Recording Location: CBS Recording Studios, New York, NY, 1982
There is nothing to review about Glenn Gould’s final piano recordings – just listen and love.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES: (by Peter Eliot Stone)
The nineteenth century ballade took its earliest inspiration from literary sources – the ballads or narrative poems, usually German or English in origin, dealing with legendary, historical or often purely romantic characters and happenings.
Thus, ballades were early characterized by a programmatic content that could easily seize the imagination both of composer and listener alike. Works by some composers, such as Frederic Chopin, were even considered to parallel lines of poems – in Chopin’s case those by fellow-countryman Adam Mickiewicz.
Johannes Brahms, on the other hand, devoted his ballades, as a rule, to “absolute” music, and his Four Ballades, Op. 10 of 1854 contain only one “programmatic” piece – the first in D minor.
This Ballademusically embodies the famous Scottish ballad of patricide, Edward (“Why does your brand sae drop wi’ bluid, Edward, Edward?”), which Brahms knew in translation from Johann Gottfried Herder’s Stimmen der Volker and which he later set for alto and tenor (Op. 75, No. 1). Brahms climaxes this grim dialogue between mother and son with the Beethovenian fate motif that was to color many of his other works. When the opening theme returns, Brahms treats it in a surprisingly operatic fashion.
The second Ballade, in D major, departs from its lyrical mood with a dramatically contrasting middle section.
The elfin third Ballade, in B minor, labelled intermezzo and functioning in the set as a scherzo, likewise differentiates its middle section. Brahm’s interest in the inner voices of the fourth Ballade, in B major, reveals the influence of his friend Robert Schumann, but Brahm’s more classic reserve and his formal sophistication yield glimpses of the master’s mature style.
Brahms dedicated his Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79 (1879), to the charming and musical Elisabeth von Herzogenberg, originally entitling them “Capriccio (presto agitato)”and “Molto passianato.”For Brahms, the word capriccio did not seem to imply a light-hearted caprice (unless he used the titles ironically). Almost all of his caprices were gloomy, turbulent, and in the minor mode.
Regarding publication in 1880, Brahms suggested the title “Rhapsody”to Elisabeth. She answered: “You know I am almost most partial to the non-committal word Klavierstucke, just because it is non-committal: but probably that won’t do, in which case the name Rhapsodien is the best, I expect, although the clearly defined form of both pieces seems somewhat at variance with one’s conception of a rhapsody.”
Somewhat at variance, indeed!
Temperamentally “youthful” but compositionally mature, there is nothing improvisatory or irregular about these pieces. The first, in B minor, contains its agitation within a da capo form to which a coda has been added.
The second, in G minor, unleashes its passion through what for all intents and purposes is a sonata form. Yet the pieces do not resemble movements that might flow from the pen of the neo-classicist Brahms when he intended to write a sonata. Here, Brahms eschews the stable expository section for the instability of development right from the start.
In the first Rhapsody, the middle, bagpipe-like section, is based on a complete exposition of a “second theme” that had been arrived at prematurely and in the “wrong” key in the first section where it was then interrupted by a further intensive development of the first theme.
The G-minor Rhapsodyopens with a true primary-group theme whose iambic rhythm, one of Brahm’s fingerprints, contrasts fittingly with the march-like secondary group theme. But the oppressive nature of this second Rhapsody continues to the bitter end, unlike the brief B-major close of the first Rhapsody which somewhat softens its turbulence.
1: Brahms Ballade, Op. 10, No.1 (D-Minor)
2: Brahms Ballade, Op. 10, No. 2 (D-Major)
3: Brahms Ballade, Op. 10, No. 3 (B-Minor)
4: Brahms Ballade, Op. 10, No. 4 (B-Major)
5: Brahms Rhapsody, Op. 79, No. 1 (B-Minor)
6: Brahms Rhapsody, Op. 79, No. 2 (G-Minor)
Below is a fascinating (audio) recording of the complete Brahms Ballades recording session from 1982. I didn’t listen to the complete 5 HOUR (!!) recording – but just so much great audio of Gould being Gould (so to speak). Enjoy!
[This recording receives the VERY RARE 88 out of 88 for the simple fact – it’s Glenn Gould’s last piano recording before his death. It may not deserve 88 out of 88 (from a review standpoint) but as a huge Gould fan, anything less would be silly.]
