Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067
flute, harpsichord, violins, violas, cellos, basses
notes by Ann Jaeger
Composers of the 18th century regarded themselves as craftsmen with special skills needed and valued by the community. Bach and his colleagues imparted their skills to their sons, just as a silversmith or cobbler would hand down his craft to his children. They enjoyed a respected, if not exalted, place in society. A composer was typically either a member of a noble household or in the employ of a church and chorister school. Virtually every ruler in Europe had some type of musical staff and a musical director both to oversee it and to compose new works for the staff to perform.
Before and after his post at Köthen, which he held from 1717 to 1723, Bach was in the employ of churches and chorister schools. During his six year tenure at Köthen, he was in the service of the royal house of Prince Leopold. The cantatas and chorales that had tapped the purest sources of his genius to the point were no longer expected of him. He was required instead to turn to the secular art of court musicians, directing an orchestra in concerts and writing new music for these performances. Most of Bach’s secular instrumental works belong to this six year period.
After Bach’s death, the manuscripts of his prolific output were divided between his two eldest sons. Some of the works of the Köthen period went to Wilhelm Friedemann and, tragically, are lost. The rest, in the hands of Carl Philipp Emmanuel, survived and are assumed to contain about half of the instrumental works written at Köthen. Among these works are the Brandenburg Concertos and the four Ouvertures, or Orchestral Suites.
The Orchestral Suites are a series of short pieces in various dance forms preceded by an introductory section in the style of a French overture, a form for which German composers of the 17th and early 18th centuries showed a marked fondness. As a result, the suites are sometimes referred to as “Ouvertures” or “French Suites”. The exact occasion or purpose for which Bach composed the second of these suites is not known and is likely to remain a mystery. The lively dances and bright sound of the solo flute certainly suggest a happy court celebration.