Posts Tagged ‘J.S. Bach’

Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major is Perfect for a Wedding Prelude Selection

J.S. Bach Air on a G String

Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D. Major, Commonly referred to as Air on a G String, makes a great wedding prelude selection.


If you are looking to create a sophisticated wedding or special event there is no better way than by treating your guests to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach is currently attributed to writing at least 1,127 works in his lifetime. Many of these melodies are even recognized by audiences that are not very familiar with classical music. One such tune is the Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D. Major.

Bach’s Air was written sometime between 1717-1723 while he worked as Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen’s Kapellmeister. It is interesting to note that Bach’s new position in the Prince’s court did not come easily. When his previous employer Duke William Ernest of Saxe-Weimar learned of J.S. Bach’s intention of accepting the Kapellmeister position, Bach was imprisoned for not following correct procedures in requesting release from his post.

The years that Bach spent working for Prince Leopold were clearly some of his most prolific and innovative. Aside from the famous Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3, Bach also wrote perhaps his most popular works the six Brandenburg Concertos while in the service of the Prince. This is perhaps because the Prince’s Court position allowed Bach creative latitude, which varied greatly from the stringent requirements of church. The fact that Prince Leopold was a violinist himself and an appreciative patron of the arts also certainly contributed to the innovative work that J.S. Bach produced during this part of his career.

The Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 is often referred to as Air on the G String due to an arrangement for Violin and piano composed in 1871 by the German violinist August Wilhelmj. Wilhelmj transposed the original key of the piece from D Major to C Major and also dropped the pitch down one octave so that it could be performed entirely on the G String of a violin.

This arrangement of the Air is very fitting for prelude music in wedding ceremonies because it is traditionally performed by a duet of piano and violin, which is suitable for almost any sized hall or wedding venue. The melody itself is also very appropriate for a wedding setting due to its slow and graceful tempo and haunting counterpoint. The soulful melodic interplay between the violin and piano creates a great deal of musical tension. This is especially prevalent between the walking bass line of the piano part and the slow sweeping melody maintained by the violin.

For those familiar with the intricacies of early music it is interesting to note the similarities between the counterpoint of this Baroque era work and the rhythmic polyphonies of Italian Renaissance music. No doubt this stems from Bach’s studies of the Italian Masters such as Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, pushing his innovations to new musical heights.

So there is no need to endlessly ponder what music should be performed during your wedding or special event in New York’s Hudson Valley. A great and appropriate choice is Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D. Major, or in other words, Air on a G String.

From Our Hudson House to The Handel House

Front of the Handel House

The Front of the Handel House Museum located at 23 and 25 Brook Street in London England. The white building on the left is #23 where Jimi Hendrix lived and the gray building on the right is #25 where George Frideric Handel Lived from 1723 - 1759 Photo: Eric Ortner

When brides request specific music for their wedding ceremony in the Hudson Valley they often choose the compositions of George Frideric Handel. So when Harmonious Music decided to take a trip to London it was thought that the voyage would not be complete without a visit to the Handel House Museum at 25 Brook Street. Anyone with an interest in music history should make a concerted effort to visit this wonderful treasure.

G. F. Handel moved into the home in 1723 shortly after his appointment as Composer to The Chapel Royal. Prior to  this he had lived as a guest in the homes of some prominent Londoners after immigrating to England in 1712. The Chapel Royal Appointment and its hefty salary of  £400 must have certainly made Handel feel secure enough to find a place of his own.

Handel’s Chapel Royal appointment and overall success in London was largely a result of England’s cultural inferiority complex. At the time many well to do Englishmen went on “Grand Tours” of continental Europe. They brought back artwork and an appreciation of contemporary music along with the belief that England’s artists did not compare to those from abroad. As a result foreign musicians and artisans were given access to greater opportunities in London than they could find on the mainland.

Handel moved into 25 Brook Street soon after it was built. It was constructed by George Barnes along with five other units. The Brook Street neighborhood near Hanover Square was a new hot spot for a growing upper middle class elite. Surprisingly, Handel did not purchase the home outright. Instead he opted to lease the property. This is likely because musicians and composers of the 18th century often needed to remain mobile so that they could move from opera house to opera house.

Visitors to the Handel House Museum are first ushered up to the third floor where they are treated to an informative film over-viewing Handel’s life and achievements. They are then free to wander the painstakingly restored residence starting with a wonderful hearth room, the museum calls the “London Room.” Handel would have used The London Room as a dressing room. You quickly notice the amazing wide plank flooring that appears as if Handel himself certainly must have traversed.

Visitors then meander into Handel’s bedroom complete with a period canopy bed. Although, none of the Handel’s original furniture remains, the Handel House Trust exhaustively researched the records of Handel’s estate to recreate the original appearance as closely as possible.

Nearby visitors find an exhibition room complete with a beautiful reproduction harpsichord. Signs indicate that visitors are forbidden to use it. But it certainly beckoned to our resident keyboard expert. The exhibition room also contained some original manuscripts behind glass. One of which was in the hand of Wolfgang Amedeus Mozart. A sign nearby explained that one of Mozart’s best clients, Baron Gottfried van Swietenwas, an admirer of Handel and requested that Mozart perform his work regularly. Mozart wrote of Handel:

Handel Knows best what produces effect. Where he wants it he strikes like a thunderbolt.

The Handel House Museum clearly made a great effort to make the exhibit interesting for children. There is a computer setup with a keyboard for guests to compose their own music. There are also period costumes sized for children of all ages to adorn. There are also “fun trails” throughout the museum and quizzes to help keep the kids interested in the museum.

Sarah poses next to a reproduction harpsichord in the Handel House Museum

Sarah Lawlor poses in period fashion near a reproduction harpsichord in the Handel House Museum.

Treading down the stairs from the third floor to the second, one quickly notices the amazing wood railings and paneling. The Handel House trust pealed back 28 layers of paint to determine the original appearance of the Georgian era home. A great deal of effort was needed in restoration in part due to the arrogance of CJ Charles who was an art dealer. He chose to turn the residence into a shop and greatly altered the former homes appearance including the removal of the Façade on the first and second floors. The Handel House Trust also holds a lease for neighboring 23 Brook Street, which was the residence of the 20th century musical genius Jimi Hendrix. 23 Brook Street managed to maintain its integrity from the Georgian Era and as a result was used as a model for the restoration of #25.

Because Handel never married and remained celibate for most of his life it is safe to say that the first floor of the home is where the action took place. It was here that Hadel received guests, held closed door rehearsals, and composed his masterpieces. He also used the first floor of his house to sell subscriptions  to his performances and he also sold some of his published music there. Today the area is still used for modern performances of Handel’s Music on another reproduction harpsichord. However, the real treasures of the first floor are the authentic harpsichord from the period of Handel’s lifetime, along with a wonderful painting of Handel.

Handel was actually a serious art collector in his own right as were most of the elite from the Georgian Era. His estate listed hundreds of pieces and it is, believed that his walls would have been covered in artwork. Handel’s collection was auctioned off in 1760, but the contents of the auction sale catalog weren’t published until 1985. His art collection contained 64 engravings, which were reproductions of topographical views, landscapes and famous paintings.  Another 87 pieces of Handel’s collection were paintings. Of those, almost half were landscapes. The rest of his art collection encompassed genre paintings, history paintings, erotica, and biblical histories. There were very few portraits documented in the auction, which leads authorities to believe that the collection may have been incomplete at the time of auction. This is due to the fact that portraits were the most popular form of painting during the Hanoverian period. Unfortunately we only know what happened to a handful of works from Handel’s collection because he did not label it in anyway. Because of this the Handel House Trust has adorned 25 Brook Street’s walls with portraits of Handel’s associates as well as prints that depict the major influences in Handel’s works.

The first floor of 25 Brook street is where Handel composed many of his masterpieces including the three operas Giulio Cesare, Tamerlano and Rodelinda. He also worked in the study to write Music for the Coronation of King George II including Zadok the Priest, which has been performed at every British Royal’s Coronation henceforth. Other manuscripts that poured out of 25 Brook Street’s study included Music for the Royal Fireworks and a slew of Oratorios. Handel is largely credited as being the original master of English Oratorio or in other words  instrumental music with vocals set to religious text. Perhaps Handel’s most famous work written in 25 Brook Street’s study was the Oratorio Messiah.

