155 Days With Bach and Me

All Bach, All the Time…Everything Johann Composed

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Day Eighteen: Viola da Gamba Sonatas (CD 1-18)

August 14th, 2011 · 1 Comment · 1708, 1720, 1721, Bach at 23, Bach at 35, Bach at 36, BWV 1027, BWV 1028, BWV 1029, BWV 894, CD 1-18, John Dornenburg, Malcom Proud, Viola da Gamba

Bach Edition 18Huh?

What’s a Viola da Gamba Sonata?

This is another example of why I enjoy taking these musical excursions. I learn something new every day.

According to a Wiki page, viola da Gamba is Italian for viol of leg:

A viol, usually much larger than the violin, played while seated and supported between the legs. The instrument was developed in Europe in the 1400s and used primarily in the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

So this is the kind of instrument that Morey Amsterdam (as comedy writer Buddy Sorrell) played on The Dick van Dyke Show.

Right about now, I’d welcome seeing Buddy Sorrell play this instrument. The music on today’s CD is plodding and pointless. Of special aggravation is Sonata in G major, the third movement: “Andante.” Ugh. That felt like a funeral march. With emphasis on the funeral.

Sadly, this music reunites two instruments that shouldn’t have been introduced in the first place: viola and harpsichord.

As I’ve written before, the harpsichord is an instrument for which the phrase “a little goes a long way” was undoubtedly coined. The viola (which can sound lugubrious) and the harpsichord (which always sounds fine in very small doses) combine in ways that scare me. Sort of like if Dr. Frankenstein had used musical instruments instead of body parts. This is what Frankenstein’s monster would have sounded like.

Again, I don’t mean to say that the musicianship on this CD is somehow lacking. It’s not. It’s top-notch. John Dornenburg, viola, and Malcolm Proud, harpsichord, are excellent musicians. I’m saying I don’t like this music. Or, more accurately, I haven’t yet learned to appreciate it.

Here’s a YouTube clip of John Dornenburg playing the viol. It’s not a selection from today’s CD. But it demonstrates what kind of instrument Dornenburg plays:

It’s interesting to note that in the description of Dornenburg, he’s called a “gambist.”

I can’t recommend this selection of music (as if Bach gives a rat’s ass what I recommend or not). These four compositions move too slowly and the two instruments don’t gel enough for my tastes.

With all due respect, one composition — Prelude & Fugue in A minor — was written by Bach when he was 23. When I was 23 I was likely goofing around, wasting my life on unimportant pursuits. So I can’t fault Bach very much for creating BWV 894. At least he did something of lasting merit.

The compositions on today’s CD are:
BWV 1027 — 1720 (Bach was 35)
BWV 1028 — 1721 (Bach was 36)
BWV 894 — 1708 (Bach was 23)
BWV 1029 — 1721 (Bach was 36)


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