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The Mystery of BWV 1067

By Gonzalo X. Ruiz

Until my recent performances, no consideration

had been given to the most obvious solution to a
musical mystery: Bachs Second Orchestral Suite
was in all likelihood a work for oboe and strings.


J.S. Bach, BWV 1067, occupies a
special place in the repertoire of the
a problem for the flute would still be a
problem for the violin in A minor. This
type of orchestration is not used by
lowest note was C, one step lower. But
the large majority of Bachs flute writing
is unplayable on the oboe, even in a
flute. Because Bach left behind no flute Bach or any other Baroque composer in downward transposition.
concerto, this work has filled the gap. violin works but is a standard feature of The above should not be confused
For some time, one of the flute oboe writing, not only in Bach but in with a different, though related, phe-
worlds best kept secrets has been that Telemann, Vivaldi, C.P.E. Bach, Fasch, nomenon: one can always play oboe
the B-minor work as it survives is, in and others. On the basis of the ripieno music on flute by transposing it up a
fact, a hasty reworking of a suite, now texture alone, this work could be safely step or a third. This, combined with
lost, in A minor, a pitch that would have assigned to the oboe. market realities (commercial flute music
made the work unsuitable for traverso. The internal evidence of the solo sold in much larger numbers than oboe
The original parts were copied from part also supports the oboe hypothesis. music), led to the publication of many
parts in A minor by Bach with the help Most of the solo line in the first move- volumes of oboe music in upward
of four copyists, which, in itself, sug- ment consists of standard woodwind transposition for flute. But its not only
gests a time constraint. This much is figuration, while the putative string- secondary oboist-composers who
agreed upon by all who have looked at crossing passages are notable for their engaged in this practice. At least two of
the evidence. similarity to passages in famous oboe Handels oboe sonatas were published in
So, if the flute was not the original works. A clear example of the distinc- a higher key for flute. Mozart once tried
soloist, which instrument played this tion may be found in the Brandenburg to pass off his C-major oboe concerto,
famous work? Some scholars have Concerto No. 2. The first movement which had received several perform-
endorsed a reconstruction featuring the features a type of imitation string- ances, as a new D-major flute concerto.
violin, which is, as we shall see, a prob- crossing that was lingua franca to both The most pertinent example of this
lematic hypothesis. Until my recent per- violins and woodwinds. The third move- practice comes from none other than
formances, no consideration had been ment, however, offers classic examples J.S. Bach. The cantata Ich Habe
given to the most obvious solution to of the type of true string-crossing that Genug, BWV 82, is a sublime, substan-
this musical mystery: BWV 1067 was is the exclusive domain of string tial work for solo baritone, oboe, strings,
in all likelihood a work for oboe and instruments. and continuo. Bach transposed it with
strings. Two obvious objections can be raised minor changes for a performance using
Although it is regularly performed here. First, could the original solo have soprano and flute. This is the pattern
with great artistry by the worlds top been substantially different from the that I believe he applied to the A minor
flutists, BWV 1067 is a singularly unsat- extant flute text, and unplayable on suite that became BWV 1067. ,
isfying piece on flute. The texture and oboe? Its unlikely: if the solo were any A prizewinner at the Brugges Early Music
tessitura are the main culprits. Not only lower, the textural balance issues already Competition in Belgium, Gonzalo Xavier Ruiz
does the flute part lie quite low, but the mentioned would be exacerbated. On has performed with most of the leading
period instrument groups in America and
solo lines are often submerged below the other hand, if it were higher, it
Europe. For 12 years, he has been professor of
the first violin, making for balance prob- wouldnt make sense to change that oboe at the Oberlin Conservatorys Baroque
lems, even when the minimum comple- aspect when adapting it to the flute. The Performance Institute. He has given six per-
ment of strings is used. Tallying on a second objection is that since what we formances of his reconstruction of the Suite in
quarter-note basis, the soloist spends now have is a version for flute, whose A Minor after BWV 1067 under the direction
exactly two-thirds of the time at or lowest note was D, it is small wonder of Monica Huggett and Giovanni Antonini of Il
below the range of the violin I. What is that it can be played on the oboe, whose Giardino Armonico.

56 Spring 2005 Early Music America