The basis of this work is the chorale which concludes JS Bach’s cantata No. 99 Was Gott tut, das is wohlgetan (“What God does, is done well”). The idea for the work grew out of the piece composed jointly by the composers at the 1985 Cambridge Summer Music School – a piece using the same chorale. My contribution had been the final section, based on the concluding seven crotchet beats of the original chorale, and it is these ideas which reappear most clearly in this work (particularly in the last section). The complete chorale is only presented at the end of the work, although elements of it are heard throughout.
Well Done, Mister Bach falls into four main sections: fast, fast, slow, fast, and derives its stylistic features from the minimalist ‘school’ of composition – a piece built from small musical motives repeated many times and often only gradually changing or developing. The harmonic material is all derived from the original Bach, with the work being essentially a ‘stretched’ statement of the chorale. Subsequent works of mine to use this include One More Time, Mister Couperin (1986).
The scoring features the leaders of each section as a concertante group, and throughout, the remaining strings (except double basses) are divided into two parts each. In addition to the string orchestra is a small percussion section.
I would like to thank my fellow composers from Cambridge, for although I have not quoted anyone else’s musical ideas directly, something of the spirit of our work (entitled Bach Has Eight Friends to Tea) survives. It is also fitting that the work was composed in 1985 – the tercentenary of the birth of Bach.
The piece was commissioned by, and is dedicated to, the Auckland Youth Orchestra and their conductor at the time, Michael McLellan.