• Historical Fiction: Bach at Work

    Your footsteps are loud and hurried as you make your way to the bottom floor of the church. It is just past nine o’clock in the morning but you are still half-asleep; regardless, you force your feet forward, step by step. Why the preacher cannot speak with the composer in person you have no clue—but this task has been given to you, and it gives you something to do. The cloud of your breath is visible by the light of torches on the walls. The long hallway is covered in shadow.

    Approaching the locked door, you knock a few times while trying to catch your breath. If only there was something warm to drink, you think woefully to yourself. You raise your hand to knock on the door again–perhaps the kapellmeister hasn’t heard you–but a gruff voice riddled with impatience intones, “Come in.” Catching another quick breath or two, you enter the room.

    A fire roars in the fireplace. Through the windows, early morning light pierces the room, illuminating the cobwebs which hang from the ceiling. Nestled into the far corner of the room near the fire, aided by mere candle-light, sits the composer. With stacks of paper on one side, a small clavichord on the other, his gaze lifts to you. His brows are set in concentration, and the ghost of a frown is on his face. “What is it?” he inquires, his voice stern but soft like far-away thunder.

    You panic for a moment because you have forgotten the message you were to deliver. This man was like a violin strung too tightly–it seemed at the smallest tension he would snap and you would be injured. Your friend Tobias had recalled one time that the bewigged cantor had cuffed him across the ear in an impatient fury. “All because I got a couple notes wrong copying them out,” you remember him saying with a shrug. Your heart hammers and your voice stammers but the words finally come to your mouth.

    “The preacher wishes to inquire on the progress of your music,” you say in a halting fashion.

    Lifting his eyebrows slightly in a manner of weary exasperation, he leans back and sighs. “I have had the text for not even a day,” he explains. “The music will be ready when it is ready. Try as I may, I cannot work around the clock during all minutes of the day.”

    Taking a moment to gather your courage, you lick your lips nervously. “He says that if it not ready in a satisfactory amount of time, you will be punished,” you inform him, internally preparing to be struck upside the head or yelled at. But he does neither. Taking a sip from a nearby mug—you presume it to be wine—he appears to gather his thoughts. “Today is Wednesday,” he says. “This gives me two days to write music before a hasty rehearsal. Should the preacher require the music sooner, tell him I require the text sooner.” An air of authority, but not arrogance, is present as he speaks these words.

    “But sir–in speaking that way, you may be punished—” you begin but he interrupts.

    “Punished? Punished–in what way?” he asks in the manner of a challenge. Amusement enters the gleam of his dark eyes. “What will the preacher do? Humiliate me in front of the officials? Place tacks upon the keyboard so I cannot practice? Flog me in public?” He shakes his head. “I should not face repercussions due to the delay of someone else,” he concludes. Picking up his quill, he scratches for a minute or two on the parchment before him.

    The fire crackles as he writes while you contemplate his response. The preacher will not like his defiance. “If God can make the world from nothing in an instant, then our cantor can write the cantata at a moment’s notice,” you imagine him saying. You behold this weary man–strained like the strings on a violin but as sharp as the point of a quill—and you reason that the preacher sometimes asks the impossible.

    He looks up after a few moments, as if remembering you are still present. “Will that be all?” he asks. Impatience has left his voice; he is formal and cordial, like the servant one would expect him to be. You incline your head slightly. “No, Herr Bach,” you say, and he continues to write more, his eyes focused on the page before him. His other hand gracefully touches the clavichord, from which a few notes are heard. “On your way, then,” he commands, and you dutifully exit the room, closing the door behind you.

    You footsteps are frantic as you ascend the staircase. You gulp as you prepare to make your way to the preacher and inform him of Bach’s response. I wish I had something warm to drink, you think wearily as you knock on the door to the preacher’s office.

  • For the Love of Early Music: An Appreciation Post

    To those of you who know me, it is common knowledge that I am obsessed with the Baroque Era. But within the past couple years, I have stumbled down the magical rabbit hole of early music; early meaning pre-Baroque era (well before the 1600’s, even 1500’s for that matter!). I am not very knowledgeable in the writing style, nor many composers, nor the rules of writing–but all I can say is that ever since opening my mind and ears, this has been a wonderful experience.

    All of what I’m about to write is pure conjecture on my part; nothing set-in-stone or fact. Early music, to me, means ‘before the Renaissance and Baroque era, either in Medieval or pre-Medieval era’…so around the years between 900-1400 AD. Does music exist from those years? Of course! Have I heard all of it? Of course not! The music from those centuries shares similarities with music written nowadays–some of it is monophonic, simple, effective, and expressive–but of course what do I know of the theory of ages past?

    Almost two years ago, when visiting my college, I was looking through their donation pile of books and compact discs. In the pile was an album called ‘Legends of St. Nicholas,’ and it featured Medieval Chant and Polyphony, sung by Anonymous4 (an a capella group of sopranos and altos consisting of four women). I remember not expecting anything from this music, as I knew nothing of plainchant or early polyphony, therefore my ears were pleasantly surprised as I heard the singing. Very Old English and Latin are the languages which this album contains, and still now I am reading the text over and over and internalizing the music.

    Here is album and all its tracks; do enjoy! Discovering Anonymous4 has led me to more of their hard work and talent. Through them I have heard the music of Hildegard von Bingen (who more will be written on quite soon) and other anonymous composers.

    Now, coming from someone who is obsessed with counterpoint, imitation, fugues, intricate and involved music–what is the appeal, you may ask, behind my fascination with these early pieces of music? Is it spiritually comforting? Musically appealing? Or the fact that the music is (from what I have heard) soothing, expressive, and simple? Granted, Legends is not the only album I have experienced; the album Origin of Fire contains music written by Bingen, and Mass for the End of Time contains music which is haunting, consoling, joyful, and…there is something more profound within the notes. My perspective may be flawed and too wrapped up in my own emotional thoughts–after all, I’m hardly an academic.

    I have no knowledge how one can interpret Medieval music, or plainchant (commonly referred to as ‘Gregorian chant’ but this is incorrect terminology; Early Music Sources elaborates here. I do know that the notation system was called ‘nuemes’ and pitch was a difficult aspect to represent (did they even have instruments which to refer to pitch in those days?) and I know that the music was also learned by rote and purely a capella.

    Another excellent resource for this music is Ensemble Organum lead by Marcel Peres. This all-male choir presents music written as early as the 1100’s (or earlier?) by various composers; although if you were to dive into the style of early writing, this mass by Machaut may not be…the easiest place to begin. Exhilarating music but admittedly strange to my ears!

    My first introduction to Ensemble Organum was an excerpt from the following album. I stumbled on this piece around early 2020 while browsing Youtube, occasionally being riddled with panic and anxiety attacks due to the virus outbreak. This may not be easy on the ears but over time, I found it to be…cathartic, in a strange way; expressing some kind of terror or awe. ‘Dum Esset Salvatore in Monte’

    I know little of the history of this album of the music therein; translations too are difficult to obtain online. This hymn, presented by tenors and basses, ornamented in ways my ears aren’t used to hearing, was the tip of the iceberg. How can four or five men sound like fifty? I never knew that music or singing like this was possible. I attempted, a while ago, to notate this music; as far as I can tell, it is modal and loosely based in our modern c# minor.

    The whole album ‘Compostela ad Vesperas Sancti Iacobi’ contains music in Latin, whose translations I am still trying to discover. The ensemble has presented many albums; ‘Le Chant des Templars’ is a wonderful gem of music whose history I know nothing about. Fascinating, isn’t it, that I’m writing more about what I don’t know than what I do know! The opening ‘Crucem Sanctam’ is not neccesarily joyful, but celebratory–perhaps thinking of a possible victory? This whole album is still new to me, but the lower notes given by the basses are quite powerful. Is this really how monks would have sung this music?

    The power of the unaccompanied human voice is a tool utilized, in an artistic and expressive manner, by composer Hildegard von Bingen. What, in this music, is captivating to my ears and mind? I know little Latin and religion, for me, is sometimes a tricky topic. But there is something admittedly haunting about music such as this.

    And who was, exactly, the miracle to music known as Hildegard von Bingen? She wore, figuratively, many hats and had many talents. She was a nun, a prophet, a composer, a seer, a healer, scientist, herbalist, for starters. Amid all of these things, she lived for a very long time (more than seventy or eighty years, if memory serves) and held a great amount of power and influence for one so humble. Her music is often either for solo voice, a capella ensemble, or found with instrumental accompaniment. Instruments, in those days, may have included some kind of strings as well as a portative organ–or perhaps I only assume this due to the recordings I have heard.

    My first glimpse at the music of Hildegard was through the album Canticles of Ecstasy, recorded by ensemble Sequentia. But another work of hers with significant importance is Ordo Virtutum, one of the first plays on morality. Of course, the version I linked is theatrical and acted out; I do not know if this is historically accurate or merely a matter of artistic interpretation. The piece depicts the struggles of the soul and strive for virtues, amid toiling with the Devil. An interesting aspect of this music is that the Devil is given no sung lines; he can only grunt and shout in a matter of no elegance. The Soul sings amid the Virtues, sometimes a capella but there are moments of instrumental accompaniment as well. Sequentia has also recorded this piece, and I highly recommend it to be listened to.

    Also worthy of recognition is Voice of the Blood, and 11,000 Virgins. I have yet to experience these recordings in full, but…

    There is more to be written on early music by me-more to come in the future! I thank you very much for reading my words.

    Thank you once again reading my blog, and dedicating some time to my website. Your generous financial support would be appreciated!

  • Ten Favorites pieces by J.S. Bach

    He wrote thousands of pieces, lived for almost seventy years, presumably began writing around the age of fourteen, and was endlessly pursuing perfection within his craft. An organist, keyboardist, violinist, cellist, cantankerous cantor, improviser, coffee-drinker, and authority-hater, he would be a revolutionary figure in musical history. Others overshadowed him in his life, but after his death he would become the one to overshadow other musicians from his era, and become a source of divine inspiration for most Western music which came after him.

    So how can I choose just ten pieces? With great difficulty, I admit. I’ve been obsessed with Bach for close to fourteen years now; it all began with E. Power Biggs, Glenn Gould, Andras Schiff, and recordings by Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir. Youtube too was a giant help!

    It depends largely on my mood, as well; some days, all I feel like listening to is his dark, dreary, minor-key works; other days, I am filled with joy and cannot help by listen to his lively, happy pieces. Also, another problem: full pieces (like the whole St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244) or just excerpts?

    Onto the music!

    I. Passacaglia and fugue in C Minor, BWV 582. A moving piece, with hundreds of interpretations to choose from; the depth of expression and exploration from one single theme is astounding. My first hooked-on Bach moment was with Bigg’s legendary recording at Harvard University. Crisp and articulate but….lacking the sensitivity which Richter displays. I digress–I’m here to share music, not debate recordings!

    II. Air in D Major, BWV 1068. An obvious choice, perhaps; is this piece overplayed? It matters not; we hear it more than Bach ever did. Simple music trapped in a binary form, but expressive and beautiful regardless.

    III. The aria Der Ewigkeit saphirnes Haus from his funeral cantata, Laß Fürstin, laß noch einen Strahl. The music for this whole piece was completed merely two days before the event; in a pressured hurry, it seems, Bach creates diamonds where such strain would render me useless. This is one of his most sorrowful, expressive, yet achingly beautiful arias (especially with the rendition of Koopman and Agnew). The instrumentation and the weeping of the gamba motif is poignant and programmatic; even before I knew why this music was written, I could guess that it was to express mourning and loss.

    IV. The Final Contrapunctus from the Art of Fugue, BWV 1080. The Canadian Brass was my first introduction to this work; I didn’t know what a ‘contrapunctus’ was, nor a ‘fugue’, nor why brass was playing Baroque music. But there is something wonderful about the playing here, and how it is much different from a harpsichord performance, or an organ performance of this piece; as impressive as it is for one musician to play this movement, somehow I feel it was meant for more than one performer. The ‘ending’ of this fugue still has the affect of giving goosebumps.

    V. Sarabande in C Minor, BWV 1011. In these suites for solo violin-cello, Bach creates a new world; from the opening in G major to the closing in D major, we are immersed in a realm of sound, expression, and a varying range of emotions. Almost all other movements in all six suites contain multiple-voice writing (giant chords or fugal writing, for example) but in this movement, the piece may not be so much about music but silence. Harmonically tricky, but emotionally sincere and sombre–what is Bach trying to convey here? This is the only solo-voice movement out of all the cello suites, and there must be a reason.

    VI. The opening chorus to cantata 41, ‘Jesu, nun Sei Gepreiset. At the time of listening to the cantatas with Leusink, I had not had much experience with Bach’s church music (aside from the great Passions and Christmas Oratorio). This is exciting, exhilarating music, full of such joy; the opening drums and trumpets surpass even the opening of the Christmas Oratorio or Easter Oratorio. Not to mention the lifting, brief repose of the middle section before continuing onto a well-crafted fugue–Bach does it all here!

    V. This tenor aria from the St. John Passion, BWV 245: Erwäge, wie sein blutgefärbter Rücken. Gardiner’s was my first introduction to this massive Passion, which tells the story of the trial, crucifixion, and death of Jesus. I did not care, at the time, of the story; what was more important to me was the music. In this aria, I get this feeling of elegance but also something related to trepidation. This is one of Bach’s most difficult arias for tenor.

    VI. The opening movement to the sixth Brandenburg Concerto in B Flat, BWV 1051. I find, for some reason, the music in duller keys (in terms of Baroque tuning, like c major/minor, B flat, E flat, F, for example) to be more easily listened to than brighter keys (like D major, E major, G major, etc.). This opening movement is brimming with energy and joy; the call-and- response moments are blissful, and the modulation to minor is simply wonderful. Curious that for someone who loved the strings so much as Bach did that he only wrote two concerti out of this collection for all strings.

    VII. The organ prelude Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele BWV 654. Sublime, emotional, moving, and deeply religious–in this piece, Bach presents the motif for the hymn-melody in an ornamented fashion. I’m not sure if it was Schubert or Schumann, but one of those composers heard Felix Mendelssohn perform it at a concert, and they said that if all possessions were to be taken from them in life, then the one they would treasure the most would be this chorale prelude. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but…what a lovely sentiment!

    VIII. The Largo in F Minor, BWV 1018. More dreary gloom for your Monday morning; I apologize but this is too beautiful not to share. Upon receiving the Complete Edition of Bach in 2012, this set of accompanied violin sonatas (BWV 1014-1023) astounded me. I am deeply moved by this opening music; the best thing about Bach in the minor key is that when he modulates to the major, it is like the sun appearing–briefly and brilliantly–from behind the storm clouds, from which more rain is meant to fall. The sorrow and grief in this piece is tangible, but of course it is wrapped in Bach’s usual mastery of harmony and counterpoint. I enjoy very much the way it ends on a ‘question chord’ (c major, the dominant of F minor). Another honorable mention for violin music is this spurious sonata in four movements, sometimes attributed to Pisendel–but I disagree.

    IX. Prelude in D Major, BWV 1012. Need I say more about this joyful, exciting movement? To open the concluding suite in a series of cello suites in this fantastic fashion is a great achievement. One feels in jubilation when listening to this music; those sequences around the three-minute mark seem to soar into the heavens before descending back to the bottom of the instrument; it’s like Bach is pulling out all the stops on an instrument which has no stops (unless we’re talking about double-stops, which is a string technique). Compositional mastery on a single instrument like this is only in competition, I feel, with the d minor chaconne from this second violin partita in D minor, BWV 1004.

