PACIFIC BAROQUE FESTIVAL
‘BACH TRANSFORMED’ - Concertos and Sinfonias
Pacific Baroque Festival Ensemble,
Marc Destrubé director
Friday, February 8, 2018, 8PM (Pre-concert talk at 7:15PM)
The Victoria Conservatory of Music's Alix Goolden Performance Hall
Pacific Baroque Festival Ensemble
Curtis Foster, baroque oboe
Marc Destrubé, music director
Johann Sebastian Bach was above all a practical musician, producing masterworks at a prodigious pace, but without expectation that they would be heard again. He thus re-used previously-composed music in new contexts, sometimes reworking it to suit the new purpose. This program includes such re-workings, along with later transcriptions or re-uses of his music for orchestra.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Ouverture (Suite) in g minor for strings and basso continuo, BWV 1070 (possibly by Wilhelm Friederich Bach)
Concerto for three violins in D major, BWV 1064R (reconstruction from a concerto for three harpsichords)
Two Cantata Sinfonias
Motet BWV 230, ‘Lobet den Herrn’, arranged for strings
Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C minor, BWV 1060R
$30 adult, $25 seniors and students
Destrubé is a brilliantly soulful player and his able, passionate orchestra follows his lead, answers his calls.
— The Georgia Straight
"I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well."
We use Johann Sebastian Bach’s death in 1750 as the later bookend for the baroque period in music, largely because he exploited the existing baroque forms with such creative skill that there was little left, in an age that prized innovation more than most anything, for others to compose in ‘baroque’ style. Bach’s imagination and compositional skill was equaled by his industry, but time was limited; in an age when composers had no expectation of their music ever being performed again, Bach often took existing pieces and reworked them for a new purpose or occasion. In this program we are exploring a few of those transformations, along with one of our own, as well as a piece long thought to be by Bach but likely not.
Bach honed his craft in his early years in Weimar by copying and reworking for one or more keyboards concertos by Italian composers writing in a new style, especially those of Vivaldi, who had pioneered a concerto form that involved sections played by a tutti string orchestra contrasted with episodes from the solo instrument(s). We have clear evidence of this in the transcription Bach made of Vivaldi’s concerto in b minor for four violins (from ‘L’Estro Armonico’, Op.3), which ended up as Bach’s concerto for four harpsichords, BWV 1065. In addition to this, in his later years in Leipzig he was required, alongside his duties composing weekly cantatas for the Thomaskirche, to produce music for and direct the performances at the Collegium Musicum, weekly musical events involving mostly university students. It is surmised that a number of his concertos, for which only a keyboard version exists, originated in versions for other instruments, the manuscripts having been in the meantime lost. This has of course opened the door to a feast of musicological speculation and argument and creative efforts at reconstruction.
At the same time, it seems likely that a number of movements from Bach’s concerto repertory may also have begun life as cantata sinfonias or as independent instrumental pieces, and indeed there are a quite a number of movements from Bach’s many cantatas that are re-workings from previous material, or were themselves later re-used in secular works.
Although Bach’s first biographer Forkel spoke of “many single- and double-choir motets” written by Bach, only six complete ones and a few scattered movements survive. Among these, there is some doubt as to whether ‘Lobet den herrn, alle Heiden’ is actually by Bach. First published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1821, the publisher maintained that the manuscript was in Bach’s hand. It could have been a copy made by Bach of another unknown work, but the fact that the vocal writing is rather instrumental in nature, with unidiomatic leaping passages, makes one suspect it was not by Bach, or perhaps a re-use by him of an earlier instrumental work. In addition, the existence of separate instrumental parts and an independent continuo line in some sections sets it apart from his other motets. Whatever the case, it lends itself beautifully to performance by instruments alone.
The Concerto for violin and oboe in C minor, BWV 1060R, survives as a concerto for two harpsichords (in manuscripts dating from the very end of Bach’s life and after his death). The work presumably originated during Bach’s association with the Collegium Musicum, since the majority of the autograph manuscripts of
the harpsichord concertos can be dated to that period. Since the late nineteenth century it has been assumed that BWV 1060 was originally a concerto for oboe and violin, based on the disparity between the two parts, unusual in a Bach concerto: the ‘oboe’ line is generally more lyrical but less agile than that of the ‘violin’ and virtually all the notes of the ‘original’ harpsichord version can be preserved and thus require a minimum of transcription (or ‘de-transcription’).
The orchestral suite BWV 1070 has undergone its own transformation without ever changing. It started life in the hand of one of Bach’s last students, Christian Friedrich Penzel, who we know largely through his having made copies of some of Bach’s music, including the oldest surviving copy of the First Brandenburg Concerto, along with this suite for strings, on which Penzel wrote that it was by J.S. Bach. As it bore some similarities to Bach’s four orchestra suites (although there are notable and un-Bach-like differences, including the ‘Torneo’ (literally ‘Tournament’) and ‘Capriccio’ movements), and lacking any clear evidence to the contrary, it was included (with some hesitation) in the authoritative Thematisch-systematisches Verzeichnis der musikalischen Werke von Johann Sebastian Bach (or BWV) catalogue which appeared in the Bach anniversary year of 1950. In the more recent scholarly Neue Bach Ausgabe (New Bach Edition) it was allowed to remain, but with a note that it is most certainly not the work of Johann Sebastian but possibly by his eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann.
No autograph of Bach's original concerto for three harpsichords BWV 1064 has survived; the work exists in nine manuscript copies, including an example by his pupil J.A. Agricola; in five of these the it is in C major, in the other four in D major. Both this and Bach’s other concerto for three harpsichords (BWV 1063) are suspected of being based on earlier Italian pieces, possibly by Vivaldi or Torelli.
The prevalence of violinistic figuration in the keyboard version, along with the example of Bach’s transcription of Vivaldi’s b minor concerto mentioned previously, suggest that this was most likely a concerto for three violins, with D Major being the most likely (and suitable) key for the violin version.
Single Tickets and Festival Pass for the Pacific Baroque Festival can be purchased:
By calling the Victoria Conservatory of Music Box Office (purchase now): 250.386.5311
In person (tickets available from September 1):
At the Victoria Conservatory of Music’s Alix Goolden Performance Hall Box Office (900 Johnson Street, Victoria BC (box office charges apply)
Or at the Cathedral Office (930 Burdett Avenue)
And at the following outlets:
Ivy’s Bookshop at: 2188 Oak Bay Ave
Long & McQuade at: 756 Hillside Ave
Tanner’s Books at: 2436 Beacon ave, Sidney
Munro’s Books at: 1108 Government St.
GETTING TO THE VICTORIA CONSERVATORY'S ALIX GOOLDEN PERFORMANCE HALL
The Victoria Conservatory of Music's Alix Goolden Hall is located at the corner of Quadra St. and Pandora Ave.
The VCM parking lot is reserved for staff and faculty at all times. Street parking and public lots are available within short walking distance.