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Bach's Three Lives, in the Partita No. 4

David Fray

Pianist David Fray plays music that reflects Bach as a composer, teacher, and performer, and Masaaki Suzuki leads the Cantata No. 108 on The Bach Hour.

On the program:

Fugue in A-flat, BWV 862, from Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier - Onyx Brass

Cantata BWV 108 Es ist euch gut, dass ich hingehe (translation) - Robin Blaze, countertenor;  James Gilchrist, tenor;  Dominik Wörner, bass;  Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki, conductor

Partita No. 4 in D, BWV 828 - David Fray, piano

Read about David Fray's album of Bach concertos for 2, 3, and 4 pianos, a WCRB CD of the Week.



Brian McCreath: How many lives do you live?  We all have several different roles each:  spouse, parent, professional, volunteer, citizen.  J.S. Bach was no different.  Among his roles were performer, teacher, and, the way we know him best, composer.


For most of us fulfilling those roles can seem like a fractured existence, always just keeping up with one before moving to another.  At a certain point, though, Bach integrated all three of his roles into one set of music.  You’ll hear one part of it in an extraordinary performance, coming up on The Bach Hour.


Hello, I’m Brian McCreath;  welcome to The Bach Hour.  David Fray is a pianist with an uncommonly insightful approach to Bach’s music, which you’ll hear in the Partita No. 4 later on.  Also on the program today is the Cantata No. 108, Es ist euch gut, daß ich hingehe, or “It is good for you that I leave.”  And you can find a translation of that piece when you visit us online at Classical W C R B dot org, where you can also hear this program again on-demand.  Again, that’s at Classical W C R B dot org.

In 2008 a British ensemble called Onyx Brass released a recording that alternates fugues by Bach with those by Shostakovich.  Here’s something from the Bach part of that equation, the fugue in A-flat from the first book of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.

[MUSIC – BWV 862]

A Fugue from Book I of J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, performed by Onyx Brass, here on The Bach Hour. 

In the Easter season of 1725, Bach wrote a cantata with a sort of puzzling title.  The Cantata No. 108, Es ist euch gut, daß ich hingehe, or “It is good for you that I leave,” takes its title from the opening line of the piece, which is, in turn, straight from the Gospel of John.  They’re words attributed to Jesus, as He reassures his followers that His crucifixion will lead to a greater divine presence amongst them.  Bach’s music uses the words to reflect the experience of a believer, whose faith moves from the physical to the spiritual. 

The voice of Jesus, in the form of the bass soloist, opens the cantata, joined by a solo oboe d’amore to establish a gentle, pastoral quality.

The tenor solo that follows represents the voice of the individual believer, singing the words, “Ich glaube, gehst du fort,” or “I believe, although you depart.”  The first part, “Ich glaube” is set to a sustained note, offering the image of constancy, and “gehst du fort” is set as an ascending line, as though the spirit is departing toward heaven.


Then another quotation from the Gospel of John comes from the chorus.  It’s in three parts, which Bach clarifies with three different fugues.  The first states that the Spirit brings Truth to mankind, the second that the Spirit does not speak of himself, and the third that the Spirit will show the future.  All happens in just a couple of minutes.

The alto soloist brings us back to the more intimate voice of the believer, which is reinforced by the community voice of the final chorale.

Remember, you can find a translation of this piece at our web site, Classical W C R B dot org.

Here is a performance of the Cantata No. 108 featuring alto soloist Robin Blaze, tenor James Gilchrist, and bass Dominik Wörner.  Masaaki Suzuki directs Bach Collegium Japan, here on The Bach Hour..

[MUSIC – BWV 108]

The Cantata No. 108, performed by Bach Collegium Japan and director Masaaki Suzuki.  The soloists included alto Robin Blaze, tenor James Gilchrist, and bass Dominik Wörner.

Coming up, a daring – but beautiful – performance of Bach’s Partita No. 4.  You’re listening to The Bach Hour from WCRB, a part of WGBH Boston.

There is a lot we don’t know about Bach and the life he lived.  But one thing is certain:  the man was organized.  He had a way of setting goals for himself based on very particular motivations.  He then worked relentlessly to accomplish those goals.  Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, maybe in theory.  The kind of goals Bach set for himself were frankly pretty massive. The most ambitious goal, and the one we spend a lot of time with on The Bach Hour, was Bach’s desire to create what he called a set of “well regulated church music.”  That goal was a huge part of the reason he took the job of Capellmeister of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, where he spent his first few years in the position writing new cantatas practically every week.

By the time he was in his forties he was a famous virtuoso, a busy teacher, and, a composer, whose fame was still growing.  And that’s when he combined these three pursuits, creating what he called the Clavier-Übung, or Keyboard Practice books.  In four large parts, these collections highlight Bach’s educational goals, his keyboard virtuosity, and his abilities as a composer, using every style then current in Europe.  And for the first time in his life, Bach arranged for these books to be published.

Here is one of the six partitas, or dance suites, that make up the first book of the Clavier-Übung.  French pianist David Fray performs the Partita No. 4 in D.

[MUSIC – BWV 828]

J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 4, from the first book of the Clavier-Übung, in a performance by French pianist David Fray.

Remember, you can hear this and past programs on demand, and you can find more resources to explore Bach and his music, all at Classical W C R B dot org.

Thank you for joining me today, and thanks also to audio engineer Antonio Oliart Ros.  I’m Brian McCreath, and I’ll hope to have your company again next week here on The Bach Hour.