John King plays J.S. Bach on Solo Ukulele

“King takes Bach to inspired levels. His playing is superb.”
The Ukulele Occasional

I recorded this CD of Bach pieces over a period of three years in the late 1990s. I began experimenting with arranging classical pieces for the ukulele about 1985 and soon realized the baroque guitar technique known as campanella was eminently adaptable to the ukulele’s my-dog-has-fleas, re-entrant tuning. Campanella, which means “little bells,” is a way of playing successive notes on different strings to create a harp-like sound. The result of all my fooling around is this CD. The people Bach originally wrote this music for must have been fabulous musicians because this stuff is really hard to play! My heart is in my throat whenever I play these pieces in concert.

From the Liner Notes

The ukulele is an instrument of the chordophone class. It is a small, treble guitar descended from the machête de braga of Madeira, and was probably brought by Portuguese immigrants to the Hawaiian Islands in the latter half of the 19th century. Early examples of the ukulele crafted in Hawaii by Portuguese luthiers are little changed from their European predecessors: both are plucked or strummed to produce music and have a figure 8 body, a fretted neck, and four strings or courses that are similarly tuned. The machête was popular in Portugal and its insular possesions in the 18th and 19th centuries and is mentioned by Anotonio Diniz de Cruz e Silva (1731-1799) in the mock-heroic poem O Hyssope. Some scholars believe it to be descended from the small Renaissance guitarra, antecedent of the modern classical guitar. The guitarra was enormously popular in the mid 1500’s in southern Europe (judging from the number of tablature books that were published for it, beginning in Spain in 1546 with Mudarra’s Tres Libros de Musica en Cifra) but it was eventually abandoned in favor of the newer and more versatile five-course guitarra española. After a brief but intense popularity that captured the imaginations of the finest vihuelists and composers of the Spanish Renaissance the fortunes of the little four-course guitar fell hard and fast: from interpreting sophisticated diferencias and pavanas to providing a rough accompaniment for a rural folk culture in less than forty years. Perhaps not so exalted a fate musically but one that enabled the instrument to survive, and eventually thrive as an icon of 20th century American popular culture known as the ukulele.

About the Campanella Style

The early baroque masters of the guitarra española pioneered a style of playing now known as campanella. The campanella style is noted for a bell like quality of sound in which individual notes over-ring one another producing an effect very much like that of the harp. This is accomplished by playing each succeeding note in a melodic line on a different string. The ukulele adapts well to this style of performance due to its hallmark re-entrant (my-dog-has-fleas) tuning.

CD includes: Prélude, Sarabande and Gigue from Cello Suite No. 1, BWV 1007; Gavotte I & II from Suite No. 6, BWV 1012; Gavotte I & II from Cello Suite No. 5, BWV 1011; Bourrée I & II from Cello Suite No. 4, BWV 1010; Violin Partita No. 3, BWV 1006 (Preludio, Loure, Gavotte en Rondeau, Menuet I & II, Bourrée, and Gigue); Prélude, BWV 846 from the Well-tempered Clavier, Book One; and Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe) from Cantata No. 147.

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