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TREVOR HOLD has dragged
from oblivion some music
you will not know.

12. J.S. Bach's Suite in the Spanish Style (BMW 2001)


As is well-known (see Spitta III: 48), J. S. Bach only managed to fit in one family holiday in the course of his busy life, when he took Anna Magdalena and the boys to Madrid for a short break. ('By the sea', he told C. P. E., before he realised Madrid was landlocked; C. P. E. never forgave him.) For years, scholars had assumed that this Spanish trip - it lasted only ten days: the intense heat was too much for Anna M., who was expecting their ninth child - had left no direct impact on his music, but the publication of this work has completely altered our thinking. The Suite in the Spanish Style not only demonstrates Bach's chameleon-like ability to absorb local musical colour, but also reveals his knowledge and love of the music of his great contemporary, Domenico Scarlatti. Hence the substitution of national Spanish dances for the usual French dance movements - all except the Sarabande are new to JSB's music - and the extraordinarily lively writing for the keyboard. Two of the movements are composite dances, as though, in his eagerness to include as much local flavour as possible, Bach had tried to elide several into one. Hence the third movement is entitled 'Jota-Malegueña-Bolero' and the fourth 'Granadina-Rueda-Zortziko'.

The suite opens with a Fandango, full of exotic rhythms and crushed chords. (The additional part for maracas is optional.) The Sarabande that follows may sound somewhat staid in the context of the other dances, but there is plenty of cross-hand work to keep the harpsichordist busy. After the two composite dances comes an 'Alborada' - a real curiosity, this: did Bach perhaps intend it as a substitute for an 'Aria'? It certainly gives much-needed respite after the strenuous nature of the previous dance-movements. In place of the usual Jig, the work ends in great high spirits with a 'Rumba'. Where Bach came across this dance is puzzling, for as far as we know (Scholes, 1955: 1198) it had not yet been invented.

What will posterity's verdict be on this new addition to the Bach canon? Some will exclaim, 'Forgeries!' But, tush! Surely they present to us only one more fascinating aspect of the genius of this great artist!


Copyright © 10 February 2000, Trevor Hold, Peterborough, UK


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