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Bach Series

Monique O'Dea Baroque Viola

BACH Nº 11
Monique O'Dea performs the Double (from Sarabande) from JS Bach's Partita No. 1 in B minor for solo violin, BWV 1002, transcribed for viola in E minor

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PROGRAM NOTES

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

PARTITA NO. 1 IN B MINOR, BWV 1002, TRANSCRIBED FOR VIOLA E MINOR
Double (from Sarabande)

Quote
In a general way, the music of every composer in any age is the mirror of his circumstances, and more or less faithfully reflects them. Certainly this is so with Bach and his period.
CHARLES STANFORD TERRY

A leading Bach scholar of his time, the words of Charles Stanford Terry continue to resonate even today, providing an important early-twentieth century academic overview of who JS Bach was and his musical practices. Terry’s success may be due to his approachable writing style, but often his works are filled with more philosophical insights per the quote above.

On the surface this statement appears logical, even obvious, but upon reflection the mirror Terry is referring to not only illuminates Bach’s circumstances, but also the way in which his circumstances impacted on his music.

From 1723 until his death, JS Bach’s volatile relationship with his employer, the Leipzig Council, is well documented. Indeed, the council would have preferred to hire Georg Philipp Telemann, but he had withdrawn his application in favour of remaining in Hamburg. In 1730, tensions were coming to a head when Bach made an official request in a memorandum to the city council for the employment of some twenty musicians for the proper accompaniment of church music, including four viola players.

The ongoing saga dragged on to no avail and it is likely Bach never received the viola players he requested. As a result, although an independent viola part features in all but six of Bach’s surviving cantatas, he rarely scores for more than one viola part.

WHAT TO LISTEN FOR
Capable of borrowing from either JS Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin or from his Suites for solo cello, here Principal Baroque Viola and Founding Member of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra Monique O’Dea’s choice of repertoire is both poignant and profound.

Usually performed on violin in the original key of B minor, this Double from the Sarabande changes dramatically when transcribed into E minor for the lower and more resonant Baroque viola. Suddenly, the sweetness and lightness of each four-bar phrase becomes richer and more melancholic. Perhaps this is the sound that inspired Bach’s well known and lifelong affection for the viola.

Program Notes: Joanna Butler & Hugh Ronzani, 2020
Image Credit: Steven Godbee, 2020


BACH SERIES PRESENTING PARTNER

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MONIQUE O'DEA

Monique O’Dea studied violin at the Adelaide Conservatorium with Beryl Kimber and subsequently won a scholarship to study in Vienna where she met her husband, Sydney violinist Michael O’Dea. After their time in Vienna, Monique and Michael moved to London for further studies and by this time, Monique had changed to the viola, something that had been in the back of her mind for a long time.  She was appointed Principal Viola of the Peterborough String Orchestra.

After returning to Australia, Monique was appointed Co-Principal Viola of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. It was at this time that she first met Paul Dyer who was playing harpsichord with the orchestra. They became firm friends on a bus to Canberra.

Paul invited Monique to join his newly formed Australian Brandenburg Orchestra as Principal Viola. She has been a member of the Brandenburg since the very first concert at Sydney Opera House in 1990. Monique also teaches at Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Sydney.

Biography: Monique O’Dea, 2020
Image Credit: Georges Antoni, 2019

BAROQUE VIOLA

I went to my luthier, Mike McMahon with my modern Smith viola, just enquiring about whether it would be worth trying to convert it to a Baroque viola as it is such a beautiful instrument. (Upon reflection, I think this was a bit of a crazy idea.) There on the wall was this beautiful viola. My husband saw it (I never notice anything), and he asked Mike what it was.

This viola has such a sweet tone and is a little smaller than my modern instrument, much more comfortable for me and easier to get around.

I played it there and then and fell in love. It is a French instrument made by Pierre Silvestre in 1849. I had never had such an old viola in my life. That afternoon I had a rehearsal with the Brandenburg; Mike quickly whipped off the modern strings and chinrest and put gut strings on it. I played it at the rehearsal and tried it out in the hall during the week with Mike and Michael, my husband.

We bought it within the week - it was meant to be!!! At some Brandenburg concerts in Arcadia and Bowral, I asked the audience what they thought and everyone agreed that I should make this beautiful instrument mine!

Instrument Notes: Monique O'Dea, 2020
Image Credit: Katelyn-Jane Dunn, 2020

FROM THE MANUSCRIPT

The excerpt above of the Double (from Sarabande) from Partita No. 1 in B minor for solo violin comes from the 1720 autograph manuscript of Bach’s collection of Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin. The manuscript is currently held in the Berlin State Library.

Image: Berlin State Library

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH

Born 21 March 1685 in Eisenach
Died 28 July 1750 in Leipzig
Childhood (1685–1703)
Weimar, Arnstadt, and Mühlhausen (1703–1708)
Return to Weimar (1708–1717)
Köthen (1717–1723)
Leipzig (1723–1750)

Image Credit: Berlin State Library 

FROM OUR PRESENTING PARTNER APA GROUP

APA is proud to support the Brandenburg Bach Series. Arts and entertainment are important to Australia’s diverse culture and economy. During the COVID-19 pandemic these sectors and the artists, musicians, creatives and makers at its core, have been particularly hard hit. Innovation like this online series of recitals is evidence of their innovation and resilience. It will sustain and broaden audiences for this music long into the future.

Image Credit: Katelyn Jane-Dunn, 2020

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Paul Dyer performs Prelude No. 1 in C major & Improvisation from JS Bach's Well‑Tempered Clavier, BWV 846