1730: Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D major

WEDNESDAY, November 25, 2020 – 10:07 AM

There are several reasons why this music will never be part of my “go to music”. First, all movements are in D major, and I get bored when the music does not modulate or even surprise me where it moves. Then there is the lack of so many other instruments I love – horn, trombone, tuba, clarinet, flute, and that’s only a start. In fact, I won’t even listen to “suites” for keyboard only, something that almost draws hate from my friends because it’s so heretical. “What, you don’t like Bach’s suites?”

Well, actually I don’t. I’ll listen to almost anything else first. But at least this suite is for orchestra, and it’s Bach, so the writing is fantastic.

Orchestral Suite No 4 in D major, age 45

Instrumentation:

  • oboe I/II/III, bassoon
  • violin I/II, viola
  • basso continuo

Trumpet I/II/III and timpani were added later

Lars Ulrik Mortensen

This got 1.4K likes, so it seems it’s popular. Lets find out why. First, there are no trumpets and no timpani. What’s that all about? It turns out that Bach wrote this without those instruments, then added them later. This is one of many supposed “authentic” performances, but I see a double bass, no cello. When did cello become a thing? Note that this is in D flat. Well, it’s not, but that’s what you will hear because the pitch is a full half step down, and that has to do with supposed pitch standards of the time.

In fact what we do today has very little to do with what actually happened, since setting A415 is not even the official standard of the time, which was A422. But even that is not very useful, since in Bach’s time organs could vary as much as 4 semitones.

So this is not good because it’s the “right pitch”, or even because it’s accurate re instrumentation.  It’s just great playing, a wonderful video and the sound is great. While I usually prefer as many instruments as possible, I tend to favor this version more. For me it’s more mellow, and I just like it.

Trevor Pinnock

This is a fine performance, and this time you hear trumpets and timpani. It’s also in D as we know it today. Also you get to see the score. For the record, I prefer the first performance.

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