Bach specialist Daniel-Ben Pienaar has arranged music from a great uncle, close cousins, distant cousins, and five sons, all related to the great J. S. Bach in a wholly unique recital programme.
Aesthetic passions drive the repertoire and performance choices as the duo explore vocabularies not usually associated with trumpet and piano chamber music: brushing up against ‘period' gesture, ornamentation and articulation, whilst also co-referencing less fashionable inspirations from the past, including those judged ‘romantic' in coloration, whether in the use of the pedal, rubati or articulation.
Jonathan Freeman-Attwood's is an established authority on Bach interpretation, particularly as it challenges and refocuses historical perspectives on ‘performance practices' and how recordings of the past can influence current priorities and tastes.
A BACH NOTEBOOK FOR TRUMPET
Johann Sebastian Bach wrote celebrated parts for the old ‘natural' trumpet - the stratospheric 2nd Brandenburg Concerto and brilliant coloratura of the Mass in B minor are on a plane of brilliance beyond anything yet composed - but there's nothing in his oeuvre for a chromatic trumpet joined by a modern piano. Neither instrument existed and few such duo works made an impression before the mid-20th century.
In our ‘Notebook', we imagine that Johann Sebastian, and ten other Bachs, might just have found this medium a rather intriguing vehicle for their art. From this most extraordinary of musical families (represented here by a great uncle, close cousins, distant cousins, and five sons), only the youngest members exploited the early piano. Johann Sebastian Bach himself took an interest in Silbermann's early prototypes but in the last half of the 18th century the trumpet's medieval guilds (and gilded presence) were fading fast under the cloak of Enlightenment sensibility, one where the ornamented art of the high ‘clarino' simply did not fit.
So why perform all these Bachs for two yet-to-be imagined instruments? Johann Sebastian was, of course, no prude (or slouch) when it came to dressing music in new clothes for his own designs; the incentive for this chamber duo is similarly guided by exploring music for ‘here and now', selecting works which can bear renewal and, perhaps, upon which some new light might even be shed? The creative challenge of finding new contexts for the trumpet and piano (occasionally stimulated by simply thinking ‘what if'...) further galvanises transformation in all sorts of different contexts and traditions.
What a kaleidoscope of possibilities this Brigade of Bachs offers - from antiquated 17th-century canzonas and vocal motets to ‘galant' keyboard excursions and symphonic overtures, mainstream orchestral suites and Italian concertos! As well as these genres, the virtuosic ‘stylus phantasticus' of the great organ preludes and fugues yields to the congregational chorale, in turn fused to intimate and dramatic paraphrases which Johann Sebastian turned into celebrated art forms. The devotional prayer and the public statement can all be heard here (and much in between). Arguably, the individual voice of each Bach distilled in such an unfamiliar and ‘unhistorical' duo can encourage a fresh understanding of the collective musical spirit of the Bach generations.
Nothing here can defend us from the purist. In past recordings for Linn we have at least drawn some historical inspiration in our arrangements from the idiomatic use of the trumpet and piano in 19th-century repertoire (notably, the salon-inspired French variations for cornet and piano). Thus, in La Trompette Retrouvée and Romantic Trumpet Sonatas, we brought extant models to bear, both within formed and unformed traditions, on our sonatas and suites, whether a Chabrier, Fauré, Mendelssohn or Grieg work. Here, we return to the ‘could not possibly have happened' territory of Trumpet Masque, our 17th-century voyage of re-imagined duets.
And yet within these ‘impossibilities' lies the strong recognition that our arrangements are made ‘possible' by the range and pliability of modern instruments operating, hand-in-hand, with our considered reference to performance practice. Unlike Busoni, Liszt and Rachmaninov who made arrangements as a deliberate means of compositional refurbishment in their own image, our examples refer closely to original Bachian textures, current views on articulation and maintain a certain ideal of Baroque and early Classical dialogue. In a good number of pieces, the music remains undisturbed in all but necessary idiomatic revisions for expression in a contemporary modern-instrument landscape.
