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Category: Johann Sebastian Bach

Cello Suite no1, in G major – Bach


        “Homage to J.S. Bach (1912) 

              Georges Braque


                                      for Lynne, who’s been catching up
                                                         on her Bach, recently
the cello had been a peripheral instrument,
supplying accompaniment, merely, until 
Bach gave it wings, in new employ as 
Kapellmeister for Leopold, Prince of 
Anhalt-Cöthen, a Calvinist, who decried 
music in his churches, Bach turned to 
secular music mostly during this period,
instead of to the cantatas and oratorios,
the ecclesiastical stuff, he’d in earlier 
services been composing, not at all, 
however, unproductively, for he produced 
during this new period the template 
essentially for the entire modern epoch – 
the “Well-Tempered Klavier”, all of his 
piano literature, the Two- and Three-Part 
Inventions, his Toccatas, his Partitas, the 
sublime Cello Suites, his equally profoundly 
inspirational Sonatas for Unaccompanied 
Violin, are the basis upon which our 
contemporary music still stands, these 
pieces are still the Everests to climb for 
contemporary instrumentalists, you need 
only to listen to know why, by a semi-tone 
a cellist can fall apart, destroy the entire 
experience, distort an otherwise 
transcendental possibility, like a climber 
can tragically lose hir life

listen to Mischa Maisky, to my mind the 
very Zeus of 20th-Century cellists, 
perform Bach’s 1st Cello Suite, and
deliver incontrovertible proof of that,  
however Olympian, claim

R ! chard


what’s up in Pyeongchang / Bach


      “The Cello Player (1896) 

              Thomas Eakins


though I’d considered presenting all six
of Bach’s Cello Suites – your one stop
shopping for these extraordinary 
compositions – even one only of these
masterpieces floored me each time I
individually listened  

why the Suites, cause I couldn’t follow 
up on Beethoven’s Opus 5, for cello
and piano accompaniment, without 
saying more about the cello, by then 
an instrument of some significance, 
and who could argue, it’s resonance 
thrills you in your bones, in your very 

Frederick ll, King of Prussiaplayed it, 
earning for him tailored compositions, 
however controversial, from both 
Mozart and Haydn, but even earlier, 
Bach had composed definitive pieces 
for it, much as he’d done for the 
harpsichord, precursor to the piano, 
students of either still go to Bach for 
their basics, their intricate, exquisite, 
technical proficiency

the cello can play one note only at a
time, which means that, like a voice, 
you’re working without harmony, 
you need to make your own, 
otherwise your performance is 
boring, no one else, as far as I know,
has ever written anything else for 
unaccompanied cello, not even 

I find most performers lend Bach a 
more Romantic air, torrid emotion,
excesses of volume, pauses to the 
pace, ritardandos, rallentandos, 
which aren’t appropriate to the 
more genteel Baroque period,
something I usually find 

but in this performance, I’m sure 
not even Bach would object

I’m offering up first the Sixth Cello
Suite, D major, played by Jian Wang
someone I’d never heard of, in a 
dazzling performance in Pyeongchang
place I’d neither ever heard of, until 
only very recently

it appears both of these new kids on 
the block ought to be on the map

R ! chard

String Quartet in F major, opus 77, no 2 – Joseph Haydn



   Masked Harlequin Violinists (1944) 

              Ossip Zadkine


the Opus 77, no 2, of Haydn is the last
full string quartet of his, his very last  
remaining unfinished, the Opus 103,
written in 1803

Haydn died in 1809, the Opus 77, no 2
was composed in 1799, he would’ve 
been 67

but by then, he had established the 
form that music would take for the 
next over two hundred years

call, response, and recapitulation is 
the house that Haydn built, and verily 
cemented, you can hear it in our own 
period’s Love Me Tender“, for 
instance, if you’ll also permit me here
its irresistible elaborationto today’s 
top hits, like my own most recent 
favourite such contemporary iteration,
released in 2014, Photograph

we could be listening otherwise to 
Bach right now, counterpoint, 
fugues, intricate, linear music, 
however powerfully transcendental, 
instead of recurring music, call,  
response, as I said, and 
recapitulation, something like how 
a clock works

but already Haydn is testing the 
waters, in the Opus 77, no 2, the
andante, a step up from an adagio, 
is in third place, something we 
haven’t heard before, and not, to 
my mind, especially effective, like 
his mixture of tempos in the Opus 
54, no 2, which was disconcerting, 
however masterfully resolved we 
find those to be in this very Opus
77, no 2notably in the second 
movement’s “Minuet, Presto – Trio”, 
where the tempo change is nearly 

art works on contravention, but 
the affronts are to established 
conventions, which are very 
hard to overturn 

watch Haydn here continue to 
do just that, for better or for 

R ! chard

psst: listen to Bach hereincidentally,  
          put his largo, or slow movement, 
          right where he wants to, at the 
          very top of the bill, does it work,    
          you tell me, a trivial pursuit,  
          you’ll ask, I say not, you are    
          defining your own aesthetic  
          sensibility, something 
          profoundly, think, important, 
          who it is, with perspective, you 
          want to be   

