Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Composer Study - Johann Sebastain Bach

The second composer that Olivia is studying during the 2019-2020 homeschool year is Johann Sebastain Bach. According to Biography, he was born on March 31, 1685, in Eisenach, Thuringia, Germany.

The website also stated that "Bach had a prestigious musical lineage and took on various organist positions during the early 18th century, creating famous compositions like Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Some of his best-known compositions are the Mass in B Minor, the Brandenburg Concertos and The Well-Tempered Clavier. Bach died in Leipzig, Germany, on July 28, 1750. Today, he is considered one of the greatest Western composers of all time."

Bach's family had many musicians in it which stretched back many generations. His father, Johann Ambrosius, worked as the town musician in Eisenach, and it is thought that he taught Bach to play the violin when he was very young.

At the age of seven, Bach went to school where he studied Latin, religion, and other subjects. His Lutheran faith would influence his later musical works. By the time he turned 10 years old, Bach found himself an orphan after the death of both of his parents.

His older brother Johann Christoph, who was a church organist in Ohrdruf, took him in. Johann Christoph provided further musical instruction for Bach and enrolled him in a local school. Bach stayed with his brother's family until he was 15 years old.

Bach had many careers during his lifetime: composer, organist, and teacher. By 1740, Bach was struggling with his eyesight, but he continued to work despite his vision problems.

In 1749, Bach started a composition called The Art of Fugue, but did not complete it. He tried to fix his failing sight by having surgery the following year, but the operation left him completely blind. Later in 1750, Bach suffered a stroke. He died in Leipzig on July 28, 1750.

Interestingly, during his lifetime, Bach was better known as an organist than a composer. Few of his pieces were published during his lifetime. Still Bach's compositions were admired by those who followed in his footsteps, including Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.

His reputation received a substantial boost in 1829 when German composer Felix Mendelssohn reintroduced Bach's Passion According to St. Matthew.

For this composer study, Olivia focused on six pieces by Johann Sebastain Bach:

Magnificat in D

This piece was written for five soloists, a five-part choir, and orchestra. Bach first composed a version in E-flat major for Christmas in 1723 and then reworked that music in D major in 1733 for the feast of the Visitation. The Latin text is the canticle of Mary, mother of Jesus, as told in the Gospel of Luke.

Olivia thought:
- I definitely can hear why it's a Christmas song. It has a peppy, cheerful sound.
- At 1:21, this part sounds least the way they are singing it.
- The second part sounds like a completely different song.
- I liked the first part better because the singing was better.
- I like the songs where it is just the least for these studies. I prefer the songs without the singing.
- The third one sounds like an opera.
- 18:12: NO! Way too much energy for this type of music.
- 20:45: again, it sounds like an opera. A very cringy-opera. I do not care for operas.
- The ending sounds the first part.
- The first and last parts are the best.


This version is played by Jascha Heifetz on the violin. It was recorded on September 16, 1970.

- It sounds sad, yet happy. Just the way that the violinist is making the sound go from louder to softer.
- There's a little bit of repetition in areas.
- This reminds of an old-fashioned horror movie where there's a climax and you don't know what's going to happen.
- I kind of like listening to a single instrument. I can hear the tune better. There's no singing or other instruments.
- I think Scooby likes this part (starting at 4:24). He sat up when he heard this.

Jesus, bleibet meine Freude from the Cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben - mov. X, BWV 147

The Cantata BWV 147 was written in Leipzig for the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and was first performed on July 2, 1723. It was written for trumpet, two oboes, bassoon, two violins, viola, basso continuo, and a standard four-part choir of soprano, alto, tenor, and basso. It comprises ten movements.

Lyrics for mov. X:
GERMAN (original)
"Jesus bleibet meine Freude,
Meines Herzens Trost und Saft,
Jesus wehret allem Leide,
Er ist meines Lebens Kraft,
Meiner Augen Lust und Sonne,
Meiner Seele Schatz und Wonne;
Darum lass ich Jesum nicht
Aus dem Herzen und Gesicht."

ENGLISH (original)
"Jesus will always be my joy,
My heart's comfort and essence,
Jesus is there through all suffering,
He is my life's strength,
The desire and sunshine of my eyes,
My soul's treasure and bliss;
Therefore I will never let Jesus go,
Neither from my heart nor from my face."

Olivia's reactions:
- Definitely a song you would hear in the church.
- I think I've heard the song or the rhythm, but not the words before.
- It kind of reminds me of the Hunchback of Notre Dame because it sounds like it is something you would hear in France.
- I like the instrumental part more than the choral part.
- It is relaxing, but at the same time, it could put you in a good mood.

Sinfonia from Cantata BWV 29 - Diane Bish

This piece is performed by Diane Bish on a pipe organ.

Olivia's reactions:
- It has a very fast tempo.
- I like this piece. It kind of reminds me of a gothic castle with a large organ.
- At one point, I heard one section repeat itself.
- I do not think Bach would have played on this type of organ (that Diane Bish is playing on) since they didn't exist at that time.

Brandenburg Concerto no. 6

This is the last movement of Bach's sixth (and last) Brandenburg Concerto, BWV 1051. This concerto is unusual in that the highest-pitched instruments in the ensemble are two solo violas.

Olivia's reactions:
- Sounds like dance music.
-  It would be hard to sing with this piece.
- It is a pretty fast tempo.
- I don't think I can pick out the two violas with the other instruments.
- I like this piece. It is definitely one I could listen to again.
- I like it because it doesn't have singing in it.

Art of the Fugue - Contrapunctus 9 played by Nageeb Gardizi

Olivia's reactions:
- It seems like Bach has a thing for fast pieces.
- It is actually nice to hear a piece on the piano because most of the pieces you pick aren't on the piano. They are on harpsichord from that time period, I think.
- I liked that piece. Out of all of them, this one was my favorite because it was short and there was no singing.