Tuesday, December 17, 2013

J.C. Bach - Symphony In B-flat Major, Opus 18 No. 2

The youngest surviving son of Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Christian Bach was trained in music by his father and his older half-brother C.P.E. Bach. When he was twenty years old he went to Italy and converted to Catholicism, which probably sent his Lutheran ancestors rolling over in their graves. Whether out of conviction or convenience,  his conversion helped his career in Italy as he was appointed organist for the cathedral in Milan. His furthered his musical education while in Italy and began composing operas. It was on a trip to England to supervise the performance of some of his operas that he found London to his liking. He stayed there until his death in 1782.

He adopted the English equivalent of his name and was known as John Bach. He joined forces with viola da gamba and cello player Carl Abel (who was also trained by J.S. Bach) and began the Bach-Abel Concert series, the first subscription concerts in England.  Many famous performers appeared in these concerts, and various works by Haydn got their first hearing at these concerts. Bach was very popular until the late 1770's when the fickleness of the public turned their attention to other composers. He died deeply in debt in 1782. 

Carl Abel
J.C. Bach broke away from the style of music from the rest of his family and composed in the new galante style which emphasized melody with an accompaniment instead of  polyphony.  J.C. Bach didn't promote or much care for the learned style of his father, as he called him "the old wig."  He also compared himself to his brother C.P.E. Bach by saying, "My brother lives to compose; and I compose in order to live." 

Like his older brother C.P.E. Bach, J.C. Bach's music influenced many composers, most notably Mozart. Bach had met the younger composer when Mozart toured England. They played piano duets together, and the first piano concertos by Mozart were orchestrations of some of Bach's keyboard sonatas.  J.C. Bach was once credited with writing over 90 symphonies, but modern scholarship has determined that about half of that number are actual Bach compositions. The Opus 18 symphonies are some of Bach's finest works. Although composition dates are not known for all of them, they were published in 1781. The second symphony in this set is actually an overture from one of Bach's operas, Lucio Silla. Opera overtures were in fact the ancestor of the symphony and were used somewhat interchangeably. The symphony is in three movements:
I. Allegro assai - Unlike the symphonies of C.P.E. Bach, J.C. Bach uses flowing melodies. The first theme brings a fanfare quality to the fore, with  secondary parts of the theme segueing to the actual second subject, here played by a pair of flutes being answered by a pair of oboes while the strings play a simple accompaniment. The exposition is not repeated. The first theme expanded upon which constitutes the development section. Bach does not have a formal recapitulation. After the development of the main theme the secondary theme is played once again and the movement comes to a close. 

II. Andante - An example of the importance of melody in the galante style, as the tune is simply accompanied. 

III. Presto - A simple tune danced by the strings with the woodwinds adding seasoning. A contrasting middle section of answer and call between strings and woodwinds leads to a repeat of the opening and the very short finale is over.  

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