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Arioso from Cantata, BWV 156

December 5, 2021: Paul Jacobs, organ

Bach was especially fond of this justly famous slow movement. He used it as the opening Sinfonia of his Cantata 156: “Ich steh mit einem Fuss im Grabe,” scored for oboe, strings, and continuo, which was first performed in Leipzig on January 23, 1729. Then around 1738 he used it again as the slow movement of his Keyboard Concerto in F minor, BWV 1056. Both, however, are thought to be reworkings of the slow movement of an earlier oboe concerto in G minor that is now lost (though scholars have reconstructed it).

This exquisite Sinfonia, also known as “Arioso,” presents a favorite Vivaldi slow-movement texture—a singing melody over pizzicato accompaniment, though not a repeating bass pattern as both Vivaldi and Bach often employed. The melody, whether for oboe or right hand of the keyboard part, provides a perfect example of Bach’s ornamentation technique. His embellishments, simple at first and more extensive when the opening section returns, complement the melodic line without disrupting it.

The present version for organ was arranged by American organist Diane Bish, who is also known for her television series The Joy of Music.

© Jane Vial Jaffe

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