Johann Christian Bach: The Periodical Overture in 8 Parts – No. I

I am very excited to introduce the first of the 61 Periodical Overtures in 8 Parts which are being published in conjunction with Musikproduktion Höflich.

Listen here before heading over to musikproduktion höflich to obtain the score and parts.

The structure of the Periodical Overture No. 1 reflects the close kinship between Italian operatic overtures, or sinfonie, and early symphonies. It is in three movements, in a typical fast-slow-fast tempo arrangement, and the middle movement is in the key of G, the subdominant of the outer movements’ D major tonality. Although (the publisher) Bremner would eventually exceed the “eight parts” limit in some of the later items in the series, he eliminated the trumpet and timpani parts from Bach’s operatic version. As would be true in all of Bremner’s Periodical Overtures, the bass is figured.

The first movement also reflects many features of the newer “Mannheim” taste. It is marked “Allegro con Spirito” and presents a striking unison arpeggiated passage after a bold hammer chord. The eighth-note rhythms of the opening soon yield to sixteenths, reflecting the principle of increasing animation; the lower strings frequently perform “drum eighths” as part of the first theme’s steady propulsion through two- and four-bar phrases. The second theme at ms. 29, in A major, drops to piano and features more polyphonic interweaving of lines; the winds frequently play sigh motives. After a series of sudden dynamic contrasts, Bach’s closing theme (ms. 39) again opens at piano with the upper strings playing “tip-toe” passages in thirds.

Structurally, the “Allegro con spirito” is a sonata form without a development, which James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy call a “Type I Sonata.”[1] Therefore, while the first theme is heard in A major beginning in ms. 46, it immediately jumps back to the tonic D major in ms. 50, followed by the second theme and closing theme in measures 69 and 80.

The “Andante,” like the first movement, is in common time, and has been called “elegantly poised.”[2] The ensemble is reduced to strings alone, but there is again a strong opening chord, followed by numerous sudden dynamic contrasts. The “B” theme, starting in ms. 9, is peppered with numerous Scotch snaps. The movement’s architecture is a rounded binary form, with the “A” theme returning in ms. 21. The subsequent coda (ms. 28) continues the contrasting dynamics, but gives the low strings occasional pedal tones on the tonic G.

The “Allegro assai” follows the popular trend of a gigue-like finale. Set in 3/8 time, it has the customary disjunct bounciness of a jig. It also is tied to the opening movement by means of a unison arpeggiated opening, again in a descending direction. Like the slow movement, it is in rounded binary form, with its opening melody returning in ms. 45. Bach brings the movement—and the overture—to an emphatic close by repeating the tonic chord thirteen times in the last five bars. Periodical Overture No. I gave the public a very fine introduction to Bach’s instrumental prowess as well as a promising indication of the quality of future items in Bremner’s series.

Alyson McLamore

[1] James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy, Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 345.

[2] Ernest Warburton, program booklet commentary for Johann Christian Bach, Opera Overtures Vol. 1, The Hanover Band, conducted by Anthony Halstead, CO 999129-2, compact disc, 17.


Coming soon….

The Periodical Overture in 8 Parts – Number II: Francesco Ricci