Harpsichord concertos (J. S. Bach)

Harpsichord concertos (J. S. Bach)

The harpsichord concertos, BWV 1052-1065, are concertos for harpsichord, strings and continuo by Johann Sebastian Bach. There are seven concertos for a single harpsichord, (BWV 1052-1058), three concertos for 2 harpsichords (BWV 1060-1062), two concertos for 3 harpsichords (BWV 1063-1064), and one concerto for 4 harpsichords, (BWV 1065). Two other concertos include solo harpsichord parts: the concerto BWV 1044, which has solo parts for harpsichord, violin and flute, and Brandenburg concerto no.5, BWV 1050, with the same scoring.

All of Bach's harpsichord concertos (with the exception of the Brandenburg concerto) are thought to be arrangements made from earlier concertos for melodic instruments probably written in Cöthen. In many cases, only the harpsichord version has survived.

Compositional history

From 1729 to 1741, Bach was director of the "Collegium musicum" in Leipzig, a student musical society, founded by Georg Philipp Telemann in 1703 and run before Bach by Balthasar Schott. The "Collegium musicum" often gave performances at Zimmermann's coffee-house. It was for these occasions that Bach produced his harpsichord concertos, among the first concertos for keyboard instrument ever written. It is thought that the multiple harpsichord concertos were heard earlier than those for one harpsichord, perhaps because his sons C. P. E. Bach and W. F. Bach (both excellent harpsichord players) were living at home until 1733 and 1734, respectively. It is likely that Johann Ludwig Krebs, who studied with Bach until 1735, also played harpsichord in the "Collegium musicum".

The concertos for one harpsichord, BWV 1052-1059, survive in an autograph score (now in the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek Berlin, "Mus. ms. Bach P 234") which is not a fair copy but a draft, or working score, and has been dated to about 1738. Bach may of course have played the works much earlier, using the parts from an original melody-instrument concerto and extemporising a suitable harpsichord version while playing.

The works BWV 1052-1057 were intended as a set of six, shown in the manuscript in Bach's traditional manner beginning with 'J.J.' ("Jesu Juva") and ending with 'Finis. S. D. Gl.' ("Soli Deo Gloria"). Aside from the Brandenburg concertos, it is the only such collection of concertos in Bach's oeuvre. The concerto BWV 1058 and fragment BWV 1059 are contained at the end of the score, and are an earlier attempt at a set of (headed J.J.) which was abandoned for one reason or another.

Bach's harpsichord concertos were, until recently, often underestimated by scholars, who did not have the convenience of hearing the benefits that historically informed performance has brought to works such as these; Albert Schweitzer wrote 'The transcriptions have often been prepared with almost unbelievable cursoriness and carelessness. Either time was pressing or he was bored by the matter.' Recent research has demonstrated quite the reverse to be true; he transferred solo parts to the harpsichord with typical skill and variety. Bach's interest in the harpsichord concerto form can be inferred from the fact that he arranged every suitable melody-instrument concerto as a harpsichord concerto, and while the harpsichord versions have been preserved the same is not true of the melody-instrument versions.

Concertos for single harpsichord

The set of 6 harpsichord concertos

Concerto I in D minor, BWV 1052

#Allegro
#Adagio
#Allegro

Scoring: harpsichord solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 22 minutes

This harpsichord concerto is thought to be based on a lost violin concerto in D minor which was later arranged as an organ concerto in 1728 for use in two of Bach's cantatas; the first two movements for the sinfonia and first choral movement of BWV 146, "Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal in das Reich Gottes eingehen" and the last movement is in BWV 188, "Ich habe meine Zuversicht". The original is probably one of Bach's earliest concertos and is very virtuosic, in a similar manner to Antonio Vivaldi's "Grosso Mogul" violin concerto, RV 208, which Bach knew and transcribed for solo organ, BWV 594.