    X. Finally, one of my favorite pieces (which you can all probably guess at this point!)–the pinnacle of fugal writing, the Mount Everest of counterpoint and Baroque musical literature: the great Fugue in E Minor, BWV 548, the ‘Wedge.’ This is the performance that had me hooked all those years ago, that made me want to be an organist and dedicate mt life, time, and sanity to learning that fugue. And being obsessed with Bach. Maybe I’m biased because I have such a past with the fugue (performing it, yes, but not very well!) and I know it isn’t one of Bach’s more ‘traditional and strict’ fugues (like BWV 542, 541, 546, or 564 to name a few!) but its freedom is what gives it such an attraction, I think. I could listen to this fugue all day and not grow tired of it!

    Thank you all so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed this post. More writing will be available in the days to come!

    *With your generous support, I may be able to turn writing about Baroque music into a full-time activity! Thank you for allowing me to share my passion with you all.*

  • My Performances of Organ Music

    While I’m a fanatic about Baroque music, I’ll be the first to admit that I am not, and have never really been, an excellent performer. ‘Amateur’ is the word which properly fits the description of my passion and talents, although some would say I’m growing in terms of performance skills.

    My great love for the pipe organ comes from, oddly enough, a film having nothing to do with Bach, the Baroque era, or anything of the sort. I was captured and and transformed into an insane music-lover through Hans Zimmer’s music in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Everything about the scene–the visual aspect of the storm, the eerie gloom of the cabin of the Flying Dutchman where Davy Jones played his organ with his tentacles, and of course the music itself–was enough turn a shy, average teenager like me into a madman overnight.

    Well, not really overnight. It was maybe a year or so between seeing the film, having it stuck in my head, and plucking out the notes on a Casio keyboard my father found at the dump (still in great condition! Thank you, whoever decided you didn’t want it; your donation has been appreciated a thousandfold) to actually getting organ lessons. But starting those organ lessons was such a new thing; after all, what did I know about music?

    Not much. I thought that playing by ear was all you needed; I’d had some lessons on saxophone and guitar in middle school, but I couldn’t read music! Music is as much internal as external–and this is a lesson I’m still trying to learn. I’m not sure if this is an important point, but I can still play by ear, but it’s more important to know how to read music fluently.

    My first teacher, Sean Fleming, was a wonderfully patient and kind human being. I however may have not been the best student; I wanted to skip ‘the boring material’ (like necessary building-blocks; scales, for example) and I only wanted to play the music I loved: Bach’s great organ works. And who knows? Maybe if I’d applied some self-discipline and had the knowledge which I do now about learning music, I’d have learned all the music I desired by now.

    I did not know how to read music, and I also didn’t know how to perform music. My advice is this: you cannot rely on muscle-memory for performances–you must know how to read music, and to think on the spot! This particular skill is useful though may be frightening to apply. Knowing how to properly play and read music is an invaluable and priceless skill!

    So, onto the performances–what few there are which have been recorded. My first and earliest obsession with the music of Bach was great fugue in E minor, BWV 548, the ‘Wedge.’ It was, to me, the pinnacle–the alpha and omega–of music. not just Bach’s music, and not just Baroque music (what little I knew of it), but all music. Sighing internally at these memories of obsession, I realize now what a delusional fellow I was.

    So, I tried to learn the fugue. It was all that consumed my mental energy as a junior in high school. Who needs friends and hobbies when your mind is already concerned with learning a fugue? I did learn it, eventually; on my keyboard at home, I would record the pedal-part (and learning to count the measures before the part entered again was a challenge) while I performed the manual-part myself.

    Any yet, could I play this piece on a real pipe organ? In front of an audience? No, because my nerves got in the way and because I wasn’t as good of a performer as I thought myself to be. The Pipe Organ Encounter in 2013 was a great learning experience for me in more ways than one. Being around students who were my age or younger and better performers than myself could have lead to jealousy but instead I admired them greatly. The final concert of the week was held at St. Luke’s Cathedrral in Portland, Maine, where I played an early prelude and fugue to the best of my abilities…and the Wedge fugue was a sorry attempt–no mincing of words here.

    And what was to blame for such a performance? My shoes? It was my first time learning to perform in organ shoes. Was it the audience? Or was it the fact that my nerves got in the way and I had no proper experience for public performance as well as not knowing the music as well as I thought I should? When it comes to poor performances, it is humbling to admit that, unless in extreme circumstances, it just might be your fault. Not in a malicious way, of course—as much as I’ve learned to be hard on myself as a musician, and to challenge myself, it is more important to learn how to be kind and forgiving to yourself as a musician. We’re not perfect; strive for perfection, by all means, and do your best to achieve it…but accept when things are not perfect.

    During college, I had to give up playing the organ (with the exception of Sunday services, where I’d travel two hours to my home county on multiple weekends for many years) and instead focused on learning the harpsichord and focusing on composition. I am glad that I chose to study harpsichord over organ, however, despite my love for both instruments.

    More videos, of course, have been managed in the past years. A gigue from an early keyboard suite, an attempt at one of Bach’s most lovely chorale preludes (later re-recorded recently), a recording of a Pachelbel prelude over a lovely, well-known melody, and of course just a simple demonstration with miscellaneous music. I do love the pipe organ very much, but its repertoire is greater and more difficult than that of the harpsichord; one of my earliest, fanatical dreams was to record all of Bach’s organ music.

    Nevertheless, I’ve stuck with recording and learning music on the organ to the best o my abilities. A small prelude; Bach’s chorale ‘Liebster Jesu, Wir Sind Hier’–a favorite of mine, and quite recommended to organists who are just starting out! And yes, I’ve recorded this one again as well.

    With more difficulty, instead of just learning organ music, why not try writing it? Granted, writing any music for your primary instrument is a necessary skill, and highly-recommended activity. It doesn’t have to be great or fantastic stuff–don’t pressure yourself! This performance is just an excerpt of my f minor keyboard suite; and this small piece is just a solo for keyboard.

    In this more recent video I share some (hopefully?) wise words regarding learning and performing music. Granted, some terms and conditions may apply to other instruments or music in general!

    And finally I’ll share this video, a performance of a well-known work by Buxtehude, an instructor of J.S. Bach. I had a good deal of fun learning this passacaglia, and it was a challenge–but then end crowns the work!

    Thank you, as always, for reading. I appreciate your support immensely!

  • Advice for Composers


    While I’m an amateur composer, and still learning constantly, I feel it would be good to share my advice. Music composition is an ever-changing field, and music itself is evolving over time and there are many online communities dedicated to certain niches of writing. Here is some advice, tips, and more importantly–questions you should ask yourself as a composer.

    1. What do you want to write, and why?
    2. Where do you see yourself and your future in music? As unrealistic as it may seem, think about your dream involving music.
    3. Who are musicians or composers who you respect, and why?
    4. What do you find to be moving or effective in music, and why?
    5. Do I need to learn a primary instrument? If I could learn any instrument, what would it be–and why?

    Those are questions which may seem odd at first, but they are actually quite necessary to answer. I’ll do my best to answer these questions myself (as a way, perhaps, for you the reader to know me better!) but my answers shouldn’t be taken as what you should do, but what you can do.

    For the first question (1), I think that terms like ‘dream’ and ‘passion’ may be seen as over-used or sappy. What is effective and beautiful to each of us as individuals varies from person to person, so I cannot speak for everyone–but if you find some music that moves you, and makes you want to know mere about it an experiment with it—then, excellent! You’ve been hooked. Almost all of us have a light-bulb moment when it comes to music—we hear something and it ignites something in us. If you’ve found your passion, let nothing get in the way of immersing yourself into it further and further.

    For me, I’d hear Vivaldi or Bach on the radio growing up (my parents were very generous in keeping the radio always on the Classical station here in New England) and eventually it just found its way into my head. Thanks to the Internet and Youtube, I’d find videos and just listen as much as I could. I knew what I wanted to write—but of course, being as young as I was, I didn’t have the skills necessary to properly articulate or write the notes I had in my head. To this day, honestly, it’s still a struggle!

