Hall: Concert Hall
Bach’s Four Orchestral Suites are viewed today as an integral cycle, but were most likely written separately at considerable time intervals, and their traditional numbering need not reflect their actual chronology. Apparently at least two of them – Suite No. 1 in C Major BWV 1066 and Suite No. 4 in D Major BWV 1069 – were completed during the composer’s stay at the Köthen court (1717–1723), while the first information of Suite No. 3 in D Major BWV 1068 comes from Leipzig (1730–31), of Suite No. 2 in B Minor BWV 1067 – from 1738–39. All of them are written in the gôut français, highly fashionable among German composers in that period. French stylistic qualities are evident especially in the structure of the monumental overture that dominates the whole cycle, modelled on Lully (a composer greatly admired by Bach’s employer in Köthen, Prince Leopold). This tripartite piece opens with a solemn Grave with typical punctuated rhythms, followed by a fugue‑ form Allegro and a return of the Grave. What comes next is a cycle of stylised dances, likewise of French provenance. Bach gives up the conventional sequence of allemande‑courante‑sarabande‑gigue, typical of most suites in that period. In both of the D major suites he only take the gigue from this set (in BWV 1068), adding instead a gavotte, a minuet, and a bourrée. Another section of BWV 1068 is the extremely popular, seraphic Air, known for its numerous (sometimes peculiar and pretentious) arrangements, and frequently referred to as Air on the G String. The latter, quite inadequate title comes from a 19th‑ century reworking of the piece by the German violinist August Wilhelm, who transposed the melody of the Aria as a whole onto the lowest violin string. This rather unfortunate version had one advantage – it strongly contributed to the promotion of Bach (previously known mostly to connoisseurs and scholars) and became his first work to be recorded using phonographic technology (1902).