Johann Sebastian Bach – Air
(Part of Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major)
In this essay I will examine the characteristics of a masterpiece called Air, written by Johann Sebastian Bach in the early 18th century.
Bach’s Air on its own is not a complete composition. It’s the second movement of his famous suite that all together contains of five movements. Air has a typical property of suite – A, A, B, B scheme. It means that the movement is divided into two parts – A and B. When the movement approaches the end of A it comes back to the beginning and the part A is repeated. Then it fluently continues to the movement B and when it comes to the end of the whole piece it goes back to the B section, repeats it and that is the end of the piece. In the case of Air, the B section is twice as long as the A section. However, even though suites are in general related to dance, this movement isn’t. It is a rather slow movement without significant changes in dynamics. Also, in comparison to the other four movements this one is quite unique and has specific characteristic that make it different from the others.
There are multiple reasons why this movement is so special. First of all, the thing that is obvious immediately after the first listening is that Air is slower than the rest of the suite and has a special mood because even though it is written in the major key that is usually considered to be joyful and happy, the melody sounds rather melancholic and partially sad. Also, Air has the minimum amount of lines - just four; all the other movements have 10 lines and have a characteristic feature – the upper four lines are written in C major scale but the lower 6 lines are written in D major scale. Therefore, since Air is written in D major scale only, it misses the C major scale. I find very interesting that the scale is actually a minor pentatonic scale with raised four, which corresponds to the blues scale. Continuing with the comparison of Air to the other movements, only Air has different rhythm in the single lines and also it is the only movement where legato occasionally continues even throughout the boundaries of single bars.
While comparing the single lines we observe that they have certain specific features too. There is a pattern between baseline and viola line – they are flowing in contrary movements. Also, there is a pattern in scheme for the first and second violin. It’s possible to say, that the second violin responds to the first one throughout the whole movement. For example, when the first violin plays sixteenth notes the second violin has usually some longer notes to play and vica versa. They basically switch the playing of the melody in the first part (A). Moving to the lower part, when we observe the viola line we see that it supports both the first and second violin.
In a conclusion, Air is an exceptional piece. It creates a remarkable impression just on few lines of scores and it is another prove in the collection that perfectly explains why Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the greatest composers of all times.