Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Musical Transformations

Some music is just delightful.

This is one of those pieces. It’s uplifting and playful although it’s a serious work.

Oh, and it’s by a composer some would identify as über heavy: J.S. Bach.

Bach liked it so much he adapted it, so it turns up at least twice in his catalogue of almost 1100 works.

I like it so much I’m going to include three different YouTube records although, to get my point, it’s probably best not to listen to all 7’30” of it three times.

Unless you really like it.

It’s best known as the first movement of the Brandenburg Concerto #4. In this version the orchestra consists of two recorders, a solo violin, string orchestra and harpsichord continuo. The harpsichordist just gets the figured bass line, which he uses fill out his part. He has to make it up.

Bach rearranged it as the Concerto #6 for two recorders, strings and solo harpsichord. He transforms the solo violin line and figured bass into a full blown harpsichord part which is all written out. The work becomes a showpiece for a virtuoso harpsichordist which, no coincidence, Bach was!

In this version the two recorders are replaced by a transverse flute and oboe. The music stays the same although Bach transposed it down from G to F.

Pianists have always played Bach’s harpsichord music. Glen Gould’s famous recordings of the Goldberg Variations are a case in point.

But a piano doesn’t even make sound the way a harpsichord does.  A harpsichord's strings are plucked, a piano's are struck.  It’s usually much louder than a harpsichord and has a marvellous dynamic range. The first ones were called forte-pianos because they could play loud and soft.

So when the Concerto #6 BMV 1057 is played by two recorders, strings and piano the piece is completely transformed into something like a piano concerto. In this version the recorders are replaced by transverse flutes. 

Some people will like it, some won’t. We have no idea what old Bach would have thought.

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