The harpsichord transcription was made by transferring the ripieno string parts without alteration and considerably augmenting the solo part for harpsichord to make it as comparatively virtuosic as the original must have been, as well as adding chords to fill in the harmony and figurative developments in the left hand. This is particularly notable in the first and third movements; in the second movement, however, the left hand almost exactly duplicates the ripieno continuo part, and the right hand plays a melody that is probably taken directly from the original violin part.

The first and third movements share a similar harmonic structure based upon which the movements can be divided into four sections. The opening section of both movements gives the theme in the tonic (D minor) followed by a statement of the theme in the relative major (F major). The second section modulates to the dominant (A minor) and then its relative major (C major). The third section modulates to the subdominant (G minor) and its relative major (B flat major). Finally, the fourth section gives a recapitulation of the theme in the tonic, with no subsequent major key statement.

This concerto has remained the most popular of the collection from the 19th century onwards; Felix Mendelssohn played it and Johannes Brahms wrote a cadenza for it; the first publication of it was in 1838 by the Kistner Publishing House. It was often played and recorded as the piano in the 20th century, though with the rise of historically informed performance from the 1960s, it is now regularly played on the harpsichord again.

There also exists a version of this harpsichord concerto transcribed by C. P. E. Bach in 1733 or 1734, listed as BWV 1052a; it is not executed particularly well but shows that the process was studied in Bach's household.

Concerto II in E major, BWV 1053

#—
#Siciliano
#Allegro

Scoring: harpsichord solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 19 minutes

This harpsichord concerto is thought to be based on a concerto for wind instrument, probably oboe or oboe d'amore, and from stylistic considerations, it may have dated from Bach's time in Leipzig. It exists, like BWV 1052, in a later transcription in his cantatas BWV 169 and BWV 49, from which further inferences can be made about the original concerto.

Bach changed his method of arrangement with this work, significantly altering the ripieno parts from the original concerto for the first time, limited much more to the tutti sections. The lower string parts were much reduced in scope, allowing the harpsichord bass to be more prominent, and the upper strings were likewise modified to allow the harpsichord to be at the forefront of the texture.

Concerto III in D major, BWV 1054

#—
#Adagio e piano sempre
#Allegro

Scoring: harpsichord solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 17 minutes

The surviving violin concerto in E major, BWV 1042 was the model for this work, which was transposed down a tone to allow the top note e to be reached as d, the common top limit on harpsichords of the time. The transcription process was based on the same principles as BWV 1053.

Concerto IV in A major, BWV 1055

#Allegro
#Larghetto
#Allegro ma non tanto

Scoring: harpsichord solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 14 minutes

Probably based on a lost concerto for oboe d'amore, this is a mature and formally concentrated work. There exists a figured bass continuo part for this concerto, which was added later, probably for a particular occasion at which a second harpsichord, chamber organ or theorbo filled out the harmony of the continuo bass.

Concerto V in F minor, BWV 1056

#Allegro
#Adagio
#Presto

Scoring: harpsichord solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 10 minutes

The outer movements probably come from a violin concerto which was in G minor, and the middle movement is probably from an oboe concerto in F major; this movement is also the sinfonia to the cantata "Ich Steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe", BWV 156.

Concerto VI in F major, BWV 1057

#—
#Andante
#Allegro assai

Scoring: harpsichord solo, flauto dolce (recorder) I/II, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 17 minutes

A transcription of Brandenburg concerto no.4, BWV 1049; because it also involves parts for two solo recorders, this is a concerto grosso. The harpsichord mainly plays the original violin part, but also takes on the material of the recorders-violin trio in the slow movement, plays with the recorders in four-part harmony, plays a reduction of the fugal material with the strings in the last movement, and, when doing nothing else, plays a lavishly written-out continuo. Bach probably placed this concerto as the last of the set intentionally, as the pinnacle of the series, due to the richness of instrumental color produced by the three families of instruments, and the extraordinarily varied and effective harpsichord part.

The abandoned first set

Concerto in G minor, BWV 1058

#Allegro
#Andante
#Allegro assai

Scoring: harpsichord solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 14 minutes

Probably Bach's first attempt at writing out a full harpsichord concerto, this is a transcription of the violin concerto in A minor, BWV 1041. It seems Bach was dissatisfied with this work, the most likely reason being that he did not alter the ripieno parts very much, so the harpsichord was swamped by the orchestra too much to be an effective solo instrument.

