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Thread: Bach Musical Offering Recommendations

  1. #31
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    An amplification (or clarification): at the audience with Frederick, Bach played a 3 part and a 6 part fugue but only the 3 part fugue was on the royal theme. The 6 part fugue was on a theme of Bach's devising as the royal theme was too complex for an immediate improvisation.

    Here is an interesting article - http://www.early-music.com/js-bach-musical-offering/
    Last edited by Biffo; Dec-10-2017 at 19:06.

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    Forkel doesn't state explicitly that he improvised for the king on a piano, but the context is all about pianos and it's strongly suggested that he was using one. As far as I can see, Forkel doesn't say that he improvised a contrapuntal piece with three voices, just that he improvised a contrapuntal piece. It may or may not have been the ricercar a 3 from Opfer. But he does say that he couldn't improvise a piece with 6 parts with the subject. He chose his own subject for the improvised 6 part fugue -- I guess using the same instrument as the one with three voices (piano?)

    I'm using the translation into English in The Bach Reader. However I note that Dantone in his essay below says that he improvised a 3 part fugue, so go figure!

    It would be a bit surprising and worthy of mention I think, if the ricercar a 3 in the printed edition was the same as the improvised contrapuntal piece. Indeed Forkel explicitly states that he composed a three part fugue for opfer in Leipzig -- suggesting that it was not the same as the improvised piece. I assume that Forkel had seen the edition.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Dec-10-2017 at 20:37.

  3. #33
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    Dantone is very clear on the structure of the piece, and its publication, this is from an essay in the booklet to his recording of opfer.

    J.S. BACH: "The musical offering"


    No musician except Bach has ever approached so closely, or in such a profound way, the boundary that separates art from science, and Bach succeeded in knocking down this very barrier without sacrificing either mathematical reason or purely musical expressiveness.

    The Musical Offering was conceived among Bach's final explorations of esoteric musical issues. The work is rich with multiple meanings: from the simple homage paid to an enlightened monarch, to pure spiritual sacrifice; from a scientific and philosophical dissertation, to the search for mysterious, symbolic significance.

    History has given us ample evidence to retrace with ease the birth and completion of this unparalleled work. Bach's visit in May, 1747 to King Frederick II in Potsdam prompted the Sovereign to propose a musical theme that the composer was then to develop extemporaneously. (Frederick II, himself an excellent musician and flautist, was well acquainted with Bach's improvisatory talents.) As the periodicals of the time recorded, Bach proceeded to astound the king and everyone else present by playing on the keyboard a three-part fugue, in a most outstanding manner, followed by a fugue for six parts. Even more importantly, Bach went well beyond the royal commission: he deemed the proposed theme to be worthy of especial study and attention, worthy indeed of further and more complete elaboration.

    And so in September of the same year the first edition of The Musical Offering was published. One hundred copies were printed; each consisting of five smaller sheaves or booklets, each of which contained its own numbered pages. In the first such booklet we find the frontispiece with its dedication to Frederick 11 of Prussia, and it is here that the work is presented as an offering to the Sovereign. The second booklet contains the Ricercara 3 and the Canon Perpetuus Super Thema Regium. The third contains diverse Canons; the fourth the Ricercara 6 as well as the Canons for 2 and for 4 voices. Lastly the fifth book contains the Sonata Sopr'il Soggetto Reale and a final Canon perpetuus.

    Conflicting theories have been put forward by various scholars as to why the first edition was thus printed in individual sections. Further questions abound concerning the exact order of the passages. Concerning this latter issue, the most convincing theory is that of Ursula Kirkendale, argued also by A. Basso in Frau Musika. According to the scholar, a connection can he drawn between the structure of The Musical Offering and the outline of an oration as set down by Quintiliano in his Institutio Oratorio. Following this outline, each part of The Musical Offering corresponds to a rule of rhetoric, that is, to the different functions of an address or narrative. Thus the work would be divided in two parts. The introduction (exordium) would include respectively the Ricercari in 3 and 6 voices, leaving the tasks of narration and argumentation to the several Canons. The conclusion then of Bach's discourse would he the Sonata and the Canon perpemus — the first of these, freed from strict contrapuntal formality, is suited to move the emotions and sentiments; the second piece stands as the definitive, irrefutable demonstration of reason and of intellectual rigour.

