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Trio Sonatas BWV 525-530
General Discussions - Part 1

Organ trio arrangements

Thomas Schuster wrote (November 28, 2001):
I am an organ student who plays a few of Bach's Trio Sonatas BWV 525-530, and I've recently heard about some ensembles that play these works as chamber sonatas (i.e. recorder, violin, cello, and harpsichord). Did Bach authorize this kind of transcription? Can anyone recommend a good recording of a group which does this? Thank you!

Santu de Silva wrote (November 28, 2001):
Tom Schuster wrote:
>>> I am an organ student who plays a few of Bach's Trio Sonatas BWV 525-530, and I've recently heard about some ensembles that play these works as chamber sonatas (i.e. recorder, violin, cello, and harpsichord). Did Bach authorize this kind of transcription? Can anyone recommend a good recording of a group which does this? Thank you! <<<
I can answer the second question:

I have transcriptions of the trio sonatas by the Palladian Ensemble, Elliot Fisk, and the Aulos Ensemble, and as far as I'm concerned they're not at good as the best organ performances (IMO E.P. Biggs). Even Biggs's pedal-harpsichord recording is superior.

The first question:

Honestly, though, all I know is that Bach used a re-working of one of them as the gorgeous middle-movement of the A minor triple concerto (BWV 1044?) and all I can say is that - - even taking into account that 1044(2) is a later work, with significant improvements (which make it effectively a quartet, if you allow a cello reinforcing the bass line, the "correctness" of which some scholars will dispute) - - it is a different, and to me, a more attractive work. If Bach reworked his own earlier compositions, and those of others, I don't see how a mere transcription can be considered wrong. But some Bach scholars have not been very logical people.

My take on transcription of Bach is: Do it. The most one can insist on, on the side of correctness, is truth in advertising - - e.g. :'a transcription', or 'played on modern istruments', or 'originally written for Baroque keyboard instrument, but here performed on a 600-manual Wurlitzer in a baseball stadium,' etc.

Santu de Silva wrote (November 28, 2001):
Organ trio arrangements [Karl Berry]


Did Bach authorize this kind of transcription?

Authorize? According to what I've read, the concept of `authorized' transcription didn't really apply in Bach's time. Bach himself endlessly transcribed, reworked, amended, and otherwise messed with his own works (always on the lookout for improvement, that's our JSB :). As well as transcribing works by others.

I don't know any good recordings, though, sorry ...

Thomas Schuster wrote (November 29, 2001):
<Authorize? According to what I've read, the concept of `authorized' transcription didn't really apply in Bach's time. Bach himself endlessly transcribed, reworked, amended, and otherwise messed with his own works. >
Ok, so maybe "authorize" wasn't the best word to use! I certainly know that Bach reused his own material all the time, but my question really is this: If we can play a keyboard piece (i.e. the organ trios) arranged for an instrumental group and know that it could well have been Bach's intention, than shouldn't we also be able to play his chamber works on keyboard? For example, I've never heard of anyone playing the sonatas for violin and harpsichord obbligato on the organ, but this could be done (with very slight alterations). Are all the sonatas fair game for all instruments? This certainly opens up new repertoire for everyone. Or are there "boundaries" that we have to respect when changing mediums? Of course, much of Bach's music sounds good no matter what- even the rock version by the JSB Experience is interesting- but I'm trying to stay within what Bach actually intended. Any thoughts about this?

Charles Francis wrote (November 30, 2001):
[To Thomas Schuster] Gustav Leonhardt performs non-Bachian transcriptions of BWV 1001, 1005, 1012 on harpsichord and to good effect. So at least we have the "authorisation" of one HIP Mullah.

 

Organ Trio Sonatas?

Juozas Rimas wrote (July 11, 2002):
I don't expect a quick answer as it's summer time and I won't be able to read the messages soon, too :)

Nevertheless, I wonder why the compositions for the organ (BWV 525-530) are sometimes called "trio sonatas". Moreover, when played by chamber ensembles, four instruments are used (eg oboe, harpsichord, violin and viola in the recording of Holliger & Co.)

So why play a trio with 4 instruments? Does serious arranging take place until an organ piece may be played by a quartet?

Piotr Jaworski wrote (July 11, 2002):
[To Jouzas Rimas] I hope that you will find the answer here:
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jkibbie/ruiter_feenstra.htm

I'd add - even more than moreover - those pieces are also transcribed for small-scale orchestras - like in the gorgeous version recorded by The King’s Consort for Hyperion.

Pete Blue wrote (July 11, 2002):
[To Piotr Jaworski] I warmly second the recommendation of Robert King's transcription for chamber ensemble of the Trio Sonatas for Organ. It is unrivalled by any of the other transcriptions (except E. Power Biggs's for the pedal-harpsichord) and few of the organ-only versions I know. I would, though, love for Jordi Savall to tackle BWV 525-530, along the lines of his MO (BWV 1079) and AoF (BWV 1080). That would certainly provide competition for King.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 12, 2002):
Pete Blue wrote:
< organ-only versions I know. I would, though, love for Jordi Savall to tackle BWV 525-530, along the lines of his MO (BWV 1079) and AoF (BWV 1080). That would certainly provide competition for King. >
Savall plays BWV 529 (the "trio sonata" #5 in C) as the filler in his set of the sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord. This is the remake set on his own label, Alia Vox, not the earlier one on EMI; this one was recorded in January 2000. Koopman takes the top and bottom lines on harpsichord, and Savall plays the middle on vdg.

I agree, it would be nice to have a Hesperion XX set of all six. Meanwhile, King has good competition in Musica Pacifica (Virgin 45192 from 1996; don't know if it's still in print or not). That set's played on recorder, violin, cello, and harpsichord (Parmentier). I have that one, King's, and the Aulos Ensemble.

