About this Recording
8.556786 - CHILL WITH BACH

Chill with Bach

Chill with Bach


Born in 1685, Johann Sebastian Bach belonged to a dynasty of musicians. He spent his earlier career principally as an organist, latterly at the court of one of the two ruling Grand Dukes of Weimar. In 1717 he moved to Cöthen as Court Kapellmeister to the young Prince Leopold and in 1723 made his final move to Leipzig, where he was employed as Cantor at the Choir School of St. Thomas, with responsibility for music in the five principal city churches. Despite widespread neglect for almost a century after his death in 1750, Bach is now regarded as one of the greatest of all composers.


Choral & vocal music

Bach wrote a very large amount of choral music, particularly in connection with his employment at Leipzig, where he prepared complete cycles of cantatas for use throughout the church year. These works include the Mass in B minor, BWV 232, the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244, the St. John Passion, BWV 245, the Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, and the Easter Oratorio, BWV 249, with the revised setting of the Magnificat, BWV 243. Many of Bach's cantatas are lost, but historians can estimate that he must have written over 500 such pieces. Most were written for church services, for Bach was expected to perform cantatas every Sunday at the church. He also wrote secular cantatas for special court occasions.


Organ & other keyboard music

Much of Bach’s organ music was written during the earlier part of his career, culminating in the period he spent as court organist at Weimar. Important sets of pieces for keyboard are the six English Suites BWV 806-811; the six French Suites BWV 812-817, the Goldberg Variations BWV 988, written to soothe an insomniac patron; the Italian Concerto BWV 971, the six Partitas BWV 825-830 and the monumental two books of preludes and fugues in all keys, The Well-Tempered Clavier, BWV 846-893, the so-called “Forty-Eight”.


Chamber music

During the period Bach spent at Cöthen he was able to devote his attention more particularly to instrumental composition for solo instruments, smaller groups or for the small court orchestra. Particularly important are the three Sonatas and three Partitas for unaccompanied violin, BWV 1001-1006, works that make great technical demands on a player, and the six Suites for unaccompanied cello, BWV 1007-1012.


Orchestral music

The six Brandenburg Concertos, BWV 1046-1051, dedicated to the Margrave of Brandenburg in 1721, feature a variety of forms and groups of instruments, while the four Orchestral Suites or Overtures, BWV 1066-1069, include the famous Air on the G string, a late 19th century transcription of the Air from the Suite in D major, BWV 1068. Three of Bach's violin concertos, written at Cöthen between 1717 and 1723, survive in their original form, with others existing now only in later harpsichord transcriptions. The works in original form are the concertos in A minor and in E major, BWV 1041 and 1042, and the Double Concerto in D minor, for two violins, BWV 1043.



Tracks 1 and 18

Goldberg Variations, BWV 988: Aria       

The Goldberg Variations (published in 1741-42) offer a conspectus of Bach’s wit and technical accomplishment, and herald a final period in which he would continue to explore the use of a single theme, notably in The Musical Offering and The Art of Fugue. Doubt has been cast on the story associated with the Goldberg Variations, yet it is a touching anecdote. Bach’s early biographer Forkel alleged that the insomniac Count Hermann Karl von Keyserlingk, Russian ambassador to the court of Saxony in Dresden, had commissioned the work for performance by his protégé, the young harpsichordist Johann Gottlieb Goldberg to amuse him during the hours of sleeplessness. The Variations begin and end with the main theme, giving them a cyclic form whose soothing effect would be the ideal treatment for an insomniac.


            To hear the Goldberg Variations in full try:

            8.550078       Goldberg Variations

                        Chen Pi-hsien (piano)



Track 2

Concerto for 2 violins in D minor, BWV 1043: Largo ma non troppo

The famous Double Concerto in D minor, scored for strings and continuo was written during Bach’s period of employment as Kapellmeister at Cöthen, where the young prince Leopold, a keen amateur, showed a great interest in music that was only curtailed by his marriage. It opens energetically in the form of a fugal exposition, one solo violin following the other in emulation. There is a dialogue of remarkable beauty in the slow movement and a final movement in which the second violin follows the first in excitingly close juxtaposition.


