BACH, J.S.: Harpsichord Concertos, Vol. 1
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Johann Sebastian Bach(1685-1750): Complete Orchestral Works
Volume 3: HarpsichordConcertos I
It seems that only a relatively small part of Bach's orchestral ceuvrehas been preserved for posterity. Much has been speculated about thereasons for the above-average losses in this particular field, but up till nowno really conclusive reasons have been found. The fact that so few works forinstrumental ensemble have survived particularly from the Weimar and Cothen periods,during which the composer directed so many excellent ensembles, has led manyresearchers to the hypothesis that Bach was obliged to leave the majority ofhis compositions in these places when he moved on to another post - a commoncustom 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 effortwas necessary 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 popularity once more.
Intensive study of this repertoire, which in spite of the regrettable gaps isin many ways incomparable, has led to the realization that only a part of theworks can be regarded as original compositions, whereas many of the concertosin the form in which they are known today represent transcriptions of pieceswritten earlier. Among the works of the first-named category are the BrandenburgConcertos and the three Violin Concertos, among the transcriptionsare all the concertos for one to three harpsichords, which are presumed to bebased on lost works for various melody instruments. The Concerto for fourharpsichords, BWV 1065 is a special case in that Bach did not take one ofhis own works as a basis but, exceptionally, a work by Antonio Vivaldi.
Comparative studies on Bach's technique of rearranging works have led again andagain to speculations about the possible form and structure of the lost workson which the arrangements are based, and as a consequence to attempts atreconstruction which have resulted in pieces which are stylistically convincingand which have proved their worth in practice; within the context of thisrecording these works are intended to help fill the gaps mentioned above.
The present complete recording of Bach's orchestral works illustratesgraphically the enormous musical variety and compositional quality of thissphere of his creative work. We meet the composer for the first time around1715 on his first pinnacle of mastery (Brandenburg Concerto No. 5) andaccompany him for approximately a quarter of a century up to the sublime worksof his maturity - the Overture BWV 1067 and the Triple Concerto BWV1044.
Bach's cycle of sevenconcertos for harpsichord with orchestral accompaniment has survived in theform of a valuable fair copy of the score in Bach's own hand, which -in view ofthe fact that most of the other original manuscripts have been lost -representsone of the most significant sources of his instrumental ensemble music. Themore detailed circumstances of how and for what occasion this jewel wascomposed have not yet been fully researched. However, on the basis ofinvestigation of the handwriting and the water?¡marks it can be established thatthe score probably originated from the year 1738, or perhaps 1739. If the laterdate is favoured, it could be assumed that the works were written in connectionwith Bach's taking up the post of director of the Leipzig Collegium Musicumonce again after a two-year break on 2nd October 1739; but the scrupulouslylaid-out fair copy does not really seem to fit into the picture of the workswith the less formally organized student ensemble. It seems more plausible toconnect them with a visit of Bach in Dresden which written evidence proves tookplace in May 1738, during which he was sure to have been musically active in courtcircles or at private aristocratic gatherings, for example with concerts at thehome of Count Keyserlingk, who was a music-lover. But no matter where Bachappeared in public with his harpsichord concertos, he would have succeeded indrawing his audience's attention to his mastery as composer and virtuoso.
The cycle begins witha piece which is unusual in every way, the Concerto in D minor BWV 1052.
The history of this work is to a great extent obscure; however, thetechnical style of certain figures tells us that the original work must havebeen a violin concerto of which the young Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach startedmaking a transcription as early as 1734. The first movement takes itsunmistakeable character from the concise unison theme of the ritornello, atheme which in the course of the movement turns up again at regular intervals.
The solos in between are characterized by an unusually dense motivic treatmentof the accompaniment, in which hardly a bar is without a reference to thetheme. The second movement displays a similarly dense texture; the theme, alsointroduced in unison at the beginning, acts as an accompaniment in ostinatostyle to the elegiac and richly ornamented solo cantilena of theharpsichord. A brilliant Finale, the mood of which is as intensive asthat of the previous movements, ends the work.
In contrast to thegloomy D minor Concerto, the following Concerto in E major BWV 1053displays a charming, cheerful mood. The first movement - like that ofsome of the Brandenburg Concertos - is in large-scale da capo formand thus displays similarities to an overdimensional aria. The transparentpolyphonic texture, elaborate but at the same time seeming to have beeneffortlessly composed, allows every orchestral part in the accompaniment tobecome the harpsichord's dialogue partner, as it were. The harpsichord part,which is notated in detail from the first to the last bar, is so intimatelyinterwoven with the filigree texture of the orchestra that in one place it is also allowedto play a single note of the ritornello theme for once. The sameprinciples of composition technique apply to the two movements which follow, atenderly restrained Siciliano in C sharp minor and a cheerful Allegroin dance-like 3/8 time.
The Concerto in A major BWV 1055 is characterized by theparticularly cantabile quality of its solo part; for this reason it hasbeen generally accepted for a long time that the original work was a concertofor oboe d'amore. In the first movement the ritornello themes clearlytake second place to the solo part, which is allowed to develop unimpeded; thusat the beginning of the movement only sonorous broken chords are heard, betweenwhich the solo part already draws attention to itself with material of its ownbefore the episode begins. The second movement, marked Alla siciliana, isin the relative minor, as in the E major Concerto, which, apart from a short ritornellowhich serves as introduction and conclusion, is dominated completely by thequietly flowing semiquaver figurations of the harpsichord. The final movementis in the rhythm of a fast minuet; the dance-like metre and the strict four-barperiodic structure bring about the lovely peaceful mood of