Program Notes: Cameron Carpenter
Thursday, March 31, 2022
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685-1750)
Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 537 (? after 1723)
Prelude and Fugue No. 1, in C (Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II), BWV 870 (c1742)
Prelude and Fugue No. 11, in F (Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II), BWV 880 (c1742)
Komm, heiliger Geist, BWV 651 (1708-17/1740s)
Chorale-Prélude: O Mensch, bewein’ dein Sünde gross, BWV 622 (1708-17)
Prelude and Fugue in E-flat, St. Anne, BWV 552 (publ. 1749)
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685-1750)
Goldberg Variations: Aria with 30 variations, BWV 988 (1741)
Variatio 1 a 1 clav.
Variatio 2 a 1 clav.
Variatio 3 Canone all’Unisuono a 1 clav.
Variatio 4 a 1 clav.
Variatio 5 a 1 ovvero 2 clav
Variatio 6 Canone alla Seconda a 1 clav.
Variatio 7 a 1 ovvero 2 clav. al tempo di Giga
Variatio 8 a 2 clav.
Variatio 9 a 1 clav. Canone alla Terza
Variatio 10 a 1 clav. Fughetta
Variatio 11 a 2 clav.
Variatio 12 Canone alla Quarta in moto contrario a 1 clav.
Variatio 13 a 2 clav.
Variatio 14 a 2 clav.
Variatio 15 Canone alla Quinta in moto contrario a 1 clav., Andante
Variatio 16 a 1 clav. Ouverture
Variatio 17 a 2 clav.
Variatio 18 a 1 clav. Canone alla Sexta
Variatio 19 a 1 clav.
Variatio 20 a 2 clav.
Variatio 21 Canone alla Settima a 1 clav.
Variatio 22 a 1 clav. Alla breve
Variatio 23 a 2 clav.
Variatio 24 a 1 clav. Canone all’Ottava
Variatio 25 a 2 clav., Adagio
Variatio 26 a 2 clav.
Variatio 27 Canone alla Nona a 2 clav.
Variatio 28 a 2 clav.
Variatio 29 a 1 ovvero 2 clav.
Variatio 30 a 1 clav. Quodlibet
Aria da capo
Generously supported by Jeanne and Larry Aufmuth.
PROGRAM SUBJECT TO CHANGE. Please be considerate of others and turn off all phones, pagers, and watch alarms. Photography and recording of any kind are not permitted. Thank you.
HEALTH AND SAFETY: Masks are no longer required for indoor performances but are strongly recommended.
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
Born in Eisenach, Germany, March 21, 1685; died in Leipzig, July 28, 1750
Four years after his father’s death, Bach’s second oldest son, Carl Philip Emanuel, published a document generally known as the "Obituary" of his father. It is the only known obituary and was published in a music periodical of the time. The heading is “The Hon. JSB B[ach], world famous in organ playing.” After this eye-catching headline, Bach’s positions as “Composer to the Court” [in Dresden] and "Director of Music” [in Leipzig] are mentioned. For 50 years Bach was a leading figure in organ performance, a sought-after consultant in organ design, an assessor of newly built or restored organs, and a teacher of the next generation of organists—Krebs, Kirnberger, Kittel, and his own sons Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philip Emanuel, among them. Starting his pupils on the easier Preludes from the ’48,’ they went on to master the Two- and Three-part Inventions, then the French and English Suites, and, finally, the ‘48’ itself (the Well-Tempered Clavier). Through this training, Bach’s pupils learned a system of fingering and obbligato pedaling that organists continue to hold in high esteem today.
An orphan from the age of 10, Bach received a thorough grounding in the fundamentals of music from the organist’s point of view. This came from his elder brother Johann Christoph, organist in Ohrdruf, with whom he now lived. It was training “fit for an organist and not much more,” C.P.E. Bach later pointed out to Bach’s earliest biographer. Bach, however, took the training and ran with it. As recently as 2006, a cache of technically demanding organ music by the young Bach was discovered, proving he had already developed both extraordinary performance and composing abilities by the age of 13. The music also linked Bach’s early training not only with his brother in Ohrdruf but also with the highly respected organist and composer Georg Böhm in nearby Lüneburg. Bach was clearly a quick study. When the organ at his brother’s Michaelkirche was rebuilt, Bach seized the opportunity to learn the basics of organ construction. He continued to build on this knowledge and soon began to acquire a reputation as an organ expert. After being hired to evaluate and report on a newly installed organ in the Neuekirche in Arnstadt, the 18-year-old Bach so impressed the authorities that he was offered his first appointment, as organist in the church. Bach continued to be hired elsewhere for his knowledge of the organ, first evaluating and reporting on the new or restored instruments, then, frequently, giving a solo recital on the instrument. He was then invited to give recitals further afield, in Hamburg, Dresden, and Berlin among others, dazzling many with his improvisations. In 1717, French virtuoso organist Louis Marchand, then on a recital tour of Germany, had evidently heard of Bach’s improvisational prowess since he failed to show up after the Dresden Konzertmeister J. B. Volumier had set up a contest in keyboard improvisation between Marchand and Bach. Marchand secretly crept out of town!