    (1a) If you know what you love, stop at nothing to overflow your ears and brain with the music. Read books, scores, any form of literature either on the music or the composers. (1b) If you don’t want to involve yourself in something musical which you don’t enjoy, and you don’t have to do it, then don’t do it. Now, this advice is sometimes seen as ‘close-minded’ and you are ‘limiting yourself and your horizons.’ That notion is disagreeable to me. I only speak from personal experience, but in college when I was exposed to a lot of modern music, I didn’t enjoy it. Granted, I now can appreciate composers like Schoenberg, Pärt, Webern, and others–but frankly, most modern composition isn’t my cup of tea. As important as it is to identify what you love and why, it is also important to identify what you do not want to be involved in, and why. Writing something for a theory class so you can pass it is necessary, of course, but I understand what burnout is. Try not to get overwhelmed–but don’t be discouraged!

    (2) Ah, the future. Here and gone before we know it. Admittedly, my dream was not to be Bach but be someone like Bach. I wanted to have a nice church position, accompany the choir, play great organs, get paid to perform, write music, and teach lessons. Now, obviously reality today is not the reality of the 1700’s. Many of you who are in college or entering college may have to support yourselves doing non-musical work just to pay the bills and get by. It’s draining, taxing, and frankly I didn’t have the best of times working retail to get myself through college–if you do, the excellent! If you don’t, then I completely understand.

    It’s important to be patient with yourself and the world. (2a) Getting your music ‘out there’ is a difficult thing. Do you want your music noticed and performed? Published and recognized? I still have no clear answer for how this is done–obviously in some cases it depends on what style you’re writing. It took my years to feel like I was making a name for myself on Youtube because not many folks are interested in Baroque music.

    *If you’re in college, try connecting with other musicians! Not only for social reasons but also musical reasons. I was shy in school and lost a lot of opportunities to get people to play my music (except for one occasion).

    (2b) Don’t shove your music down the throats of others, take rejection personally, or ever tell other composers what they should be writing! If you want to see more music of your passion in the world, then involve yourself in communities (online or offline) within the style. “Be the change you wish to see in the world” is what I think to be a very good mantra. Stand up for yourself without being haughty or too self-centered. But it’s also important to remember that in the world today, writing music and being recognized is 80% promotion and 20% creativity. If you’ve got the music written, upload it online! Youtube, Soundcloud, Sheet Music Plus, Facebook, and other sites are there to help you. But it’s also important to not be a walking, talking, living, breathing advertisement. I think most of us dislike ads.

    Skipping ahead to point 5: Knowing an instrument will make your skills at composing music much better. Granted, there were famous composers who didn’t know how to play an instrument and still wrote music (Stavinsky, I think, was non-instrumentalist). However, seeing as my interest and passion is the Baroque era, I took into account that all or most composers played an instrument of some kind. Either you’ll write primarily for that instrument, or learn to write prolifically for other instruments. In today’s economy, if you have more than one skill (especially in music!) then you’ll have more opportunities to get you and your music out there in the real world. I’ve played piano, harpsichord, and pipe organ for a decade, and the music I’ve learned has helped me become a better composer, but also more importantly a better musician! How? By getting out of my comfort zone and playing hymns each Sunday, by accompanying a choir, by playing various weddings, funerals, and other such events. Am I the world’s best keyboardist? Absolutely not! It’s important too to admit your faults as well as your successes.

    Perhaps my experience as a church musician has been incredibly fortunate (but also reflective of the past; some of the most noted Baroque composers worked for the church as organists, but frankly any kind of holy employment was a necessity in those days!) but most people, I find, are willing to listen to your music in public settings. Plus, if you play an instrument and want performance practice, try putting on benefit concerts or recitals! Include repertoire you’ve either written or studied.

    Advice for points 3 and 4

    What performers or composers do you enjoy–and why? Just like knowing music theory is important (spotty advice; it depends on your genre! Not everything relates to traditional classical theory, and classical theory does not relate to other genres) it’s important to watch other performers and composers. I find as an instrumentalist, watching other harpsichordists on Youtube gives me a greater passion to become a better performer. I admire greatly other composers who are alive and well who are involved in Baroque writing.

    (4) While music is subjective, what is moving and emotional to us, and individuals, can be a rock-solid fact. What do you want to emulate and explore? Now–it’s important to never copy a composer’s work. You can quote and be inspired by, but never steal. I knew I wanted to write Baroque music because it affected me deeply (and still does!) on an emotional level and I knew it was what I wanted to dedicate my life to. Either performing or writing (or both, preferably!).

    To paraphrase all of my advice, think of the following as steps:

    1) Identify what you love in music, and why

    2) Learn as much about it as possible, and don’t stop writing or experimenting!

    3) Be patient with yourself; learning music is hard and requires a great deal of self-discipline, and discipline in general. You won’t be a master from the start, but it’s important to recognize this fact and never put too much pressure on yourself. Progression will come naturally, in time. But you do have to be diligent and strict with routine.

    4) Know when to take a break for the sake of your mental health! Writing and playing music should be fun and not a chore–however a job is a job. If you have to perform music for a living, then it’s what you have to do. Work first, then play–but if you’re too burnt out to write music for your own enjoyment, then pushing yourself into stress isn’t a good idea. Be kind to yourself.

    5) Never stop challenging yourself or trying to improve. Also, promote your music in the real world as much as you can, to whatever degree! Also, professionals are here to help you. Either they are professors in college or musicians who have a website, it never hurts to reach out and inquire for advice or critique.

    6) Learn to be a role model, and learn to not only take critique, but also provide constructive criticism. Never resort to personal attacks or judgement. Try your best to teach others what you know of your craft–the best teachers don’t have all the answers but give you more questions. (Well…maybe that was a stupid statement–but there’s a general gist I’m trying to convey which is lost in the moment).

    So, that’s all my experience and advice which I can offer to other composers! I hope this has been helpful for you to read.

    Thank you very much for reading! Your support is much appreciated.

  • Favorite Baroque Composers

    I’d sound like a chicken if I were to ramble on about my number-one favorite composer. Truth be told and without exaggeration, I spent close to a decade enveloped in the works of the bewigged cantor. I heard it all (or as much that has been discovered and recorded), from cantatas to organ works to keyboard works to lute suites. He was my first introduction to the world of Baroque music, and it was like pulling teeth or lancing eyes to get me to out of my comfort zone with him, and discover other composers by thinking outside the Bach’s.

    As always, I appreciate you for reading! You may donate to help grow my website here.

    And I’m very glad that other composers from the Baroque era have been in my brain and ears for the past thirteen, perhaps fourteen years. I’m not certain if I’m going to ramble on and list random composers and add a few links, or create separate blocks of text for those composers–bear with me. Now, while I love that talented organist and master of fugue and counterpoint, his music is so difficult to play and sometimes listen to–he seems to adhere to the rules and guidelines and form rather than reaching other means of expression (think of Vivaldi or Lully, for example, in terms of lyrical freedom). There’s nothing wrong with rigid counterpoint and strict canon but sometimes it leaves the ear and mind wanting more.

    Without further ado, here is a wall of text regarding other Baroque composers I highly recommend you take a listen to; at one point or another, I’ve heard their music and it has struck me. I used to think our wine-loving, tobacco-smoking cembalist was king of the Baroque, but now the fog has been lifted and I see that all Baroque is valid, beautiful, moving, and exquisite.

    I enjoy the music (either full works, or other small pieces I’ve stumbled across over the years) of, quite honestly, most composers listed in this massive and helpful Wikipedia article. Now, the Baroque era was approximately (give or take?) 150 years, from 1600-1750, with Monteverdi writing the first great examples of Baroque writing, although I always found him to be the cross-over between the Renaissance and Baroque era. Oddly enough at times I also find early Baroque music more enjoyable than the rigidness of Bach and Telemann and Handel. Now, some composers in my great list I’ve only heard a few pieces by, but you get the idea.

