The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is Thanksgiving. Which composer do you most give thanks for? The Ear’s choice is Johann Sebastian Bach – which Wisconsin Public Radio will feature in a special program today from 1 to 3 p.m. Plus, WORT FM is seeking a classical radio host for Monday mornings.

November 28, 2013
7 Comments

ALERT: Do you want to be a broadcaster? WORT FM 89.9 radio host and loyal friend of this blog Rich Samuels writes: “WORT is looking for a volunteer classical music host to cover the Monday morning 5-8 a.m. shift. If any of your readers wish to share their passion for the genre with others via terrestrial radio and the Internet, they should contact WORT’s Sybil Augustine at (608) 256-2001. Some button pushing is required.” 

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Thanksgiving in the U.S.

In past years I have asked which piece of classical music do you think is most appropriate for the day. (And the “Heiligedankgesang” or “Sacred Hymn of Thanksgiving” from the String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132, by Ludwig van Beethoven has often and justifiably been a favorite.)

Or I have asked: Which piece of classical music do you most give thanks for.

But this past year The Ear has had a very rollercoaster ride with lots of emotional up and downs.

And in that year The Composer for All Seasons proved, as he almost always does, to be Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750, below).

Bach1

Sad or happy, quiet or agitated, extroverted or introspective – I always felt Bach has something special to offer me, something to about the situation, something to suit. His emotional range is enormous. He encompasses the universe. And Bach’s taps into the deepest emotion of joy and loss without wearing his heart of his sleeve.

For me, Johann Sebastian Bach is The Big Bang of Western classical music. In the music of Bach, you find not only the Baroque aesthetic, but also the Classical aesthetic, the Romantic aesthetic and even the Modern aesthetic.

Is there any other composer I could listen to, day in and day out, without getting bored of? I love so many of them, including Domenico Scarlatti, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Maurice Ravel. But I doubt any of them has the range, the wearing power and the sheer staying power of Bach.

But you can decide for yourself – and a special program on Bach, which will air from 1 to 3 this afternoon on Wisconsin Public Radio, might help you decide. Sorry, no advance word about the playlist due to pesky and frustrating FCC regulations or something that prohibit advance posting of program playlists. How anti-tech of them! And how unhelpful!

But I am anxious to hear what you think of my choice.

And I am also anxious to hear if you have a choice of your own.

There is so much Bach to choose from, I hardly know which piece of music to choose to link to.

So as I prepare to give tanks to the miracle of Johann Sebastian Bach, I think I will link to something that is well-known but nevertheless never fails to give me consolation I need it, to reach me when I need to be reached. It is Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze” as transcribed for solo piano by Egon Petri, and in a popular YouTube video at the bottom is played superbly by Yoel Eum Son, who performs wonderfully clear voicings, at her final recital of 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

I am that sheep who may safely graze under the watchful eye and protective care of Bach’s music.

So I say: Happy Thanksgiving to Johann Sebastian!


Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS – Chicago pianist Jorge Federico Osorio plays a piano transcription of J.S. Bach by Walter Rummel, whose transcriptions deserve a much wider hearing.

August 2, 2013
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

There is no point being a purist about transcriptions, especially in the Baroque era and Romantic eras.

All the great Baroque composers  — Antonio Vivaldi, Georg Philipp Telemann, George Frideric Handel and especially Johann Sebastian Bach (below) to name a few — borrowed from themselves and from other composers, and always felt free to rearrange the original for a different instrument or a special occasion.

Bach1

Like many piano fans, I know and have heard or even played a lot of Bach transcriptions for the modern piano, from Ferrucio Busoni’s wonderful version of chorale preludes to Alexander Siloti’s and Egon Petri’s version to Wilhelm Kempff and of course the famous version of “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” by Dame Myra Hess (below).

Portrait of Myra Hess, 1950s

But I had never heard of transcriptions of Walter Rummel -– even though the Hyperion label offer a series of Bach piano transcriptions with more than 10 volumes, including a 2-CD set of Walter Rummel’s transcriptions of movements from Bach’s cantatas.

Rummel (below, in 1944) lived from 1887 to 1953 and studied with the virtuosic performer and arranger Leopold Godowsky. Though of German background, he spent most of his career in France and was acclaimed for his playing especially of Debussy, and for his arrangements and transcriptions.

Walter Rummel in 1944

Anyway, I like what I heard and was quite taken with it, and hope you will be too. As with so many of these transcriptions, I suspect it sounds a lot easier to play than it really is.

Anyway, here it is, played by the Chicago pianist Jorge Federico Osorio (below) in a live performance captured by and posted in a YouTube video.

Jorge Federico Osorio

I cannot find a recording of this particular work – although Osorio has recorded three volumes of Mexican music, including the Piano Concerto by Carlos Chavez, for the outstanding  non-profit Cedille Records in Chicago — by Osorio on CD. But the acclaimed pianist Jonathan Plowright has recorded it for the Hyperion series.

What is your favorite piano transcription of Bach? And who plays it?

The Ear wants to hear.

In the mean time, here is the lovely and calmingly thoughtful performance by Jorge Federico Osorio. Tell me if it doesn’t want to make you hear more:


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