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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Bach’s French Suite No. 3 in B Minor, Pierre Hantaï

In a previous post, we considered the mysterious and melancholy qualities of the key of B minor, especially in the music of J.S. Bach. Perhaps the most monumental example is the B Minor Mass, which Bach completed a year before his death. Something similar can be heard in Bach’s French Suite No. 3 for solo keyboard. The harpsichordist Pierre Hantaï suggests that Bach’s choice of B minor points to solemn music. Music of importance. …

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Remembering Jeanne Lamon

Jeanne Lamon, the American-Canadian violinist and early music specialist, passed away on June 20 following a brief battle with cancer. She was 71. Lamon was music director of the Toronto-based Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra from 1981 to 2014. In a recent statement, the ensemble credits Lamon with establishing Tafelmusik’s “enviable reputation as ‘one of the world’s top baroque orchestras’ (Gramophone), growing from its modest beginnings to the cutting-edge period ensemble it is today under …

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Vivaldi and Piazzolla: Two Visions of Summer

Antonio Vivaldi’s collection of violin concerti, The Four Seasons, composed between 1718 and 1720, remains some of the most famous, virtuosic, and evocative music ever written. Concerto No. 2 in G minor “Summer” begins under a burning summer sun. The opening bars suggest an oppressive, sultry haze. As the music unfolds, nature comes alive with the song of the cuckoo, turtledove, and finch. The sounds of a shepherd herald the approach of a storm. …

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Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C Major, BWV 846: Pure and Well-Tempered

The Prelude and Fugue in C Major, BWV 846 opens the first book of J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, dated 1722. It can be heard as a tantalizing musical invitation, throwing open the door to the collection’s endless adventures. The Well-Tempered Clavier moves through all twenty four major and minor keys. Bach wrote this music “for the use and profit of musical youth desirous of learning, as well as for the pastime of those already skilled …

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Bach’s Organ Sonata No. 6 in G Major: An Etude for All Time

Today, we regard the output of J.S. Bach (1685-1750) as a fundamental pillar of Western music. As with the works of Shakespeare, Bach’s music is eternally relevant in a way which transcends cultural trends or politics. Yet, there was a time when Bach’s place in the canon seemed less assured. In the years following J.S Bach’s death, his music fell out of stylistic favor, with its triumphant revival (courtesy of figures such …

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