Christ Church Cathedral | Map
The Musical Offering was initiated in 1747 when Frederick the Great, King Frederick II of Prussia, himself a superb flutist, gave to Bach a complicated theme upon which Bach improvised to the astonishment of all present. Within the next few weeks Bach perfected and presented to Frederick a composition which exhibits Bach’s boundless imagination and profound depth of expression in a brilliant set of canons and fugues, and a trio sonata that is without parallel in 18th-century chamber music, all based on this royal theme. The 6-part fugue is the most significant keyboard work ever written according to musicologist Charles Rosen.
Click here for information about parking around / transiting to Christ Church Cathedral
– THIS PERFORMANCE WILL HAVE NO INTERVAL –
1. Ricercar a 3 for harpsichord solo
2. Canon perpetuus super Thema Regium for flute, violin, and violoncello
Canones diversi super Thema Regium:
3. Canon a 2 for violin and viola
4. Canon a 2 Violini in unisono for 2 violins and viola da gamba
5. Canon a 2 Per motum contrarium for flute, violin, and viola
6. Canon a 2 Per augmentationem, contrariu motu for violin, viola, and viola da gamba
7. Canon a 2 Per tonos for violin, viola, and viola da gamba
8. Fuga Canonica in Epidiapente for flute, violin, and violoncello
9. Ricercar a 6 for harpsichord solo
10. Canon a 2 Quaerendo invenietis for viola and viola da gamba
11. Canon a 4 for flute, 2 violins, and viola da gamba
12. Trio: Largo, Allegro, Andante, Allegro for flute, violin, and basso continuo
13. Canon perpetuus for flute, violin, and basso continuo
14. Ricercar a 6 for flute, 2 violins, viola, viola da gamba, and violoncello
During the last years of his life Bach slowly retired from the world. He put his works in order and, in solitude, probed the furthest limits of the arts of counterpoint and of combining abstract sounds, which had been developing in western music for five centuries. He watched with a severe eye as his sons explored the budding classical style with its new forms that, in his view, were far from having proven their worth.
At this time, in 1740 to be precise, Frederick became King Frederick II of Prussia. He was 28 years old, a passionate music lover, a talented flutist, a student of Joachim Quantz, and a respected composer. As soon as he acceded to the throne he appointed Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach as his court harpsichordist. Frederick heard about Johann Sebastian and his virtuosity as an improviser in the old style both from Carl Philipp and also from Count Hermann von Keyserling, the Russian ambassador to Prussia, for whom, so legend has it, Bach in 1743 wrote the Goldberg Variations in fulfillment of a commission for music the count could listen to during his frequent bouts of insomnia. The king invited “Old Bach” to visit him in Berlin but, for reasons that were as much political as personal — the Prussians had recently devastated Saxony — the sexagenarian composer hesitated before undertaking the journey. When Johann Sebastian finally accepted the honor it was because he would be able to see his latest grandson, who was then 2 years old. He left for Berlin accompanied by Wilhelm Friedemann. It was this last journey, and the last public success of a career in which such successes were few, that give birth to The Musical Offering.
The painter Adolph von Menzel has cleverly recreated several scenes from the life of Frederick II a century after they occurred. These include a painting of a concert at which one sees the musicians, Emanuel Bach at the harpsichord and Franz Benda on violin, waiting while the king in his boots finished the cadenza of his concerto. It was probably such a scene that Bach interrupted when he arrived at Potsdam on the evening of May 7, 1747. No sooner had he stepped into the palace, and before he could change out of his traveling clothes, the king had him trying out various keyboard instruments, and in particular the seven pianofortes that Gottfried Silbermann had just made for the king and of which he was very proud. As Anna Magdalena Bach described the evening, so nicely, if apocryphally: “So Johann Sebastian sat down and began to play, and it may be that some of the listeners realized that on that night there were two kings in the palace.”
