The Idler Guide to Bach with Sandy Burnett

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The Idler Guide to Bach with Sandy Burnett

Immerse yourself in the life and music of Johann Sebastian Bach, arguably the greatest composer who ever lived.

In the Idler Academy’s online course, broadcaster and musician Sandy Burnett guides us through the principal elements of Bach’s biography and his most beautiful works.

We follow Bach’s life from his early years – he was born into a remarkable musical family in Thuringia, Germany – through to his maturity in Leipzig where he wrote the great Passions and cantatas.

Along the way, Sandy explores a few outstanding works in detail, with illustrations drawn from the very best available recordings.

We learn about Bach’s most important works including the Brandenburg Concerto and the St Matthew Passion. We end with Bach’s Mass in B Minor, completed a year before the composer’s death in 1750.

Filmed in Fenton House, Hampstead, this online course showcases one of the National Trust property’s rare harpsichords, part of a unique collection of early keyboards at Fenton and the instrument the composer wrote so many great works for.

You will emerge from the course uplifted, educated and enlightened.

The course features a 3D tour of Leipzig. You will receive course notes, a reading list, an interactive quiz and a lovely certificate on completion.

With special thanks to Ben Marks, Keeper of the Benton Fletcher Collection of Instruments.

About the Tutor

Sandy Burnett is is one of the UK’s most versatile music commentators, enjoying a career that combines broadcasting, performing and lecturing. After studying at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge and working as music director for the RSC, National Theatre and in London’s West End, Sandy Burnett spent a decade as one of the core team of presenters on BBC Radio 3. He has devised and led cultural holidays all over the world since 2013, taking music lovers to venues as diverse as the opulent Leipzig Opera House and the intimate jazz clubs of New Orleans.

He runs an online classical music appreciation Listening Club, is an accredited Arts Society lecturer, works as a highly sought after double bassist on the London jazz scene, and was appointed the Academy of Ancient Music’s Hogwood Fellow for the 2018-19 season.

Sandy is the author of the Idler Guide to Classical Music, and also created and presented the Idler Academy online courses “The Idler Guide to Jazz” and “An Introduction to Classical Music”.

What you Get

On-demand videos: seven video lessons to watch any time plus an introduction

Audio: the option to download and listen to the lessons in podcast form

Downloadable notes: in your printable notes you’ll find an overview of the course, a timeline of Bach’s life, and an extensive bibliography for further reading

Exclusive course forum: here you can chat and swap tips with fellow students from the Idler community

Quiz: test what you’ve learned with our fun multiple choice quiz

Certificate: when you pass the quiz you will be sent a personalised Idler Academy Certificate of Completion


Course Outline

Introduction (2 minutes)

Sandy introduces the course to students.

Lesson One: Early Years and Weimar (23 minutes)

The course begins with some background on Bach’s family and his early years which were filled with music. We cover the death of his parents and the changes this caused young Bach, in addition to finding out about his education and first job as a court musician in Weimar.

We listen to Bach’s Actus Tragicus, along with Bach’s arrangement of Vivaldi’s L’estro Armonico and Vivaldi’s original version.

Lesson Two: Cöthen (31 minutes)

In this lesson, we find out about the time Bach spent at Cöthen in his thirties. We cover the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Brandenburg Concerto, the G Major Cello Suite and the G Minor Sonata for solo violin.

We listen to selections from all of the above works.

Lesson Three: Bach’s Cantatas in Leipzig (27 minutes)

We cover the move made by Bach and his family to Leipzig. Here, we learn more about the great body of Cantatas that Bach worked on whilst living there, and about Lutheranism and Lutheran musical culture.

In this lesson, we listen to sections from Bach’s Cantatas, and Sandy sits down at one of Fenton House’s harpsichords to explains musical details to students.

Lesson Four: St Matthew Passion (31 minutes)

First performed on Good Friday in 1727, the St Matthew Passion is one of the most signigifacnt works in the Western musical tradition. A deeply religious work, there is much to learn for both Christian listeners and those of other beliefs or none. We analyse five moments from the Passion to introduce you to this masterpiece.

We listen to sections from the St Matthew Passion.

Lesson Five: Late Instrumental (21 minutes)

We learn about the two works Bach composed for a single instrument: the harpsichord. Delving into the Goldberg Variations, we also touch on the Art of the Fugue.

In this lesson, Sandy illustrates his points with recordings from both the Goldberg Variations and the Art of the Fugue.

Lesson Six: The B Minor Mass (24 minutes)

At the very end of his life, Bach compiled one of his most important works, the B Minor Mass. First composed as a protest against his Leipzig employers, Bach returned to it in his later years, bringing together texts he had worked on in the previous decades that might otherwise have been forgotten.

Lesson Seven: Recording of a “Meet the Tutor” Q&A (45 minutes)

Catch up with a recording of an online event when students had the chance to ask Sandy their questions directly.