This is one of those Enhanced CDs from the early 1990s that was supposed to be interactive (by letting you follow the score as the music plays on your computer) but, in reality, did nothing but take up your time while you searched for Drivers that still couldn’t play the disc. (And, for some reason, I didn’t throw it away.)
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES (by Drs. Lyn and Lawrence Schenbeck):
Johann Sebastian Bach was born March 21, 1685, in Eisenach, Germany. During his 65 years, he wrote over 200 sacred cantatas (some of which were also lost); five masses; two magnificats; six passions; six motets (or seven, depending on whom you ask); 518 chorales, sacred songs and arias; 215 keyboard works, including many toccatas and fugues; five pieces for lute; 37 chamber sonatas and 30 orchestral works, including several suites, violin concertos and the six Brandenburg Concertos.
Bach came from a large musical family. While most Bachs were instrumentalists, only a few composed. His early years were spent in Eisenach, where he entered the Latin School in the spring of 1692. By the age of 17, both of his parents had died, so he briefly lived with his older brother Johann Christoph.
In 1703, Bach was appointed organist of the New Church in Arnstadt. Unfortunately, not all went well. On August 29, 1705, he was disciplined for calling a student a “Zippelfagottist” (a “nanny-goat bassoonist”) and was told to behave better with the students. (The Bach Reader, David and Mendel, eds.)
The following year, Bach was reproved for other matters, as excerpted from the Proceedings of the Arnstadt Consitory:
February 21, 1706: The organist Bach had previously played rather too long, but, after his attention had been called to it by the Superintendent, he had, at once, fallen into the other extreme and had made it too short. Reprove him for having hitherto, made many curious “variations” in the chorale and mingled many strange tunes in it and for the fact that the Congregation has been confused by it.
November 11, 1706: “If he considers it no disgrace to be be connected with the Church and to accept his salary, he must not be ashamed to make music with the students assigned to do so, until other instructions are given… [Bach is told to] declare himself in writing concerning this matter. [He shall then] be asked further by what right he recently caused the strange maiden [probably his first wife and cousin Maria Barbara Bach, whom he married in 1707] to be invited into the choir loft and let her make music there.
Bach later held positions in other cities. After leaving Arnstadt, he was an organist in Muhlhausen (1707-08). According to the Proceedings of st. Blasius’ Church Parish meetings, he received 85 gulden in salary, plus the following in-kind emoluments:
54 bushels of grain; two cords of wood [one beech and the other oak or aspen]; and six times three-score fagots delivered to the door instead of acreage. (The Bach Reader, 55)
Six of Bach’s children were born during his stay in Weimar (1708-17). Also, many of his keyboard works were written there, including the famous organ toccatas, and some of the popular Brandenburg Concertos.
Bach’s illustrious career continued in Cothen (1717-23), where he served as capellmeister. Prince Leopold, whom Bach served, loved music and wanted the chapel instruments to be in excellent condition. Bach supervised the repair of the chapel organ and personally fixed the prince’s harpsichords.
Several important events in Bach’s life happened in Cothen. The first involved the marriage of his second wife, Anna Magdalena, December 3, 1721. In addition to being his wife, she was a fine court singer. According to an excerpt from the Accounts of the Cothen Capelle, both were paid for their musical services to the prince.
Also that same year, the Brandenburg Concertos were published. This lively set of six concertos was dedicated to Lord Christian Ludwig, the elector of Brandenburg.
Lastly, in 1722, the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier, a collection of 24 preludes and fugues, was composed. “Clavier” is Germany for “keyboard,” but, during Bach’s day, it referred only to the harpsichord and clavichord.
The last 27 years of Bach’s life were spent in Leipzig, where he was cantor and music director of the St. Thomas Church. In reality, he was music director of the entire city. His first production at St. Thomas was May 30, 1723.
Bach’s writing flourished in Leipzig. All his major vocal works – the B Minor Mass, St John and St. Matthew Passions, six (or seven) motets, two magnificats and many of the 200 sacred cantatas – were composed there. During this time, Bach wrote many instructional works for his pupils, including The Art of the Fugueand numerous canons.
In the 1740s, Bach’s eyesight began to fail due to cataracts. In 1750, he was twice operated on by John Taylor, a British eye specialist. Both were unsuccessful.
Sick and virtually blind, Bach spent the last year of his life fighting the perennial battle of music teacher against city hall. He engaged in heated correspondence with the headmaster in Freiberg, Herr Bidermann, who opposed the “cultivation of music in schools.” Bach felt his moral obligation was to write vehement letters against Bidermann’s position.
