• “Air on a G string” - What one of J.S. Bach’s most familiar melody means to Casey

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    Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the greatest and most productive composers ever with 1128 compositions that are known but probably there are many more. Scientists and Bach-specialists estimate that only 10% of Bach’s compositions have been preserved. That would be more than 10’000 compositions written by Bach!

    Not much is known about Bach’s family and private life. Born in 1685 in Eisenach (Germany), Bach grew up in a musical family. His great-grandfather was a piper, his grandfather worked as a court musician and his father was a violinist, trumpeter and organist. Bach’s parents died when he was only ten years old. His older brother Johann Christoph took care of him. Johann Christoph was a musician too and had studied organ with the famed Johann Pachelbel who wrote the famous Canon in D, which George Winston nicely arranged as “Variation on the Canon”. Living with his brother – who taught Bach music – young Johann Sebastian longed to study a score given to his brother by Pachelbel. But Johann Christoph kept it locked away. At night, Bach would sneak out the manuscript and copy it by moonlight until he got caught and the score as well as his copy was taken away from him. Read some more facts about Bach.

    Bach continued to study music throughout his childhood and teenage years. When Bach was aged 20, he walked more than 200 miles from Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear organist Dietrich Buxtehude play. Now that’s some true fan-love there! He stuck around for four months to study with Buxtehude. Bach hoped to get a position in Lübeck as organist but a prerequisite to get the position was to marry one of Buxtehude’s daughters. Bach declined and walked back home. The fan-love obviously was not that deep.

    In 1708 he took a job at the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, assuming a slew of responsibilities he actually never really signed up for. However, he stuck around and was hoping that his hard work would lead to his promotion to music director at the court. When the job was handed to the former music director’s son, Bach furiously resigned and left to join a rival court. The duke jailed him for four weeks as retribution. Bach spent the four weeks writing preludes for organ.

    Bach himself had also a very big family: With his first two wives, he had more than 20 children but not all of them survived to adulthood. Out of the ten surviving children, four became notable composers. The Bach family produced more than 50 musicians over the course of two centuries and is by far the most influential musical family in history!

    In the first half of the 18th century, Bach composed his third Orchestral Suite in D major, which has “Air” as a second movement. Bach wrote this composition for his patron Prince Leopold of Anhalt between 1717 and 1723. Thanks to arrangement by the German violinist August Wilhelmj as “Air on the G String” not only lovers of Bach’s music are familiar with this masterpiece but everybody has heard somewhere the famous melody. Originally composed for violin and basso continuo, Wilhelmj arranged it for violin and an accompaniment of strings, piano or organ (harmonium) and transposed it from D major to C major. By transposing the melody, Wilhelmj was able to play the piece on only one string of his violin, the G string.

    “Air on a G string” became one of the most popular melodies in the history of music and has inspired many musicians to make their own arrangement. Also Casey made his own arrangement of “Air”.

    Casey about “Air”: “This Bach piece, “Air on a G” string, has a very special significance to me. I remember as a young boy waking up on Saturday mornings hearing this song being played on the local radio station WMHR in Syracuse, New York. It always preceded a radio program my mom would listen to as she was doing her household things.

    I remember thinking it was quite a remarkable piece of music. It sort of “stirred” something in me I guess it is the only way to explain it. In direct association with this is my memory of my mom teaching herself to play various pieces of music. For a long time she tried learning the first page to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and very often I’d wake up early in the morning hearing her play this. Often times both pieces one after the other. Maybe Bach’s “Air on a G” string inspired her to play a bit. It wouldn’t surprise me.

    My interpretation of this piece of music now, after more than 40 years of playing it as Bach intended, (in funerals weddings etc.) is more of how it “appeared” to me back then, more than 40 years ago, and the environment in which I grew up: rural and simple. The smell of breakfast cooking and mom practicing the Moonlight Sonata with Bach’s “Air” introducing and ending “Our daily bread” devotional radio program.

    Mom never really got past the first half page of the “Moonlight Sonata”, it gets a bit tricky, and at the end of “Air”, as a sort of tribute to her, I “stick on” the first 4 measures, in E minor, as ma would have played it - Not C sharp minor, as it was originally written. No way could ma have taught herself to play it that key signature. But she could manage a bit in E minor.

    I find it quite cool that the same station that played Bach’s “Air” for us almost half a century ago now plays my own compositions and that my mom still listens to this station day and night.

    “Air” represents to me more than just a gorgeous melody by a famous classical composer. It’s more than that. It’s a celebration of what an inspired human can achieve. And it’s a beautiful memory of a time when things were just a bit simpler. From the perspective of a seven year old boy, hearing this piece of music, and to some extent hearing your mother figuring out Beethoven on the family Wurlitzer, was pure magic. It still is.”

    This arrangement will be on Casey’s new album, which will be released in 2021. You can pre-save the digital single now on Spotify. Official release date on all streaming and download platforms is March 21st 2021.

    This arrangement will be on Casey’s new album, which will be released in 2021. You can pre-save the digital single now on Spotify. Official release date on all streaming and download platforms is March 21st 2021.

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