Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, the capital
of the duchy of Saxe-Eisenach, in present-day Germany,
on 21 March 1685 O.S. (31 March 1685 N.S.). He was the
son of Johann Ambrosius Bach, the director of the town
musicians, and Maria Elisabeth Lämmerhirt.
Like Bach's Sonata in E major, BWV 1035, this is a
technically challenging work dedicated to Potsdam
flutist Michael Gabriel Fredersdorff, an employee of
the flute-loving King Frederick the Great. Or so says a
very late copy of the manuscript, not prepared by Bach.
There's also an early copy by organist Johann Peter
Kellner made around 1725 or 1726, nearly 20 years
before BWV 1035 was written. Either the copy with the
Fredersdorff dedication is incorrect, or Bach dusted
off an old sonata for Fredersdorff's use.
In any event, BWV 1034, like BWV 1035, is in the
four-movement, slow-fast-slow-fast sonata di chiesa, or
"church sonata," format. The first movement, Adagio ma
non tanto, is usually performed at a fairly deliberate
pace despite Bach's ma non tanto admonition. There's
something implacable about the music's steady trudge
and something obsessive about the melody, which tends
to break into repeated two-note units. Next comes an
Allegro, based on a burbling flute melody over a
descending bass figure; the bass line soon levels out,
but it has already started to pull the melody in a
downward slide. The flute indulges in rapid passagework
as Bach provides a short series of variations on this
material. The ensuing Andante begins with an extended
introduction by the continuo instruments (usually
harpsichord and gamba or cello). Once the flute enters
with its spacious theme, the bass line repeats fairly
steadily, as if for a chaconne or passacaglia, with the
flute singing freely above. The B section delivers a
variation on the theme, and the final section
essentially repeats the movement's opening measures.
The sonata's concluding Allegro is dark and quick,
something of a Bourrée, extremely busy and energetic
while engaging the continuo in full-fledged
counterpoint. It's a flashy finale for an extroverted
-- and highly skilled -- soloist.
Although originally written for Flute & Continuo, I
created this Arrangement of the Sonata in E Minor (BWV
1034) for Oboe & Cello.