    Claudio Monteveri, Henry Purcell, Marin Marais, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi, George Frederick Handel, Jan-Dismas Zelenka, Carl Abel, Ludwig Krebs, Tobias Krebs, Barbara Strozzi, Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Sebastian Duron, Alessandro Scarlatti, Francesco Geminiani, Jean Cambefort, Michel Lambert, Richard De Lalande, Francois Couperin, Louis Couperin, William Byrd, Gerolamo Frescobaldi, George Philip Telemann, Silvius Leopold Weiss, Domenico Scarlatti, Charles Avison, John Jenkins, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Giuseppe dall’Abaco, Dieterich Buxtehude, Johan Helmich Roman, Johann David Heinichen, Wilhelmine v. Bayreuth, Heinrich Schütz, Johann Adams Reincken, Samuel Scheidt, Johann Hermann Schein, Andrea Zani, Nicolaus Bruhns, Georg Böhm, Alessandro and Benedetto Marcello, Thomaso Albinoni, Francesco Cavalli, Johann Paul von Westhoff, Francesco Durante, Vincent Lübeck, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, Arcangelo Corelli, Giovanni Battiasta Pergolesi, Johann Joseph Fux, Johann Pachelbel, Johann Kuhnau, and finally perhaps Johann Georg Pisendel. I cannot and do not wish to count how many names I have copied and pasted into this wall of text, but there you have it!

    Now, onto the sharing of more music in as much order as I can manage.

    Claudio Monteverdi could be seen as a founder of Baroque music, having created and released the first Baroque opera L’Orfeo in 1603. His giant work Vespers was published (or written?) in 1610, and it is on a grand scale of instrumentation, expressive writing, and overall creation that one cannot help but be stunned when listening to it. His vocal writing style is quite unique and powerful, and the various moods presented in this sacred work are multiple. The Lament of the Nymph too is expressive and genius; the descending bass subject in the nymph’s aria has been used by many composers. Monteverdi wrote many vocal works, ranging from motets to madrigals and operas, to admit I am not as familiar with him as I should be. His contemporaries included Carlo Gesualdo who achieved his fame due to his harmonic reach in music, as well as the famous murder of his wife and her lover. Orlando de Lassus…my apologies–I’d thought him to be Italian, but he lived in Germany. He did write music in Latin, Italian, German, and French however.

    Henry Purcell was an English composer and keyboardist. I think his best-known vocal works for choir and ensemble are King Aurthur and Dido and Anaeas. From the former, this chilling aria known as the ‘Cold Song’ employs the use of text-painting, which is where the music reflects a given subject–in this case, the freezing cold. The harmonies rise chromatically, with the violins scratching and shivering, as does the voice of the bass. Anyone who has experienced winter can attest to the truth of this music; the ultimate irony is that Purcell himself died a cold death, having been locked from his house one winter night.

    He wrote sacred music, instrumental music, keyboard music, music for viols, sonatas in four parts, and secular vocal music as well. <<< This is seriously the best recording/performance of Dido which I’ve ever heard! Then again, all of Voices of Music has gems to offer.

    John Jenkins I believe was contemporary to Purcell; he too wrote exquisite music for viols. John Dowland has previously been one of the more famous English composers, along with William Byrd.

    In Italy, aside from Monteverdi–the giant of vocal music–the middle of that century would see the rise of great instrumentalists such as Vivaldi (my favorite concerto by him!), Albinoni, and the brothers Marcello, Alessandro and Benedetto (one was a lawyer who wrote music on the side, and the other was a musician in need of a lawyer). Sebastian Bach arranged the music of Vivaldi, Albinoni, and both Marcello brothers, either for organ or harpsichord. Another great writer was Corelli as well.

    May I pause for a moment and write music more about Vivaldi? After Bach, I think he is my favorite composer from the Era. When I think about my history with Baroque music, I know that Bach’s organ work (thank you, E. Power Biggs!) were deeply moving to me, but the g minor concerto, RV 156 was one of the first concerti to be stuck in my head after hearing it on the radio sporadically.

    The D Major Gloria, RV 589 will forever be one of my all-time favorite vocal works. Vivaldi’s exploration of harmony in all movements is refreshing, but sometimes simplicity is the best–the aria Domine Deus, Agnus Dei is harrowing in its depiction of sorrow, with the lone soprano amid the choir, and not to mention the descending theme found in the opening cello.

    Not only is his vocal music spectacular but his instrumental music rivals Bach, Handel, and Telemann. People who think Vivaldi is boring for ‘rewriting the same concerto 500 times’ are right to have that opinion but their opinion is wrong. In someone of Vivaldi’s position, you had to be prolific and churn out music left and right. After all, teaching at the orphanage for girls gave him the opportunity to write for many instruments. This concerto for two oboes is nice; the most Bach ever wrote for two oboes may have been a few arias! There is also the collection of concerti known as La Stravaganza which feature many different skills required to perform. Also, Vivaldi was a violinist, so it would be correct to assume that many of his concerti and other works wold feature violin-writing.

    This aria from ‘Andromeda Liberata’ is really a gem of expression, as is this aria which first introduced me to the wonderful voice of Mr. Orlinski. Vivaldi’s mastery is in melody with harmonies around it; this is evident even in his instrumental music. I recently heard this opera within the past couple weeks and was very impressed. Also, quite wonderful and regretful to neglect is Laudate Pueri Dominum, RV 600 whose music is akin to a storm in certain moments.

    If I may interrupt myself for a moment to suggest the following idea: programmatic and absolute music are terms which originated in the Baroque era, but I feel are unnecessary. In short, programmatic music refers to a force of nature, or presentation of human emotion, and these aspects are captured via music. But isn’t this idea vague? Vivaldi’s Summer Concerto in G Minor depicts, at its end, a massive storm, but I could argue that almost any minor-key movement from his concerti could likewise fit the description. A furious but elegant storm!

    Andreas Scholl has always captured my ears with his voice too, but this small example is only a taste of both Scholl and Vivaldi, who pair excellently in his sacred music. Of the Red Priest of Venice too much can be said; I have to continue to other composers!

    One other important composer from Italy I must mention is Girolamo Frescoabli, an excellent keyboardist of great repute. Among his best-known works is Fiori Musicali, a sacred work for organ. Bach most likely modeled his Germa Organ Mass after this piece, which uses ancient motifs as the cantus firmus for sections o the opus. He also wrote vocal music too but his keyboard and organ pieces (particularly the toccatas) remain a staple among the repertoire of keyboard keyboardists.

    A moment of importance should be specified here. The interpretation of Baroque keyboard was specified, to my knowledge, of two keyboardists: Couperin and Frescobaldi. Treatises are a written explanation on how a piece of music can be interpreted, and both aforementioned composers write examples as to finger-exercises, method of playing, rhythmic choices, etc. Baroque music is quite sparse and bare in terms of directions, phrasing, dynamics–all things which make music music.

    To change regions completely, we must now look at France, where the royal court of King Louis was graced by many of those gifted in the art of music. Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre was a stunning musician; she played the harpsichord and composed opera, which was an uncommon thing for a woman to have the privilege of doing in those days. Her chamber music is imaginative and inspiring, and full of French flair, but it is her keyboard music which must have stunned the courts. A cantata too was written by her, as well as another violin sonata.

    One giant family in this era of composition was a dynasty belonging to the lineage of Couperin. The great Francois (quite literally called ‘Couperin le Grand) was a master of the keyboard; his instrumental music is satisfying too. In the company of Lully we have Saint-Colombe as well, who was a gambist like Marais.

