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Back Before Bach: Piffaro's Musical Journeys

A local Renaissance band brings its virtuosity to a new recording of music J.S. Bach may have heard.  Piffaro’s CD, Back Before Bach: Musical Journeys, released in July 2017, is the pinnacle of over 35 years of experience.  It’s the climax of countless concerts, the building of Piffaro’s vast collection of early music instruments and its honed concept of sound.

These short German and Franco-Flemish melodies range from sacred hymns to courtly and peasant dances.  The core ensemble of six shifts between Piffaro's full array of instruments,  lending an authentic voice to music as it would have been heard in western Europe 500-600 years ago.

Want to know more about Renaissance music?  Piffaro is among 13 American arts groups selected to partner with the Google Cultural Institute on a new online performing arts initiative.  Take a look at the instruments they play and hear from the members of the band.

Radio Script:

[MUSIC: Piffaro, “La Volta,” a German dance by Michael Praetorius, CD: Back Before Bach: Musical Journeys]

Meridee Duddleston: The Philadelphia-based wind band Piffaro plays original instruments including recorders, lutes, and trombone-like sackbuts in churches, monasteries and other places where it would have been heard originally.  The album Back Before Bach guides us on the odyssey of an ancient hymn interpreted by eight composers over 200 years. Starting with this anonymous version from the 1400s.

[MUSIC: Piffaro, “Christ ist Erstanden” (“Christ has Risen”), Anonymous, Glogauer Liederbuch (ca. 1480) CD: Back Before Bach]

MD: Culminating, in J.S. Bach’s turn with the German chorale more than 200 years later.  

[MUSIC:  Piffaro, Chorale to BMV 276, J.S. Bach, (1685 to 1750) CD: Back Before Bach: Musical Journeys]

Robert Wiemken: He’s sort of the last stop on a little musical journey and we arrive at Bach and we hear how he heard the history of music prior to his own, in his own life, and rendered it in his own music.

Joan Kimball: These are the most extensive journeys through one particular song that we’ve done.  

MD: Robert Wiemken and Joan Kimball are the co-directors of Piffaro. And they show us that there’s something that Renaissance dances and jazz have in common.

RW: It was the job of the players also to ornament, to add notes, to decorate, to elaborate on the notes on the page. So we always have our additions to any composed dance music, just like a jazz musician today would elaborate on a lead sheet.

[MUSIC: Piffaro, “La Volta” A German dance by Michael Praetorius, CD: Back Before Bach: Musical Journeys]

MD: Back Before Bach: It’s music from hundreds of years ago, paving the way for J.S. Bach and all who followed.