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The four orchestral suites (called ouvertures by their author), BWV 1066–1069 are four suites by Johann Sebastian Bach. The name ouverture refers only in part to the opening movement in the style of the French overture, in which a majestic opening section in relatively slow dotted-note rhythm in duple meter is followed by a fast fugal section, then rounded off with a short recapitulation of the opening music.
Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067
Dancing was very popular during the Baroque era (of course, the same could be said for all eras, including the present). And dance music often inspired composers, not the least of whom was Bach. Although the influence of dance is most obvious in his suites for keyboard and suites for orchestra, dance-like gestures and forms are present in Bach’s works of every genre, including some of his sacred choral music.
But here we really are only concerned about the dance and his orchestral suites. In this case, composers like Bach and Handel wrote what was called “stylized dances,” which were intended for listening, not for dancing. This mean that the dances followed their particular stylistic norms, but allowed for more musical elaboration and ornamentation than would have been possible in a floor dance.
The orchestral suites of Bach all use traditional French dances. (Bach wrote several French suites and several English suites for keyboard.) The dance suite in fact traces its origin to the early Baroque period in France, most notably in the keyboard works of the celebrated harpsichordist/organist/composer/teacher François Couperin (1668-1733)
Badinerie – The badinerie is a favorite movement in the suite, perhaps because it is so lively, perhaps because it is so delightful to watch the flautist perform this piece. Finally, Bach really features the solo flute. Yes, of course, we hear the solo flute in the double, but this is entirely different in character. it is energetic…playful…virtuosic…perpetual motion…just plain fun. The badinerie is a relatively rare dance movement, and this is by far the best-known example of this genre. It rarely appears outside 18th-century suites, and is generally defined merely as a “dancelike piece of jocose character” (Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music).
Did you want to listen to the entire Suite?
The Orchestral suite in B minor is scored for strings, continuo, and solo flute. It contains eight movements, each described below.
Overture [Bach did not label this movement]
Though Bach did not provide a designation for this movement, it is clearly written in French overture style. Bach used the French overture design to open all four of his orchestral suites. A French overture, developed by Lully in the 1650s and 1660s, is a two-part movement which opens with a slow, dotted rhythm section leading to a faster imitative section. The slow section may or may not return to close the movement. (In this suite, the slow part does indeed return at the end.) The convention in the dotted-rhythm section is to “double-dot” the rhythms, making the shorter notes shorter still, and giving them more “snap”.
A rondeau in the Baroque refers to any piece that consists of a refrain (A) and different “couplets”, which were 8- to 16-measure contrasting strains. The “couplets” might be in related keys, or remain in the original tonic. This form later developed into the rondo, so popular in the time of Mozart. In this rondeau by Bach the main theme appears as follows:
What’s interesting about this movement is that it fuses two separate genres (or, if you prefer, two clearly different conventions) into one movement. The rondeau is obvious in the repetition of the melody given above. Using A to indicate this refrain, and the subsequent letters of the alphabet for each new couplet, we find the following form: A(repeated) B A C A. But at the same time, notice that each phrase (the one above serves well as an example) begins in the middle of a measure, and ends in the middle – the phrasing is two beats “off”. This kind of phrase structure is typical of the gavotte, a moderate-tempo dance in 4/4 or cute time (as in the excerpt above).
The sarabande has always been a favorite of the Baroque stylized dances, perhaps because Bach wrote so many lovely examples. (The sarabande from the French Suite in d minor for keyboard is one of the most hauntingly beautiful, plaintive examples out there.) Interestingly enough, though the sarabande is often included in French dance suites, its origin is Spanish, perhaps coming to Spain from Mexico in the 16th century.
The sarabande is a slow, dignified dance in triple meter. In contrast to the gavotte, the sarabande rarely uses an upbeat (although this example does). Frequently, the second beat receives an accent, sometimes by virtue of the placement of a longer note value on the second beat. Phrases tend to have “feminine” endings, that is, with the resolution to the tonic chord occurring off the downbeat, though that is not the case in this example. In this movement the flute doubles the first violin part throughout, and thus reduces this movement to a more intimate four-part texture. This intimate texture is hardly simple, however, as Bach writes very busy lines for all four parts.