    But one single piece (comprised of many pieces) has captured my ears, heart, and mind for the past few years since I discovered it: a massive ballet dedicated to King Louis XIV, who danced in it as a child. This was an important piece of art (I say ‘art’ because not only is the music important, but dancing was culturally an important aspect of France at the time). The only reconstructed and recorded version of this phenomenon contains everything I love: visual spectacles, elegant dancing and choreography, aspects of Western tales and mythology mixed with ‘modern’ real life, and most importantly, absolutely gorgeous and expressive music.

    To some, the following video may seem obscene and ridiculous and outright bizarre, and it’s all right to have such an opinion. I came, stayed, and was transfixed by the music. The album release by Ensemble Correspondances is on par with the video, but neither compares to anything else I’ve ever heard. No single composer participated in the composition of the music, but it is speculated that Lully, Cambefort, Lambert, and Cavalli all contributed their mastery. Granted, this performance is also a reconstruction and recreation by Mr. Dauce himself…For your enjoyment, some Francesco Cavalli.

    Another composer of note is Luigi Rossi whose music seems akin to Montevrdi.

    The film about gambist Marin Marais is excellent too, and its soundtrack is even more brilliant. No, I haven’t watched the movie. Marias was a good composer of great caliber, with the gamba as his chosen instrument. The piece Les Voix Humaines is particularly expressive and beautiful, but profound too; and this wonderful collaboration of two gambas presents the music of Marias, Couperin, and Lebegue. My favorite is the interpretation of La Folia at the close–an exquisite representation of Baroque imagination.

    Contemporary with Lully and Marais was Richard de Lalande, whose music I should explore more of. Quickly, as an edit– here is some splendid ensemble music. And not to mention another soundtrack, this one to the film Le Roi Danse, which mostly features music of Lully.

    A miracle was Lully, born from common birth in Italy. He served in the court of King Louis XIV for many years until dying due to gangrene and vanity. He was, in addition to a composer, quite a fantastic dancer and choreographer, by all accounts. He wrote vocal and instrumental works; take this music from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme–opening with a grand, dark yet majestic French overture. The full suite is available here too. I don’t believe that Lully was a keyboardist but perhaps one who played the violin? His dramatic vocal works included both sacred and secular music.

    Traveling into Germany now, where things get more complicated. In both the Southern and Northern regions, organists had their own methods of composition and performance. Stylus fantsticus was a technique of composition in the Baroque era, most commonly employed by keyboardists but the method was possible in chamber music. Both Froberger and Merulo are credited as being founding-fathers of the method. Frescobaldi too used this method of writing. This album gives examples of the forms and their composers.

    Nicolaus Bruhns gives a good example of organ writing, and both he and Georg Böhm had great influence on Johann Sebastian. One of my previous posts goes into small detail concerning the partitas of Böhm. But not his cantatas, not yet, as I have to explore more of them.

    Also, Georg wrote a lovely variation on Vater, unser im Himmelreich which has been spinning inside my head for many days. He too was a master of the great form of prelude and fugue for organ.

    Another keyboardist of inspiration was Vincent Lübeck, whose skill developed the doppel-pedal method (playing with both feet in counterpoint, as can be seen here.) Another excellent example of early Baroque writing is seen here, in Ich Ruf zu Dir.

    But out of all composers who I’ve mentioned, the ones who are extremely important, I feel, are Dietrich Buxtehude and Johann Pachelbel. Buxtehude was an organist who lived two hundred miles away from Bach, but still the young man managed to hear the master’s works in person in evening-music concerts. Buxtehude was a virtuoso, like so many listed here; an expert, I feel, in the sombre movements like a ciacona or the passacaglia. I’m not going to link my own performance because it leaves much to be desired.

    He also wrote many sonatas for multiple instruments; but I wonder if Bach ever heard them? His sacred cantatas too are lovely hear, although his treatment of a cantata is wildly different than what we would hear from Bach.

    Pachelbel may have met Bach, but this is purely speculation. His organ works influenced him greatly, and he taught one of Bach’s older brothers with whom Bach lived after his parents left him orphaned. On an unpopular opinion, his famous, over-played d major canon is a good piece of music; it’s just not heard on period instruments enough! But that piece over a repeating bass isn’t as good as his f minor ciacona, in my opinion.

    Another important piece is his Hexachordum Apollinis which is a giant set of variations. Although he too wrote vocal music; his cantatas are on the same caliber of writing as Buxtehude. Pleasant but serious music, giving Bach the inspiration for his massive chorale cantatas, no doubt–a cantata where the main hymn melody is presented in the form a fantasia for the opening movement. But Pachelbel wrote other such holy music as well.

    einrich Ignaz Franz von Biber was a talented and visionary composer, who rivaled Bach in his solo violin writing. His sacred violin sonatas can be seen as programmatic, but this isn’t always the case. His holy f minor requiem is on par with the previous one I’d linked by Marcello, and it’s one of the first pieces which introduced me to him. Honestly I have yet to explore more of this fantastic composer.

    While few composers could compete with Bach in the mastery of counterpoint, one composer moved a step higher an competed with him on the instrument which counterpoint is most difficult: the lute. Silvius Leopold Weiss was the most extraordinary lutenist of his day; Bach is reported to have played (I think?) the lute, maybe as a past-time hobby, but no one else besides him would be primed to challenge Weiss.

    Counterpoint on the lute is quite difficult; see all those strings? Typically lute music was melody and accompaniment, as Lukas Henning demonstrates in this beautiful gem of an album. Melodies and variations could be performed, yes, but fantasias and fugues? And overtures? Nobody could compete with Weiss except for Bach–not in a malicious way, but for the sake of music. It is rumored that Bach wrote the suites BWV 997, 996, 998, and 1006a originally for a lautenwerk, a kind of harpsichord which sounded very much like a lute. When Weiss heard Bach practicing these pieces without seeing the instrument, he was shocked. Weiss is known to have composed other works for other instruments, but I’m not sure much music survives.

    Aside from Bach, who worked for the church during the duration of his life, two composers exceeded his overall output: Christoph Graupner and George Philip Telemann. Between the two of them, collectively they’d write over 6,000 works (and Bach has under 2,000…that we know of). Graupner passed away in 1760, merely ten years after Bach and one year after Handel, but to be honest I’ve not explored his music much. But I should, obviously.

    Telemann I know more about than Graupner. Telemann was a child prodigy, and although his father urged him to go into law, he refused to do this. His chamber music is splendid, as is his vocal music but some, for whatever reason, find Telemann…boring. Perhaps I am biased but no Baroque music is boring to me.

    Telemann knew Bach and Handel, being the godfather of one of the sons of Bach, but with Handel who lived in England he exchanged many letters. More on Telemann’s music, though–he was highly inventive and prolific, writing music for odd instruments, such as double-bass or only solo recorder. Surely these twelve solo fantasies will be uplifting to you! He also wrote a concerto imitating the noises of frogs; such creations were not unheard of– Biber too wrote such programmatic music.

    Another very important German composer was Johann Joseph Fux, who compiled a very important text in terms of music theory which was mind-boggling at the time (I think?): Gradus ad Parnassum. Fux was a composer and theorist, as was Johann Mattheson. You see, music in those days was considered a science (or some folks thought that it should be a science, like arithimatic and nature) and it helped if such a form of creativity could be described and presented in an understandable manner. Rules and guidelines would be implemented in order to make music good and acceptable (I think that might be the proper word). I, of course, dislike rules and guidelines, and it’s obvious from listening to my music that I have not read the great treatise by Fux.

    It goes against my beliefs to think that composers didn’t write for the means of expression and communication; how could it be otherwise? Of course one can write within proper guidelines, and use the tools of expression to make your music expressive. Perhaps then this is my dilemma; I don’t see how beautiful music can be borne of anything other than the composer’s personal life, mood, or thoughts.

    While not born in Germany, Czech composer Jan-Dismas Zelenka was the top composer in Germany who rivaled Bach at counterpoint; Bach himself is said to have admired his music deeply–and if Bach liked, you know they had to be good! I’m not certain if Zelenka was trying to imitate Bach; composers wrote what they were familiar with, after all, as is such the nature of things. This expressive and hurried music is beautiful, for example. Not much is known of Zelenka as a person; few or no portraits exist and he had no family.

