• Ian Passmore

Music that doesn't suck, No. 38: Bach in the 20th Century

If I could have only one composer’s music for the rest of my life, I would probably go with Johann Sebastian Bach…followed closely by Brahms. We already covered JS Bach—and his most inventive son, CPE Bach—back in our Father’s Day post: Music that doesn't suck, No. 10.

Bach’s music fell by the wayside after his death, but enjoyed a great revival in the 19th century thanks in large part to Felix Mendelssohn. In the twentieth century, composers like Elgar, Respighi, and Schoenberg made his music available for the modern orchestra.

A noted organist, Bach composed his Fantasia and Fugue in C minor around 1723, during the latter part of his residence in Weimar. As its title clearly states, the Fantasia and Fugue consists of two distinct sections—a lyrical, yet ornate fantasia, followed by a fugue. The orchestration of the piece was completed by the English composer Edward Elgar in 1921-22. Originally, the plan was for Richard Strauss to orchestrate the Fantasia, while Elgar would orchestrate the Fugue. Strauss never followed through, so Elgar was left to complete the project alone.

For perspective, Bach’s original version was for organ; Elgar’s orchestration calls for the following forces...

piccolo, flutes, oboes, English horn, clarinets, bass clarinet, bassoons, contrabassoon, horns, trumpets, trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, snare drum, triangle, tambourine, cymbals, glockenspiel, two harps, and strings!!

The performance is by the Hallé Orchestra led by Sir Mark Elder. Enjoy! :)

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