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Just Bach…but not quite…

Concertgebouw Amsterdam

In 2006, Sybolt de Jong began arranging cantata movements by Bach for organ duet, simply to play for fun. And what happened? The complex, vocal lines of Bach sounded extraordinarily good on organ. The brothers decided to make a CD for friends and acquaintances. During the Spring of 2006, they travelled with their friend, the recording engineer Jack Westra, to the beautiful Hinsz organ in the Martinikerk in Bolsward. The critics were enthusiastic and the idea to release a whole series of such recordings was born.

Points of Departure

  • Jelle Stellingwerf was added to the team. He is a musicologist and a recording freak and, like Jack, is blessed with an outstanding pair of ears.
  • All of Bach’s cantatas were surveyed to see which movements would survive the transcription process.
  • Not a single note of Bach’s has been altered, although realized continuo parts are often added to arias and chorale trios.
  • The arrangements must sound like real organ works by Bach.
  • The organs used are exclusively historic instruments (large city organs) from the 17th and 18th centuries.
  • Euwe en Sybolt live in the Northern Netherlands and strive to include as many Northern city organs as possible in the series.
  • The titles of the movements are translated into the language of the organ, for example trio sonata, chaconne, preludium, fugue etc
  • The series will finish only when the brothers stop having fun…

Transcription…a responsible art?

For the brothers, this question never came into it…only the enjoyment of playing Bach’s fantastic music. The choice to put their transcriptions into the public domain had both its pros and cons. Music historian Arnoud Heerings expressed it as follows in a review:
‘The organ literature has gained, as a result, a large number of interesting pieces and the arrangements sound as if the great master himself would have enjoyed them. The best advocates for this variety of transcription are the brothers themselves whose playing betrays their enthusiasm. The process is just like the filming of a book; two different media, each with its pros and cons. I can imagine that many will be won over by the duet versions”.