Visitors & Friends > News > Releases > Arts & Humanities > Article
March 28, 2001
Editor's Note: Useful web links are listed at the end of this news release.
WAS PROBABLY PENNED BY BACH
Johann Sebastian Bach is widely regarded as perhaps the greatest composer of all time. Now, a new piece of music is being credited to the composer, a popular trumpet fanfare, known as Abblasen, whose authorship has remained unknown since the piece was first presented in a well-known 1727 portrait of Gottfried Reiche, a contemporary of Bach's and one of the finest trumpeters of his day.
"For a number of reasons, J. S. Bach merits strong consideration to have been the composer of the portrait fanfare," said Dr. Eric Altschuler, a researcher in the University of California, San Diego Department of Psychology and a Bach aficionado. "The fanfare is a fabulous piece of music. If it were already in the Bach catalog, it would certainly be in the top half of Bach's pieces. It also very much sounds like Bach. The probability that Reiche (who was also a composer) or anyone else wrote a 'good Bach piece' is very small although not impossible."
Altschuler's findings, summarized in the research paper "Did Bach Write the Fanfare in Gottfried Reiche's Portrait?" will be published in a forthcoming issue of The Musical Times. A neuroscientist and medical doctor by training, Altschuler is also something of a Bach scholar. He is the author of "Bachanalia: The Essential Listener's Guide to Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier" (Little, Brown and Co., 1994).
In the Reiche portrait, painted by E. Haussmann, Reiche holds a trumpet in his right hand, to signify his occupation. In his left hand, he holds the fanfare, which has been popularized in the U.S. as the theme to the television show "CBS Sunday Morning." The composer of the fanfare has never been identified, although Reiche has always been considered the leading candidate.
Although not all of Reiche's compositions have survived, a study of the Vier und zwantig neue Quatricina, a set of twenty-four pieces for coronet and three trombones, considered to be Reiche's most substantial composition, reveals no similarities with the fanfare. In contrast, said Altschuler, both volumes of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, which like the Quatricinia are not trumpet pieces, the features in common with the fanfare, including fast thirty-second and sixteenth notes, syncopation, and multiple eliding sequences, are strikingly clear.
Since the portrait was made in honor of Reiche's 60th birthday, Altschuler believes that the fanfare could easily have been a birthday present from Bach. Reiche was known as "Bach's trumpeter" and Bach's first trumpet parts, from Bach's arrival in Leipzig in 1723 until 1734, were written for Reiche.
"The chance that the portrait fanfare is a birthday present is greatly increased by the fact that the fanfare is anonymous, while a piece (Canon Triplex for 6 Voices), that Bach is holding in his own portrait by painted by Haussmann in 1746, is identified in the painting as "Per J. S. Bach," said Altschuler. "Interestingly, it would appear that Reiche's thumb is potentially covering up the signature of the composer in his portrait."
In his paper, Altschuler identifies several musical patterns, techniques, and unique Bachian characteristics of the trumpet fanfare, which underscore the likelihood of the piece being written by the famous composer. These include the pattern sequence starting on the weak part of a beat, seamless elisions of one sequence into another, and similarities between the trumpet fanfare and the trumpet part of Bach Cantata 137. In addition, the handwriting of the tempo marking "Allegro" in the Reiche portrait, says Altschuler, matches that in Bach's autograph in his portrait.
Bach was also well known for his use of various self-referential word and number games within his pieces. For example, the last subject of the final fugue of the Art of the Fugue has as its four-note theme BACH (in old style German notation "B" stood for b-flat and "H" for b natural). Bach used the BACH theme in other pieces as well. Among his favorite numbers were 14 (=BACH with B=2, A=1, C=3, H=8) and 41 (=JS BACH -in old German notation, as in Latin, "I" and "J" were the same letter).
The fanfare in the Reiche portrait is two lines long. The last line begins a new measure and also opens with thirty-second notes, just as the first line does. Adding to the symmetry, only the beginning of the two lines use thirty-second notes. The last contains 41 written notes. The 41-note second line may have been a discreet way for Bach to put his signature on the piece, perhaps as a birthday present in the portrait of his great trumpeteer, Altschuler concluded in his paper.
"Although we can't yet be certain that this piece is by Bach, all the evidence seems to point in that direction," said Altschuler. "Further evidence in the future may shed further light on its origins. Regardless of its composer, I have found the study of this complex yet beautiful piece in miniature to be a perfect utilization of the resources of a solo natural trumpet."
Note: The following are useful web site links containing photographs of Bach, Reiche, and the fanfare piece. In addition, you can hear the fanfare by clicking on the CBS News web link below (audio link is on right side of page):
Copyright ©2001 Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.