Purcell’s “Fantasia in Three Parts Upon a Ground,” Tafelmusik

Back in January, we listened to Henry Purcell’s Fantasia Upon One Note for 5 viols in F major, Z. 745, music in which a single pitch is sustained in the tenor voice while the other voices float and weave in seamless polyphony. Purcell’s Fantasia in Three Parts Upon a Ground offers a similar contrast between stability and unbridled adventure. Here, a series of thrilling variations develop over a recurring ostinato bass line. This was a common …

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Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C Major: Embracing and Transcending Fashion

The Overture which opens J.S. Bach’s First Orchestral Suite was built on a well-established, preexisting model. You could even call it a formula. It was the stylish “French Overture,” dating back to the 1650s, which opened the ballets of Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), a composer who spent most of his life employed by the court of Louis XIV. The French Overture begins with a majestic slow section consisting of stately dotted rhythms fit for …

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J.S. Bach and the Joy of G Major

Throughout the music of J.S. Bach, G major seems to be associated with a distinct sense of joy and deep-rooted contentment. For example, consider the Fantasia in G Major for Organ, BWV 572, which opens in the instrument’s highest and most sparkling register with figures that skip along with an infectious, playful exuberance. This amazing piece, which we explored in a previous post, proceeds on into a massive five-voice chorale which concludes with a mighty …

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Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in G Minor, RV 317: Julien Chauvin and Le Concert de la Loge

If you have forgotten how exciting the music of Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) can be, take a moment and listen to this concert performance of the Violin Concerto in G minor, RV 317, featuring French violinist Julien Chauvin and Le Concert de la Loge. As this clip demonstrates, brilliant, crackling virtuosity and searing drama lie at the heart of Vivaldi’s music. In addition to composing more than five hundred concertos, ninety solo sonatas, and dozens …

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Remembering Peter Serkin: Five Essential Recordings

The American pianist Peter Serkin passed away on Saturday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 72. Serkin was part of a distinguished musical lineage. His father was Rudolf Serkin, the legendary Bohemian-born American pianist and director of the Curtis Institute of Music. His maternal grandfather was the German violinist and conductor, Adolf Busch. As if to throw off the burden of this heritage, Serkin was something of a musical maverick. Following …

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Henry Purcell’s “Fantasia Upon One Note” and its Twentieth Century Aftertones

How many ways can you harmonize three notes? You might find this question especially pertinent after listening to an extraordinary passage from the second movement of Sergei Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto. Three descending notes (E, D, C) are repeated throughout this melody, filled with nostalgia and quiet lament, each time wrapped in new harmonic garb. Fantasia Upon One Note for 5 viols in F major, Z. 745, written around 1680 by the English baroque …

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A New Year’s Hymn: Music of Praetorius, Scheidt, and Bach

Das alte Jahr vergangen ist (“The old year now hath passed away”) is a New Year hymn dating back to 1568. The chorale melody has been attributed to Johannes Steurlein (1546-1613), the son of the first Lutheran pastor of the central German town of Schmalkalden. The text suggests a mix of quiet gratitude and apprehension: The old year now hath passed away; We thank Thee, O our God, today That Thou hast …

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