Bach’s Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564: A Rhetorical Flourish

In the autumn of 1705, the 20-year-old Johann Sebastian Bach took a four month leave from his position as organist in the German town of Arnstadt and set out on foot for Lübeck, nearly 300 miles to the north. The purpose of the arduous journey was to visit the famous organist and composer, Dietrich Buxtehude (1637–1707). Buxtehude’s musical influence can be heard in Bach’s Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564. …

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Bach’s Sonata No. 1 in B Minor for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV 1014: A Conversation Among Equals

The traditional Baroque trio sonata, developed by composers such as Arcangelo Corelli, typically consisted of two violins 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 changes in a jazz chart. With the Six Sonatas for violin and harpsichord (BWV 1014-1019), J.S. …

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Bach’s Partita No. 5 in G Major, BWV 829: An Exercise in Spiritual Delight

J.S. Bach’s Six Partitas, BWV 825-830 were conceived as exercises for the body, mind, and spirit. Composed between 1725 and 1731, these were the last of Bach’s keyboard suites. Yet, they were published by the Leipzig-employed composer as “opus 1,” and offered “to music lovers in order to refresh their spirits.” This collection of Partitas (richly contrasting Baroque dances) fuses technical advancement with spiritual delight. They influenced later composers, from Brahms to Bartók. Bach’s earliest biographer, …

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Bach’s Trio Sonata in G Major, BWV 1039: Traverso Triumph

J.S. Bach’s Trio Sonata in G Major, BWV 1039 overflows with sensuous melodies, magical contrapuntal conversations, and joyous rhythmic motion. The Sonata is scored for two flutes and basso continuo. It was probably written between 1736 and 1741 when Bach was director of Leipzig’s Collegium Musicum. The chamber music society presented weekly concerts at the Café Zimmermann coffeehouse. This music was so popular that Bach created a version for viola da gamba and …

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Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, BWV 825: Music of “Spiritual Delight”

Published in 1726, the Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, BWV 825 is the first of a set of six keyboard suites which J.S. Bach composed between 1725 and 1731. Following the English and French Suites, this music was groundbreaking, both technically and musically. Bach referred to it as his “opus 1,” and offered it “to music lovers in order to refresh their spirits.” Here, Bach is cast in the role of …

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Celebratory Bach: From the E Major Partita to the Cantata, BWV 29

J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E Major for solo violin begins with the famous and iconic Preludio.  Sweeping forward in a continuous stream of sixteenth notes, it forms a celebratory musical announcement. The opening bars employ a virtual pedal tone which remains rooted in E major for more than half a minute. Then, the music leaves “home” and moves through a series of adventures, only to return, triumphantly, in the coda. We get …

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Leonidas Kavakos Plays Bach: Sonata No. 3 in C Major, Adagio and Fuga

The Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos describes J.S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin (BWV 1001–1006) as “the most perfect music ever written.” The violin is an instrument which is usually associated with a single, singing melodic line. Yet Bach’s six suites open the door to a magical polyphonic world in which a single violin can create multiple voices. This counterpoint is especially vivid in the three fugues (included in the Sonatas) and the D …

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