THE AMHERST SAXOPHONE QUARTET
Music by Johann Sebastian Bach
(Born March 21,1655, in Eisenach, Germany. Died July 28, 1750, in Leipzig)
Notes by Leonard Burkat
In 1717, Johann Sebastian Bach entered the service of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen, a great lover of instrumental music who maintained an orchestra of sixteen or eighteen musicians at his court. Bach was their Director, and it was during his six years at Cothen that he wrote many of his great works for instrumental ensembles. Some of the music in his four orchestral suites originated in that early time and was rewritten for the concerts he gave in Leipzig in the 1720's and 1730's. Each suite begins with an overture, and since this is the first word at the head of the music, the entire suites are often referred to as overtures. After each overture comes a series of dances and other short pieces, of which one of the most beautiful is this Air — an old word for "melody" or "tune."
In the year after Johann Sebastian Bach died, some of his musician-sons published an anthology of fugues that had occupied him on and off during the last ten years of his life. There are more than a dozen pieces in it, and each is called, in Latin, a contrapunctus, or "counterpoint," which was how the old German theoreticians referred to fugues. The collection was entitled, in German, Die Kunst der Fuge, or The Art of the Fugue. Old Bach had completed most of his work on it by about 1748, and during his two remaining years, blinded by cataracts and plagued by other ailments, he worked at revising and polishing its contents in preparation for publication.
Few copies were sold in 1751, so it was reissued with a new cover and an introduction by a well known expert (which is exactly what a publisher of our time might do), but within five years they had still sold barely forty copies. Posterity regards this failed publication as a priceless thesaurus of unmatched masterpieces in one of the highest, most complex and most difficult techniques or media of artistic expression. The entire work is based on a single melodic subject or theme, which is heard in highly varied forms.
Contrapunctus I is a straightforward, model fugue in which we hear the instrumental "voices" enter one after another, the second and fourth starting the subject five steps on the scale above the first and third. Contrapunctus III turns things upside down, for the fugue subject is the same as that of Contrapunctus I except that here the notes of the melody go down where they formerly went up. and vice versa. What musicians call the "countersubject" the melodic line that accompanies the later entrances of the subject, is here a slippery, chromatic one. Contrapunctus V uses a new rhythmic version of the subject, in both its original and inverted forms. Contrapunctus IX introduces a quickly flowing subject that is used as a counterpoint to the now familiar original one.
The second of Bach's orchestral Suites was originally written for flute and strings, and its last movement is not a dance but a Badinerie, a playful movement that takes its name from the French word for banter, joke or jest.
Bach spent nine years as a young musician in the city of Weimar, as organist to the reigning Duke. Concertos were then a new kind of "modern" music that was just arriving in Germany from Italy, and Vivaldi was the great master of the form. As a way of studying Vivaldi's Concertos, Bach arranged several of them as organ pieces. While he was about it, Bach also made organ arrangements of two violin concertos by a young and gifted noble amateur, his pupil, Prince Johann Ernst of Saxe-Weimer, a member of the ruling family, who died at the age of nineteen. It is so good a piece that for years it was catalogued as a composition by the great Bach himself. It is a major work in three movements, set in fast-slow-fast sequence.
One of Bach's favorite forms during his years in Weimar consisted of a short prelude followed by a fugue. In this C-Minor pair, originally for organ, the introduction is a free Fantasia, in which there is a fugue-like imitative echoing. The Fugue itself has a contrasting central section based on an ascending theme.
The short Fugue in G Major, with its jig-like rhythm, is a charming work long attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach although there are no documents to authenticate it. The earliest known copy is thought to have belonged to an eighteenth-century composer named F. W. Rust who was a pupil of Bach's oldest son. Rust's grandson, in the nineteenth century, held Bach's old post as Leipzig organist and edited the first attempt at a complete edition of the master's compositions. This may seem to be authority enough — except that the Bach son was a very untrustworthy character who, among other things, passed off one of his father's Vivaldi arrangements as his own composition, and furthermore, young Rust played a notorious hoax on the musical world by rewriting his grandfather's compositions and then claiming that they were a hundred years ahead of their time in style and expression. Artistic talent did not, alas, guarantee high ethical standards — at least in these cases.
The Overture or Suite for Strings in G Minor is another pleasant piece associated with the name of Johann Sebastian Bach and good enough to have been published as his work although it is not absolutely certain that he wrote it. It opens with a typical slow-fast first movement, Larghetto, and then Un poco allegro. Next is a Torneo, which may have been either a circling round dance or a competitive dance like a "tournament:' An Aria, Adagio, follows, and then a Minuet with a contrasting Trio, after which the Minuet is repeated. The last movement is a witty Capriccio or "Caprice."
Orchestra Suite No. I, in C Major (without its Overture) ends this recorded program. The first dance is a French Courante, with quick, running steps. When the dances come in pairs, as with the gavottes that follow, the first one is repeated after the second has been played. The fourth movement is a Forlane, which was originally a Venetian gondoliers' dance characterized by a rocking rhythm that suggests the gentle motion of a boat. The fifth movement, a pair of Minuets, is followed by the liveliest dances in the Suite, a pair of Bourrees from the French Auvergne region. The Suite closes with an interesting pair of Passepieds. This is a French peasant dance from Brittany that was taken up at the court of Louis XIIl at Versailles and then found its way into art music.
Copyright © 1989 by Leonard Burkat
THE AMHERST SAXOPHONE QUARTET has performed extensively throughout the United States appearing at many of the country's major concert halls and chamber music venues.
The Quartet performs the standard works composed for saxophone quartet. In addition to this large repertoire, it has developed a unique library of manuscripts which includes many commissions, and also music of the Baroque era, Jazz, Avant Garde, and Ragtime. The group's close association with renowned composer-pianist Eubie Blake culminated in a recording of his delightful Rags.
Along with a busy chamber music schedule, the Amherst Saxophone Quartet has appeared as guest soloist with the Buffalo and Rochester Philharmonics.
The Amherst Saxophone Quartet began rehearsing in January of 1978, and is now in its eleventh season with the same personnel. The Quartet was awarded Chamber Music America Residency Grants for the 1985-86 through 1987-88 seasons. Chamber Music Americas aim in making grants is to provide seed money for a permanent residency. The co-hosts during that first year were the City of Buffalo and the State University of New York at Buffalo. In 1987 the members Amherst Saxophone Quartet joined the faculty of Buffalo State College where they are now in-residence and perform a yearly concert series.
In addition to their concert appearances they have been broadcast nationally on St. Paul Sunday Morning, NPR's "Music in Washington" from the Kennedy Center and NBC T.V.'s TONIGHT SHOW.
Amherst Saxophone Quartet's commissioned works include those of composer Nicholas Flagello, Nils Vigeland , Michael Sahl, Earle Brown, and Lucas Foss.
BACH ON SAX
THE AMHERST SAXOPHONE QUARTET
Salvatore Andolina, Soprano
Michael Nascimben, Alto
Stephen Rosenthal, Tenor
Harry Fackelman, Baritone
1 Badinerie (Suite No.2 in B minor), BWV 1067 1:13
2 Overture No.6 in G minor, BWV 1070 17:44
3 Art of the Fugue, BWV 1080, (Nos. 1,3,5,9) 10:50
4 Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 537 8:49
5 Suite No. I in C major, BWV 1066 (Nos. 2-7) 14:56
6 Fugue in G major, BWV 577 2:50
7 Concerto No. I, BWV 592 7:26
TOTAL PLAYING TIME: 64'18"
PRODUCED BY THOMAS FROST
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: THOMAS Z. SHEPARD
ENGINEER: PAUL GOODMAN
RECORDED AT RCA STUDIO A
EDITED AT NEW YORK DIGITAL RECORDING
PROJECT MANAGER: ALEXANDRA SMYTH
COVER DESIGN: VITO FIORENZA