155 Days With Bach and Me

All Bach, All the Time…Everything Johann Composed

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Day Thirty Six: English Suites, Part Two (CD 2-13)

September 1st, 2011 · No Comments · 1725, Bach at 40, Bob Van Asperen, BWV 809, BWV 810, BWV 811, CD 2-13, English Suites, Harpsichord

Bach Edition 36In my previous post, I discovered what is meant by the term “English Suites.” From its entry on Wikipedia:

These six suites for keyboard are thought to be the earliest set that Bach composed. Originally, their date of composition was thought to have been between 1718 and 1720, but more recent research suggests that the composition was likely earlier, around 1715, while the composer was living in Weimar.

Bach’s English Suites display less affinity with Baroque English keyboard style than the French Suites do to French Baroque keyboard style; the name “English” is thought to date back to a claim made by the nineteenth-century Bach biographer Johann Nikolaus Forkel that these works might have been composed for an English nobleman. No evidence has emerged to substantiate this claim.[citation needed] It has also been suggested that the name is a tribute to Charles Dieupart, whose fame was greatest in England, and on whose Six Suittes de clavessin Bach’s English Suites were in part based.

Surface characteristics of the English Suites strongly resemble those of Bach’s French Suites and Partitas, particularly in the sequential dance-movement structural organization and treatment of ornamentation. These suites also resemble the Baroque French keyboard suite typified by the generation of composers including Jean-Henri d’Anglebert, and the dance-suite tradition of French lutenists that preceded it.

Today’s compositions are once again played on the harpsichord, performed by Bob Van Asperen, a Dutch multi-instrumentalist known primarily for his prowess on the harpsichord. (Makes sense.)

Here’s what I’d love to know: Does a musician’s unique personality make the playing of the harpsichord more interesting and/or listenable to me? Or is it the selection of music? If this were a scientific experiment, I’d vary the player and record each of them performing the same piece of music.

I inquire because Bob Van Asperen’s performances are much more listenable to me than usual. So is it Mr. Asperen? Or Bach’s English Suites? Or is it even, perhaps, the type of harpsichord on which they’re played?

As were yesterday’s compositions, these are terrific pieces of music, full of variation and depth, speed and restraint. I could listen to this again, and likely will — even though all of these were performed on the harpsichord. (It’s a fine instrument for establishing a mood. But it’s often grating when it’s the solo instrument for an hour at a time.)

The compositions on today’s CD are:
BWV 809
BWV 810
BWV 811
All of the above were composed around 1725. Bach was 40.


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