155 Days With Bach and Me

All Bach, All the Time…Everything Johann Composed

155 Days With Bach and Me header image 1

Day Twenty Nine: Six Partitas, Part Two (CD 2-6)

August 25th, 2011 · 1726, Bach at 41, BWV 827, BWV 828, BWV 829, CD 2-6, Flemish harpsichord, Harpsichord, Period Instruments, Period Instruments vs. Contemporary Instruments, Pieter-Jan Belder, Six Partitas Part Two

Bach Edition 29They say one should confront his/her fears so that they can be overcome and life can be lived with joy again.

To that end, I’m reading about the harpsichord on Wikipedia, an excerpt from which tells me this:

The harpsichord was most probably invented in the late Middle Ages. By the 16th century, harpsichord makers in Italy were making lightweight instruments with low string tension. A different approach was taken in Flanders starting in the late 16th century, notably by the Ruckers family. Their harpsichords used a heavier construction and produced a more powerful and distinctive tone. They included the first harpsichords with two keyboards, used for transposition.

The Flemish instruments served as the model for 18th century harpsichord construction in other nations. In France, the double keyboards were adapted to control different choirs of strings, making a more musically flexible instrument. Instruments from the peak of the French tradition, by makers such as the Blanchet family and Pascal Taskin, are among the most widely admired of all harpsichords, and are frequently used as models for the construction of modern instruments. In England, the Kirkman and Shudi firms produced sophisticated harpsichords of great power and sonority. German builders extended the sound repertoire of the instrument by adding sixteen foot and two foot choirs; these instruments have recently served as models for modern builders.

In the late 18th century the harpsichord was supplanted by the piano and almost disappeared from view for most of the 19th century: an exception was its continued use in opera for accompanying recitative, but the piano sometimes displaced it even there. 20th century efforts to revive the harpsichord began with instruments that used piano technology, with heavy strings and metal frames.

Well, I learned something already. According to the liner notes on the CD jacket, the harpsichord used in the performance of this recording is a Flemish harpsichord after [Read more →]

→ No CommentsTags:

Day Twenty Eight: Six Partitas, Part One (CD 2-5)

August 24th, 2011 · 1726, Bach at 41, BWV 825, BWV 826, BWV 830, CD 2-5, Glenn Gould, Harpsichord, Pieter-Jan Belder, Six Partitas Part One

Bach Edition 28If I have one complaint regarding the Brilliant Classics Complete Bach edition it’s this:

Too much harpsichord!

Or, to put it another way, this edition relies too much on period instruments. Would it have killed anyone to use a contemporary piano to perform The Well-Tempered Clavier? Or the Six Partitas? Unless one is a music historian, or someone with a taste/fascination/fetish for the harpsichord, then these performances will leave one cold. Perhaps Brilliant Classics was going for the “purist” approach to Bach. But I think Bach can be interpreted and played with instruments invented after the 1740s, don’t you?

Regarding today’s compositions — Six Partitas — I’m pretty sure these would sound a lot better to my ears if they were played on the piano…for example, by — oh, say, Glenn Gould.

Yes. I was right. And by no means do I wish to disparage the performance by Pieter-Jan Belder on today’s Brilliant Classics CD. Pieter-Jan is a great harpsichordist. But, to me, that’s like saying he’s a great fingernails-on-the-chalkboard player.

The compositions on today’s CD are:
BWV 825
BWV 826
BWV 830
All three were composed around 1726. Bach was 41.

→ No CommentsTags:

Day Twenty Seven: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II (CD 2-4)

August 23rd, 2011 · Bach at 57, BWV 871-893, CD 2-4, Leon Berben, Three-Instrument Rule, Well-Tempered Clavier Book II

Bach Edition 27Proving once again that the enjoyment of music is purely subjective, even though today’s CD violates the Three-Instrument Rule, I like it.

There’s probably some scientific or musicological reason why I like today’s CD when I haven’t really enjoyed the last couple of CD. Maybe these compositions are more complex. Or maybe they’re performed in a key that resonates with me. My faves at the moment are Prelude & Fugue No. 22 in B flat minor, Prelude & Fugue No. 23 in B major, and Prelude & Fugue No. 24 in B minor. Aside from all of those pieces being in the key of B, I’m not sure what differentiates them from the ones on the previous CDs.

But there you have it: I’m admitting I enjoy the harpsichord on this CD.

If you don’t tell, I won’t.