Bourrée I & II
The bourrée was a French dance in quick duple meter, usually with a single upbeat. In this suite, Bach uses two bourrées in a da capo format. Each is a complete binary movement (a movement in two distinct sections, each repeated), but after the second is completed, Bach writes “Bourrée I da Capo”, indicated that the first is to be played again. Typically, the repeats are omitted on the da capo. Da capo form was very common in arias of the Baroque, and many examples can be found among the vocal works of Bach, Handel, and, most notably, Alesandro Scarlatti, who is generally associated strongly with the format. This ABA form carried over in subsequent eras, and is commonly linked with the minuet and trio during the Viennese Classical era.
Polonaise and Double
Pianists often immediately associate Fryderik Chopin (1810-1849) when they hear the word “polonaise”. Indeed, the polonaise is one of the many Polish-national forms and genres Chopin used in his piano compositions. But clearly the polonaise was known before Chopin emerged on the concert scene, else Bach would not have known of it. The polonaise is a stately, festive dance, always in triple meter. Often, the polonaise employed repeated rhythmic figures, as Bach does here with many dotted rhythms in each measure. The term double referred to a type of variation, usually composed mostly of embellishments. In this case, the double employs the main theme of the polonaise, though it is banished to the continuo line, while the flute plays an ornate variation over-top. Thus, this is the barest movement, in terms of scoring, in the Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor. As in the bourrées, the double is followed by a da capo indication, and the polonaise, sans repeats, is heard once more.
The minuet (or “menuet”) is again a binary movement, though not with a da capo, as we expect of the minuet in the later eighteenth century. it is another triple-meter movement, grateful, moderate in tempo, and simple in texture.
Badinerie – See above.
Greetings and happy Friday gentle readers. Today we have Bach’s BMV 386 complete with the associated organ prelude. So, if you’d like the entire experience as Bach intended, please listen to the prelude first, then the choral work. Enjoy. :)
Nun danket alle Gott
Mit Herzen, Mund und Händen,
Der grosse Dinge thut
An uns und allen Enden;
Der uns von Mutterleib
Und Kindesbeinen an
Unzählig viel zu gut
Und noch jetzund gethan.
1. Chorus [Verse 1] (S, A, T, B)
Now thank ye all our God
With heart and voice and labor,
Who mighty things doth work
For us in ev’ry quarter,
Who us from mother’s womb
And toddler’s paces on
A countless toll of good
And still e’en now hath done.
2. Aria [Verse 2] (S, B)
The ever bounteous God
Through all our life be willing
An always joyful heart
And noble peace to give us,
And us within his grace
Maintain for evermore,
And us from ev’ry want
Deliver here and there.(1)
3. Chorus [Verse 3] (S, A, T, B)
Laud, honor, praise to God,
The Father and the Son now
And him alike to both
On the high throne of heaven,
To God the Three-in-One,
As he was at the first
And is and e’er shall be,
Both now and evermore.
1. I.e., both on earth and in heaven.
Music is a generative expression of our thoughts and feelings. A couple of weeks ago we featured the adagio from Bach’s BWV 974 – guess where he transcribed it from? You guessed it gentle reader, this particular oboe concerto. The video is cued to the adagio, but feel free to listen to the allegro and presto as well.
Being a pianist I’m a bit biased toward the transcription for keyboard, but the original work more than holds its own.
Bach started composing these works around 1703, while at Weimar, and the set was completed by 1720, when Bach was a Kapellmeister in Köthen. He was almost certainly inspired by Johann Paul von Westhoff’s partitas for solo violin, since he worked alongside Westhoff at Weimar, and the older composer’s pieces share some stylistic similarities with Bach’s. Solo violin repertoire was actively growing at the time: Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s celebrated solo passacaglia appeared c.1676, Westhoff’s collections of solo violin music were published in 1682 and 1696, Johann Joseph Vilsmayr’s Artificiosus Concentus pro Camera in 1715, and finally, Johann Georg Pisendel’s solo violin sonata was composed around 1716. The tradition of writing for solo violin did not die after Bach, either; Georg Philipp Telemann published 12 Fantasias for solo violin in 1735.
