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8.553754 - BACH, J.S.: Flute Sonatas, Vol. 1

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 -1750)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 -1750)

Flute Sonatas Vol.l

Sonata in E minor for flute and continuo, BWV 1034

Sonata in E flat major for flute and harpsichord, BWV 1031

Partita in A minor for solo flute, BWV 1013

Sonata in A major for flute and harpsichord, BWV 1032


In a letter to a friend in 1750 Padre Martini, a dominant figure in Italian music, wrote that he considered it unnecessary to describe the unique merits of

Bach, who was quite well known and admired, not only in Germany but everywhere in Italy too: he could only add that it would be difficult to find a master better than him, since he could with justification be described as one of the foremost musicians of Europe.


The importance of Johann Sebastian Bach to Western music continues to the present. He was once regarded as one who provided a synthesis, a summary of the skills and grandeur of the past, offering a perfection in his own period, but suggesting no way forward. This view is now seen to be erroneous. The music of Bach is like a vast lake into which rivers have flowed and which continues to provide his posterity with a source of spiritual and musical refreshment. No musician can train for his profession without coming into contact with the music of this composer, arguably the greatest of all time. The works of Bach are, indeed, a compendium of all that is needed for keyboard-players, violinists, cellists and flautists.


The biography of Bach written by Johann Nicolaus Forkel (1749-1818) and published in 1802, based on conversations with Bach's sons Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel and on other first-hand sources, remains the foundation of Bach historical scholarship, In his catalogue of Bach's compositions Forkel regrettably passes over the flute sonatas with barely a comment: Many single Sonatas for the harpsichord with accompaniment of violin, flute, viola da gamba, &c., all admirably composed and so that even in our days most of them would be heard by connoisseurs with pleasure.


The history of the flute sonatas is not clear. It is probable that most of them were written while Bach was in the service of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen. At the time it could hardly have been imagined that the small town of Cothen, thirty kilometres north of Halle, would be remembered in history as one of the most important centres of music of the day. Prince Leopold was a young man who loved music and who gradually expanded his court orchestra to eighteen members. He engaged Johann Sebastian Each as Kapellmeister in 1717 and it is interesting to notice, as an illustration of the esteem in which Bach was held, that his salary was twice that of his predecessor. The Prince was an accomplished musician himself and played the violin, viol and harpsichord and the court orchestra was fortunate in its harmonious working conditions, with a friendly relationship and mutual understanding between the musicians and their patron.


All performances at Cothen took place at court, with other courtiers taking part, as they wished or as they were requested. The reformed religion made no demand for church music, allowing Bach full scope for the devising of secular entertainments, although, from his previous and subsequent employment, posterity may remember him as a church organist. The period in Cothen, however, saw the composition of some of the most significant instrumental compositions in Western music, the Two- and Three-Part Inventions, the French Suites, Preludes and Fugues (the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier), the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, the Cello Suites, the Sonatas for harpsichord and violin or viola da gamba, the Brandenburg Concertos, some of the Orchestral Suites and the Sonatas for flute and harpsichord or flute and continuo.


Not many manuscripts survive from Bach's period at Cothen and most such

material comes from the subsequent period of 27 years spent in Leipzig. It

seems, however, that many of the flute sonatas are arrangements of earlier compositions; the Trio Sonata for two flutes and continuo was originally a sonata for harpsichord and viola da gamba and the last movement also exists in a version for organ. The harpsichord part of the great Sonata in B minor has also been preserved in an earlier version in G minor. Each later arranged a number of his Cothen works for the concerts of his Leipzig University Collegium Musicum, for which all the harpsichord concertos were devised. In arranging his earlier trio sonatas for solo instrument and keyboard, he laid the foundation for a genre that continues today. This type of sonata was transmitted, through Bach's sons, to classical and romantic composers.


The flute sonatas of Bach were probably inspired by local flautists whose dexterity is obvious from the demanding solo parts written by Each in his cantatas and settings of the Passion. His visit in 1747 to the court of Frederick the Great, whose ability as a flautist was well known, probably produced the Sonata in E major as well as the Musical Offering on a theme provided by the King. Some of Bach's flute sonatas (notably EWV 1031, 1020 and 1030) have been attributed to his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, harpsichordist to Frederick the Great. In contrast with the younger composer's keyboard sonatas, it might be suspected that, if they were the work of Carl Philipp Emanuel, they were written under his father's influence or direct guidance. This in no way detracts from the value of these works, which remain among the best loved of the repertoire.


Anssi Mattila


There is a distinction to be drawn between Bach's works for solo instrument and harpsichord, such as the three sonatas with viola da gamba, BWV 1027-1029, or the six violin sonatas, BWV 1014-1019, and those written for solo melody instrument and continuo. The former have a composed harpsichord part and are for the most part in a three-part texture, like the organ trio sonatas, BWV 525-530. With the written harpsichord part this generally means three contrapuntal melodic lines, one for the melody instrument, one for the right hand of the keyboard-player and the other for the left hand. The sonatas for solo instrument and continuo provide the performers with a solo melodic part and a figured bass, a bass line with numbers that indicate the chord to be used and on which the keyboard-player might improvise an accompaniment.


The first volume of Bach flute sonatas opens with the Sonata in E minor, BWV 1034, for transverse flute and continuo. This has generally been dated to Bach's period at Cothen, although more recent scholarship has preferred to date the composition to the early period in Leipzig, starting in 1723. The sonata opens with an Adagio, the flute weaving a melody above an initially ascending, slower moving bass-line. The second movement Allegro entrusts the theme to the flute, to be imitated by the bass-line and to be allowed further entries, as the movement proceeds. The continuo starts the third movement Andante, with the flute offering an aria above, while the final Allegro, in triple time, again finds a place for imitative writing between the two parts, treble and bass.


The Sonata in E flat major, BWV 1031, is for flute and harpsichord, and has, in consequence, a three-part contrapuntal texture, as opposed to the two written lines of BWV 1034. It is in three movements, the second of which is a Siciliana, a Baroque dance movement associated with the dances attributed to Sicilian shepherds. The authenticity of the sonata is generally doubted, as noted above.


Bach's Partita in A minor for solo flute, BWV 1013, is considered by some to be the earliest of his authenticated compositions for the instrument. It has conjecturally been dated to the 1720s or, by some, to a date nearer the beginning of the composer's employment at Cothen, 1718. Although not entirely idiomatic in its writing, the Partita is an essential part of a very limited repertoire for the unaccompanied flute. It opens with an Allemande, coupled, as tradition dictated, with a livelier Corrente. The slow Sarabande leads to a final English Bourree.


The Sonata in A major for flute and harpsichord, BWV 1032, with an incomplete autograph dating from 1736, which omits 46 bars of the first movement, is presumed to have been written originally at Cothen and it has been seen rather as a concerto than a sonata, with a recurrent orchestral ritornello, material that punctuates the first movement. The second movement, Largo e dolce, starts as a duet between the flute and the upper keyboard part. It is, unusually, in the key of A minor, while the triple time third movement, with its imitative entries, restores the original major key.


Keith Anderson




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