Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Donald Macleod explores five decades of Bach's music, revealing a picture of the composer's evolving style.

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01A One-man Cantata Factory20150615

Donald Macleod focuses on the first of Bach's annual Leipzig cantata cycles.

As part of Radio 3's Classical Voice season, all this week Donald Macleod explores Bach's vocal music.

In April 1723, after a great deal of political wrangling between rival factions on the Leipzig town council, Bach was appointed Cantor of the celebrated Thomasschule. At last he had the opportunity to realize a vision he had had, 15 years and several jobs earlier, in his post as organist of St Blasius's Church in Mühlhausen. That vision - his "ultimate goal", he called it - was the creation of "a regulated church music". In practice, this simple-sounding aspiration entailed the Herculean labour of producing - not to mention preparing for performance - a cantata for every single Sunday and feast-day of the church year. Almost incredibly, he kept this up, with minimal reliance on previously composed material, for the first three years of his tenure at Leipzig - a period during which he was, in short, a one-man cantata factory. Today, Donald Macleod focuses on the first of those annual cantata cycles. The emotional range is huge, from the festive cheer of Cantata 40: 'Darzu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes' to the thrilling, borderline-operatic drama of Cantata 81: 'Jesus schläft, was sol ich hoffen?'.

01Arnstadt And Mulhausen (1703-170820130325

Donald Macleod examines some of the earliest surviving stories from Bach's youth.

As part of Baroque Spring, a month long season of Baroque music and culture, Donald Macleod explores the life and music of J.S. Bach. He begins with some of the earliest surviving stories from Bach's youth, revealing the character traits that would shape his future career.

01Arnstadt and Mulhausen (1703-1708)20130325

01Arnstadt and Mulhausen (1703-1708)2013032520141020 (R3)

Donald Macleod examines some of the earliest surviving stories from Bach's youth.

01Arnstadt and Mulhausen (1703-1708)20130325

01Arnstadt and Mulhausen (1703-1708)2013032520141020 (R3)

Donald Macleod explores the life and music of J.S. Bach. He begins with some of the earliest surviving stories from Bach's youth, revealing the character traits that would shape his future career.

01Closer To Heaven Than Earth20120730

We have a frustratingly cloudy picture of JS Bach in his final years (1735-1750), but this week Donald Macleod looks at the composer's preoccupations during this period, when it seems that he was contemplating past, present and future. One biographer suggests that towards the end of his life, as he sat at his composing desk at St Thomas's School in Leipzig, he would have been surrounded by the 'Old Bach Archive' - the music of his ancestors - on bookshelves. He had recently drawn up a family tree, and was proudly watching his sons begin to make their mark in the musical world. From the late 1730s onwards Bach began to retreat from his church duties in Leipzig, possibly in protest against his employers, and started to devote himself to his own large and ambitious projects. One of these was the Mass in B Minor, a monumental work which seems to have been written without a commission or any intended performance, and which will be heard in its entirety through the course of this week's programmes.

Focusing on how Bach began to retreat from his church duties to focus on his own projects.

01The Apprentice - Bach In The 1700s20080714

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Donald Macleod explores five decades of Bach's music, revealing a picture of the composer's evolving style.Donald concentrates on some of Bach's earliest surviving works, including his first published cantata, Gott ist mein Konig.

Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft, BWV 50

The Monteverdi Choir

The English Baroque Soloists

John Eliot Gardiner (conductor)

Capriccio sopra la lontananza del fratello dilettissimo, BWV 992

Kenneth Gilbert (harpsichord)

Prelude in G minor, BWV 535a

Peter Hurford (organ)

Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern, BWV 739

Toccata in D, BWV 912

Andreas Staier (harpsichord)

Gott ist mein Konig, BWV 71

Joanne Lunn (soprano)

William Towers (countertenor)

Kobie van Rensburg (tenor)

Peter Harvey (bass).

02Early Mastery20080715

Donald explores Bach's output during the 1710s, much of which the composer spent at the court of Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar.

