Recycled Bach

I had the office to myself this morning so I was listening to Essential Classics presented by Rob Cowan on BBC Radio 3 earlier on. During the course of the programme he pointed out that Johann Sebastian Bach was not averse to a bit of recycling and gave the following example. I’m sure that everyone has heard of Bach’s Mass in B Minor (BWV232), which is widely regarded as one of the greatest works ever composed in the entire history of music.

However, although this work is often depicted as a kind of culmination of Bach’s career as a composer and it wasn’t completed until 1749 (the year before Bach’s death), many sections were in fact recycled from much earlier compositions.

For example, give a listen to this. It is the Aria Ach, bleibe doch, mein liebstes Leben from the Cantata Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen (BWV11), often called the Ascension Oratorio, which was first performed in 1735. Apart from the fact that it sets a different text in a different language – the B Minor Mass is a setting of the complete `Ordinary’ of the Latin mass – and there are one or two musical differences here and there, this is instantly recognizable as an earlier incarnation of the sublime Agnus Dei from the B Minor Mass..

Oh, and if you’ve got half an hour to spare you could watch this video of a sparkly and sprightly performance of the entire cantana.

 p.s. It’s Bach’s birthday today: he was born on March 31 1685.



5 Responses to “Recycled Bach”

  1. John Major Says:

    A minor correction: Bach was born on March 21, 1685.

    • John Major Says:

      Unless, of course, that was an April Fool’s joke!

    • telescoper Says:

      March 31 in the Gregorian calendar…

      • Indeed. By the time it was adopted in England, the difference had grown to eleven days. (There was a jump of eleven days on adoption, angering some tenants when some landlords wanted a full month’s rent.)

        As a result of adoption after various events had taken place, the October Revolution was (according to the Gregorian calendar) in November. (This is not the reason why Oktoberfest is (mainly) in September; this change also has the wrong sign.)

  2. The title with “recycled” reminds me of recycling rubbish and hence rubbish in general, compost and so on—and hence an old joke: What did Bach do after he had died? He decomposed.

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