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ClassicsOnline Home » BACH, J.S.: Orchestral Suites Nos. 1-4, BWV 1066-1069 (Cologne Chamber Orchestra, Muller-Bruhl)
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Complete Orchestral Works
Originals; Transcriptions; Reconstructions
Volume 8: Overtures (Suites) Nos. 1-4
It seems that only a relatively small part of Bach's orchestral œuvre has been preserved for posterity. Much has been speculated about the reasons for the above-average losses in this particular field, but up till now no really conclusive reasons have been found. The fact that so few works for instrumental ensemble have survived particularly from the Weimar and Cöthen periods, during which the composer directed so many excellent ensembles, has led many researchers to the hypothesis that Bach was obliged to leave the majority of his compositions in these places when he moved on to another post – a common custom for which much evidence can be found in many eighteenth century documents; other considerations establish a connection with the distribution of Bach's compositions to his heirs after his death. Whatever the case, only one thing is certain: that at the latest with Bach's death a veil of oblivion began to sink over his orchestral works – partly caused also by a profound change in taste which began in the middle of the eighteenth century. Thus great effort was necessary in the course of the Bach renaissance at the beginning of the nineteenth century to win back these works, which by then were completely unknown even to Bach connoisseurs, into the performance repertoire.
Today Bach's orchestral works enjoy an enduring popularity once more. Intensive study of this repertoire, which in spite of the regrettable gaps is in many ways incomparable, has led to the realization that only a part of the works can be regarded as original compositions, whereas many of the concertos in the form in which they are known today represent transcriptions of pieces written earlier. Among the works of the first-named category are the Brandenburg Concertos and the three Violin Concertos, among the transcriptions are all the concertos for one to three harpsichords, which are presumed to be based on lost works for various melody instruments. The Concerto for four harpsichords, BWV 1065 is a special case in that Bach did not take one of his own works as a basis but, exceptionally, a work by Antonio Vivaldi. Comparative studies on Bach's technique of rearranging works have led again and again to speculations about the possible form and structure of the lost works on which the arrangements are based, and as a consequence to attempts at reconstruction which have resulted in pieces which are stylistically convincing and which have proved their worth in practice; within the context of this recording these works are intended to help fill the gaps mentioned above.
The present complete recording of Bach's orchestral works illustrates graphically the enormous musical variety and compositional quality of this sphere of his creative work. We meet the composer for the first time around 1715 on his first pinnacle of mastery (Brandenburg Concerto No. 5) and accompany him for approximately a quarter of a century up to the sublime works of his maturity – the Overture BWV 1067 and the Triple Concerto BWV 1044.
From the middle of the seventeenth century onwards students associations formed to make music became increasingly important pillars of society in the musical life of Leipzig. So when in March 1729 the Cantor of St Thomas's, Johann Sebastian Bach, took over from Georg Balthasar Schott (who had been appointed organist at the New Church in Gotha) the direction of an ensemble originally founded by Georg Philipp Telemann, he also made sure of the co-operation of the most gifted young men of the town for his performances of sacred and secular music; he was to direct the orchestra – with one short interruption – until around 1742. By means of these regular appearances, which took place in the warm season in Zimmermann's Coffee Garden and in winter in Zimmermann's Coffee House in Katharinenstraße, Bach was able to a certain extent to continue his Cöthen activities as conductor. For this reason instrumental and secular vocal works also playa particular role in his composing and performing activities in the 1730s. Although none of the programmes of the weekly appearances of "Bach's Collegium Musicum" are known, at least part of the repertoire can be deduced from the music which has survived from Bach's music library. This apparently also included the four Orchestral Overtures BWV 1066-1069, although the history of two of them (BWV 1066 and 1069) has not yet been researched in detail.
The Overture in C major, BWV 1066 was perhaps written as early as Bach's Cöthen period. The performance material which has survived, however, dates from the beginning of Bach's Leipzig period, which leads us to presume that the Cantor of St Thomas's had already taken up contact with the student music associations at this time. The extensive ternary first movement is followed by several melodiously gallant dance movements, in which the sound potential of an orchestration containing only woodwind and strings is exploited to the full. A typical characteristic of this work is the emphasis on the upper part by means of parallel part-writing for the first violins and the two oboes. Differentiations in tone-colour are brought about by a trio group of two oboes and a bassoon separating itself regularly from the full body of the orchestra.
In contrast to these relatively early compositions, the Overture in B minor BWV 1067 is one of the works dating from Bach's late Leipzig period. Presumably it is, in fact, Bach's last orchestral work; the sources which have been preserved document performances around 1739 and in the middle of the 1740s. The Overture integrates the principles of the concerto form into nearly all the movements, by contrasting a flute treated as a solo instrument with an accompanying string group. This special form of concertante overture, which seems to go back to Telemann, was taken up at the time by numerous German composers, among them the Eisenach court musician Johann Bernhard Bach, by whom an overture with concertante violin has been preserved. This work in its turn, preserved in the form of a copy originating from Bach's Collegium Musicum circle in Leipzig, seemed to have been the direct inspiration for BWV 1067. The B minor Overture is a work of austere beauty, in which contrapuntal ingenuity and melancholy expression join together with precisely defined dance rhythms in an extremely individual combination. Bach made use here of the whole rich palette of compositional potential which he had acquired in the course of his life; the pluralism of style and form and the increased expressiveness and the permeation of the texture with rationalism are already evocative of the later works of his last years.
The Overture in D major BWV 1068 has been preserved in a set of parts dating from around 1731; additional parts added later prove that Bach's second-eldest son Carl Philipp Emanuel borrowed this work of his father's during his years of study in Frankfurt an der Oder (1734-1738) in order to perform it with his fellow students in the Collegium Musicum there. It is one of Bach's most impressive and magnificent orchestral works. The character of the work is determined to a great extent by the sweeping first movement with its wealth of harmonic nuances; between the dotted rhythms of the grave sections which frame it a very fast fugato Allegro section unfolds, which in places displays concertante features. No less fascinating is the famous Air which follows; above the constant pendulum movement of the bass the first violins soar up in one of the most mysterious and tender melodies the composer ever wrote, gently counterpointed by the restrained counter-melodies of second violin and viola. After this point of rest the work finds its way back to its basic festive mood in three lively dance movements.
The Overture in D major BWV 1069 displays a festive character similar to that of its companion work BWV 1068 in the same key. The piece presumably acquired its present form and scoring in the 1730s. However, it is recognizable that the trumpet and timpani parts represent a later ingredient and that the work seems originally to have been conceived in a version similar to the C major overture. At the end of 1725 Bach rearranged the overture into the opening chorus of his Christmas cantata Unser Mund sei voll Lachens, BWV 110, partly by adding new vocal parts to the fugato middle section, partly by taking them over from the orchestral parts; on this occasion he also enriched the orchestration with trumpets and timpani, which he subsequently added also to three of the four following dance movements.
Translation: Diana Loos
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BACH, J.S.: Orchestral Suites Nos. 1-4, BWV 1066-1...