Concerto No. 1 BWV 592, Johann Sebastian Bach

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Concerto No. 1 BWV 592, Johann Sebastian Bach
Year of Composition:    
Michael Nascimben

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Recordings

Bach On Sax
Amherst Saxophone Quartet: Bach On Sax
Salvatore Andolina, soprano
Michael Nascimben, alto
Stephen Rosenthal, tenor
Harry Fackelman, baritone
1988

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

Review

Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Monday, October 31, 1994
Amherst Quartet avoids all the potholes
Herman Trotter

Fresh from a tour touching down in Erie, Pa., and Beaufort, S.C., during which they played to capacity audiences, the Amherst Saxophone Quartet returned to its home base on Sunday evening to do its bit for the opening festivities at the new UB Center for the Arts and was greeted by a sparse crowd estimated at less than a quarter of a house.

They offered, for the only time in this area, the same program with which they will tour all season. It was comprised of transcriptions, original works for saxes and the ensemble's signature closing mix of jazz and ragtime.

The only work common to this program and the first of the ensemble's series programs offered earlier in October was the opening transcription of a composition by Bach, which the program erroneously identified simply as "K.592." Most listeners, of course, recognized this as a misplaced Mozart Koechel Number.

In his jovial verbal correction of this error, however, spokesman Steve Rosenthal never did fully identify the Bach work in question. It's the Bach-Vivaldi Concerto No. 1 for Solo Organ, BWV 592. Other than noting that the brief, three-movement concerto was played with a good pulse, pliant phrasing and very deft dovetailing of the Finale's lightning fast exchanges, I'd refer the reader to contributing critic Kenneth Young's review in the Oct. 11 for a unique viewpoint on this work.

The three original works for saxes at the center of the program were the meat and potatoes of this concert, but carefully varied in their flavors.

The form of Belgian composer Joseph Jongen's Saxophone Quartet was hard to discern — either a multi-movement work played without pauses or perhaps just a free fantasy. At any rate, it opened with the baritone sax in a rhythmic figure of a rather jaunty demeanor which set a sort of dominant tone. The music then proceeded through several contrasting sections, some with wonderfully fanciful and ornate lyric lines, in which serious and insouciant attitudes seemed to jockey for dominance. But over the longer pull that opening jovial, jaunty ambience kept returning like the rondo theme in a classical symphony or sonata. The extraordinary ensemble performance in the work's tricky rhythms held the larger' form together and emphasized both its serious overall intent and its more playful subsections.

Grand Island composer Stephen Parisi's Saxophone Quartet (11 years in the making, 1980-91) is of a lighter but no less intriguing intent. Its three movements evoked reminiscences ranging from updated old English dances with lots of assertive noodling overlays, to a restful and flowing center with a slight blues tinge, and an almost pointillist final movement, jabbing and assertive with rhythmic pitfalls everywhere. The ASQ avoided all those potholes, playing with technical brilliance while preserving the genial nature of the score.

Former Buffalonian Rocco DiPietro's "Phantom Melos" was quite different, very open in texture, groping and mysterious in its questing lyrical lines, and occasionally dropping an extended phrase with operatic aria resonances. Its apparent climax was reached in a complicated, chattery, cacophonous, staccato section, only to relax into ghostly harmonies and receding tension and the musicians, one by one, stopped playing and turned off their stand lights to end in total darkness.

Jazz and rags concluded the program, with works of Eubie Blake, Euday Bowman, ASQ member Russ Carere and Miles Davis. The latter's "All Blues" in an arrangement by Harry Fackelman was a standout, with its fanciful solos by soprano Sal Andolina and alto Carere over a rocking blues ostinato figure.
 

Concerto No. 1 BWV 592, Johann Sebastian Bach
Quatuor, op. 122 (1942), Joseph Jongen
Quartet No. 1 (1992), Stephen Parisi
Phantom Melos (1981), Rocco Di Pietro
All Blues, Miles Davis
Amherst Quartet avoids all the potholes
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Tuesday, October 11, 1994
Works for the sax work for Quartet
Kenneth Young

True to formula, the Amherst Saxophone Quartet began with Baroque and rounded off with ragtime, with all manner of contemporary sax quartet literature in between. Also true to type, they played superbly for the most part, with ensemble blend, rhythmic precision and a wonderful feel for the romantic sensibility that seems to touch most of the modern works in this idiom.