But my favorite set of all six in an ensemble arrangement is the disc by Eliot Fisk on guitar and Albert Fuller on harpsichord. That's on MusicMasters and Musical Heritage Society. I reviewed the above, and more, in an Amazon review last year: Amazon.com

I have the Biggs set on pedal harpsichord, but frankly I don't like it, sorry: his harpsichord playing sounds unremittingly clunky to me. Biggs played these pieces better on organ than he did on p.h.

This afternoon I dug out the LP of Rampal and Veyron-Lacroix playing these. Eww. A pretty sound but bland interpretation from Rampal, and a bland modern-styled harpsichord from V-L (weak tinkly tone and all), and Rampal keeps rushing, making the music sound as if it's falling all over itself. Eww.

-----

On and off I've been working on my own arrangement of one of these for two harpsichords, trying to use the arranging style that Bach himself demonstrated in converting three-voiced fugues to four hands in the Art of Fugue (BWV 1080). He bthe three lines up in an almost cubistic way, redistributes them, and inserts plenty of free material...it's very interesting, sort of like seeing a crystalline structure grow out of something that was plainer. Everybody else's arrangements of BWV 525-530 (the ones I've heard, anyway) are lovely but stick very closely to the three given lines of the music, reverently so...I'd like to hear things "busted up" more, in the more adventurous kaleidoscopic/crystalline way Bach himself might have done it.

Also there's of course the more straightforward arrangement by Bach (or one of his sons?) of the middle movement of 527. Triple Concerto, BWV 1044.

Juozas Rimas wrote (July 11, 2002):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< I agree, it would be nice to have a Hesperion XX set of all six. Meanwhile, King has good competition in Musica Pacifica (Virgin 45192 from 1996; don't know if it's still in print or not). That set's played on recorder, violin, cello, and harpsichord (Parmentier). I have that one, King's, and the Aulos Ensemble. >
Wind instruments seem to add to the arrangements because of the completely different type of sound than that of the strings and harpsichord. The recorder/oboe/flute stands out. This is probably not "correct" bearing in mind
that voices are more equal when played on the organ but it makes listening easier - you can follow the wind part very easily.

< structure grow out of something that was plainer. Everybody else's arrangements of BWV 525-530 (the ones I've heard, anyway) are lovely but stick very closely to the three given lines of the music, reverently so...I'd like to hear things "busted up" more, in the more adventurous kaleidoscopic/crystalline way Bach himself might have done it. >

Wouldn't it contradict with your general negative view on "machete usage" by certain performers?

Also, were there any arrangements of Bach (but not by Bach) that would be accepted as highly successful and performed ubiquitously afterwards? (I presume there were but I wonder when the arrangements where made - is it 18-19th centuries or the 20th century as well?)

P.S. No one gave an explanation why the sonatas are "trio" sonatas. Because of the 3 parts in each sonata? Because of the 3 lines (top, bottom and middle as Bradley points out) played on the organ?

Thomas Radleff wrote (July 11, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] Juozas, thanks for launching another little MD topic, after our AoF (BWV 1080) deceased...

Me, as a mere listener and non-musician, I do not know the score, but I can clearly hear three parts. In the 1 wind + keyboard versions, the harpsichord takes the lower two. Other versions have, e.g. two winds for the two higher parts, sometimes accompanied by even two more: cello & harpsichord as b.c. So you have "trio" sonatas played by 1, 2, 3 or 4 instruments. (4 is quite usual: take a look at the manymany recordings of Corelli´s Op.1 - 4, or Vivaldi´s fabulous Op.1 and 5, e.g. by London Baroque.)

I don´t know too much organ versions of Bach´s trio sonatas, but my two favourites are - surprising or not - recorded on the same organ, and even in the same year: Wolfgang Rübsam´s second recording, Naxos, and Kei Koito´s, Harmonic Records Paris.

Both recorded in 1989 on the Schnitger organ at Martinikerk, Groningen, Netherlands. The "small size" of this organ fits well to these chamber pieces. Sure, you somehow have to get used to Rübsam´s rubato manierisms, sometimes as if one of his four wheels was running excentrically. Koito´s playing is simply charming. But I admit, it probably might be the sound of the organ that is seizing me, as quite often. (Maybe that´s why I also like E.P. Biggs´ pedal harpsichord.)

In my ears, none of the many "reconsructed" versions that I know is really satisfying - most of them with oboe, oboe d´amore, recorder or flute in the leading part. At least good, tasty sounding is provided by Lorenzo Cavasanti & Sergio Ciomei, Nuova Era 1995, and Wilbert Hazelet & Jacques Ogg, Glossa 2000.

Guitar & harpsichord seems to be a good cast! in fact, both are plucked insruments. One of the freshest, most peppy Bach records I have is Dusan Bogdanovic´ & Elaine Comparone´s trio sonatas - a lively guitar, and a well balanced harpsichord with various registers. (The label Erasmus Muziek Producties, 1993, maybe is not the original one.)

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 12, 2002):
Juozas Rimaswrote:
>> structure grow out of something that was plainer. Everybody else's arrangements of BWV 525-530 (the ones I've heard, anyway) are lovely but stick very closely to the three given lines of the music, reverently so...I'd like to hear things "busted up" more, in the more adventurous kaleidoscopic/crystalline way Bach himself might have done it. <<
< Wouldn't it contradict with your general negative view on "machete usage" by certain performers? >
Not at all. The opposite! The "machete usage" is where Gould (and some others) omit parts of the structure: removing bars they don't like (e.g. Gould in the f# toccata), or omitting repeats in a way that leaves the overall structure unbalanced.

