Despite the fact that they’re numbered consecutively Bach’s three Sonatas for Viola da gamba and Harpsichord BWV 1027 – 1029 weren’t written as a set. In fact in some ways they’re something of a mystery indeed until recently we really knew pretty much nothing about either the circumstances or the date of their composition and the new information that we have about them comes under the heading of "strongly suggestive" rather than "conclusive".
Modern musicological research suggests that all three were written by Bach during his Leipzig period and that he wrote them for the Carl Friedrich Abel the son of Christian Ferdinand Abel the viola da gamba and cello player who had been Bach’s friend and colleague during Bach’s sojourn in Köthen. When Bach moved to Leipzig Abel senior became director of the court orchestra in his stead while his son moved to Leipzig and studied at the Thomasschule under Bach for six years. Nor did Bach’s help to his friend’s son end there it was Bach who recommended Carl Friedrich for his first position as a professional musician as a member of Johann Adolph Hasse’s court orchestra at Dresden where he remained for fifteen years.1
I mentioned above that the gamba sonatas do not form a unified set but this is far less an issue than it would have been with (for example) the suites for cello. Jointly and severally their richness of mood, form, and expressiveness, make for a musically profoundly satisfying triptych. The Sonata in G Major (BWV 1027) is a reworking of his Sonata for two flutes and continuo (BWV 1039) in the gallant style and is characterised by some quite intense contrapuntal exchanges between all three instruments – voices.
The Sonata in D Major (BWV 1028) is a far more virtuosic piece of work, with its opening adagio containing a delightful arioso melody, followed by a lively and exuberant allegro. This is followed by an andante with a delightfully poignant sicialono melody which gives way to the extended harpsichord cadenza of the final movement.
For the Sonata in G minor (BWV 1029) Bach decided upon the three-movement Italian concerto form the first movement has a harpsichord accompaniment that always reminds me strongly of Brandenburg Concerto no. 3 in G Major (BWV 1048). But it’s the adagio that makes this piece for me, in it Bach exploits to the full viola da gamba’s intrinsic tenderness of tone coupled and ability to soar into the musical heavens while the final allegro movement demands a certain amount of virtuosity from the players as they negotiate a multiplicity of themes.
Finally by way of a bonus the last piece of music we hear is transcription from arranged by Paolo Pandolfo of Bach’s Suite Cello No.5 (BWV 1011) and his Suite for Lute BWV 995. Enjoy :-)
Sonatas for viola da gamba and obligato harpsichord. Suite for viola da gamba
Sonata in G major BWV 1027:
1. Adagio 0:01
2. Andante 4:26
3. Allegro ma non tanto 7:57
4. Allegro moderato 10:30
Sonata in D major BWV 1028:
5. [Adagio] 13:24
6. [Allegro] 15:19
7. Andante 18:46
8. Allegro 23:13
Sonata in G minor BWV 1029:
9. Vivace 27:02
10. Adagio 32:19
11. Allegro 38:39
Suite for Viola da gamba in D minor
[Transcription from Suite Cello No.5 BWV 1011 and Suite for Lute BWV 995 (arr. Paolo Pandolfo)]:
12. Prélude 42:06
13. Allemande 48:12
14. Courante 54:08
15. Sarabande 56:28
16. Gavottes I et II 1:00:12
17. Gigue 1:04:21
Paolo Pandolfo [viola da gamba]
Rinaldo Alessandrini [harpsichord]
Video & timings source: J.S. Bach: Sonatas for Viola da gamba and Harpsichord [P.Pandolfo-R.Alessandrini] – YouTube. Published on Oct 23, 2014 by Dramma per musica.
- The friendship between Carl Friedrich Abel and the Bach family continued into the next generation – Abel’s friendship with J.S. Bach’s eleventh son Johann Christian Bach led to the establishment of the famous Bach-Abel concerts during which many of Haydn’s works received their first English performance – mfi. ↩