Raphaella SMITS
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Raphaella Smits arranged Johann Sebastian Bach for eight-string guitar.

About the instrument

Eight-stringed guitar by Kolya Panhuyzen, made in 2006.
I was looking for a transparent sonority, which would make it possible to support the performance with the teachings of rhetoric. In the end I would like Bach to speak through the music without the domination of the performer or the instrument.
The choice of wood like maple and Sitka spruce contributes to this, and depends on the knowledge of old instruments made of these materials.
Raphaella Smits

For further information, see: www.panhuyzen.de

Preliminary remarks

The idea of performing Johann Sebastian Bach on the guitar is not as incongruous as would appear at first sight. There are many examples which show how Bach himself designed a single piece to be performed in different arrangements – because, after all, the music is more important than the instrument. A good transcription or a good arrangement will not question
the instrument performing it. It is obvious that – starting with a flute, lute or violin score – I have used the complete range of my eight-stringed Kolya Panhuyzen guitar. The richness of an instrument must serve the music totally without modifying what should be at its heart.
Raphaella Smits


Johann Sebastian Bach possessed a multitude of musical talents – he was a violinist, a harpsichordist, an organist, a conductor and a composer. Many of his successors consider him the greatest composer of all time, the primus inter pares.
Bach put into his music the most profound thoughts and feelings with a melodic and harmonic richness supported by a brilliant architecture. Much more than his predecessors Bach mastered the art of creating a virtual polyphony using broken chords and double stopping and by going from one register to another, entirely without an accompanying bass.
Bach leaves no one unmoved. There is no question that this deeply felt music
reflects the feelings of bereavement with which he had been confronted so often in his life. Perhaps this also explains the recurrence of death as a motif in Bach‘s works.

Anhalt-Cöthen (1717-1723)

It was during his stay in Anhalt-Cöthen, where he had been appointed „Court Kapellmeister and Director of the Prince‘s Chamber Music“ by Prince Leopold, that Bach wrote the Partita for solo flute as well as the Partitas and Sonatas for violin. Leaving Weimar had meant a considerable improvement in his financial
and social standing.
On the artistic side it also marked a turning point. After 14 years in Arnstadt,
Mühlhausen and Weimar, during which he brought the art of the organ to a previously unknown level of excellence, he had to be satisfied with the small organ in the court chapel. Moreover, he found himself in a reformed region, where there was no place for the up-to-date practise of church music. The religious services were hardly ever sung or accompanied by instruments. That is why Bach, for the time being, composed no more church cantatas, concentrating on secular music for concerts and feasts.

In spite of everything Bach was extremely happy at Cöthen. He enjoyed an excellent relationship with Prince Leopold, of 17 very competent musicians.
Bach was about thirty, had a happy marriage to his cousin Barbara Bach and was the father of a small daughter and three sons.
During these five years, he devoted himself freely to the composition of orchestral music (the Brandenburg Concertos, the two Violin Concertos ...), to chamber music (Sonatas and Partitas for flute, violin and viola da gamba with basso continuo, Trio Sonatas ...), to New Year Cantatas and collections for solo instruments (Orgelbüchlein, six Sonatas and Partitas for violin, six Suites for violoncello, a Partita for flute ...).

Bach wrote, probably in 1718 or a little later, the Partita for solo flute (Solo for transverse flute, BWV 1013). It has the usual sequence of dances. Although this work was written for a monodic instrument, the harmonic complexity can be felt. The Courante shows the influence of the Italian masters. Bach knew their style, and even copied some of their works in order to study them. After the Sarabande with its inventive rhythm, Bach ends the Partita with the popular English Bourrée.

The Anhalt-Cöthen years, however, were not unalloyed happiness. When Bach
returned in June 1720 from Karlsbad, where the Prince and his court had spent two months, he learnt that Barbara had died and had already been buried. Her death affected Bach greatly, and it was from this time that the second Partita for violin dates, which from its outset displays a solemn and introverted atmosphere.

The Partita for violin in D minor (Second Partia for solo violin without basso,
BWV 1004) is the second Partita from the Sei Solo - a Violino senza Basso accompagnato. The autograph belonging to Johann Friedrich Bach mentions the date 1720. It contains alternately three partitas and three sonatas.
The crowning of this work is unquestionably the Ciaconna, a sequence of variations on a four-bar theme in the bass. The great harmonic tension is maintained for 257 bars, about half the whole Partita. Bach returns to this old form, and enriches it with the genius of his own inventiveness. The opening of the Allemanda is identical with the final chord of the Ciaconna, 30 minutes later, thus completing the circle. This monumental piece, revered by Schumann, Brahms and so many others, can also be considered as a Tombeau for the sudden death of his wife Barbara.

It is possible that the loss of Barbara reinforced the idea of a return to the Lutheran Office. Perhaps Bach was also nostalgic for the organ and liturgical music.
Bach married for a second time in 1721. Anna Magdalena Wilcke also came from a family of musicians, and she was to become a faithful and zealous collaborator with her husband. In addition to running the household, she also offered her services as a singer and a copyist.

Leipzig (1723-1750)

In the Spring of 1723, Bach moved with his family to Leipzig, a commercial town with a university, expanding culturally. He succeeded Johann Kuhnau as Cantor for the church of St. Thomas and as professor at the church school. Bach was in fact the third choice for the post, Georg Philipp Telemann and Johannes Graupner having declined the appointment before him. His relations with the municipal administration were not of the best, but artistic possibilities were tremendous. Bach truly carried the whole musical life of the town.

In Leipzig he wrote numerous cantatas, great oratorios, motets and partitas. The best known works from this period are the Passions according to St. Matthew and St. John, the Christmas Oratorio, the second part of the Well-tempered Clavier, the B minor Mass, the Magnificat, the Goldberg Variations etc.
He also composed occasionally for the lute. Like the harpsichord, the lute was very popular in this town, where Esaias Reusner had published his Erfreuliche Lautenlust in 1687. Several lutenists lived there, among them Straub and Krebs, two pupils of Bach. Other famous lutenists like Falkenhagen, Kropffganz and above all Weiss often stopped off at the Cantor‘s house during their travels.
In 1740, after Weiss had stayed in Leipzig for about two months, Bach wrote the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro for lute (or harpsichord).

Prelude for Lute or Harpsichord, BWV 998. In contrast to the pieces for solo violoncello, flute or violin – a relatively unexplored genre – the suites for lute had their roots in a very rich tradition.
The Prelude of this work recalls the „style brisé“, which had been adopted by French lutenists in the seventeenth century. The middle section consists of a four-part fugue, which is a da capo fugue, a form which Bach used rarely (except in his late works). The Allegro has the character of an exuberant Italian Corrente, with its long melodic lines and its insistent rhythms in the bass.

At 64, Bach had become blind, but could still complete the Art of Fugue by dictating it to his son-in-law. His death, from a stroke, came a year later.

Jan Evenepoel, July 2008

Translation: Christopher Cartwright and Godwin Stewart

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