Bach’s Sonata for Violin and Continuo in E Minor, Rachel Podger

Sparks fly in the exhilarating Preludio which opens J.S. Bach’s Violin Sonata in E minor, BWV 1023. The solo violin unleashes a bold and virtuosic toccata over a mighty E pedal tone in the continuo bass. In many of Bach’s other sonatas, the violin enters into a supporting role with the harpsichord. Here, amid a torrent of bariolage (the alternation of notes on adjacent strings to outline chords), it moves squarely into the spotlight. The Adagio …

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Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto in D Minor, Jean Rondeau

Listen carefully, and you may hear echos of Bach’s big, hearty belly laugh in the opening of the D minor Harpsichord Concerto, BWV 1052. This is music filled with ferocious vigor and an irreverent, reckless abandon comparable to a sports car driver speeding around a sharp curve. It begins as a single musical subject, played by all of the instruments in octaves, which unfolds with wild leaps and crazy, jagged rhythmic surprises. This …

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Henry Eccles’ Violin Sonata in G Minor: Two Contrasting Recordings

The enigmatic English baroque composer Henry Eccles (1670–1742) is most remembered for his Violin Sonata in G minor. It’s the eleventh in a set of twelve sonatas, published in 1720. Musicologists have discovered that large swaths of the collection were borrowed from the work of the innovative Italian composer and violinist, Giuseppe Valentini, specifically his Op. 8 from 1714. Most of the G minor Sonata appears to have been written by Eccles, …

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Handel’s Oboe Sonata in F Major, Héloïse Gaillard and Ensemble Amarillis

Handel’s Oboe Sonata in F Major, HWV 363a unfolds as a vibrant musical dialogue between the solo voice and the accompanying basso continuo. Its five movements alternate in tempo between slow and fast, suggesting the Italian church sonatas of Arcangelo Corelli. The opening movement (Adagio) is both majestic and lamenting. Its expansive, singing melody might remind you of an aria from one of Handel’s operas or oratorios. The second movement (Allegro) erupts with …

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J.S. Bach: Three Adventures in B Minor

On Wednesday, we explored J.S Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2, a festive and celebratory collection of Baroque dances that is nonetheless shrouded in veiled, mysterious B minor. (It’s the only one of Bach’s four Orchestral Suites to be  set in a minor key). The nineteenth century Austrian pianist, composer, and educator Ernst Pauer believed that each musical key embodies a distinct atmosphere. He called B minor “that very melancholy key” which “tells …

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Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor, The Netherlands Bach Society

Coffee and culture mixed in Leipzig in the late 1730s. Café Zimmermann provided a venue for the first performances of many of J.S. Bach’s secular cantatas and instrumental works. Between 1729 and 1739, Bach was the director of Collegium Musicum, a society founded by Georg Philipp Telemann which presented concerts at the coffeehouse. The cafe’s owner, Gottfried Zimmermann, offered the concerts to the public free of charge, making up his expenses in …

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Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins, The Netherlands Bach Society

In 1711, a collection of violin concertos by Antonio Vivaldi was published in Amsterdam under the title, L’estro armonico (“The Harmonic Inspiration”). It was a prime example of the Baroque concerto grosso form, in which a solo instrument, or small group of instruments, engage in continuous dialogue with a larger ensemble. The British musicologist Michael Talbot has called L’estro armonico “perhaps the most influential collection of instrumental music to appear during the whole of the …

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