Saturday, March 24, 2018

March 4, 1721: Bach writes the dedication for the Brandenburg concertos

Last updated August 31, 2018.

The Brandenburg Concertos

Johann Sebastian Bach (composer)

Composed: 1719-1721

Dedicated on: 3/24/1721

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Quotable: “A benchmark of Baroque music…[with] the power to move people almost three centuries later.” NPR

Genre: classical > concertos

Concertos/Average Length: 1. Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F major, BWV 1046 [20:20] 2. Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047 [12:00] 3. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048 [11:30] 4. Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major, BWV 1049 [15:40] 5. Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050 [21:20] 6. Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B flat major, BWV 1051 [17:10]


The Brandenburg Concertos “add up the most complex and artistically successful failed job application in recorded history.” K1 They were written “for Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg,” JR who Bach probably met “on his 1719 trip to Berlin to select a new harpsichord,” RD but Ludwig may have first heard Bach “at the spas in Carlsbad, where Prince Leopold would have Bach accompany him.” K1 “Suspecting that the royal might be interested in giving him a job,” K1 Bach composed these “six lively concertos for chamber orchestra” NPR between 1719 and 1721, although the pieces “he appears to have selected…from concertos he had composed over a number of years while Kapellmeister at Köthen, and possibly extending back to his employment at Weimar (1708–17).” WK

They were “based on an Italian Concerto Gross style” NPR and “display a lighter side of Bach’s imperishable genius.” NPR “Bach wrote out the music himself for presentation to the Margrave rather than leaving it to a copyist.” WK He prepared them in a bound manuscript NPR with a dedication dated March 24, 1721. WK “The Margrave never thanked Bach, paid him a fee, staged a performance of the works, or offered him a position.” AS Eventually Bach’s score “came into the possession of Frederick the Great’s sister, Princess Amalie, who bequeathed it to a school library in Berlin.” RD

“These pieces display a variety of styles, influences, and musical preoccupations,” AS but “the diversified character of these six concertos implies random composition” RD and that they “were probably not conceived of as a set.” AS “It was common practice in the Baroque era to use whatever instruments were available at any given time.” RD “However, all of them share in Bach’s great talent for absorbing new styles…and then expanding and improving upon them.” AS In particular, he modeled the Italian composers’ style of creating “concertos for widely varying combinations of instruments.” K1

The first concerto is marked by “Bach’s use of hunting horns” K1 blended “into the ensemble through the use of multiple winds,” K1 including “three oboes and a bassoon, as well as continuo strings and the violino piccolo.” K1 The second concerto features “four prominent instruments – trumpet, recorder, oboe, and violin – against a foundation of strings and continuo.” JR

The third concerto “is reminiscent of the Italian concerto,” AS which Bach was fascinated with during his time at Weimar. AS It was “written for three violins, three violas, and three cellos, with bass and continuo.” AS Its “motoric rhythm, clear melodic outline, and motivic construction owe a lot to the comparable works of Vivaldi, but the clarified harmony and more interesting counterpoint are unmistakably Bach’s” AS with their “kaleidoscopic range of colors and shades.” AS

“No. 4 is scored for a concertino of solo violin and two flûtes à bec (i.e. recorders) and a ripieno of violins, violas, cellos, and continuo.” RD The “fifth concerto is scored for flute, solo violin, obbligato harpsichord, and strings. It is the only one of the six pieces to have any solo material given to the harpsichord.” K5

The sixth concerto displays “Bach’s sonic imagination…In the early eighteenth century the lower members of the violin family were considered orchestral instruments with supporting roles…Bach chose to reverse the level of difficulty, giving the viola and cello the tough solo parts.” K6 “No other composer of the Baroque era could write through the constraints of form as if it was not there at all.” K5

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