Cyprien Katsaris in Budapest


       Cyprien Katsaris


if there’s only one concert you see 
this week – I would’ve said this year 
but I have way too many irresistible 
concerts to promote – make it this 
one, like none I’ve ever seen before, 
Cyprien Katsaris, who wowed us in 
my last encomium, delivers, not one, 
but two concertos, when emotionally 
I can usually deal with only one

but you can pause between the pieces, 
like I did, to wipe a tear or two away 
after the adagios, which remind me,
always, of my beloved, John

but that’s another story

Katsaris starts with an improvisation,
which he elucidates as an art form 
much more expertly than I would, 
then delivers stunning rendition of
his mastery of that gift 

though I couldn’t identify the first part
of it, the melting melody in the last 
section of his homage to, essentially, 
the Romantic Period, rushed back 
memories for me of a piece I could 
never forget, the music from Fellini’s 
heartbreaking masterpiece La Strada 
– listen, listen – right out of Romantic 
Period idioms, its very story evenlike 
Dickens’ Oliver Twist“, his Little Nell 
from the The Old Curiosity Shop“, 
staples of my adolescence, married  
to a nearly mythic lyrical invention 

let me add that improvisations have 
been an integral part of concertos for 
a very long time, the cadenzas, an 
interpolation by the performing artist, 
hir riff, a strutting of hir stuff, late  
in the, usually final, movement, a 
consequence, incidentally, of the 
more forward, individualistic, 
18th-Century progression towards 
individual rights, some left to the 
performing artist, but many 
prescribed by the composer himself,
where, here, I must, gender sensitive 
myself, unceremoniously interject to 
explain my deference to the
designation above, himself“, to male 
merely composers, who were then the 
only ones, however culturally ignobly, 
to nevertheless shape our quite, 
think, extraordinary musical trajectory, 
for better, of course, or for worse

in this instance, I suspect Katsaris 
wrote his own cadenzas for the 
Mozart, notice his arm at the end of 
the first movement fly up in an 
especial transport, and in the last 
movement, watch his very 
exuberance mark the spot, but 
couldn’t put it past Mozart to have 
written something so historically 

Bach, incidentally, wasn’t doing 
cadenzas, so don’t look for them 

the two concertos that follow the 
improvisation, Bach’s, my favourite 
of his – you’ll understand why when 
you hear it – then Mozart’s 21st – 
everyone’s favourite – are both 
played transcendentally 

consider the difference in period, 
the earlier Baroque, with Bach’s 
notes skipping along inexorably,
the pace required by the 
harpsichord, which didn’t have 
hold pedals to allow notes to 
resonate, the music moves along
therefore nearly minimalistic tracks, 
a pace, and musical motif, that don’t 
stop, they keep on chugging, until 
they reach their destination, their,
as it were, station, or even their


Mozart’s music is as effervescent,
but conforms to a different cadence,
where a theme is presented, then a
musical, and contrasting, second,
with recapitulation, sometimes
merely partial, which is to say that
the call and response dynamic of 
the dance, or for that matter, by 
extension, modern ballads, is  
being established, codified, and 

an era has intervened

then as an encore, Katsaris delivers,
not a cream puff, but Liszt, of all 
people, we’re used to performers
giving us trifles at this point, but not

then to top it all off, he plays the Chopin 
you thought you’d never ever hear again, 
but here immaculate and utterly 

the orchestra alone performs after the 
intermission, works by Ravel and Bizet,
surprisingly similar, I thought, the two
composers, in their musical idiom, the 
use of the winds as metaphors, for 
instance, for originality, eccentricity, 
unmitigated poetry within the context 
of what is not unnatural

neither is either composer adverse to 
atonality, they work in textures, instead 
of melodies, all of which is very 
Impressionistic, see of course Monet
and others for historical reference

did I say I want to be Cyprien Katsaris 
when I grow up, well there, it’s said,
he’s lovely 

R ! chard

String Quartet in B flat, Opus 55, no 3 – Haydn


                      “Queen Marie Antoinette of France (1783) 

                                Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun


first of all, let me grievously repent an
egregious confusion I probably left
in my last diatribe, I said that the second
movement of the Opus 54, no 2 sounded 
to me like a minuet, I had, through 
embarrassing inattention, confused its,
however unmemorable, adagio with that
of this Opus 55, no 3, which I’d listened 
to in too quick succession, driven as I 
am by my thirst for epiphanies

the Opus 54, no 2 will do, but I’m not 
going back for seconds, nor to the 
Opus 55, no 3, though here’s where  
I flaunt nevertheless Haydn, not to 
mention Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, 
all the way to eventually Bruckner, 
Brahms, the extraordinary Richard
Wagner, passing through Schubert,
Mendelssohn, the Strausses, father
and son, and the unrelated Strauss,
Richard, another incontrovertible 
giant, and I nearly left out the 
unforgettable Liszt, all of them 
forefathers of our present music

you might have noticed that these 
are all Germanic names, obedient 
to the Hapsburg empire, with 
Vienna as its supreme cultural 
capital, and it was that 
Austro-Hungarian dynasty that
indeed nearly single-handedly 
secured our Western musical 

a few Italians are remembered,
from the 18th Century, Scarlatti 
maybe, Boccherini, Albinoni
but not many more 

no one from France, but they were 
about to have a revolution, not a 
good time for creative types,
though, incidentally, Haydn was 
getting Tost, to whom he was 
dedicating his string quartets for 
services rendered, to sell his stuff 
in very Paris 

then again, Marie Antoinette, I thought, 
was Austrian, an even archduchess, 
and would’ve loved some down-home 
music at nearby Versailles

so there you are, there would’ve been 

the English had Handel, of course,
who was, albeit, German, getting 
work where he could when you 
consider his competition, he was 
too solemn and plodding by half,
to my mind, for the more 
effervescent, admittedly Italianate, 
continentals, Italy having led the 
way earlier with especially its 
filigreed and unfettered operas

but here’s Haydn’s Opus 55, no 3
nevertheless, the best Europe had
to offer, socking it to them

Haydn’s having a hard time, I think, 
moving from music for at court to
recital hall music, music for a much
less genteel clientele, however 
socially aspiring, we still hear 
minuets, and obeisances all over 
the place, despite a desire to 
nevertheless dazzle, impress

then again, I’m not the final word, as
my mea culpa above might express, 
you’ll find what eventually turns 
your own crank, floats your own 
boat, as you listen

which, finally, is my greatest wish

R ! chard

String Quartet no 42 in C major, Opus 54, no 2 – Haydn


       “The Attributes of Music (1770) 

              Anne Vallayer-Coster


meanwhile back at Haydn, some nearly 
70 years after Bach’s Partita no 2
Haydn’s been freed by his sponsor, 
Prince Esterházy to sell his 
compositions to the highest bidder
and with the help of the Hungarian 
second violinist at the Esterházy 
courtfinds buyers in Paris

the Opus 54 is therefore associated 
with Johann Tost, as well as its 
companion Opus 55, and indeed 
Haydn’s later Opus 64 for string
quartet is decidedly dedicated to 

Haydn has been released from not
only contractual obligations, it
seems apparent, in his new, more
experimental phase, but from the
constraints of, verily, courtly music,
this is not dinner music for a coterie
of aristocrats, but demands attention,
Haydn is pulling out his showstoppers, 
musical eccentricities, to dazzle the 
crowd, pauses in the first movement, 
for instance, right off the top, for 
drama, of course, and musical 

and the second movement sounds 
a lot more like a minuet to me

later in the last movement, he 
delivers a second, incongruous, I think, 
adagio, unusual at this point, the 
piece’s traditional cheery farewell,
interrupted by a presto, of all things,
right in the very centre of all that 
solemnity, you tell me if that ultimately 
works, thought not, and it ends, on 
top with of that, with whimper

but it opens the way for tempi 
prolonging the emotional impact of
the composition, six rhythms instead 
of four throughout the work makes 
the musical journey longer, more 
probing, more episodic, more 
narrative, eventually

wait till you hear what Beethoven 
does with that

but meanwhile, Haydn doesn’t 
disappoint, though you’ll have 
heard better, I think, and will, 
from him 