Harmonious Music regularly performs portions of Water Music at weddings in The Hudson Valley. While wandering the halls of Handel’s personal study we could not shake the sense that Handel’s spirit was emanating from the walls around us and that this visit to his private residence would carry through in our performance of his work back in the United States. The following is a recording of Handel’s Hornpipe from Water Music arranged by Harmonious Music for Piano and Violin.

Handel actually wrote Water Music prior to his tenure on Brook Street. Yet the piece was certainly partly responsible for his ability to naturalize in England in 1727 along with his appointment to the Chapel Royal. King George I was so pleased with the inaugural performance of Water Music that he requested it be performed a second time in its entirety.

When Handel first immigrated to England he was largely known for his mastery of Italian Opera. The first floor of the Museum described in detail Handel’s sometimes turbulent relationships with his male Castrate tenors and the original Prima Donna performers. These star’s prominence did not diminish, even as London’s taste for Italian Opera began to move towards English Oratorio following John Gay’s masterpiece The Beggar’s Opera.

Handel is sometimes remembered for his fiery temperament. However, in order for him to maintain a leadership role with talent such as the diva sopranos Francesa Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni he would have needed a strong explosive will himself. A visit to the Handel House Museum enlightens the patron that many of Handel’s vocal pieces were written for specific performers, and that he needed to take the star performer’s vocal range into account during a work’s initial composition.

Towards the end of his life Handel began to lose his eyesight and thus became dependent on his copyist John C. Smith’s assistance in composition. To correct the problem with his vision Handel sought the expertise of oculist John Taylor. Interestingly Taylor was the same doctor who conducted eye surgery on J.S. Bach. The doctor’s hand left both composers completely blind. Handel survived for eight years following his botched surgery, but Bach was not so lucky.

Due to John Smith’s devotion to Handel in the composer’s twilight years he was bestowed over 100 volumes of Handel’s manuscripts. Smith in turn presented them to King George III and as a result they are still maintained by the British Library. King George III was one of Handel’s biggest fans, and it is safe to say that Handel’s continued popularity can be partially attributed to the King’s musical appreciation.

George Frideric Handel passed away on April 14, 1759. The lease of 25 Brook street was given to Handel’s servant John Du Burk. Records indicate that Du Burk subsequently turned the residence into a boarding house.

Saint Georges Hanover Square

Saint Georges Hanover Square Church in England was the parish that Handel attended regularly. Handel actually helped to fund the installation of the original organ in this church and it is likely that he played it on ocasion. The organ and church are both currently being restored. Photo: Eric Ortner

While at the Handel House we learned that the chapel that Handel attended regularly was located near by. So we decided to stroll over to Saint George’s Hanover Square and see the pipe organ that Handel likely performed on and perhaps even helped fund the creation of. Unfortunately the chapel was closed when we arrived. However a sign made it clear that the structure and organ inside were being extensively renovated. So it has been decided that a return trip to both the Handel House Museum and St. George’s Hanover Square is required.

The museum is well worth a visit for anyone with an appreciation of Baroque music or British history in general. As a musician who routinely performs the work of Handel in New York’s Hudson Valley, I can’t help but believe that I am more inspired to perform a heartfelt rendition of his works now that I’ve visited the master composer’s home.

Sources

Handel House Museum Companion
Jacqueline Riding

Early Music:
Handel as art collector: art, connoisseurshipand taste in Hanoverian Britain

Thomas McGeary

Bach And Handel (Their Influence On Future Composers)
Jeffrey Langlois

Musician’s and Music Lovers
William Foster Apthorp

Emily and Joseph Sarnoski’s Old School Baptist Wedding

Joseph Sarnoski and Emily Kosior stand in front of the Old School Baptist Church in Warwick, NY Photo: Eric Ortner

Joseph Sarnoski and Emily Kosior stand in front of the Old School Baptist Church in Warwick, NY Photo: Eric Ortner

Harmonious Music had the privilege of performing at the wedding ceremony of Emily Kosior and Joseph Sarnoski on June 22nd 2010.  The ceremony was held at the Old School Baptist Meeting House in the Village of Warwick, New York at 10 a.m.

