Bach and beyond…and an australian premiere

The evolution of JS Bach’s music never ended with his death. He must surely be the only composer whose music has not just endured but has been re-invented over centuries.

 Some retained Bach’s music as he wrote it, but dressed it differently, adding layers of  fantastical improvisations – Jacques Loussier, The King’s Singers, Christoph Poppen’s Morimur. Others took Bach’s motifs and created their own unmistakably Bach-like works – Heitor Villa- Lobos with Bachianas Brasilieras, Reynaldo Hahn in A Chloris and even Procol Harum in A Whiter Shade of Pale.

 One of the newest additions to the latter body of work is Jonathan Dove’s Köthener Messe. Dove’s music has yet to be broadly heard in Sydney, but later this month, the choir of St James’ King Street, directed by Warren Trevelyan-Jones will perform the Australian premiere of Dove’s Köthener Messe in their concert Bach and Beyond

Born in 1959 in London, Jonathan Dove studied composition at Cambridge with Robin Holloway. His early work as an accompanist and repetiteur gave him a first hand working knowledge of vocal writing. Edition Peters says: ‘ It is perhaps natural that a composer who so completely understands the individual voice should also be a brilliant and sympathetic writer of choral music… with chorus include Köthener Messe, in which the spirit of Bach’s early cantatas can be heard informing the music (and is one of several works in which Dove exploits his fascination with early musical instruments)’. 

The Köthener Messe was commissioned for the 2002 bi-ennial Köthen Bach Festival and scored for chorus, SATB soloists, two recorders, harpsichord and strings. This instrumentation replicates the 4th Brandenburg and 6th harpsichord concerti. The link between the title of the mass and its musical motifs is strong. Bach was Kapellmeister at the court of Prince Leopold in Köthen when he composed the Brandenburg concerti. In the way that Bach used parody in his writing, Dove has drawn on this style of quoting and re-working Bach’s music in the Köthener Messe. 

The reviews of the Köthener Messe were laudative. Matthew Rye from The Telegraph:  

“The result, rather than a mere exercise in pastiche, is a typically Dovian and ingenious fusion of old and new. The poignant recorders in thirds from the middle movement of the Fourth Brandenburg Concerto introduce the Kyrie; figuration from Well-Tempered Clavier preludes and fugues goes wild in the Gloria; the Sixth Brandenburg and C major Prelude merge in the Sanctus”

…and Geoff Brown in The Times wrote:

“Dove’s compact Mass imagines Bach during his period as the Köthen court Kapellmeister, falling asleep during the drone of a church sermon and conjuring a dream Mass from fragments of his own instrumental music. Free of their usual moorings, motifs drift and find new companions. Snatches from the Brandenburgs meet relics from the first book of The Well-Tempered Klavier. Keys are mixed and transposed, phrases reiterated or left unfinished; yet from these shards and distortions Dove still weaves a tapestry that makes perfect musical sense. He … shapes a Mass both witty and reverent […] An enchanting work…”           

Bach and Beyond will feature two of J.S. Bach’s greatest choral works, as well as other works inspired by the beloved Baroque composer. The Choir of Trinity College (Melbourne) will join Sydney’s magnificent Choir of St. James’ to perform Bach’s Magnificat and the motet Singet dem Herrn, accompanied by the acclaimed Ironwood early music ensemble. 

The Choir of Trinity College will also perform a selection of Brahms motets. Last year the Choir of Trinity College and conductor Michael Leighton Jones toured to Europe, performing in Bach’s Thomaskirche in Leipzig, among other renowned venues. 

Warren Trevelyan-Jones and Michael Leighton Jones are both former choristers at Westminster Abbey and have between them a wealth of professional singing and directing experience in Australia and abroad, with the choirs of King’s College, Cambridge, and Exeter and Windsor cathedrals, as well as Ensemble Plus Ultra and The Consort of Melbourne.

Tickets: $48/$40, call 8256 2222 or on line at

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