Bach Birthday Bash 2021 Concert

Livestream Saturday, March 20, 2021 at 7pm | On Demand March 21-31, 2021

Watch a pre-concert talk by James Kennerley. 

Join James Kennerley, Portland’s Eleventh Municipal Organist, for a performance of music composed by the High Priest of the organ: Johann Sebastian Bach. Born on March 21, 1685, Bach was renowned during his lifetime as a “world-class organist” – more famous for his virtuosic organ playing than for his compositions. Bach’s organ music has captured the minds of performers and audiences for generations ever since. Come to this concert to hear why!

We celebrate Bach’s birthday with music drawn from two distinct periods of his life. The first half consists of selections from his monumental 1739 organ publication, Clavier-Übung literally, “keyboard practice”. Bach was at the height of his career, and used this and other similar publications to prove to the world that he was the supreme composer of keyboard works. He incorporated a massively wide range of styles and textures, from the old stile antico (antique style) to the trendy, modern-day Galant style. The selections, to include the majestic Prelude and Fugue in E-flat major, will sample the full scope of the collection, ranging from the smallest fughetta to the massive chorale prelude on the melody Aus tiefer Noth for full organ in 6 parts.

The second part of the concert will present works that were originally composed for instruments other than the organ. Bach frequently made organ transcriptions of instrumental works by other composers. During his late twenties he came under the influence of Italian music for string orchestra composed by the likes of Vivaldi, Albinoni, and others, and began to transcribe them for the keyboard and incorporate their novel ideas into his own compositions. One of the most popular of these is the Concerto for Two Violins in A minor by Antonio Vivaldi. As its title implies, it was written for string orchestra and two solo violins (Vivaldi’s Venice was renowned for the ingenuity and virtuosity of its music for string instruments). Bach took the concerto from a collection of twelve concerti entitled L’estro armonico (“the harmonic inspiration”) that Vivaldi published in 1711.

The wildly virtuosic Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue was probably composed for solo harpsichord when Bach was working at the court in Köthen between 1717 and 1723. The improvisatory c character draws comparisons with the earlier Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for organ, and both works captured the minds of musicians for centuries after Bach’s death. Several nineteenth-century pianists and composers, including Feliz Mendelssohn, Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms, used the work as a demonstration of virtuosity and expressiveness in their concert repertoire.

Max Reger was a towering figure of the German Romantic tradition and composed some of the most difficult organ music in the repertory. Sheet music of Reger’s organ works famously has a darker appearance than that of other composers because of the amount of ink needed to print all the notes! Reger made a transcription for the organ that reimagines the harpsichord piece as a massive, symphonic work utilizing everything from the quietest to the loudest of organ sounds and requiring the feet to play the kind of whirlwind musical lines that would be challenging for the fingers alone. The Kotzschmar Organ is the perfect partner in crime for bringing the piece to life.



From the third part of the Clavier-Übung (“Keyboard Practice”)

Prelude in E-flat major, BWV 552/1

Allein Gott in der Höh’, BWV 676 (trio, pedaliter)

Allein Gott in der Höh’, BWV 677 (trio, manualiter)

Wir glauben all an einen Gott à 4, BWV 680 (in organo pleno)

Wir glauben all an einen Gott, BWV 688 (fughetta)

Aus tiefer Noth schrei ich zu dir, BWV 686 (à 6, in pleno organo)

Fugue in E-flat major, BWV 552/2

Concerto for Two Violins in A minor after Vivaldi, BWV 593




Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903 (arr. Max Reger)

Program subject to change (last updated on March 16, 2021)

Concert Sponsor: Dead River Company
Media Sponsors: Maine Public Classical and Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram

Tickets are Pay-What-You-Choose starting at $10 (plus service fees).

Tickets available through PortTIX, the trusted box office for The Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ.       via PHONE at 207.842-0800 or ONLINE at