Thursday, July 16, 2009

This is what you can write if you have 7 kids with your cousin!

Now that I've given you some Mozart, it's time for another member of the big 3, Johann Sebastian Bach. He is the most famous of the baroque composers, which is the major musical movement that occured before the classical period. The baroque era under Bach in many ways is the height of contrapuntal music, with him perfecting the fugue. His biography is not anywhere near as romantic or interesting as Mozart's - he wasn't really a child prodigy, but he gradually turned into a highly skilled performer, but he never really made it big, and lived the life of a standard fare court composer who was less well known than people like Handel and Telemann, but who made enough money to support his (insanely large) family. He first married his 2nd cousin, who he had the 7 kids with that I mentioned above, then after she died, he married Anna Magdalena (a woman who he wrote a somewhat well known "notebook" of clavier music for, and who was also knowledgeable enough about music to have been responsible for transcribing some of his scores) and had 13 more kids with her (although a bunch of them died). Some of them, most notably Johann Christian and Carl went on to be successful composers on their own, but none have endured as long as their father's legacy.
The Bach piece I've chosen is entitled The Italian Concerto, although it is not like a standard concerto because it is written for solo harpsichord without orchestral accompaniment. It was an experiment in the idea of a "solo concerto," where the performer plays both the role of accompaniment and the accompanied, which is why Bach had it written for a 2 keyboarded harpsichord. It is not necessarily the grandest achievement of Bach's keyboard writing - that probably would go with some of his organ fugues - but it is entertaining enough. It has the standard concerto tempo scheme, with the two outer movements being fast and the central movement slow.
The recording I'm using here is the same one that I have on my iPod, it was made by Wanda Landowska on a traditional harpsichord in 1936 (unfortunately, many performers now use piano to play Bach, but I appreciate the sound of a harpsichord to go along with his writing style). Landowska is an important Polish keyboard player from that era, who still has lots of surviving recordings that are great. My album reccomendation is also Landowska, on a CD that also has her playing the Goldberg Variations and the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue
. Here are the actual recordings:
Movement 1: (Allegro)

Movement 2: Andante

Movement 3: Presto

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