Bach in Mozart's Vienna


Mar. 31, 2014

The Academy for Ancient Music Berlin explores music that brings together two of history's greatest composers.

J.S. Bach Mozart

A few years ago New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini set out to determine a Top 10 ranking of composers. Like most subjective Top 10 lists the entire exercise is somewhat dubious. But there are probably few who would argue with at least the upper echelon of the final results:

  • First: Bach
  • Second: Beethoven
  • Third: Mozart

It's always fun to imagine what composers from across eras would say to each other if they could, and for those top three those conversations will always remain hypothetical. None of them ever met any of the others. But we do know that Mozart was enthralled with Bach's music.

During the 1780's Mozart was one of many participants in gatherings hosted by Baron Gottfried van Swieten, a former diplomat who had taken the post of Prefect of the Imperial Library. In a letter dated April 10, 1782, the composer wrote to his father, "Every Sunday at twelve I go to Baron van Swieten’s – and nothing is played there except Handel and Bach. – I’m currently making myself a collection of Bach fugues.’

Academy for Ancient Music BerlinNow one of the world's most refined and artistic early music ensembles, the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin (Academy for Ancient Music Berlin) has created a recording based on those fugues Mozart transcribed. With preludes by Mozart and others from van Swieten's Sunday gatherings paired with Bach's fugues, we experience an illuminating and artistic collision of styles.

The preludes are fully Classical: graceful, elegant, soulful. And the fugues, originally written for harpsichord as parts of the two books Bach called the Well-Tempered Clavier, are full of the cosmic contrapuntal genius that proved so fascinating to those Viennese enthusiasts decades after the composer's death.

Hear selections from this new recording all week on 99.5 WCRB. To learn more, click on "Listen" above to hear this recording on The Bach Hour.


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