Saturday, January 21, 2017

Music to relax after campaigning part 1) Bach channels Vivaldi

Although this is referred to as Bach's concerto for four harpsichords, and it is indeed a concerto for four harpsichords, what Bach actually wrote here was not an original composition but a masterly transposition of a concerto for four violins by Vivaldi.

Both the Vivaldi original, which had largely been forgotten until Yehudi Menuin brought Vivaldi back into fashion, and this Bach version, are wonderful and I cannot decide which I like more.

The really surprising thing is that for many years both Vivaldi and Bach were almost forgotten and hardly ever played.

I recall a letter in the Times, quite a few years ago, from a distinguished musician, in which he said that when he was a music student he and his contemporaries were told that they would probably never hear any of Antonio Vivaldi's music played but should study him because he was important for his influence on other composers. (Bach was one of those other composers, as this very piece illustrates.)  As I've mentioned Yehudi Menuin, and then Nigel Kennedy brought Vivaldi back into popularity, and the letter concluded with the author saying that he recalled that statement and laughed "every time yet another version of the 'Four Seasons' comes out."

Johann Sebastian Bach too was forgotten for a while: one of the brilliantly done (and more accurate) details in the second season of the TV adaptation of Diana Gabaldon's "Voyager" books was the point where the time travelling heroine of the story meets a nun who had corresponded with Bach, and the nun was astonished that the heroine had heard of him. Just as Menuin resurrected Vivaldi's reputation in the 20th century, Mendelsohn resurrected Bach's in the 19th.

It makes you wonder how many other brilliant works by composers who went out of fashion and were then forgotten, which we would love to listen to if we only knew about them, may be hidden away in libraries somewhere because they have not yet found a Menuin or a Mendelsohn to bring them back. Anyway, here is the Bach version of the piece ...

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