BACH 747

J.S. BACH:

Three Sonatas for Harpsichord & Cello, BWV 1027-1029
Zuzana Ruzickova, harpsichord
Josef Chuchro, violoncello

Three Concertos for Solo Harpsichord, BWV 981, 982, 987
Gunnar Johansen, Speerhake harpsichord


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1: Sonata for Harpsichord & Cello in G, BWV 1027
    Adagio - Allegro ma non troppo - Andante - Allegro moderato
2: Concerto for Solo Harpsichord in c minor after Alessandro Scarlatti, BWV 981
    Adagio - Vivace - Grave - Prestissimo
3: Sonata for Harpsichord & Cello in D, BWV 1028
    Adagio - Allegro - Andante - Allegro

4: Concerto for Solo Harpsichord in c minor after Prince Johann-Ernst, BWV 982
    Allegro - Adagio - Allegro - Allegro
5: Sonata for Harpsichord & Cello in g-minor, BWV 1029
    Vivace - Adagio - Allegro
6: Concerto for Solo Harpsichord in d minor after Prince Johann-Ernst, BWV 987
    Adagio - Presto - Allegro - Adagio - Vivace

Total time 73:53

In 1717 Bach arrived at the small Court of Anhalt-Cöthen to hold the position of Capellmeister, the highest rank given to a musician during the baroque age.

His master, the young prince Leopold, had already spent three years (1710-13) doing the Grand Tour of Europe; inspired particularly by the music and musicians or Italy, he determined to raise the standard of German secular music to an equally high level. The Prince stretched the limited budget of his miniature Court to provide an orchestra of eighteen players, all chosen for their high musical standards from all over the country, some from as far afield as Berlin.

Life at Cöthen was informal and easy-going; in this happy atmosphere Bach's days were completely devoted to music. During this period a large number of Bach's sonatas, in particular the three for viola da gamba or cello and clavier, stem from his years in Cöthen. Bach surely wrote the latter with his patron in mind, for the prince would have been a ready and skillful player either on the gamba or the keyboard. In addition, the orchestra boasted a virtuoso cello and gamba soloist, Christian Ferdinand Abel, who could have played the works with Bach.

The combination of a single string line with two hands results in a Trio Sonata in which the three parts are of equal musical value. Indeed, the first Sonata, BWV 1027, also exists in a version for two flutes and keyboard (BWV 1039, see BACH 706). It was quite normal in baroque times for instrumentation to be changed at will to suit preference or circumstance – this same Sonata also exists in a version for organ or pedal harpsichord (BWV 1027a, see BACH 738).

For the three Concertos by Prince Johann Ernst transcribed for Solo Harpsichord we step back in time to Bach's previous appointment at the Court of Weimar between 1708 and 1717. Note: Please see Bach's Employment in Weimar - clarifying the names of Bach's ducal employers.

It has generally been accepted that Bach's transcriptions were simply learning exercises. However the level of composition already reached and evidenced in his Weimar instrumental and organ works, as well as those of earlier years, hardly shows need for simple transcription as a means of further education. More likely was the challenge of accurately transforming an orchestral concerto, with its alternation of soloists and full orchestra, into a work for solo instrument, albeit a two manual harpsichord with its ability to couple keyboards for a tutti effect. This would have been an interesting and amusing way for Bach and his fellow musicians to familiarize themselves with the currently fashionable compositions without the need for orchestral parts and the gathering of the full band. The technique of rendering an orchestral form as a solo harpsichord piece would be re-visited many years later at Leipzig with the Italian Concerto, BWV 971 - recorded by George Malcolm on BACH 716.

Gunnar Johansen makes judicious use of his Speerhake harpsichord's full range of sonorities including the 16', as evidence has shown Bach would have done. Illustrated article: The Baroque German Harpsichord. Gunnar Johansen can also be heard in a program of Bach's lesser-known harpsichord works on BACH 732.

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