“Air on the G String” from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068

April 3, 2016: Sir James Galway, flute; Benjamin Beilman and Danbi Um, violins; Mark Holloway, viola; Nicholas Canellakis, cello; Timothy Cobb, bass; Paolo Bourdignon, harpsichord

For background on Bach’s Orchestral Suites, see Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor.

The Third Suite may be the most famous of the four on account of its meltingly beautiful Air. One of the most popular and arranged pieces of all time, it achieved special notoriety through August Wilhelmj’s version for the violin G string (1871). The Air’s binary form—two halves, each repeated—and its “stepping” bass overlaid with a long, sustained melodic line are standard Baroque procedures, but its poignant effect transcends all formulas. James Galway plays its haunting violin part on the flute.

© Jane Vial Jaffe

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