The Italianate Bach · At His Best · Part I

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Slobodan Jovanović (Harpsichord)
The Italianate Bach · At His Best

Part I

Bach's Music for Harpsichord in "Italian Style", played by Slobodan Jovanović

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750):
Toccata F sharp Minor, BWV 910 · Fantasia and Fugue A Minor, BWV 944
Sarabande, from the Suite A Major, BWV 832
Concerto in D Minor (after Alessandro Marcello), BWV 974
Toccata G Major, BWV 916 · Toccata D Minor, BWV 913
Capriccio B flat Major, BWV 992 "On the Departure of the Beloved Brother"
Toccata E Minor, BWV 914

Slobodan Jovanović (*1977):
Prelude and Fugue (1996/1998) World Premiere Recording

HD Recording · DDD · Duration: c. 78 Minutes

A recording from the Laurentius Church in Karlsruhe (Germany)


Work(s) & Performance
The Compositions & The Program Concept

Johann Sebastian Bach

The "Italianate" Bach - Bach's music for harpsichord in Italian style

In the footsteps of the "Italian" Johann Sebastian Bach, we may at some point and somewhere on the Internet come across information that he arrived in Rome in September 1776 on a study trip, soon fell ill and that he died there two years later. Stop. Bach died in Rome? 1778? Of course not, never. But, about the traces of which Johann Sebastian Bach are we talking about here? It is actually known that Bach, unlike Handel, was never in Italy. But what is little known is that his grandson (a son of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach) who, at the time, in no unusual way, bore his grandfather's name, was actually in Italy. The young grandson of Bach was a painter and although it would certainly be extremely interesting to learn more about this Johann Sebastian Bach, and thus to learn a little more about Carl Philipp Emanuel's offspring, he is not the man we are dealing with in this program.

Johann Sebastian Bach, composer and virtuoso on harpsichord and organ. Actually, these names only make you think of the man who bears this name like a titan in the history of music; and who composed an incredible amount of good music, also for harpsichord. This Johann Sebastian Bach was never in Italy. But what would have happened if he had had the opportunity to experience Italy and the Italian musical landscape as closely as his grandson and Handel had done? And here, facts speak for themselves when it comes to such a hypothetical question that mobilizes a lot of imagination: he never was in Italy. Nevertheless, a great deal of Italian music in the form of sheet music and scores came into his hands. Especially as a young man, he absorbed the Italian style intensely through the arrangement of some of the concertos by Italian masters such as Vivaldi, Marcello and Torelli - and he had them in mind for a single instrument. He arranged them for harpsichord without any accompaniment (except Vivaldi's famous concerto from his Op.3 for four violins, strings and basso continuo in B minor, which Bach arranged for four harpsichords and strings). And not only his famous so-called "Italian Concerto in F major for harpsichord" is very clearly oriented towards concertante Italian models.

This recording features some harpsichord toccatas by the young virtuoso Bach, which also contain various Italian elements. Also included is Bach's arrangement of the Oboe Concerto in d by Alessandro Marcello for harpsichord, as well as a fugue on a theme by Giuseppe Torelli. Bach not only admired the Italian style, he obviously loved the Italian language. There is a piece by the young Bach, who wrote an elegant title in Italian for this purpose: Capriccio sopra la lontananza del fratello dilettissimo (Capriccio on the departure of the very popular brother) in B flat major. This Capriccio is a musical description of Bach's feelings and worries when his brother left for Sweden, and thus Bach's feelings were lost.

In Bach's Capriccio, an Italianizing musical architecture is built into the work. This is undoubtedly Italian-influenced music, and yet it must be said that such an ornate manner, which Bach passes on here in some places, especially in the first two movements, appears particularly richly and very French-ornamented. We do not find this with an Italian master of the time. Could it be that Bach's later characteristic is already correctly evident here for the first time? Namely the characteristic of bringing French and Italian style together so organically? It is remarkable that Bach in his toccatas - even if they are partly Italian in style and have very concertante characteristics in some sections - begins to add French elements here and there early on. Examples of this are whole sections that are very richly, or rather much more, decorated than some other sections. One may wonder why these sections are decorated in such different ways. On the other hand, it must also be said that we do not have any transcriptions of Bach's toccatas from his own pen, but we are actually dealing here with the transcriptions from his circle of students. The question to which we have no clear answer is whether the authors of these transcriptions wrote down these ornaments more or less to Bach's taste, or whether they did so out of their own impulse. And it is a similar question as with the two movements in the Capriccio in B flat major mentioned above, which are rather French ornamented - and that in the middle of an Italian style. Whereby - here one should not think that Italian masters wanted to see their music unadorned! On the contrary, certainly generous ornamentation also plays a role in Italian music. So it is easily misleading to think that here in some places French style is present or even dominates. The accumulation of ornamentation in the Capriccio, however, is limited to only two movements out of a total of six. Since this work is about programmatic music - Bach has provided each movement with a "programmatic" text, and this is something rare in Bach's opus - it is rather the program that determines the striking ornamentation here. The first movement is about "Schmeichelung der Freunde" (Flattering Friends) and perhaps Bach wants to come closer to the program "Schmeichelung" with trills and mordants con grazia musically. In the second movement, the situation is different again: programmatically, the danger and disaster that may await the brother in the distance is to be expressed. And so the ornamentation in this movement is deeply embedded in the polyphonic, or rather imitative context. With the motif of the "casuum", which is saturated with ornamentation and repeated again and again by all the voices, the affect of nervousness is expressed very well.

Another aspect is added, namely that some toccatas have very strongly ornamented versions, as they appear extremely in the G major toccata and in the second section of the F sharp minor toccata in the transcription by J.G. Walter. One might therefore wonder whether Bach tried to achieve a fusion of the Italian and French styles in his early years. And the fusion of the two styles is what is understood by German style, exactly what Bach later established so completely. In some toccatas, such as the Toccatas in G major and F sharp minor and in the Capriccio in B flat major, we might find an answer: even if these ornate versions did not come directly from Bach, they could indicate that he himself obviously tried to mix the two most important styles of the Baroque - at least as far as ornamentation is concerned. But of course, only later, especially in the second part of his Piano Exercise, which appeared in 1735, does Bach make it clear how well he mastered these two styles and was happy to present them with a publication for comparison. As in a musical legacy, Bach wanted to reveal to the world his knowledge, but perhaps also his inclination to combine the two styles. And there we have his clear presentation of these styles: in the Italian Concerto in F major (Concerto to Italian taste) on the one hand, and the French Overture in B minor (Overture to French taste) on the other.

In the first movement of the Concerto in d, based on the Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra by Alessandro Marcello, Bach works with tonal differences in texture, which is intended to differentiate solo and tutti here. In some places he suggests a strong tutti forte by adding full chords (interestingly, Bach also uses full chords, even in both hands at the same time, in the very concertante first part of the Toccata in G major, where the impression of a tutti is clearly intended). In the second movement of this concerto, in the sequence of bars 4 to 10, Bach takes over Marcello's rhythmically increasing and changing melody of these bars. The increase of the sequence introduced here thus ensures that the solo voice blossoms right at the beginning of the movement, just as in the original. Bach remains faithful to this through the increasingly fascinating ornamentation of the original voice in this movement. The third movement is in two parts. Here, balance and symmetry are in the foreground - perhaps the explanation for the fact that Bach (and how untypical for him) usually dispenses with animated embellishments of the solo voice here. Instead, however, he has clearly enriched the accompaniment with more activity. And I myself could not entirely do without some ornamentation of the solo voice here and there. The Toccata in E minor begins with an opening part that could be felt in two tempos at the same time. There is the stubborn bass on the one hand, which acts alone at the beginning and which appears again and again in the pause of the upper voice. It appears in a regular tempo, while the upper voice floats more vividly and freely each time after this strict bass. In the middle of measure 49 we have a surprise of Vivaldi's kind - a string tremor through a tremolo (it is like a short echo from Bach's never written "seasons", or as if from a more theatrical context). This toccata ends with a fugue that literally brings the musical material just mentioned by Benedetto Marcello for quite a while, before Bach continues this fugue in his own way. And at the end of this work we are blinded by a very wild and hasty moment, which could, however, be a quotation from the work of another Italian; the quasi Scarlatti elements in bars 136-139 are obviously inserted very strategically as a striking climax of the fugue at the end and as a successful surprise.

In Gerber's transcription we find a heading for Bach's Toccata in G major: "Toccata or Concerto". This is a good explanation by a Bach student that this toccata, and significantly more than all the other six toccatas, has the clear concept of a concerto. Divided into three movements (fast - slow - fast), this toccata shows a concertante design. In the first movement there are very clear alternations between solo and tutti. The solos are presented in a very Italian light and violin-like manner, while the tutti passages sometimes show some humorous traits, when, as mentioned above, the whole scales are repeatedly "hammered through" from top to bottom with full chords in both hands. Coincidence or not: Vivaldi, too, has sometimes incorporated an entire scale downwards in a tutti, both in his fast and slow movements, as a feature with a certain message. The second movement is the beautiful and vocal center of this toccata. Over a passacaglia bass, Bach ends this movement with the most beautiful expression of a farewell gesture; a gesture familiar from so many slow movements of the Italians. These filigree and complexly worked out last two bars of this movement are absolutely unique in their theatrical effect. It is like a farewell to oneself, or rather to the whole lyrical and intimate content of this movement, before the last movement continues cheerfully. The fugue at the end of this work, which could indeed be a fugue from the Well-Tempered Clavier, ends abruptly, with runs down and without a cadenza. With such a surprising ending, this fugue at the end seems like an "unfinished" fugue...

