Hear 10 of Bach’s Pieces Played on Original Baroque Instruments

We could say that the music of Johann Sebas­t­ian Bach tran­scends instru­men­ta­tion. Wendy Car­los did a great deal to prove that with her 1968 album Switched-On Bach, com­posed entire­ly (and labo­ri­ous­ly) on an ear­ly Moog syn­the­siz­er. Despite its con­tro­ver­sial union of long-revered com­po­si­tions with prac­ti­cal­ly untest­ed musi­cal tech­nol­o­gy, that project won high praise, not least from as famed an inter­preter of Bach as Glenn Gould. Here at Open Cul­ture we’ve fea­tured many of Gould’s own per­for­mances of Bach: of the Key­board Con­cer­to No. 1 in D minor in his 1960 U.S. tele­vi­sion debut, of the can­ta­ta BWV 54 on a 1962 CBC spe­cial, of The Art of Fugue and the Gold­berg Vari­a­tions as played toward the end of his life in the ear­ly 1980s.

Going back to 1959, we find a 27-year-old Gould play­ing Bach in a Nation­al Film Board of Cana­da doc­u­men­tary, and on “the piano he favors above all oth­ers for prac­tic­ing: a 70-year-old Chick­er­ing with a res­o­nant, harp­si­chord qual­i­ty recall­ing the instru­ments of the time of Bach.” But to tru­ly hear Bach’s music as Bach him­self would have heard it, you need to bring out those very same instru­ments.

That’s the man­date of San Fran­cis­co’s Voic­es of Music, an ensem­ble ded­i­cat­ed to “renais­sance and baroque music, draw­ing upon the many and var­ied sources for his­tor­i­cal per­for­mance prac­tice.” We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured their per­for­mances of Pachel­bel’s Canon and Vivaldi’s The Four Sea­sons on orig­i­nal instru­ments; more recent­ly they’ve put togeth­er a Youtube playlist of their orig­i­nal-instru­ment per­for­mances of Bach.

The ten selec­tions on Voic­es of Music’s Bach playlist include the Cel­lo Suite No. 2 in D Minor BWV 1008, Alle­mande and Courante played on the baroque cel­lo by Eva Lymen­stull; the Arioso from Can­ta­ta 156 (Sin­fo­nia) with Marc Schachman on the baroque oboe; the Bran­den­burg Con­cer­to No. 6 in B Flat Major BWV 1051 played by Kati Kyme and Eliz­a­beth Blu­men­stock on baroque vio­la (vio­le da brac­cio), Elis­a­beth Reed and William Skeen on the vio­la da gam­ba, Tanya Tomkins on the baroque cel­lo, Far­ley Pearce on the vio­lone, and Han­neke van Proos­dij on the harp­si­chord; and the Sonata No. 3 in C Major for baroque vio­lin BWV 1005 inter­pret­ed by August and Georgina McK­ay Lodge, the for­mer play­ing the baroque vio­lin and the lat­ter read­ing Ursu­la K. Le Guin’s poem “Hymn to Time.”

This isn’t the first time the work of Le Guin, now remem­bered as an influ­en­tial author of sci­ence fic­tion and fan­ta­sy lit­er­a­ture, has been set to music. Just after her death in 2018 we fea­tured Rigel 9, the space rock opera she cre­at­ed in col­lab­o­ra­tion with avant-garde com­pos­er David Bed­ford in 1985. If Le Guin’s words suit­ed a tale of the future told with high-tech New Wave sounds, they suit an acoustic return to the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry just as well.

This is a ver­sa­til­i­ty much like Bach’s own, which has guar­an­teed that, more than 250 years after his death, his music retains its pow­er and depth whether expressed through a piano, a syn­the­siz­er, or indeed the instru­ments of his day — not that the play­ers of per­cus­sion tubes or wine glass­es have done him great injus­tice either.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch J.S. Bach’s “Air on the G String” Played on the Actu­al Instru­ments from His Time

Musi­cians Play Bach on the Octo­bass, the Gar­gan­tu­an String Instru­ment Invent­ed in 1850

Hear the Sounds of the Actu­al Instru­ments for Which Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, and Han­del Orig­i­nal­ly Com­posed Their Music

The Authen­tic Pachelbel’s Canon: Watch a Per­for­mance Based on the Orig­i­nal Man­u­script & Played with Orig­i­nal 17th-Cen­tu­ry Instru­ments

The Authen­tic Vivaldi’s The Four Sea­sons: Watch a Per­for­mance Based on Orig­i­nal Man­u­scripts & Played with 18th-Cen­tu­ry Instru­ments

All of Bach for Free! New Site Will Put Per­for­mances of 1080 Bach Com­po­si­tions Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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