Air On The G String

When I launched this blog I said it would cover a wide range of genres, including a “smattering of classical”. I was using ‘classical’ to mean anything in the styles prevalent in the 300 years or so from about 1600 – mainly orchestral and in one of a number of recognised forms (symphonies, concertos, etc.). Music historians divide those centuries into three periods, each with its own style: Baroque (1600 to 1750), Classical (1750 to 1830) and Romantic (1810 to 1900).

For my first venture back in time I’m going to choose a piece from the Baroque period that is now known as Air on the G String. It is the second section of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suite No. 3 in D major. Originally written around 1720 for an ensemble of about a dozen instruments, it was arranged for violin and piano by August Wilhelmj in the late 19th century. It is the later arrangement that can be played entirely on the G string of a violin, which gives the piece its popular name.

J. S. Bach is easily my favourite classical (small ‘c’) composer and his Air on the G String is a particular favourite of mine. It has a lovely tune, all the parts have something interesting to say and the chords wander through the musical landscape like a stroll in the countryside. I invite you to put on your headphones and come for a walk with me…

More Info:

  • The air is familiar to modern audiences as the theme from the Hamlet TV advertisements. The tune is also incorporated into Procol Harum’s 1967 single A Whiter Shade of Pale and (according to Wikipedia) the Beatles Sea of Monsters track on their Yellow Submarine album.
  • The link given above is a performance by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra that feels a bit slow to me. There’s a much better rendition available as an ‘ogg’ file under a creative commons licence, but it stops abruptly after 2 minutes 50 seconds. You may need to download a player that understands the ogg file format to play it.

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