It is likely that Johann Sebastian Bach celebrated his birthday the way most of us do – surrounded by friends and special music. And that’s just what the Early Music Studio plans to do for its March 8 event Bach’s Birthday Concert, to be held at Bottega. There will be plenty of music and even a Bach birthday cake.
In this concert celebrating Bach’s 329th birthday, lutenist Clive Titmuss and harpsichordist Susan Adams explore new insights into the sparkling solo music that Bach wrote.
How did Bach’s signature style come about, and for which gifted players did he write his unique and personal early works? The players of the Early Music Studio present a performance in the lucid Baroque style for which they have become renowned, which explores the psychology that lies under Bach’s enduring genius.
One of the world’s great creators, Bach was a simple and good-humoured man, who enjoyed family life and trading ideas with colleagues. As his fame grew, he came into contact with other famous virtuoso players, who asked him for new compositions. He obliged by re-working favourite music compositions from his early years, when his responsibilities had been lighter and he had more time to write for no reason other than the pleasure it brought him. Bach’s willingness to create music for its own sake ensured his place among the world’s most revered artists.
One of the enduring myths about Bach was that he was an old-school composer, out of touch with new currents in music because he was not interested in the 18th century’s hottest trend – the bright lights of opera. More recently, attitudes to his music have shifted, we see that he was indeed on the leading edge, that in fact he had instruments designed and built to play pieces that he wrote especially for them.
Sometime in the 1730s, Bach had a visit from the most highly paid musician at the Saxon court. Sylvius Leopold Weiss was a lute player whose music may have influenced Bach’s own writing. During Weiss’s visit, it is possible that Bach demonstrated a new instrument he had commissioned – a harpsichord with lute strings that, according to one writer, was “supposed to fool the ear of a professional lutenist.” It is easy to imagine Weiss’s surprise when Bach sat at the instrument and masterfully played passages of his music written to imitate the lute style, but with the speed and bravura of his most difficult keyboard music.
Clive Titmuss will play a group of pieces that Bach wrote early in his career, and later arranged for a lutenist to play.
“I don’t feel that the music was originally written at the lute, but probably at the keyboard. It is a brilliant composition and a convincing imitation of the lute style. It’s an intriguing question: was Weiss’ ear fooled? He must certainly have been astonished,” Titmuss says. An internationally known luthier, Titmuss has arranged the piece to play on a 24-string Baroque lute, which he designed specifically to play the music of Bach.
The Early Music Studio performers illustrate how Bach’s compositions evolved, with Susan Adams playing one of his dramatic English Suites, written in his mature years. “This piece disproves the perception that Bach was not interested in theatrical style in his music. The opening movement is one of the most gripping thrill-rides I’ve ever played in a concert,” Adams says.
Audiences are used to hearing Bach’s keyboard music on the piano, but the stunning clarity of the harpsichord will satisfy the modern listener because it is so well suited to the architecture of Bach’s music. By the 18th century, the harpsichord was a sophisticated musical machine that had benefitted from nearly four centuries of technical development.
Quiet and elegant, Bottega is the perfect location to enjoy the art of the great Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries, Weiss, Bohm, and Muffat – and to enjoy some cake and coffee to celebrate his birthday.
Early Music Studio’s Bach’s Birthday Concert takes place Saturday, March 8, 7:30 p.m. at Bottega, 4485 Sallows Rd., Kelowna.
Tickets are available online at www.earlymusicstudio.com , through brownpapertickets.com, as well as at Annegret’s Chocolates in the Towne Centre Mall on Bernard in Kelowna. For more information about the music, or for directions to Bottega, call 250-769-2884 or visit the Studio website: www.earlymusicstudio.com.