Years later, after Bach visited Kassel in 1743, Kantor Bellermann described how he could “by the use of his feet alone (while his fingers do either nothing or something else) achieve such an admirable, agitated, and rapid concord of sounds on the church organ that others would seem unable to imitate it, even with their fingers.” Bach's works for organ build on the North German virtuoso style of pedal playing and integrate it into preludes, toccatas, fantasias, and fugues, calling on the reserves of technical skill the Kantor described. The Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 537 is believed to date from Bach’s Leipzig years, after 1723. With Bach, the terms Fantasia and Prelude are frequently interchangeable. Here the Fantasia is restrained, with a somewhat lamenting tone over long pedal notes. Its half-close leads directly into the closely related Fugue, which introduces two new subjects in the second of its three sections, while the third is a da capo-like repeat of the first. The Fantasia on Komm, Heiliger Geist, BWV 651 (Come Holy Spirit, God and Lord) is the first of a collection often referred to as "The Eighteen." This is a set of large-scale chorale-preludes (BWV 651-668) based on Lutheran chorales, composed in Weimar (1708-17), but then copied and revised towards the end of Bach’s life, when his eyesight was failing. The Leipzig fantasia on this Whitsun chorale is twice as long as its Weimar version. The broad chorale melody is set in the pedals, while the upper parts are expanded in a word-painting manner into running 16ths, representing the "rushing spirit" of the Holy Ghost. The Chorale-Prelude: O Mensch, bewein’ dein Sünde gross, BWV 622 (O man, bewail thy sin so great) is found in the Orgel-Büchlein (Little Organ Book), a collection of 46 organ chorales, a work of great beauty and inventiveness, composed while Bach was organist at the Weimar court (1708-17). The third part of Bach’s definitive Clavier-Übung (Keyboard Practice) is an eclectic compilation of organ music. This collection is framed by the E-flat Prelude, BWV 552 and its Fugue. Together, the Prelude and Fugue in E-flat, BWV 552 is frequently referred to as the "St. Anne" because of the similarity between Bach’s fugue subject and the English hymn tune St. Anne, believed to be by William Croft (1678-1727). The similarity would seem to be coincidental and there is no evidence to suggest the Bach knew the hymn tune. The nickname aside, BWV 552 is an imposing and monumental work for organ and it is the focal point of the third part of the Clavier-Übung collection (of which, more below).
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
Goldberg Variations: Aria with 30 variations, BWV 988 (1741)
First, a good story. Legend has it that Bach wrote his Goldberg Variations for an insomniac patron. Count Keyserlingk is said to have wanted something of a "soft and somewhat lively character" played by his harpsichordist, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, during his sleepless nights. According to Bach's first biographer, Johann Forkel, in an account published in 1802, the Count was well pleased with what his doctor might have called the sedative-hypnotic effect of the Goldberg Variations and rewarded Bach with a gold goblet filled with one hundred gold coins.
Now, the more likely story. Bach was a guest of Count Keyserlingk, the Russian ambassador to the Saxon Court in Dresden, in November 1741. The young Johann Gottlieb Goldberg (baptized 1727 – died 1756), a prodigy from Danzig, was employed by the count at the time. While it is conceivable that the 13 or 14-year-old virtuoso could have played the variations, it is highly unlikely that Bach would have designed such demanding music for so young a musician. When Bach came to publish the work just before he undertook the journey to Dresden, he did not include a dedication to the Count—an omission that would have been highly unusual in the 18th century. A likely scenario is that during his visit, Bach gave the Count a copy of the newly printed music as a gift. This and subsequent nocturnal performances by the young Goldberg is probably the starting point for a legend that has ever since surrounded the Goldberg Variations.
All the evidence points to Bach writing the Goldbergs for musical reasons rather than as a commission. For several years Bach had been working on a huge project. It was called Clavier-Übung (Keyboard Practice) and it was designed to provide a printed legacy of his own artistry. He started cautiously in 1726 with a single Partita for keyboard, testing the market for sales. 15 years later, Bach published the fourth and final part of the Clavier-Übung presenting the Goldberg Variations as its crowning glory.
