The Luther College Chamber Orchestra will present a mostly Bach program at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 4, in the Noble Recital Hall of the Jenson-Noble Hall of Music. Chamber Orchestra is conducted by Daniel Baldwin, professor of music and director of orchestras at the college.
The concert is open to the public with no charge for admission.
The program will begin with a performance of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048. Next will be a piece written by 20th century American composer Ramiro Cortés, his "Meditation on 'Christ Lag in Todesbanden.'"
After a brief intermission, Chamber Orchestra will perform the Bach Concerto in E major for violin, strings and continuo, BWV 1042. Tarn Travers, professor of violin at the college, will play the violin solo. The afternoon program will conclude with "Appalachia Waltz," by composer and fiddler extraordinaire Mark O'Connor.
Some scholars have estimated that as much as a quarter of the music J.S. Bach composed has been lost or destroyed through indifference and neglect. One who must bear a good deal of the blame is Wilhelm Friedemann, Bach's eldest son. At the time of Bach's death, many of his important manuscripts were divided between Friedemann and younger brother Carl Philipp Emanuel. Emanuel took loving care of his part of the treasure, but Friedemann did not. Friedemann, it seems, was too busy trying to hold his tottering life together to pay much attention to his father's old-fashioned music. Bach had thoroughly trained him in music, and he held some important positions as a young man, but he was never able to live up to the family's expectations.
When he apparently lost his presence of mind soon after his father's death, he gave way to dissipation and made a thorough mess of his life. Many of the precious manuscripts he inherited were destroyed, lost or sold.
In Friedemann's defense, it should be noted that hardly anyone else thought much of Bach’s music in the years immediately after 1750. The new musical style of the latter half of the 18th century had demolished the taste for the complex, learned, severe Baroque tonal language, and Bach’s works fell from favor—the autograph scores for the Brandenburg Concertos were sold at auction for the equivalent of a dime each. At any rate, we know that Friedemann allowed at least three of his father's violin concertos to slip through his fingers. It was Emanuel who preserved the three that remain.
Many scholars have concluded that Bach wrote his violin concertos—two for solo violin and one for two violins—while serving as Court Kapellmeister and Director of the Princely Chamber Musicians at Anhalt-Cöthen, north of Leipzig. He was responsible for secular music during his tenure in Cöthen (1717-23), and it was during this time that he composed many of his instrumental works, including the Brandenburg Concertos, the orchestral suites, many suites and sonatas for solo instruments and keyboard, the suites and sonatas for unaccompanied violin and cello, and some important solo harpsichord pieces (e.g. the French Suites and the first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier). Prince Leopold of Cöthen was himself a well-trained and knowledgeable musician, and Bach worked diligently to provide him with music of the finest quality incorporating the latest styles.
For the violin concertos, Bach studied the works of the Italian school, particularly the compositions of Vivaldi. He transcribed several of them as solos or concertos for keyboard so that he could both learn the inner workings of those splendid pieces and augment the performing library of the Cöthen musicians. An additional source of
Bach's skill as composer for the violin was his own experience as a string player. His son Carl Philipp Emanuel recalled, "He played the violin cleanly and penetratingly. He understood to perfection the possibilities of the stringed instruments."
At some point during his (Leipzig) Collegium Musicum years (1729-41) Bach transformed both of the solo violin concertos into harpsichord concertos, turning the A minor Violin Concerto into his G minor Harpsichord Concerto (BWV 1058) and the E major Violin Concerto into his D major Harpsichord Concerto (BWV 1054). The work played by Chamber Orchestra in this concert continues to this day to be heard in both versions, as a concerto for violin and as a concerto for harpsichord.