Easter Sunday, 1725. But most of this music was not written with Easter in mind. Instead, it was recycled from the now lost secular “Shepherd Cantata,” written a month earlier to celebrate the thirty-first birthday of Bach’s patron, Christian, Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels. A year later, Bach recycled the cantata again for the birthday of Count Joachim Friedrich von Flemming. The Easter Oratorio opens with an …

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Mendelssohn Meets Bach: The Second Cello Sonata

Visit the eastern German city of Leipzig and you’ll find yourself walking in the footsteps of countless great composers. Two prominent examples are J.S. Bach and Felix Mendelssohn. Bach was Kapellmeister at Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church from 1723 until his death in 1750. A hundred years later, Mendelssohn led the Gewandhaus Orchestra from 1835 to 1847. Mendelssohn was instrumental in bringing about a renewed interest in the music of J.S. Bach. Amid the elegant simplicity of the …

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Four Nations Plays Bach

The Hudson Valley, New York-based Four Nations Ensemble has released an exciting Bach recording as part of a new education initiative I detailed last month (Harpsichordist Andrew Appel on J.C.F Fischer’s Passacaglia). Here is the last of J.S. Bach’s six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, (the Sonata in G major BWV 1019), performed by Quebec violinist Olivier Brault and harpsichordist Andrew Appel. The duo intends to record the other five sonatas in coming months. Bach frequently …

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The “Philadelphia Sound” in Five Historic Recordings

These days, the professional orchestra world is characterized by unparalleled technical skill, dutiful attention to historically-informed performance practice, and a general homogenization of sound and style. Musicians are expected to transition, instantly and seamlessly, from the lush Romanticism of Tchaikovsky to the lean purity of Mozart, with the mixed meters of Stravinsky and John Adams thrown in for good measure. In many ways, it’s the best of times. Perhaps what has been …

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The Bach Motet that Inspired Mozart

On Friday, we considered the musical influence of J.S. Bach on Mozart. Born in 1756, six years after Bach’s death, Mozart became fascinated with Bach’s counterpoint around the time he moved from Salzburg to Vienna. In 1789, he traveled to Leipzig and performed on the organ Bach had played at St. Thomas Church (pictured above). Bach was music director of the church from 1723 until his death in 1750. According to an eyewitness, the German …

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Mozart’s Journey in the Footsteps of Bach

When the name, “Bach,” was mentioned in the late eighteenth century, the first composer to come to mind would probably have been Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the second son of Johann Sebastian. Mozart was referencing CPE, not J.S Bach, when he commented to his Vienna patron, Gottfried van Swieten, “Bach is the father. We are the children!” At the time, the dense complexity of baroque music was viewed as outdated, while the galant style of CPE and JC …

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