The Music includes Bach's earliest extant chamber work, a key work of the organ repertoire as well as two strongly contrasting cantatas.

Gottes Sohn ist kommen (also known as Gott durch deine Gute, BWV 600)

Christopher Herrick (organ)

Fugue in G minor for violin and continuo, BWV 1026

Elizabeth Wallfisch (violin)

Richard Tunicliffe (cello)

Paul Nicholson (harpsichord)

Toccata in F, BWV 540

Simon Preston (organ)

Widerstehe doch der Sunde, BWV 54

Nathalie Stutzmann (contralto)

The Monteverdi Choir

The English Baroque Soloists

John Eliot Gardiner (conductor)

Concerto in G, BWV 973 - after Vivaldi, Op 7, No 2

Richard Egarr (harpsichord)

Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn, BWV 152

Gillian Keith (soprano)

Daniel Taylor (countertenor)

James Gilchrist (tenor)

Peter Harvey (baritone).

02Revisiting The Past20120731

In his last years, JS Bach undertook an intensified review of his works, sometimes re-imagining them for different forces. In the process he would transform them. With the Mass in B Minor, Bach revisited some of his older works, but expanded upon them hugely, creating a compendium of different styles of music. Donald Macleod looks at JS Bach's music during a period of compositional introspection.

Donald Macleod concentrates a period of Bach's compositional introspection.

02The Jewel In The Crown20150616

Donald Macleod explores Bach's first known passion oratorio, the St John Passion.

As part of Radio 3's Classical Voice season, all this week Donald Macleod explores Bach's vocal music. Today, he focuses on Bach's first known passion oratorio, the St John.

The passion oratorio came late to Leipzig, where Bach was Cantor at the famous Thomasschule and 'Director Musices Lipsiensis' - making him, effectively, top dog in the musical life of the city. Leipzig was a conservative place, and its city elders regarded with suspicion the elaborate new Passion settings that had recently become fashionable in such progressive centres of culture as Hamburg. It was not until 1721 that Bach's predecessor, Johann Kuhnau, was finally allowed by the church authorities to present in Leipzig a Passion "in concerted style" - that is, with a mixture of chorales, choruses, recitatives, instrumental pieces and 'madrigal-style' solo vocal numbers. Kuhnau's Passion was based on the story as related in St Mark's Gospel. Three years later, Bach followed suit with his passion setting based on the account of St John. Bach's St John Passion was the jewel in the crown of his first year at Leipzig, written with the experience of some 60 church cantatas immediately behind him. It was his largest-scale work to date, and of huge personal significance. Yet it was also clearly a problematic work for him; in the 25 years following its first performance in April 1724, Bach would revisit it four times, making substantial revisions along the way. It was, in a sense, left incomplete at his death.

02Weimar (1708-1717)20130326

02Weimar (1708-1717)2013032620141021 (R3)

Donald Macleod follows the young Bach to his new job at the court of Weimar.

02Weimar (1708-1717)20130326

02Weimar (1708-1717)2013032620141021 (R3)

Donald Macleod follows the young Bach to a new home and a new job at the court of Weimar, where he meets fine musicians, finds fresh inspiration and becomes embroiled in the political machinations of his masters.

02Weimar (1708-1717)20130326

Donald Macleod follows the young Bach to his new job at the court of Weimar.

Donald Macleod follows the young Bach to a new home and a new job at the court of Weimar, where he meets fine musicians, finds fresh inspiration and becomes embroiled in the political machinations of his masters. Part of Baroque Spring, a month long season of Baroque music and culture.

03Cothen (1717-1723)20130327

03Cothen (1717-1723)2013032720141022 (R3)

Donald Macleod on why Bach found joy and sadness after he became court conductor in Cothen

03Cothen (1717-1723)20130327

03Cothen (1717-1723)2013032720141022 (R3)

Donald Macleod recounts the life and music of J.S. Bach. The ever ambitious Bach takes on his most prestigious position yet, as court conductor to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, beginning a period of great happiness and also enormous tragedy in his life.