What I was talking about here today is the opposite of cutting things out of the structure; it's adding things. All the notes of the original three "voices" (instrumental melodic lines) are still there, but there are four entities available to play them (that is, two hands for each of two harpsichordists). Bach in the two-hpsi arrangements in the Art of Fugue (BWV 1080) takes his original three voices and redistributes them in a way that passes bits of them around. He cuts the lines apart and glues them back together in a different way. All the notes are still there, but each melody doesn't stay confined to a single hand; the phrases are passed around, and it's as if he's playing with the stereo effects of that. Plus he makes up new stuff for a hand that isn't currently taking care of those original notes...it's like having a running commentary on the piece as it plays, contributing new rhythmic and melodic ideas. I'm working on an arrangement of one of the sonatas from BWV 525-530 trying the same kind of thing, as a compositional exercise. Four hands are available; the original three voices of the trio sonata texture get passed around from hand to hand in such a stereo dialogue; and whichever hand is free at the moment gets some new stuff to play, accompanying everybody else.

< P.S. No one gave an explanation why the sonatas are "trio" sonatas. Because of the 3 parts in each sonata? Because of the 3 lines (top, bottom and middle as Bradley points out) played on the organ? >
Yes, three distinct melodic lines. The texture is three melodies. On the organ, one of them is played by each of the player's hands on separate manuals, and the third one (bass) is played on the pedals.

In ensemble arrangements, the top two lines are typically given to melodic instruments, and the bass is played by a continuo group which includes one or more players. Or, if the pieces are arranged for something like flute and harpsichord, or viola da gamba and harpsichord, or guitar and harpsichord, the harpsichord takes two of the three lines and the other guy takes the remaining one. That's how there can be anywhere from one to four (or more!) players in these sonatas.

My point is: those conservative arrangements where each line is preserved are kind of boring and rigid. I mean, they're great music and all, and they preserve Bach's lines which are such nice part-writing...but I'd like to hear the lines orchestrated more pointillistically, the way Webern arranged Bach (Ricercar of MO (BWV 1079)), and the way Bach arranged himself (his two-hpsi arrangements in the Art of Fugue (BWV 1080); and the way heswitches parts around and makes up a new fourth part in the Triple Concerto's middle movement). More notes, more stereo, more fun! Notes for everybody, pass 'em around the group!

Pete Blue wrote (July 12, 2002):
[To Bradley Lehman] What is your rationale behind redistributing the lines in the Trio Sonatas "as a compositional exercise"? What was Bach's rationale for doing so in the AoF (BWV 1080) and the Triple Concerto? Is it the same as yours? Does such redistribution actually clarify the lines or merely provide coloristic variety? The Trio Sonatas seem to me to be much simpler, straightforward music than the AoF (BWV 1080) and the Triple Concerto; do they merit the same treatment? And finally, what do you think would be the result (besides howls of execration) if we chose to de-redistribute Bach's lines toward the end of LESS pointillism?

Neil Halliday wrote (July 12, 2002):
Organists sometimes appear to choose the wrong stops for these pieces.

Worst are indistinct pedal stops which make it difficult to hear the pitch of the base line. And tremolo reed stops for the treble lines of the slow movements.

However, a good instrument - displaying clarity, and not too large or too small - and performer, result in a 'sparkle' that is hard to match on other instruments.

Sorry I do not have details of a performance of BWV 530 which I have on tape, but it sounds like pure joy.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 12, 2002):
[To Pete Blue] Hi Pete, excellent questions all. That's what I'm hoping to figure out through doing this exercise: to try to get inside Bach's head as a composer/arranger and figure out what may have motivated him to do what he did. An enjoyable experiment....

Your phrase, "to de-redistribute Bach's lines toward the end of LESS pointillism"...it seems to me that's what the Lyrichord recording by Leopard and Paul is (all six sonatas performed on two Lautenwercke). The tone color is the same for all three voices. The purity of the lines is nice, and it's an uncommonly clean way of hearing the notes Bach wrote. I don't emit any howls of execration at this, it's all very pleasant, but I admit to being a little bored...their performance doesn't hold my attention very well for more than a few minutes at a time. I'm more tickled by the types of textures Bach gave us in the concertos for multiple harpsichords, all sorts of exciting things going on in there as the players' parts interlock and interweave. (It's especially delightful to listen to the concertos following along with a score....)

 

Sonatas 525-530

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 27, 2003):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< While it is true that BWV 528 could have possibly been inspired by an actual Triosonate, the other 5 look (in structure and sound) to me (at least) to be more along the line of Konzert form and more in tune with Pleno style. >
Where does this "Pleno style" notion come from?

And a week ago, re BWV 665, you asserted that pleno registration "opens up ALL the possibilities of expression inherent in the Chorale setting", as if other registrations do not do so. That's a strange claim.

David, do you play organ?

And what do you think of Bach's later arrangement of BWV 527's second movement, for three players? Or his arrangement of part of BWV 528 into the Cantata BWV 76, recasting it for oboe d'amore, viola da gamba, and continuo? What's "pleno" about either of these?

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (August 28, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] I do play organ, although limited. I have mild Cerebral Palsy, and therefore my coordination and Fine Motor Skills are limited.

The point is that to me the Sonaten (that is what they are called) speak to me (with the exception so stated) as a dialogue between Tutti and Soli (which is more or less along Pleno lines than trio) as do many of the Praeludien from the Praeludien und Fugen BWV 531-560. Look at the first movement of BWV529, for instance, and compare it to the Praeludien from BWV 531, 545 and 547. Or take BWV 526 and compare it to BWV 537, BWV 546, and BWV 549. The middle movements should be smaller in scale (as in the case of most Konzerte of the time). But the outer movements should express the whole range (which they do, to me, in the scores). Therefore the notion of a Trionsonate in regards to BWV 525-527 and BWV 529-530 is inappropriate. It does work for BWV 1027a. It does work for BWV 528. It does work for BWV 583-586.As to your point of BWV 527, if the part in question is the 2nd movement I have no problem. Nor do I have a problem with Bach recasting things in other molds (he did it all the time). My problem is with people who insist on treating BWV 525-530 as Triosonaten. They speak more along the lines of Concerto style. That is one beef I have with Hurford's Complete Works edition. I am not saying that they don't works as Triosonaten, but that the nomenclature is wrong and also there should not be any hesitation on the part of organists to try them out in the manner I indicated.

