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8.553755 - BACH, J.S.: Flute Sonatas, Vol. 2
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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) Flute Sonatas Vol

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) Flute Sonatas Vol. 2

Sonata in B minor for flute and harpsichord, BWV 1030

Sonata in E major for flute and continuo, BWV 1035

Sonata in G minor for flute and harpsichord, BWV 1020

Sonata in C major for flute and continuo, BWV 1033

Trio Sonata in G major, BWV 1039

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 Bach 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. Bach 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 Bach in his cantatas and settings of the Passion. His visit in 1747to 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 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, EWV 1027- 1029, or the six violin sonatas, EWV 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.


Bach's Sonata in B minor for flute and harpsichord, BWV 1030, is thought to stem from a G minor original written at Cothen. In its present form the sonata has been dated to the mid-1730s, the date of the surviving autograph. It opens in the expected three-part texture, the flute offering a phrase which is later repeated and continued, as the extended movement develops in rhythmic complexity .A gentle second movement in D major leads to a final Presto with imitative entries of the theme first stated by the flute. The movement, in duple alla breve, continues and ends with a livelier 12/16 metre, in the manner of a gigue.


The Sonata in E major for flute and continuo, BWV 1035, is attributed by many to the period at Cothen. The only surviving copy, from the nineteenth century , suggests that it was written, in fact, in 1741, for the amateur player Michael Gabriel Fredersdorf, private chamberlain to Frederick the Great at Potsdam, an official who had the unenviable task of relaying to the King Carl Philipp Emanuel's many complaints about his salary. The opening Adagio is relatively complex in its rhythmic demands. It is followed by a very characteristic Bach Allegro and a gentle siciliano. The sonata ends in a triple time Allegro assai.


The Sonata in G minor for flute and harpsichord, BWV 1020, existing also as a violin sonata, is now generally attributed to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. It is here followed by the Sonata in C major for flute and continuo, BWV 1033, conjecturally dated to 1718, although its authorship is again in doubt.


Bach's Trio Sonata in G major, BWV 1039, is dated to about 1720 and is a version of the Sonata, BWV 1027, for viola da gamba and harpsichord. Bach recasts the work, allowing the first flute the opening sustained note originally for the right hand of the keyboard-player and the viola da gamba melody to the second flute, before roles are reversed. The fugal second movement is followed by a duet over a slowly descending bass-line and the final Allegro moderato for the viola da gamba sonata becomes a fugal Presto in its revised form.


Keith Anderson


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