Copyright © 2002-2018
by Lute Duo Anna Kowalska & Anton Birula.
Website created by Artur Kosnowicz in October 2014.

<<< back to PROJECTS


ANNA KOWALSKA baroque lute
ANTON BIRULA baroque lute

The current program is fully dedicated to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Bach and the lute is a subject full of mystery and uncertainty and endless discussions. Obviously the specific plucked tone had always been a point of fascination for the great composer. The constant discussion if the lute works were written for Das Lautenwerk, the lute harpsichord or for the lute itself is a never-ending one.

Lute has always fascinated J. S. Bach. Besides works for lute, he even used it in big compositions like Trauer Ode, St. John and St. Mathew Passion. The tone of the instrument is unique in its sincerity, distinction and fragility at the same time.

Bachs music always remains a great challenge for the lutenist due to its musical and technical complexity as well as to a constant speculation concerning the choice of the instrument.

It is quite obvious that Bach did not play the lute himself, but, what is very important, he frequently had an encounter with leading lute players living in Germany (Kropfganz, Weyrauch, Falckenhagen and of course S.L. Weiss). Some of them have written beautiful duo compositions for two baroque lutes and knew the music of J. S. Bach. It is hard to imagine that they were not attracted by his music and never tried to play it on two lutes. Therefore gradually his knowledge of the technical possibilities of the lute was widening and we can see it reflected in different works for lute which by no doubt were written for the so-called lute harpsichord. What is surprising is the playability of some works on the lute and enormous technical difficulty of the others. The only answer to this that comes in mind is that works like BWV 995, BWV 999, BWV 1000, BWV 1006a, were composed / arranged in closest cooperation with lute players, while works like BWV 996, BWV 997, BWV 998 are most likely pure keyboard compositions intended for the lute harpsichord composed according to the range of the lute and its specific narrow voice positioning.

Looking at Bachs lute music we came to questions of a different sort:
«Why was J.S. Bach turning to the lute or lute tone concept?»
«Why was he always trying to unite keyboard instrument and a plucked one?»

Suddenly we came to a rather simple conclusion.

At the time of Bach there was an instrument, which was enjoying enormous popularity and being present in many houses was almost a working horse of music making, but it is almost unheard at the concerts of today. Its name is Clavichord.

Despite of a standard stereotype of organ being Bachs favorite instrument, composer himself preferred a little clavichord to both organ and harpsichord. Bach himself talked about the clavichord as an instrument that has soul, due to its possibilities. Not surprisingly, since this instrument possessed sound characteristics no other keyboard instrument ever had: dynamics and something absolutely unique vibrato, which could be achieved by real vibration of the finger! The only «inefficiency» was the volume, making it probably the softest instrument on Earth.

The only plucked instrument that had the same character and a bigger sound volume was the lute. Which is still not the loudest instrument. Thinking of playing Bach on the lute and especially making transcriptions for the Lute Duo we always thought of the clavichord tone that always accompanied J.S. Bach. Clavichord was used for most of intimate try-outs, for first time presentation of pieces to family members. It is very possible that even big choirs from masses and oratorios were first played on that little instrument!

At this very point we realized that Lute harpsichord, «Das Lautenwerk», which Bach used and even took part in construction, was a direct link between the lute and the clavichord. A certain compromise which would let the master play with the lute tone and bring it to larger audience.

Bachs music for lute is a great example of transcription art. Some of the most popular lute works are suites BWV 995 and BWV 1006a. At the same time appeared to be masterpieces of the cello and violin repertoire (BWV 1011 and BWV 1006). We will probably never know which versions appeared first but what is most important is close connection Bach saw between lute and other solo instruments. In case of lute he could use one as a polyphonic instrument adding separate rather developed bass line as well as extensive ornamentation.

It is well known how often J.S. Bach reworked his pieces for other instruments (prelude from BWV 1006a appears even as a simfonia from cantata BWV 29, Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir, arranged for organ, strings, trumpets and even percussion!).

Suite for lute in F BWV 1006 as well as Suite in g moll BWV 995 presented here are probably the most popular Bachs compositions for solo lute. Both exist in versions for solo violin and cello respectively. Both works are written in stuff notation on two lines, making it rather obvious, that they were written with keyboard instrument in mind. They work very naturally on the lute.

This led us to the idea of making our own transcriptions of certain Bachs compositions.

In this program next to original Bach suites we present our transcriptions of the French suite n 3, Organ choral prelude Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jezu Christ, and even an orchestral piece, Air from the Overture in D BWV 1069. Having reworked those pieces for the lute duo we tried to imagine how lute players in the time of Bach would play them.

At the end we were surprised ourselves how naturally they sound on our instruments. The structure of the composition and the typical lute sketchy melodic structure of the French Suite with the first notes reminds on great duet compositions of the Style Brise School such as works of François Dufault and Ennemond Gaultier.



Toccata in F for two lutes BWV 540

French Suite N3 for two lutes in d minor BWV 814
Allemande | Courante | Sarabande | Menuett Trio | Angloise | Gigue

English Suite N 3 for two lutes in G minor BWV 808
Prelude | Allemande | Courante | Sarabande | Gavotte 1 | Gavotte 2 (La musette) | Gigue

Concerto for two Lutes and strings in d minor BWV 1043 (Originally for 2 Violins)
Vivace | Largo ma non tanto | Allegro

Air from the Orchestra Suite in D BWV 1068 for two lutes

Choral Prelude “Ich ruf’ zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ” BWV 639 for two lutes

Lute Suite in G-minor BWV 995
Prelude | Allemande | Courante | Sarabande | Gavottes 1 & 2 | Gigue

Lute Suite in A-minor BWV 997
Prelude | Fugue | Sarabande | Gigue | Double

Sonata for lute in g-minor BWV 1001 (Originally for violin solo)
Adagio | Fuga | Siciliana | Presto

Lute Suite in F-major 1006a
Preludio | Loure | Gavotte en Rondeau | Menuet I & II | Bourre | Gigue

Suite for lute in C-major BWV1007 (Originally for solo cello)
Prelude | Allemande | Courante | Sarabande | Menuets 1 & 2 | Gigue

Suite for lute in a-minor BWV1008 (Originally for solo cello)
Prelude | Allemande | Courante | Sarabande | Menuets 1 & 2 | Gigue

Suite in D-Major BWV 1012 (originally for Viola Pomposa)
Prelude | Allemande | Courante | Sarabande | Gavottes 1 & 2 | Gigue

<<< back to PROJECTS