Charlotte Bray on Bach RE:Imagined

Ahead of the première of her arrangement of Bach’s Piano Partita No. 6 in E minor

How did you go about choosing a work by Bach you wanted to arrange, and how did you settle on the piece you picked?

I considered arranging various works before settling on Bach’s Sarabande from Piano Partita No. 6 in E minor. As a cellist, my first instinct was to look to the cello suites. Knowing the works so intimately already, however, in a sense restricted my freedom, I felt.

The Sarabande – a work that was quite new to me – appears to hold an elaborate and intimate conversation with the listener, which attracted me to the work in view of making an arrangement. Encompassing a whole range of emotions, the darkness is interrupted with glimpses of light and hopeful, joyous twists.

What are the challenges involved in transforming a solo work into a work for ensemble, and how do you incorporate your 21st century voice as a composer with Bach’s 18th century voice?

In making an arrangement of something so immaculately beautiful, I tried to change it as little as possible. Staying true to the original in terms of pitch, I super-imposed my own expression of the piece on to Bach’s composition, as if the ensemble were soloist. The partita is beautiful but relatively unknown. I felt that this gave me more freedom to arrange the work, as the audience is less likely to be familiar with it. Other, more well known works did feel a bit daunting to tackle.

Is this an ‘arrangement’ or something slightly different?

I toyed with writing a ‘composition by Charlotte Bray, based on a work by J.S. Bach’ but the approach didn’t feel genuine somehow. I would consider my piece to be an arrangement of Bach’s and therefore still fundamentally his work.

You can hear the City of London Sinfonia perform Charlotte’s arrangement of Bach’s Sarabande from Piano Partita No. 6 in E minor on 20 April at Southwark Cathedral. Tickets are available from £5.

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