1.30pm St Peter’s Church, Edensor
JS BACH Selection of Partitas and Sonatas (30’)
2.00pm Walk to Beeley (Approx. 3 miles – moderate)
3.30pm St Anne’s Church, Beeley
MILLER About Bach (30’)
4.00pm Walk to Edensor (Approx. 1.8 miles – easy)
4.45pm Break for picnic tea
5.30pm St Peter’s Church, Edensor
JS BACH Goldberg Variations (arr. for string trio) (60’)
In 1705, a young JS Bach set off on a 250-mile journey to hear his hero, the organist Dietrich Buxtehude, play the organ.
Back by popular demand: join Ensemble 360 for an afternoon of music and walking on the Chatsworth Estate, honouring the musical genius of JS Bach, the great composer in whose footsteps we are walking.
We start in Edensor, with a selection of sonatas and partitas by Bach. After a guided walk to Beeley, we plunge forward in time with Cassandra Miller’s hauntingly beautiful ‘About Bach’ for string quartet, which takes a fragment of Bach’s famous Chaconne for solo violin and brings it seamlessly into the 21st century.
Finally, we return to Edensor for an arrangement of The Goldberg Variations for string trio. Violin, viola and cello showcase the intricacy and spirituality of one of Bach’s most ambitious works in this fitting conclusion to a musical and physical journey from the early 18th century to present day and back again.
There will be an opportunity in Edensor at approx 4.45pm to have a self-catered picnic tea. Please bring your own drinks and a picnic.
Sturdy footwear will be required, and please note that this is an all-weather event. Further practical information is available here.
Tickets are also available for the 5.30pm performance only, without the guided walk. Visit this page for tickets.
BACH Johann Sebastian, Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin
Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin were composed at Cöthen in 1720 (the date on Bach’s beautifully written fair copy of the set), at about the same time as his Cello Suites. The three Sonatas follow the pattern of the sonata da chiesa, with four movements, alternating slow and fast, while the three Partitas are suites of dances. Even though they were not published until 1802, Bach’s contemporaries recognized his superlative achievement in these pieces. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach wrote that his father ‘understood to perfection the possibilities of all stringed instruments. This is evidenced by his solos for the violin and violoncello without bass. One of the greatest violinists once told me that he had seen nothing more perfect for learning to be a good violinist.’ Which violinist Bach may have had in mind when he first wrote the pieces remains unknown.
© Nigel Simeone
MILLER Cassandra, About Bach
This string quartet is an expansion of a solo work for viola (of the same name) which was commissioned by philanthropist Daniel Cooper for violist Pemi Paull. It’s a piece about process, about Pemi’s musicality, about Bach of course, and in the end, about the Quatuor Bozzini.
I first took a recording of a short phrase (the first phrase in major) of the famous Chaconne from Bach’s Partita no. 2, performed live by Pemi. I then meticulously transcribed the recording with the help of some software — this is a process I’ve developed over some years to apprehend the exact rhythmic musicality of a performance, capturing as well various artifacts such as the viola’s upper partials as they change within each bow-stroke.
The opening of the piece is simply this transcribed phrase of Bach, with a harmony of my own making, which turns the phrase into a gently jaunty chorale. From there the phrase goes through a somewhat inaudible process that is simply let to run, until it runs itself out. It’s a constant meandering, a non-developmental piece in an extreme sense. My interest (and freedom) in exploring such a simple form comes directly from working with the Quatuor Bozzini, and this string quartet version is a souvenir of gratitude for years of great inspiration.
© Cassandra Miller
BACH Johann Sebastian, Goldberg Variations (arranged for String Trio by Dmitri Sitkovetsky)
Bach originally wrote the Goldberg Variations for harpsichord, and this was one of the very few works published during the composer’s lifetime, by the firm of Baltasar Schmid at Nuremberg in 1741. The original title page describes the work as ‘Clavier-Übung [Keyboard Practice], consisting of an Aria, with diverse variations for harpsichord with two manuals, prepared to delight the souls of music-lovers by Johann Sebastian Bach.’ There was no irony here: Bach, as a devout Lutheran, was deeply conscious of the spiritual dimension of music, and its aspiration to enrich the soul as well as to divert and entertain. But the work was also an extraordinary feat: if we count each prelude and fugue of the Well-Tempered Clavier as self-contained pairs of works, then the Goldberg Variations is by far the largest piece of keyboard music published in the eighteenth century and it attracted international attention early on. Bach is often thought of as a composer whose music was rediscovered only in the nineteenth century (thanks in large part to Mendelssohn and Schumann), but his keyboard music was the exception to this. In his pioneering General History of the Science and Practice of Music published in 1776, Sir John Hawkins devotes several pages to Bach, thanking Johann Christian Bach (then in London) for supplying some of the information. But he then goes on to quote three full pages of music examples comprising the Aria (‘Air’), Variation 9 and Variation 10 from the Goldberg Variations, making this one of the first pieces of Bach to appear in print in England.
But where is Goldberg in all this, and who was he? In 1741, Bach stayed with Count Keyserlingk in Dresden, who employed a young musician called Johann Gottlieb Goldberg. According to Johann Nikolaus Forkel in his 1802 biography of Bach, the story goes as follows: ‘The Count was often unwell and had sleepless nights. On these occasions, Goldberg had to spend the night in an adjoining room so that he could play something to him during this sleeplessness. The Count remarked to Bach that he would like to have a few pieces for his musician Goldberg, pieces so gentle and somewhat merry that the Count could be cheered up by them during his sleepless nights. Bach thought he could best fulfil this wish with some variations … The Count henceforth referred to them only as his variations. He could not get enough of them, and for a long time, whenever sleepless nights came, he would say, Dear Goldberg, do play me one of my variations. Bach was perhaps never rewarded so well for one of his compositions. The Count bestowed on him a gold beaker filled with one hundred Louis d’or.’
It’s a fine tale – and the source for the famous legend of these variations as a cure for insomnia – but it’s mostly fictitious. As Peter Williams has demonstrated, Goldberg was only born in 1727 (and was thus in his early teens at the time of Bach’s visit to Keyserlingk), so it’s wildly improbable that Bach wrote the variations for him to play. Moreover, they had actually been published before Bach’s visit to Dresden, so the chances are that he presented the Count with a
copy having been asked about the possibility of composing some suitable music. This also explains the absence of either the Count’s name or Goldberg’s on the title page of the first edition of the score – and the presence of the Aria in Anna Magdalena’s Notebook, most of which was compiled years earlier. Williams has also speculated that the player Bach most probably had in mind for the variations was his son Wilhelm Friedmann, a brilliant performer and who had worked as organist of the Sophienkirche in Dresden since 1733.
The variations constitute a virtual encyclopaedia of what was possible in terms of imaginative harpsichord writing, and is even more remarkable for Bach’s brilliant manipulation of the theme. As a master of transcribing his own music for different instrumental combinations, the arrangement of the Goldberg Variations for string trio is an idea that would surely have appealed to Bach. Just as Mozart arranged some of the keyboard fugues for string quartet, and others have arranged The Art of Fugue for the same forces, so Sitkovetsky has taken up the challenge of re-thinking Bach’s music for entirely different instruments – as Bach himself had done not only with his own music but also with other composers such as Vivaldi. This arrangement was made in 1985 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Bach’s birth, and it is dedicated to the memory of Glenn Gould, whose astonishing 1955 recording of the Goldberg Variations became an instant bestseller and introduced a whole generation to this extraordinary music.
Nigel Simeone © 2010