From Das Musikalische Opfer
Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
Instrument: Flute Sextet
Arranged by Henrik Svitzer
Duration: 10 min.
Carl Philippe Emanuel Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach’s youngest son, was employed from 1740 by Frederick the Great at the Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, near Berlin. The King, an excellent flute player and composer himself, was taught by the greatest flautist of the day, Joachim Quantz (1697-1773). The King valued Quantz highly, and gave him the highest salary and position of all the employers at the court. The King often expressed to C. P. E. Bach his wish that Bach’s father would come and visit Potsdam. At last, in 1747, Sebastian Bach did make the journey to Potsdam, accompanied by his eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach.
One evening at the Sanssouci Palace the King was just about to rehearse with his chamber orchestra, which he did almost every evening. The guest list was brought to him. He put away his flute, ran through the list and immediately announced with enthusiasm to the musicians: "Gentlemen, old Bach has arrived!"
Sebastian Bach was still in his travelling clothes when he was presented to the King who immediately showed him to all Silbermann’s outstanding pianos and harpsichords which the King dearly loved. Many of these magnificent instruments were checked out and approved by the Cantor straight away. J.S. Bach was very famous for his ability to improvise and the next day his Majesty asked Bach if he wanted to prove his reputation. Bach answered “Yes!”. The King gave Bach a difficult fugal theme with a lot of chromatic movements: the Royal Theme or Theme Regium.
To the astonishment of all the listeners Bach began to improvise a fugue in four parts (based on the Royal Theme) in a most glorious way. Then Frederick the Great asked to hear a fugue in six parts, to see just how far such an art could go. Bach succeeded, playing all six voices, thereby gaining the admiration and applause from everyone at the castle. Bach continued to perform on all the keyboards at court and the whole court was deeply impressed with Bach’s great skill and artistry.
The only one who wasn’t impressed was J.S.Bach himself, so when he returned back home to Weimar he explored Frederick the Great’s ‘Royal Theme’ further, composing fugues in three and four parts, added many canonic features and finishing with a six-voice Ricercar (Fugue). For the middle of his contrapuntal masterwork Bach composed one of his best trio sonatas as a special gift to Frederick the Great. He gave the entire collection the title "Musical Offering”, dedicated it to the King and sent it to his court at Potsdam.
For the first time we can now play some of this historical music in an arrangement for flute ensemble. I have several times performed it successfully with my flute ensemble from the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music (DKDM flute ensemble.) in following order:
1. Presentation of the Theme Regium (that is played by the alto flute)
2. The Regi Iussu Et Reliqua Arte Resoluta, a three-part Ricercar.
3. The original trio sonata for flute, violin, cello and harpsichord
4. The six part RICERCAR.
3 C flutes, 1 alto and 2 bass flutes.
About the composer +
Johann Sebastian Bach (31 March 1685 – 28 July 1750) was a German composer and musician of the Baroque period. He enriched established German styles through his skill in counterpoint, harmonic and motivic organisation, and the adaptation of rhythms, forms, and textures from abroad, particularly from Italy and France. Bach's compositions include the Brandenburg Concertos, the Goldberg Variations, the Mass in B minor, two Passions, and over three hundred cantatas of which around two hundred survive. His music is revered for its technical command, artistic beauty, and intellectual depth.
Bach's abilities as an organist were highly respected during his lifetime, although he was not widely recognised as a great composer until a revival of interest and performances of his music in the first half of the 19th century. He is now generally regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time.
Front Cover graphics and layout: Ary Golomb
Engraving: Henrik Svitzer & Ary Golomb
Printed in Copenhagen, Denmark
Copyright © Edition SVITZER