By the summer of 1750, Bach’s health had seriously declined. In July, he suffered a stroke and, six days later, died on the 28th.
1: Toccata and Fugue [8:10]
2: Orchestral Suite No. 3 – Air for the “G” String [3:15]
3: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 – Allegro [6:50]
4: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring [3:51]
5: Orchestral Suite No. 2 – Minuet and Badinerie [2:44]
6: Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 – Allegro [9:54]
While, in general, this is a pretty worthless disc (basically six of Bach’s “greatest hits” performed very studiously), the biographical notes are very concise and give a good amount of information. For that reason, I hope this little write up was worth your time.
Recorded December 19-20 & 23, 1992 at the Performing Arts Center, SUNY, Purchase, NY (Musical Heritage Society)
It doesn’t get any more authentic than this boring ass shit (that’s a joke – lighten up).
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES (by Harris Goldsmith):
“Weimer,” “Cothen” and “Leipzig”: These three locations can be used to neatly divide the towering musical legacy of J.S. Bach – an arrangement analogous to the “Early,” “Middle” and “Late” groupings habitually bestowed upon Beethoven’s output. The tryptych approach for both of these musical geniuses has undeniable utility but can sometimes be misleading.
It was in 1713, during his employ as organist to the Duke of Weimar, that Bach first encountered the then new Italian music of Antonio Vivaldi, TomasoAlbinoni, ArcangeloCorelli and the other violinist-composers.
The Duke’s young nephew, Prince Johann Ernst, had developed a passionate fondness for this fare and had brought some of these concerti (recently published in the Netherlands) back with him as additions to his uncle’s library.
Bach had a favorable impression, particularly so in Vivaldi’s case – for he thought sufficiently well of the latter’s music to arrange six of his Concerti Grossifor solo keyboard. And in some of his subsequent original works (the F major Concerto in the Italian Manner, BWV 971, springs immediately to mind), Bach assimilated the style in all its specifics and immeasurably transcended it – an observation that, likewise, applies to several of the compositions heard on this recording.
In 1719, Bach moved to Cothen where he served as Kapellmeister and Director of Chamber Music. The court of Cothen, according to Bach’s biographer Spitta, was “held on a modest scale.” “It had never possessed a theatre and the Reformed (Calvinist) services did not encourage music.” But Bach’s employer, Leopold did. He was, in the composer’s words, “an amiable prince who knew and loved music.”
Indeed, Leopold was an accomplished player of three instruments – the clavier, the violin and the viola da gamba – and it was under his aegis that Bach spent what was reputably the happiest part of his life and certainly – at least in terms of purely instrument music – the most productive. During this period, he penned the six suites for unaccompanied cello, the sonatas and partitas for violin, the concertos for violin (all but three of which are lost), all six Brandenburgsand Book One of the Well Tempered Clavier – all in all, a pretty fair accomplishment.
All good things must come to an end and, unfortunately, the good prince too him self a spouse who didn’t share his affection for music and, moreover, resented her noble husband’s consorting with one of his servants (by then, a close friendship had developed between Bach, who was already a musical celebrity, and the much younger prince). In fact, the good (?) woman was instrumental in hastening Bach’s departure to St. Thomas and it was in Leipzig where he stayed to his dying day.
Bach began his tenure as Cantor at St. Thomas in 1723. He was the third choice for the position, hired only after Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) and Christoph Graupner (1683-1760) had declined the offer. His duties were primarily ecclesiastical and although he had, until then, composed relatively little church music, he was now required to produce cantatas every Sunday, and for major church holidays as well.
By 1729, he had composed four complete cycles, each numbering about sixty cantatas, and he had composed two Passionsin addition. But he felt disillusioned because there was little support or enthusiasm for his efforts.
This lack of gratitude led to his seeking an additional outlet and incentive for his creativity and he thus became director of the Collegium Musicum, an organization of university students that had been established by Telemann in 1702, when he was studying law in Leipzig. Meeting at Zimmermann’s coffee house – and, during the summer months, outdoors – this amiable assemblage performed a wide variety of secular vocal and instrumental music.
With so much music to compose, it is little wonder that Bach was not above occasionally recycling an earlier work or two for reuse. For his Cantata No. 156, for instance, he devised its Sinfoniaby transposing the slow movement of his Cothen period Harpsichord Concerto in F Minor, BWV 1056 downward from A flat Major to F Major. Or, more correctly, this lovely movement for oboe solo is a borrowed item from a lost concerto for either violin or oboe (of which the Harpsichord version is a subsequent arrangement).
Similarly, the Concerto for Oboe and Violin, BWV 1060 is a bit of speculative guesswork: a reconstruction of a Cothen period concerto, either for two violins or (more probably) for oboe and violin, that was among the aforementioned lost works from that epoch.
Again, the concerto’s musical material survives by way of the composer’s later arrangement for two harpsichords. To my ears, it sounds far more agreeable in its presumed original instrumentation, and the aural superiority is particularly striking when one compares the central Adagio– angular and earth-bound in its dual-keyboard form, but flowing “on wings of song” when intoned by oboe and violin. In its three movement, fast-slow-fast format, and its subtle alternation of solo instruments alongside (but sometimes in juxtaposition with) the tutti strings and continuo, BWV 1060 – in whichever form – is recognizably “to the Italian taste.”
So, too, is the Fifth– and arguably grandest – of the immortal Brandenburg Concertos. Dating from circa 1719 (it is all but impossible to ascertain definite vintage dates for most of Bach’s output), the concerto was probably composed to inaugurate the new harpsichord that Bach had brought back from Berlin. Probably the last of the six, the Fifth Brandenburg, like its brethren, shows how Bach had assimilated all the stylistic prerequisites of Italian style but, with his genius for innovation, far transcended the “role model” in terms of structural dimensions and spiritual profundity.
On a purely subjective plane, confluence of the solo concerto and the concerto grosso – with its gigantic written-out first movement cadenza – the work is unmistakably a harpsichord concerto, and one that paved the way to, if not Liszt and Rachmaninoff, certainly to Beethoven.
Conversely, and heart-stoppingly so in its central unaccompanied Affetuoso, the spirit of intimate chamber music – a memorable three-way conversation between the harpsichord (now subdued where it was, just a movement earlier, explosively public), violin and flute. Incidentally, this is the first time Bach wrote specifically for the flauto traverso, or transverse flute, rather than (as in the Fourth Brandenburg) for a pair of recorders. In the final Allegro, Bach repeatedly uses a sprinting figure indicated in conventional baroque notation wherein the upbeat is written as a sixteenth note rather than as the third of a triplet (which is almost certainly the way it was intended to sound).
Bach’s four orchestral suites (sometimes called Ouvertures) are in the French rather than the Italian style. Two of them (No. 1 in C, BWV 1066, and No. 4 in D, BWV 1069) were composed at Cothen, the others (No. 3 in D, BWV 1068 and the present No. 3 in B Minor, BWV 1067) at Leipzig.
The B minor Suite, despite its misleading designation as “No. 2,” was the last, with a vintage date from the 1730s. Unlike the clarion trumpet and tympani-laden D major works and the relatively more subdued but still strongly oboe-permeated C major, the B minor Suite projects a grave persona, sternly-but tenderly set forth by a solo flute against a backdrop of strings and continuo. Its eponymous Ouverturefulfills its role as a throat-clearing call to order without violating the work’s essential intimacy. It somewhat reminds this listener of the opening Sinfonia of the C minor Partita for keyboard, BWV 826(but unlike that work, returns to the slower-moving opening material).
A series of contrasted dances follows: First a Rondeau, then a Sarabanda, a pair of Bourrees, a Polonaiseand its double variant, a Menuetand, finally, a Badinerie– Bach’s only know use of this bantering plaisanterie (“Badinerie” or “Badinage” can be translated to mean jest, trifle or piece of fun).
1-3: Concerto in C Minor for Oboe, Violin, Strings and Basso Continuo, BWV 1060
4-6: Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 for Flute, Violin, Obbligato Harpsichord, Strings and Basso Continuo, BWV 1050
7: Sinfonia in F Major “Ich steh’ mit einem Fulz im Grabe” for Oboe, Strings, and Basso Continuo, BWV 156
8-14: Suite in B Minor for Flute, Strings, and Basso Continuo, BWV 1067
And “piece of fun” it is because once you go Bach you never go back! (Hey, what do you want from me?! I’ve been listening to nothing but Bach for the past week!)
