Text of the booklet "J.S.Bach
OBOENWERKE, volume 1 / ALEXEI UTKIN / HERMITAGE ORCHESTRA"
If you intend to realise what stands behind
the words "Johann Sebastian Bach's art" - imagine
a fresco on the wall of an ancient cathedral, on which you
can see merely the upper, or the most recent, layer of paint,
or recall a painting by an old master, which was drawn (due
to the lack of a clean piece of canvas) over some previous
painting of his that was doomed to remain buried. The like
mysteries can be found in the music of the great German
composer, since Bach often built his new compositions upon
the basement of his earlier works, many of which have not
survived in their original form. However, today we regain
the music that seemed to have been lost forever.
The four Concertos of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
presented in this album may have been created during the
Kothen period (1717-1723). For quite a long time, these
works had been known to be but the lost originals of Bach's
subsequent (dated back to the late 1730s) clavier Concertos-"re-compositions"
(in Bach's parlance). While taking into account the key,
the range of solo melodies, and the special features of
the melodic figures and phrases, musical historians managed
to find out what instruments the original versions of those
Concertos were composed for - and thus, the scientifically
verified "reconstructions" of the original works
emerged in the second half of the 20th century. Among those,
quite a few marvellous examples of the virtuoso compositions
for an oboe with orchestra were found, to the sheer delight
of Bach players. It was discovered that the clavier Concerto
in E-major (BWV 1053) conceals a Concerto for an oboe (in
this album, in F-major), and the Concerto in A-major (BWV
1055) covers up a Concerto for an oboe d'amore (the both
Concertos featured in the manuscript including seven complete
clavier Concertos and the opening fragment of yet another
"re-composition", BWV 1052-1059). Bach composed
the Concerto for two claviers in C-minor (BWV 1060) "after"
his lost Concerto for an oboe and a violin (in this album,
in D-minor). The Concerto for three violins in D-major was
reconstructed on the basis of the Concerto for three claviers
in C-major (BWV 1064). This opus' transcription for an oboe,
a flute and a violin suggested by A. Utkin produces an peculiar
artistic effect, a dialogue of the three truly individual
characters occurs as opposed to the homogenous "glittering"
sound of three violins conceived by Bach. The virtuoso solo
parts originally written for other instruments require an
exceptional craftsmanship from the musicians.
The reconstruction of these significant works is not only
a blissful gift to musicians and music-lovers, but also
a good excuse for an unpretentious "investigation".
Following in the wake of the modern musical experts, we
will take our effort in curious "reconstruction",
while rebuilding the pace of events in their historical
So, Bach's first close encounter with the instrumental Concerto
genre took place during the period of his stay in Weimar
(ca. 1710): the 20-year-old musician got to know the wonderful
grand Concertos (primarily, the violin ones) of his great
Italian contemporaries - first and foremost, the unmatched
Antonio Vivaldi. Educated on the clavier music, an inimitable
harpsichord- and organ-player himself, the young Bach learned
the art of the Italian violin Concerto by an extraordinary
method: he transcribed those violin compositions for his
"native" keyboards, literally touching the different
music with his own fingers (about two dozens of such transcripts
have survived). In all likelihood, Bach composed his first
original Concertos in Weimar; however, this genre flourished
in his art in the Kothen years, thanks to the fact that
the conditions there were favourable, indeed.
The young (nine years younger than Bach) Prince Leopold
von Anhalt-Kothen was a devoted music enthusiast. Being
not wealthy, he, nevertheless, supported a large instrumental
cappella and never lost the chance to play his beloved viola
da gamba. It is no wonder that Bach's Sixth Brandenburg
Concerto includes rather simple solo parts for two violas
(the instruments, by the way, are "at rest" in
the middle section of the sequence): capellmeister Bach
composed one of them specially for his sovereign and patron.
Alas, so little has survived from that time, one of the
most brilliant and fruitful periods in the genius' artistic
life! First and foremost, among those are the six Brandenburg
Concertos and a handful of violin Concertos. Bach's Concertos
of the Kothen period display an extraordinary combination
of youthful vigor and experience, daring and craftsmanship.
With all the seeming simplicity of the baroque Concerto's
rationale, based on the juxtaposition of tutti refrains
and chamber intermediate episodes and on the stability of
the basic scheme of the movement's sequence (fast - slow
- fast), the Bach Concertos are just amazing in their magnitude,
inner logic and the diversity of individual, often unforeseen,
decisions. By the force of his musical insight, Bach unites
a multitude of lesser, inherently contrasting, episodes
into larger format sections following the principle: exposition
- development - reprise, and yet, he never repeats himself!
Sometimes, he builds the sequence on the basis of the balanced
symmetrical structure of the aria da capo: the joyous and
solemn, totally identical, opening and closing sections
appose the lyrical middle section, touched by minor tones,
while introducing new, more "sensual", motives
(the 1st and 3d movements of the BWV 1053 Concerto). In
other cases, the middle section develops the key theme.
However, thanks to the dynamically changing harmony, the
key image is enriched by many subtle emotional aspects (the
1st and 3rd movements of the BWV 1055 Concerto). Following
the larger unstable middle pieces, the reprise is somewhat
shifted towards the end of each movement; moreover, Bach
was able to "retard", and quite artfully so, the
reprise while creating the effect of pleasantly impatient
expectance (BWV 1064, 1st movement). Sometimes, the intermezzo
music smoothly and obscurely "leaks through" out
of the tutti refrains (BWV 1060); whereas, in other cases,
the central intermezzos are highlighted in the general flow
of music being nothing but brilliant solo cadences (BWV
1064, 3rd movement). And, of course, the impeccable slow
middle movements are the genuine pinnacle of Bach's lyrics,
divine and pathetic!
Inexhaustible inventor, the "Kothen" Bach created
his instrumental masterpieces with ease and artistic inspiration
affordable by but few a geniuses. Out of "commonplaces"
of the melodic developments, he creates unforgettable individual
themes. He experiments with different sets of solo instruments,
each time striving for the new and expressive sound of a
whole ensemble (let us just recall his Brandenburg Concertos).
Bach is renowned for having a keen ear for each musical
instrument's character. There is no doubt that oboe music,
for instance, conjured up certain personalized images in
his mind. The sound of Bach's oboe - deep and filled with
emotion - is strikingly different from the intonation of
other melodious instruments common at the time, like the
light and dynamic flutes and violins allowing to combine
melodic tunes with a player's dazzling virtuosity. Oboe
d'amore - the viola-like version of the baroque oboe with
a deeper voice - has even a richer and sweet "loving"
sound. An oboe's timbre is remarkably consonant with the
tone of the Bach Concertos' slow movements marked with their
delicate melancholy. In addition, this instrument has enough
dynamic range to easily maintain the fast tempo in the side
movements of Kothen concertos. Still, even then it sounds
unhurried - due to unique character of this instrument.
We can guess what considerations Bach had of an oboe's sound
judging by the instrumental heritage of his next, Leipzig,
creative period - a rich harvest that in many ways was a
series of "re-compositions" of his Kothen instrumental
Concertos, many of those were re-born in Bach's church cantatas.
Moreover, thanks to the combination of the music and the
word, the new incarnation of those works helped discover
their hidden and concealed meaning.
Thus, the oboe Concerto BWV 1053 was employed by the composer
in his two cantatas performed in the autumn of 1726, at
a two-week interval. In his Cantata No. 169 "God alone
my heart shall master", the Concerto's 1st movement
appears as the opening "sinfonia", whereas the
music of Part 2 becomes the basis for the viola's aria No.
5. The Concerto's 3rd movement was used as the opening "sinfonia"
to the Cantata No. 49 "I go and seek for thee with
Partly, "re-composition" of his previous works
was influenced by the tight schedule of Bach's early years
of his work in Leipzig when the composer was entitled to
deliver a new cantata for every Sunday mass. However, employing
his music of earlier years, Bach always took into consideration
its expressive features. The first of the above-mentioned
cantatas is a reflection on the New Testament lines about
"the foremost commandment" - "thou shalt
love the Lord thy God with all thy heart" (Mark, 12:30).
The music of Bach's cantata tells about the tender and divine
love for the Lord, which must become the only and all-pervasive
human passion. Its central, and the most touching, moment
is that same viola's aria No. 5, the re-composition of the
oboe's trembling monologue from the Kothen Concerto, rendered
in the rhythm of an elegant Siciliana. The imagery of this
aria is shrill and mysterious: man dies for the earthly
world and he is only aware of the sweet, unfamiliar feeling
of the divine love for God ("Die in me world and all
of thine affection, that my breast, while on earth yet,
more and more here the love of God may practise; die in
me, pomp and wealth and outward show, ye corrupted carnal
motives"). Quite as remarkable is the second cantata
performed in connection with the reading of the parable
of the marriage feast (Matthew, 22: 1-14). This cantata
called "Dialogus" by Bach, tells about the Bridegroom's
(the Lord's) searching for and gaining his once lost Bride
(an allegory of the human soul as well as the church). Bach
matches the candid imagery of love depicted in the cantata's
poetical lines with his languishing and fluctuating harmonies
(where the verses poeticise the parted lovers' grief) or
with the elegant secular melodies - as in the soprano aria
with the oboe d'amore solo describing the joy of the bride
at the wedding feast: "I am glorious, I am fair, and
my Saviour I've impassioned".
Derived from the Holy Script, the allegorical depiction
of the Saviour as the loving Bridegroom and of His coming
into the world as the wedding feast looms large in all Bach's
church music, including such grand opuses as The St. Matthew
Passion and The Christmas Oratorio. The sound of oboe is
closely connected with this major theme. The love theme
is where the oboe is, and along with the love theme, the
wedding theme arises - not only in the allegorical sense.
We know Bach as the author of formal wedding music, in which
the oboe parts enlighted ("wedding cantatas" Nos.
202, 212). Thus it would be wrong to ignore the fact that
Bach's stay in Leipzig culminated in the double marriage.
At first the great composer married the woman who was destined
to accompany him till his very last day: on the 3d of December
of 1721, Bach married Anna Magdalena Wilcken, the daughter
of the Weissenfels court trumpeter. And next week, on the
11th of December, Prince Leopold wedded Friederica Henrietta
von Anhalt-Bernburg (the young wife obviously did not share
her husband's pursuit of music and soon, the financing of
Bach's cappella was cut down).
Back to our story, though. We saw Bach in his thirties living
in Kothen and then, Bach in his forties, just having arrived
in Leipzig; now let us turn to Bach at 50, deep-rooted in
Leipzig, the man who has reached the pinnacle of his glory.
By that time, around 1738, the composer had completed the
clavier re-compositions of his Kothen Concertos - those
that helped to accomplish the recent reconstructions. But
what was his objective in undertaking that effort? There
are a few of hypotheses on the matter.
Bach might have "re-composed" his earlier works
either for his musical classes with one of his students
(say, his 14-year-old son Gottfried Heinrich who was musically
talented, to his father's delight); or for the performances
of the Leipzig-based student orchestra Collegium Musicum
that were held once a week in the then popular G. Zimmermann's
coffee house or at the adjacent garden. Since 1729, Bach
directed this ensemble, and in the print announcements of
the Collegium Musicum's presentations we can find, for instance,
a remark about a harpsichord, "with the sound like
you have never before heard". Lastly, some "re-compositions"
may be related to Bach's trip to Dresden in May, to attend
the wedding of the Princess of Saxony Maria Amalia (yet
another wedding appears in our story!). Bach was very much
proud of his new honourable title - the court composer -
that Elector of Saxony Frederick Augustus II granted him
in 1736. So, we cannot rule out that the series of his clavier
re-compositions might have been the grateful musician's
"offering" to his powerful benefactor.
Anyway, the 1730s clavier "re-compositions" were
authored by an older and well-experienced man. At the time,
he supported a large household that, according to the old
German-guild traditions, consisted not only of his relatives
but also his numerous apprentices. Evidently all his relatives
turned into apprentices (Bach composed his "Sheet Music
Notebooks" even for Anna Magdalena). Therefore, even
assuming that his Concertos for one clavier were performed
exclusively by the author, those for two and three claviers
is a clear reference to the family performances.
The 50-year-old Bach devotes more of his time to clavier
music. He is undoubtedly acclaimed for his high expertise
in the field. Now, the composer would not even try to create
a new masterpiece every week just to amaze Leipzig's political
elite. All his experiments and musical escapades were gone.
Bach began his career at the clavier, and returning to the
clavier, he once again embarked on a bold creative quest.
Re-composed for the keyboards, Bach's former instrumental
Concertos, in a way, returned native field, yet losing their
individual intonation and sounding in a more "unified"
manner. From the vantage point of history, we can look at
Bach's latest "non-timbre", i. e. not devised
for some particular instrument, works: "The Art of
the Fugue" and the major part of pieces in "The
Musical Offering". Having reached these snow-white
peaks of the pure musical intellect, the aged Bach as if
repudiated the material world with its vast diversity of
colours and tints.
So, in the end, the story of Bach's Kothen Concertos merges
with the fate of their creator. The three lives of these
Concertos, each in its new incarnation, are but the three,
distinct and different, ages of the composer himself. The
recent reconstructions of the Kothen oeuvres are indeed
the landmarks of considerable importance. They help to understand
better that side of Bach, which we know, perhaps, the least.
The composer's image born out of those pieces draws our
admiration and lively sympathy.
Roman Nassonov, translation by Oleg Alyakrinsly
Text of the booklet "J.S.Bach
OBOENWERKE, volume 1 / ALEXEI UTKIN / HERMITAGE ORCHESTRA"