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 29, 2003):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< The point is that to me the Sonaten (that is what they are called) speak to me (with the exception so stated) as a dialogue between Tutti and Soli (which is more or less along Pleno lines than trio) as do many of the Praeludien from the Praeludien und Fugen BWV 531-560. >
It's a pretty strange analysis to treat 525-530 as textures of dialogue between "Tutti and Soli". The pieces have three independent voices all the way through, no added chords or variable number of voices that would make them seem concerto-like.

And the top two voices cross so much, or need the same notes simultaneously, that they must be played on two separate manuals. This is both for facility (actually hitting all the notes accurately), and to keep their melodic contents distinct in the listener's ears. And it doesn't work to have one of those lines given a much louder registration than the other one: it gets drowned out when the voices cross.

What we have here is a delightful intertwining of two melodic lines of equal importance, supported by a bass line. Sometimes one line is on top, and then it switches so the other one is. How can one argue that this texture is not a "trio" texture, with three pure parts laid out in this manner?

The contrasts that are already written into the pieces are brought out most strongly if the voices are registered at similar volume, but with distinctive tone colors. When they cross, it sounds as if we're hearing a different organ, a magical transformation. That's a nifty effect. Why spoil it by drawing pleno on each manual to fight it out, chest vs chest?

< Look at the first movement of BWV529, for instance, and compare it to the Praeludien from BWV 531, BWV 545 and BWV 547. Or take BWV 526 and compare it to BWV 537, BWV 546, and BWV 549. >
I have. You've "proved" with these two examples that Bach wrote several organ pieces in C major, and several others in C minor. So what?

Evidently you've failed to notice that BWV 529 and BWV 526 (along with BWV 525, BWV 527, BWV 528, BWV 530) are completely in three-voiced texture, and these other six pieces (BWV 531, BWV 545, BWV 547, BWV 537, BWV 546, BWV 549) have textures that vary all over the place. That's one crucial point here.

Furthermore, you've failed to notice that the other six pieces you mention here work just fine with the organist's hands on a single manual, while all of BWV 525-530 REQUIRE (try it!) each hand to have a manual to itself. Not because Bach said so in words, but because these melodic lines are otherwise unplayable. That's another crucial point here.

< The middle movements should be smaller in scale (as in the case of most Konzerte of the time). But the outer movements should express the whole range (which they do, to me, in the scores). Therefore the notion of a Trionsonate in regards to BWV 525-527 and BWV 529-530 is inappropriate.
These are two assertions, both questionable, strung together with the most threadbare of duct tape! And your "therefore..." observation after them is a non sequitur.This isn't convincing logical reasoning, my friend. :)

Aren't you simply saying that you get a hunchy feeling that you'd like to hear at least some of it louder than you usually hear it? And you WISH it would be peppy and exciting like those other concerto-like pieces you enjoy? That's what your observations here look like, anyway: a bag full of wishes, rather than evidence.

You enjoy a pleno sound. That's nice. But it's not evidence about these pieces.

< It does work for BWV 1027a. It does work for BWV 528. It does work for BWV 583-586. >
You're being arbitrary! What specific features of 528's texture make it (for you) stand out as so different from 525-527 and 529-530?!

< As to your point of BWVV 527, if the part in question is the 2nd movement I have no problem. >
Since you evidently don't know what I was referring to, I'll spell it out: it's in the middle of the concerto 1044. It's a delightful arrangement.

< Nor do I have a problem with Bach recasting things in other molds (he did it all the time). My problem is with people who insist on treating BWV 525-530 as Triosonaten. They speak more along the lines of Concerto style. >
To you, maybe. But again, that's arbitrary. Most people simply notice the fact that there are three pure lines, and think: hey, it has three self-sufficient parts, ergo it's a trio. Those people are correct. :)

< That is one beef I have with Hurford's Complete Works edition. I am not saying that they don't works as Triosonaten, but that the nomenclature is wrong and also there should not be any hesitation on the part of organists to try them out in the manner I indicated. >
I don't object to hearing these pieces played experimentally with registration changes during movements, as it seems you're asking for here, bringing in more contrast to make these seem more like concerto movements. Reorchestrations are fun. But I thought your big wish was purity, and things that can be done normally on the types of organs Bach knew, without electric pistons and toe studs for instantaneous changes of registration.

If you're wanting to hear concerto-like alternation of Tutti and Solo, your organist is going to need a registrant assisting with the changes (especially if you want Solo sections to be quieter, for contrast...somebody has to change the pedal registration also at those points...). That brings us back to "trio" again, now in the sense of needing three people: organist, registrant, and bellows pumper!

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (August 29, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Look at the scores again. The only reason 3 factors at all in the Sonaten is that they were written for 2 mauals and pedal. The score of BWV 526/1 for example reads to me as a Tutti/Soli dialogue. Look at mm 1 and 2. The quarter notes in the manuals and eighth notes in the pedal read to me as a Tutti situation, while the rest of the respective measures read as Soli parts. The same for mm 5 and 6 and all other measures in the same situation. One does not have to have Chordal situations in music for it to be a Concerto style. Not to mention the held suspensions in the works. Unless you have a trio sonata with sustained instruments (i.e., Violins or other string instruments), this would have been well-nigh impossible for trio sonata playing, since there would have been a more abundant necessity for rests as the wind players would have needed a time to breathe. Also the texture is heavier (at least to me). The Pedal is more involved in the Sonaten than it would have been if it were a trio sonata situation. There is a lot more eighth and sixteenth notes in the Pedal than quarter notes (which there would have been more quarter notes and eighth notes in the pedal if it were a trio sonata situation as the pedal would have acted as the Basso Continuo). Whereas if one compares the Sonaten to the Praeludien und Fugen (especially the Praeludien) for Organ that Bach was writing at about the same time period and the Kozerte that he was writing in connection with his duties for the Collegium Musicum, there is a lot more "spiritual" and textual affinity between the Sonaten and them than between the Sonaten and the types of works Bach had written in Köthen (the trio sonatas and solo sonatas).

