Friday, March 24, 2023

Alton Sr. H.S. orchestra plays Bach


Maintaining social distancing on stage and wearing masks, the symphonic orchestra at Alton Senior High School in Illinois performed Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major (BWV 1048) earlier this month.

The performance was the group’s first since February, according to the group’s director, Laura Plummer. And that performance was given at the University of Illinois for an invited state festival.

“I think the last time you heard them play,” she told an audience at the Elijah P Lovejoy Music Festival at Lovejoy Elementary, “was last fall, a year ago.

“We’re excited to present this concert,” she continued. “It has been just a complete joy just seeing these guys every week and just uplifting my spirits.”

The string ensemble performed the concerto’s three movements without a harpsichord or other basso continuo, but it was otherwise energetic, just as Bach wrote it to be.

St Nicholas Church, Leipzig, Germany, where Bach premiered the St John Passion (iStockPhoto)

More about the work

The concerto is the third of six written by the Baroque composer. The concerti were, in effect, a job application Bach was making to work for Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg-Schwedt, an aristocrat who, it seems, was paying quite well and wanted a composer of his very own.

But as it turns out, the works were never actually performed for the margrave and remained in his library until he died in 1734. The concerti weren’t even performed then, however, and the estate sold Bach’s handwritten score for about $22. In 1849, the manuscripts were discovered in the archives of Brandeburg and published a year later, in 1850, some 100 years after the death of the composer.

The official date of the six concerti is 1721, but most music historians believe Bach composed them several years earlier, perhaps when he was at the court of either Weimar (1708–1717), Köthen (1717–1723), or, more likely, both. Because the composition of the works may have been spread out over several years and at least two jobs, most historians doubt they were composed as a set of six pieces. More likely, Bach put them together when he sent them to the margrave.

The first and third movements of the third concerto follow the traditional form of a concerto grosso. But the second movement is different. Bach simply wrote two chords: a Phrygian half-cadence. Musicians generally take this as an opportunity for a cadenza for one or more instruments to improvise. The cadenza, intended to showcase individual musical virtuosity, is sometimes performed by the harpsichord, but Alton omitted the cadenza, as many modern performances do.

This story was brought to us by The Daily Bird student news site at Alton Senior High School. Unfortunately, the performance on YouTube was cut off before the conclusion of Bach’s masterpiece. As with everything else, technology woes have impaired a great deal of learning in our schools in 2020.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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