1728: Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, age 43

(Start with this movement, Air, then listen to the whole thing later. The sound used today in “period instrument performances” are radically different from what we heard. I personally think these purist went too far, and there is a tendency now to keep some of that authenticity but soften it a bit with older techniques. Unfortunately I could not find a very modern recording that has that freedom, so take a few minutes to listen to these three recordings of the famous movement. Most likely you will prefer one over the other, but you may like them all for different reasons. For me the “authentic” string sound is just plain annoying, but I believe I most lean towards a sound that incorporates a blend of both views.)

The so called “modern sound”, Mortensen, Netherlands Bach Society

I’m sure this is very good, but I don’t like it. Maybe you do. To me it is soulless, scratchy string sounds with not a hint of warmth. To totally respect this I have to believe that nothing has been learn in almost three centuries, and everything Bach did was better than anything modern players can do. I don’t believe that. In fact, everything I’ve heard suggests that our players are getting better and better, so this sound here sounds to me like regression, so I reject this sound. But you may like it. Different strokes for different folks.

Otto Klemperer, the “old sound”

In fact, I could not find one recording like this just by searching only for this one suite. But I knew enough that as soon as I saw a complete recording of all the suites, I knew Klemperer’s vision would be slow, rich and incredibly personal. I will never listen to any “period recordings” of this one movement without dislike bordering on loathing. I may not like all the other suites in this recording equally well, but for this one piece it has to be this way.

Robert Haydon Clark

This is a more modern view in the sense that this group attempted to restore the music to a more historical viewpoint, but the sound is to my ears richer and more expressive. It’s a very different sound, and I really like this. It’s delicate. I know nothing about the conductor, and supposedly this goes back to the later 60s and early 70s. The pitch is modern, not lowered, and I really like this sound.

Now for the whole suite…

These are actually the same recordings, but this time the time stamps start with the 1st movement.

Bach: Orchestral Suite 3 in D major, age 43


  • Trumpet I/II/III
  •  oboe I/II, violin I/II, viola,
  • timpani
  • basso continuo

(second movement: only strings and continuo)

Some argue that the original was a version for strings and continuo alone.


  • Ouverture
  • Air
  • Gavotte I/II
  • Bourrée
  • Gigue

Otto Klemperer

This kind of performance is almost frowned upon today, but everything in music is cyclic, and many people are rejecting the ultra “correct” period recordings which are now almost the only thing you can find. For all sorts of reasons I think this older view at least deserves careful consideration. His interpretation of “Air for a G String” for me just has more feeling, weight and importance, so for me everything else in this movement is just not quite as good.

Lars Ulrik Mortensen

This is the same thing, but this time with original instruments, and there are no tumpets and no timpani. There are historical reasons for leaving out those instruments because evidence suggests that Bach did not use them. But that same evidence also shows that he added them later when he had those other instruments, so it’s a choice. Most of this I find very interesting, but the slow movement “Air on a G String” just does not work for me with this sound. But for me, a non-string player, I find it a bit dry.

Robert Haydon Clark

For the whole suite this may be my pick, of all I’ve heard, and I’ll look for more like this in the future that, to my ears, blends the best of the original instrument idea with the advantages of more modern instruments. I have been unable to find any recordings of just single suites that sound as good to me as such complete collections. Also there are not trumpets and timpani here, which I’m finding I like, since Bach originally presented these suites this way.

About the “Air on a G String”

An arrangement of the second movement of the suite by German violinist August Wilhelmj (1845–1908) became known as “Air on the G String”.

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