Bach meets Frederick the Great (English subtitles)

03 Sep 2018 06:42 1,057
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This clip is from a tv series in 4 parts from 1985 named "Johann Sebastian Bach" (an East German/Hungarian collaboration). The initial music at 0:00 - 0:48 is one of the King's own pieces: Flute Concerto No. 3 in C Major (1st movement, Allegro). The chromatic theme presented by the King at 2:42 - 3:17 formed the basis of Bach's Musical Offering (BWV 1079) in 16 movements. At 4:17 - 5:23 Bach plays the beginning of the movement "Ricercare à 3".

English subtitles are available:
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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) met the Prussian King Frederick II "the Great" (1712-1786) in May 1747. The meeting, taking place at the King's residence in Potsdam, came about because Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel was employed there as court musician. Frederick wanted to show the elder Bach a novelty, the fortepiano, which had been invented some years earlier. The King owned several of the experimental instruments being developed by Gottfried Silbermann. During his visit to Frederick's palace in Potsdam, Bach, who was well known for his skill at improvising, received from Frederick a long and complex musical theme on which to improvise a three-voice fugue. He did so, but Frederick then challenged him to improvise a six-voice fugue on the same theme. Bach answered that he would need to work the score and send it to the King afterwards.

This clip is from a tv series in 4 parts from 1985 (named "Johann Sebastian Bach"), which depicts the life of the composer. Bach is played by Ulrich Thein (1930-1995) and Frederick by Hans-Jörn Weber (b. 1941). The series was a collaboration between East German and Hungarian television. The clip appears at 8 min and 50 sek in part 4. (International Movie Database) (German Wikipedia)

In the last scene, after the king and his entourage have left, you see the musicians applauding and Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel comes to embrace his father.

The complete movie is available on Youtube (with Portuguese subtitles):

1. "The Challenge"

2. "Are you with me"

3. "Storms and Years"

4. "The order of the stars"

This is the same video (without subtitles):

In case Portuguese is not your preferred language, an option is to turn on auto-translate. Click Settings - Subtitles - Auto-translate, and then select your preferred language. Although not perfect, this should be helpful.

In a comment to above video, Jay Preis points out that many details in this clip are not historically correct:

"In this video Bach Meets Frederick, the writers got many details of this historic meeting wrong. You might say they "improvised." Bach improvised on the king's many Silbermann fortepianos, not on harpsichord. The writers improvised the notion that the king interrupted Bach before he could explain that he was well acquainted with Silbermann and his fortepianos, having tested them in the 1730s and having advised Silbermann to lighten the action and improve the high register. On the evening when Bach met the king (Sunday, May 7, 1747) at his Potsdam residence, the king played a fugue theme on fortepiano-- not flute--and asked Bach to improvise a fugue on the theme, which Bach did in 3 parts--on fortepiano not harpsichord, without interruption, and to the delight and approval of the king's many noble and distinguished guests. The NEXT evening, AFTER Bach had given an organ recital, the king asked Bach to improvise a 6-part fugue on the same theme. Bach declined, explaining that such a theme would require more preparation. Instead, Bach improvised a 6-part fugue on a theme of his own choosing, not on the king's theme". Also, while Bach is portrayed as a genius, the Prussian king is shown as an unpleasant arrogant boasting aristocrat, not grasping Bach's genius – a historically absolutely untrue depiction of Frederick, who was very much impressed by Bach and praised his unsurpassed abilities in a talk with the Austrian Count Swieten in 1774 – 27 years later and 24 years after Bach's death. The film, nevertheless is still one of, or even the best non-documentary film about Bachs life."

Another performance of same concerto can be found here:
Emmanuel Pahud plays the flute. His playing starting at 3 min and 27 sek corresponds to the beginning of this video clip.

This is an alternative version of Bach's visit with Frederick:
The visit starts at 15 min and 18 sek.

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