Vladimir Feltsman, Pianist & Conductor – The Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Recorded July 12, 13, and 14, 1993 at the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (Musical Heritage Society)
Smooth, clean and by the book, Vladimir Feltsman does a very workmanlike job on the “Keyboard Concertos” (originally written for violin or oboe) of J.S. Bach – though the ghost of Gould lingers.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES (by Tim Page):
Styles change, and it is a relief for those of us who have always enjoyed listening to – and playing – Bach’s music on the piano not to have to make any more apologies for our taste.
I acknowledge that the piano many not have been the instrument for which Bach wrote these pieces – for that matter, the concertos on this disc were not originally intended for keyboard at all – but, in an era where there are any number of “authentic” recordings on clavichord or harpsichord available, why shouldn’t we explore the multiplicity of colors, textures and dynamics intrinsic in Bach’s music that can only be made accessible by a pianist?
As the late Glenn Gould once observed, back in the days when musicological dogma was at its most rigid, if you take the notion of authenticity too far, about the only thing a conscientious musician would be able to play proudly on a modern piano was Rachmaninoff – and even that would have to be played on a turn-of-the-century Bosendorfer or German Steinway!
All of Bach’s keyboard concertos were originally scored for small orchestra and solo violin or oboe. Perhaps the greatest self-transcriber of all time, Bach blithely recycled this music for other pieces (for example, two movements of the Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1052, are also to be found in the cantata “Wir muessen durth viel Treubsal,” BWV 146) and then, working at what seems to have been unusual haste even for the man who regularly churned out a cantata each week, he wrote down all of his keyboard concertos in a single manuscript volume, apparently sometime around 1735.
The Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1052, is a vast, panoramic structure in three large movements that prefigures the romantic piano concerto to a remarkable degree (indeed, Felix Mendelssohn, who did so much to revive Bach’s reputation in the early 19th century, loved to perform this work).
The violin concerto from which this was presumably transcribed has not survived, but an early version for keyboard does exist; curiously, this was probably arranged not by Bach but by one of his sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.
The opening movement, in particular, is one of Bach’s grandest conceptions – an extended tutti in unison leads directly to a flowing, meditative passage for the piano; throughout, Bach seems to be straining against formal strictures even as he is fulfilling them flawlessly.
Likewise, we do not have the original version of the Concerto in E, BWV 1053, but it, too, seems to have been written for violin. In any event, Bach raided it for subsequent cantatas (this time for BWV 49, “Ich geh’ und suche mit Verlangen,”and BWV 169, “Gott soll allein mein Herze haben”) before turning it into this keyboard concerto.
As James Goodfriend, the former music editor of Stereo Review, once observed: “Bach produced both sacred and secular music on demand and, with the pressure of immutable deadlines, borrowed freely from one for the other with no feeling of sacrilege.”
Happily, in the case of the Concerto in D, BWV 1054, we have Bach’s original on hand; the familiar Violin Concerto in E, BWV 1042, one of the treasures of the string repertory. It is not clear why Bach lowered the concerto a whole tone when he decided to transcribe it for keyboard (perhaps to bring the violin part more fully within the range of the harpsichord); the transcription will surprise – and possibly bother – those listeners with perfect pitch who are used to the original.
Critical consensus tends to favor the violin version of this concerto over the arrangement for keyboard, but I find much to admire in the later version, particularly the bracing muscularity of the outer movements. (Ingmar Bergman made unforgettable use of the central Adagio of the violin concerto in his film Persona.)
“Ultimately, for Bach, the process of composition was an unending one,” the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians has rightly observed. “Dynamic markings and indications of articulation would be inserted as he looked through the parts; he would revise and improve a work when he was copying it out, and when giving further performances would make fresh alterations and improvements. He also inserted corrections, already in print. Throughout his life, Bach was his own severest critic. Even in works which went through two or three difference versions… the ‘final’ version does not represent a definitive one but merely a further state in the search for perfection – the central and ultimate concern of Bach’s method of composition.”
Albert Schweitzer, the organist and humanitarian, loved Bach as have few others. Yet, in his two-volume study of the composer, he had some withering words for the keyboard concertos: “Bach needed clavier concertos when he directed the Telemann Society. The arrangements are often made with quite incredible haste and carelessness; either time was pressing, or he felt no interest in what he was going. Violin effects to which he could easily have given a pianistic turn are not remodeled at all; later on he improves them here and there in the score but leaves them as they are in the clavier part…” “We are under no special obligation to incorporate these transcriptions in our concert programmes,” Schweitzer concluded.
