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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Brahms’ Handel Variations, Op. 24: A Monument Built on Baroque Foundations

George Frideric Handel’s Suite in B-flat Major, HWV 434, published in 1733 as part of a collection of keyboard works entitled Suites de Pièces, concludes with an Aria con variazioni in which five ebullient variations spin out of a sunny galant theme: This endearing music provided the seed for Johannes Brahms’ monumental Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, composed nearly 130 years later in 1861. Here, the original theme is followed by 25 adventurous …

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Handel’s “Haec est Regina Virginum,” Anne Sofie von Otter

In the years before his arrival in London, the young George Frideric Handel was based in Italy. Settling in Rome, Handel, a native of the German state of Saxony-Anhalt, composed cantatas and oratorios for the city’s most wealthy and powerful Cardinals. Additionally, commissions poured in from Florence, Venice, and Naples. It was during this time that Handel composed Haec est Regina virginum, HWV 235 (“Behold the Queen of Virgins”). The antiphon may have been written …

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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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Handel’s Fugue in A Minor, HWV 609: Haunting Chromaticism

For a brief moment, Handel’s Fugue in A Minor, HWV 609 could almost be mistaken for a twentieth century tone row. The first haunting pitches of the fugue’s subject are disorienting because they leap wildly beyond an octave. The chromaticism which underlies the subject clouds the tonal center. In the second half of the subject, a descending chromatic line suggests a sense of deep mystery and melancholy. The fugue unfolds as an …

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Handel’s Suite No. 5 in E Major: “The Harmonious Blacksmith”

George Frideric Handel composed the Eight Great Suites for harpsichord around 1718 when he was employed as house composer at Cannons in Middlesex, England. By 1720, he became aware of error-ridden pirated copies of the music circulating throughout continental Europe. When the set was published, Handel included the following  explanation in the preface of the London edition: I have been obliged to publish some of the following Lessons, because surrepticious and incorrect Copies of …

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