Bach ensures the listener's immediate attention at the beginning of the Toccata in D minor with a thoroughly plastic and very agile introduction. The whole thing is reinforced by the often repeated low D in the bass, as well as by an ostinato bass. Something that could very well be a quotation from Louis Couperin's Préludes and Johann Jakob Froberger's Toccatas is unmistakable - it is the emotive and fast run up and then a sudden and harsh fall to the diminished fifth (here diminished fifth over octave down: d1 - G sharp). And from measure 15 on, Bach remains in a certain sense on the traces of the Stylus Fantasticus of the 17th century. This section, which he surprisingly begins with a dissonant sound, leans on the durezze e ligature style of the Italian composers of the late 16th and 17th centuries, which is also wonderfully expressed in Frescobaldi, among others. The bass accompanying figures in the last section of this toccata (bars 244-246) are also interesting, because here we find the comparison to the second movement (Allegro) of Corelli's Sonata No. 10 from Op. 5. However, this is nothing unusual in itself; it is merely the chamber music gene from Corelli's music, but it is also a feature of some of Vivaldi's concertos.

The Fantasia in A minor with its effective chords that are to be arpeggiated is an extremely short, but in return particularly powerful and dazzling musical statement. We find similar arpeggiating sections in his famous Chromatic Fantasy and in other works by Bach and also by his son Wilhelm Friedemann. The fugue is a true moto perpetuo. This theme is by Torelli.

The Toccata in F sharp minor appears musically and technically as the most complex and extensive toccata of all seven. And with its forcefulness it reveals, in addition to his art of the fugue, the comprehensive and profound nature of the work like hardly any other work for harpsichord. The opening of the Toccata alone, with its harmonic and physical developments, seems so vivid and tangible. Harpsichordist Colin Tilney wrote the following about this piece in his own recording of these toccatas: "The exquisite arioso and the final 6/8 fugue are both built on the chromatic descending fourth, a staple of Baroque craftmanship, from the innumerable slow Italian passacaglia-based operatic arias to Bach's own Crucifixus in the B minor Mass". And indeed, the last fugue from this toccata has something "sacred" about it that is found in Italian works of the 17th and 18th century. It was apparently popular at that time, especially in sacred music, to use the penetrating and piercing chromaticism in the thematic head of the fugue. Through Bach's harmonics, such a chromatic fugue gets a very special tension. But there is also something almost "worldly" like in the middle of a sacred context of a famous Venetian.

The Sarabande in A major is indeed what one can call an "Italian simple Sarabande": simple, direct, full-voiced and with broad chords, without the gravitas of a typical French Sarabande (like the Bach Sarabande en Rondeau from the F minor Suite, BWV 823, or his Sarabande from English Suites and from the French Overture; or like the very prominent Sarabande from his second orchestral Suite in B minor).

My Prelude and Fugue (1996/1998) are composed for harpsichord and piano respectively. The Prelude is inspired by Bach's famous art of prelude and is oriented towards the certain "athletic" movement in shorter note values of the constantly moving - musical style, which is typical for many musical forms in the first half of the 18th century, and is particularly "striking" in Bach. The Prelude begins as if it were in the middle of a phrase and continues with a steady motor activity until measure 34. From measure 35 the piece seems to continue with a reprise. From bar 39 a quasi-cadenza is inserted. The last three bars are a return of the perpetuum mobile, which then suddenly ends the piece. These last bars bring the fugue subject in the left hand. In its freitonal characteristics, this piece makes use of further effects such as hand crossing, hidden organ points, latent sequence treatment and variety in working with chords. Fugue is a (winking) demonstration of a free approach to a theme. It contains all twelve chromatic tones and has a certain weight, so that the whole fugue appears extended and massive. And yet there are some quite virtuoso passages to be mastered here. The main elements of a strict fugue are only partially and only suggestively retained (such as exposition of the voices, interlude, theme phases, organ point, narrow lead-in).

The pianists of the world may still not play frequently enough all of these relatively little known compositions by Bach, which were originally composed for the harpsichord. But still, more and more of them are now integrating this music into their repertoires. And indeed, it is quite understandable that they do!

