If you would like assistance purchasing tickets for patrons with disabilities, please call the box office at 415-864-6000.
Arguably more than any other composer, J.S. Bach has had an almost religious power over musicians, challenging them in mind, body, and spirit. This week, world-renowned early music specialist Ton Koopman returns to the San Francisco Symphony to offer a feast of 18th-century delights, including two of the best-loved orchestral works by that most venerated of composers. The program includes a shattering vision of chaos by Bach contemporary Jean-Féry Rebel, and one of the great musical essays by the father of the symphony, Franz Joseph Haydn. San Francisco Symphony concertmaster Alexander Barantschik takes a solo turn in J.S. Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1
All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.
Bach Orchestral Suite No. 4
At A Glance
Chaos, from Les Élémens 1738 | 6 mins
Jean-Féry Rebel, the most famous member of a dynasty of musicians during the French Baroque period, won particular acclaim for his “choreographed symphonies.” The last of them was Les Élémens (The Elements), in which specific instruments and musical gestures represent the traditional building-blocks of the universe—Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. Rebel wrote Le cahos (Chaos) as a standalone piece but decided to append it as an introduction to Les Élémens to depict the formation of the four elements out of primal disarray. LISTEN FOR: In this prologue, we hear the bass instruments portraying the solid but trembling Earth, the flutes murmuring like Water, “small flutes” designating whistling Air, and violins playing spikily as Fire—following the chaotic confusion of the opening measures. Read More —James M. Keller
Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041 ca. 1730 | 15 mins
Orchestral Suite No. 4, BWV 1069 ca. 1730 | 18 mins
Johann Sebastian Bach was renowned in his day as a keyboard virtuoso, but he was also a skilled violinist. Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel recalled of his father: “He completely understood the possibilities of all stringed instruments.” Bach supplied violinists with an abundance of surpassing masterpieces, including the A minor Violin Concerto. While this concerto borrows from the example of Vivaldi and his cohorts, its brilliant interwoven texture proclaims it unmistakably as Bach. Read More
During his time as Music Director of the City of Leipzig in the 1730s, Bach also headed the Collegium Musicum, a renowned musical assemblage of university students, amateurs, and professional instrumentalists. It was for the Collegium that Bach likely composed his four orchestral suites, including the opulent work we hear today. Such suites were popular as entertainment music, particularly in German courts with Francophile leanings. They usually began with an attention-grabbing “French overture,” proceeding through pieces inspired by French court dances. Read More—J.M.K. and Steven Ziegler
Symphony No. 100, Military 1794 | 22 mins
Haydn unveiled his Symphony No. 100 on March 31, 1794—his 62nd birthday—during an extended residency in London. It scored an immense success, partly because its music reflected something of the warlike flavor of its decade, which earned it the nickname Military. LISTEN FOR: This element reaches a peak in the second movement, where Haydn scales up his orchestra with percussion instruments and high-pitched clarinets, and even incorporates an ominous trumpet fanfare. An early reviewer found that it conveyed “what may well be called the hellish roar of war [increasing] to a climax of horrid sublimity!” But the rest of the piece is wonderful too, the theme of the finale proving so charismatic that it was adopted as a popular dance in Britain. Read More—J.M.K.