03Cothen (1717-1723)20130327

Donald Macleod on why Bach found joy and sadness after he became court conductor in Cothen

Donald Macleod recounts the life and music of J.S. Bach. Part of Baroque Spring, a month long season of Baroque music and culture. The ever ambitious Bach takes on his most prestigious position yet, as court conductor to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, beginning a period of great happiness and also enormous tragedy in his life.

03One Fearsome Cantor - Bach In The 1720s20080716

Donald looks at what was probably Bach's most fertile decade - the 1720s - one which marked the beginning of his 27-year spell as Cantor at the Thomasschule in Leipzig.

The music includes the little-known cantata Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns halt, in a pre-release airing of a recording from John Eliot Gardiner's critically praised Bach Cantata series, made available exclusively to this programme.

Prelude (Cello Suite No 1 in G), BWV 1007

Steven Isserlis (cello)

Ouverture (Orchestral Suite) No 4 in D, BWV 1069

The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra

Ton Koopman (conductor)

Prelude and Fugue in B minor, BWV 869 (Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, Bk I)

Bob van Asperen (harpsichord)

Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns halt, BWV 178

Robin Tyson (alto)

Christoph Genz (tenor)

Bridley Sherrat (bass)

The Monteverdi Choir

The English Baroque Soloists

John Eliot Gardiner (conductor).

03The Great Passion20150617

Donald Macleod explores what came to be known as Bach's 'Great Passion': the St Matthew.

As part of Radio 3's Classical Voice season, all this week Donald Macleod explores Bach's vocal music. Today he focuses on what came - even within his own lifetime - to be known as his Great Passion: the St Matthew.

Bach may have started work on the St Matthew Passion as early as 1725, perhaps intending it for performance on Good Friday of that year, but it took him at least another two years to complete - hardly surprising, given its scale and the complexity of its organization. His librettist was Picander - literary alter ego of Christian Friedrich Henrici, a tax collector and, somewhat incongruously, erstwhile writer of bawdy verse. Between them, the two men created a work with an astonishingly contemporary feel, from the fragmentary nature of its design to its continual shifting of timeframe and perspective. Bach clearly regarded the St Matthew as one of his greatest achievements, as is attested by the beautiful fair copy - described by conductor John Eliot Gardiner as "a calligraphic miracle" - that he prepared for its third performance in 1736. After Bach's death the St Matthew Passion, like most of the composer's vocal music, fell into obscurity, but it was revived by the young Felix Mendelssohn in 1829 and has been continuously in the repertoire ever since. It's now regarded as one of the cornerstones of the Western musical tradition.

03The Scheibe Criticism20120801

Though a legend in his own time, Bach wasn't appreciated by everyone in Leipzig. A certain J.A. Scheibe found cause for complaint against his music, calling it turgid, confused, and over-complicated. Donald Macleod looks at Bach's response to such criticism in his later years, and the concessions he may have made to the younger generation in his music. From the Mass in B Minor we'll hear the symmetrical Credo section, which stands at the centre of this huge work.

03The Scheibe Criticism20120801

Exploring Bach's response to criticism of his work by musician and critic Adolf Scheibe.

04Bach The Recycler20150618

Donald Macleod focuses on Bach's trinity of oratorios: for Christmas, Easter and Ascension

As part of Radio 3's Classical Voice season, all this week Donald Macleod explores Bach's vocal music. Today, his trinity of oratorios, for Christmas, Easter and Ascension.

