The Free-Reed Journal
Articles and Essays Featuring Classical Free-Reed Instruments and Performers

Accordionist Discovers Bach "Polka"

by George Belanus

Reprinted from The Polka News, February 13, 1991

[Editor's Note: This is a humorous article and is not to be taken seriously!]

Wheeling, W.Va.--A West Virginia accordionist claims to have discovered a polka written by the great music master of the eighteenth century--Johann Sebastian Bach.

Concert Accordionist, Henry Doktorski, said he accidentally discovered the work while studying the Bach's Cantatas. He has recorded the piece, along with other Baroque works, in a 40 minute cassette tape entitled Music by Bach and Handel.

Classical music connoisseurs might be surprised that the composer of "Mass in B Minor" and the Passion According to Saint Matthew" had also written such an earthy and scandalously sensual work as the polka. Scholars are divided as to whether the piece in question--titled simply "duetto" by Bach--is actually a polka or not.

Jan Kleeman, professor of Ethnomusicology at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, told Doktorski that the music/dance form known as the polka first appeared in southern Poland in 1830, and that Bach could not have written a work in that genre, since he died eighty years before the polka was invented.

Doktorski and his supporters, however, claim that Bach, like many geniuses, was a century ahead of his time, and that it was he who actually was the original creator of that wild and breezy two-step which spread like wildfire across the globe in the 1840's, and which still is being performed today.

Historians tell us that the polka became so popular in the mid-nineteenth century that it was danced by Queen Victoria in Buckingham Palace, by American Indians in Arizona, by Africans, Russians, Australians and Indonesians. The Polka even became the national dance of Paraguay.

Hannsdieter Wohlfarth, Professor at the Musikhochschule in Freiburg, West Germany and internationally renowned Bach scholar, provides a solution to the problem of the apparent paradox of the common authorship between Bach's inspiring religious works and his danceable "Polka".

Wohlfarth said, "Throughout Bach's entire life, he never wavered from the conviction that his music was an act of worship, an integral element in the service of God. His works are timeless and touched by God. Yet, curiously enough, Bach made little distinction between sacred and secular music or even sacred and secular vocations. When composing secular preludes solely for his children, he prefaced them with "in nomine Jesus," just as he added "Soli Deo Gloria" as a colophon to his religious scores."

Doktorski explains the origin of Bach's "Polka" and his concealed affinity toward the dance, "While it is true that Bach was a deeply religious man, it is also true that he had a jest (zest) for life which was not always appreciated by his more conservative church leaders. He was reprimanded for letting a woman sing in the choir loft, he fathered more than twenty children and enjoyed informal parties and family gatherings where he and his musician friends and relatives would improvise songs -- quodlibets -- with "off-key" lyrics."

Johann Nikolaus Forkel, Bach's first biographer, wrote in his treatise on Bach's life, "They sang popular songs, the contents of which were partly comic and partly naughty...and not only laughed heartily at it themselves, but excited an equally hearty and irresistible laughter in everybody that heard them."

Doktorski theorizes that the "Polka" was born at one of these gatherings and that Bach later secretly incorporated one of his polkas in Cantata #78.

Doktorski said, "In his work for the church Bach often felt restricted by the oppressive regulations imposed upon him by the Lutheran clergy. Music resembling secular dance forms were prohibited in church. Therefore, Bach sometimes had to cleverly disguise his music to pacify the clerical censors."

Joseph Macerollo, professor of Musicology and music Theory at the University of Toronto and the Canadian Royal Conservatory of Music, (and an accomplished virtuoso Concert Accordionist), confirms this theory: "It was common practice among Baroque composers to alter titles of their pieces when they were to be performed in church. The "sonata da camera"--secular sonata, and the "sonata da chiesa"--church sonata, were often different only in name."

In addition to the "Polka" from Cantata #78, Doktorski performs various other works by Bach and Handel on the recording, including selections from Bach's "Art of Fugue" and the Handel organ concerto #4 in F Major. The latter recording is unique, in that Doktorski plays the organ part on the Concert Accordion, and the orchestra parts are played on the pipe organ (by Robert F. Troeger, organist for St. Matthews Episcopal Church of Wheeling, West Virginia).

Despite the initial shock of the novel concept of playing Bach and Handel on the accordion, when one actually listens to Doktorski's performance, one is surprised and delighted by his amazing ability to perform two, three and even four voice counterpoint on the instrument with subtle phrasing and expressiveness that an accomplished harpsichordist or organist would envy.

Doktorski, who began playing the accordion at seven years of age, said, "Why not play Baroque works on the Concert Accordion? After all, Bach himself transcribed many pieces originally written for orchestra to the organ. The accordion is essentially a portable reed organ: like the Harmonium, the sound is produced by blowing wind through metal reeds. However the accordion as a unique advantage over other keyboard wind instruments: the degree of intensity of the air flow, controlled by the performer's left arm, is very sensitive, which allows for a great range of dynamics--from whispering pianissimos to blasting sforzandos."

Doktorski, who studied composition at the Kansas City Conservatory of Music and conducting at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J., said that the Concert Accordion has tremendous popularity in Europe and the Soviet Union. "The Concert Accordion is a far cry from the accordion normally heard in the United States, having as much in common with that instrument as the bagpipe to the Pipe Organ."

Doktorski's instrument, a custom made Concert Accordion built by the Titano Victoria Company in Castelfidardo, Italy, has a 67 note range on the right side and a 55 note range on the left. The Free Bass Register on the left keyboard plays single note melodies of nearly five octaves, liberating the instrument from the traditional one octave "oom-pah-pah" bass-chord left hand action and allowing it to perform polyphonic works with both hands.

Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Alban Berg, Paul Hindemith, Sergei Prokofiev, and Lukas Poss are some composers who have written music for the instrument.

Doktorski was the first place winner of the American Accordion Musicological Society's 1990 Virtuoso Solo Competition and has recently completed a series of Benefit Concerts to help raise funds for victims of the massive floods that devastated parts of Ohio and West Virginia.

He has performed at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and the National Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Washington D.C., and is equally proficient in solo recitals, in chamber music concerts, and as a guest performer with symphony orchestras and choruses.

In addition, he is the director of the the City of God Accordion Ensemble which recently won first prize trophies in three major competitions in 1990: the American Accordionist's Association competition, the American Accordion Musicological Society competition, and the International Accordion Teacher's Guild competition. He currently serves as the full-time Minister of Music for the City of God Monastery in West Virginia.

Editor's Note: Doktorski moved to Pittsburgh Pennyslvania in 1994 where he presently serves as music director/organist/choir director for The Community of Reconciliation Church (1997). The music score of Bach's Polka (available in two versions: one for solo accordion and another for accordion quartet) can be ordered through JANPress Publications.

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