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Bach Series

Paul Dyer Harpsichord

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

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PROGRAM NOTES

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

WELL-TEMPERED CLAVIER
PRELUDE NO. 1 IN C MAJOR, BWV 846

In the nineteenth century, only a small number of music lovers, mostly in Germany, knew anything of JS Bach and his musical works. The 1829 performance of St Matthew Passion in Berlin, organised and directed by Felix Mendelssohn, began the slow Bach revival.

Throughout Bach’s life his reputation as an extraordinary keyboard player dominated any renown as a composer and teacher. After many decades of intense research and study of his music, Bach is now considered one of the most genius composers of all time, if not the greatest. It would be interesting to know if certain opinions held by Bach’s contemporaries and other influential people, such as Frederick the Great, may have differed in this light.

Even before the last years of his life, JS Bach was regarded as an outdated musician. On his visit to Frederick’s court in Potsdam in 1747 he was referred to as the 'Old Bach', with old meaning both elderly, and severely out of fashion. Nevertheless, his keyboard works, and The Well-Tempered Clavier in particular, survived him and were closely studied and highly regarded by composers like Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and many more.

Both volumes of The Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC) consist of 24 preludes paired with 24 fugues. They are arranged in chromatic order starting with C major, then progress through each subsequent key: C minor, C-sharp major, C-sharp minor and so on. The first volume was composed in 1722 "for the profit and use of musical youth desirous of learning, and especially for the pastime of those already skilled in this study", with the second volume following some 20 years later.

WHAT TO LISTEN FOR
Immediately recognisable, this opening prelude from the first volume of the WTC exists in several earlier versions: it first appeared in 1720 in the Notebook for Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, compiled by JS Bach for his 9-year-old son, and the prelude was also copied by Bach’s second wife Anna Magdalena in her 1725 Notebook.

Although devoid of any melodic line and constructed from repetitions of the same simple motif – an arpeggiated chord – Bach exploits unexpected harmonic turns to produce a masterful underlying voice-leading that is not as regular as one might anticipate. This may explain why the prelude also served as the basis for the famous Ave Maria by Charles Gounod which he arranged in 1853.

Gounod’s simple melody, largely consisting of long held notes, comfortably sits above Bach’s arpeggiated material.  The listener is transported, bar after bar, phrase after phrase without any jarring dissonances, awkward leaps, or jaggedness. Each new phrase feels as if it follows a logical harmonic progression. Interestingly, only one extra bar of ‘accompaniment’ was added by Gounod while creating his arrangement, a true testament to Bach’s masterful control of harmony and counterpoint.

Program Notes: Joanna Butler & Hugh Ronzani, 2020

 


BACH SERIES PRESENTING PARTNER

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Photo Credit Georges Antoni 2019

PAUL DYER AO

Paul Dyer is one of Australia’s leading specialists in period performance.

Paul co-founded the Brandenburg in 1989 after completing postgraduate studies at the Royal Conservatorium in The Hague and has been Artistic Director and conductor since that time. He is a performing artist comfortable in his unique music arena – whether working in ancient music, contemporary music, opera, with artists such as circus performers, contemporary dance, or visual art. His busy performing schedule in Europe, Asia, the USA and Canada over the years has synchronised perfectly alongside his bold stage work in Australia.

Paul is an inspiring teacher and has been a staff member at various conservatories throughout the world. In 1995 he received a Churchill Fellowship and he has won numerous international and national awards for his CD recordings with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Choir, including the 1998, 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2010 ARIA Awards for Best Classical Album.

Paul has performed with many international soloists including Andreas Scholl, Cyndia Sieden, Marc Destrubé, Hidemi Suzuki, Stefano Montanari, Xavier De Maistre, Shunske Sato, Maurice Steger, Riccardo Minasi, Yvonne Kenny, Emma Kirkby, Philippe Jaroussky and many others. In 1998 he made his debut in Tokyo with countertenor Derek Lee Ragin, leading an ensemble of Brandenburg soloists, and in August 2001 Paul toured the orchestra to Europe with guest soloist Andreas Scholl. In 2015, he was featured on the soundtrack of the James Bond 007 movie, Spectre.

A passionate cook, entertainer, foodie, teacher, swimmer and traveler, he is friends with people and artists from Istanbul to India and Japan to Italy, and creates a unique platform for overseas performing artists to work with him and the Brandenburg in Australia. Among his list of achievements, Paul was awarded the Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 2013 for his ‘distinguished service to the performing arts in Australia’. Paul is Patron of St Gabriel’s School for Hearing Impaired Children. In 2003 Paul was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal for his services to Australian society and the advancement of music, and in 2010 Paul was awarded the Sydney University Alumni Medal for Professional Achievement.

View an interview with Paul Dyer here

Biography: Paul Dyer, 2020
Image Credit: Georges Antoni, 2019 

HARPSICHORD

The harpsichord Paul Dyer is playing was generously donated by the late Tom and Jenny Parramore in 2001. It is a single manual Flemish harpsichord, Hubbard Moemans model, by Peter Watchorn ca. 1980. The compass with an unusual short octave: GG-CC – e”’, has keys made of bone and ebony and Seahorse papers in the keywell and inner case rim.

The case is painted dark green with gilt mouldings on stained beechwood, with a sitka spruce soundboard and a beech bridge. The three stops: 2 X 8’ and a buff, are completed with Delrin jacks and plectra. This harpsichord sits on a Flemish style baluster stand.

Image Credit: Gary Heery, 2012

FROM THE MANUSCRIPT

The image above of the first page of Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C major and comes from an autograph manuscript dating to 1722-1723. The manuscript is currently held in the Berlin State Library.

Image Credit: 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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