By the mid 1730s, Bach's production of new vocal music had begun to dip. So when in 1734 he came to assemble his Christmas Oratorio - a cycle of six cantatas designed to be performed across six different church feast-days - he drew heavily on music he had composed earlier, for use in other, largely secular, contexts. Why he chose to do this, rather than create new works from scratch, is a matter of speculation. By this time he had been in his job as Cantor of the Thomasschule in Leipzig for more than a decade, a period during which his relations with his employers had turned from mildly tart to distinctly sour, and it may simply be that he had lost interest in providing them with new music. For some years he had also had a fresh focus for his energies, in the form of Leipzig's vibrant Collegium Musicum, a largely student concert society of which he became director in 1729. None of this, though, is to denigrate the Christmas Oratorio, a magnificent work that far from betraying signs of its patchwork origins seems cut from a single cloth. The same goes for the Easter and Ascension Oratorios, which both have their roots in earlier work. In Bach's day, there was no shame in recycling old material - what mattered was the skill with which it was adapted to the new context.

04Leipzig - Part 1 (1723-1730)20130328

04Leipzig - Part 1 (1723-1730)2013032820141023 (R3)

Donald Macleod on Bach's move to Leipzig, where he set about transforming musical life.

04Leipzig - Part 1 (1723-1730)20130328

04Leipzig - Part 1 (1723-1730)2013032820141023 (R3)

Donald Macleod continues his survey of the life and music of J.S. Bach. Bach's final move was to Leipzig where he immediately set about transforming musical life in the city's schools, churches and concert venues. Not everyone appreciated his work, however, and he often found himself at odds with the civic authorities.

04Leipzig - Part 1 (1723-1730)20130328

Donald Macleod on Bach's move to Leipzig, where he set about transforming musical life.

Donald Macleod continues his survey of the life and music of J.S. Bach as part of Radio 3's Baroque Spring season. Bach's final move was to Leipzig where he immediately set about transforming musical life in the city's schools, churches and concert venues. Not everyone appreciated his work, however, and he often found himself at odds with the civic authorities.

04The Musical Offering20120802

Donald Macleod on the music arising from Bach's visit to Frederick the Great in 1747.

04The Musical Offering20120802

Bach's visit, three years before his death, to Frederick the Great in Potsdam in 1747, was timed tactfully. Prussian troops had withdrawn from Leipzig six months earlier, and Leipzig city council and the Dresden court would have noted that Bach had made the journey as a true ambassador of peace. Frederick the flute-playing monarch offered the composer a theme on which to base a new work, and Bach improvised a piece for the king there and then. After returning home he set to work on several movements based on this royal theme. Donald Macleod looks at the music arising from Bach's visit to Frederick the Great.

04Years Of Consolidation - Bach In The 1730s20080717

Donald examines Bach's musical activities during the 1730s, when on top of his regular job keeping Leipzig's four main churches supplied with cantatas, he took on a secular concert-giving role as director of the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig.

Somewhere along the way, he invented the keyboard concerto.

Badinerie (Ouverture/Orchestral Suite No 2 in B minor, BWV 1067)

The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra

Ton Koopman (conductor)

Concerto in D minor for two harpsichords, BWV 1061

Kenneth Gilbert (harpsichord)

The English Concert

Trevor Pinnock (director/harpsichord)

Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt, BWV 112

Katharine Fuge (soprano)

William Towers (countertenor)

Norbert Meyn (tenor)

Stephen Varcoe (baritone)

Monteverdi Choir

English Baroque Soloists

John Eliot Gardiner (conductor)

Concerto in the Italian Style, BWV 971

Elizabeth de la Porte (harpsichord)

Fugue in E flat, BWV 552 No 2 (St Anne)

Christopher Herrick (organ).

05The Art Of Self-borrowing20150619

Donald Macleod focuses on Bach's B Minor Mass.

As part of Radio 3's Classical Voice season, all this week Donald Macleod explores Bach's vocal music. Today, Donald decompiles what could be described as the greatest musical compilation ever: Bach's B Minor Mass.

