Leland Forsblad (1920-2006) was a music educator in Fresno, California.  He honed his composition skills as Prisoner of War during World War II, when he wrote for the ensembles at his POW camp.  Back in the US, he had hundreds of works published for band, orchestra, and chorus.  See more on him here and here.

According to the score of the piece, Forsblad arranged Baroque Celebration in 1985 “in honor of the 300th anniversary of the birth of J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel”.  He went on: “Honoring two truly great men of music, BAROQUE CELEBRATION captures the essence of BACH along with the artistry of HANDEL.  The melodic Sarabande coupled with the spirited Little Fugue present a fitting testimonial to these two musical giants.”  Sadly, Baroque Celebration has since gone out of print, but Forsblad did an admirable job making these two short pieces work for band, so I am very glad to have the chance to revive it with the Arizona State University Concert Band.

This arrangement is not available on YouTube, but the source material is.  The “Sarabande” comes from Bach’s French Suite no. 1, the first of a set of six suites for clavier (pre-piano keyboard instrument) that he wrote around 1722, probably as a gift for his second wife, Anna Magdalena.  They only came to be called the “French” Suites by accident, and not with the blessing of the composer.  The “Sarabande”, based on a Spanish dance form, displays Bach’s full expressive powers.  Here it is in a piano version, featuring the legendary Glenn Gould:

And again on the perhaps-more-authentic harpsichord:

About the composer: today, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is revered as one of the greatest composers of all time whose multitudinous compositions, with their combination of  intellectual rigor and transcendent beauty, are among the foundational documents of Western art music.  In his day, J.S. Bach was seen as a church musician who dazzled his contemporaries with his organ playing and churned out new compositions with almost alarming speed and frequency.  Though he was well-known and widely respected, he was not revered as he is now.  His reputation received a facelift in the early 19th century (long after his death) with the publication of a biography in 1802, the revival of his Saint Matthew’s Passion by the composer Felix Mendelssohn in 1829, and ultimately the creation of the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Bach Works Catalog) in 1850.  Since then, Bach’s legacy has only grown.  Among his famous compositions are the Brandenburg Concertos, the Cello Suites, the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Art of Fugue, hundreds of cantatas and oratorios, and dozens of short chorales.  And that is but the tip of the iceberg.  Bach has over 1000 known compositions, and perhaps as many that have been lost forever.

Other interesting Bach facts:

  • He was a genuine patriarch, fathering 20 children (10 of whom survived to adulthood) with 2 successive wives.  See the family tree.
  • Several of his children became famous composers in their own right, most notably Johann Christian Bach and Carl Philip Emanuel Bach.
  • There are streets all over Germany named for Bach, although he never left the country and never lived more than 250 miles from his birthplace in Eisenach.  See the map.
  • He was once put in prison by an employer who didn’t want to let him move jobs.
  • He wrote a cantata about coffee addiction.  Read about it here.
  • Finally, Anthony Tommasini recently named Bach the greatest composer of all time.

The second movement of Baroque Celebration is a treatment of Handel’s Little Fugue, about which I can find little information.  Here it is on organ, with some characteristically Baroque liberties of tempo:

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was a German (born in Halle) who became an Englishman, making his life and career mostly in London.  He wrote operas, instrumental music, and oratorios, including the Messiah, which includes the famous “Hallelujah” chorus.  Along with Bach, he is a towering figure of Baroque music, especially in his adopted homeland of England.