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 29, 2003):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< Look at the scores again. The only reason 3 factors at all in the Sonaten is that they were written for 2 mauals and pedal. The score of BWV 526/1 for example reads to me as a Tutti/Soli dialogue. Look at mm 1 and 2. The quarter notes in the manuals and eighth notes in the pedal read to me as a Tutti situation, while the rest of the respective measures read as Soli parts. The same for mm 5 and 6 and all other measures in the same situation. One does not have to have Chordal situations in music for it to be a Concerto style. Not to mention the held suspensions in the works. >
When the pedal is playing, the organ sounds louder than when it's not playing. "Duh."

That doesn't mean the organist must try to make even more concerto-like contrast out of this, by using three or four manuals for quick switches or fussing with the registration every other measure. Sure, that would make your "solo" (or duet) sections stand out even more by color or volume. Nifty. You're quite welcome to reorchestrate this piece to make it sound even more like a concerto. It might be very effective. But if we're playing it as Bach wrote it, with the ersatz purity that you seem to be so fond of, we stay on two manuals and don't mess with it. (If I read your earlier postings correctly, you're even more of a purist here than I am [see below]; so it's surprising that you're one asking for the piece to be chopped up into additional color contrasts.)

< Unless you have a trio sonata with sustained instruments (i.e., Violins or other string instruments), this would have been well-nigh impossible for trio sonata playing, since there would have been a more abundant necessity for rests as the wind players would have needed a time to breathe. >
David, this is sophistic reasoning. Evidently you haven't had much direct experience with Bach's wind parts.... :)

And, right here in my hand I have two recordings of 526 where they use a wind instrument (recorder in one case, flute in the other) on the top line of the piece. It doesn't seem to be "well-nigh impossible" to the lungs of these players.

Nor does your observation about stringed instruments have anything to say (one way or another) about the playability of these works on organ; so, why did you bring it up? :)

< Also the texture is heavier (at least to me). >
Heavier than what?

< The Pedal is more involved in the Sonaten than it would have been if it were a trio sonata situation. There is a lot more eighth and sixteenth notes in the Pedal than quarter notes (which there would have been more quarter notes and eighth notes in the pedal if it were a trio sonata situation as the pedal would have acted as the Basso Continuo). >
What Bach trio sonatas are you thinking of, specifically, where the basso continuo is consistently less active than you see here in these organ pieces? What do you do with the first page of the trio sonata 1038 (G major: flute, violin, BC), where for long passages the bass line is the only part really moving?!

Your reasoning would start to make sense if it had a basis in evidence; and if you could somehow prove that Bach would never write such an active bass in music for ensemble.

Lacking that, your line of reasoning goes nowhere that's convincing.

< Whereas if one compares the Sonaten to the Praeludien und Fugen (especially the Praeludien) for Organ that Bach was writing at about the same time period and the Kozerte that he was writing in connection with his duties for the Collegium Musicum, there is a lot more "spiritual" and textual affinity between the Sonaten and them than between the Sonaten and the types of works Bach had written in Köthen (the trio sonatas and solo sonatas). >
If you're claiming a "spiritual" affinity here among these works, you need to explain yourself more fully. Until t, all we have are your own unverifiable assertions about how you feel when contemplating these pieces, wishing to hear something different from the way organists normally play them. That's not evidence that would convince anyone other than yourself.

And if you're claiming textual affinity with other works written in "the same time period," guess again. Bach assembled the set in the late 1720s, but at least four of these sonatas (BWV 525, BWV 527, BWV 528, and BWV 529) have earlier musical material in them. I already mentioned 528 whose first movement is a rearrangement from the cantata BWV 76, 1723. John Butt has suggested that some of the other musical material here might date back to Bach's "earliest years as an organ composer." And Teri Noel Towe (a sometime member of this discussion list!), in program notes published 1979, mentioned that at least three movements of these sonatas date back to c1715, Weimar. [Jacket notes to RCA LP 3580, Rampal and Veyron-Lacroix playing all six of these sonatas.] You could examine the scholarly literature more closely for many more details than I've given here.

What I'm getting to is: if you want to make a stylistic point comparing BWV 525-530 with the Praeludien, you'll first need to establish the chronology. You'll also need to establish the highly questionable point that the composer (any composer) had a consistent style at any moment in his career: writing only one type of music at any given time.

Without that, this comparative point you're trying to make is just wishful thinking on your part!

=====

David, I agree with some of the musical conclusions you've come to, as creative musical ideas. The part I disagree with is the wildly illogical and contradictory ways you get there, citing evidence that is not evidence, and trying to prove things that are unprovable, while you evidently believe you've done so (to your own satisfaction, anyway). If you tried to use your methods in a scholarly forum, you'd get clobbered: both for not really knowing the material you cite as evidence, and for drawing conclusions that are non sequiturs.

I'm just trying to encourage you to do some more careful thinking here, to do some more reading of established scholarly work, and to make sure that your lines of reasoning really make sense. Some of us out here reading your pronouncements and justifications really do know when you cut corners across verifiable facts, zipping through the wormhole into a strange world of fantasy. If you want to convince people, your methods of objective
argument need some work: use concrete examples that really support your points instead of contradicting them, and sound logic to connect the dots.

=====

Now, my own anti-purist perspective on these pieces:

525-530 translate very well to instrumentations other than solo organ. That's not surprising as some of them started that way.

There are recordings variously on organ (of course); pedal harpsichord; flute and harpsichord; viola da gamba and harpsichord; guitar and harpsichord; lute and harpsichord; mixed ensembles of strings and winds with continuo; two Lautenwercke; and that's just the ones I can think of offhand, from my collection. All this proves is that this music can be heard with enjoyment in many different ways.

There's one aspect of all these transcriptions that bothers me, though: they all stick so closely to the pure three-part writing. Out of reverence to Bach, or what? Is there some virtue in being sure to deliver all his notes? If we're going to have additional instruments anyway, why not go all-out with it and try some more of these coloristic things? Why can't we just have some cool new music "inspired by" these sonatas, going its own way?

Bach himself gave a couple of examples where the "purity" of the three-part writing wasn't "respected"--or at least not preserved. Earlier I mentioned the middle movement of the concerto 1044, where Bach took the middle movement of BWV 527 and added a fourth part. Even more interestingly, he took the three-voiced mirror fugue in the Art of Fugue (BWV 1080) and rearranged it for two harpsichords (even though it's playable on one). What did he do there? He broke the existing three lines of music into cubistic little bits, passed them all around the texture, and added a free fourth part (sometimes even two new voices) in whatever hand happened to be free at the moment. He also changed many of the rhythmic ideas. That brilliant arrangement, I think, should be a model for more enterprising arrangements of BWV 525-530!

One of my current pastimes is bashing through BWV 525-530 as solo harpsichord pieces, hitting all the bass notes and as much of the top two lines as seems reasonable, but also improvising continuo stuff over that bass simultaneously. It's a blast. Obviously some parts have to be left out, but others can be added in and it sounds like good music. They really do seem like little concertos, and might be even more so if I wrote these out for two players (someday), using Bach's mirror fugue technique more fully. Would Bach have disapproved if some of his notes are missing and new notes are present? Do I care, as long as the music sounds terrific?

It seems to me that, casting these as organ pieces, Bach was here exploring the combinatory possibilities sticking strictly to three distinct lines playable by one person. How many interesting sounds could he wring out of such a texture, with the crossings and occasional unisons and other tricks? They're also brilliant teaching pieces, encouraging an organist to develop complete independence of hands and feet (and these are very difficult pieces). But, all that said, it doesn't mean that the only way to play these pieces with appropriate respect is to preserve that pure linearity at all costs. If we're writing for different instrumentation anyway, why not really take advantage of all ideas and new possibilities that come up? And what's wrong with having notes in there that Bach didn't write himself, or leaving some out? Bach did that when arranging Vivaldi (et al) for solo keyboard, so why not do the same with his music?

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (August 30, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Did you look at the score, though. The point I was trying to make is that the 3 voices when they are together are like the "Tutti" section in a concerto, and the points where the 2 manuals are alone are like the "Soli" section in a concerto.

As to your point of 3 or 4 manuals, it does require in the scores of the Sonaten only 2. Same (in actuality) for all Bach's organ works.

I have played 1 year of Clarinet and (as I am a tongue-thruster and was born with a low O supply [to use the chemical symbol of Oxygen]) I had a very hard time with sustained notes. Besides which, if one looks at the purely instrumental works of Bach, one would see many cases of sound/silence intermixing in the wind parts. The longest I have seen in the Orchestral and Chamber works of Bach a note held in a wind instrument was a quarter-note length period (in other words, 1 beat [using C time]). There are cases where I have seen ties in the orchestral and chamber works in the wind instruments, but usually in those cases they are between measures and both held notes are quarter notes and/or eighth note tied with a quarter note. I do grant that the case is different in the Vocal and especially in the Choral works, but even in those cases (in the recordings I have heard, and I have heard many) the wind player takes a breath at one point or another (either before the long note duration period or right before the end). That is (I believe) also why they have more than one performer of each instrument in the recordings (have you ever tried to play the length of duration of say the Flute I or Oboe I parts of the Johannespassion, Movement I, on your own without taking a breath at one time or another?).

As to the string instruments, the reason I classify them as sustained instrument as opposed to the wind instruments is because the players do need to take a break to gather their breath like the wind players do. Therefore, they are more able to hold notes longer. It is a simple question of mechanics. The same could have been said of the organ back in the days when they still required a person to pump the bellows for air flow to the pipes. Back then, the organ would havwe been in the exact same situation as the other wind instruments. However, since about the 18th century and certainly by the 19th century, the mechanism for air flow became more mechanical and therefore an organ could be a more sustained instrument. the only requirement for it then and now is a player. The same goes for the string instruments.

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 30, 2003):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
>Did you look at the score, though.<
Of course. I looked at the scores of all of the organ pieces you mentioned. I thought that was already clear when I said that I play through these trios on harpsichord for fun: how would I do that without a score? And, I have all ten volumes of Lohmann's organ edition, a good scholarly Urtext (Breitkopf).

< The point I was trying to make is that the 3 voices when they are together are like the "Tutti" section in a concerto, and the points where the 2 manuals are alone are like the "Soli" section in a concerto. >
Just like I said: an organ is louder when the pedal is playing than when it drops out. "Duh."

Gene Hanson wrote (August 30, 2003):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Nor does your observation about stringed instruments have anything to say (one way or another) about the playability of these works on organ; so, why did you bring it up? :) >
The same thought crossed my mind, and I don't even know what you guys are talking about.

< Would Bach have disapproved if some of his notes are missing and new notes are present? Do I care, as long as the music sounds terrific? >
But Brad, this is inauthentic! For shame, for shame! <g>

 

Organ trio sonatas transcribed

Douglas Amrine wrote (June 17, 2004):
I confess that, as an organist, I've never been fond of the Bach organ trio sonatas. Not because they are so fiendishly hard to play, but somehow they just didn't turn me on, apart from the 5th sonata (C Major).

However, I have now purchased the Purcell Quartet recording of these pieces (BWV 525-530), transcribed by their gambist, Richard Boothby. He has, in most cases, transcribed the upper parts for two violins, with the bassline realised as a continuo part (harpsichord and gamba). Occasionally he turns one of the upper parts into an obbligato gamba part (partnered by a single violin and continuo), and in one sonata the harpsichord gets to play a few 'obbligato' passages.

