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  • Writer's pictureAudax Records

Bach's Masterclass

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

Johannes Pramsohler and Philippe Grisvard place Bach's Six sonatas for violin and obligato harpsichord in a new historical context and offer an intriguing snapshot of how Bach's immediate successors were influenced by his revolutionary sonata model.

© Edouard Brane

At the beginning of this project, the idea was actually to create a kind of counterpart to our album “Bach & Entourage” in which we wanted to present sonatas for violin and obbligato harpsichord from Bach’s milieu. However, during the course of our searches in the libraries of Darmstadt, Leipzig, Brussels, Berlin, Munich, Schwerin, Dresden, Rostock, and Halle, we came across an unexpected abundance of composers who had tried their hand at this new genre: Johann Matthäus Leffloth, Johann Ernst Bach, Christoph Förster, Johann Heinrich Rolle, František Ignác Tůma, and Johann Ludwig Krebs, to name just a few. We likewise looked to see what the versions for harpsichord and violin of the trio sonatas by Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, Johann Kirnberger, and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach offered. It became a mammoth project that gave us a fantastic overview of the genre. The normal scope of a CD was thus already exceeded. We also increasingly realized that Johann Sebastian Bach could not be excluded. However, selecting merely one sonata from the famous six seemed like a sacrilege. Inspired by C. P. E. Bach’s statement, that even a quarter of century after his father’s death, the sonatas had lost none of their modernity, we decided to break up the cycle, which was probably never conceived as such by Bach (there is no complete fair copy in Bach’s hand) and place it in a new context that on the whole ultimately contained sonatas that were composed after Bach, since in our eyes his immediate contemporaries did not provide the quality to hold their own alongside the probable inventor of this ensemble form.

Our approach was, on the one hand, to view the unknown works not as second-rate, but to accord them the same respect that one shows to those by Bach, and, on the other hand, to approach Bach’s sonatas in precisely this context with fresh curiosity – without fear and the overwhelming weight of tradition. This also involved above all a renewed consideration of the tempo indications and time signatures. We placed Bach’s twenty-five movements, and by extension all fifty-seven movements of the present program, in relation to one another in a tempo coordinate system in order to receive, by means of historical sources concerned with the issue, logical tempo relationships that sometimes led to surprising results.

Especially important to us was the work on the three sonatas by Johann Adolph Scheibe. Generally speaking, a poor, pitiable blighter – one-eyed due to an accident with a drill in his father’s workshop and today known only in his role as a critic of Bach. His actually interesting idea of introducing to Germany a culture of discussion based on the models of French and English newspapers unfortunately backfired due to his polemical, sometimes malicious and opinionated character: with his famous criticism of Bach, he thoroughly ruined his reputation even for posterity, although his compositions by all means deserve more attention. Astonishing was the extent to which the slow movements of the three sonatas resembled those by Bach in terms of structure, counterpoint, and the “singability” so praised by C. P. E. Bach, and how precisely Scheibe notated embellishments – exactly one of the points for which he so harshly took Bach to task.

The result is not to be understood as a triple CD and thus not as a never-ending perpetuum mobile of harpsichord and baroque violin, but rather as three recitals to be heard individually, each of which, in its own right, is coherent, offers variety, and presents something new.


Listen/Stream/Download/Buy the album here.

Listen/Stream/Download/Buy the album here.

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