    This joyful music cannot compete with Bach, I think; but so too does this instrumental music express much. But I find music in the minor key to be more lovely, heartfelt, and achieving more expressive possibilities than major. Zelenka was prolific and productive, and that’s a fact!

    I have spent, at this point, many days in the writing of this massive post–it’s taken me maybe a week to write this much! Not every day but sporadically. I’m not sure that I mentioned every composer in my writing here, so my apologies. I’m grateful to you all for reading my ramblings, and I appreciate you for taking the time to read all of this! No one but an insane person could write this much about Baroque music in their free time, but here I am. I commend you all if you’ve made it here, to the end. Thank you all for your support! I hope you enjoy more writings to come.

    Your support would be appreciated! I love Baroque music–writing it and playing it and rambling about it. Consider donating to keep both myself and my creativity functioning, and I will create to all of our content.

    Until later, best wishes to you all!

  • Variations on Choral Music

    Long has it been the tradition of Baroque composers to write variations or partitas over hymn melodies. I think (correct me if I’m wrong) that the idea was only large in Germany during the era, but I do not know why. Composers such as Buxtehude, Krebs, Böhm, Sweelinck(?) and others all experimented with the idea of ‘theme and variations’ when it comes to sacred hymns.

    Of course, as a keyboardist I can understand the necessity of wanting to explore what new technique can be applied to a given subject. Most organists, when applying for a church position, were given a theme and expected to improvise, on the spot, a chorale, some other variations, and a fugue–all in the company of officials and most likely other musicians! Bach may have been the expert, but his predecessors and pupils were excellent in their own right.

    This partita by Georg Böhm is over the melody ‘Ach wie nichtig, ach wie Flüchtig.’ We begin with a chorale and slowly he weaves more creative variations, while the melody may be peppered with ornaments here and there. Another partita exists, over the melody Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten.’ I find score videos helpful, and I hope you do too!

    Bach studied briefly with Böhm and admired him greatly as a composer. Buxtehude, too, was an instructor of Bach, who admired the former’s music to such an extent that he took four months off from work to walk 200 miles to hear him! Take this lovely example, over the melody ‘Ich Ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ.’ While it isn’t a full partita–merely a variation–the idea is much the same: present an over-arching mood or emotion over one given, solid idea. Such is the manner of Baroque writing–rather than emotions being bounced back and forth and ever-changing, as is the case with Romantic music, it’s one mood or idea per movement.

    Going back to Böhm for a moment–this movement over the melody ‘Vater, unser im Himmelreich’ I find to be elegant but also solemn. The melody may not so easily be found by your ears, but the composer did their job–it is decorated throughout; not just the melody, but the accompanying voices around it. The artistry behind Baroque music is not presented in the extroverted nature which is often the stereotype of classical musicians (closed eyes, swaying back and forth, or Glenn Gould-like humming–to literally be lost in the music) but rather in articulation and precise playing. This may sound like Baroque music is robotic or without feeling–but that idea is further from the truth!

    While it was more common and practical for keyboardists to show off with a hymn melody and variations, the concept of writing was not strictly confined to keyed instruments. Composers of cantatas such as Telemann, Graupner, Bach (well, which one, you ask? All of them!) were expected to test their mastery of counterpoint. If you thought writing an organ chorale was difficult, imagine the task of Sebastian each week to develop a new cantata! Enjoy this gem of an opening chorus, ‘Ich Ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ’, BWV 177. The soprano has the melody, as is often the case, but all the decorations presented by the other parts of the choir and ensemble give much for the ear (and mind) to contemplate.

    Genius appears to have run in the family; take this example by his cousin Johann Ernst Bach: ‘Mein Odem ist schwach’. This work has often been attributed to the more-famous Sebastian–it’s unfair that, after death, he has cast such a large shadow over his entire family–children, cousins, and other relatives. Listen in the opening movement how the choir has the melody Herr Gott, nun schleuß den Himmel auf. The melody appears in the opening aria, in the middle as a chorale, and in the penultimate movement. A motet on the music exists as well, a capella, under the title Unser Wandel ist im Himmel.

    My own Variations

    As stated previously, I’m no great composer and I still have much to learn. My first little experiments with this kind of writing didn’t yield many results, but perhaps you may enjoy this theme and variation over ‘Jesu, dir du Meine Seele’, where the melody is presented in the soprano voice. Could this be played on an organ? Perhaps.

    These are two small chorales, treated in different manners, over the melody Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten. And perhaps more expansive is the set of variations over ‘Aus Tiefer Not, Schrei Ich zu Dir’ which contains all kinds of techniques. I’m not saying it’s pure mastery–none of my work is akin to a pure master–but at the time I was pleased with my efforts. More solemn is this short idea over the melody Komm, süßer Tod which was used by Bach in a collection of hymns with figured bass. The piece was famously interpreted by Virgil Fox on the great Wanamaker Organ in Philadelphia.

    More recently I too have adapted the melody Ich ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ for organ solo–and no, I hadn’t studied Bach’s prelude on the same theme while I was writing this, but a performance of the work may or may not be available on my channel within the near future…

    Last but not least, two more pieces: Enjoy this theme and variations on a theme from Norway! This was a fun little project to work on. In addition, there is this fanfare for a patriotic melody I’m sure you’ll recognize. Recently I have taken to writing short ideas based on German hymn melodies (Liebster Jesu, Ein Feste Burg, etc.) and videos of these compositions will be available for you pleasure in due time.

    I hope that you enjoyed this post very much! With your kind support, I will be glad to present more writing each day.

  • Live Performances of my Music

    • You may jump down a few paragraphs if you’re interested in hearing performances. I fear I’ve gone the route of a recipe website; all elaboration at the beginning while you’re hungry and impatient and want to know how to make a pizza dough without eggs. I write too much for my own good…

    Getting your music performed publicly as a composer is difficult. They say that in the world of music today, getting yourself ‘out there’ is 20% composing, 80% advertising. In college, I was a shy, awkward fellow who didn’t want to bother people—Really, I remember thinking, who wants to be bothered with learning some Baroque music which is of lesser quality than Bach or Telemann? One good thing about the Internet is that now anybody can be subject to what you write, and if they want sheet music, then you can send it to them!

    Granted, I’d only been writing music seriously for three or four years by the time my senior recital in college came around. On that evening in March, I was nervous, tired, and to be very honest, massively under-prepared. I had had few performing opportunities in college aside from once-a-semester requirements to play the harpsichord. Being mentally drained and unready, on top of being a nervous wreck and having a learning disability isn’t the best group of ingredients for a music performance major. Hence why I majored in composition. Also, having performance anxiety on top of general anxiety is not fun.

    That being said, I like performing! I really do. I’ve become better at managing my nerves and getting into the head-space of playing music in public (ten years of experience with playing in churches for various services helps too!) but it’s taken a long, long time. Comparing the playing from my most recent recital to that of my senior recital three years earlier is definitely a learning experience for me!

    If you’re a performing composer such as myself, it might be a better choice to promote your own music whenever you can in public. Don’t be a walking ad–“Oh, I sell my music here, here, and here, and also here is my Soundcloud and Facebook and Youtube page!” Yes, all those things are good to have and advertise–online.

    However I guarantee that if you’re in high school, college, or grad school (not that I’ve been there) there’s a huge possibility that someone or multiples someones on campus will take an interest in what you’ve written. Or they’ll be forced to take an interest because they need a grade–whichever comes first. In my case, those who played my music offered out of the kindness of their hearts.


    So in my complete senior recital there are a few pieces which I’m proud of that I would like to highlight. While I don’t have much experience with writing for instruments that are not keyboard, I think it’s an accomplishment to write for oboe, bassoon, and saxophones. Beginning around 32:00, the overture for solo oboe in C minor was written in 2017, just as a stand-alone piece of music. I may at some point expand this music, but I don’t know of much Baroque music for solo oboe which I could look at as a model. Telemann, I know, wrote many pieces for flute or recorder—out of all the woodwinds, these two seem most favorable amid composers. Is this piece really an overture though? Its form is akin to a French overture, but not as dotted or elegant or French. It’s also impossible or quite difficult to write a fugue (and play one) on a solo-voice instrument (the violin and cello don’t count…if you’re Bach).

    Beginning around 37:40, the Suite for Solo Bassoon in G Minor is heard next. A typical suite–an exercise in technique or a collection of dances for any instrument, or any combination of instruments—can consist of anything from three to seven to any other number of movements. They can be programmatic or absolute–although I’m of the opinion that all Baroque music is programmatic; if it makes you feel or think something, then there we go.

    In this three-movement suite, I had no particular model other than for the opening movement, the allemande from Bach’s partita for flute, BWV 1013, was often in my mind. Perhaps you may hear the similarities between Bach and myself, but Bach is eons better! My own suite was written between 2015 and 2016, originally for flute but I decided it worked much better in the solemn, sonorous lower octave which the bassoon can communicate in. Perhaps one day it could be performed on the Baroque cello, or a viola da gamba?

    The opening allemande is slow and contemplative, with a constant run of sixteenth notes, punctuated by necessary pauses (both for the sake of the music and the performer). One recurring theme is heard, and we don’t wander through too many keys. The next movement, a bittersweet adagio (or perhaps largo may be a better tempo setting?) gives us a new key, B flat major. The lyrical nature of this movement has, I think, more of a calling to Vivaldi rather than Bach. Bach isn’t exactly lyrical in his melodic construction–more like methodical. Give a listen for yourself, at 4:27 here. The gigue is fast, neither like Bach or Vivaldi, but I feel something that is completely my own. I enjoy the bassoon very much, and may write for it more in the future!

    The final piece I’d like to make notice of is the duet for two saxophones, beginning at 1:00:10. This piece was actually adapted from an earlier piece of music, Water Dances in F Minor, a duet for bassoon and flute. Of course, only the first movement from that suite was adapted, and changed so much that it is unrecognizable.

    I like the tone of the saxophone a lot! It reminds me sometimes of a Baroque oboe. And this begs the question–can you write Baroque music for non-Baroque instruments? Of course! In the end, it all comes down to the notes you write and how it’s played. Besides, Bach on the saxophone sounds very pretty and so is the music of Telemann.

    Back to my original question, though–does playing or writing Baroque music for non-Baroque instruments still count as Baroque? Jazz can be played on a harpsichord, and a harpsichord has been used on many occasions for newer music. If you recite Shakespeare in the American South with a Southern Accent, the words are still those of Shakespeare. Moreover, if you write in the dialect of Shakespeare and present it in whatever modern manner you like, then your language is still Renaissance English. An authentic Italian restaurant in the middle of Maine is still authentic Italian, even if they chef isn’t from Milan or Venice. The ingredients, the manner of cooking the recipe–that is what counts.

    Thank you so much for reading! I appreciate your support.

  • Modern Baroque Composers

    It would be a vain and narcissistic choice of me to only mention my own music here on this website, so here I am taking the opportunity to share music by other living, breathing, modern composers who enjoy writing within the Baroque style.

    Some of these composers are relative to my age, which is warming and encouraging news, and others are a little older.

    Around three years ago, I discovered the group known as Vox Saeculorum which is more of an online collection of composers; their Wikipedia page is here.

    Not included in the group, curiously, is the Italian virtuoso writer Federical Maria Sardelli, who is a talented flautist and conductor and has a knack for speaking the same musical dialect as Vivaldi. Sardelli has been instrumental in performing the Red Priest’s music, and even reviving a lost opera or two! You may read more about him here but I will link his music shortly.

    Roman Turovsky is another excellent writer of Baroque music, and prominently he writes for the lute. Giorgio Pacchioni also has a clear sense of contrapuntal writing in his fugues. Henk Bouman is usually known for his work as a Baroque wind player, but his compositions

    Another important resource is the Bach Emulation Project which brings up a very good question: how far can you go with emulation and imitation and still have your work considered your own? In the old days we might see one composer sounding like another as pure coincidence; while composers did steal and borrow, I’m not sure it would be entirely possible to steal the writing style of another writer. Today though, due to endless recordings and sources online where we can fully hear the music of a dead composer, one may see it as easy to be able to copy the composing style of someone else. But is it still yours, or an attempt to be someone else? I pose this question to myself constantly.

    The notion of ‘pastiche’ is a term familiar to me. I feel that if you are writing period music unironically, and not for some petty school assignment, and you are serious in this dedication of early music, then there is no shame in that. And, another question, how do these works listed above and below differ from neo-Baroque? By definition, Neo-Baroque would include modern technique and stylistic handlings ( a different harmonic language, for example, like in the music of Ravel or Bartok). But if it’s written past the 1700’s, and sound purely like it would be from that era yet it is the modern day, then would that not be modern Baroque? For the record, I’m not a particular fan of taking older forms and styles and mixing it with modern technique.

    On to more modern composers! The talented organist and keyboardist Leonard Schick offers, on his channel, improvisations at the organ and keyboard. I could never improvise on camera; I’d be too nervous and self-conscious of….everything. Gianluca Bersanetti offers a fine concerto for harpsichord, and the composer and clarinetist Thomas Bassett has written lovely Baroque music, including a fugue based on one of my subjects.

    Domiano Danti also shares his excellent skills in writing counterpoint. French composer and organist Simon Lecaulle has dozens of examples of lovely vocal writing, all (or most?) of it sacred music. He has advised me a few times with tips for writing as well. Babak Mahmudian gives many listeners the pleasure of hearing his music for keyboard, this overture by composer Simen Nilsen is enjoyable too. Pablo de Llano has written a fine fugue in Vivaldi-fashion, and Adrien Piece gives a lovely fughetta at the organ.

    Elam Rotem, the spokesperson of Early Music Sources is a great composer in his own right, with this vocal work rivaling Renaissance beauty. Harpsichordist Andreas Zappe offers, on his channel, not only recordings of the great Baroque composers but his own suites too. Paul West is a lutenist, known for playing the music of Weiss but presents his own music too.

    Perhaps one of my favorite channels for fugal writing comes from Roman Cano, who has demonstrated his mettle for Baroque matters for quite some time. A skilled violinist and composer, Erik Schroeder has certainly made a fine name for himself. We met online via Noteflight, the website where I do all of my writing.

    Another fellow composer whose music I have played is Canadian musician Frank Frontera. Primarily a guitarist, he has developed an instrument known as they keygrid, whose sound is generated via buttons and electricity. While he experiments in Baroque writing, much of his activity is dedicated to Renaissance music; he has a motet written which may be performed and recorded at some date in the future.

    Last but not least, I would like to recommend the music of English composer Tamsin Jones, who has had her music performed here in America as well as throughout the United Kingdom. While she experiments in multiple genres, her writing of early music is stunning and well-crafted. Around a year ago I performed her Invention in C Major for keyboard.

    So, I feel I have barely touched the tip of the iceberg in this phenomenon of new Baroque writing. The first rule of composition these days is that one should never presume to tell a composer what they can or cannot write. I feel that if you’ve found your voice and style, then nothing should stand in the way of being able to create music to your full potential.

  • A performance of Two Pieces for Keyboard

    I would like to share with you this video, which features two of my pieces for harpsichord. Both pieces were written this past year, in 2021, with the allemande being a simple dance for two voices. The ornaments Mr. de la Beaujardière are certainly appropriate for the period, however there are no ornaments written in the score. The second movement, a sarabande, was commissioned by the English composer Tamsin Jones. Both of these dances are part of a much larger suite which has yet to be completed.

    Here is the video featuring two pieces: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIWZnLqDs2A