Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B-flat Minor, BWV 867, Kris Verhelst

It’s time to return to the Netherlands Bach Society for another recently released performance. Every Friday the organization adds a new high quality video recording to its website as part of its All of Bach initiative. The project will conclude with a complete catalogue of J.S. Bach’s works in time for the Netherlands Bach Society’s centenary in 2022. Here, the Belgian harpsichordist Kris Verhelst performs Bach’s Prelude and Fugue No. 22 in B-flat minor, …

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Remembering Anner Bylsma

The Dutch cellist Anner Bylsma passed away last Thursday in Amsterdam. He was 85. Bylsma will be remembered as a profound and influential interpreter of J.S. Bach’s six solo Cello Suites. His book, Bach, the Fencing Master provides a treatise for historically informed performance practice. For six years (from 1962-1968) Bylsma served as principal cellist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. In a social media statement, cellist Steven Isserlis called him “a wonder—soaringly imaginative, utterly original and …

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Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in F Minor, BWV 857, Pieter Dirksen

Every Friday the Netherlands Bach Society adds a new high quality video recording to its website as part of its All of Bach initiative. Their goal is to perform all of J.S. Bach’s works in the run-up to the organization’s centenary in 2022. One of the recent additions to their Youtube channel is harpsichordist and musicologist Pieter Dirksen’s performance of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in F minor, BWV 857. This is the twelfth …

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Bach’s Fantasia in G Major, BWV 572: The Power of the Pedal Tone

In his discussion of the extraordinary and haunting pedal tone at the end of the first movement of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, the composer and commentator Richard Atkinson goes back to J.S. Bach’s mighty Fantasia in G Major for Organ, BWV 572. (Atkinson’s YouTube channel is filled with insightful videos which take a fascinating look “under the hood” at a variety of music). Bach’s Fantasia, or Pièce d’Orgue as it is sometimes called, offers a …

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Bach’s Third Orchestral Suite in Two Flavors

J.S. Bach was a composer who wrote for the occasion more than for posterity. Often, this entailed an organ fugue or choral cantata for Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church, where Bach was music director from 1723 until his death in 1750. Less often, Bach was called upon to produce festive, celebratory orchestral music. The four Orchestral Suites fall into this category. The Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068 was probably composed around 1730 …

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Musical Cryptograms: Five Scores that Contain Hidden Messages

Imagine transmitting a secret message by using the pitches (from A to G) that are embedded in a musical score. It’s been the subject of mystery novels and television shows as well as Philip Thicknesse’s 1772 book, A Treatise on the Art of Deciphering, and of Writing in Cypher: with an Harmonic Alphabet. During the Second World War, codebreakers considered the possibility that German and Japanese spies might use musical notes as a …

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Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in F Major: Delightfully Deceptive

An awe-inspiring musical drama unfolds in J.S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in F Major, BWV 540. Developing with a sense of sublime inevitability and self-organizing structure, it is hard to believe that any mortal could have written such powerful and perfect music. The monumental Toccata is an exuberant celebration of canonic counterpoint. An unrelenting two-part canon expands across 108 measures over an unflinching pedal tone. Harmonically, the music pulls away from its firm foundation in F …

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