Bach+ 2019-2020 Season

The Cantata Concerto Connection

This season the Bach+ series explores the links between J.S. Bach’s cantatas, written for St. Thomas in Leipzig, and his non-religious works, especially the instrumental concerti. In his third cycle of cantatas, started in 1725, Bach, at times, used a large-scale “concerted” form (one in which a soloist or small group alternates with the rest of the instruments) for organ and orchestra.  By doing so, he created dramatic, instrumental introductions to several cantatas where the full orchestra was joined with main organ to allow the organist, probably Bach himself, to display a dazzling technique through intricate solo passages and virtuosic cadenzas. Later, in 1738, he adapted and expanded most of this earlier material to create a collection of harpsichord concerti that remain among some of his most popular works. 

The process could work the other way as well. In 1729, Bach reworked the first movement of an earlier concerto for strings (Brandenburg Concerto #3 in G Major) as the opening sinfonia in a cantata for the second day of Pentecost (BWV 174).  In that same year, he adapted the Preludio, from his Violin Partita in E major (BWV 1006), as a Sinfonia for organ and strings to open the second part of a wedding cantata (BWV 120a).  He would rework that same material two years later, adding brass and timpani, for the opening to Cantata 29, Wir danken dir, Gott (“We Thank You, God”).  

Why might this have been?  The re-use of material from earlier compositions in later works is a practice common to many composers.  And, generally, this process is less a matter of speed or economy than a willingness to probe and refine an idea further.  Bach clearly thought highly of these pieces and re-worked them, moving musical ideas easily between church and court.

Across the 2019-2020 season, Bach+ will explore some of these important connections.  In particular, we’ll feature those “early organ concerti,” as Bach scholars often describe those sinfonias, in pairs of concerts that juxtapose cantatas (performed during Sunday Choral Vespers), with concerti (performed the Thursday prior).  

New this season:

Music “Unpacked” – join Bach+ for a series of programs at St. Anne’s designed to explore music through a blend of performance, analysis, and discussion.

  • Ciaccona—the Bass of Time with violinist, Robyn Bollinger (Sunday, November 17, 2019, 6:15pm).
  • Messiah Connections with Handel scholar, Fredric Fehleisen (Friday, December 20, 2019, 7:00pm).
  • Well-Tempered Clavier—Book 1 with organist, Larry Molinaro (Thursday, April 23, 6:15pm).

Continuing this season:

Improvisation – Join our consort of Bach+ players as they spin new works out of the golden threads of Bach’s cantatas.  These improvisations will serve as preludes, meditations and postludes to accompany the Bach cantata sung during Choral Vespers at St. Anne’s.

Film – Come to St. Anne’s to watch silent movies with improvised live accompaniment.  This season will feature a reprise of Buster Keaton’s Sherlock, Jr., Cecil B. DeMille’s King of Kings, and the perennial favorite, Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera.