Friday, January 25, 2008

Bach: The Brandenburg Concertos

I considered holding off on Bach for a little bit because I feel he's almost too difficult to listen to, especially for classical music beginners.

But because Bach holds such an important place in music history, and because his music will be the cornerstone of any basic classical music collection, we're going to tackle one of his more accessible works early on in this blog.

Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic

Johann Sebastian Bach
The Brandengurg Concertos
Orchestral Suites No. 2 &3
Deutsche Grammophon, 1965

The Brandenberg Concertos (there are six of them) are deeply complicated works, but don't let that scare you off. These works are accessible to a novice listener. And I'd suggest if you are starting your own classical music collection, get a copy of the Brandenberg Concertos early on. The particular recording I have (listed above) is performed in a relatively slow tempo on modern instruments, and I prefer it that way. But you should also consider getting one or two other recordings of these concertos in order to hear how other performers and conductors treat the music.

And pay particular attention to Brandenberg Concerto #5 and the stunning harpsichord solos that it features.

What I've always loved about Bach was that he labored so hard in a state of total obscurity. Nobody really cared about his music while he lived, and his music remained forgotten and obscure for a century after he died. Yet clearly the guy systematically worked his ass off his entire life, as he created an enormous body of work that towers over classical music. He was a deeply religious man, so perhaps he felt God was watching him, so it mattered not that his fellow man was indifferent to his work.

I think the two best words to describe Bach's music are "cerebral" and "complex." Bach's music is so complex it can be hard to appreciate for classical music beginners. Have you ever attempted to, say, hum a few bars from one of Bach's compositions?

You see what I mean. And yet, they were playing Brandenberg Concerto #5 in the Port Authority Bus Terminal the other day. It almost made it a tolerable experience for me to stand in line for a commuter bus.

We'll get into more Bach compositions as we work through my 100+ CDs, including his Cello Suites, some of his violin concertos and portions of The Well Tempered Clavier. And hopefully we'll also cover some of the interpretive debates on Bach's work (slow or fast? original instruments or modern instruments? etc, etc).

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