Confessions of a Bachophile: Adaptations

In previous posts, we’ve mentioned J.S. Bach and his practice (if not the necessity) of adapting his own works to suit the instrumentation available to him at a particular time. Bach scholars have long felt that the orchestral suites probably fall into this category, and in particular the Second and Third Suites, but for different reasons. It was felt that because of historical tunings, the Second Suite was originally in A minor as opposed to B minor of the adaptation that has come down to us. However, in A minor the solo flute line becomes uncomfortably low. Baroque oboe specialist and Juilliard School faculty member, Gonzalo Ruiz, has concluded that the solo part in A Minor, a bit clumsy for the violin, falls nicely in the oboe’s range, and is compatible with oboe fingering. Along with fellow Juilliard faculty member Monica Huggett, they recorded the four orchestral suites with original tunings and instrumentation. The recording earned them a 2010 Classical Grammy nomination for Best Small Ensemble recording with Huggett’s Ensemble Sonnerie. (Avie 2171) It is an eye-opener, not just for the solo oboe in the Second, but also for the deletion of the familiar trumpets and timpani, added by C.P.E. Bach, in the Third.

They’ve taken their ideas to fortunate audiences of late, notably with the Portland Baroque Orchestra, of which Huggett is artistic director and Ruiz the principle oboe, at the Oregon Bach Festival and earlier in May in Portland.

More on this topic soon…

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