A little later Frederick proposed a theme to which he asked Bach to improvise a three-part fugue. Bach did so, and the ricercar that opens The Musical Offering is, in all likelihood, a transcription from memory of this improvisation. Then his majesty, who doubtless wished to control the genius who was his guest, or at least show who was the boss, asked him to improvise a six-part fugue on the same theme. Bach declined the challenge, explaining that the theme was inappropriate for such treatment. Instead he improvised a six-part fugue on one of his own themes.
On his return to Leipzig, however, our composer prepared his little revenge. Two months later he sent the king the first of two deliveries of the carefully engraved movements of The Musical Offering. We cannot tell for sure the order of the movements from this first edition. In the preface Bach, with ironic servility, declared that the only reason for the existence of the work was “to treat the royal theme in all its perfection, and to make it known to the world.” He used the fugal theme set by the king and exhausted all its contrapuntal possibilities. This theme is a fine fugal soggetto or subject, of which there were many in the repertoire of the organists of the period. It is doubtful that Frederick actually composed it, because it is far indeed from his usual style. Maybe Carl Phillip Emanuel suggested it to him. It is in C minor, and includes a chromatic descent; Bach would have felt at ease with this expressive and restrained theme. It is, moreover, significant that, in one of his last compositions at the turning point between two musical epochs, he chose to use what Carl de Nys calls a “wandering theme that can sum up all of western music.”
In June 1747 Bach joined a learned musical society directed by Lorenz Mizler. Each member had to furnish his portrait. In 1746, Bach was painted by Elias Gottlob Hausmann; he posed holding in one hand a score showing a canon. Every year, until he reached the age of 65, each member of the society had to contribute to his fellow members either a theoretical communication or a work demonstrating contrapuntal skill. Bach’s first contribution was the Canonic Variations for organ. It is very probable that that his goal in composing The Musical Offering was not just to honor or impress Frederick; the care with which the work was engraved suggests that Bach also planned it as his contribution for 1748 to the Mizler society.
The Musical Offering comprises both a three-part and a six-part ricercar for keyboard — according to Luc André Marcel the latter is “one of the most learned and sumptuous fugues in the world” —; ten canons of diverse forms; and a trio sonata for flute, violin, and continuo. Some of the canons contain explicit riddles. Johann Friedrich Agricola and Johann Philipp Kirnberger, two former students of Bach who were musicians in the orchestra of the Prussian court, were the first to solve them. The trio sonata, one of the very few in which Bach actually followed the form’s traditional structure, is very contrapuntal and harmonically rich. It too uses the royal theme, the opening notes of which appear in the first movement, which alternates between each of voices during the second, is absent but suggested during the third, and reappears in a ternary rhythm and with ornaments in the fourth. However, since this trio sonata is intended to please as well as to instruct, it makes notable use of the highly melodic galant style, which Frederick preferred above all others.
With the exception of the sonata and two of the canons, Bach does not specify the instruments to be used, and the only thing that unifies the work is the use in all its parts of the king’s theme. Hans Theodore David writes: “Throughout the Musical Offering, the reader, the performer, or listener is to search for the Royal theme in all forms. The entire work, therefore, is a ricercar in the original, literal sense of the word.” Masterful, ingenious, this work is one of noblest peaks of the art of polyphony equaled only by Bach’s The Art of the Fugue, written two years later — yet its density never prevails over its great sensitivity, emotion, and clarity. According to Douglas Hofstadter, The Musical Offering is “an intellectual construction which reminds me, in ways I cannot express, of the beautiful many-voiced fugue of the human mind.”
The King of Prussia’s musical knowledge was insufficient to plumb the intellectual depths of this work — we can bet that Carl Philipp Emanuel enjoyed maliciously reporting to his father just how the work was received and maybe played at Potsdam or at Sans-Souci.