Frankly, I could do without the Bach transcriptions, which, without getting too purist about it, sound thick, leaden and often unbalanced in this instrumentation, no matter how skillfully arranged and played. The Concerto No.1, BVW 592 suffered from all of the above, despite some honest attempts to vary the solo-orchestral textures and a good sense of style in the delivery. Bach's more linear, dance-like keyboard pieces translate better, as do works of other Baroque composers like Handel, for example, whose works could be performed by a hog-choir passing wind to good effect.

The real meat of the concert, though, was the works actually written for saxophone quartet, two of which were composed specifically for the Amherst ensemble.

Allen Sigel's brand new "Flapper Era Dances" was one of these — a dance suite in four movements paying tribute to Roaring Twenties styles. These were quite charming, without having, perhaps, the easy inspiration of Sigel's fine "Homage to Gershwin" premiered last season by the ASQ. The Tango had a layered-on introduction denoting the dance's formal, "serious" status - then turned quirky, with a lot of writing in the harsh upper register of the soprano sax. The Fox-Trot Variations were inventive, with variations flowing into each other smoothly, always, retaining a delicate prancing gait through the playful counterpoint. The Hesitation Waltz was somehow graceful in its multi-meter whirl of extra beats and luftpauses, and the Charleston finale seemed a concentrated, shorthand summary of both the ingenuous romance and flamboyance at the heart of the dance and the era.

Rocco Di Pietro's "Phantom Melos," which was written for the Buffalo Centennial in 1982, has aged rather well, its haunting calls seeming more plaintive and nostalgic with the explanation of its origin - the composer wrote it from the roof of a hotel while contemplating the Buffaloscape. The ASQ played it in the dark, Halloween style, giving a spooky boost to its bent-tone cries and rustles.

The big work on the program was Ida Gotkovsky's "Quatour de Saxophones" (1988), beautifully played by the quartet, from the sassy walking bass and chorale opening, a kind of chromatic blues second movement, darkly searching tendrils of melody in the "Lineare," to the ritualistic mystery of the "Cantilene." Only in the supercharged finale did one feel that the performers were sacrificing something for control - that run-away, hurtling, damn-the-mistakes performance that can be breathtaking rather than merely impressive. The delightful "Ophelia Rag" and "Rigamarole Rag" closed the program.

Concerto No. 1 BWV 592, Johann Sebastian Bach
Flapper Era Dances (1994), Allen Sigel
Phantom Melos (1981), Rocco Di Pietro
Quatuor des Saxophones, Ida Gotkovsky
Works for the sax work for Quartet
Time Magazine (national, USA)
Monday, April 3, 1989
Critic's Choice
staff

...

 

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet: Bach on Sax
(MCA Classics). Purists beware! Your prejduice against unorthodox instrumentation could be shattered by this surprising set of Bach adaptations that has nothing gimmicky about it but the concept.
...

Badinerie, BWV 1067, Johann Sebastian Bach
Overture No. 6 in g minor BWV 1070, Johann Sebastian Bach
Fantasia and Fugue in c minor BWV 537, Johann Sebastian Bach
Fugue in G Major, BWV 577, Johann Sebastian Bach
Concerto No. 1 BWV 592, Johann Sebastian Bach
Suite No. 1 in C Major, BWV 1066, Johann Sebastian Bach
Critic's Choice
Washington Post, The (Washington, DC)
Sunday, April 2, 1989
Classical Recordings
Joseph McLellan

Authentic Instruments: Tried and True [taken from a review of multiple recordings] Let me hasten to add that authentic sound is not the only value in the performance of old music. A prime and current example from MCA Records is Bach on Sax (MCAD-6264),

in which the Amherst Saxophone Quartet performs four items from Art of the Fugue, as well as a half-dozen other instrumental pieces, on instruments that were not even invented until a century after the death of Johann Sebastian Bach. The performances are nonetheless dazzling and imbued with the composers spirit, not only in Art of the Fugue, for which Bach specified no instruments, but in the Badinerie from the Orchestral Suite No. 2, which was written for flute and strings, and in other works composed for organ or string orchestra.

The Art of the Fugue, J.S. Bach
Badinerie, BWV 1067, Johann Sebastian Bach
Overture No. 6 in g minor BWV 1070, Johann Sebastian Bach
Fantasia and Fugue in c minor BWV 537, Johann Sebastian Bach
Suite No. 1 in C Major, BWV 1066, Johann Sebastian Bach
Fugue in G Major, BWV 577, Johann Sebastian Bach
Concerto No. 1 BWV 592, Johann Sebastian Bach
Classical Recordings

Composer Biography

1685 — 1750

Johann Sebastian Bach was an obscure composer of the Baroque Era. Some scholars even conjecture that Bach may have been the invention of either Christopher Marlowe or Samuel Clemens.