Bach Festival educates on the composer and showcases his music

Photo Courtesy of The 2019 bach festival

Photo Courtesy of The 2019 bach festival

The 2019 Chico Bach Festival came to a close March 10 with the Bach and Sons organ performance in Harlen Adams Theatre. Dr. Annette Richards and Dr. David Yearsley played pieces from Johann Sebastian Bach as well as his sons.

Richards played the compositions by JS Bach while Yearsley played those by his sons. They played JS Bach’s Fugues and Johann Christian Bach’s Allegretto as a duet “with four hands and some feet.”

The rows of chairs on the Harlen Adams stage filled to the back to hear the profound organ transcriptions of works from the Bach family spanning over 100 years, from 1685 to 1795. Richards and Yearsley also shared some context for each piece, discussing the style and composition and how it correlated with what was happening in Bach and his sons’ individual lives at the time.

The portrayal of the Bach family by Richards and Yearsley was represented in Bach’s organ music, specifically by the “Schübler” chorales, which embody several instruments and voices from his cantatas. They depicted Bach’s many influences—from contemporary French music to German Baroque—and educated the audience on how his influences can be heard in the songs they played.

While a key feature of Bachian music education is the keyboard, mainly the organ, his sons did not compose as much organ music as the world famous organist (as his obituary describes). While the oldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann, is known as one of the greatest organists of his generation, he hardly published any original organ music, despite the skill at improvisation and style inherited from his father. Bach’s other students had a larger impact and body of work (in terms of organ music) than any of Bach’s sons.

The knowledgeable performers shared some of their understanding as they have learned from their prestigious education background. Richards, now a professor and university organist at Cornell, studied at Oxford and obtained her Ph.D. at Stanford. She has rediscovered and reconstructed much of Bach’s collection, as well as edit the complete organ works for Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach with David Yearsley.

Yearsley was educated at Harvard and earned his Ph.D. in Musicology from Stanford. He has written about various topics and teaches Bach and Handel as well as Western Art Music and more at Cornell. He is the only musician ever to win all major prizes at the Bruges Early Music Festival.

The Bach and Sons performance allowed the audience to hear Bach’s powerful and significant organ music while being educated on the composer his family, as well as the influences that went into each song. The 2019 Bach Festival is now passed, however, information about the 2020 Bach Festival can be found at the College of Humanities and Fine Arts.

Mitchell Kret can be reached at [email protected] or @mkret222 on Twitter.