There are 30 variations in all. Some are song-like, some dance-like. All are different. Every third variation is a canon in two parts, in which each part imitates and overlaps with the other. As the variations progress, so do the intervals between the two parts, hence the Latin descriptions at the top of many variations. There’s a canon at the unison in the third variation, a canon at the interval of a second by the sixth variation, then a canon at the third by the ninth variation, all the way up to a canon at the interval of a ninth by the 27th variation. Then, instead of the expected canon at the 10th for variation 30, Bach writes a humorous medley of tunes, a quodlibet, that uses popular tunes of the day in combination with the theme of the Goldbergs. The resulting rich, densely written, four-part texture, with the folk melodies embedded in it, shows how Bach was able to stand back and poke fun at his own learned writing.
In-between the canons are character pieces and virtuoso variations, designed (as Bach’s Latin performing directions indicate) for either one or two manuals of the harpsichord. The virtuoso pieces increase in brilliance towards the conclusion and precede the canons. In character, they inhabit the world of the toccata while, in spirit, they share something of what Domenico Scarlatti referred to as an "ingenious jesting with art" in his 1738-9 keyboard sonatas. Bach’s character pieces include two trios, a stretto, a gigue, a fughetta, two arias, an alla breve, the quodlibet and, at the center-point of the variations, an imposing French overture. All three genres reveal diversity through their unity throughout the cycle since Bach builds each variation on the bass line and harmonies of the theme, rather than on the melodic line alone—the only harmonic change being the shift from major to minor at key points. In the process he provides a characteristically encyclopedic overview of the canonic and variation techniques that he employed throughout his career. Many of the variations are cumulative, resulting in a feeling of having come full circle through the sequence of 32 movements, when we hear the return of the 32 measures of the Aria. When Bach published the Goldberg Variations in Nuremberg, his elaborate title page modestly described his enduring masterpiece as “Keyboard Practice, consisting of an Aria with Diverse Variations for the two-manual harpsichord. Composed for Music Lovers, to refresh their spirits.”
— Program notes © 2022 Keith Horner. Comments welcomed: firstname.lastname@example.org
About Cameron Carpenter
B. 1981, Titusville, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.; homeschooled 1981–1992. American Boychoir School (Princeton, NJ), 1993-1995; public performances in USA and Europe as a chorister, accompanist and keyboard soloist. Homeschooled, 1995–1996; University of North Carolina School of the Arts 1996–2000 (high school diploma), The Juilliard School, New York, NY, 2000–2006 (Bachelor of Music in Organ Performance 2004; Master of Music in Organ Performance, 2006). Many arrangements and transcriptions for organ, mostly of orchestral and piano works, from c. 1996. First organist nominated for a GRAMMY Award for the album Revolutionary (Telarc®, 2008). Publishing contract with Edition Peters 2009; emigrated to Germany 2010; first concerto for organ and orchestra (The Scandal, Op. 3, premiered 2011 at Cologne Philharmonie by Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Alexander Shelley). Management by Konzertdirektion Schmid and CAMI Music LLC since 2011; global touring, orchestral engagements, media since 2011. Featured speaker at TED, IdeaCity, Aspen Ideas Festival, other conferences; Leonard Bernstein Award (Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival), 2012. First Organist-In- Residence, Philharmonie Berlin, Season 2012–2013; recording contract with Sony Classical, 2013.
Designed, financed, and converted most activities to International Touring Organ (debuted Lincoln Center and Konzerthaus, Vienna 2014). Extensive global touring with International Touring Organ ("I.T.O.") in U.S.A., Europe, Russia, China, Australia from 2014–early 2020 in a variety of formats (solo, concerto, open air, collaborative, broadcast, others). Premiere of Terry Riley’s organ concerto At The Royal Majestic in Los Angeles, Geneva, and Berlin, 2014; ECHO Klassik award (If You Could Read My Mind), 2015. Designed and debuted George W. Mergens Memorial Organ at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, Palm Beach, 2016. Creation of organ and orchestra version of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43, 2016–2017; Artist-in-Residence, Konzerthaus Berlin, Season 2017–2018. Rachmaninoff Paganini mounted with I.T.O. and Shanghai Symphony Orchestra (world premiere Shanghai 2018), Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Radio Symphony Orchestra Wien, Graz Philharmonic, Bamberger Philharmoniker, Orchestre National du Lyon, Minnesota Orchestra, others, 2018–2019. Rachmaninoff Paganini recorded with I.T.O. and Konzerthausorchester Berlin under Christoph Eschenbach for Sony Classical, 2019.
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