Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Walter (Conductor)
Recording Location: American Legion Hall, Hollywood, California (Tragic Overture 1960; Symphony No. 4 1959)
The final recording of the Brahms symphony cycle Bruno Walter and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, the 82-year-old genius really brings a weight and importance to Brahms that only an 82-year-old genius can bring.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES: (None)
This is a discount CD from the remastered CBS Masterworks recordings – so, unfortunately, no notes. I would have loved to have read about the recording of the Brahms symphony cycle.
1: Tragic Overture, Opus 81 [13:18]
Symphony No. 4, Opus 98
2: Allegro non troppo [12:55]
3: Andante moderato [11:46]
4: Allegro giocoso; Poco meno presto [6:26]
5: Allegro energico e passionaato; Piu Allegro [11:16]
These great old recordings aren’t heard that much anymore. So happy I have them in my collection. This project is allowing me to go back and listen to CDs that I may not have ever heard again.
The above links at the top of the page are of the actual recordings reviewed here (no video). Below is just a really great live performance of Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 – Bernard Haitink conducting. Enjoy!
The Academy Of Ancient Music (Christopher Hogwood, Conductor)
Recorded at Walhamstow Assembly Hall, London – August, 1985
Even though this symphony, I think, is most effective when performed with the best modern instruments money can buy, this “authentic instrument” recording (thanks, Sir Hogwood) is the standard bearer and generation after generation will forever have this fabulous recording to know exactly how this masterpiece sounded in Beethoven’s day (provided the orchestras in Beethoven’s day didn’t suck).
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES (written by Barry Cooper):
Although Beethoven was born and brought up in Bonn, he moved to Vienna in 1792, at the age of nearly 22. Once there, he quickly became recognized as a virtuoso pianist, and he also become wildly admired for his remarkable ability at improvisation.
His reputation as a composer, however, developed more slowly, and until the end of the century his compositions found favor with only a small number of people. But two works did more than anything to broaden his popularity – the Septet Opus 20 of 1799-1800 and the ballet Die Geschopfe des Prometheus (The Creatures of Prometheus) of 1801.
The Prometheusmusic was to play an important role in the genesis of the Eroica Symphony of 1803, and so an understanding of the ballet and its background is essential for a full appreciate of the Symphony. Ballet in Vienna had reached new heights during the 1790s, with several being produced each year; many were new, with music by such composers as Sussmayr, Weigl and Wranitzky, and most were labelled as belonging to a particular type, such as comic, heroic or tragi-pantomime.
Beethoven’sPrometheus, first performed on 28 March 1801, formed part of this tradition and was described as a ‘heroic allegorical’ ballet (notice the word ‘heroic’).
The work was so successful that it received twenty-three performances in less than two years. The finale appears to have been particularly popular, and Beethoven soon took advantage by arranging the two main finale themes as Contretanzefor use at balls (it is sometimes stated that the Contreanzepreceded the ballet, but the sketches indicate that ballet undoubtedly came first).
In 1802, he used the principal finale theme again, this time for a set of piano variations Opus 35; he even requested the original publishers to mention on the title page that the them was from Prometheus, though his request was ignored.
As soon as he had finished sketching these variations, he wrote on the next two page of his sketchbook a plan for the first three movements of a symphony in E-flat – a plan that was to evolve into the Eroica Symphony.
The fact that there are no sketches for the finale at this initial stage suggests he had already decided to base this movement on the popular theme from Prometheus,; thus the Eroicabecame the fourth work to use this theme.
During the next few months, the planned Symphonylay dormant, but Beethoven returned to it in the middle of 1803. He worked intensively on it throughout the summer, as usual composing the movements in the same order as they appear in the finished version.
By autumn 1803, the Symphonywas more or less complete, but he continued touching it up for at least a year or so afterwards and it was not finally published until October 1806.