    The enigmatic character of The Musical Offering is evident even in the heading that opens the second booklet, just before the beginning of the first piece. The phrase Regis lussu Cantio Et Reliquia Canonica Arm Resoluta, explaining the origins and content of the work, is an acrostic, the initial letters of which spell the word RICERCAR. Moreover in the original printed edition the Canons are not written out in the complete and extensive form heard by the listener but in the form of a puzzle that the performer first must solve, taking into account the given keys and reference points. What's more, the canons are infinite, in that they have no set ending. Instead they repeat themselves indefinitely, always starting again from the beginning, with no solution provided to escape this unending continuity. The performer is left to decide everything, be it the number of repetitions or the moment and manner in which to bring the canons to an appropriate close.

    If we probe the rhetorical/musical aspects of the Thema Regium, we notice, after the initial harmonic ascent through the three steps of the C minor triad, the first rhetorical figure including the vertical interval of a minor seventh — A flat to B (Saltus duriusculus) — followed by a second figure that descends chromatically, touching upon every semitone between G and C (Posits duriusculus). According to the theory of the sentiments, these two rhetorical/musical figures serve to express languid emotions and sighs, pain and ultimately extreme pathos. In effect The Musical Offering is permeated by a mood of suffering, of lamentation and of tension, broken only now and again by moments of hope and rebellion.

    The opening passage, the Ricercara 3, plays the role of stating the theme and of developing it in the manner considered by the ancients as the most noble and the most suited for interweaving the strands of an argument: the ricercare, the search. The Ricercar a 6, apparently less rigid in structure, has a countersubject with a hinting character, comprised of staccato notes and leaps. It shows a sense of amusement, with its figurations in triplets and its wide breadth. In the central part of the piece the contrapuntal discourse becomes ever more complex, with a series of stretti involving hold chromatic figures.

    The Canon perpetuus that follows opens the first set of canons within the framework of the actual narration. The Thema Regium is here enunciated in the central voice while the upper and lower parts are in canon, at the height of a double octave. In the ingeniously constructed Canon a 2 "Cancrizans" (crabs) the second (following) voice begins on the last note of the first (leading) voice and proceeds backwards until it reaches again the first note, in imitation of the movement of crabs. Literature offers something similar in the palindrome, perhaps the most famous example of which appears in Virgil's hexameter "In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni."

    The Canone a 2 violini in unison comes next, one of the few pieces of the work in which Bach specifies the intended instruments and in which the theme is found in the bass. Afterwards comes the Canone a 2 Per Molum contrarium in which the theme passes to the upper voice, and the two lower voices pursue each other in contrary motion. In the Canon a 2 per Augmentationem contrario Motu we find for the first time a variation of the theme in the middle voice, while the other two parts, in canon, move in contrary motion but with redoubled values, the one with respect to the other.

    In the subsequent Canone per Tonos, the Thema Regium undergoes variation in a manner that renders it chromatic from the start, whereas the other two voices play a canon set apart by a fifth. The modulation that occurs during the enunciation is altogether congenial. The theme is put forward and taken up again one tone higher without causing any perceptible harmonic trauma, and so on throughout. This process is itself a rhetorical/musical device, called Auxesis or Climax until the 17th century and Gradatio in the period that followed. The effect produced upon the listener's ear is one of gradual crescendo, like an ever more insistent question, until a climax of emotional tension is achieved.

    The piece that concludes the first part of the discussion (Egressus) and comes before the second Exordium is the Fuga Canonica in Epidiapente, a three-part fugue built upon a canon between the two upper parts in fifths. As to the origins of the term "Epidiapente", it was common practice in previous times to express such intervals as unison, a fourth, a fifth, an octave, and so forth, with the Greek terminology Diatessaron, Diapente, Diapason, etc. Thus Bach uses the expression "Epidiapente" to indicate that the following part would sing a fifth above, much as he would have used the term "Subdiapente" had the same part answered a fifth below instead.

    The Ricercar a 6 is one of the most imposing contrapuntal creations that Bach ever conceived. The number of the voices, the incredible complicated interplay of the parts, even the piece’s remarkable dimensions, comes together in a work that is surely unique within its genre. Its structure recalls the Ricercare in its most ancient form: after the grand initial exposition of the theme, diverse new thematic ideas are stated to be then developed in a fugue; yet within each of these ideas the principle subject appears inserted — an extraordinary interweaving, ruled over by one, great, single thought.

    The second set of canons includes two brief canons for two voices in contrary motion, retto and inverso, (Canon a 2 Quaerendo invenietis) and the more extensive canon for four voices (Canon a 4). In the latter the theme is enriched in its variation by passing notes that give it a character both expressive and dramatic.

    The moment of greatest intensity within the whole work, the Sonata sopr'il Soggetto Reale, foresees a very precise ensemble, with the flute rising to the role of protagonist, in homage no doubt to the great talents as soloist of Frederick II. In the course of the four movements, the Thema Regium appears in its original form only in the opening Allegro, letting its presence be felt afterward every now and then as a solemn quotation in the lovely context of flowing discourse and formal perfection. In the two slow movements Bach gives an essay of pure musical eloquence and of extraordinary expressive sensitivity with a splendid "affettuoso" style. The Sonata ends with an Allegro in 6/8 time based upon the royal theme, superbly varied with pauses, appoggiature, and chromatic progressions that produce veritable sighs, creating contrast with the subsequent passages in semichromes, bringing the piece to its conclusion in a crescendo of rhythm and dynamics.

    After the emotional climax of the Sonata in which the sentiments have been given free rein, the final Canon Perpetuus calls everything back to order by means of its great introspectiveness and its far more rigid and rational control. We find again here the forma mentis characteristic of Bach — a mind-set which, placing spirit above matter, holds within itself impenetrable designs, so loaded with secret symbolism, that posterity is left an inheritance such as might never be comprehended in its fullness.

    Ottavio Dantone Translation: AD ITALIA
    Note that Dantone is (in my view correctly) non commital about the nature of the keyboard Bach used for the improvisation.

    The idea that Opfer is a sort of political statement about the right of the king to rule and control is something which Yearsley discusses in his book on Bach's counterpoint.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Dec-10-2017 at 20:03.

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  5. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    Note that Dantone is (in my view correctly) non commital about the nature of the keyboard Bach used for the improvisation.
    But he in no way precludes the use of a Silberman fortepiano and we know that Frederick had a large collection of them and was a advocate of the galant style. It seems perfectly reasonable that he would have wanted to hear Bach extemporise on his new, and exciting, new instrument. I cannot think of any source that connects Bach's initial performance of the Ricercare a 3 with a harpsichord but there is some evidence to suggest the fortepiano.

  6. #35
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    From the booklet note with the Linde Consort recording:

    'According to the Berlische Nachrichten "His Majesty went to the so-called forte and piano and condescended, in person and without preparation, to play to Kapellmeister Bach a theme on which to improvise [three-part] fugue. This the Kapellmeister did so successfully that not only was His Majesty moved to express his most gracious satisfaction....."'.

    It seems plausible that if the king played the theme on the forte-piano Bach would provide his improvisation on the same or similar instrument.

    According to the notes for the Goebel/MAK recording, the dedication copy printed by Schubler only contained, and on separate sheaves of paper, the dedication page and the first eight numbers. The other five pieces 'were evidently not written until later and were printed in two further instalments also by Georg Schubler'.

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    Quote Originally Posted by classical yorkist View Post
    But he in no way precludes the use of a Silberman fortepiano and we know that Frederick had a large collection of them and was a advocate of the galant style. It seems perfectly reasonable that he would have wanted to hear Bach extemporise on his new, and exciting, new instrument. I cannot think of any source that connects Bach's initial performance of the Ricercare a 3 with a harpsichord but there is some evidence to suggest the fortepiano.
    I repeat, we do not, as far as i know, have any evidence that he played the Ricercar à 3 for the king. All we know is that he improvised a fugue on the royal theme, that it had less than 6 voices, and that he later returned to Leipzig and composed the Ricercar à 3. I have suggested that, given the way Forkel is translated in The Bach Reader, it would be surprising if he had improvised the published Ricercar à 3 for the king.