In a sense, Bach didn't write a Mass in B Minor. Firstly, that's not a title he ever gave it; it was attached in 1845 by a publisher called Hermann Nägeli, probably in an attempt to hike up sales by evoking an association with Beethoven's - similarly epically-proportioned - Missa Solemnis. Secondly, there's no real evidence that Bach regarded it as a single work - or at least, not as a work to be performed at a single sitting. And thirdly, its central key is D major rather than B minor. There's not much clarity as to why he wrote it, either. Theories range from artistic 'summa' - a drawing-together, as he neared the end of life, of everything he had achieved in the field of vocal and instrumental composition - to job-pitch; he had long been frustrated with his position as Cantor as Leipzig's Thomasschule and may now, in 1748, have had his eyes on a court position at Dresden. Bach scholars have been able to throw a great deal more light on how the work was put together - 'put together' being the operative term. The story really begins in 1733, when Bach wrote a Kyrie-Gloria mass - just the first two sections of the so-called 'ordinary' of the mass - for the Elector of Saxony, Augustus the Strong. A decade and a half further on, he decided, for reasons unknown, to expand that abbreviated setting into a missa tota - a setting of the complete ordinary of the mass, pieced together from a variety of sources dating as far back as 1714. The astonishing thing is that this musical collage not only hangs together but delivers one of the most powerful experiences in Western classical music. The key is in the way Bach selects music appropriate to its new context, then adapts it to make a perfect fit for the words. As Bach scholar and performer John Butt observes, "perhaps part of the enduring quality of the B Minor Mass lies in the fact that so much of its music was essentially composed twice".

05 LASTLeipzig - Part 2 (1730-1750)20130329

05 LASTLeipzig - Part 2 (1730-1750)2013032920141024 (R3)

Donald Macleod on Bach's last years, when his focus turned to his posthumous reputation.

05 LASTLeipzig - Part 2 (1730-1750)20130329

05 LASTLeipzig - Part 2 (1730-1750)2013032920141024 (R3)

In his final years, while maintaining an active role in Leipzig's musical life, Bach's attention turned to posterity and his posthumous reputation. He poured his lifetime of musical expertise and experience into a series of remarkable late masterworks that were to be his legacy for future generations. Presented by Donald Macleod.

05 LASTLeipzig - Part 2 (1730-1750)20130329

Donald Macleod on Bach's last years, when his focus turned to his posthumous reputation.

In his final years, while maintaining an active role in Leipzig's musical life, Bach's attention turned to posterity and his posthumous reputation. He poured his lifetime of musical expertise and experience into a series of remarkable late masterworks that were to be his legacy for future generations. Part of Baroque Spring, presented by Donald Macleod.

05 LASTThe Last Decade - Bach In The 1740s20080718

Donald concludes his survey of Bach's music with excerpts from three of what are considered to be the musical masterpieces of the composer's final decade.

Sonata for flute, violin and continuo (The Musical Offering, BWV 1079)

Barthold Kuijken (transverse flute)

Sigiswald Kuijken (violin)

Wieland Kuijken (viola da gamba)

Robert Kohnen (harpsichord)

Fugue subject (Contrapunctus I - The Art of Fugue)

Davitt Moroney (harpsichord)

The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080 (excerpts)

Charles Rosen (piano)

Credo (Mass in B minor, BWV 232) (excerpts)

Monteverdi Choir

English Baroque Soloists

O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe, BWV 34

Lisa Larsson (soprano)

Nathalie Stutzmann (contralto)

Christoph Genz (tenor)

Panajotis Iconomou (bass-baritone)

John Eliot Gardiner (conductor).

05 LASTWhen We are in Deepest Distress20120803

The Art of Fugue seems to have occupied Bach's mind throughout the last decade of his life, and inspires reverence partly because the final fugue in the collection was left incomplete, trailing off into thin air, due to the composer's last illness. When the work was published, the editors included the so-called deathbed chorale, which Bach supposedly dictated to an attending visitor. Donald Macleod explores the music associated with the very end of the great composer's life, concluding with the final section of the monumental work which dominated Bach's last decade, the Mass in B Minor.

05 LASTWhen We are in Deepest Distress20120803

Donald Macleod explores the music associated with the very end of Bach's life.