About this Recording
8.573376 - BACH, J.S.: Flute Sonatas, BWV 1030-1035 (P. Fred, Häkkinen)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)
Sonatas for Flute and Harpsichord


The origin of Bach’s sonatas for flute and harpsichord is uncertain; it has been suggested that most of them are rooted in works written while Bach was working as Konzertmeister at the court of Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Kothen, a post he accepted in late 1717. However, because some of the sonatas are arrangements of earlier works and few autograph scores survive from that period, it is difficult to say with certainty. It is certainly true that Bach’s tenure at Kothen saw him produce a good deal of secular rather than sacred music: many of his most famous instrumental and secular vocal works, including some of the Well-Tempered Clavier and several of the Brandenburg Concertos, date from this period. Leopold, himself a practising musician, kept a sizeable court orchestra and was evidently greatly interested in instrumental music.

Bach had taken up the post at Kothen after a rather unpleasant run-in with his previous employer, Duke William Ernest of Saxe-Weimar. It was originally in 1703, after Bach had completed his musical studies with his older brother Johann Christoph, a church organist in Ohrdruf, that he obtained his first court appointment at Weimar. Word of his skills as a keyboardist—always the instrument with which Bach was most closely associated—quickly spread, and he soon accepted a post as organist at St Boniface’s church in Arnstadt. It was during his tenure here that he famously made a 500-mile round trip on foot to visit his fellow (if, at that time, much better known) composer and organist Dietrich Buxtehude—without his employers’ permission. This kind of disobedience and unpredictability strained his relationship with them, and in 1707 he took up a post in Muhlhausen. Again, however, he did not remain long, and the following year he found himself back in Weimar. He would stay for almost ten years, until in 1717 he was offered the job of Konzertmeister by Leopold. Bach leapt at the chance, signing a contract in August of that year, but William Ernest did not take kindly to being so unceremoniously thrown over. He responded by imprisoning Bach, keeping him locked up for nearly a month before finally freeing him in early December.

While the origin of the flute and harpsichord sonatas is uncertain, their genre has also been hotly debated. The first three are often described as ʻSonaten auf Concertenart’—sonatas in concerto style—a term that originated with the German-Danish critic and writer Johann Adolph Scheibe, who coined it in 1740. As outlined by Scheibe, the characteristics of the concerto-style sonata, a hybrid genre that became popular between around 1720 and 1740, do indeed seem appropriate to several of Bach’s flute and harpsichord sonatas: three movements instead of the customary four, and a relationship between the two instruments that approximates that of soloist and orchestra. In other words, the ʻsoloist’ (in this case the flute) is given a more exciting and potentially virtuosic role while the ʻorchestra’ (the harpsichord) provides a fuller and more elaborate accompaniment than in earlier sonatas. As some scholars have pointed out, hybrid genres more generally—the symphonie concertante or pastoral mass, for instance—were popular in the eighteenth century, so it is hardly surprising that Bach may have been interested in them too. Thematically, these first three flute and harpsichord sonatas have been compared with Vivaldi’s concertos, lending further credence to the idea that Bach was deliberately experimenting with form.

The Sonata for flute and harpsichord in B minor, BWV 1030, is often cited as an example of a ʻSonate auf Concertenart’. In three movements, it has a rich and imaginative harpsichord part in which relatively little is left to the discretion of the keyboard player. Various scholars have suggested that BWV 1030 was an arrangement of a different piece originally written in G minor, dating from Bach’s tenure at Kothen. The first movement is in ritornello form, meaning that the opening section is repeated and elaborated throughout the movement, becoming increasingly rhythmically intricate. In D major, the serene second movement is followed by a fast-paced Presto that opens with imitative entries before expanding outwards into a driven, rhythmically propulsive finale.

Like BWV 1033 (and BWV 1020, which is not included on this disc), the Sonata for flute and harpsichord in E flat major, BWV 1031, has occasionally been attributed to Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel. Today, however, the general consensus is that only BWV 1020 is inauthentic. BWV 1031 opens with a tuneful Allegro moderato, in which the flute and harpsichord trade lyrical, elegantly ornamented lines. The second movement, a Siciliano, features the lilting dotted rhythms typical of the form, and the flute takes centre stage, while in the final, bouncy Allegro the two instruments are once again equal partners.

The Sonata for flute and harpsichord in A major, BWV 1032, also in three movements, once again features a fully expanded keyboard part. It is perhaps the most popular of the flute sonatas, holding a special place in the repertory. Again, the year of its composition is uncertain, but it must have been written in or prior to 1736, as the autograph score dates from that year. In the first movement Bach alternates between ritornello and solo sections, elaborating his material in imaginative and unexpected ways. The slow and bittersweet Largo e dolce is followed by a richly textured, rhythmically dynamic Allegro.

It has been suggested that the Sonata for flute and basso continuo in C major, BWV 1033, may originally have been written in 1718 for unaccompanied flute—in the first movement the flute plays throughout, and the part could be performed by itself—although other scholars have dated it later. Unlike the ʻSonaten auf Concertenart’ on this disc, it contains four movements, the last of which consists of two minuets. Opening with an Andante, the first movement quickly transitions into a solo Presto for the flute that feels almost like a cadenza. After an energetic Allegro and a melancholy Adagio, the minuets—stylised dances—in the last movement hark back to the traditional Baroque sonata.

Similarly, the Sonata for flute and basso continuo in E minor, BWV 1034, and the Sonata for flute and basso continuo in E major, BWV 1035, both have four movements. The former poses some challenges for the flutist: in the fast-paced second movement, there are several lengthy stretches where the performer is given no pause for breath. Scholars have suggested that BWV 1035 was written in 1741, on the occasion of Bach’s first visit to Frederick the Great’s court at Potsdam (although again it is possible that it was originally composed in some form at Kothen). Frederick was an amateur flutist, and the sonata is dedicated to the talented musician Michael Gabriel Fredersdorf, who was a close member of the king’s circle. The first movement is relatively short, but lyrical and melodically ornate. It is followed by a gentle Allegro and a Siciliano—another dance movement—in the relative minor. Finally a bright and delicate Allegro assai finishes off the piece.

Despite difficulties of dating and attribution, Bach’s flute and keyboard sonatas have found a solid place in the flutist’s repertoire, offering both a fascinating insight into Bach’s manifold use of the sonata genre and a wealth of inventive, beautiful music.

Caroline Waight

Instruments used on this recording

Flutes: Martin Wenner (2011) after Palanca (BWV 1030–1034); Claire Soubeyran (2006) after Rottenburgh (BWV 1035)
Harpsichords: Frank Rutkowski & Robert Robinette (1970) after Hass (BWV 1030–1031, BWV 1034); Martin Kather (2011) after Italian originals (BWV 1032) • Lute-harpsichord: Jonte Knif & Jukka Ollikka (2014) (BWV 1033) Clavichord: Jiři Vykoukal (2010) after Schiedmayer (BWV 1035)

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