Polyphony and Arias from the Second Bach Generation

Welcome autumn! © Charles Thibo

There is no life without Bach, at least not for me, and the moment you are reading this, I will be far away from home, on the beach, sitting in the sand, looking at the blue sky and doing nothing. Nothing except reading, listening to Bach and perhaps pondering whether I will run once more across the beach and throw myself into the waves. Right, I am on my much deserved vacation while at home the grape harvest has begun and the weather is gradually changing into a familiar grey-with-occasional-rain pattern. Welcome autumn!

There is no specific reason I chose Johann Christian Bach’s Misere in B Major (W.E10) for today’s post, it is simply an outstanding piece that does much honour to the Bach family. Andrew Clements in the “Guardian” wrote in 2011 upon the release of the recording by the Akademie für Alte Musik and the RIAS Kammerchor under Hans-Christoph Rademann: “It’s conceived on a grand, imposing scale, with carefully plotted tonal architecture and, as Hans-Christoph Rademann’s performance shows, an orchestral accompaniment of great imagination and variety.”

Johann Christian Bach lived between 1735 and 1782; he was the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. The Miserere is an early work, composed in 1757, when “Bach was finally ridding himself of the influence of his family and gaining his first success in Italy, where he would convert from Lutheranism to Catholicism and eventually become organist of Milan Cathedral”, as “The Guardian” explains in a review of the mentioned recording.

In Italy Johann Christian Bach studied composition with the renown Padre Giovanni Battista Martini, who also taught Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Half a century separated Johann Christian from the generation of his father, and the age gap is accountable for the stylistic differences between the music of father and son. By the time Johann Christian wrote this piece of sacred music, the Baroque style had given way – at least in Germany – to the “Empfindsamer Stil”, playing to the audience’s emotions by expressing the composer’s emotions. A far cry from Johann Sebastian Bach’s edifying musical praise of God Almighty and anticipating e.g. Mozart’s Missa Solemnis in C minor.

The Miserere is characterized by the stark contrast between the strict polyphonic choral parts and the highly expressive arias – an indication that the young Bach would soon focus on operatic and incidental music. He wrote an impressive number of opera scores – I found one recording of his opera “Zanaide” – and since his chamber music and his symphonies are equally beautiful, you will not have heard for the last time about Johann Christian on this blog. There is no life without Bach.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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