THE MASTER'S MASTERS:
TEACHERS OF A YOUNG BACH
Wednesday, September 8th, 2021 at 8PM
Christ Church Cathedral
Mark McDonald, organ
The pieces in the Andreas Bach Book and the so-called Möller manuscript, two significant collections compiled by J. S. Bach’s eldest brother and keyboard teacher Johann Ernst Bach, are a treasure trove of the greatest composers of the day and shed light on the early musical education of the young J. S. Among the many great names in the collections – Pachelbel, Froberger, Lully, Albinoni – are two of Bach’s greatest influences, the celebrated organists Dieterich Buxtehude and Georg Böhm whom Bach would seek out in his early years as a budding musician. Take a musical journey through the sound world of the young Bach, whose own early works in the collection, like the great Passacaglia in C minor, show his ascension from studious pupil to master in his own right.
Dieterich Buxtehude (c. 1637–1707)
Prelude, Fugue and Chaconne in C major, BuxWV 137
Georg Böhm (1661–1733)
Partite diverse Sopra l'Aria: Jesu du bist all zu schöne
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)
Fugue in G minor (“Little”), BWV 578
Passacaglia in D minor, BuxWV 161
Prelude, Fugue and Postlude in G minor
Johann Sebastian Bach
Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582
This concert is generously supported by
Olive Olio's Pasta & Espresso Bar
and Russell's Nursery
COVID SAFETY PROTOCOLS:
The health and safety of our patrons, musicians, staff, and volunteers is of paramount concern. Please see below to read the steps we are taking to ensure everyone's safety while enjoying the concert:
Please wear a mask at all times when inside the building
Please maintain 2 meters distance between parties. when seated or when walking to your seat.
Please do your best to exit promptly after the end of the concert, socializing between parties is not permitted inside at this time.
Audience numbers are capped at 50% of capacity
J. S. Bach (1685–1750) was only 10 years old when he was orphaned and sent to live with his eldest brother Johann Christoph Bach (1671–1721). Like many of his relatives, Johann Christoph was an accomplished organist: he had studied with Johann Pachelbel and had already held several positions before his appointment in Ohrdorf in 1690. Upon taking in his younger brother, he became Johann Sebastian’s first de facto keyboard teacher.
When J. S. Bach’s son Carl Philip Emmanuel penned his father’s obituary, he describes the young J. S. Bach’s early education under Johann Christoph, making mention of an important book in the older brother’s library:
“The most renowned Clavier composers of that day were Froberger, Fischer, Johann Caspar Kerl, Pachelbel, Buxtehude, Bruhns, and Böhm. Johann Christoph possessed a book containing several pieces by these masters, and [Johann Sebastian] Bach begged earnestly for it, but without effect. Refusal increasing his determination, he laid his plans to get the book without his brother's knowledge. It was kept on a book-shelf which had a latticed front. Bach's hands were small. Inserting them, he got hold of the book, rolled it up, and drew it out. As he was not allowed a candle, he could only copy it on moonlit nights, and it was six months before he finished his heavy task. As soon as it was completed he looked forward to using in secret a treasure won by so much labour. But his brother found the copy and took it from him without pity, nor did Bach recover it until his brother's death soon after.”
("Nekrolog" of Johann Sebastian Bach by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach and Johann Friedrich Agricola in Mizler's Musikalische Bibliothek, Volume 4. Leipzig, 1754, trans. C. S. Terry)
Loosely factual as this anecdote may be, (for one, Johann Christoph did not die until much later in his brother’s career), the book in question is itself a real book, a manuscript now known as the Andreas Bach Book. Bearing the name of Johann Christoph’s son and written in Johann Christoph’s own hand, it contains copies of works by many of the notable composers of the day, including the great north Germans Buxtehude, Reincken, and Böhm. There are also significant works in a variety of styles by Marais, Marchand, Pachelbel, Kuhnau and Telemann, to name just a few of the represented composers.
This veritable compendium paints a detailed picture of Johann Sebastian’s early musical education while living with Johann Christoph. It also serves as an important primary source for J. S. Bach’s own early compositions; evidently, Johann Christoph must have recognized his younger brother’s developing talent, as he later copied several of J. S. Bach’s own works into the book, including his famous Passacaglia.
J. S. Bach would leave his brother’s house five years later to attend St. Michael’s School in Lüneburg. It was here that he likely met and studied with Georg Böhm (1661–1733) although there is little direct evidence to support this. In fact, it would have been impossibly difficult for a pupil of St. Michael’s to study with Böhm, the organist at the rival church St. John’s (the two choirs were known to have been on exceptionally bad terms). Despite this, it is highly likely that the teenage Bach sought out Böhm’s tutelage while in Lüneburg – perhaps even as an apprentice at St. John’s Church. The two would stay in contact for years, Böhm later serving as Bach’s northern agent for the sale of some of his publications.
Bach was a prolific traveller and made frequent trips to Hamburg as a youth to hear the great organist Johann Adam Reincken. At the age of 20, as Bach was beginning his career in Arnstadt, he was granted a 4 week leave of absence to travel the nearly 450 kilometers to Lübeck (reportedly by foot) to meet the influential composer Dieterich Buxtehude (1637–1707). At Buxtehude’s church, Bach likely had the opportunity to observe or perform in the famous Abendmusik concerts, lavish musical events paid for by local merchants and offered freely to the people of Lübeck on several Sundays throughout the year. The visit to Lübeck must have left a considerable impression on Bach: he stayed an additional 3 months past his original 4-week leave, consequently enraging his employers in Arnstadt!
Each of the works on the program survive as copies in the Andreas Bach Book (and the similarly compiled Möller manuscript, also in Johann Christian’s hand) and represent important influences and milestones in Bach’s early musical life. The Prelude, Fugue and Chaconne in C major and the Prelude, Fugue and Postlude in G minor are both examples of the north German style which favoured a multi-sectional design: Rapturous, improvisatory outer sections surround extended interludes of strict fugal counterpoint. Bach tended to prefer a model with two stand alone parts, a Prelude (or Toccata, or something else, like the Passacaglia) and a highly extrapolated Fugue (or as in the case of the Fugue in G minor, a standalone piece on its own).
In addition to his more traditional northern German compositions, Böhm was also highly influential for his development of the chorale partita. Essentially an innovation by Böhm himself, the form was a melding of the secular partita (theme and variation) style with the sacred chorale prelude. Bach must have been highly influenced by Böhm’s expert use of ornamentation and flowing melodic lines because he incorporated much of Böhm’s style into his own chorale partitas. In many ways, Böhm’s lyrical style is instantly recognizable in Bach’s own language; indeed, some of Böhm's techniques are so innovative that one must wonder where Bach found them if not in Böhm's works.
Bach may also be somewhat indebted to Buxtehude for his Passacaglia which bears a passing resemblance to the theme and style of the elder master’s work of the same name. However, it may also be that Bach’s inspiration for the famous Passacaglia theme came not from his German mentor, but rather from a mass by André Raison which bears a strikingly similar melody. Whatever the case may be, Bach’s work stands alone as the culmination of the genre with his epic construction of 22 variations on his ground bass theme followed in true Bachian fashion with a monumental fugue that expertly weaves the passacaglia theme through episode after episode of contrapuntal genius.
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Please note that there will be no Festival Passes available this year.
GETTING TO CHRIST CHURCH CATHEDRAL
The Cathedral is located on Quadra Street at Rockland Avenue.
Street parking is available on Quadra Street, Burdett Avenue, and Rockland Avenue, as well as at the south entrance to the Cathedral off Burdett.