By Johann Bernhard Bach
The Bach family of central Germany was prolific, producing generations of musicians from the 16th through the 19th centuries. While its greatest exemplar was undoubtedly Johann Sebastian Bach, many other Bach family members achieved local and international renown as instrumentalists and composers.
One of these was Johann Bernhard Bach, who was Johann Sebastian’s cousin and contemporary. He studied organ with his father (Johann Aegidius Bach) and then took up successive posts as organist and harpsichordist in Erfurt, Magdeburg and Eisenach, where he worked from 1703 until his death in 1749.
Besides his instrumental talents, Johann Bernhard was also a gifted composer. While little of his work has survived, the works that have come down to us include four orchestral suites. The suites show Georg Philipp Telemann’s influence (as was remarked by contemporaries); Johann Bernhard probably became acquainted with Telemann in Eisenach (where Telemann also worked from 1706-1712). Of interest, Johann Sebastian so esteemed his cousin’s suites that he was involved in copying them for his own use (which is how they were preserved).
The G major suite we are playing today is scored for strings and continuo, to which we have added oboes and bassoons as was often done at the time. The work opens with an “overture” in French style, with stately and sprightly sections. After that there are six contrasting movements based on stylized French dances, which alternately convey elegance, gaiety, introspection and joy.