    And yes, I agree that it's likely that whatever he played for the king, he used a piano.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Dec-11-2017 at 20:46.

  8. #37
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    Quote Originally Posted by Biffo View Post
    From the booklet note with the Linde Consort recording:

    'According to the Berlische Nachrichten "His Majesty went to the so-called forte and piano and condescended, in person and without preparation, to play to Kapellmeister Bach a theme on which to improvise [three-part] fugue. This the Kapellmeister did so successfully that not only was His Majesty moved to express his most gracious satisfaction....."'.

    It seems plausible that if the king played the theme on the forte-piano Bach would provide his improvisation on the same or similar instrument.

    According to the notes for the Goebel/MAK recording, the dedication copy printed by Schubler only contained, and on separate sheaves of paper, the dedication page and the first eight numbers. The other five pieces 'were evidently not written until later and were printed in two further instalments also by Georg Schubler'.
    Why is "three part" in square brackets? This is important for this,discussion, obviously.

    I didn't know there were two editions in Bach's life, the "dedication printed by Schubler" and a later edition (presumably of 100)
    Last edited by Mandryka; Dec-11-2017 at 20:47.

  9. #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    I repeat, we do not, as far as i know, have any evidence that he played the Ricercar à 3 for the king. All we know is that he improvised a fugue on the royal theme, that it had less than 6 voices, and that he later returned to Leipzig and composed the Ricercar à 3. I have suggested that, given the way Forkel is translated in The Bach Reader, it would be surprising if he had improvised the published Ricercar à 3 for the king.

    And yes, I agree that it's likely that whatever he played for the king, he used a piano.
    Yes, I should have said the 3 part fugue on the Royal theme. One of he things that always gets me thinking is how similar the 3 part Ricercare could be to the fugue Bach performed in person for Frederick?

  10. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    Why is "three part" in square brackets? This is important for this,discussion, obviously.

    I didn't know there were two editions in Bach's life, the "dedication printed by Schubler" and a later edition (presumably of 100)
    [three part] is presumably an editorial insertion by the translator; the German version of the notes simply says 'einer Fuga'. I only read the English notes before my previous post. Omission of the indefinite article was a typo on my part.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Biffo View Post
    [three part] is presumably an editorial insertion by the translator; the German version of the notes simply says 'einer Fuga'. I only read the English notes before my previous post. Omission of the indefinite article was a typo on my part.
    That's consistent with my translation.

  12. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by classical yorkist View Post
    Yes, I should have said the 3 part fugue on the Royal theme. One of he things that always gets me thinking is how similar the 3 part Ricercare could be to the fugue Bach performed in person for Frederick?
    We don't know that he played a three part Fugue for the king, only that he played a fugue and it had less than 6 parts.

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    The Messori recording on Brilliant arrived today and immediately went into the player. I enjoyed it very much and the set also includes Kunst der Fugue plus other material. A really great listen, the harpsichord version of the Ricercare a 3 was a little different but still an interesting take.

  14. #43
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    Quote Originally Posted by classical yorkist View Post
    The Messori recording on Brilliant arrived today and immediately went into the player. I enjoyed it very much and the set also includes Kunst der Fugue plus other material. A really great listen, the harpsichord version of the Ricercare a 3 was a little different but still an interesting take.
    Yes, there's a lot to think about in that Messori recording.

    By the way, someone let me have the sound from a video recording of a live performance originally with Kuijken Bros and Kohnen, in Munich on 28 July 2000. It's very good, these guys are totally confident in the music, their ideas have been honed, and I'd say the performance is inspired. It feels like your looking in to a special live event. If you want it let me know.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Yesterday at 11:34.

  15. #44
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    Before buying more different interpretations, buy this definitive recording first
    51rcBZDBPmL._AC_US218_.jpg

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