Bach, Mendelssohn and Barber

We had the pleasure of playing at a place called the Zambesi Lodge, today.  We were simply invited to rehearse there, seeing that we have a large ensemble going.  And so we did.

What a lovely venue!  I wish I’d taken pictures… my mind wasn’t on blogging.  With some luck we’ll be invited to play there for weddings and functions – birthday parties etc.

We kicked off with the 3rd Brandenburg concerto.  I’m linking to a youtube rendition to give you an artist’s impression – trust me we don’t sound like that yet!  (also we are not an orchestra but a chamber ensemble with 8 players.)

We then tried out a new piece, by a Barber (no not the kind that cuts your hair).  Somehow, some people find something special in it… myself, frankly, it puts me to sleep and the only thing that keeps me awake is the counting and the fact that due to our third violin not being there today I had to pick up her voice as well as mine and play double-stops all the way.  It’s such a slow piece that even with double-stops it really is no challenge.  Hey, but maybe my taste stinks.  I might warm to the piece yet.

The last piece we played, is the Mendelssohn octet.  A truly gorgeous piece of music, I think I posted a Youtube link before, it reminds in places of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by same composer (though I think it is even better).

The people who own the lodge, spoilt us terribly.  When we arrived there was coffee/tea, a la self-help with urn and all.  When we took our break, there were freshly baked scones, and when we finished, cappucino muffins also fresh from the oven.  The lady had made the word “Welcome” and a whole lot of music notes out of white chocolate, for us to eat.  (Which we didn’t, I sometimes really don’t understand this “maturity” thing.  If it had been a young ensemble of twenty-somethings, not a single choc would have survived.)

In short it was wonderful.










12 thoughts on “Bach, Mendelssohn and Barber

  1. Lovely opportunity. I only know that familiar part of the Octet, and need to listen to it properly for it to register. Like the ‘fairy flitterings’ of the intro to Midsummer Night’s Dream, it isn’t easy at first to get to grips with the melodies going on there.

  2. I adore that piece of Bach, and I mean adore. But not as much as I adore this movement from the 5th Brandenburg. I love the harpsichord cadenza, and in fact that moment when the ensemble crashes back in at the end of it – can’t resist giving a whoop!

    Barber: I wonder if you mean his famous Adagio? I think I first heard it in orchestral form at the London Planetarium when I was a kid – it was a backing track to a display of the night sky.

    • Yes, the Adagio… I was hoping nobody would know. 😉

      We’re also playing “The Old Castle” by Mussorkski, out of “Pictures at an Exhibition”. Now that is a piece I can dream to!

      Yes I also love the 5th Brandenburg. The reason we can only play the third is because we have no winds. At all. It’s the only one of the six that is for strings only (I think there’s an optional harpsichord but once again we don’t really have one.)

  3. Bach’s work is unmitigated brilliance. Bach’s music was never about despair or anger or greed or jealousy; his music was always tender and gentle, child-like even. I know everyone likes to analyze Bach’s work–and there is plenty to study–but I have discovered that it is best to just sit and listen; Bach never wanted to be analyzed, but rather he wanted to speak to your soul through your senses. In my mind, Bach’s music stands apart from the rest. Compared to Bach all other music is my girlfriend singing in the shower–sorry, babe. I love Debussy but compared to Bach he is nails on a chalkboard. Bach is that rare combination of spiritual beauty and the gift of melody. Bach’s brilliance can be summarized by the fact that it would take a composer three or four years to write St Matthew Passion: Bach finished it in weeks. What more need be said about the man to whom Western music owes everything? I cannot forget what Schweitzer said, “everything leads to him.” How so very true, how so very true.


    • It could safely be said that you are a Bach fan? 😉

      You’ll know the Ricercare then. We played that last year, a 6 voices (stringed instruments). Very deep, advanced piece. Possibly the most complex musical structure one ear can still hope to follow.

      Bach’s music was emotional however. His “Chaconne” for solo violin (the last movement from one of his partitas for solo violin) he wrote when he returned from a trip and found his wife had died. Even without knowing this, the piece has incredible gravitas and is both sombre and in places, completely “transfigured” ( I can’t seem to find the correct English term for what I’m trying to say, it’s the effect of surfacing into the light from great depths).

      Also, in the same Bach suite, if you listen to the Gique, there is hardly a more light-hearted piece to be found outside of Mozart.

      Ok after trawling Youtube there’s not a single rendition of the Chaconne that I found, that I like. They all drag the piece all over the show. There’s no need for that, the music itself already says it all.

    • I am a bit more than a fan lol.

      The Ricercar a 6, huh? That’s impressive. Riddles abound.

      I agree Bach is emotional, but it is always joy, faith, and wonder. As you said, he composed a piece in in memory of his wife, but it was a dance, which shows Bach doesn’t do despair well lol.

      Emotive depth? The blue notes?

    • What “blue” notes? Everything was deliberate that Bach wrote.

      I don’t exactly agree on the Chaconne being a dance. Certainly not. People play it too fast and try to make a virtuoso piece out of it and completely miss its depth. If anything it could be called transcendental meditation, but light, joyous? Certainly not. Sure you don’t mean the Gigue?

      Yes, the Ricercare is a very interesting piece, with extremely advanced harmonies. Another piece of his (or set of pieces) that I love to bits is the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue.

      We play quite a few Bach pieces at weddings with the string quartet.

    • “What “blue” notes?”

      I am talking about the inner voices–tenor/alto. It just has a bluesy feel to me.

      “If anything it could be called transcendental meditation, but light, joyous?”

      I don’t think it is light but it is certainly joyous. And, in my opinion, it is a dance of sorts because the chaconne was a popular dance at the time, although I think Bach just borrowed the technical forms, but I can feel the structural features of the dance form. The Chaconne absolutely has depth, but it is a bluesy depth, if you follow. The cheerful is agitated and the despairing is sanguine. That’s my take anyway.

      “We play quite a few Bach pieces at weddings with the string quartet.’

      I bet Bach is pretty popular for string quartet wedding songs?


    • Absolutely magical. Various brides prefer “Air on the G String” to any wedding march, for walking in (doesn’t say much about their dress-maker). Other favourites are “Sheep may safely graze” and “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desire”. His “pop” pieces. I think the same audiences who enjoy those so much might be a bit hard put if made to sit still and listen to the Ricercar – at least, it would thoroughly silence them.


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