Orchestral Suite No.3

Johann Sebastian Bach

Orchestral Suite No.3 in D major

BWV1068 • “Air”

Recommended recording

Curated by Guy Jones, Head of Curation

About this work

Johann Sebastian Bach probably wrote his Suite for Orchestra No 3 in D major, BWV 1068 in 1731. This was not the sort of music he normally wrote; it is lighter fare than his normally more rigorous, sacred or fugal fare. Suites for orchestra were also called overtures, and they were an all-purpose form of entertainment, featuring some pretensions of French culture, which was the most sought-after affectation among the royals of Europe in the eighteenth century. The genre was a collection of excerpts from French ballets and operas, and the arrangement of the form was an overture (the beginning of a stage work) followed by a collection of dances. Garden parties, trade fairs, and every other sort of celebration were good spots for these pieces. Bach wrote only four of these works; it was not the sort of thing he did naturally. However, the local groups of players in Leipzig, called Collegium Musicum, required music; he had been appointed its director in 1729, on top of his normal duties at the Thomas School. His political position in Leipzig was usually tenuous because he was frequently petitioning the city council for a better wage, better teaching and conducting conditions, and more money for music in general. For this he probably needed to commit to acts of good faith, and music such this Orchestral Suite in D major would have been exactly what the city council and citizens enjoyed. This work was most likely revived from a similar piece he wrote around 1720 in Cöthen. Its Leipzig premiere probably took place "at the Zimmermann Coffee House in the Cather-Strasse from 8 to 10 on Friday." This unearthed advertisement for the concert features the D major Orchestral Suite. For someone who stood back from the world of light, entertainment music, Bach was good at writing it. This suite uses a rich blend of timbre, featuring oboes, trumpets, timpani, strings, and continuo. Its second movement, Air, (also known as "Air on the G String") centers around one of the most well known melodies he ever wrote. Bach approaches the music with his personal instincts intact, and leans as much toward Italy as much as France in this material. The visceral, propulsive nature of Vivaldi's concertos find their way into all these orchestral suites. BWV 1068 is a total five joyous movements, about 19 minutes in duration.