Contrapunctus XIX: Berio Meets Bach

The Art of Fugue was one of J.S. Bach’s final monuments to musical posterity. Written during the last ten years of the composer’s life, the collection is made up of 14 fugues and four canons which develop from a single, sublimely simple musical subject. As the work unfolds, Bach moves from double, triple, and mirror fugues to a quadruple fugue in an increasingly complex and technically varied exploration of contrapuntal possibilities. The music …

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Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C Minor: A Lost Score Reconstructed

No original manuscript exists for J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C minor. The lost score was reconstructed from Bach’s Concerto for Two Harpsichords, BWV 1060. According to musicologists, that work was almost certainly an arrangement of an earlier concerto in the same key for oboe and violin, dating from Bach’s years in Köthen (1717–1723). Heard in its likely original form, the Concerto unleashes a vibrant musical conversation. The violin and …

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“Possente Spirto” from Monteverdi’s “Orfeo,” Scherzi Musicali

Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo was created in 1607 at the dawn of opera. It remains the earliest work in that rich genre to be performed regularly. Set in five acts, it is based on the Greek legend of Orpheus, who descends into Hades in an unsuccessful attempt to bring his dead bride, Eurydice, back to the living world. The aria, Possente spirto, e formidabil nume (“Mighty spirit and formidable god”), comes from the opera’s third act. Orfeo …

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Handel’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 6: No. 2 in F Major: An Intimate Conversation

An economic calculation led Handel to compose his twelve Concerti Grossi (Op. 6) in the autumn of 1739. Italian opera was falling out of favor with the English public. The 1737 season had been disastrous for the opera company Handel directed, taking a toll on the composer’s finances and health. In an enterprising turn, Handel offered a new genre that would gain quick popularity—the English oratorio. In order to attract audiences and gain …

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Couperin’s “Les Barricades Mystérieuses”: A Sonic Kaleidoscope

The title of François Couperin’s Les Barricades Mystérieuses (“The Mysterious Barricades”) remains an enigma. One commentator has speculated that it may be a reference to continuous suspensions, or notes which hold over to create “a barricade to the basic harmony.” Others have suggested veiled references to freemasonry, masks worn by performers of Le Mystère ou les Fêtes de l’Inconnu (an event staged in 1714 by one of Couperin’s patrons), women’s eyelashes, or the wine barrels …

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Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B Major, BWV 868, Diego Ares

In a recent video clip for the Netherlands Bach Society, the Spanish-born harpsichordist Diego Ares discusses his lifelong relationship with the music of J.S. Bach: He is a wonderful life’s companion. You couldn’t wish for a better one. He is there when you are happy and also when you’re sad. He can comfort you when you are sad and he can lift your spirit. He is a great source of peace. A sense …

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Handel’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 4 in A Minor: A Rich Potpourri

The twelve Concerto Grossi (Op. 6) composed by Handel in the autumn of 1739 offer a rich potpourri of musical forms. These orchestral suites (“large concertos”) are a collection of stately French overtures, fugues, vibrant Baroque dances, and repurposed opera arias. They pay homage to a genre that was developed by Arcangelo Corelli in the 1680s. Handel wrote the Concerto Grossi, Op. 6 as an added attraction for performances of his oratorios at London’s Lincoln’s …

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