This is a fascinating and fun little piece of music history that spans almost 300 years. It features a famous and popular melody titled “Minuet in G”, a female vocal trio, and a mystery author. Believe it or not, this is a story about a song that was written way back in the early 1700s and became a smash hit over 200 years later.
The story begins with Johann Sebastian Bach, an incredibly prolific and popular organist and composer who lived in Germany in the early 18th century during what is called the Baroque period. Today, we remember Bach as an incredible musician and composer who gave us some iconic musical masterpieces such as his Cello Suite, Toccata and Fugue, and the Well-Tempered Clavier.
Bach was married to a woman by the name of Anna Magdalena (this was Bach’s second wife). In the year 1725, Bach presented Anna Magdalena with a notebook full of sheet music by various composers, including pieces written by Bach himself. Such a gift was probably the equivalent of a 17th century mixtape. One of the pieces in the notebook (which is now referred to as “the notebook of Anna Magdalena Bach, 1725”) was the piece “Minuet in G.” Many of us recognize this piece just from the opening few measures.
This piece, “Minuet in G,” was attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach, and for hundreds of years it was widely thought that he was the composer. However, some of the pieces in Anna Magdalena’s 1725 notebook were anonymous. For this reason, it was not until about 1970 that it was discovered that “Minuet in G” was actually written by another German organist by the name of Christian Petzold, likely as part of a harpsichord suite he had written.
Now we’ll fast-forward to the year 1965. The ’60s were quite an exciting time in American music. Pop, rock, R&B, jazz, folk, country - all were being explored, pioneered, and championed. There was, at the time, a female vocal trio from New York who called themselves ‘The Toys’… and they had a smash hit called “A Lover’s Concerto.” Check it out, using some critical listening skills, and see if it rings a bell.
Well if you didn’t catch it right away let me fill you in. “A Lover’s Concerto” is in fact the same song as “Minuet in G,” written 24o years earlier and it sold more than two million copies! For years, classical music fans giggled at the idea that Johann Sebastian Bach had written a pop/rock vocal hit. As mentioned, we now know that it was really Christian Petzold. And of course, ‘The Toys’ added a few little tweaks to the original piece in order to update the song for its 1960s pop/rock version.
First off, the instrumentation is certainly different, with “A Lover’s Concerto” featuring vocals, lyrics, drums, bass, guitar, and horns. Also, “Minuet in G” is written in 3/4 time, while “A Lover’s Concerto” is written in 4/4 time.
So the next time you’re at a fancy cocktail party looking to drop some classical music knowledge and impress your friends, mention the pop hit written in 1700s Baroque-period Germany mistakenly credited to Bach for over 200 years.