top of page

Bach Materia

Bach Materia

Friday August 18 at 12:00 pm
Trinity Episcopal Church | Free admission

Program Notes

J. S. Bach (1685-1750) is not usually considered among the avant-garde. History generally regards him more as a brilliant synthesizer than an innovator. By painting with such broad strokes, however, we miss those cases where Bach achieved something altogether new. For example, although he did not invent the concerto per se, Bach did create concerti that broke new ground. Among these are the Brandenburg Concertos, each with its own unique scoring for the solo group or concertino. Particularly innovative is Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major, in which the concertino features four different timbres. Highest and brightest sits the trumpet (representing the brass family of instruments), followed by the equally resonant but nasal sound of the oboe (reed family). Softer tones come from the flute (non-reed winds), and the solo violin contributes string texture. Bach delights in all combinations of pairings. And there are many opportunities, for Bach alternates between soli and tutti with striking frequency.
The central movement (Andante) omits the trumpet and large ensemble altogether. Instead, he composes a three-voice canon for flute, oboe, and violin with continuo accompaniment. The D-minor tonality and defining motive, including the A to B-flat semitone, establish a doleful mood. Beneath the canonic imitation in treble lines, Bach grounds the harmonic structure on a “walking bass” in which the low strings move in continuous eighth notes. At the start of the finale, the solo trumpet strides forth from the word go, as if sitting out the slow movement was not altogether to its liking. A more serious game is afoot, however. For Bach, a recognized master of fugue, could not resist the opportunity to compose a four-voice fugue for his concertino. As such, this brilliant finale merges two of the most significant structural principles in Baroque music: rich counterpoint of fugue developed in central and northern Germany, combined with the sectional format and solo-tutti contrasts of the 17th-century Italian concerto.

About Bach Materia, by Anders Hillborg
Some years ago, Gregor Zubicky, the Artistic Director of Swedish Chamber Orchestra, created The Brandenburg Project. Six composers – Brett Dean, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Olga Neuwirth, Steven Mackey, Uri Caine and myself – were asked to compose companion pieces to Bach’s Brandenburg concertos, and I was allotted Brandenburg No. 3. Bach Materia is written for violin solo and string orchestra with the Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto in mind – a unique musician for whom improvisation is a natural ingredient in his performances, hence improvisation is an important part of this composition.
In the material of my piece there is also music from Bach’s concerto, as well as music written in his spirit, and my own. There are three sections where the soloist is given carte blanche to do whatever he/she pleases. Additionally, at the request of conductor Thomas Dausgaard who premiered the work, I composed a second movement to Bach’s own Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, as there is none. A variation of that material is also present in my own piece. Bach Materia is warmly dedicated to Pekka Kuusisto.
About Ich ruf’ zu dir by Anders Hillborg
Johann Sebastian Bach’s organ prelude “Ich ruf’ zu dir” has haunted me since I first heard it in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Solaris in the mid-1970s. The piece is a miracle of beauty through simplicity, and some 40 years later I finally got around to do something with it. The first version was written for soprano saxophone and strings, with my son Theo as soloist with strings from his school in Stockholm in 2015.
Next, a version for solo violin and strings was first performed in Helsinki in November 2017 as an encore after my Second Violin Concerto, with Hannu Lintu conducting the Finnish Radio Orchestra, and Lisa Batiashvili as soloist. Since then, many violinists have performed the piece, including Gil Shaham, Nikolai Znaider, Pekka Kuusisto, Elina Vähälä, Viviane Hagner, Eldbjörg Hemsing, and Simone Lamsma. The solo part can be played by oboe, clarinet, viola, cello as well. The version with oboe and strings will have its first performance in Staunton.

© Emily Masincup (with Anders Hillborg), 2023

bottom of page