That Johann Sebastian tinkered away with his own (or others') music is not seized here as ‘silent approbation' to proceed with our Notebook transformations. Repertoire-building in the spirit of discovery - where connection and compatibility is sought between two seemingly disparate voices - is motivation enough. For this duo, and especially for this project, aesthetic passions drive the repertoire and performance choices as we explore vocabularies not usually associated with trumpet and piano chamber music: brushing up against ‘period' gesture, ornamentation and articulation, whilst also co-referencing less fashionable inspirations from the past, including those judged ‘romantic' in coloration, whether in the use of the pedal, rubati or articulation. The fact that there is no ‘performance practice' for the duo in this period - and that the practices for the works in their original scoring are often impossible to realise ‘authentically' - allows us, relatively speaking, to start from scratch.
The concept of the Notebook is central to the Bachian ideal of familial, devotional, pedagogical and artistic belonging. It is often a private collection of a craft to be learnt by, or dedicated to (and designed specifically for), an individual. Deftly assembled under the watchful eye of Johann Sebastian, the Clavier-Büchlein vor Wilhelm Freidemann and the celebrated Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena explore the art of learning to speak emotions through mastering a range of musical language, conceit and style. The notebook, as a genre, introduces expressive topographies of intimate dialogue, studied implication, and half-lit communication: a metaphor for Bach family values, agreeably acknowledged in a rounded anthology for practical use.
How does one begin to concoct a coherent Notebook representative of Bachian endeavour from the chapels and courts of Germany (and, in one case England) from the early 17th to the late 18th century? It is reckoned that over two centuries there were nearly 100 Bachs operating as fiddlers, trumpeters, organists, teachers, Kantors, court musicians, and composers. Johann Sebastian famously drew up a genealogy in 1735, Ursprung der musicalische-Bachischen Familie (Ancestry of the musical Bach family), providing evidence that family matters were at the epicentre of his day-to-day existence: he grew up with his extended family having being orphaned, performed the music of his cousins, taught at least six nephews, and married a cousin, his first wife, Maria Barbara. The notebooks often incorporate material from family gatherings, such as ‘quodlibets' where old family tunes would turn festivities and reunions into extemporizing games and beer-swilling hilarity. Our Notebook celebrates the family in a symmetrical celebration of 10 pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach and 10 pieces by ‘other Bachs', the earliest born in 1615 and the last dying in 1795.
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
Johann Sebastian Bach, as artist, sits both within this family collective and yet firmly outside it in terms of his scope, ambition and output. He looked beyond the limits of the small duchies of central Germany. Unlike his sons, he did not travel widely but embarked on a lone musical pilgrimage, fortifying an auto-didactic temperament with incessant enquiry, habitual absorbing of others' work through copying, paraphrasing, reconditioning, challenging, discarding and critiquing. By the age of 18, and almost by stealth, his ‘apparatus' had been assembled for life. Repositories of technical possibility and musical expression (which may even have surprised him) could be mined and transformed.
Scattered throughout our Notebook are Bach's works for organ, choir and orchestra, violin, solo singer, oboe, keyboard and cello, and they've been chosen to reflect the inherent potential for a trumpet and piano duo.
The organ repertoire presents rich pickings, especially given the licence in registration to imagine colour, character and dynamic perspective. Prelude and Fugue in G, BWV 541 is a brilliant essay in bravura, opening up a collaborative dimension in its new guise. Bach draws on the old North German ‘stylus phantasticus' whilst applying the ritornello techniques of the burgeoning concerto, doubtless gleaned from copies of fashionable Vivaldi works flying into courts from the publishing houses of Amsterdam. Being Bach, he devises his own ingenious strategy in the placement of string-like figurations in the Prelude, deliberately following no predictable pattern but curiously binding the music in what are essentially through-composed roulades. The Fugue is more conventional in its formal trajectory but, figuratively and texturally, it's a dashing statement of bold intent driving inexorably towards an epic pedal-point close.
