Johann Sebastian Bach, composer, violinist and keyboard
virtuoso, was born on March 21,1685 in Eisenach, Germany and died on
July 28, 1750 in Leipzig, Germany. Today, he is probably the most
famous composer of the Baroque Period in music (1600-1750) and
definitely represents the culmination of Baroque style. He is best known
for his composition for keyboard, especially organ, and, because he was
employed as a church musician, his religious works: the Mass in B Minor and Saint Matthew Passion are perennial favorites at Christmas and Easter, respectively.
Surprisingly, Bach wrote less than a dozen orchestral works, including no symphonies - mainly because the symphony had not yet been “invented”, or more correctly, it had not yet evolved, at least for him. The symphony developed from the orchestral suite, which in turn, developed from the dance suite - collections of shorter dance pieces. Bach wrote 4 Orchestral Suites and they could be considered his version of the symphony.
The first two Suites were written between 1717 and 1723, while he was conductor of the court orchestra in Cöthen; the third and fourth Suites were written between 1729 and 1736 while he was in Leipzig. The instrumentation of each Suite is different: Suite No. 1 in C Major uses 2 oboes, bassoon and strings; Suite No. 2 in B Minor is for flute and strings; Suite No. 3 in D Major employs 2 oboes, 3 trumpets, timpani and strings; and Suite No. 4 in D Major, 3 oboes, bassoon, 3 trumpets, timpani and strings.
All of the Suites use continuo (usually Harpsichord and Cello) and are made up of six or seven movements (using the terminology of the symphony). Each of the Suites opens with an Overture (the actual name by which Bach himself referred to the Suites) written in the French style: slow introduction (using dotted rhythms) followed by a faster, more lively (and contrapuntal) main section, concluding with a slow section, alluding to the opening. The Overture, which in all of the Suites is, by far, the longest movement, is then followed by shorter “dance” movements (i.e., movements using the structure and style of various dances - Sarabande, Polonaise, Minuet, etc.).
Suite No. 2 in B Minor is often referred to as a Concerto for the Flute; however, it is not a real Concerto any more than the other Suites are real Symphonies. Bach did write concertos - both in the Baroque Concerto Grosso style (such as with his Brandenburg Concertos) and in the Solo Concerto style (such as with his Harpsichord or Violin Concertos); however, the Suite in B Minor is a suite, which happens to employ the flute, and occasionally feature it. The tutti sections, therefore, are not optional, as is often the case with a true concerto, but are necessary to create the proper orchestral texture.
Suite No. 2 in made up of seven movements. His original instrumentation has been retained; however, no Harpsichord has been employed, instead Cello and Bass have been used to play the bass line of the continuo part. Short introductions have been used in all of the movements.
Bach composed for the Flute over a period of about twenty years, beginning with the Sonata in A Minor (BWV 1013) for unaccompanied Flute - BWV stands for Bach Werke Verzeichnis - Bach works catalog). This sonata was written while Bach was the conductor of the court orchestra in Cöthen, between 1717 and 1723, for the French flautist Pierre-Gabriel Buffardin (1690-1768), who Bach had met at the Dresden court in 1717; Sonata No. 1 in B Minor (BWV 1030) was also probably written for Buffardin.
One of the two surviving manuscript copies of Sonata No. 2 in Eb Major (BWV 1031) was copied by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788) - Bach’s second oldest son, also a composer, who himself wrote many works for the Flute; this has caused much debate about the authenticity of this sonata and, for the same reason, Sonata No. 4 in C Major (BWV 1033), now believed to have been originally composed for unaccompanied Flute by J. S. Bach with a figured bass line added later by C. P. E. Bach.
To call the Concerto in A Minor a transcription of a Harpsichord
Concerto (No. 5 in F Minor, BWV 1056) is misleading, in that all seven
of his harpsichord concertos (1729-1736) were arrangements, made by Bach
himself, of earlier concertos for Violin or wind instruments, written
while he was in Cöthen (1717-1723); it is very possible that the work
originally was a Concerto for the Flute. He even used the 2nd movement
Largo in 1729 as a Sinfonia (instrumental section) in Cantata No. 156.
In the 2nd movement, a short introduction has been used.
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