1 Oregon Bach Festival Discovery Series BWV 1048 Brandenburg


1 Oregon Bach Festival Discovery Series BWV 1048 Brandenburg
Oregon Bach Festival Discovery Series
BWV 1048 Brandenburg Concerto #3
The years 1717-1723 are the only period of Bach’s lifetime when he was not employed
by the church. He was serving as court musician for Prince Leopold of Anhält-Cöthen, a
small town in the north German area of Thuringia. This was a period when Bach’s
creative energies were devoted to instrumental chamber music and keyboard works.
Bach had excellent instrumentalists at his disposal. King Frederick William I, known as
the Soldaten König, or King of Soldiers, reigned over Prussia, and his goal was to build
up the Prussian Army. To accomplish this he rid himself of unnecessary courtiers, many
of them musicians. Prince Leopold took advantage of this abundance of available
musicians, and brought the best of them from Berlin to Cöthen. It was for these
outstanding instrumentalists that Bach composed his Orchestral Suites, Brandenburg
Concertos, violin concertos, and many keyboard works.
In 1718, Bach traveled to Berlin on behalf of Prince Leopold to order a new harpsichord
for the court at Cöthen. At some time during the visit Bach met with and impressed
Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt, who was attempting to
revitalize music and other arts in that area. It was for him that Bach composed the six
Brandenburg concertos.
One of the unique qualities of the Brandenburg Concertos is that each has a different
instrumentation. Some are for full orchestra, others feature solo violin, flute, harpsichord,
high trumpet, two obbligato horns, and viola da gamba. The word concerto in the title
means the Baroque concerto grosso, a common form of instrumental music during
Bach’s time. The music is passed between the larger instrument group (ripieno) and the
smaller solo group (concertino). The concertino can be a group of instruments or one
solo instrument.
The instrumentation to Concerto #3 is unique because the tutti instruments are also the
solo instruments. In the introduction all of the instrument play together.
At first the three violins play together, but after the ripieno, they have separate individual
parts. This is one “color”. The violas also divide into individual solos, the second “color”.
The third “color” is the cellos, who also have separate parts.
The unique twist to the concerto grosso form is that everyone in the orchestra will
essentially play a solo. Some of the solos are short.
Some solos are longer. Bach also changes the order of the solo instruments, sometimes
going through the violins and then to the violas, and sometimes going from the first violin
to the first viola, and then from second violin to the second viola.
Later on there are still longer solo sections going from first violin and continuing with the
second violin.
There is also a more extended solo section for two violins.
It is a remarkable accomplishment to compose a concerto in which every instrument is a
soloist, maintain the concerto grosso characteristic of ripieno and concertino, and cast it
all within a contrapuntal texture.
The second movement is slow and expressive. Perhaps Bach thought that after beginning
with so much structure and organization that the next movement should give way to
improvisation. The second movement consists of two chords.
There is no indication in the score what should be done with this harmonic progression. It
is likely that Bach assumes there will be an improvisation on these two chords that lead to
the final movement, extemporized by either the harpsichordist or first violinist.
The third movement is a gigue, a dance movement commonly used in the Baroque. The
gigue is in triple meter, and each beat is subdivided into three beats. The gigue is also
quite fast.
It is typical of Bach’s genius that the virtuosic gesture will be used in a canon. The
motive will be found in all voices, even in the third viola.
The closer one looks at Bach’s music, the more beautiful it becomes.