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Comparatively Speaking:
An Examination of the Ricercar a 6 by Bach

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Item Type: Sound Recording Duration: 43 min
Event Type: Music Program Origin: KPFA

From a program first broadcast on Jan. 2, 1980, Matthew Holdreith introduces several settings of Johann Sebastian Bach's “Ricercar a 6.” The work, part of Bach’s 1747 collection of canons and fugues “Das Musikalische Opfer” or “The Musical Offering,” was a response to a challenge by Frederick the Great of Prussia, who gave Bach a series of notes and asked him to improvise a six voiced fugue based on this “royal theme.” Although unable to produce more than a three voiced fugue at the time, Bach later took the theme home and worked on it some more, and the result has been much admired, and often arranged, ever since. As such, the “Ricercar a 6” serves as a perfect example for this discussion on polyphonic music and it’s perception. Holdreith plays a number of different recordings of the work, including versions arranged for harpsichord, piano, small ensemble, and, perhaps the best known, Anton Webern’s arrangement for chamber orchestra. With each version, Holdreith encourages the listener to explore the way in which performers, conductors, and composers have attempted to accent the various “voices” in the composition by assigning them to different instruments, or performing the work at various tempos. The comparative analysis is both illuminating and entertaining, and leaves the attentive listener with a much greater appreciation of Bach’s mastery of polyphonic composition.

Musical Selections:  Ricercar a 6 [two excerpts, from “Das Musikalische Opfer, BWV 1079”] (1747) (0:36) / Johann Sebastian Bach -- Ricercar a 3 [from “Das Musikalische Opfer, BWV 1079”] (1747) (4:43) / Johann Sebastian Bach -- Ricercar a 6, for harpsichord [ver. 1] (6:54) -- Ricercar a 6 [ver. 2, arr. by Hermann Scherchen?] (7:32) -- Ricercar a 6 [ver. 3, arr. by Anton Webern] (6:43) -- Ricercar a 6, for piano [ver. 4] (7:36)
Performers:  Herbert Tachezi, harpsichord (Ricercar, ver. 1)
Charles Rosen, piano (Ricercar, ver. 4)
Genre:  Classical Music
Subject:  18th century classical; Canons, fugues, etc.; Canons, fugues, etc. (Harpsichord); Canons, fugues, etc. (Instrumental ensemble); Canons, fugues, etc. (Chamber orchestra), Arranged; Canons, fugues, etc. (Piano), Arranged
People:  Holdreith, Matthew; Bach, Johann Sebastian, 1685-1750; Scherchen, Hermann, 1891-1966 ; Webern, Anton, 1883-1945; Tachezi, Herbert, 1930- ; Rosen, Charles, 1927-
Recording Date:  12/10/1979
First Broadcast Date:  1/2/1980
 
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