The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II, CD 2, grabs my attention. Book II was published in 1742, some 20 years after Book I. Bach was now 57 and presumably had more command of his craft. But I didn’t appreciate Book II, CD I. So his command was not mine to enjoy with him. But the second CD (Prelude & Fugue No. 13 through Prelude & Fugue No. 24) is one I could probably listen to again.

As was the case with each of the previous installments of The Well-Tempered Clavier, these pieces were performed by Leon Berben.

→ No CommentsTags:

Day Twenty Six: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II (CD 2-3)

August 22nd, 2011 · 1 Corinthians 13:1, 1742, Bach at 57, BWV 871-893, CD 2-3, Dennis Brain, French horn, Harpsichord, Leon Berben, Well-Tempered Clavier Book II

Bach Edition 26The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II, starts off with a more robust and complex Prelude & Fugue (in C major), which is understandable since Book II was published in 1742, some 20 years after Book I. Bach was now 57 and presumably had more command of his craft.

So the difference between Book I and Book II may be imperceptible. It may be my imagination. But, to my ears, there’s a difference. These compositions seem to have more depth.

Once again, the harpsichord is brilliantly played by Leon Berben.

However, as I listen, I am reminded of the verse from I Corinthians 13:1:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (ESV)

I don’t mean to say Bach had no love, or that Leon Berben has no love as he plays, or [Read more →]

→ No CommentsTags:

Day Twenty Five: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I (CD 2-2)

August 21st, 2011 · 1722, Bach at 37, BWV 846-870, CD 2-2, Glenn Gould, Harpsichord, Praeludium, Prelude & Fugue No. 15 in G major, Prelude & Fugue No. 21 in B flat major, Well-Tempered Clavier

Bach Edition 25Although this is fine music, well played by Leon Berben, I’m just not diggin’ it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s clever music. I like the Fuga pieces from each composition as they twist and turn and tie knots around the theme. However, overall, I prefer the Preludes & Fugues on the first CD of The Well-Tempered Clavier.

One composition on today’s CD that immediately caught my attention (that I’d love to hear Glenn Gould play) is Prelude & Fugue No. 15 in G major, movement one (“Praeludium”). That piece is a veritable rocket ship, immediately blasting off in a flurry of notes and never looking back.

Another fun composition is Prelude & Fugue No. 21 in B flat major, the first movement (“Praeludium”). Its melody is familiar, like some musician in the 1950s, 60s or 70s picked it up and used it in his song.

If I had to say which of the two pieces from each Prelude & Fugue that I most enjoyed, I’d say 90% of the time it’s the Praeludium. Those tend to be more briskly played. For some reason, when a harpsichord plays lots of trills and a zillion notes I can handle it. But when a harpsichord plays a mid-tempo piece it sounds like a dirge to me. It grates on my nerves.

But, as I wrote yesterday, what do I know?

All I know is The Well-Tempered Clavier is exceptional music that [Read more →]

→ No CommentsTags:

Day Twenty Four: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I (CD 2-1)

August 20th, 2011 · 1722, Bach at 37, BWV 846-870, CD 2-1, Glenn Gould, Harpsichord, Leon Berben, Prelude & Fugue No. 1 in C major, Well-Tempered Clavier

Bach Edition 24Harpsichord. An entire CD’s worth of harpsichord.

I’m back to the “Pedal Steel Greats” CD I joked about a week or so ago.

For the first 10 minutes (okay, maybe five), this is okay music. But after 30, 40, 50 minutes, the harpsichord sounds like an assortment of trash can lids banging together. It loses all semblance of melody to my ears.

Fortunately, there are a few snippets of music here (which is what these selections are — snippets because the longest is only 5:05 and the shortest is a mere 1:14…24 tracks in all) that are iconic, almost always identified with Bach and/or Baroque music. For example: [Read more →]

→ No CommentsTags:

Day Twenty Three: Violin Sonatas, Part Three (CD 1-23)

August 19th, 2011 · Bach Ensemble Heidelberg, BWV 1021, BWV 1023, BWV 1038, BWV 1039, CD 1-23, Ensemble II Quadrilfoglio, Mitzi Meyerson, Monica Huggett, Sarah Cunningham, Trio Sonnerie

Bach Edition 23Ahhhhh.

Violin without harpsichord.

These pieces of music — said to have been composed between 1714 and 1721 (or thereabouts), during a time that Bach said were the happiest years of his life — are extremely listenable and enjoyable.

Performances by Trio Sonnerie (in 1987, at the time of this recording, it consisted of Monica Huggett, Sarah Cunningham, and Mitzi Meyerson), the Ensemble II Quadrilfoglio, and the Bach Ensemble Hedelberg add to the charm…as does the lack of harpsichord.