Many of us will disagree and I think this disc can stand as eloquent refutation of the good Doctor’s last statement. It was Bach’s habit to work quickly – this is, after all, a man who was capable of producing a whole cantata every week – and if there are signs of haste in the concertos, it is still the haste of an extraordinarily great musician. Some of the material is recycled, to be sure, but that’s certainly no rarity in Bach (who was loathe to waste a good idea by using it just once and some of the passages are not fleshed out for keyboard in the tidy manner that we associate with more academic composers).
Yet the fact remains that these concertos have proven remarkably durable. They are perhaps more popular today than at any previous time; recordings and performances are proliferating and there is no end in sight.
The Concerto No. 4 in A, BWV 1055, seems to have begun life as either a concerto for violin or for oboe d’amore, in either case probably written during Bach’s tenure in Cothen, around 1720; Bach transcribed it for keyboard (along with the other keyboard concertos) more than a decade later. It is a brisk, buoyant work in three brief movements, smaller in scale than several of the others, yet boasting rather more soloistic filigree for the keyboard than was customary for Bach in these works.
The Largo of the Concerto No. 5 in F Minor, BWV 1056, is far and away the most famous movement in any of Bach’s keyboard concertos – most likely due to its use as the theme for the 1972 film Slaughterhouse Five.
Curiously, some commentators have questioned the concerto’s authenticity (at least one musicologist has suggested that it may have been written by Vivaldi, whose music Bach admired and transcribed). I find this unlikely – there is a distinctly Bach-ian mixture of austerity and drama throughout the work; moreover, Bach had already used the Largo as the introduction for one of his cantatas, “Ich steh’ mit einem Fuss im Grabe,” BWV 156 (where the melody is taken up, quite convincingly, by the oboe). Whether originally fashioned for violin, oboe – or even by some other composer – this is a justly popular piece, with the exquisitely calm and centered Largo providing a calm between two highly stormy outer movements.
Bach lowered his Violin Concerto in E, BWV 1042, a whole tone when he transcribed it for keyboard; seemingly following the same philosophy (which has never been fully explained) he transposed his equally successful Violin Concerto in G Minor, BWV 1041, a whole tone to create the keyboard Concerto in G Minor, BWV 1058.
Most scholars prefer the versions for violin, yet there is something enormously exciting about listening to a world-class pianist (or, for that matter, harpsichordist) dash through this music and the very different character it naturally assumes by being played on a keyboard.
The “Italian Concerto”– or, rather, the “Concerto After the Italian Taste… Composed for Music Lovers, To Refresh Their Spirits” – needs no defense from me or from anybody. A work for solo keyboard, it was immediately recognized for what it is – a successful, varied, highly engaging entertainment.
Indeed, the critic Johann Adolph Scheibe, a contemporary of Bach’s, said it was “arranged in the best possible fashion for this kind of work.” “It will doubtless be familiar to all great composers and experienced clavier players,” he added, “as well as to amateurs of the clavier and music in general. Who is there who will not admit that this clavier concerto is to be regarded as a perfect model of a well-designed solo concerto?”
[Tim Page is the chief classical music critic for New York and Long Island Newsday and the author, most recently, of “William Kapell” and “Music from the Road: Views and Reviews 1978-1992”.]
CD No. 1:
1-3: Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1052
4-6: Concerto in E Major, BWV 1053
7-9: Concerto in D Major, BWV 1054
CD No. 2:
1-3: Concerto in A Major, BWV 1055
4-6: Concerto in F Minor, BWV 1056
7-9: Concerto in G Minor, BWV 1058
10-12: Concerto Nach Italienischem Gusto
Well, I certainly learned a lot reading those (very long) liner notes. And I must say, how can you not like a Concerto named “Concerto After the Italian Taste – Composed for the Music Lovers, To Refresh Their Spirts”?!
Glenn Gould, Piano – Columbia Symphony Orchestra (Vladimir Golschmann, Conductor). Recorded at 30th Street Studio, New York, 1958 (CBS Records)
Who am I to disagree with Robert Schumann (see below)?