These are great transcriptions and very well performed. Finally these pieces have come alive for me and I strongly recommend this recording.

It is on Chaconne (sub-label of Chandos), no. CHAN 0654

I know that other transcriptions of these pieces have been done, for example for flute and violin, but I don't know any other recordings.

John Pike wrote (June 17, 2004):
[To Douglas Amrine] Many thanks for telling us about this recording, Douglas. This sounds like essential listening. I love the organ trio sonatas and greatly enjoy playing another transcription of the C major for violin and flute. Folk can get a taste for these new transcriptions since one of them is included in the Purcell Quartet's recording of the Lutheran Masses.

Uri Golomb wrote (June 17, 2004):
I heard one of the trio-sonatas performed by The King’s Consort in a live concert a few years; as far as I recall, it was arranged for oboe, violin and continuo. I also heard some of King's transcriptions on the radio, and enjoyed them very much. One of these days, I'm sure I'll get around to purchasing the Hyperion CD which features all the trio sonatas in King's transcription .

The Purcell Quartet's performance of BWV 529 on theirt Lutheran Masses CD is also a fine performance, lively and richly-nuanced.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 17, 2004):
[To Douglas Amrine] I've reviewed quite a few other transcriptions here (check the archives if interested: searching perhaps for "pacifica" or "aulos" or "fisk fuller")...and at this Amazon page about one of them: Amazon.com

Also, don't miss the set of most of them by Hazelzet/Ogg (on flute and hpsi), and Verbruggen/Meyerson (recorder & hpsi), and the BWV 529 by Savall/Koopman (viola da gamba & hpsi...along with BWV 1027-9).

The Fisk/Fuller performance (guitar & hpsi) is one of my very favorite Bach recordings of any pieces, played by anybody. The musicianship is so delightful, the sense of joy and freedom they project.

 

Trio Sonatas BWV 525-530

Luke Hubbard wrote (October 30, 2005):
I recently read they were transcribed by Bach from (now lost) chamber works in order to improve his son virtuosity. Is it possible to reconstruct the original versions and if so, what were the instruments they were designed for?

Kirk McElhearn wrote (October 30, 2005):
[To Luke Hubbard] There are several recordings of these works - among my all-time favorite Bach works - by instrumental groups, including the excellent transcription by London Baroque on Bis.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 30, 2005):
[To Luke Hubbard] This, according to the NBA KB IV/7 is very difficult to ascertain. BWV 76/8 is an instrumental sinfonia which is the same music as BWV 528/1. There are so many corrections in the autograph score (1723) that even here it seems quite apparent that Bach is working from a yet earlier version of this music.

For BWV 525, the NBA KB lists as the source for this music: "Instrumental Trio?" which means despite all the research to determine the original state/form of this music, all that can be determined is that it was not originally for keyboard. There is a later Concerto in C for Violin, Violoncello and Bass (dated circa 1750 based on copies which show no trace of Bach's handwriting. This trio can be related to other works as follows: Mvt. 1 = BWV 525/1, Mvt.2 = BWV 1032/2, Mvt. 3 = BWV 525/3.

BWV 527/2 and BWV 1044/2 (Triple Concerto) both look back to an earlier source.

Even the notion that these organ sonatas all look back to earlier instrumental (non-keyboard) sources can not be firmly asserted. There remains a big question mark behind the earliest posited form. One expert. Hans Ernst Eppstein, has even argued that BWV 76/8 can not be traced back to a yet earlier instrumental (non-keyboard) since Bach does not as a rule transcribe instrumental music with obbligato instruments into other compositions also using obbligato instruments. This is one important reason to conclude that BWV 76/8 and BWV 528/1 both look back to a yet earlier source which may or may not have been instrumental (non-keyboard).

Luke Hubbard wrote (October 31, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thank you very much for the informed answer, Thomas. From what you said, the amount of proof for a chamber origin rests more likely on BWV 525. Still, in my humble oppinion, all these peaces sound somewhat awkward on organ, almost as if they are trying to put an entire orchestra on a single instrument.

By the way, am I wrong to see obvious gallant influences disseminated throughout the generally high baroque structure of these works? I think the issue of how much Bach has been influenced by the gallant trend in the latter part of his life requires ample discussion. After all, Bach couldn't be SHIELDED of such ever more amplifying trend. His flute sonatas, for instance, are in much dto the popular style of the day, which blended baroque polyphony with gallant themes. His Brandenburg concertos also had to come in terms with the "avant-garde". However, Bach's most intimate instrumental works (AoF (BWV 1080), WTC) and those least popular both for contemporary and present audience, are those most truthful to his personal style. It is so strange to me to see most people recognize Bach through his orchestral works which are actually his least characteristic.

 

Helmut Walcha and the Trio Sonata in E flat major for organ

Josh Klasinski wrote (November 14, 2006):
Has anyone heard this performance of Walcha on the DG label. It is perhaps one of my favorite Bach pieces. The second movement is so evocative and beautifully peaceful. It is like a painting of times and fashions long since gone. Truly listening to it transports one to the premodern world and it is a picture and sound gem that makes one wish he/she could travel back to such a period, where music truly represented something pure, divine, and humanitarian. I was thinking this piece would sound so nice on the piano forte, then I quickly realized the piece that Bach wrote could only sound so wonderful on that amazing instrument, the organ. Has anyone heard this piece and has some thoughts on it?

Bach was a master melodist and the second movement displays to utter perfection his lyricism.

Neil Halliday wrote (November 16, 2006):
Josh Klasinski wrote:
> Has anyone heard this performance of Walcha on the DG label. <
I have the Walcha set. His performances of the trio sonatas on the St. Lawrenskerk organ, Alkmaar, represent organ music in its most entrancing form, IMO.

The three lines are presented with utmost clarity, with charming contrasting timbres, and the pedal is in excellent balance with the manuals without a trace of the fogginess that mars the pedal lines in some performances of this music.

