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 …

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

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 …

Read moreJ.S. Bach and the Joy of G Major

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 …

Read moreRemembering Peter Serkin: Five Essential Recordings

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 …

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

Bach’s Chorale Prelude, “In dir ist Freude”: The Evolution of a Melody

Short-short-short-long… This is the motif which famously launches Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. This brief, tightly wound kernel pervades the first movement, and then returns throughout the Symphony. Although Beethoven’s use of this motive may be the most memorable and persistent example, the “short-short-short-long” rhythm is a common building block throughout music. It’s infused with a natural sense of forward motion, moving “from here to there.” For example, listen to the majestic and expansive …

Read moreBach’s Chorale Prelude, “In dir ist Freude”: The Evolution of a Melody

Bach’s Jubilant Christmas Cantata, “Unser Mund sei voll Lachens,” BWV 110

Let’s travel back in time to Christmas Day, 1725. Entering St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, we would experience the first performance of J.S. Bach’s cantata, Unser Mund sei voll Lachens (“May our mouth be full of laughter”). We would witness Bach, three years into his tenure as the Lutheran church’s music director, leading the newly written work. By the end of his life, Bach produced five annual cycles of these dramatic religious …

Read moreBach’s Jubilant Christmas Cantata, “Unser Mund sei voll Lachens,” BWV 110

Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major, The Netherlands Bach Society

“This Suite laughs, dances, swings,” says Danish harpsichordist and conductor Lars Ulrik Mortensen in his brief but fascinating overview of J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major, BWV 1069. Indeed, this infectious collection of contrasting baroque dances, composed sometime around 1730, is some of the most joyful and exhilarating music ever imagined. As Mortensen points out, Bach must have associated this music with “laughter, joy, and rapture,” because he used the opening …

Read moreBach’s Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major, The Netherlands Bach Society

Send this to a friend