R ! chard

Partita no 2, BWV 1004 – J.S. Bach


         Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen


if I haven’t spoken much about Bach
until now it’s that, although he is at 
the very start of our modern music,
having in fact set up its very alphabet,
the scale we’ve been using since, he 
is nevertheless as different from our 
own era in music as Shakespeare is 
to us in literature, both are stalwarts,
but we no longer say, for instance, 
thee or thou, nor write in iambic 
pentameter, nor do we dance 
gavottes at court, nor congregate 
at church to hear cantatas

the turning point is the Enlightenment,
also called the Age of Reason, when 
the concept of God was being 
questioned, if not even debunked, and
the mysteries of nature were being 
rationally resolved, handing authority
to knowledgeable individuals instead
of to popes

by the time of Mozart and Haydn, a
secular tone was gradually pervading 
all of the arts, devoid of any religious 
intentions, sponsors were private 
rather than clerical  

Bach had indeed been hired by a prince,
Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen, but was 
appointed court musician at his ducal 
chapel, Nikolaus l, Prince Esterházy 
wanted Haydn’s music, rather, for his 
court entertainment, and for himself 
as well, incidentally, as a fellow baryton 

Mozart was also employed by a prince,
but left when he wasn’t being payed 

times haven’t changed much, see 
Trump, for instance

after the French Revolution, there was
not much call for religious music, 
human rights took the place of God, 
liberté, égalité, fraternité, and all that, 
not to mention the American Bill of 
Rights, and that’s the route we’ve 
been following ever since, for better 
or for worse 

but hey, we’re still reading Shakespeare,
and still listening to Bach, and loving 
both of them, some of us

here’s some more Bach for old times’
sake, his Partita no 2 for solo violin

a partita is just a series of dance suites 
– an allemande, a courante, a sarabande, 
a gigue, and a chaconne, in this case – I 
don’t think anyone other than Bach ever 
wrote some, but his are sublime

it’s kind of like my calling my own 
stuff prosetry, for whatever infinity 
that word might ever deliver, though
no one else might ever use that term

listen also to a transposition of its
celebrated last movement, the 
Chaconnefor left-hand piano, in 
this instance, as transposed by 
Brahms, a precursor to Ravel’s 
Concerto in G major for the Left
Hand, written for Paul  
Wittgensteinan already 
accomplished pianist – the much 
more famous philosopher, 
Ludwig‘s, brother – who’d lost his 
right hand during the First World 
War, and who’hopefully be 
inspired, by such positive 

art, music, poetry thrives on such 
heartfelt expressions of sympathy,
compassion, communion

art is the faith that we rely on now 
that God/dess is gone 

R ! chard

Easter Oratorio – J.S.Bach


   “Easter Angel (1959) 

          Salvador Dali


                                  for Elizabeth, 
                                      who needs an oratorio right now,
                                           and who takes great comfort, 
                                                 she tells me, in this music

if The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour 
on the Cross is not a divertimento, it 
nevertheless didn’t come out of nowhere,
and a clue to its inspiration lies in the 
eventual transposition of the orchestra 
only piece to, a few years later, the piece 
with voice, its oratorio

Haydn had heard his original composition
rendered in a nearby provincial town, where
they’d added lyrics, however saccharine, to
the score, and he thought it entirely effective 
and appropriate, had new less sanctimonious 
lyrics composedand gave us what we now 

oratorios go back quite a while, not 
surprisingly, they are quintessentially 
religious music, meant to inspire, a 
familiar convocational ploy, Bach and 
Handel made them especially immortal
in the early 18th Century

listen to Bach’s Easter Oratorio to see,
to hear rather, the connection to Haydn,
though you might not even notice much
significant difference, they’ve as many 
movements more or less, nine for Haydn,
Bach’s has eleven, but all the forces are 
the same, and in the same order

that Bach’s oratorio would be more 
joyous is not surprising, the occasion for 
the Easter Oratorio is one of celebration,
where The Words is more lugubrious, it 
describes a portentous demise, dance 
rhythms therefore are not in the former 

its dances, however, are rather gavottes
and sarabandes instead of the later 
minuets, a not not instructive alteration 
when you think that minuets not much
later than Haydn had become waltzes,
more about that later

in the Easter Oratorio“, the story is told
by the singers, whereas in The Seven 
Last Words“, the music is doing the 
telling, secured by the fact that the piece
was originally written without singers

