Bach’s “Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend”: Five Settings of a Lutheran Hymn

First published in 1648, the Lutheran hymn, Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend (“Lord Jesus Christ, be present now!”), provided a fertile source for J.S. Bach. Bach created at least five wildly contrasting settings of the melody, each of which relates to a specific aspect of the text. The melody is by an anonymous composer. (It has been erroneously attributed to Wilhelm, Duke of Saxe-Weimar). Beginning with an ascending triad, the hymn …

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Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E Minor, BWV 548: A “Two-Movement Symphony”

Among the most expansive and complex organ works of J.S. Bach is the towering Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 548. The 19th century Bach biographer, Philipp Spitta, went so far as to call it “a two-movement symphony” for organ. According to the polymath musicologist, Albert Schweitzer, these two complimentary movements are “so mighty in design, and have so much harshness blended with their power, that the hearer can only grasp them …

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Bach’s Viola da Gamba Sonata in G Major, BWV 1027: “The Loveliest, the Purest Idyll Conceivable”

The popularity of the viola da gamba was already fading when J.S. Bach composed three sonatas for the instrument (BWV 1027–1029) in the late 1730s. A predecessor to the cello, the bowed, fretted string instrument evolved from the Spanish vihuela in the late 15th century, and flourished during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Evidence suggests that Bach wrote the Viola da Gamba Sonatas in Leipzig. During this period, in addition to his …

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Bach’s Violin Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1052R: Virtuosity and Fire

Bach was a master of adaptation and reuse. He made a habit of crafting harpsichord concerti out of previously written concerti for other instruments. Such is the case with the Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052, which is believed to be a transcription of a long-lost Bach violin concerto. The score is filled with passages which fit neatly into the violin as bariolage, “the alternation of notes on adjacent strings, one …

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Bach’s Sonata No. 2 in A Major for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV 1015: Canons of Joy

With the Six Sonatas for violin and harpsichord (BWV 1014-1019), J.S. Bach spectacularly reimagined the Baroque trio sonata. Traditionally, the form, developed by composers such as Arcangelo Corelli, consisted of two solo instruments and continuo. The continuo involved a partially improvised accompaniment in which the keyboard player would be given the bass line and the harmonic “short hand” of figured bass notation. It was an arrangement which was not unlike the harmonic …

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Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A-flat Major, BWV 886: Lofty and Sonorous

While recording the second book of J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier as part of its All of Bach initiative, the Netherlands Bach Society chose twelve locations around the Dutch city of Utrecht. The Prelude and Fugue No. 17 in A-flat Major, BWV 886 was recorded on a top floor of the high-rise seat of Utrecht’s Provincial Council. Christine Schornsheim, the outstanding German harpsichordist who performs the entire Book II set, found the location, …

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Bach’s Flute Partita in A Minor, BWV 1013: Music Shrouded in Mystery

J.S. Bach, who could create tantalizingly sophisticated music using the most economical means, famously wrote six Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, and six Suites for solo cello. Less well known is the single work Bach left behind for the solo flute. The four-movement suite which has come to be known as the Flute Partita in A minor, BWV 1013 originally was inscribed with the simple title, Solo pour la Flute traversiere. …

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