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Trivia / Johann Sebastian Bach

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  • Actor-Inspired Element: Bach tended to work with the same musicians a lot because they, like him, had the same employers, and you can tell which ones he especially admired, because a cantata will show up with e.g. a juicy trombone part. He wrote some of the most florid and difficult trumpet parts of the era, chiefly because he enjoyed for many years the services of one Gottfried Reiche, perhaps the greatest virtuoso practitioner of the natural trumpet. And he loved incorporating unusual and novel instruments into his works, such as the oboe da caccia, a tenor oboe made of metal and curved in the shape of a hunting horn.
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  • Big Name Fan: When Mozart heard a Bach motet for the first time, he said "Now there's music from which you can learn something!" He then studied the score at great length. Beethoven made an Incredibly Lame Pun about Bach: "Not Bach, but Meer should be his name!"Explanation  (In fact, both Mozart and Beethoven began incorporating some fugues in their later works, largely due to becoming acquainted with Bach's music.) Bach's most important Big Name Fan was, however, Felix Mendelssohn, who led a revival of interest in Bach's works in the 19th century, which included arranging and conducting the first performance of the St Matthew Passion to take place since Bach's death nearly 80 years previously.
  • Cowboy BeBop at His Computer:
    • At least two recordings of the Third Brandenburg Concerto supposedly consist of the "First and Second" movements. As most fans know, Bach only wrote First and Third movements (and a placeholder cadenza to stand in for the Second; it is believed that the musicians were supposed to improvise something leading up to it), and the Third Movement is definitely in the style of a Third, not a Second. No prizes for guessing what the so-called "Second Movement" in these recordings actually is.
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    • A widely-cited online article about Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht (the "Coffee Cantata") includes the summary, "Written in 1735, the opera tells the story of a young woman named Aria..." As any actual opera fan knows, "Aria" is not a character's name but the word meaning "a solo number"! (The young woman, named Lieschen, sings an Aria.) This isn't even getting into the fact that operas and cantatas are entirely different musical forms (though to be fair, the cantata blurs the line by executing as an opera).
  • Descended Creator: The first movement of the fifth Brandenburg Concerto turns into a lengthy and highly virtuosic solo for the harpsichord, which would have been played by Bach himself.
  • Genre Adultery: Inverted. Most people encounter Bach's music in the form of his instrumental works, such as the keyboard pieces, the organ works, the violin and/or cello sonatas, or the Brandenburg Concertos. Once they start to explore his music in more depth, they generally encounter the St Matthew Passion and realise that he also wrote some church music for ensemble and choir. Then they find out that he also wrote the St John Passion, and realise that he wrote more church music. Then, if they dig further, they realise that he also wrote three hundred cantatas for everyday use in church, of which two hundred survive and have been recorded many times, as well as about two hundred harmonised chorale settings of Lutheran hymns. At this point, the listener realises that the cantatas and chorales are what Bach spent most of his career writing, and if anything represents this trope, it's the instrumental works.
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  • Troubled Production: At one point in Bach's career, between 1723 and around 1726, he was writing a new cantata every week for performance each Sunday. Imagine writing, rehearsing and performing about half an hour of new music, every week, for a few years.note  Not solo music, either, but music for an entire choir, soloists and a smallish ensemble of musicians which might vary from week to week depending on who's available. To be fair, he sometimes would borrow from himself, adapting a previously composed secular work in whole or part when overburdened or pressed for time. But even such "recycling" involved the meticulous dual task of finding a sacred text that fit the meter of the music while using music that fit the new text stylistically and emotionally. He had a couple of people to help him copy out the music, but that was it. Needless to say, it didn't always go smoothly. One Bach manuscript features a line of music written by one of his copyists which features a mistake in it. This is followed by an ink splash and a pen scratch, and then the music is written out correctly in Bach's own hand. The consensus among scholars is that Bach looked over his copyist's shoulder, spotted the error, clipped the guy around the ear, grabbed the pen and finished the job himself.
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