The Kennedy Center


About the Work

Jan Bach Composer: Jan Bach
© Dr. Richard E. Rodda

The answer to the inevitable question is, no, Jan Bach is not a direct descendant of that immense eponymous clan of musicians who streamed through 18th-century Germany and into the music history textbooks, though he is one of this country's most distinguished and frequently performed composers. Mr. Bach was born in Forrest, Illinois on December 11, 1937, and received his professional training at the University of Illinois in Urbana, where he earned his doctor of musical arts degree in 1971; his composition teachers have included such eminent pedagogues as Roberto Gerhard, Aaron Copland, Kenneth Gaburo, Robert Kelly, and Thea Musgrave. Bach taught at the University of Tampa in 1965-66, and from 1966-2002 he served on the theory and composition faculty of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, receiving that institution's award for Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching in 1978 and its first Presidential Research Professorship four years later. His catalog encompasses a wide range of traditional genres, including orchestral works, opera (The Student from Salamanca won the competition for a new, one-act American opera sponsored by the New York City Opera in 1980, and was premiered by that company on October 9, 1980, in a production by Beverly Sills), piano pieces, concert band scores, songs and choral compositions, and much chamber music. His many honors include the BMI Student Composers Award, Koussevitzky Award at Tanglewood, Harvey Gaul Composition Contest, Mannes College Opera Competition, Sigma Alpha Iota Composition Award, first prize at the First International Brass Congress in Montreux (Mr. Bach is a horn player and has written many pieces for brass instruments, including a horn concerto), a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Brown University Choral Composition Award, and first prize in the Nebraska Sinfonia Chamber Orchestra Competition. In addition Mr. Bach's works have been nominated six times for the Pulitzer Prize in Music. Among his commissions are those from the Orpheus Trio, Chicago Brass Quintet, tubist Harvey Phillips, Orchestra of Illinois, Tubists Universal Brotherhood Association (T.U.B.A.), International Trumpet Guild, International Brass Congress and Greenwich (Connecticut) Philharmonic. His music has been heard in concert throughout this country and in Europe, and broadcast by NPR and the BBC.

Mr. Bach wrote, "Eisteddfod was composed in the summer of 1972 at the request of the Orpheus Trio, to whom the work is dedicated. Its title (literally, a "sitting down together") refers to a legendary Welsh contest in which the heroes fought against each other with games and musical instruments. The only surviving musical relic of these contests is the penillion, an ancient form of Welsh music practice in which a harpist plays a well-known air while a singer extemporizes a somewhat different melody over it.

"In this work, the competition takes its form as a set of variations and penillion on Ymadawiad y Brenin (Departure of the King), a tune first appearing in the Welsh Harper of 1839 that I first heard in a recorded performance by harpist Osian Ellis. The opening viola cadenza exposes the textures and motives that shape each of the twelve variations to follow. Only at the end of the work is the tune heard in its original form, played by the harp and serving as the harmonic basis for the return of previously heard material in the other two instruments."