‘An Wasserflüssen Babylon', BWV 653b is the least known but arguably the most exquisite of Bach's three chorale prelude arrangements of this evocative and serene hymn tune. In five parts, the ‘trumpet' chorale gently hovers above the flowing intimations of the accompaniment and episodic material. The episodes comment poignantly on the plight of the exiled Jews (‘we never cease from weeping, we hang our harps, in our despair') towards a whispering close: a secret never quite told and certainly not forgotten. Such is the score-like layout of this chorale prelude that it's tempting to see how, in a Bach reunion, it could have accommodated all the youngest children in their holding a part.
‘O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig', BWV 656 is a substantial chorale partita placed at the heart - as it is in our Notebook - of the mature Eighteen Chorale Preludes from Leipzig. As befits a Good Friday chorale setting on the Agnus Dei, it emphasises its tri-partite form with extraordinary dramatic impact. From the quiet supplication of the opening pages (the trumpet chorale intensifying its quest for mercy in the embellished repeat of the opening), the mood becomes restless as a swinging counter-melody encircles the cantus firmus, now portentously in the bass. Here, all hell is let loose as a triplet counter-subject drives inexorably in desperate defiance (here ringing out on the trumpet in a repeated figure of top C sharps). An anguished chromatic passage simply collapses the music, surely at the point of crucifixion. Is that the final ‘coup', like Bach's devastating treatment in the second Kyrie of the great ‘Organ Mass' (Clavierübung III)? No, here we have a reprieve - a plea in rapier-like quavers racing higher towards some hope of salvation.
‘O Mensch, bewein' dein Sünde Groß', BWV 622 (O Man, bewail your manifold sins) represents the ‘holy grail' of chorale-paraphrase from the Orgelbüchlein (‘Little organ book'), an incomplete collection of 46 (mainly short) settings drawn up in Cöthen. It was partly devised, in Bach's words, to provide ‘guidance to an enquiring organist in how to accomplish a chorale in all kinds of ways'. The well-known tune - albeit heavily disguised here - forms the basis of the chorale fantasia which concludes Part One of the St Matthew Passion. Bach alights on the ‘passion' imagery through the imploring, highly ornamented contours offered here by a ‘living' trumpet organ stop, perhaps further endorsing Peter Williams' observation of ‘O Mensch, bewein' as ‘an inspired caprice' rather than ‘a catalogue of recognisable ‘figurae' from different ages and repertoires'.
The simplest form of chorale is the one which appears unadorned as the last movement of a sacred cantata. ‘Von Gott kömmt mir ein Freudenschein', BWV 172 (vi) is a veritable gem where Bach closes the fine Pentecost Cantata, ‘Erschallet, ihr Lieder' (Ring out, ye songs), with a deliciously curving descant for violins on the tune better known as Philip Nicolai's ‘Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern'. It could as well have been detailed to a trumpet - as such movements regularly were.
Bach's cantatas provide a natural hunting ground for a Bach project of this kind. ‘Wer an ihn gläubet', BWV 68 (v) (He that believes in Him) constitutes the penultimate movement from the superb Whitsun work, Also hat Gott die Weit Geliebt (For God so loved the World). Its taut contrapuntal structure plays on the balance of God's judgement between those who trust and those who do not. Bach chooses an archaic, motet-like double fugue to reflect strict doctrine. Moreover the vocal parts of this concentrated five-part piece are doubled by the old Renaissance brass contingent of cornetto and trombones. Here, the trumpet plays the cornetto part without textual deviation.
The pastoral theme of the Easter cantata, Ich bin ein guter Hirt (I am the good shepherd), follows a quite different route in its gorgeously lilting tenor aria, ‘Seht, was der Liebe tut', BWV 85 (v) (See what his love has wrought). Expressing thanks for the safety of the shepherd's flock, the words also reflect on the precious blood of the Holy Sacrament in a free-flowing 9/8 dance of sustained beauty. In a similarly bucolic vein - and with valedictory repose at the end of the programme - the ‘Sarabande' from Cello Suite No. 6, BWV 1012 represents the only example on this disc of Bach being ‘touched up'. Arranged by Herbert Fryer (1877-1957), this movement forms part of the anthology A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen - another notebook in effect - commissioned between the Wars by Harriet Cohen. Taking Bach's multi-stopping techniques as the basis for his two-hand harmonisation, Fryer presents the fourth of his Op. 22 cello transcriptions in evocative, momentarily astringent but essentially sepia-like English landscape.
Two substantial Johann Sebastian Bach re-workings here involve the concerto, the form that the composer turned with unassailable boldness into something far beyond the generic Italian model. The ‘Prelude' to English Suite No. 2 in A minor, BWV 807 reflects the time, in Weimar around 1715, when Bach was experimenting with the alternating ritornello and solo passages of the concerto grosso with increasing imagination and character. If the ‘Prelude' and Fugue in G, BWV 541 demonstrates a hybrid application of the ritornello principle with older organ phenomena, in the A minor Prelude, the sections are clearly and ambitiously demarcated in what is another brilliant hybrid, this time of fugue, two-part invention and the Italian virtuoso concerto. The vitality of the sprung rhythms and inquisitive motivic dialogue is meat and drink for any ‘conversing' duo, especially in an arrangement which fills out the harmonic web with judiciously added material. Its large da capo canvas became a formula which Bach adopted in the ‘Sinfonia' to the antata BWV 42 and the Violin Concerto in E Major, BWV 1042.
The third movement of the Concerto in A Major, BWV 1055 suggests different priorities. Far from the sparring contrapuntal exchanges of the A minor ‘Prelude', this lyrical and radiant concerto (and especially this movement) encourages a sense of an accommodating decorum where the space between ritornello and solo allows for luminous generosity of spirit. The genial melodic character - strikingly shorn of polyphonic interplay and complexity - is wonderfully gallant and elicits a spirit of private but solicitous joy. It is thought by some that this was once an oboe d'amore concerto though only a source for harpsichord from the 1730s exists - doubtless performed in the Collegium Musicum by Bach's children and students.
TEN OTHER BACHS FROM 1615 TO 1795
The oldest Bach represented here is Heinrich Bach (1615-1692), Johann Sebastian's great uncle who was the court and town musician for Arnstadt where Bach was himself to start his career in 1703 as an ambitious and headstrong organist. Heinrich's life extended from the year Giovanni Gabrieli's last great set of Venetian instrumental works, Symphoniae Sacrae, were published to the point when Purcell composed his great ‘Ode to St Cecilia'. Almost none of Heinrich Bach's music survives. His two string sonatas in five parts represent the earliest known instrumental music by a Bach. The F Major Sonata is a conventional early-Baroque ‘patchwork quilt' of short interleaving sections, complete with clarion calls, quasi-antiphonal exchanges of Italian provenance and gentle adagio bars, all under-scored by ruddy Teutonic harmonies.
The brothers Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703) and Johann Michael Bach (1648-1694) - Johann Sebastian's first cousins once-removed - form the solar plexus of the 17th-century craft which provided Johann Sebastian with the prime inspiration for his own vocal output. Johann Christoph is unquestionably the finest musician in the family before Johann Sebastian, described in the family as ‘the profound one', and recorded in Johann Sebastian's Obituary Notice as ‘as good at inventing beautiful thoughts as he was at expressing words'. His vocal music is generally rhetorical, concentrated and intense, often employing elaborate and rich instrumental textures (usually in 5 parts). Ich lasse dich nicht (I will not leave thee until I am blessed) is couched in the traditional German chorale double-choir motet form, an ‘in alternatim' chorale followed by a skillfully turned section where the chorale and free material dove-tail memorably. In our version, the sections in which the double choir are equal become quasi-antiphonal, thereby intensifying the Genesis and Hans Sachs texts, whose ending, ‘I am a poor child of the world and find no consolation on earth', offers an unassuming yet affecting peroration.
Scholars are increasingly of the view that this is, in fact, probably the work of the young Johann Sebastian, especially given the sprightly contrapuntal élan of the second half, complete with stretti and inversions. Is this the work of precocious youth or productive old age? Or could it be a hybrid? Maybe this is the ‘young turk' completing an unfinished work under his cousin's tutorial supervision. The first half employs the circular motivic techniques of a late Schützian world whilst the chromatic inflections at the end of the first section, and the succeeding fugal texture of the second half, are distinctly of the new age.
If not quite in the league of Johann Christoph, the ‘quiet, reserved and artistically well versed' Johann Michael - who was also father to Johann Sebastian's first wife, Maria Barbara - is another significant Bach figure. He, too, wrote a number of fine motets though this work ‘Ach wie sehnlich wart' ich der Zeit' (Ah, how ardently I await the time when Thou wilt come, O Lord) is a strophic funeral aria for a dolorous solo soprano enveloped by a highly-wrought five-part string ensemble. In this arrangement, the main melody is played simply by the trumpet after an ornamental opening, shortly to unfold as a small variation ‘set' - a faithful paraphrase of the original, leading in its four strophes to the final flourish on the (imagined) words, ‘O Komm, O Komm, und hole mich!' (O come, O come and fetch me!) - and yet introducing a sense of dialogue implied, if not ‘acted out', in the original.
Johann Bernhard Bach (1676-1749) was Johann Sebastian's second cousin and a figure far removed from the devotional contexts of his older organist cousins. Here is a man conversant with the secular trappings of court life, composer of French-style orchestral suites, and colleague and friend of Telemann. His suites are, as the Obituary Notice suggests, by one who ‘composed many beautiful overtures in the manner of Telemann' and which Johann Sebastian copied for performance at the Collegium Musicum. ‘La Joye' is a suitably light-headed, dainty and invigorating French dance whose German harmonic surety encourages our arranger in the reprise towards a bold rustic vigour.
Johann Ludwig Bach (1677-1731) is the most distant relation of Johann Sebastian, a third cousin and from a different branch (the Meiningen Bachs) to all the others included here. Apart from this unknown ‘Overture' from the Suite in G - a fluent and succinct opening movement which rolls off the page with engaging candour - Johann Ludwig composed a selection of vocal works which Johann Sebastian performed regularly in Leipzig, especially in the years when his creative life was moving, during the late 1720s, away from cycles of cantatas towards collections of keyboard music and other projects for posterity.
Of Johann Sebastian's five sons, the eldest was Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784). He is often considered the most natural talent in the family and yet, of the three exceptional sons (the others being Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christian), Wilhelm Friedemann is noted as much for under-achievement and increasingly difficult personal circumstances as for his musical accomplishments. Living up to the expectations of such a father can never have been easy and one senses that for Wilhelm Friedemann the strain was often too great. His music, at best, is cultivated, sensitive and finely etched, and the polonaises from 1765 are exquisitely intimate character pieces, aspiring towards the delicate and reflective world of the ‘emfindsamer Stil' (‘style of sensibility'). The Polonaise in F minor is a beautifully contained example of distilled pathos, an embodiment of F.C. Griepenkerl's early description of these works as ‘the purest and truest expression of a noble, tender and greatly agitated spirit'.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788) was Johann Sebastian's second son and is generally described as the most important composer in the second half of the 18th century after Haydn and Mozart. His accomplishments were not always appreciated in the vanguard of Prussian cultural life, although his keyboard treatise Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (Essay on the true Art of playing Keyboard Instruments) became highly influential. He also enjoyed a reputation for good companionship, humour and quick-witted word-play, alongside a remarkable capacity for feathering his nest; some thought him excessively greedy, others benefited regularly from his generosity - not least the struggling members of his family.
Keyboard music runs thread-like through an opus of over a thousand works. Whether contemporary critics regard Carl Philipp Emanuel either as victim or beneficiary of his time (his music rarely convinces over a large span), the short Sonata finale here encapsulates a bizarre originality of both his time and his particular character. The Sonata in G minor is one of a set composed around the time of his father's death, and distributed only to close friends. Note the extreme techniques: disorienting, obsessive and dislocated chromatic motifs, dramatic harmonic shifts and mood changes, rhetorical silence, sighs, interjections, deceptive cadences and quixotic fantasy. If this reflects a specific German musical taste of the time, then it was short-lived because such attention-seeking, non-developmental material found few friends beyond the cognoscenti. Our reading with trumpet provides additional bite in its redistribution of lines, accentuating the fickle dialogue which eventually darts off dismissively into the ether.
Johann Sebastian married Anna Magdalena in 1721 after the death of Maria Barbara, and bore him thirteen children (of which only six lived beyond childhood). Their first son, Gottfried Heinrich Bach (1724-1761), was handicapped, although this did not prevent him from mastering the keyboard to a high level. ‘So oft ich meine Tobackspfeife' (subtitled, ‘enlightened thoughts of a tobacco smoker') from Anna Magdalena's Notebook is a charming melody and is all that survives by Gottfried Heinrich. Carl Philipp Emanuel described him as ‘a great genius, which however failed to develop'.
Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732-1795) was Bach's fifth surviving son, known as the ‘Bückeburg Bach'. He worked under Count Wilhelm von Schaumburg-Lippe with whom he enjoyed friendly relations, travelling together to London in 1778 to visit his brother, Johann Christian. Johann Christoph Friedrich's son, Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst, was the last surviving Bach from the old line and he died in 1845 ‘without issue'. (He was described by Schumann as ‘a very agile old gentleman of 84 years with snow-white hair and expressive features'). At court, Count Wilhelm evidently enjoyed Italian taste, obligingly delivered by Johann Christoph. No lesser stylistic versatility is evident in this garrulous and accomplished ‘Rondo Allegretto' (originally from a sonata for cello and piano and largely unchanged here), where Johann Christoph Friedrich adapts deftly to English taste - he even bought an English piano - in an elegant work of Georgian charm which encourages a flighty exchange between trumpet and keyboard.
Johann Sebastian's last surviving son, Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782), was the most fluent, cosmopolitan and successful of all. Crucially, he was also the only Bach to scale the heights in the elusive and political realm of opera. With his friend Carl Abel - their respective fathers worked together at Cöthen - he also pioneered public concerts in London. He offered important guidance to the young Mozart (they played duets together) and travelled throughout Germany and Italy, in the process converting to Catholicism. As an Englishman, he lived comfortably as a gentleman of Soho, was befriended by the Royal family, notably as music master to Queen Charlotte, and was painted by Gainsborough in a famous portrait. By the late 1760s, Johann Christian was established as both the pre-eminent and best-paid musician in London. Charles Wesley noted that he charged staggeringly high fees, resonating with Johann Christian's revealing quip, ‘Carl Philipp Emanuel lives to compose. I compose to live'.
Amadis des Gaules was Johann Christian's last opera, a tragédie lyrique of love, jealousy and revenge composed for the Académie Royale de Musique in Paris in 1779. It received surprisingly poor notices from all the prevailing opera factions, notably of course from the followers of Gluck. The opera has recently been successfully revived. The ‘Overture' is a fine exposé of Johann Christian's theatrical flair and knack for creating thrilling orchestral effects, honed from his experience of the great ensemble in Mannheim. Rushing scales, stirring sequences, contrasting melodic pathos and the cut-and-thrust of the original are happily reincarnated in this new version where the material is kaleidoscopically re-juggled: the whole orchestra re-measured for only two instruments!
© Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, 2013