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES (uncredited):
In 1837, a noted keyboard virtuoso gave a performance of J.S. Bach’sClavier Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, after which an influential music journalist had the following remarks to make:
“I should like to speak of many thoughts that were awakened in my mind by this noble work… Will it be believed that on the music shelves of the Berlin Singakademie, to which old Zelter bequeathed his library, at least seven such concertos, and a countless number of other Bach compositions, in manuscript, are carefully stowed away? Few persons are aware of it; but they lie there notwithstanding. Is it not time, would it not be useful for the German nation, to publish a perfect edition of the complete works of Bach? The idea should be considered, and the words of a practical expert, who speaks of this undertaking on page 76 of the current volume of the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik, would serve as a motto. He says: ‘The publication of the works of Sebastian Bach is an enterprise I hope soon to see in execution – one that delights my heart, which beats wholly for the great and lofty art of this father of harmony.'”
The virtuoso who performed the Concerto was Felix Mendelssohn. The music journalist was Robert Schumann. The “expert” cited was Ludwig Van Beethoven. The quotation was from a letter Beethoven wrote to the music publisher Hofmeister in 1801. So much for establishing the validity and stature of Bach’s clavier concertos as great works of musical art.
To a certain extent, such a validation is necessary for the present-day listener, since Bach’s keyboard concertos differ in many ways from the archetype of the concerto as it was established in the nineteenth century.
To begin with, there is nothing of the heroic drama engendered by the opposition of forces as in the Romantic concerto. In the BrahmsSecond Piano Concerto – to take a random example – the soloist and the orchestra are pitted against each other as adversaries in a titanic struggle.
Not so with Bach. Nor is there, in his keyboard concertos, even much of the opposition and contrast of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century concerto grosso, or for that matter, of the Vivaldi violin concerto. Rather, since the clavier plays even in the orchestral tutti, the works are completely clavier-dominated.
In the worlds of Philipp Spitta, the German music scholar and author of a biography of Bach, “These works are, we may say, clavier compositions, cast in concerto form, that have gained in tone, parts, and color through the cooperation of string instruments.”
In the genesis of Bach’s clavier concertos, we find additional differences. The nineteenth century established originality as a primary standard for judging the artistic merit of a work. But such a standard was, in many ways, foreign to earlier times.
One may see, in early painting and graphics, near-identical layouts of subject material, differing only in the stylistic elements that the artist brought to the execution of the idea (and sometimes not even that).
And in the music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and earlier, thematic ideas and harmonic progressions are to be found floating freely from one composer to another; sometimes whole movements or even whole compositions were adapted and reworked; and, certainly, and most commonly, composers refashioned their own materials to fit new forms or fulfill new functions.
The majority of Bach’s clavier concertos fall into this latter category as rewrites of previously existing concertos, mostly for violin. Herein lies a principal reason for the clavier domination of the works, for the part previously assigned to the solo violin is now given to the keyboard player’s right hand, and the left hand, as if it were another instrument, plays a bass part.
In fact, Bach’s usage of the musical material contained in these works did not stop with the concertos themselves. Movements from them can be found re-worked and re-orchestrated and fulfilling a completely new function in the church cantatas he wrote for later occasions.
No antecedent is known for Concerto No. 4 in A Major,although despite being a bit more keyboard-like in figurational detail than most of the other concertos, it is still presumed to have been based on a violin (perhaps oboe?) original.
Two final points remain to be made about the concertos, the first having to do with the occasions for which they were composed. Bach went to Leipzig to become Cantor of the Thomasschule – a fairly prestigious position and one that involved an enormous amount of labor, all of it devoted to sacred music. Since Bach’s musical interests extended beyond the boundaries of the sacred, it is not altogether surprising that, in 1729, he added to his responsibilities the job of conductor of the Collegium Musicum, a purely secular society.
The Collegium Musicum met one a week, in Zimmermann’s coffee house, or, in summer months, in his garden. For those meetings, Bach supplied secular cantatas and instrumental music, including the seven known complete clavier concertos (there exists a fragment of an eighth).
Personnel for an orchestra was invariably present at these meetings, as was something of an audience. And Herr Zimmermann, perhaps impressed by Bach’s reputation as a virtuoso organist and harpsichordist, purchased for the meetings an exceedingly fine, large, double-manual harpsichord. It was a happy combination of factors, for the concertos played at these meetings were probably the first clavier concertos ever written.
The presence, too, of an audience was significant in the history of music, for it signaled, in its small way, the movement away from the church and the court and toward the public concert as a center of music.