            To hear the Double Concerto in full try:

            8.550194       Violin Concertos in A minor, E major and E minor, Double Concerto in E minor

                        Takako Nishizaki, Alexander Jablokov (violins), Capella Istropolitana,

                        Oliver Dohnányi


Track 3

Harpsichord Concerto, BWV 974 (after the Oboe Concerto by Alessandro Marcello):

Adagio (Guitar transcription)

Bach himself was a distinguished and frequent transcriber of his own compositions and those of others. For the harpsichord he arranged sixteen concertos drawn from various sources during his years at Weimar. One of the best known of his transcriptions is this one, of an oboe concerto by the Venetian composer Alessandro Marcello. Bach’s transcription for harpsichord is heard here in a further arrangement for solo guitar. This shows Bach’s interest in the Venetian solo concertos of the period, an interest later demonstrated in the concertos he would write at Cöthen. The quicker outer movements of the concerto frame a moving aria in the slow movement, precursors of the movements Bach wrote for his own violin concertos.



            If you would to hear the Harpsichord Concertos in their original form try:

            8.554604       Harpsichord Concertos I

            8.554605       Harpsichord Concertos II

            8.554606       Harpsichord Concertos III

                        Michael Behringer, Gerald Hambitzer, Robert Hill, Christoph Anselm Noll & Roderick                             Shaw (harpsichords)                     



Track 4

Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major BWV 564: Adagio

The Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major for organ is striking in its form. It has three distinctive sections, and is the counterpart of the three movement Italian concerto of the period. The work opens with a brilliant improvisatory prelude display on the manuals followed by a passage for pedal solo before more elaborate counterpoint involving manuals and pedals. There follows an Adagio aria before a capricious fugue subject



            If you would like to hear more of Bach’s organ works try:


            8.505024       Organ Works Vol. 1

            8.505034       Organ Works Vol. 2

            8.553859       The Great Organ Works

                        Wolfgang Rübsam (organ)




Track 5 and Track 13

Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068: Air

Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067: Sarabande

The Suite in D major, BWV 1068 has been preserved in a set of parts dating from around 1731. It is one of Bach’s most impressive and magnificent orchestral works. The character of the work is determined to a great extent by the sweeping first movement with its wealth of harmonic nuances; between the dotted rhythms of the grave sections which frame it a very fast fugato Allegro section unfolds. The famous Air follows – above the constant pendulum movement of the bass the first violins soar up in one of the most mysterious and tender melodies Bach ever wrote. After this point of rest, the Suite finds its way back to its basic festive mood in three lively dance movements.


The Suite in B minor, BWV 1067 is one of the works dating from Bach’s Leipzig period. It is probably Bach’s last orchestral work. The Suite integrates the principles of the concerto form into nearly all the movements, by contrasting a flute treated as a solo instrument with an accompanying string group. It is a work of austere beauty, in which contrapuntal ingenuity and melancholy expression join together with precisely defined dance rhythms in an extremely individual combination.


            If you would like to hear more of Bach’s orchestral suites try:

            8.554609       Overtures (Suites) Nos. 1-4         

                        Karl Kaiser (flute), Cologne Chamber Orchestra, Helmut Müller-Brühl


Track 6

St. Matthew Passion BWV 244: Erbarme dich’ mein Gott      

Bach composed five Passion settings, but only those based on the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. John survive. The St. Matthew Passion in its full surviving version was first performed according to current Lutheran custom, on Good Friday. It is scored for two choirs and two orchestras, a division physically possible in the Church of St. Thomas, Leipzig where performances were first given. The text of the St. Matthew Passion is taken in the first place from Martin Luther’s translation of the Gospel. The narrative is sung by the evangelist (a tenor) with the words of Christ, Peter, Judas and others allocated to different singers. The beautiful soprano aria Erbarme dich’ mein Gott (Have mercy, Lord) is one of the most famous selections from the work.



            If you would like to hear the whole St. Matthew Passion try:

            8.550832-34 St Matthew Passion

                        Hungarian Festival Choir, Children’s Choir of the Hungarian Radio,

                        Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra, Géza Oberfrank



Tracks 7 and 12

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, BWV 147

Sheep May Safely Graze

The delightful piano arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (by Dame Myra Hess) is from one of Bach’s most popular religious cantatas, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147. Sheep May Safely Graze is taken from Cantata No. 208. It was most likely written as an occasion piece to mark the birthday of Duke Christian of

Saxe-Weissenfels in about 1713. Both works are heard here in their arrangements for organ.


Track 8

Magnificat in D, BWV 243: Et exultavit

Bach’s Magnificat received its first performance in Leipzig in 1723. It was originally heard in a version in E flat major at Christmas Vespers when movements with seasonal texts were inserted. Bach’s approach to the Magnificat is characteristically large scale. There is no use of recitative, owing perhaps to the poetic nature of the text. The scoring is unusually rich and includes three trumpets, two flutes, two oboes, strings, continuo and timpani.