– François Filiatrault -Translated by Sean McCutcheon
A canon is a composition in which at least two parts are identical in certain basic aspects such as melodic line and rhythmic structure. The leading part of most canons is followed by the derived part after a certain time-interval in the same direction and tempo; the following part may be kept at the same pitch as the preceding (canon in unisono, “canon at the unison”), or it may perform the original line at a certain interval above or below it (e.g., canon in epidiapente, “canon at the higher fifth”). In certain canons all intervals of the original line are inverted by the following part (canon per motum contrarium, or contrario motu, “canon in contrary motion”). In others we find one part moving backward while the other moves forward (canon cancrizans, “crab canon”). Then again, there are canons in which the canonic voices proceed at different speed; thus one voice may double the note-values of the original line while the other performs as written (canon per augmentationem, “canon in augmentation”). All these patterns, together with a number of other, more usual devices, are represented in the Musical Offering, which thus constitutes a generous demonstration of the possibilities inherent in this form.
Hans Theodore David,
J.S. Bach’s Musical Offering, 1945.
Claire Guimond, flute
Claire Guimond is a leading baroque flautist, recognised first in Canada and now well established on the world scene. She is a founding member and artistic director of the Arion Baroque Orchestra, with which she has frequently toured in North and South America and Europe. She performs regularly with Tafelmusik, features in radio and TV broadcasts and plays at many festivals in Europe and North America, performing under such distinguished conductors as Ton Koopman, Andrew Parrot, Barthold Kuijken, Jordi Savall, Nicholas McGegan, Philippe Herreweghe and Bruno Weil.
Ms. Guimond has an extensive discography of over 30 recordings distributed internationally. As well as Arion, these feature harpsichordists Gary Cooper and Luc Beausejour, and cellist Jaap ter Linden.
Claire Guimond is a member of early-music.com, a site devoted to the promotion of some of the world’s finest early music musicians.
Chloe Meyers, violin
Violinist Chloe Meyers is a regular guest leader and orchestra member of baroque ensembles all over North America. She has worked with ensembles including Les Violons du Roy, Tafelmusik, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Les Boréades, the Theatre of Early Music, Les Idées Heureuses and Les Voix Baroques. She recently joined the Pacific Baroque Orchestra as concertmaster and will continue to play principal second with Arion Baroque Orchestra in Montreal. Most recently she played first violin on a Juno Award winning recording of Handel arias featuring Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin on the Atma Classique label.
Paul Luchkow, violin
Paul Luchkow is a versatile violinist and violist whose activities cover the range of music from the 17th Century to the present day on modern and period instruments. In addition to the Victoria Baroque Players, he is a regular feature of Vancouver’s Early Music scene. Paul is a long-time member of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and appears frequently in concerts for Early Music Vancouver, the Early Music Society of the Islands, as well as at Victoria’s Pacific Baroque Festival.
In demand as a leader, guest director, and educator, Paul has worked with Per Sonatori: Regina’s Baroque period-instrument ensemble, VoiceScapes and Spiritus Chamber Choir in Calgary, and he has given performances and masterclasses at universities across western Canada. As an adjudicator, Paul frequently hears and encourages young musicians across British Columbia.
A highlight of recent years has been his work with fortepianist Michael Jarvis and their exploration of Baroque, Classical and Romantic sonata repertoire on period instruments. They have two recordings: One of Hummel Sonatas (nominated for a Western Canada Music Award) for fortepiano and violin / viola on the Marquis Classics label, and a self-released recording of sonatas by Mozart. A third recording, Sonatas by the French composer Michel Corrette, will be released on Marquis in Spring 2017.
Paul makes his home in Victoria with his wife and children.
Mieka Michaux, viola
Originally from Victoria, B.C. Mieka enjoys an active career as an orchestral and chamber musician performing on both modern and baroque viola and violin. She completed a Bachelor of Music degree in 1998 and, in 200, obtained a Master of Music at Rice University in Houston, Texas. She has studied and performed at the Music Academy of the West, the Banff Center for the Arts, Orford Center for the Arts and the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. Currently, Mieka is a member of the Victoria Symphony and since 2010 she regularly performs with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra. She is also a founding member of the Victoria Baroque Players.
