Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is a German Baroque era (1600-1750) composer who is known as the grandfather of modern music theory – his compositions were so well loved and studied, and focused so much on harmonic color, that our rules of music theory are modeled after what Bach did (and avoided) in most of his compositions. He was an organist and violinist who played in German orchestras, court positions and churches during his lifetime.
Much of Bach’s professional music life was spent in church positions, where he composed many choral and keyboard works. His output of over 1000 compositions is indicative of the the time period where new pieces were constantly performed rather than playing existing pieces of music. As a church musician, he would have composed new choral works for the anthems and new preludes (although some were improvised) and postludes for each worship service.
Bach was a hard-working, devoted Lutheran who was known to sign his compositions Soli Deo Gloria, to God alone be the glory – a motto that grew from the Protestant Reformation. He walked 200 miles to here the famed organist Dietrich Buxtehude perform. Though highly regarded today as a master composer, Bach’s music was largely forgotten until Felix Mendelssohn arranged a performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.
Listening – Flute-Related
Click here to find out what all of those BWV numbers mean.
Badinerie from Orchestral Suite in b Minor, BWV 1067
This video of the Badinerie from Bach’s Orchestral Suite in b Minor, BMV 1067 is performed by the young Fanny Joue on what looks like a French version of a talent reality TV show. As an encore, she plays Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee.
Orchestral Suite in b Minor, BWV 1067
This video includes the entire Orchestral Suite in B Minor, BWV 1067, performed by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra. The flutist plays on a Baroque flute.
Sonata in C Major, BWV 1033
This video is Emmanuel Pahud performing Bach’s Sonata in C Major, BWV 1033 on a modern flute with harpsichord and cello. This sonata includes 4 short movements. The first movement sounds like an improvised prelude (though it is fully written), and the remaining three movements are highly influenced by dance music.
Andante from Sonata for Flute and Continuo in E Minor, BWV 1034
This video of the Andante from Sonata for Flute and Continuo in E Minor, BWV 1034 is performed on period instruments. The very large instrument that is held like a guitar is a theorbo. This ensemble also includes Baroque string instruments, Baroque guitar, harpsichord and Baroque flute.
Bonus Listening – Coffee Cantata, BWV 211
Coffee arrived in Europe during the Baroque time period – and, boy, did people love it! By the mid-1600s, there were over 300 coffee shops in London (far preceding Starbucks). As something new and unknown, there was at first some level of controversy about the new drink as some people were suspicious of it (and, apparently, the level of energy that it gave people). The church frowned upon it until Pope Clement VIII drank it himself and gave it papal approval.
Bach recognized the popularity of the drink, and its prior controversy, and composed a Coffee Cantata for vocal soloists and small orchestra, including flute. The story is about a father who has a difficult time controlling his daughter who seems to only love drinking coffee. Modern performances of this piece sometimes edit the lyrics slightly to add a hat tip to the local coffee shop.
The following videos are of the Coffee Cantata as a play performed by Apollos Fire Baroque. It is a great example of the humor and fun that can be found in Baroque music – enjoy!
Play Bach’s Music!
Flute Tunes has sheet music for the following Bach compositions that you may have heard before, even if you do not recognize the titles.