Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins, The Netherlands Bach Society

In 1711, a collection of violin concertos by Antonio Vivaldi was published in Amsterdam under the title, L’estro armonico (“The Harmonic Inspiration”). It was a prime example of the Baroque concerto grosso form, in which a solo instrument, or small group of instruments, engage in continuous dialogue with a larger ensemble. The British musicologist Michael Talbot has called L’estro armonico “perhaps the most influential collection of instrumental music to appear during the whole of the …

Read moreBach’s Concerto for Two Violins, The Netherlands Bach Society

Bach’s St John Passion: A Divine Drama

J.S. Bach’s St John Passion is a haunting and dramatic musical depiction of the Passion of Christ, as told in the Gospel of John. The story of Jesus’ capture, judgment, and crucifixion, as outlined in biblical passages from John 18 and 19, are presented by the solo tenor (the Evangelist). A cast of other singers perform the roles of Jesus, Pilate, and the disciples, while the four-part choir represents the people at large. …

Read moreBach’s St John Passion: A Divine Drama

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

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 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

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 …

Read moreBach’s Third Orchestral Suite in Two Flavors

Send this to a friend