Sinfonia from Cantata #29, "We Thank Thee, Lord, We Thank Thee," BWV 29
by Johann Sebastian Bach [playing time 4:05]  [Download the MP3]

J. S. Bach (1685-1750)
The greatest of them all
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"Who's your favorite composer?" is as tired a question as "Whomever I'm listening to at the moment" is an answer. If pressed, however, and with apologies to Ludwig, Wolfgang, Pyotr, and all the other greats, I would give the nod to Bach. His supreme blending of beauty, logic, and inventiveness has never been surpassed, and much of my avocational music-making is devoted to listening, learning, and making synthesized realizations of his music.

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Even By Bach's upbeat standards, this is a joyous work. Bach wrote Cantata #29 in 1731, by which time he was working in Leipzig and at the height of his career. Though based on a sacred text, the work was written to commemorate a civic occasion -- the installation of a Leipzig town council.

I do not know if the motivation was convenience, musical appropriateness, or simply a looming deadline, but the Sinfonia the good citizens of Leipzig heard that day had existed in another form for over a decade, as the opening movement of the Violin Partita #3 in E, BWV 1006, written during Bach's earlier Cöthen period. For the cantata, Bach arranged it for orchestra, and it has since appeared in a number of guises for ensemble and solo instruments. Notably, Wendy Carlos opened her groundbreaking album Switched-On Bach with this work.

In Bach's orchestral arrangement, the organ is given the formidable passagework from the partita, so I have assigned it one of my favorite organ patches. Brass and a little harpsichord sparkle make up much of the accompaniment, with both arco and plucked strings and organ pedal carrying the bass.

My tempo here is on the sedate side at about four minutes, since the faster tempi have always seemed to me to work well for the violin virtuoso, but a bit hurried in a broader arrangement. At the same time, one doesn't want to get moribund, so this hopefully is a nice middle ground.

And for those of you who like these kinds of tidbits: after borrowing from the Partita in E to launch this cantata, Bach later used the chorus that follows this work in two movements of the Mass in B Minor, which he did not complete until 1749.

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