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Symphony in G minor, Op 6 No 6

composer
published in 1770

 
Johann Christian Bach was born in Leipzig on 5 September 1735, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. Following his father’s death in 1750 he went to live in Berlin with his half-brother Carl Philipp Emanuel, who was twenty-one years older and a musician at the court of Frederick the Great, and here he also came into contact with the music of such eminent composers as Johann Joachim Quantz, whose famous treatise was published in 1752, and Carl Heinrich Graun, who had seven operas premiered there between 1750 and 1754, including Mitridate (December, 1750), Orfeo (March, 1752) and Silla (March, 1753). Carl Philipp Emanuel, however, had never enjoyed good relations with the King, and he was seriously considering leaving Berlin. Furthermore, the political situation was uncertain, with the Seven Years’ War looming, so it was a logical decision for Johann Christian to move to Italy in 1754 to continue his apprenticeship.

There he studied in Bologna with the famous composition teacher Padre Martini, and secured a patron in Milan, Count Agostino Litta. These two influences seemed set to steer Bach towards a career in church music, and in June 1760 he was appointed as one of two organists at Milan Cathedral, but his introduction to Italian opera in Milan and Naples was to transform his musical outlook and ambition. The first three of his eleven operas were written in Italy, and their success led to an invitation to write two works for the King’s Theatre in London.

He arrived in the English capital in the summer of 1762 as 'Mr John Bach, a Saxon Master of Musick', and spent the majority of his remaining years there. His first London opera, Orione, was premiered on 19 February 1763, and his second, Zanaida, on 7 May of the same year. Both were resounding successes, and later that year he was appointed music master to George III and Queen Charlotte. His next and arguably greatest opera, Adriano in Siria, was first performed in January 1765, and the young Mozart almost certainly attended a performance.

In London Bach met his compatriot Karl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787), who had arrived there in 1759, and in 1765 the two composers set up the famous Bach-Abel concert series at Carlisle House, Soho Square. These concerts featured numerous works by both composers—not only symphonies but also concertos and chamber works—and they also brought much new music by Italian, French and German composers to England for the first time. The concerts transferred to Almack’s Assembly Rooms in King Street in 1768, and then to the Hanover Square Rooms in 1775.

The six symphonies of Op 6, which would all have been premièred at these concerts, were published in 1770, and the G minor symphony which concludes the set is one of Bach’s greatest, and his only one written in a minor key. In its scale it is similar to his other symphonies, its three short movements reminding us that the symphony as a form originally derived from the Italian opera overture, but the work’s content and originality mark it out as one of the most significant in the remarkable sequence of G minor symphonies emanating from this period.

The opening allegro hurls us headlong into the wild energy and vigour of the ‘Sturm und Drang’, full of jagged unisons, wide leaps and rapid repetitions, while the second movement is also set in a minor key, C minor; it is dominated by a sombre unison figure reminiscent of those which open Mozart and Beethoven’s subsequent piano concertos in the same key. The finale returns to the febrile intensity of the first movement, again dominated by tremolos, leaps and dynamic extremes, before the storm subsides as abruptly as it had begun, suddenly decaying into silence.

from notes by Ian Page © 2020

Details

Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Andante più tosto adagio
Movement 3: Allegro molto

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