Slobodan Jovanović, 2019
Translated with (free version)

Image of Slobodan Jovanović by Josef-Stefan Kindler. All rights reserved.


lobodan Jovanović was born in 1977 in Pančevo (Serbia). He studied harpsichord and clavichord with Robert Hill and basso continuo with Michael Behringer in Freiburg i. Br. In Karlsruhe he studied fortepiano and chamber music with Kristian Nyquist. He is also trained as a professional organist. Alongside harpsichordists Colin Tilney und Huguette Dreyfus he attended various master classes as a scholarship holder. As well as this he perfected his basso continuo under Jesper Bøje Christensen.
Slobodan Jovanović has appeared in most European countries as a sought after chamber music partner and soloist. He performed as a continuo player with conductors like Reinhard Goebel, Radoslaw Szulc and in several ensembles and orchestras, among them with La Folia, L'arpa festante, Mannheimer Mozartorchester, Nationaltheater-Orchester Mannheim as well as with the Karlsruher Barockorchester. Since several years he is also accompanist (répétiteur) with the International Händel-Akademie in Karlsruhe (Germany).
During the season 2016 und 2017 Jovanović played, among other music, all six Brandenburg Concertos by J.S. Bach in diverse concerts with Philharmonie Baden-Baden - as part of the cooperation with this orchestra.
In 2002 he made his debut on ARS MUSICI label with harpsichord sonatas by Franz Anton Maichelbeck (1702-1750). The "harpsichord live electronic" project, with music from the composer Roland Breitenfeld, was brought out on CD (new works for harpsichord and live electronics) in 2001 with Slobodan Jovanović on harpsichord. Recordings of his own harpsichord compositions followed in 2004.
His own chamber music has been released in 2014 on the label IFO classics (CD audio Album: "Scene In Circle" with the german label IFO classics, performed by Ensemble Serene Destination. IFO 00 222). In July 2016 his second CD with IFO classics has been released (audio album "Images Without Frames", IFO 00 551), this time with harpsichord work by Frescobaldi, Froberger and Louis Couperin, as well with his own cycle for harpsichord Images Without Frames.
As a composer Slobodan Jovanović consistently pursues the idea of fusion of musical styles and tonal languages. In spring 2014 he started a large scale project, Evelasting Opera, in which over the long term various self-contained vocal-instrumental works ("opera") are to be created.

Series & Edition

The concert grand piano is incontestably the king of instruments. We could now wax lyrical about its incomparable dynamics and go into its ability to go from the tenderest of sounds in a soft minor key to the magnificent power of a fortissimo, or I could rhapsodise about its impressive size and elegance. But what makes this instrument really fascinating is its individuality, since each one is unique in itself - created by a master. A concert grand has a life all of its own that a virtuoso can really "get into" and hence bring the work of the composer to life. In our Grand Piano Masters Series, we get into the character and soul of the concert grand piano and experience, during the performance itself, the dialogue between the instrument, the virtuoso and the performance space.

Andreas Otto Grimminger & Josef-Stefan Kindler, K&K Verlagsanstalt

Works, Movements & Tracklist

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750):

1. Toccata F sharp Minor, BWV 910 [11:53]

2. Fantasia and Fugue A Minor, BWV 944 [7:20]

3. Sarabande from the Suite A Major, BWV 832 [1:36]

Concerto in D Minor (after Alessandro Marcello), BWV 974
4. Andante [3:02] ~ 5. Adagio [3:19] ~ 6. Presto [3:27]

7. Toccata G Major, BWV 916 [9:00]

8. Toccata D Minor, BWV 913 [12:11]

Slobodan Jovanović (*1977):

Prelude and Fugue (1996/1998)
World Premiere Recording
9. Prelude [3:17] ~ 10. Fugue [3:56]

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750):

11. Capriccio sopra la lontananza del fratello dilettissimo
B flat Major, BWV 992
"On the Departure of the Beloved Brother"

- Arioso, Adagio. "Ist eine Schmeichelung der Freunde, um denselben von seiner Reise abzuhalten."
- "Ist eine Vorstellung unterschiedlicher Casuum, die ihm in der Fremde könnten vorfallen."
- Adagiosissimo. "Ist ein allgemeines Lamento der Freunde."
- "Allhier kommen die Freunde, weil sie doch sehen, dass es anders nicht sein kann, und nehmen Abschied."
- Allegro poco. Aria del Postiglione
- Fuga all' imitatione della Posta

12. Toccata E Minor, BWV 914 [7:54]

Recorded in the Laurentius Church in Karlsruhe (Germany), September 30 & October 1-4, 2019.
Harpsichord by Susanne Merzdorf, 1997 (after Henri Hemsch, Paris 1754).
With many thanks to Susanne Merzdorf, Ruth Schwarz, Pastor Andreas Rennig and the Laurentius Parish in Karlsruhe (Germany).
With very special thanks to Marion and Wilfried Reuter and sensomess GmbH for their kind support of this release.

Sound Engineer: Andreas Otto Grimminger

Production & Mastering: Andreas Otto Grimminger & Josef-Stefan Kindler

Photography, Artwork & Coverdesign: Josef-Stefan Kindler

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