Featured Album: Bach | Nashville Public Radio

Featured Album: Bach

Feb 29, 2016

This week, Classical 91.1 is featuring a new album by Nashville oboist Jared Hauser. Hauser is on the faculty of Vanderbilt's Blair School of Music, and other Blair musicians join him on Bach. The album is an exploration of how three composers in the Bach family influenced each other even as they embodied major evolutions in musical style.

Passing Down A Legacy

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Credit Elias Gottlob Haussmann / Wikimedia Commons

The teacher-student relationship has always been an important thread to follow when understanding composers and their work. In the Bach family, Hauser says that takes on an added dimension.

Music had been the family business for several generations even before J.S. Bach was born. His uncles and cousins worked as instrument makers, organists, church musicians and court trumpeters, each passing on musical instruction to their children at home. In the extended family, that primarily took the form of keyboard lessons.

But Johann Sebastian made sure to teach his sons how to write music, too. And given how large his family was – he had twenty children, ten of whom survived to adulthood – the oldest became teachers to their younger siblings, as well.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)
Credit Heinrich E. Winter / Wikimedia Commons

As one of the oldest children in the family, all of Carl Philipp Emanuel’s music training came from his father. There were lessons at home, where he learned about music theory and how to play the keyboard. Once he entered school, C.P.E. also sang in a choir, but even that was directed by his father and he was performing music composed by his father. Even when he studied law at the University of Leipzig, C.P.E. lived at home and continued working as his father's musical assistant.

Johann Christian was the youngest son. Things started similarly for him, with instruction from his father as soon as he was old enough to follow along. But those lessons must have started around the same time the elder Bach started losing his sight; others in the family surely augmented J.C.’s education. What’s more, before J.C.  reached adulthood his father died. Older brother C.P.E. stepped in as J.C.’s guardian and teacher.

Johann Christian Bach (1735-1788)
Credit Thomas Gainsborough / Wikimedia Commons

  Variations On A Family Theme

The younger Bachs’ music does show signs of their father’s influence. Unsurprisingly, Hauser points out, the pieces on this album show that both C.P.E. and J.C. Bach were skilled at writing counterpoint. The practice of intertwining melodies was incredibly popular during the Baroque era and J.S. Bach was perhaps the greatest master of the complex technique. That's especially easy to hear in the album's double concerto, with oboe and violin deftly weaving around each other.

At the same time, the sons were stylistic trailblazers. Their father’s career quite literally marked the end of an era: Many music history textbooks date the end of the Baroque to Bach’s death. In C.P.E.’s music, we hear the emotionally volatile “Sturm and Drang” style that briefly took hold in the mid-18th century. Hauser shows that with a concerto marked by florid, virtuosic passages for the soloist.

By the time J.C. came into maturity, the style of the day had settled into a mannered but clever classicism. A young Mozart was heavily influenced by the youngest Bach, and Hauser points out that the concerto he chose premiered in London during the time Mozart visited J.C. Bach in that city. He likes to think of the piece as possibly being one of the compositions that influenced the style of the composer who would become synonymous with the Classical Era that J.C. Bach helped usher into being.

Getting To Know All Three

As a performer, Jared Hauser says he’s very interested in that evolution of style. He says he prepared for the album in part by studying the music to look for those connecting threads. In one case, Hauser did something the Bachs often did in their composition lessons, copying down and arranging one of J.S. Bach’s concertos himself.

That practice was once a common way for students to really get to understand the inner workings of a composition, and Hauser says it did give him insight into how the music fit together. It was also a practical matter. The Bach concerto cataloged as BWV number 1053 exists in versions for both oboe and harpsichord, but Hauser wanted to play flourishes and passages that only exist in the keyboard iteration.  

Hauser also wanted to understand how the oboe itself changed during the Bachs’ lifetimes. The Baroque oboe that J.S. Bach wrote for was a much more limited instrument than Hauser is used to playing. It has very few keys and a small range. By the time J.C. Bach wrote his compositions, instrument makers had made a number of technological breakthroughs, leading to an oboe much closer to the modern version.

Hauser plays a modern oboe on every track of the album, but he spent some time rehearsing on the Baroque version of the instrument so he could have a sense of what sound and techniques would have been used originally.

Track list for Bach, featuring oboist Jared Hauser:

Johann Sebastian Bach: Concerto in c, BWV 1060 for violin, oboe, strings and continuo

  • with Carolyn Huebl, violin and the Blair Sinfoniette conducted by Robin Fountain

Johann Christian Bach: Quartet in B flat, WB 60 for oboe, violin, viola and cello

  • with members of The Atlantic Ensemble

Johann Sebastian Bach: Concerto in F, BWV 1053 for oboe, strings, and continuo

  • with the Blair Sinfoniette conducted by Robin Fountain

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Concerto in E flat, H. 468 for oboe, strings and continuo

  • with the Blair Sinfoniette conducted by Robin Fountain