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In 1735, when Sebastian was 50 years old, he published his second volume of keyboard works, Clavier-Übung II (“Keyboard Practice II”). It contains two pieces for double-manual harpsichord: Concerto nach Italienischen Gusto (Concerto in the Italian taste, now known at the Italian Concerto, BWV 971), and Ouvertüre nach Französischer Art (Overture in the French Style, or simply the French Overture, BWV 831).
That Sebastian chose to pair these two works in the same publication paid homage to the old tradition (by his time) for composers to seek a harmonious way (or perhaps take sides) between the perceived opposition of French and Italian musical styles – an argument that had been carried on in European musical circles for centuries. This discussion is a part of Sebastian’s œuvre too, and was influenced by the work of his contemporary François Couperin (1668-1733) and his “les Goûts réunis” or “reunited tastes”, which was published in 1724. Although Sebastian and Couperin never met, they corresponded with each other. The subjects of their letters has long been a tantalizing mystery to Bach scholars, as the letters were subsequently used as lids for jam pots and thus destroyed. Since Couperin had died two years before Clavier-Übung II was published, it is possible that in his own way, Sebastian also intended the volume as an homage to Couperin himself – or as a rebuttal or commentary on the various merits of each style .