Bach: Piano Transcriptions, Vol. 4 – Samuel Feinberg
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Vaughan Williams described it as a ‘free transcription’, which is something of an understatement. Like Bax, he writes largely on three staves to accommodate a full, rich keyboard texture, and after a statement of the chorale the chorale prelude follows. Vaughan Williams adds a tenor part of his own to Bach’s work and greatly elaborates its texture, for example with anti-historical parallel triads in his inimitable ‘English pastoral’ manner and with dissonances not found in Bach—to increase the tension, but also the interplay of light and shade throughout the piece. The mildness of the dissonances is deceptive, for they lead to different contrapuntal conclusions and he even deletes whole bars and sequences of Bach in order to replace them with music of his own. He thus extends an ongoing line of descent from the sixteenth century, for BWV649 is in fact Bach’s own transcription of the first chorus in his Cantata No 6, ‘Bleib’ bei uns, denn es will Abend werden’, in which he derived his chorale melody from the alto part of a different chorale published in 1594 by Seth Calvisius (1556–1615), a distinguished predecessor as Cantor of the Thomasschule in Leipzig. The ‘evening’ associations of Cantata No 6 seem to have inspired Vaughan Williams to turn his ‘free transcription’ into a kind of nocturnal meditation that wrestles with doubt rather than the certainties of Bach’s faith.
from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2010