Thank you, Johann!

The compositions on today’s CD are:
BWV 1023 — 1714 (Bach was 29)
BWV 1021 — 1720 (Bach was 35)
BWV 1039 — 1720 (Bach was 35)
BWV 1038 — ?? (Unknown, but likely 35 or 36)

→ No CommentsTags:

Day Twenty Two: Notenbuchlein Fur Anna Magdalena Bach (CD 1-22)

August 18th, 2011 · 1722, Anhang, Anti-Calvinism, Anti-melancholy, Bach's Second Wife, BWV 299, BWV 508, BWV 509, BWV 510, BWV 511, BWV 512, BWV 513, BWV 514, BWV 515a, BWV 516, BWV 517, BWV 518, BWV 691, BWV 846, BWV 988, BWV Anhang 113-132, BWV Anhang 114 Menuet, CD 1-22, Evangelical Christian School, Harpsichord, Johannette Zomer, Notenbuchlein Fur Anna Magdalena Bach, Pieter-Jan Belder, Soprano

Bach Edition 22Now, this is a quirky little collection of 38 pieces of music. The title (“Notenbuchlein Fur Anna Magdalena Bach”) means Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, Johann’s second wife. According to its entry on Wikipedia:

The title Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach refers to either of two manuscript notebooks that the German Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach presented to his second wife Anna Magdalena. Keyboard music (minuets, rondeaux, polonaises, chorales, sonatas, preludes, musettes, marches, gavottes) makes up most of both notebooks, and a few pieces for voice (songs, and arias) are included.

The two notebooks are known by their title page dates of 1722 and 1725. The title “Anna Magdalena notebook” is commonly used to refer to the latter. The primary difference between the two collections is that the 1722 notebook contains works only by Johann Sebastian Bach (including most of the French Suites), while the 1725 notebook is a compilation of music by both Bach and other composers of the era. It provides a nearly unparalleled glimpse into the domestic music of the 18th century and the musical tastes of the Bach family.

See? Pretty darn interesting stuff here.

I love this image of the cover of the 1722 book, written in Anna’s hand, with special notation by [Read more →]

→ No CommentsTags:

Day Twenty One: Violin Sonatas, Part Two (CD 1-21)

August 17th, 2011 · 1717, Bach at 32, BWV 1017, BWV 1018, BWV 1019, BWV 1019 1st version, BWV 1019a, CD 1-21, Harpsichord, Luis Otavio Santos, Pieter-Jan Belder, Three-Instrument Rule, Violin Sonatas

Bach Edition 21An interesting observation: whereas yesterday’s Violin Sonatas (with its accompanying harpsichord) grated on my nerves, today the music seems more mournful than hurtful.

This work definitely violates the Three-Instrument Rule (when a harpsichord is involved, it takes two other instruments to balance out that distinctive-sounding keyboard). And, for my tastes, I think the recording mix favors the violin too much.

But, all in all, if I was going to listen to a violin and a harpsichord battle it out for dominance in my mind, I’d pick this selection of compositions. It’s well played (Luis Otavio Santos provides the violin and Pieter-Jan Belder provides the harpsichord, both doing so admirably) and well recorded, albeit with the aforementioned comment about the violin’s prominence.

The compositions on today’s CD are:
BWV 1017
BWV 1018
BWV 1019
BWV 1019a
BWV 1019, alternate
All of these compositions are dated 1717 when Bach was 32 years old.

→ No CommentsTags:

Day Twenty: Violin Sonatas (CD 1-20)

August 16th, 2011 · 1717, Bach at 32, BWV 1014, BWV 1015, BWV 1016, CD 1-20, Luis Otavio Santos, Pieter-Jan Belder, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Snakes, Three-Instrument Rule, Violin Sonatas

Bach Edition 20There’s a line in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Indy (Harrison Ford) outruns a pack of bloodthirsty natives, jumps into a river full of crocodiles, and climbs aboard a water plane that narrowly outruns the poison darts and spears thrown by his pursuers. As the plane takes to the sky, Indy looks down at his feet, sees the pilot’s pet serpent, and says, “I hate snakes, Jock! I hate ’em!”

Later, when Indy and his friend Sallah discover the hidden chamber that houses the Ark, a torch reveals the floor of the chamber is literally crawling with snakes. Indy says, “Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?”

I know how Indy feels. Only not about snakes.

As soon as I popped today’s CD into my changer, the first sound I heard — despite the title Violin Sonatas — was (you guessed it) [Read more →]

→ No CommentsTags: