Complete Italian Organ Concertos- Vol.2

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Elecla 20078
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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

About this album

In the case of Johan Sebastian Bach, the practice of musical transcription can be considered, an audacious act or an act of will, depending on the perspective from which it is observed. It is an audacity in relation to the level of boldness necessary to confront such a challenge, and an act of will in relation to an aspiration that risks to be unsustainable, because of the high level of difficulty of the task. The musical form of instrumental concerto occupied a role of primary importance in the evolution and the definition of the style and language of the German musician. Such form encountered extreme fortune and growing importance starting from the end of the XVII century until the end of the XVIII century. He was certainly not the first musician to confront himself with this genre; indeed, it is possible to state that the activity of musical transcription characterized the first productions of keyboard music, and accompanied it constantly from its origins to our day, As it is well known, the transcriptions of concertos composed by Italian musicians were made by Bach in 1713/14 on a prompting by young Prince Johann Ernst of Saxony–Weimar (1696-1715), the nephew of Duke Wilhelm Ernst. Moreover, during that period Bach had occasions to work in close contact with his second cousin Johann Gottfried Walther (organist of the Stadtkirche St. Peter und Paul of Weimar). Likewise, Johann Gottfried Walther devoted himself to various organ transcriptions of concertos composed by Italian musicians such as Tomaso Albinoni, Giorgio Gentili, Giovanni Lorenzo Gregori, Luigi Mancia, Giulio Taglietti e Giuseppe Torelli, naturally in addition to Antonio Vivaldi. Furthermore, Walther wrote a series of variations on a basso continuo taken from the Prelude of the Sonata op. V n. 11 by Arcangelo Corelli. Bach instead concentrated on Alessandro and Benedetto Marcello and, most of all, on Antonio Vivaldi: 10 out of his 12 concertos transcribed from Italian masters were those that had come out of the pen of the "The Red Priest". It was around 1713 that Prince John Ernst had the occasion to listen to blind organist Jan Jacob de Graaf (1672-1738) playing his own transcriptions of concertos by Italian authors on the occasions of the concerts that he performed at the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. Johan Ernst often went from Utrecht, where he studied at the local university, to Amsterdam to listen to concerts and to purchase the scores as soon as these came out of the printing presses of the publishers of the Netherlands. The path that characterized the diffusion of the Vivaldi concertos from Italy to Gemany therefore appears to be unique: from Venice to Weimar through Amsterdam… The attitude of Bach and Walther with respect to transcription work appear to be different from this, as different are the elements that characterize the modus operandi of Bach in relation to the history and practices of this genre. If for many of his contemporary musicians we can speak about a simple reduction or an adaptation to the possibilities and the idiom of the keyboard instrument, for Bach instead it is a matter of authentic appropriation, or better, of elaboration of the orchestral score. In the concertos by Bach in object, we do not find any trace of the intent of fidelity to the original that characterizes many other transcriptions of that era, and that very often reveals to be rather far from the intrinsic effect of the original score, whence the spirit for an excess of fidelity can be derived… Evidently, manifold aesthetics and ideological reasons reside at the root of this choice. Definitely, it is a sort of second reading, of reinterpretation conduced in the light of experimentation that characterized those years, both in the field of composition and of performance, starting from the possibilities offered by the keyboard technique, contributing even to widen their horizons, and from the characteristics of the keyboard instruments of the time. There are numerous examples that corroborate this thesis: Bach did not hesitate to operate significant changes in all parameters of the musical language, which is in the melodic substance and in the original key mostly for necessities of musical texture and of the extension of manuals and pedals, and in values, rhythm and harmony for aesthetical reasons. He rewrote entire passages and sometimes omitted bars or repetitions of phrases, filled chordal structures and general pauses, and realized and added many implicit counterpoint lines and imitation cells, besides writing the diminutions of the original melodic line and adding a rich ornamentation. In some cases, these are minor interventions, while in many other instances they are rather radical modifications, in an overloaded writing style distinguished by a greater harmonic complexity that actually sacrifices the simplicity and sometimes the transparency that characterized the original score. In other instances, especially in the expressive movements, the analysis of the diminutions and of the ornamentation added offers many ideas of great musical interest. However, this profound work of rewriting allowed him to assimilate the form and geometry of the Italian style of concerto to later elaborate it anew in many other works; consider, for example, the Concerto nach italienischen Gusto BWV 971, published in 1735. Therefore, this is a very precise choice, operated in the direction of a strong virtuoso aspect, and not only with regard to composition. The organist is called to imitate dynamics and agogic of the orchestra. Under this aspect, the indications of registers, both explicit and implied, contained in the scores of the organ works (concertos BWV 593, 594, and 596) appear to be conceived on the guidelines of ad evident imitation of the orchestra in general, and of the violin idiom in particular. Moreover, many sources testify the vivacity of tempi and the extreme dynamic contrasts that characterized the performances of Italian musician and orchestras of the era. Also in the light of the brief considerations exposed here, the transcriptions by Bach carry the evident taste of challenge, an element that recurs in the corpus of keyboard music and other works of the German musician. The organist must use all the means at his disposal to compete with the orchestra in a convincing manner: the imitation of the idiom of violin, the variety in articulation, the possible changes of stops in the light of orchestral imitation, changes of keyboards, a show of virtuoso resources both for the manuals and pedals, a complexity and spectacular writing style very rich and elaborate… Therefore, is this audacity, or a vain quest? To each, its answer.

Additional info about this CD
16 pages full colour booklet (Ita and Eng)
Artist biography
Musicology comment



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