March 21, 2021

Happy Birthday, J.S. Bach!

Joshua Romatowski

“(Joshua Romatowski) played with graceful intimacy

— San Francisco Classical Voice


Joshua Romatowski


Ingrid Matthews


Caroline Nicolas

Byron Schenkman



Johann Sebastian Bach:

Sonata in D Major, BWV 1028, for viol and harpsichord

Johann Kaspar Kerll:

Passacaglia for harpsichord

Johann Sebastian Bach:

Partita in A Minor, BWV 1013, for flute

Isabella Leonarda:

Sonata, op. 16, no. 12, for violin and continuo

Johann Sebastian Bach:

Adagio Cantabile in G Major, BWV 1019a, for violin and harpsichord

“”with smiling countenance and flashy finger work…A harpsichord cadenza, as unleashed by Schenkman, was incredible, ferociously speedy and absolutely precise…”

—Bloomington Early Music Festival

Program Notes

Johann Sebastian Bach has inspired great musicians from Fanny Mendelssohn to Nina Simone and beyond. He is one of the most often performed and extensively studied composers in the history of European classical music. Yet no one in Bach’s time would have imagined that his music might still be enjoyed more than 250 years after his death. For one thing, 18th-century musicians were never composing for posterity; they were merely fulfilling the requirements of their jobs, serving their employers (usually churches or courts) and their god. Also in those days J.S. Bach was considered old-fashioned and his music was viewed as somewhat pedantic. As it turns out, his lack of concern for current fashion may have contributed to the fact that later generations have found his music so timeless.

In this program we offer three works by J.S. Bach, plus music by two other composers active around the time of his birth. The Sonata in D Major for obbligato harpsichord and viol is from Bach’s years in Leipzig and may have been composed for the public concert series Bach directed at the Café Zimmermann. Like many of Bach’s “obbligato” sonatas, this work is in three voices throughout; in other words it is essentially a trio-sonata for viol, harpsichord right hand, and harpsichord left hand. The Partita in A Minor for solo flute is a lone work in the same style as Bach’s six suites for solo cello and three partitas for solo violin (one of which we presented earlier this season in our December concert). And finally, the Adagio cantabile (originally labeled Cantabile, ma non poco Adagio) is from an early version of the sixth sonata for violin and obbligato harpsichord. Bach often reused material, and another version of this movement is an aria in a cantata composed for the election of the town council (BWV 120). The text states that “authorities must always depend on an abundance of salvation, so that righteousness and loyalty may join together in friendly embrace.”

 The classical canon established in the 19th and 20th centuries begins with J.S. Bach, but in fact Bach was continuing a tradition of European art music which had been flowering for several centuries. We are including two examples of music composed around the time of Bach’s birth. The German organist Johann Kaspar Kerll has been cited as a direct influence on Bach’s work. Isabella Leonarda, on the other hand, is unlikely to have been known to Bach although she published over two hundred works while serving as a nun and ultimately Mother Superior at a convent in Novara.

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