The Eroicaor ‘Heroic’ Symphony was the first of his symphonies to have specific extra-musical associations. But although he doubtless expected the musical reference to his heroic ballet to be instantly recognized by the Viennese public, Prometheuswas not the only hero he had in mind.
According to one account, General Abercromby (who had been killed in action in 1801) was the hero was provided the initial idea for the Symphony.
More significantly, Beethoven intended to dedicate the work to Napoleon, whom he regarded as the hero who had overthrown the tyranny of the Anicen Regime. He had even written out a dedicatory title page, when news reached Vienna that Napoleon had proclaimed himself emperor.
In a fit of rage, Beethoven is reported to have torn up the page, exclaiming, “Is he too nothing more than an ordinary man? Now he too will trample on all human rights.”
In a manuscript copy of the Symphonywhich he possessed and which still survives today, Napoleon’s name on the title page is so heavily deleted that there is a hole in the paper.
In the end, the Symphonywas dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz, who not only paid Beethoven for the dedication but also enabled him to try out the Symphonyseveral times at the prince’s palace before its first public performance on 7 April 1805.
The work is thus best regarded as a portrayal of the idea of heroism rather than of any individual; the title page of the first edition leaves the matter ambiguous, stating that the Symphonywas ‘composed to celebrate the memory of a great man’ (‘compsta per festeggiare il sovvenire di un grand Uomo’) – either the memory of the Napoleon that was (before he became emperor) or of any great man.
The concept of heroism is portrayed in the music in a number of ways, most conspicuous of which is the size of the work. For Beethoven, a hero was apparently a larger-than-life character, and so the Symphonyis substantially bigger than any previous one.
In the first movement it is the gigantic development section in the middle of the movement that best portrays the hero, as it builds up to a climax of ferocious discords, followed by a desolate theme in the woodwind and ultimately the triumphant return of the main theme.
The second movement is headed ‘Marcia funebre’ and alternates between minor and major – between mournful melancholy and noble pathos.
In the third movement, a scherzo and trio, the heroic element appears most clearly in the trio, where a theme of uncommon boldness is played on three horns instead of the usual two, giving a much fuller sound. This theme, like many of the main themes in the Symphony, is based on the notes of the tonic chord, a device that contributes much to the heroic quality of the music.
(Some analysts suggest these tonic-chord themes are derived from the two opening chords of the Symphony, but the sketches show that these two chords were very much an afterthought.)
In most earlier symphonies the finale was a relatively light movement, but the Eroicamarks the beginning of a trend towards much weightier finales. This is hardly surprising when one remembers that the main themes of the Eroica finale was an important generating factor for the whole Symphony.
Beethoven did not specify any programme in the finale, but it is tempting to see the movement as reflecting the plot of Prometheus. The ballet begins with a storm, and similarly the finale of the Eroicahas a stormy opening; next Prometheusencounters two statues he has made, and in the Symphony the stiff, unharmonized bass-line that follows the storm could hardly be more statuesque.
Prometheusbrings the statues to life, and Beethoven likewise breathes life into the empty bass-line by adding various counterpoints, culminating in the addition of the tune borrowed from his ballet.
In the rest of the ballet the now living statues are introduced to various arts, while the remainder of the SymphonyBeethoven proceeds to use a great variety of musical arts, including variation, fugue and symphonic development.
The meaning of the ‘allegorical ballet’ is this: Prometheusis a lofty spirit who finds the men of his day in a state of ignorance and civilizes them, making them susceptible to human passions by the power of harmony. Thus it concerns the creative artist, a hero who breathes life into his creations and civilizes those around him. This idea can also be discerned in the gradeur of the Eroica, where the real hero is surely the composer.
It is of course possible to appreciate the Eroicawhile knowing nothing of its connections with Prometheusand Napoleon. But if we are to make progress towards ‘authentic’ listening, which is the logical counterpart of authentic performances, it is essential to be aware that the original audiences would have understood at once the reference to Prometheusin the Eroica, as well as appreciating that the Symphonywas breaking new ground.