The Words is more dramatic, more
use of contrasting volumes and tempi,
the piano hadn’t been invented at the 
time of Bach, long notes couldn’t be 
accommodated on the harpsichord,
which determined the pace of the plot,
the piano allowed with its soft pedal 
a moderation in volume, and with its 
hold pedal a moderation of a note’s 
resonance, which allowed for more 
expansive expression, which led 
eventually, nearly inescapably, to 
the Romantic Period, after passing, 
of course, through, Mozart and

but listen to what Bach can do 
without these later interventions,
proof that a poet can inspire with 
merely matchstick, the second 
aria itself – My soul, the spice that 
embalms you shall no longer be 
myrrh – for soprano and baroque 
flute, spare as it is instrumentally, 
is manifestly entirely worth the 
priceless price of admission 

R ! chard

Divertimento no 17, K334 – Mozart


Minuet with Pantaloon and Colombine, from the Room of Carnival Scenes
                                                                                                       in the Foresteria (1757)

     Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo


already I can hear you asking, why is
The Seven Last Words“, with its nine
already movements, not a divertimento,
you’ll cry 

a divertimento is an entertainment, it 
doesn’t have the gravitas of Haydn’s 
composition, a sacred work, a 
divertimento is meant to delight

The Seven Last Words“, therefore,
by definition is not a divertimento,
it’s a completely different idea of a
piece with several movements, it 
has profoundly ulterior intentions,
following, rather, in the tradition of
Bach’s oratorios, though it had 
originally been conceived without 
words, the prelate in this work 
would be doing the talking

the piece gives itself a theme, a 
focus, a project, creating something 
like chapters in a book 

or think of the Stations of the Cross 
a metaphorically more apt, perhaps, 
unifying principle, instead of just a 
series of disparate airs, like singles 
were on albums until Pink Floyd 
similarly revolutionized music with 
a topic during my generation, The
Wall, with a little preparatory help
albeit, from the Beatles, earlier,
our friends

here’s Mozart, nevertheless, in order 
to compare, his Divertimento no 17,  
K334giving the aristocracy what 
they still, in 1780, wanted, something 

you’ll notice there are not just one 
but two minuets in the program, both 
with recapitulations, sure sign that 
we’re still in the Classical Era, though 
the minuet will die off as quickly as 
the divertimento will in the following 
decades, relics, both, of an earlier era

and indeed this is Mozart’s last for 
small orchestra, divertimenti would be 
composed from here on as merely 
tributes to an earlier period and its 
musical formulas

masses and oratorios would go the same 
way, incidentally, with some resurgence 
in the following centuries from a couple 
of Catholic organists who left profound 
influences individually on later centuries

but more about them later

meanwhile, here’s Mozart, feel the 
gentility, his genuflexion to propriety 
rather than to faith

R ! chard

String quartets, Op.20 – Joseph Haydn


  Joseph Haydn playing string quartets 


                (Staatsmuseum, Vienna)


upon first hearing the first movement only 
even of the opus 20, no 5 of Haydn, I was 
immediately struck by the more determined, 
insistent, peremptory strokes of the strings,
something not especially appropriate in an 
aristocratic setting, where the music should
be polite, reserved, nearly unobtrusive, a 
music composed for performance here 
rather than as an after dinner mint

the second and third movements return to 
a more conventional, which is to say courtly,
tone, but the end of the fourth movement is
also, and more virulently, vociferous

what’s up 

you might view this as the very beginning 
of the Classical Period, the stately 
institutions of not only the aristocratic 
social experiment, but also of the very 
world order were being debated, personal
opinion was beginning to supersede 
convention, the very core of the upcoming
Romantic Era, which saw the rights of the 
individual installed rather than the voice
of an imperial, or an indeed spiritual,

Haydn was expressing his musical, and
dare I say Delphic, anima, his inspired 
spirit, setting the stage for what was to 
come, however historically blindly, the
French Revolution was coming up

I have a beef with the third movement, 
the adagio, however lovely – it’s right 
out of Bach, without anywhere any 
apparent attribution, I object to that 

is this a tribute, or an appropriation,
or does it matter, you tell me, I think
it’s, again however lovely, and ever
so influential, not only not right, but 
neither as lovely as the sublime 
BWV1031, a complete and utter
serenity, a sin of the sons against 
the fathers, or is it, rather, our 
indifferent patrimony, like putting 
moustache on the Mona Lisa 

the opus 20, no 2, is, for reasons I
won’t get into, a later work, it is 
throughout vociferous, peremptory,
insistent, adamant, assertive, 
vehement, uncompromising, it’s 
nearly even Beethoven, it’s, in
other words, a scorcher, like 
Beethoven, it takes no prisoners 

check it out, it’s only 1772 and the 
earlier model of civilizational order 
isn’t any longer holding, opus 20,
no 2 is an augury, an omen of what
is to come, which is, of course, the 
very task of the poet 

R ! chard