The slow movement you mention does have a tremolo, which I am not normally partial to, on the right hand line; but otherwise the choice of stops is magical and the beauty of the music is undiminished by this aspect.

Tempo are relaxed yet alert; the final movement is a joyful, gentle dance.

The organ itself represents a nice choice between instruments (or stops) that are too large or too small, for performances of this charming music.

Josh Klasinski wrote (November 16, 2006):
[To Neil Halliday] Thanks Neil for these thoughts on one of my favorite Bach organ works. I take it you are well versed in all things Organ. Are Bach's other trio sonatas as charming as the Eflatmaj ?

Neil Halliday wrote (November 16, 2006):
Josh Klasinski wrote:
>Are Bach's other trio sonatas as charming as the Eflatmaj ?<
Certainly, your comments about the E flat sonata (no.1, BWV525) apply equally to all of them. They all have a unique, transparent (Mozartean?) beauty.

[Interestingly, I consider that the 1956 recording of nos. 1 and 6, made at Alkmaar, has greater clarity in the pedal compartment than the 1969 recording of nos. 2-5, made at Strasburg; but the registration of the manuals is most effective in both cases].

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 16, 2006):
The Trio Sonata in E flat major for organ

Josh Klasinski wrote:
< Are Bach's other trio sonatas as charming as the Eflatmaj ? >
Yes, and they're delightful either on organ or arranged for various other ensembles, which has happened quite a bit.

Here's a budget-priced recording of them, on organ, that I consider essential: John Butt's, from 1991 when Butt was only about 31. The playing is sprightly, improvisatory-sounding, and the articulation is terrific (this being a specialty from Dr Butt's dissertation, republished as a 1990 book).

Recording: Amazon.com

Book: Amazon.com

Some 2002 discussions here about other instrumentations of those sonatas (I mentioned at least a dozen):
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NonVocal/Organ-TrioSonatas-LondonBaroque.htm

Josh Klasinski wrote (November 16, 2006):
[To Neil Halliday] Lately Mozart's last symphonies 36-41 have been on my cd player. Really my major introduction to Mozart. From my first impressions Mozart's late stuff is really far from Bach and Bach's musical aesthetic. When I hear Mozart, Bach never comes to mind. Personally I'll take Bach and Haydn's less overtly dramatic style over Mozart. This is not to say Bach and Haydn could not be dramatic, but the content seems to speak of a wholly different take on life and art than Mozart. Perhaps I am completely wrong, but from what little I have heard of Mozart a piece like the Trio Eflat for Organ is really worlds away from Mozart. By the way did Bach indicate registrations for these organ trio sonatas in the score or elsewhere?

Thanks much,

Neil Halliday wrote (November 17, 2006):
Josh Klasinski wrote:
>but from what little I have heard of Mozart a piece like the Trio Eflat for Organ is really worlds away from Mozart. <
Yes, trying to explain the effect of one composer's work in terms of another's is always difficult. I had in mind certain delicious 'circle of fifths' passages in Mozart's piano concertos, which move me the same way as similarly constructed passages in the G major trio sonata no.6; there are three such passages. The delicate, diaphanous, filigree... words don't really convey the effect; and if you don't know Mozart's piano concertos, they can't convey any meaning for you, at all.)

As far as I know, Bach did not indicate registrations in the trio sonatas, and very rarely in the other works. The ideal is perfect balance and clarity, with contrasting timbres, for all three 'voices' - no small order, apparently.

Anyway, if you are just starting out with Bach and Mozart, a wonderful world awaits you.

Neil Halliday wrote (November 18, 2006):
Here are samples of Butt's trio sonatas: Amazon.com

Not for me. The organ is a small instrument, with a coarse, crude-sounding pedal, eg, in the first movement of the E flat trio. There is not much contrast in the timbres of the manual lines, and not much of the sparkle that a larger organ of the type in the Alkmaar church can bring to these lines. And all that staccato articulation is a pain in the butt, if you will allow me the pun.

Neil Halliday wrote (November 18, 2006):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Here are samples of Butt's trio sonatas (1991): Amazon.com >
And, for the comparison, here are samples of the trio in E flat played by Walcha at Alkmaar (1956): Amazon.com

Josh Klasinski wrote (November 19, 2006):
[To Neil Halliday] Wow the difference between sonata 1 Butt performance and sonata 1 Walcha performance is quite astounding. I really like the registrations Butt uses in this piece, and his overall style seems like he is having more fun with the music, perhaps brings out the joy which is such a part of the Eflat maj trio a bit more than Walcha. I look foward to hearing the other trio's by Butt, thanks for the links ; ).

Santu de Silva wrote (November 19, 2006):
Neil Halliday writes:
>>>> Here are samples of Butt's trio sonatas: Amazon.com >
Not for me. The organ is a small instrument, with a coarse, crude-sounding pedal, eg, in the first movement of the E flat trio. There is not much contrast in the timbres of the manual lines, and not much of the sparkle that a larger organ of the type in the Alkmaar church can bring to these lines. And all that staccato articulation is a pain in the butt, if you will allow me the pun. <<<<
I liked them ...

Santu de Silva wrote (November 19, 2006):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< And, for the comparison, here are samples of the trio in E flat played by Walcha at Alkmaar (1956): Amazon.com >
On the Allegro, Walcha starts out slow, and accelerates into the speed he finally likes. Sounds like bad planning to me, though of course one is inclined to make many excuses for a blind musician. The registration is very satisfying, but IMO the trio sonatas would sound good on most reasonable organs, with appropriate registrations.

In the middle movement, the "underwater" sound is disgusting, again IMO. I don't care how authentic that is; I just don't like that particular effect. (Unda Maris, Vox Angelicus, Vox Humana, Vox Capricornus, etc.)

 

Continue on Part 2

Trio Sonatas BWV 525-530: Details
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
Trio Sonatas - Biggs | Trio Sonatas - Johanssen & Lippincott | Trio Sonatas - London Baroque
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2

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