Sonata No. 2 in A minor, BWV 1003
This sonata was later transcribed for harpsichord by the composer, catalogued as BWV 964.
Scarlatti, Sonate K.141 by Martha Argerich.
Marked Allegro, the work’s opening is striking: the sound world of a mandolin is immediately invoked in the manic character of the repeated notes. Some listeners may identify this rapid-fire, tremolo-like effect more with the guitar, another instrument Scarlatti often imitated in his keyboard works.
The main theme scurries about playfully, but with a sense of urgency in its hyperactivity. The material of the second subject is just as driven, but focuses less on repeated notes, more on heightening the sense of conflict and resolution, but always with elegance, if a breathless elegance. Midway through Scarlatti turns to development of his thematic material, as was his usual course. Here the music maintains the same busy mood in expanding largely on the secondary material, and in those nervous repeated notes as well. Without a doubt this three-and-a-half minute gem is one of Scarlatti’s finest and most challenging sonatas.
Two renditions, first for harpsichord, then organ. Let me know if you find someone performing the piece on the piano. :)
Böhm was born in 1661 in Hohenkirchen. He received his first music lessons from his father, a schoolmaster and organist who died in 1675. He may also have received lessons from Johann Heinrich Hildebrand, Kantor at Ohrdruf, who was a pupil of Heinrich Bach and Johann Christian Bach. After his father’s death, Böhm studied at the Lateinschule at Goldbach, and later at the Gymnasium at Gotha, graduating in 1684. Both cities had Kantors taught by the same members of the Bach family who may have influenced Böhm. On 28 August 1684 Böhm entered the University of Jena. Little is known about Böhm’s university years or his life after graduation. He resurfaces again only in 1693, in Hamburg. We know nothing of how Böhm lived there, but presumably he was influenced by the musical life of the city and the surrounding area. French and Italian operas were regularly performed in Hamburg, while in the area of sacred music, Johann Adam Reincken of St. Katharine’s Church (Katharinenkirche) was one of the leading organists and keyboard composers of his time. Böhm may have also heard Vincent Lübeck in the nearby Stade, or possibly even Dieterich Buxtehude in Lübeck, which was also close.
In 1698 Böhm succeeded Christian Flor as organist of the principal church of Lüneburg, the Church of St. John (Johanniskirche). Soon after Flor died in 1697, Böhm applied for an audition for the post, mentioning that he had no regular employment at the time. He was promptly accepted by the town council, settled in Lüneburg and held the position until his death. He married and had five sons. From 1700 to 1702 he must have met and possibly tutored the young Johann Sebastian Bach, who arrived in Lüneburg in 1700 and studied at the Michaelisschule, a school associated with the Church of St. Michael (Michaeliskirche). Practically no direct evidence exists to prove that Bach studied under Böhm, and indeed studying with the organist of the Johanniskirche would have been difficult for a pupil of the Michaelisschule, since the two choirs were not on good terms. Yet this apprenticeship is extremely likely. Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach, writing to Johann Nikolaus Forkel in 1775, claimed his father loved and studied Böhm’s music, and a correction in his note shows that his first thought was to say that Böhm was Johann Sebastian’s teacher. On 31 August 2006 the discovery of the earliest known Bach autographs was announced, one of them (a copy of Reincken‘s famous chorale fantasia An Wasserflüssen Babylon) signed “Il Fine â Dom. Georg: Böhme descriptum ao. 1700 Lunaburgi”. The “Dom.” bit may suggest either “domus” (house) or “Dominus” (master), but in any case it proves that Bach knew Böhm personally. This connection must have become a close friendship that lasted for many years, for in 1727 Bach named none other than Böhm as his northern agent for the sale of keyboard partitas nos. 2 and 3.