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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Musical Interlude

(If you must have politics, please scroll down)

About J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerti:
The Brandenburg concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach (BWV 1046--1051, original title: Six Concerts à plusieurs instruments) are a collection of six instrumental works presented by Bach to Christian Ludwig, margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt, in 1721 (though probably composed earlier). They are widely regarded as among the finest musical compositions of the Baroque era.

Bach's dedication to the Margrave was dated 24 March 1721. Most likely, Bach composed the concertos over several years while Kapellmeister at Köthen, and possibly extending back to his employment at Weimar (1708--17). The first sentence of Bach's dedication reads:

As I had the good fortune a few years ago to be heard by Your Royal Highness, at Your Highness's commands, and as I noticed then that Your Highness took some pleasure in the little talents which Heaven has given me for Music, and as in taking Leave of Your Royal Highness, Your Highness deigned to honour me with the command to send Your Highness some pieces of my Composition: I have in accordance with Your Highness's most gracious orders taken the liberty of rendering my most humble duty to Your Royal Highness with the present Concertos, which I have adapted to several instruments; begging Your Highness most humbly not to judge their imperfection with the rigor of that discriminating and sensitive taste, which everyone knows Him to have for musical works, but rather to take into benign Consideration the profound respect and the most humble obedience which I thus attempt to show Him.
The dedication page Bach wrote for the collection indicates they are Concerts avec plusieurs instruments (Concertos with several instruments). Bach used the "widest spectrum of orchestral instruments ... in daring combinations," as Christoph Wolff has commented. "Every one of the six concertos set a precedent in scoring, and every one was to remain without parallel." Heinrich Besseler has noted that the overall forces required (leaving aside the first concerto, which was rewritten for a special occasion) tallies exactly with the 17 players Bach had at his disposal in Köthen.

Because King Frederick William I of Prussia was not a significant patron of the arts, Christian Ludwig seems to have lacked the musicians in his Berlin ensemble to perform the concertos. The full score was left unused in the Margrave's library until his death in 1734, when it was sold for 24 groschen (as of 2008, about US$22.00) of silver. The autograph manuscript of the concertos was only rediscovered in the archives of Brandenburg by Siegfried Wilhelm Dehn in 1849; the concertos were first published in the following year....


  1. What a treat! GREAT playing -- full of verve, youthful enthusiasm and deep understanding. I just listened to the first of the six. Not only do they play superbly, they are also a most attractive looking group of dedicated young artists.

    It looks as though they perform without the service of a conductor. Perhaps that accounts for the almost-excessive use of Body English on the part of some of the players who perform standing?

    I haven't read the commentary yet, but I do wish each of the six concerti had been presented separately, so we could enjoy them at periodic intervals during the day. When they're all grouped together like this, it's bit daunting, because it's unlikely that ANYONE -- even the most inveterate music lover like me -- would just sit and listen to all six in succession without a break.

    One litlte nit I feel compelled to pick:

    Why do you suppose the handsome, highly-gifted, neatly-attired, very straight-appearng young horn player feels compelled to wear an earring? And why oh why does the cameraman continually zero in on that young man's left ear -- as though it had anything to do with the meaning of the music?

    It may be a silly question, but even after the stunning depredations of the SICK-sties, which made grotesque bizarrerie commonplace, I am still irritated by these counter-cultural gestures. They are so oddly ot of place in an elegant presentation of this high a quality.

    And no, Ducky, I do NOT think the players should all appear in white powdered perukes and knee breaches, etc.

    At any rate, I am looking forward to returning here on and off between various tasks and diversions to enjoy more of this splendid video.

    1. FT,
      This is indeed an amazing performance!

      ...I do wish each of the six concerti had been presented separately...

      I didn't quickly see such a version. Maybe I overlooked the version. Let me know if you find it.

    2. If you did, AOW, it would probably be with a different group. There are many excellent interpretations out there, -- possibly hundreds -- but it was good to witness these attractive, earnest young people beautifully dressed, perfectly focused on their task in a lovely period setting.

      Very nice. Thank you so much.

  2. Well, I got back and listened to the 4th and 5th. The latter is my favorite, of course, because the harpsichord part is so prominent, so florid and viscerally exciting. The 5th Brandenburg could be said to be the first virtuoso keyboard concerto. The lengthy, harpsichord cadenza (extended solo) to the first movement was unique in its time, and foreshadowed a pattern which Mozart and Beethoven would develop to the fullest extent in the thirty-two piano concerti they later produced between them.

    This is are a terrific group. I'd like to know more about them and about the individual members. It's exciting to hear these pieces played at maximum speed. They do an astonishing job of articulating all the convoluted passagework with accuracy and elegance, but frankly I'd rather hear the fast movements taken at a slightly slower, more traditional pace. It would help the listener better appreciate the richly complex detail. Also, the harpsichord, itself, seemed too small and weak for the 5th. The player was absolutely excellent, but a great deal of his playing was close to inaudible, which is perfect for "continuo" (running accompaniment that gives foundation and background), but not so much for florid solos.

    This may be "authentic," (they are playing on period, or facsimiles of period, instruments), but I'd like to hear a clearer more brilliant sound from the harpsichord.

    The 5th has been played with the piano and a much larger orchestra, but much as I love the piano, it can't help but sound a bit "tubby" when used in music from the Baroque period, although the late Glenn Gould's ultra-refined virtuosity certainly made an eloquent case for the piano -- but only if one can play the instrument as he did.

    1. FT,
      Let me know if you find out more about this group.


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