1-3: Concerto No. 1 for Piano & Orchestra in D Minor, BWV 1052
4-6: Concerto No. 4 for Piano & Orchestra in A Major, BWV 1055
7-9: Concerto No. 5 for Piano & Orchestra in F Minor, BWV 1056
I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during the Leonard Bernstein/Glenn Gould recording sessions. What did they talk about during lunch? Imagine Glenn Gould’s reaction to Lenny’s smoking, drinking and cursing!
Recorded at 30th Street Recording Studios, New York City – May 1981.
Brilliant (but can someone please stop that infernal humming in the background…kidding)
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES (uncredited):
In 1955, a young Canadian pianist made his first recording for what was then Columbia Masterworks. At that time he was not well-known to concert audiences and was completely unknown to the record market. But after the recording sessions of June of that year, in Columbia’s famous 30th Street Studios in New York City, and after the release of his first album, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Glenn Gould became world-famous.
His performance of Bach’s 1742 collection of “keyboard exercises” created an international recording sensation and achieved the unique distinction of becoming an album that, from its original release data to the present, was never absent from the active catalog of Masterworks recordings.
In 1970, Glenn Gould completed a recording session at the 30th Street Studios and decided that in the future he would record exclusively in Toronto, where his television and film activities were center. He did not again return to this musically historical building until 1980 when he began making his first digital recordings for CBS Masterworks – the Six Last Sonatas of Haydn and the Goldberg Variations.
Why did Glenn Gould, who seldom records a piece twice, choose to re-record a work that had received a definitive performance at his hands 27 years ago?
Gould has offered only the explanation that new technology plus his own desire to reexamine the work in terms of its “arithmetical correspondence between theme and variation” led him back into the studio for this recording.
Any more complete explanation of this new approach would, according to Gould, entail a complete written analysis, in an almost book-length essay, of the “thirty very interesting but independent-minded pieces” that make up the Variations– a fascinating prospect, to be sure.
Samuel H. Carter, who co-produced the Last Six Sonatas of Haydn, also worked on the new Goldberg Variations. Following are some of his observations of the last recording sessions:
Sometime past midnight on Saturday, May 27, 1981, the doors of CBS’s famous 30th Street Recording Studios in New York closed on the last official recording session to be held there by CBS Masterworks.
Out of those doors walked a man – assuredly only after a “cool down” period and change of shirt – a man whose illustrious recording career began there a little over a quarter century before. With an appropriateness that is usually found only in fiction, the last notes played by Glenn Gould that night were from the same work of Bach – the Goldberg Variations – with which he had first transfixed the music world in the summer of 1955.
Now the Studio, once a kind of mecca for some of the world’s greatest musicians, was to be sold, victim of the changed fortunes of an industry that has become as multinational as any other and as competitive.
For Glenn Gould and for those of us whose association with “Columbia” covers a long span of years, the old church is a place where many ghosts walk in an atmosphere so laden as to be almost claustrophobic, in spite of the soaring reaches of the ceilings.
Glenn Gould may have quietly come out by the same door wherein he entered but while he had been inside he stirred things up more than a little. Pablo Casals once said that Bach is “a volcano,” speaking of course of the emotional content of the music that traditionalists tried so hard for so long to deny.
Gould, too, is something of a volcanic force. He is the embodiment of musical sophistication in that he seems always to know what he intends the music to do. He almost never lets the music happen to him – he happens to it. That is what made many musicians who nominally “knew” the Goldberg Variations feel that they had just discovered them when the 1955 album appeared.
May I suggest that, with this new recording, many additional “discoveries” will be made. The nature of these will doubtless be as many and various as the number of listeners.
I think of Glenn Gould as an artist of strong intentionality. He shapes and molds a musical line in its breadth and in its detail with breathtaking awareness. As he has often told interviewers, he will try to make each performance different, yet this firm intention is always present so that however different the “take” there is never any tentativeness or absence of character.
Having worked extensively in both mediums as performer and producer, Glenn was almost instantly aware, in seeing and hearing a playback, of what takes or portions of takes were suitable for the film and recording and which for the film only. I often felt that he was being excessively nit-picking, only to discover in the intensive listening and editing sessions that followed that he had known precisely the difference he wanted in ever case.
He is a man who is very reluctant to accept anything short of the absolute attainment of his artistic goal.
1 – Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 [51:00]
“I don’t know know much about classical music – for years I thought the Goldberg Variationswere something Mr. and Mrs. Goldberg did on their wedding night.” – Woody Allen (Stardust Memories). Of course this recording gets my highest rating!