It is also important to appreciate the genesis of the work – both its musical and extra-musical origins – so that we can approach it from the same angle as the composer. Such attitudes will certainly enhance our enjoyment of the music, and our receptiveness to the ideas that Beethoven was trying to communicate.
1-4: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major – Opus 55 – ‘Eroica’
Napoleon had to get all cocky and name himself “Emperor” – doesn’t he realize that Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony could have been dedicated to him? What a dumb ass.
Columbia Symphony Orchestra (Bruno Walter, Conductor)
Recorded at American Legion Hall, Hollywood, California, 1959
Now we’re getting into the meat – Beethoven Symphonies 1 & 2 –all I can say is Ludwig van is a talented man… the future looks promising.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES (none):
Another budget disc from CBS Masterworks. They couldn’t even afford liner notes. But here’s a bit of info from our friends at Wikipedia:
SYMPHONY NO. 1
Ludwig van Beethoven’sSymphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21, was dedicated to Baron Gottfried van Swieten, an early patron of the composer. The piece was published in 1801 by Hoffmeister & Kühnel of Leipzig. It is unknown exactly when Beethoven finished writing this work, but sketches of the finale were found from 1795.
The symphony is clearly indebted to Beethoven’s predecessors, particularly his teacher Joseph Haydn as well as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but nonetheless has characteristics that mark it uniquely as Beethoven’s work, notably the frequent use of sforzandi and the prominent, more independent use of wind instruments.
Sketches for the finale are found among the exercises Beethoven wrote while studying counterpoint under Johann Georg Albrechtsberger in the spring of 1787.
The premiere took place on April 2, 1800 at the K.K. Hoftheater nächst der Burg in Vienna.
The concert program also included his Septet and Piano Concerto No. 2, as well as a symphony by Mozart, and an aria and a duet from Haydn’s oratorio The Creation. This concert effectively served to announce Beethoven’s talents to Vienna.
SYMPHONY NO. 2
Symphony No. 2 in D major (Op. 36) is a symphony in four movements written by Ludwig van Beethoven between 1801 and 1802. The work is dedicated to Karl Alois, Prince Lichnowsky.
The Second Symphony was mostly written during Beethoven’s stay at Heiligenstadt in 1802, at which time his deafness was becoming more apparent and he began to realize that it might be incurable.
The work was premiered in the Theater an der Wien in Vienna on 5 April 1803, and was conducted by the composer. During that same concert, the Third Piano Concerto and the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Oliveswere also debuted. It is one of the last works of Beethoven’s so-called “early period”.
Beethoven wrote the Second Symphonywithout a standard minuet; instead, a scherzo took its place, giving the composition even greater scope and energy. The scherzo and the finale are filled with vulgar Beethovenian musical jokes, which shocked the sensibilities of many contemporary critics.
One Viennese critic for the Zeitung fuer die elegante Welt(Newspaper for the Elegant World) famously wrote of the Symphony that it was “a hideously writhing, wounded dragon that refuses to die, but writhing in its last agonies and, in the fourth movement, bleeding to death.”
1-4: Symphony No. 1, Opus 21 in C Major
5-8: Symphony No. 2, Opus 36 in D Major
Regardless of what Wikipedia, above, says – I think Symphony No. 1 is clearly a “Beethoven” symphony” and not as indebted to his predecessors (unless we’re talking about length) as others may believe. And no matter how many times I listen to Symphony No. 2, I just don’t get the “hideously writhing, wounded dragon…” It’s just not that violent (but I’m sure that joke killed at the Biergarten after the concert).
Other than sounding like it was recorded in a high school gymnasium (lots of echo), when you cut through the sound clutter, the performance is excellent.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES (by Misha Donat):
Beethoven published his first three sonatas, Opus 2 (1-3) in 1796, when he was in his mid-20s, and dedicated them to his former teacher Haydn.
Two decades and two dozen piano sonatas later, he began work on what was to be his final group of five sonatas. For some time he had been attempting to find German equivalents for the traditional Italian musical forms; and in 1817, he instructed his publisher to use the term “Hammerklavier” instead of “pianoforte” for all his future piano works.
His instruction was, however, unambiguously carried out only in the case of Opus 106 – the second of his late sonatas. As a grand sonata in four distinct movements, the Hammerklavierstands apart from its companions. It is a work of unprecedented scope, with the broadest slow movement Beethoven ever wrote for the piano, and a finale consisting of a colossal fugue – which makes huge demand on performer and listener alike.
Like the Sonata Opus 111, the Hammerklavier was dedicated to Beethoven’s staunchest patron, Archduke Rudolph of Austria, and its fanfare-like opening phrase was designed to fit the words, “Vivat, vivat Rudolphus!”
Opus 111 was Beethoven’s last sonata, and also his final work in his characteristically dramatic key of C minor. This time there are only two movements; the first begins with an intense slow introduction, out of which the Allegro explodes with force.
The finale is a set of variations on a serene ‘Arietta.’ The variations gradually increase in intricacy until they reach a long-sustained trill, and the sonata comes to a close in an atmosphere of profound calm.
1-4: Piano Sonata in B flat Major, Opus 106 – “Hammerklavier”
5-6: Piano Sonata in C minor, Opus 111
I used to love with my new copy of BBC Magazine would come in the mid-1990s with the CD glued to the cover. The glue would tear the cover of the magazine off until they decided (after the first few issues and probably thousands of complaints) to put the CD in plastic. The performances were always hit or miss but I have a nice nostalgia for all those discs in my collection.
Zino Francescatti, Violin; Robert Casadesus, Piano
Recorded in France (Sonata No. 5, 1961 – Sonata No. 9, 1958) (CBS Records)
And the hits just keep on coming – ah, nice.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES:
No liner notes on this budget disc but it’s such a pleasant recording you really don’t need to know anything about it – just sit back, get a glass of wine and relax.
1-4: Sonata No. 5 in F Major for Violin and Piano, Opus 24 – “Spring”
5-7: Sonata No. 9 in A Major for Violin and Piano, Opus 47 – “Kreutzer”
The easiest review I’ve had to do thus far. I like it. Whenever I hear this recording, I can’t help but think of the scene in “Love & Death” where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton play the opening strains of the Spring Sonata.
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!
More like the “Fart” Of The Fugue! (No, actually this is quite good.)
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES (uncredited):
Bach began composing his Art Of The Fugue in 1748 or 1749 and continued to work on it in 1759, the last year of his life. He had finished three-quarters of Fugue No. 15when a severe eye disease obliged him to leave off work on his artistic last will and testament and undergo an operation.
A combination of primitive medical techniques and a blundering doctor proved fatal – within six months of this operation Bach was dead.
He spent his last days in a darkened room, alone with the God he had served and glorified all his life.
When he felt death close upon him, he sent for his son-in-law, the musician Altnikol, and dictated to him not the conclusion of the great B-A-C-H fugue but a chorale fantasia on melody “When We Are In Deepest Need,” telling Altnikol to entitle it “I Draw Near Unto Thy Throne.” In the manuscript we can see all the pauses that the “sick man had to permit himself.”
Albert Schweitzer narrates: “The drying ink becomes more watery from day to day – the notes written in the twilight, with the windows closely curtained, can hardly be deciphered.”
This last composition from Bach’s pen was included in the first edition of the Art Of The Fugue, not because it belongs with that work but as an apologetic compensation to the purchaser for the completeness of the work itself. How incomplete the Art Of The Fugueis we do not know.
The mammoth Fugue No. 15may have been the final one of the series, or Bach may have planned to follow it with a still more grandiose quadruple fugue. The latter contention was Sir Donald Tovey’s and Tovey actually complete the fifteenth fugue and composed, as the sixteenth, a totally invertible fugue with four subjects, to prove that such a feat was possible and that Bach had something of a the sort in mind.
Most performances of the Art Of The Fugue, however, are content to break off where Bach himself broke off, for there is something awesome about this sudden silence just at the point when Bach introduced the letters of his own name for the first time into one of his works.
The most vexing problem, of course, is whether or not Bach intended the Art Of The Fugue to be played at all. He does not once in the entire work indicate a tempo or a dynamic marking. He does not indicate what instrument or instruments should play the work. He writes each of the voices on a separate staff (in so-called “open score”), which is very helpful for the student but anything but helpful for the keyboard player.
This leaves the field open to the arranger, and arrangers have eagerly rushed in. There are multiple versions for orchestra, for string quartet, for two pianos, for organ, for piano solo. Only the musical pedant can find these various realizations a source of annoyances – the genuine music lover will make his own choice or choices and take pleasure in the process.
Whatever choice he makes, the Art Of The Fugueremains massively and imperturbably itself. For though it is devoid neither of humanity nor emotion, the human and the emotional are not its real concern. Like the figure on Keats’ urn, it has passed out of time and accident, and wears the changeless beauty of pure thought.
George Frideric Handel wrote a great deal of music for the harpsichord. Yet, the publication in 1720, of his first book of Suites de pieces de clavecinwas still an extraordinary event. It was the first authorized publication of any of his instrumental works, and it was to remain the only collection of harpsichord suites he issued under his own auspices.
The Suitesare rather unorthodox in form and do not follow the generally established dance sequence of the eighteenth century instrumental suite. Each of the four recorded here follows a difference pattern, and they are best described individually.
No. 1 in A Major – The Prelude for this suite consists primarily of a sequence of chords that invite the performer to invent his own embellishments. Glenn Gould contributed an intricate personal statement composed expressly for this recording. This brilliant Prelude, combining arpeggios and scales, is followed by three dances – Allemande, Courante, and Gigue – that are in Italian style.
No. 2 in F Major – This is not really a suite at all but a sonata de chiesa in the Italian style, of the type often composed for violin and continuo. The movements follow the common pattern: Adagio, Allegro, Adagio, Allegro.
No. 3 in D Minor – Like Bach whose Clavierubung Book IIappeared fifteen years later, Handel here is writing orchestral music for harpsichord. Unlike Bach, Handel later reused some of the pieces in the Concerti Grossi of Op. 3. The first two movements, Prelude and Allegro, are actually a prelude and fugue. Italianate dances, an Allemande and a Courante, are then followed by an Air and Variations and a concluding Presto.
No. 4 in E Minor – The opening Allegro is a fugue, in the style of Italian violin music. The following movements, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gigue, comprise the most, orthodox suite sequence in the entire collection.
While Handel’s harpsichord works may not be the most important segment of his production, the best of them are fully worthy of his genius. Their values in relation to Handel’s better known music are pointed out by the eminent musicologist Paul Henry Lang: “A number of these compositions serve as proving grounds for his dramatic works in them appear certain basic ideas and models that were to follow Handel throughout his career.”
And of all his works, it is probably the first book of suites, along with the Organ Concertos, that provides us with the best picture of Handel as performer-composer.
1-9: Bach – The Art Of The Fugue, BWV 1080
10-13: Handel – Harpsichord Suite No. 1 in A Major
14-17: Handel – Harpsichord Suite No 2. in F Major
18-22: Handel – Harpsichord Suite No. 3 in D Minor
23-27: Handel – Harpsichord Suite No. 4 in E Minor
Listening to solo organ is not the most pleasant experience (even Bach), but I can imagine how thrilling it would have been to be sitting in a symphonic hall or grand church and listening to Glenn Gould play the Art Of The Fugue. I’m fairly certain that wouldn’t suck.