After a half-hour musical prelude, Emily processed to J.S. Bach’s Arioso from Cantata No. 156. This Arioso is a great choice for Brides that are looking for an alternative to Richard Wagner’s Bridal Chorus (Here Comes the Bride). Bach’s Arioso is a very light romantic-sounding piece. The “A” section of the song is relatively short and repeats or loops nicely to accommodate the varying length of processionals found in different sized halls.

Joe and Emily’s wedding ceremony was delightful in part because of its setting. The Old School Baptist Church is a wonderful wedding venue. The lovely old church is owned by the Warwick Historical Society. The Old School Baptist Church is not a grandiose hall by any stretch of the imagination. However, it is a proud testament to the puritanical history of the Hudson Valley and is an excellent and well-preserved example of early American religious architecture. Upon entry to the chapel, one can only contemplate the thousands of souls that have attended services there since the completion of its construction in the spring of 1811. The chapel houses an old electric organ; however, this instrument is not in the best of condition and keyboardists should plan on bringing their own equipment if they plan to perform there. The main seating area was originally designed to hold a congregation of 500 and is flanked by a marvelous choir loft. It is easy to say that the wooden Old School Baptist Church is truly elegant in its simplicity. The building itself is perched on top of a hill and is flanked by a large park-like lawn. Some past weddings held in the Warwick Old School Baptist Church have even included their receptions under a tent on the lush green space in front of the church.

Emily was a beautiful and delightful bride. Her face held a contagious smile for the duration of the wedding ceremony. Congratulations Emily and Joe, and thanks for allowing Harmonious Music to be an important part of your special day!

Hudson River Folk Symphony

The Hudson River Iona Island and Bear Mountain Bridge Photo Eric Ortner

The Hudson River Iona Island and Bear Mountain Bridge Photo Eric Ortner

I am performing in the debut of an original symphonic work composed by Kevin F. Becker tonight October 23rd and tomorrow October 24th. The symphony is entitled The Hudson River Folk Symphony and was written in honor of the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial and the 30th Anniversary of the Hudson Valley Folk Guild.

Kevin did a great job writing an interesting composition, which follows the musical history of the Hudson River. He starts out the first movement with woodwinds and drums playing a sort of tribal introduction representing the early Native Americans and their environment. He then abruptly launches the string section into a Baroque style fugue inspired by the likes of J.S. Bach. This fugue represents the arrival of Europeans into the Hudson Valley.

The second movement examines the music of the 17th and 19th Centuries. The melodies are based on the themes of the Folk songs Yankee Doodle and Hudson River Steam Boat. Kevin has actually informed me that Yankee Doodle was originally written in the Hudson River Valley making it very appropriate for the composition. The chorus enters the mix of the symphony in this movement while singing versus of Yankee Doodle and Hudson River Steam Boat.

The third movement is written as a modern Rondo representing the Hudson River’s industrial era of the 20th century. It has sort of a patriotic bent and honors the importance of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the Hudson Valley region. It is important to note that Kevin is from Hyde Park, NY and it seems that as a result FDR holds a special place in his heart. The third movement also represents great depression utilizing the theme of the song Buddy Can You Spare a Dime. The chorus also holds a key part in the third movement as it sings the melody of My Country Tis of Thee/God Save The Queen with lyrics inspired by FDR.

All and all it’s been a fun experience learning this composition and helping to turn it into a good sounding piece. As you may have realized from reviewing the other content in this blog, I thoroughly enjoy studying music history, so the fact that the symphony has a historical bent interests me greatly. It has also been nice working with a larger ensemble again, as there are 24 performers playing their hearts out in it.

For those that wish to attend the performance will be held in the Cunneen Hackett Cultural Center Theatre in Poughkeepsie, NY and begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12.00 at the door. For more information, visit http://www.folksymphony.com. While you’re in Poughkeepsie, be sure and stroll across the new pedestrian bridge connecting across the River to Highland, the views are worth it.