About this Recording
8.550709 - BACH, J.S.: French Suites Nos. 1-2, BWV 812-813 / Italian Concerto / Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue (Rübsam)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Italian Concerto (Concerto nach italienischen Gusto), BWV 971
Chromatic Fantasia & Fugue, BWV 903
French Suites Nos. 1 & 2, BWV 812 & 813

Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach in 1685, one of a large family of musicians. After the death of his parents he moved, at the age often, to Ohrdruf, with his 13-year-old brother Johann Jacob, to live with the eldest of their brothers, Johann Christoph, an organist. Bach's own early career was as an organist, from 1708 until 1717 in the service of Duke Wilhelm Ernst, eider of the two brothers ruling the duchy of Weimar. From 1717 until 1723 he was Court Kapellmeisterto Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, with different musical responsibilities, largely secular. Thereafter he served as Thomas-Kantor in Leipzig, with responsibility for music in the principal city churches, continuing there until his death in 1750. This final period of his life involved him in activity with the Collegium musicum of the University, for which he arranged earlier instrumental concertos for solo harpsichord or harpsichords, and in the assembly and publication of a number of his compositions, in particular a series of four volumes of keyboard music, the Clavierübung.

In 1720 Bach's first wife, Maria Barbara, died, during her husband's absence from Cöthen on a visit with his patron Prince Leopold to Karlsbad. During the thirteen years of their marriage she had born him seven children, of which four now survived. The following year Bach took a second wife, Anna Magdalena Wilcke, a daughter of the court trumpeter at Weissenfels. She had had musical training from her father and from her uncle, an organist, and her musical development continued with the help of her new husband, who provided her with a number of keyboard pieces, including the first five of w hat were later known as the French Suites, to which Bach later, in Leipzig, added a sixth. The basic movements of the French suite were the dances Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gigue, forms that retained their basic rhythms and patterns, while no longer intended in this form for practical dancing.

The first of Bach's French Suites, in D minor, opens with an Allemande, the melodic interest principally in the upper part. This leads to a Courante, a dance of more complex rhythm in its French form. A slow Sarabande is followed by a pair of Minuets, played in alternation, and the suite ends with a contrapuntal Gigue. Suite No.2 in C minor opens with a more elaborate Allemande, followed by a livelier Courante, in fact an Italian Corrente, rather than the slower French form of the dance. An ornamented Sarabande leads to an Air, a melody in the upper part, accompanied by a second and lower part. The first Minuet is repeated after the second, according to usual practice, and these dances are followed by a Gigue in which the lower of the two parts enters in fugal imitation.

The Concerto in the Italian taste transfers to the harpsichord, with its two manuals, the orchestral style of a Vivaldi concerto. It was published in 1735 as part of the second volume of the Clavierübung. In texture it contrasts a solo voice with the ripieno of the full orchestra, its outer movements in ritornello form, each with a recurrent thematic element. The central Andante is an ornamented aria. The Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV 903, was written at Cöthen about 1720. Both the Fantasia and the Fugue are remarkable for their harmonic boldness in the exploration of relatively remote keys and have much in common with compositions by Bach for organ.

@ 1994 Keith Anderson

This recording was produced to communicate, stimulate and encourage the interpretation of Bach's keyboard works on the modern piano. It is based upon recognized fundamental elements of performance practices of early music.

The interpretation of Bach's music on the modem piano remains a confusing issue in light of the fact that the instrument basically evolved with the romantic period. It is, therefore, no surprise that attempts frequently result in romantic readings, a direction which can be most musical at times but may be stylistically confusing if not actually foreign to the score. Musical preferences also favour a clean, mathematical and metronomic realisation - a safe but somewhat noncommittal solution to the communication of Bach's artistry.

On a different level, then, is the enjoyment of incorporating the often neglected elements of rhetoric, inégalité, the structures of the strong and weak within a given pulse and metre, and the fingering techniques of the time (shifting and sequential fingerings rather than consecutive scale fingerings). These components, which are strongly interrelated and directly influence choices of articulation and flexibility of rhythm, often answer automatically questions of style, especially when they are understood as basic elements of the musical language.

The complex subject of ornamentation, both Bach's written out ornaments and the liberty given in repeats of movements, is most challenging and rewarding when there is the concept of freedom of execution and the manner is improvisational and imaginative.

Dynamic shadings within figurations, motivic material, and entire musical lines in any part of the polyphonic structure becomes particularly exciting and meaningful upon melodic (and harmonic) analysis. Important pitches, in the greater sense of the direction, can be pointed out by dynamic control and nuance and by the effect of rhythmic flexibility within the structure of the melodic line. The degree of such bending in time is most personal and strongly communicative when applied with balance and refinement of taste.

The process of merging the "old" and the "new" in Bach's keyboard works will be an ongoing pursuit for me as it will most likely be for pianists with an interest in early music who strive for reorganization of the ear before fingers are expected to reflect such inner feelings. Since such musical detail is best demonstrated by the music itself, it is my hope that this recording will be a helpful example in this process and that listeners and students alike will find it an enjoyable means of communication.

Wolfgang Rübsam
A native of Germany, Wolfgang Rübsam received his musical training in Europe from Erich Ackermann, Helmut Walcha and Marie-Claire Alain, and in the United States from Robert T. Anderson. Based now in the Chicagoarea, he has held a professorship at Northwestern University since 1974 and since 1981 has served as University Organist at the University of Chicago. International recognition came in 1973, when he won the Grand Prix de Chartres, Interpretation, and has continued to grow through his recording career, with over eighty recordings, many of them winning awards. Wolfgang Rübsam performs frequently in major international festivals and concert-halls, including the Los Angeles Bach Festival, the Vienna Festwochen, the Finland Lahti International Organ Festival, London's Festival Hall and the Alice Tully Hall in New York. He gives masterclasses in the interpretation of early and romantic organ repertoire and in the interpreting of the keyboard music of J. S. Bach on the modern piano.

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