AN 2 9532 – Bach at the Mendelssohn’s

Bach at the Mendelssohn's

Album information

Sarah Levy (1761–1854) was a salonnière and keyboardist who hosted frequent gatherings of Berlin’s intellectuals, where music played a central role – a rare position of influence for a Jewish woman to hold at the time. Levy had a strong connection to the Bach family; she had studied harpsichord with Johann Sebastian Bach’s eldest son, Wilhem Fridemann, and commissioned works from his other son Carl Philip Emmanuel. Levy often performed works by Johann Sebastian, who was little known in the early 1800s. Levy was the great-aunt of Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847), and her connection to the Bach family would prove vital to both her grandnephew and to Bach’s legacy. Levy gifted a score of the (then) 100-year old Matthäus-Passion (BWV 244) to her dear Felix, and his famously well-received 1829 production is now credited with the “Bach Revival.”

When 19th-century musicians performed Baroque music, they paid little interest to what performance practice norms of the Baroque period might have been and instead used the expressive devices of their day (tempo modification, rubato, and portamento). While they respected works by living composers, it was fair game to “modernize” and alter “Old Bach.” Composer intention, one of the pillars of today’s historically informed performance movement, was disregarded, and numerous 19th-century musicians freely adapted and edited Bach’s works, as evidenced by 19th-century editions of his violin partitas and cello suites. Mendelssohn’s own keyboard accompaniment to Bach’s Chaconne (BWV 1004) demonstrates how continuo might have been realized during this period – elaborate accompaniment with dense and often harmonically surprising chords.

Mendelssohn’s haunting Sonata in F Minor, Op. 4 (1823), originally for violin, was transcribed by many during the 19th century with versions for various instruments including one for the flute. The transcription presented in this recording is my own. J.S. Bach’s Sonata in E Minor, BWV 1034, is one of his most known works for flute, and the bass is figured, meaning the bass line is written out and the keyboardist improvises the right hand. The elegant obligato Sonata in G Minor, BWV 1020, is now attributed to Carl Philip Emmanuel. The famous “Siciliano” from the Sonata in E-flat Major, BWV 1031, has also been attributed to Carl Philip Emmanuel, although neither have a definitive attribution.

Today, Bach is frequently played on 18th-century instruments with a historically informed performance practice, but in guessing how the Romantics would have played this same repertoire, we enter largely unexplored territory. This recording imagines what it might have sounded like when Levy and her flutist husband, Samuel, performed during one of her salons.

© Mika Putterman, 2020

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Mika Putterman
Jory Vinikour
AN 2 9532 – Bach at the Mendelssohn’s
AN 2 9532 – Bach at the Mendelssohn’s

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