Johann Sebastian Bach was better known as a virtuoso organist than as a composer in his day. His sacred music, organ and choral works, and other instrumental music had an enthusiasm and seeming freedom that concealed immense rigor. Bach's use of counterpoint was brilliant and innovative, and the immense complexities of his compositional style -- which often included religious and numerological symbols that seem to fit perfectly together in a profound puzzle of special codes -- still amaze musicians today. Many consider him the greatest composer of all time.
The orchestral suite was among the nebulous musical forms that hovered between the world of art and the world of entertainment in the eighteenth century. This genre is also called ouverture, which is generally thought to be derived from excerpts from French operas and ballets. Such works were the rage of German courts of the eighteenth century, which was enamored with the French styles at the time.
Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C major, BWV 1066
The opening of this first orchestral suite is unmistakably French; the telltale slower, grand opening with its dotted rhythms give way to very fast solo writing in the middle section which also features counterpoint and some concerto qualities such as a distinctive ritornello. These concerto qualities is where Bach begins to diverge from the strict tastes of the patrons and the work of his contemporaries, insofar as he enjoyed blending the French ouverture style with Italian concerto flavors. Many Bach scholars would agree that he seemed more partial to the brilliant Italian styles of Vivaldi and the Scarlattis.
Among the four orchestral suites, the first, in C major, is the most old-fashioned. Its scoring of two oboes, bassoon, continuo, and strings is as orthodox as its harmonies and dance movements that attach two different dances of the same style to the same movement.
It is uncertain when Johann Sebastian Bach wrote Suite for Orchestra No. 1 in C major, BWV 1066, the first of his four orchestral suites. The autograph score for the first suite has never been found. Music scholars uncovered a set of score parts that were written presumably for performance. It has also been determined that the parts were copied around 1724 and that one of the principal copyists was a scholar from Leipzig named Meissner. This is the first known example of secular orchestral music that Bach generated in Leipzig. His principal position as cantor of St. Thomas did not pay for secular music. As well, certain stylistic embellishments suggest pre-Leipzig composition. It is generally acknowledged that he probably wrote the music at his previous position at Cöthen and had the parts copied in Leipzig for some event that has yet to be uncovered.
Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067
This suite is one of four such works that the composer wrote in his lifetime. Bach was not even slightly opposed to writing music for more money or power, but was less forthcoming with light music; he did not like it much. All of the lighter music he wrote was never published, including these overtures. (Telemann, the most famous composer working in Germany at the time, wrote over 130 surviving suites for orchestra, and probably wrote over 1000 in his lifetime.) These works were good for business, but Bach was more comfortable writing church music or works featuring striking fugal challenges. This suite gave him a chance to write for transverse flute, which had just begun to be in fashion. These four works are fine examples of a lighter style and display some of the interesting ways that Bach would use to approach the festive side of music making. The suite is a form derived from a collection of French ballets and operas. They usually begin with an overture, regal and poised, followed by a collection of dances. French music and culture was the rage for much of Germany and other European countries. However, Bach's ear seems to have been more easily fixed on Italy. The music of Vivaldi and the Scarlattis (father and son) are constantly asserting themselves in Bach's music. He seems to have been attracted to the Italian brilliance of harmony, and the way they could make speedy ostinatos inject more excitement into an already lively beat. It was simply the most visceral music in Europe at the time, and when Bach added it to anything, sparks flew. In his Suite for Orchestra No. 2 one can hear Vivaldi's concerto style in the Sarabande and the Minuet. Nothing is turgid about this piece. It was probably written around 1720, certainly before 1723, when he began work at Leipzig. He was usually too busy to write much secular music, unless it was of very high quality. Listeners should not shy away from these orchestral suites because they are not aching with the profundity of Art of Fugue; they are simply charming, summery pieces.
Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068
This work was most likely revived from a similar piece he wrote around 1720 in Cöthen. Its Leipzig premiere probably took place "at the Zimmermann Coffee House in the Cather-Strasse from 8 to 10 on Friday." This unearthed advertisement for the concert features the D major Orchestral Suite. For someone who stood back from the world of light, entertainment music, Bach was good at writing it. This suite uses a rich blend of timbre, featuring oboes, trumpets, timpani, strings, and continuo. Its second movement, Air, (also known as "Air on the G String") centers around one of the most well known melodies he ever wrote. Bach approaches the music with his personal instincts intact, and leans as much toward Italy as much as France in this material. The visceral, propulsive nature of Vivaldi's concertos find their way into all these orchestral suites. BWV 1068 is a total five joyous movements, about 19 minutes in duration.
Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D major, BWV 1069
The original version has never been found. Some scholars believe that the original music was absorbed into his Cantata 110 from 1725, which narrows down the work's date somewhat; it was not written after 1725, if this theory is correct. The third version takes the instrumental parts back out of the cantata and realizes them again for strings, oboes, trumpets, timpani, strings, and continuo.
Bach wrote only four known orchestral suites, but he wrote them skillfully. Each of them is festive and fun. The secret ingredient in his overtures was to inject a bit of the Italian influence into each one. For all intents and purposes, Italian music was much more critical to Bach's style than French music ever was, particularly in his absorption of Vivaldi's concerto style, which brought out a speedy, visceral quality. Thus the lofty tones of the French sound never gets turgid or boring. Among the four orchestral suites, the fourth has some of the sweetest, loveliest qualities.
*Lisa Beznosiuk,flute (BWV 1067)
*Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment