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Many works of J.S. Bach (1685-1750) have been transcribed for other instruments over the past 300 years, not least for the double bass. Bach's Orchestral Suite No.3 in D major BWV 1068 includes the ubiquitous 'Air' for strings which is probably one of his most well known and performed works and has probably been arranged for almost every possible instrument or ensemble. Composed around 1730 and first published in 1854 the Suite has five movements (Ouverture-Air-Gavotte I/II-Bourrée-Gigue) and is scored for 2 oboes, 3 trumpets, timpani, strings and continuo. The Air is the only movement without oboes and trumpets and is only nineteen bars long, although there are repeats halfway through and at the end. Violin 1 has the melodic interest with contrapuntal ideas and rhythmic interest shared between violin 2 and viola, with a walking bass line played in moving octaves and adding a gentle momentum to the music. The bass part alone is enough for audiences to recognise this piece, often played pizzicato by the bassist, contrasting the more legato cellist playing arco, each adding variety and colour to a simple but brilliantly evocative bass line. For almost 150 years it has been known universally as 'Air on the G string' from an arrangement in around 1871 by the German violinist August Wilhelmj (1845-1908). Wilhelmj transposed the piece down a tone, into C major, and arranged it for solo violin, violin, viola, cello & bass (played pizzicato) and piano or organ. The solo part is also transposed an octave lower than the original version and Wilhelmj's marking 'auf der G-saite' above the stave for the solo violin has give the piece its popular title. The new tessitura adds a completely different colour and timbre to the solo line, especially as the other instruments play in their original register. Wilhelmj's arrangement was first published in Berlin by Raabe & Plothow although no publication date is included. It has been arranged for many instrumental ensembles including jazz trio by Jacques Loussier and Procol Harum borrowed from this piece for their international hit, 'A Whiter Shade of Pale'. Gary Brooker of Procol Harum told Uncut magazine: "If you trace the chordal element, it does a bar or two of Bach's 'Air On A G String' before it veers off. That spark was all it took. I wasn't consciously combining Rock with Classical, it's just that Bach's music was in me." One of the simplest versions (and one of the best?) is by Bobby McFerrin (voice) and Yo Yo Ma (cello), available on YouTube and demonstrates how the music of Bach translates to every style, idiom or genre and even pared back to two solo lines it is still a masterpiece. Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889) arranged the piece for double bass and piano, or double bass and string orchestra, based on the edition by August Wilhelmj but in the new key of G major, a 5th higher than Wilhelmj and renamed as 'Meditazione (Aria di Bach)'. Bottesini obviously played it in two different tunings as the manuscript copies are in G major (solo tuning) and A flat major (minor 3rd tuning). František Simandl (1840-1912) also arranged the Air, alongside a Gavotte, for double bass and piano in Book 6 of his 'Die hohe Schule des Contrabassspieles' and published by C.F. Schmidt in Germany. The piano part is in D major and the solo part is in C major, using solo tuning and the solo part is in the same register as Wilhelmj's edition. The melody fits the double bass well and demonstrates the lyrical and sonorous potential of the instrument, alongside playing a piece which every audience will known within the first two or three seconds. Bach's Air is almost 300 years and is as fresh and beautiful as the day it was written. Many players have edited and revised it but still the mastery of the piece shines through. A great addition to our transcription repertoire. [David Heyes / 24 June 2017]

Cat No. RM1089
Supplier Code RM1089
ComposerJ.S. Bach
ArrangerGiovanni Bottesini
EditorDavid Heyes
CategoryDouble Bass And String Orchestra
PublisherRecital Music
Difficulty level7 - 8, Advanced
Weight 183 grams
Availability NOT IN STOCK. Sorry for delay!
Available in approx. 7—12 days.
See also...
RM1088  Air-Meditation (DOUBLE BASS & PIANO)