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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
PARTITA NO. 1 IN B MINOR, BWV 1002, TRANSCRIBED FOR VIOLA E MINOR
Tempo di Borea
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 Indeed, the council would have preferred to hire Georg Philipp Telemann, but he had withdrawn his application in favour of remaining in Hamburg.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
Although not originally intended by the composer for her instrument, here Principal Baroque Viola and Founding Member of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra Monique O’Dea's achieves a striking sound that offers a very different perspective on Bach’s masterpiece for solo violin. The deepness of her sound and the greater resonance of her instrument renders especially the tenor the bass voices far more clearly.
The slower tempo of O’Dea’s interpretation in B minor is in stark contrast with the faster tempi often preferred by her counterparts on violin, where usually a sprightlier approach to this dance in duple meter is preferred. However, being able to properly revel in JS Bach’s mastery of harmony and voice leading as much as his beautiful melody is perhaps not such a bad thing after all.
Program Notes: Joanna Butler & Hugh Ronzani, 2021
Image Credit: Steven Godbee, 2020
BACH SERIES PRESENTING PARTNER