Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750): CompleteOrchestral Works
Originals / Transcriptions / Reconstructions
Volume 6: Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1,2, 3 and 6
It seems that only a relatively small part of Bach's orchestraloeuvre has been preserved for posterity. Much has been speculated aboutthe reasons for the above-average losses in this particular field, but up tillnow no really conclusive reasons have been found. The fact that so few worksfor instrumental ensemble have survived particularly from the Weimar and Cothenperiods, during which the composer directed so many excellent ensembles, hasled many researchers to the hypothesis that Bach was obliged to leave themajority of his compositions in these places when he moved on to another post -a common custom for which much evidence can be found in many eighteenth centurydocuments; other considerations establish a connection with the distribution ofBach's compositions to his heirs after his death. Whatever the case, only onething is certain: that at the latest with Bach's death a veil of oblivion beganto sink over his orchestral works - partly caused also by a profound change intaste which began in the middle of the eighteenth century .Thus great effort wasnecessary in the course of the Bach renaissance at the beginning of thenineteenth century to win back these works, which by then were completelyunknown even to Bach connoisseurs, into the performance repertoire.
Today Bach's orchestral works enjoy an enduring popularityonce more. Intensive study of this repertoire, which in spite of theregrettable gaps is in many ways incomparable, has led to the realisation thatonly a part of the works can be regarded as original compositions, whereas manyof the concertos in the form in which they are known today representtranscriptions of pieces written earlier. Among the works of the first-named categoryare the Brandenburg Concertos and the three Violin Concertos, among thetranscriptions are all the concertos for one to three harpsichords, which are presumedto he based on lost works for various melody instruments. The Concerto for fourharpsichords BWV 1065 is a special case in that Bach did not take one of hisown works as a basis but, exceptionally, a work by Antonio Vivaldi. Comparativestudies on Bach's technique of rearranging works have led again and again tospeculations about the possible form and structure of the lost works on whichthe arrangements are based, and as a consequence to attempts at reconstructionwhich have resulted in pieces which are stylistically convincing and which haveproved their worth in practice; within the context of this recording theseworks are intended to help fill the gaps mentioned above.
The present complete recording of Bach's orchestral worksillustrates graphically the enormous musical variety and compositional qualityof this sphere of his creative work. We meet the composer for the first timearound 1715 on his first pinnacle of mastery (Brandenburg Concerto No.5)and accompany him for approximately a quarter of a century up to the sublime worksof his maturity - the Overture BWV 1067 and the Triple Concerto BWV1044.
On 2Oth April 1849 Siegfried Wilhelm Dehn, at the timecustodian of the music collection in the royal library in Berlin, reported aremarkable discovery. "While compiling my catalogue of the works of JohannSebastian Bach existing in Berlin I have come across many works of the greatestsignificance which up till now have remained unknown (unknown even to his sons CarlPhilipp Emanuel and Wilhelm Friedemann as well as to Forkel, who is always soexact), among them 6 concerti grossi dedicated to the Margrave Christian Ludwigof Brandenburg." Since Philipp Spitta's monumental Bach biography the nameBrandenburg Concertos has established itself for these concertos, whichwere thus awoken, like the Sleeping Beauty, from over a century of slumber, andunder this name they are today among the most well-known works of the composer,in fact of the musical literature of the whole world. But this popularityshould not make us blind to the fact that our concrete knowledge about theorigin and chronology of these compositions, which are in many waysincomparable, is still slight.
Bach's dedicatory preface provides us with some indicationsas to the origin of the cycle. According to this dedication the Margrave, whowas residing in Berlin, had a few years earlier expressed to Bach the wish for instrumentalworks for his court orchestra. Possibly Bach and Christian Ludwig had met inMay 1718 in Karlsbad, where in the eightennth century many of the crowned headsof Europe came in the warm season together with their court musicians and wheresomething like a festival atmosphere regularly came about. If this was thecase, however, it meant that Bach waited three whole years before fulfillingthe Margrave's wish. There is no doubt that the Brandenburg Concertos
are partly a compilation of works composed earlier. For example, there existsan early version, which cannot be dated with certainty, of the first concerto -without the third movement and without the violino piccolo part - which hadperhaps originally served as the introductory Sinfonia for the HuntCantata, composed in 1712 or 1713. Other works of the cycle, on the otherhand, may date from shortly before 1721, for their style differs greatly fromcomparable works of the Weimar period and adheres more closely to Italianmodels.
The first Concerto in F major BWV 1046 contrasts threegroups of instruments (horns, oboes, strings) with one another, fusing togetherin the first movement into a complex texture of motivic layers and in the thirdmovement providing a subtle accompaniment to the virtuoso solo passages of the violinopiccolo. The sostenuto second movement uses only the oboe and the stringgroups, the upper voices of which spin out wide sweeps of filigree melody. Thethird movement is followed by a colourful series of dance movements divided upby the rondo-style repeats of the minuet.
The second Concerto in F major BWV 1047 presents anintricate solo quartet consisting of trumpet, recorder, oboe and violin, towhich the tutti strings take second place as far as independence oftexture and thematic significance are concerned. The observation that the orchestramerely takes on the function of an instrumentated basso continuo
accompaniment has led to the supposition that the work was originally conceivedas a chamber concerto for four soloists. The particular feature of thisconcerto lies in the way the four instruments, which are so different in soundquality, are given exactly the same melodic treatment.
The third Concerto in G major BWV 1048 is scored forthree groups, each consisting of three members of the violin family (threeviolins, three violas and three cellos). Here Bach ingeniously makes use of thevarious possibilities of combination: in one place the musical texture isshared between high, middle and low registers, in another place between threestring trios, and occasionally individual representatives of each group comeinto prominence as soloists, A formal peculiarity of this work is the fact thatthe middle movement is missing; the two fast movements, which diff