The Four Lute Suites

In Brief

  • Title: Bach, the Four Lute Suites.
  • Musician: John Williams.
  • Identification: CBS MK 42202.
  • Release date: 1975.

Prelude BWV 1006 by Johann Sebastian Bach


This first review is not the first one by coincidence. The Bach record by John Williams was the first classical guitar record I ever purchased. I had followed guitar lessons for a few years and I felt the need to buy guitar records to enjoy the music and to have examples.

This example aspect became a bad habit of mine, until my then guitar teacher Ed Westerik smartly remarked that the world would not be better off with a bad Williams-clone, but would greatly improve with an original Mark’s performance!

My local record shop had the Bach double album in the bargain bin for just 17,75 guilders (before the Euro), not much more than the price of a standard pop LP. That was a special thing, because in those days the prices of classical recordings more or less confirmed the fact that classical music was for the (rich) elite.

Much later this record was re-issued on CD, with a slightly changed portrait of John Williams on the cover. The original had the somewhat formal photo that showed Williams with his “Brains-glasses” (remember the Thunderbirds?), the re-issue showed an older and much more joyful Williams on the front.

On this CD, John Williams plays the four lute suites by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), in succession the Suites BWV 996 (E minor), BWV 997 (A minor), BWV 1006a (E major) en BWV 995 (A minor).

The first things that became obvious to me were Williams’ strict and transparent approach. It started right away with the Prelude and the Presto in BWV 996. I guess in those days (1975) it was fashionable to play Bach strictly (and almost formal), while present-day players take more freedom for phrasing. John Williams deals with the material in a clean and systematic approach, except for the slow movements like the Sarabandes and Loures in which he permits himself more breathing space.

Two pieces from this CD got a special role in my guitar career. The Bourree from BWV 996 became my first Bach piece that I ever played. It helped me pass my first degree exam on the School of Music, even though it sounded much better in the waiting room than in front of the committee. It was fun to play the original of the well-known Jethro Tull hit!

I recognized the Prelude from BWV 1006a from the time before I followed guitar lessons, because the piece appeared as Simfonia on the Moog synthesizer LP Switched on Bach by Walter (presently Wendy) Carlos. 😉 Funny coincidence! Unfortunately, it became the first piece for me that I could not finish, it was too difficult for me. Consequently, I can imagine why this very piece caused problems with many players on the competitions of Enschede and Nordhorn. Bach as a killer! Anyway, John Williams gave me a nice acquaintance with the music by Bach, arranged for the classical guitar!

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