On American Public Media’s program “Composers Datebook”, Ron Nelson’s “Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H)” was featured in celebration of Sunday being Bach’s birthday! The recording used during the program was Holidays and Epiphanies featuring the Dallas Wind Symphony.
Click Play to listen to Composers Datebook Featuring Ron Nelson’s Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H)
Here is the written transcript from the show:
One of the most serious — and daunting — of musical forms is the passacaglia, in which an unchanging melodic pattern repeats itself while other lines of melody offer elaboration and counterpoint to the unwavering tread of the repeated motive. The result tends to be deliberate, somber, and imposing.
The most famous passacaglia in all of Western classical music is the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor for organ by Johann Sebastian Bach, whose birthday we observe on today’s date.
After Bach’s high water mark, it takes more than a little courage for modern composers to tackle this form. One of those brave souls who tried — and succeeded — is the American composer Ron Nelson. Nelson’s “Passacaglia,” subtitled “Homage on B-A-C-H” utilizes the melodic motive represented in German musical nomenclature by B-flat, A, C, and B natural (in German B natural being represented by the letter H).
Nelson’s wind band “Passacaglia” was was commissioned to celebrate the 125h anniversary of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music in 1992. It didn’ t prove an easy task, recalls Nelson: “It evolved very slowly. The trick was to make it seamless and inexorable. Of all my compositions, this is the tightest. I cannot imagine changing one note.”
Apparently others agree, since the resulting work won a number of awards and has become a wind band classic.
Music Played on Today’s Program: