Conducted by Leopold Stokowski, one of the leading conductors of the early and mid-20th century, Stokowski’s Philadelphia Orchestra performs the second movement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068, commonly known as “Air on the G String” because of August Wilhelmj’s arrangement of the piece. Recorded in 1933.
“Air on the G String” is one of the most recognizable and beloved pieces in the classical music repertoire. It’s a specific arrangement of the second movement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068. The original orchestral suite was composed by Bach in the late 1730s.
By transposing the key of the piece from its original D major to C major and transposing the melody down an octave, Wilhelmj was able to play the piece on only one string of his violin, the G string. As for this Stokowski version, the main theme is played by the cello section, which is quite different from Bach’s original version but it is so beautiful as everyone may agree.
The “Air” is characterized by its serene and flowing melody, and in its original form, it was scored for violin, viola, cello, and basso continuo. The piece has a gentle, lyrical quality that showcases Bach’s exceptional ability to craft melodies of profound beauty and depth.
The reason it’s commonly known as the “Air on the G String” is due to a later arrangement made by the German violinist August Wilhelmj in the 19th century. Wilhelmj transposed the piece so it could be played on only one string of the violin, specifically the G string. Hence, this popular version of the Air acquired its now-famous moniker.
Over the years, the “Air on the G String” has been featured in numerous films, commercials, and television shows due to its emotive and timeless quality. It has also been arranged and adapted for various instruments and ensembles, further solidifying its status as one of the most versatile and cherished works in the classical canon. Whether experienced in a grand concert hall or in a quiet personal moment, its soothing and contemplative nature offers listeners a peaceful respite and a deep connection to the universal language of music.
The original orchestral suite was generally believed to have been written by Bach for his patron Prince Leopold of Anhalt sometime between the years 1717 and 1723. The title comes from violinist August Wilhelmj’s late 19th-century arrangement of the piece for violin and piano.
One of the leading conductors of the early and mid-20th Century, Leopold Anthony Stokowski (18 April 1882 – 13 September 1977) was a British conductor of Polish and Irish descent. He is best known for his long association with the Philadelphia Orchestra and for appearing in the film Fantasia (a 1940 American animated film produced by Walt Disney and released by Walt Disney Productions). He was especially noted for his free-hand conducting style that spurned the traditional baton and for obtaining a characteristically sumptuous sound from the orchestras he directed.
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