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'Homage to Bach': Composition Competition for Guitar

The Classical Guitar Society of Victoria in collaboration with the Australian Bach Society launched the 2013 Composition Competition ‘Homage to Bach’. More than 30 works were received but there can only be one winner. Michelle Nelson (VIC) was awarded first prize. Runner-up was Tom Adeney (QLD).

We invited Michelle Nelson to write about her piece:

‘The Guitarist’s Bach’ is a homage to the so-called ‘Lute Suites’ of J.S. Bach, composed for the modern classical guitar. It is modeled on the forms and musical style of those eponymous works and uses two well-known motifs as the starting point for the whole suite. It also features several structural, harmonic and textural references that experienced guitarists and lovers of Bach’s music will recognize. The suite, in E Major, comprises a Prelude, Courante, Sarabande, Bouree and Gigue. The two phrases that it is built on appear within the first 4 bars. The first is a 5/4 adaptation of the opening to Bach’s prelude in the prelude of BWV 1006a, and the second is a clear reference to the opening of Suite, BWV 997. 

In response to the competition requirement for entries to offer clear pedagogic value, two versions of the Prelude have been composed; one a short piece with no development, the other a longer work with a middle section that features further harmonic references to the BWV 1006a Prelude. 

The following movements all feature clear stylistic referencing to J.S. Bach. The Courante evokes the French style, especially in rhythm but contains an almost bluesy ending.The Sarabande is a slow example of the style with the melodic emphasis on the 2nd beat of each bar, and recalls the abstract style of the Sarabande from Suite BWV 995. The Bouree is modeled structurally on the famous example from Bach’s Suite BWV 996. It employs the same classic binary structure and guitarists will recognize the contrary-motion of the opening phrase of each section as being a reference to the Bach model (the opening of the second half especially recalls the manner in which the Bach work opens in the guitar version). The Gigue is in the classic Bach style; tonic major open-ing leading to dominant harmony concluding the A sec-tion, then repeating. The B section opens with dominant harmony and finds its way back to the tonic via short modulations to related keys, ala Bach. Fittingly for the style, a fair tempo is expected but players will find this gigue very ‘guitaristic’ as it has been written for the modern finger-board.


Michelle Nelson is a composer, guitarist and creative educator committed to developing instrumental works that are contemporary but also draw inspiration from traditional composition practice. Her popular works Brolga Dances, Capricorn Light and Pacifica (2009), and Amorevolezza (2005) reflect these aims. Michelle is driven by the belief that, in a world of cut-and-paste computer-generated music, the art of written music composition is more vital than ever, and that in depth study of the works of J.S. Bach, and other acknowledged masters, is essential to safeguard, promote and extend the art of composed music during the 21st century. Michelle's 2013 CD of original compositions 'After The Fire' is available through MOVE Records [move.com.au]

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