In 2006, along with three colleagues from the Victoria Symphony, she co-founded the Emily Carr String Quartet. The quartet’s debut CD Hidden Treasure was nominated for Classical Recording of the Year by the Western Canadian Music Awards.
Natalie Mackie, viola da gamba
Natalie Mackie studied cello at the Conservatoire de Musique (Québec), followed by a degree from the School of Music, University of British Columbia. While at UBC she was introduced to the viola da gamba, and following graduation, she pursued further studies at the Koninklijk Conservatorium in The Hague. Natalie has played with many ensembles in Canada and the US, including New World Consort, Les Coucous Bénévoles, Tafelmusik, Portland, and Seattle Baroque Orchestras, Les Voix Humaines, Tempo Rubato, Les Voix Baroque, Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra, Victoria Baroque, and Vancouver Intercultural Orchestra among others. Natalie is a member of Pacific Baroque Orchestra and the chamber ensemble “La Modestine”- both Vancouver-based ensembles. She has toured throughout Canada, Europe, and the US and recorded for Radio France, German Radio, BBC, CBC, and NPR, as well as the Canadian label Atma Classique. Natalie is a regular performer in the Pacific Baroque Festival, held annually in Victoria, BC, and teaches in the Baroque Orchestra Mentorship Program at the University of British Columbia.
Beiliang Zhu, violoncello
Beiliang Zhu won the 1st prize and the Audience Award at the 2012 International Bach Competition in Leipzig (Violoncello/Baroque Violoncello). She was the first string player to receive this honor for performance on a baroque instrument. She completed her Master of Music from the Juilliard School in Historical Performance with Phoebe Carrai (Baroque cello) and Sarah Cunningham (Viola da Gamba), her Bachelor of Music and a Performer’s Certificate from the Eastman School of Music. Beiliang is currently pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts in Violoncello, under the guidance of Steven Doane, as well as a Master of Arts in Ethnomusicology at the Eastman School of Music.
Hailed by the New York Times as “particularly exciting”, and by the New Yorker as bringing “telling nuances”, and as being “elegant and sensual, stylishly wild”, Beiliang has given solo recitals at the Bach Festival Leipzig, Boston Early Music Festival, The Vancouver Bach Festival, the Seoul Bach Festival and the Helicon Foundation. She has also performed with internationally acclaimed artists and ensembles, such as William Christie, Masaaki Suzuki, Monica Huggett, Paul O’Dette, the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra, Juilliard Baroque, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Trinity Wall Street Orchestra. She won a section cellist position in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra while still an undergraduate and continues to hold the principal cellist position of Mercury Houston.
Alexander Weimann, harpsichord
Alexander Weimann is one of the most sought-after ensemble directors, soloists, and chamber music partners of his generation. After travelling the world with ensembles such as Tragicomedia, Cantus Cölln, the Freiburger Barockorchester, Gesualdo Consort and Tafelmusik, he now focuses on his activities as Music Director of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra in Vancouver, Music Director of the Seattle Baroque Orchestra, and regular guest conductor of ensembles including the Victoria Symphony, Symphony Nova Scotia, Arion Baroque Orchestra in Montreal and the Portland Baroque Orchestra.
Alex was born in Munich, where he studied the organ, church music, musicology (with a summa con laude thesis on Bach’s secco recitatives), theatre, mediæval Latin, and jazz piano, supported by a variety of federal scholarships. From 1990 to 1995, he taught music theory, improvisation, and Jazz at the Munich Musikhochschule. Since 1998, he has been giving master classes in harpsichord and historical performance practice at institutions such as Lunds University in Malmö, the Bremen Musikhochschule, the University of California (Berkeley), Dartmouth College (New Hampshire), McGill University, Université de Montréal, and Mount Allison (New Brunswick). He now teaches at the University of British Columbia and directs the Baroque Orchestra Mentorship Programme there. He has received several JUNO and GRAMMY Award nominations – most recently, for the album Nuit Blanches with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and Karina Gauvin.