A Brandenburg concerto with Paul Simon solo

A Brandenburg concerto with Paul Simon solo


norman lebrecht

April 24, 2020

The Knights Orchestra has incorporated Paul Simon’s American Tune into the 3rd Bach Brandenburg Concerto, whence it originally came.



  • CHNina says:

    Oh dear, this is rather horrid. This “tune” is not from a Brandenburg Concerto, it’s from the chorale “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden,” in English usually “O sacred head now wounded.” If my memory hasn’t competely failed, it’s in the Matthäus Passion.

  • Simon’s “American tune” is derived from Bach’s ‘O sacred head sore wounded,’ an old chorale tune he used several times, notably in the St Matthew Passion. It had/has nothing to do with Brandenburg 3.

  • Graham Southern says:

    That’s how to do a cadenza and Phrygian Half cadence!

  • DML says:


  • Benjie says:


  • William says:

    Brought tears to my eyes!

  • Joni says:

    Thank you! Thank you!

  • Meredith says:

    Loved this!!! Thank you!

  • barb says:

    Is it me or does this orchestra sound “flat?” I much prefer a wonderful German Group that sounds extraordinary in comparison. b

  • Stephen from Buffalo says:

    I’ve never seen any Brandenberg Concerto cited as the origin of Paul Simon’s “American Tune”. It is said rather that this melody, borrowed from a secular song by someone named Hassler, can be heard at a certain point or two in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. I read this in a brilliant comment on the entry for “American Tune” on the “songfacts” website; which elaborates further on the tangled history of this excellent melody to let us know that it became a “utility tune” for various Puritan hymn texts, and the melody of various labor movement marching songs. It then was adopted as a folk tune by the Weavers and Peter, Paul and Mary, “Because All Men Are Brothers”. Then Simon got his hands on it 🙂

    • Marc says:

      Yep, it all started with Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612 — almost the same years as Shakespeare). He wrote a love song filled with longing for a maiden he shall never have. “Mein Gmuth is mid verwirret,” he sings: My mind’s confused within me. As for those commenting that Paul Simon’s tune has nothing to do with the 3rd Brandenburg: for heaven’s sake, we know that. Bach’s slow movement was left pretty much up to the performers. Why not stick in a song with connections to Bach? Let’s not get too stuffy.

  • Stephen from Buffalo says:

    I’d like to comment further that this Knights Orchestra performance seemed to me the most arid original instruments version of Bach I’ve ever heard. Maybe I just got out on the wrong side of the bed, because I am a layperson who usually does not distinguish between performances; I react to the composer’s music itself, except for some of those blatant too fast or too slow situations like funereal performances of the Mahler 5th Symphony Adagietto. Anyway, I turned this Knights thing off after hearing the beginning of how the Simon piece was injected into it, and so learning of what you were speaking, Mr. Lebrecht.

    • MWnyc says:

      The Knights don’t play period instruments. Those are conventional modern string instruments playing at standard modern concert pitch (a=440hz).

  • I enjoyed their performance and yet I’m not convinced it all fit together.

    How about if they found a way to style the Paul Simon element in a more baroque fashion?

    It should be possible to do that without wandering into parody.