            If you would like to hear the rest of the Magnificat try:

            8.554046       Magnificat in D, BWV 243

                        Schola Cantorum of Oxford, Northern Chamber Orchestra, Jeremy Summerly,

                        Nicholas Ward



Tracks 9 and 10

The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1: Prelude No. 1 in C major, BWV 846

Ave Maria (Bach/Gounod)

The two collections of Preludes and Fugues in all keys, major and minor, known as The Well-Tempered Clavier or, from their number, as “The Forty-Eight”, explore the possibilities inherent in every possible key. Experiments in keyboard tuning in the later seventeenth century resulted in differing systems that, nevertheless, made use of remoter keys feasible. While the precise nature of the tuning system used by Bach may not be clear, his

well-tempered tuning at least made all keys possible. The opening Prelude in C major is among the best known of all the preludes, chiefly because of later arrangements, notably that by Charles Gounod (1818-1893), who added a melody, calling the work in this new form Méditation, to which another added the words of the Ave Maria.



            To hear more from of the Forty Eight Preludes and Fugues try:

            8.553796-97 The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I

            8.550970-71 The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II

                        Jenö Jandó (piano)



Track 11

Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047: Andante

On 20th April 1849, Siegfried Wilhelm Dehn, custodian of the music collection in the royal library in Berlin, reported a remarkable discovery: “While compiling my catalogue of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach existing in Berlin I have come across many works of the greatest significance which up till now have remained unknown, among them 6 concerti grossi dedicated to the Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg.” Under the name Brandenburg Concertos, these works are today among the most well-known works of the composer. The Concerto in F major BWV 1047 presents an intricate solo quartet consisting of trumpet, recorder, oboe and violin, to which tutti strings take second place as far as independence of texture and thematic significance are concerned. The particular feature of this concerto lies in the way the four instruments, which are so different in sound quality, are given exactly the same melodic treatment.


            To hear the complete Brandenburg Concertos try

            8.554607       Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1-3 & 6

            8.554608       Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 4 & 5

                        Cologne Chamber Orchestra, Helmut Müller-Brühl



Track 14

Piano Concerto in E major, BWV 1053: Siciliano

This concerto is generally supposed to be derived from an earlier concerto for oboe. A brief introduction with the whole orchestra is followed by the first of a number of solo passages for the keyboard. The slow movement is a Siciliano, in origin a gentle pastoral dance, here embellished by the soloist, who provides a busy initial accompaniment, leading to the opening cross-rhythms of the rapid last movement, with its recurrent refrain based on the rising notes of the major triad.



            If you would like to hear more of Bach’s Piano Concertos try:

            8.550422       Piano Concertos BWV 1052-1054

            8.550423       Piano Concertos BWV 1055-1058

                        Hae-won Chang, Camerata Cassovia, Robert Stankovsky



Track 15

Sonata No. 3 in E major, BWV 1016: Adagio ma non tanto   

The six Sonatas for violin and harpsichord, BWV 1014-1019 were written during Bach’s years at Cöthen. Bach’s second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, harpsichordist to Frederick the Great at Potsdam, and then Cantor at the Hamburg Johanneum, described them in 1774 as ‘among the best compositions of my dear departed father’ and went on to say how well they sounded and what pleasure they still gave him, although written some fifty years before. In particular he praised the fine slow movements, of which the beautiful Adagio ma non tanto from the

E major sonata is featured here.


            If you would like to hear more Sonatas for violin and harpsichord try:

            8.554614       Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, Vol. 1

            8.554783       Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord Vol. 2

                        Lucy van Dael (violin), Bob van Asperen (harpsichord)



Track 16

Cello Suite No. 1 in G major BWV 1007


Bach wrote his six Suites for unaccompanied cello at Cöthen about the year 1720. It is thought that the first four, at least, were written for Christian Ferdinand Abel, bass viol player at Cöthen, or for Christian Bernhard Linigke. Both musicians were friends or colleagues of Bach. The original autograph of the suites is lost and the earliest copy is that made by the Gräfenroda organist and composer Johann Peter Kellner in about 1726. Each of the six cello suites opens with a Prelude. Suite No. 1 in G major has an introductory movement in which the changing harmonies are made clear in arpeggiated form.


            If you would like to hear the complete Cello Suites try:

            8.555992-93 Cello Suites (Complete)

                        Alexander Rudin (cello)


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