We started with Johann Sebastian Bach at the very beginning (January 2009). He was the great German composer of the early 1700s.
The pieces that we're going to listen to are founded in something called counterpoint. The idea of counterpoint is that you have one melody, and then a completely different melody, and when you play them together, it sounds great. This method was used a LOT in the late 17th and early 18th century. You've actually already heard examples of it.
Bach was attempting to teach counterpoint to new students learning the keyboard. I say keyboard because the piano, as we know it, wasn't invented yet. In Bach's time, there were other keyboard instruments like the harpsichord, clavichord, and organ.
Most likely around 1720, Bach wrote a collection of two- and three-part inventions. The two-part inventions featured two melodies: one played in the right hand, one played in the left. The three-part inventions, called sinfonias featured three melodies (three-part counterpoint). There are 15 two-part inventions (8 in a major key, 7 in a minor key). He wrote one invention for each of the common keys, starting with C major, for Invention No. 1. Number 2 was in C minor, then D major, D minor, E-flat major, E major, E minor, and so forth, all the way to B minor (which the Germans actually referred to as the key of "h").
Each of the two-part inventions are short, anywhere from less than a minute to maybe three minutes long. They are meant to be exercises meant to train the keyboard student. Interestingly enough, though, most of the melodies are really memorable. I've chosen three of the two-part inventions that are my favorites: Number 4 in D minor, Number 8 in F major, and Number 13 in A minor.
I'm pretty sure the first time I heard the Two-Part Invention No. 4 in D minor was around 1982 or 1983. Our main computer at this time was the TI-99/4A. We had gotten a music-making cartridge called (creatively enough) "Music Maker". The main theme of this cartridge is Invention No. 4. I was to hear it later on the Switched-on Bach albums (Walter/Wendy Carlos), and various other settings.
Invention No. 8 was used heavily in the computer world, especially with music programs. I think the first time I heard it, though, was on Switched-on Bach.
I'm pretty sure the first time I heard Invention No. 13 was on the Commodore 64. Commodore had adopted Invention No. 13 as the theme music for the Commodore 64, and used it throughout its demo programs as well as TV commercials, and so on. It reminds my favorite of the Two-Part Inventions.
So, here they are. First, we'll listen to Invention No. 4. Notice the swapping back and forth between the left and the right hand. First the right hand plays 16th notes, then the left hand plays 16th notes (while the opposite hand plays 8th notes). It almost starts out as a canon or round, but then breaks pattern in the middle. Enjoy!