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 …

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Frigid Purcell and Lully: Two Chilly Scenes from Baroque Opera

Henry Purcell’s 1691 semi-opera, King Arthur, contains a shivering musical depiction of winter chill. The aria, What Power Art Thou comes from the fantastical “Frost Scene” in Act 3 in which Cupid awakens the “Cold Genius” (the Spirit of Winter) who, frozen stiff, would prefer to just go back to bed: What power art thou, who from below Hast made me rise unwillingly and slow From beds of everlasting snow See’st thou not ( how stiff …

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Who Wrote “Lully’s” Gavotte?

Towards the end of Volume 2 of the Suzuki Violin Repertoire, there’s a charming little gavotte attributed to the French baroque composer Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687). It’s based on a 1904 arrangement by the German violinist Willy Burmester, which you can hear in this old recording played by Carl von Garaguly. It’s likely that Shinichi Suzuki heard this arrangement in his twenties when he was studying in Berlin with another German violinist Karl Klinger. Cellist Mischa Maisky included Burmester’s …

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Mozart in Paris: Symphony No. 31

  In 1778, at the age of 22, Mozart traveled to Paris with his ill mother in hopes of landing a job at the court of Versailles. Years earlier, as a child harpsichord prodigy, he had created a sensation in the French capital. Now, the mature Mozart’s music went over the heads of most French nobility. It seemed too complicated. There were just “too many notes.” As one review observed, The composer obtained …

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