Bach did not continue the intended set which he had marked with a 'J.J.' at the start of this work; he abandoned the next harpsichord concerto, the fragment BWV 1059, which was to be based on an oboe concerto, after 10 incomplete bars. Some modern scholars, noticing that the surviving material matches the cantata BWV 35, have constructed a proposed harpsichord or oboe concerto from that source.

Concerto for harpsichord, flute, and violin

Concerto in A minor, BWV 1044

#Allegro
#Adagio ma non tanto e dolce
#Alla breve

Scoring: harpsichord solo, violin solo, flute solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 22 minutes

Though this a concerto for three instruments (hence it is occasionally called Bach's triple concerto), the harpsichord has the most prominent role and greatest quantity of material; there are several cadenzas and virtuosic passages for the instrument; the scoring is identical to that of Brandenburg concerto no.5, BWV 1050, though the character is quite different. The first and third movements are adapted from the prelude and fugue in A minor for solo harpsichord, BWV 894, which have been developed with added tutti sections. The middle movement is from the trio sonata for organ in D minor, BWV 527, which has been expanded to four voices; only the solo instruments play, and the flute and violin share the melody and accompaniment, switching roles on the repeat of each half. There is some question of whether or not Bach wrote the transcription of this concerto, though the majesty of conception and arrangement certainly speaks for it.

Concertos for multiple harpsichords

Concertos for two harpsichords

Concerto in C minor, BWV 1060

#Allegro
#Adagio
#Allegro

Scoring: harpsichord I/II solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 14 minutes

This concerto is based on one now lost for violin and oboe, also in C minor. The subtle and masterful way in which the solo instruments blend with the orchestra marks this out as one of the most mature works of Bach's years at Cöthen. The middle movement is a cantabile for the solo instruments with orchestral accompaniment.

Concerto in C major, BWV 1061

#Allegro
#Adagio ovvero Largo
#Fuga

Scoring: harpsichord I/II solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 19 minutes

Of all Bach's harpsichord concertos, this is probably the only one that originated as a harpsichord work, though not in an orchestral guise. The work originated as a concerto for two harpsichords unaccompanied (in the manner of the "Italian Concerto, BWV 971"), and the addition of the orchestral parts may not have been by Bach himself. The string orchestra doesn't fulfil an independent role, and only appears to augment cadences; it is silent in the middle movement. The harpsichord have much dialogue between themselves and play in an antiphonal manner throughout. The only time Bach returned to the two-harpsichord combination was in the "Art of Fugue" which he wrote near the end of his life.

Concerto in C minor, BWV 1062

#—
#Andante
#Allegro assai

Scoring: harpsichord I/II solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 15 minutes

The well-known concerto for two violins in D minor, BWV 1043 is the basis of this transcription. It was transposed down a tone for the same reason as BWV 1054, so that the top note would be d"'.

Concertos for three harpsichords

Concerto in D minor, BWV 1063

#—
#Alla Siciliana
#Allegro

Scoring: harpsichord I/II/III solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 14 minutes

Scholars have yet to settle on the probable scoring and tonality of the concerto on which this was based, though they do think it is, like the others, a transcription. Bach's sons may have been involved in the composition of this work.

Concerto in C major, BWV 1064

#Allegro
#Adagio
#Allegro

Scoring: harpsichord I/II/III solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 17 minutes

This concerto was probably based on an original in D major for three violins, and shows some similarity with that for two violins/harpsichords, BWV 1043/1061, in the interaction of the concertino group with the ripieno and the cantabile slow movement.

Concerto for four harpsichords

Concerto in A minor, BWV 1065

#Allegro—
#Adagio
#Allegro

Scoring: harpsichord I/II/III/IV solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 10 minutes

Bach made a number of transcriptions from Antonio Vivaldi's concertos, especially from his op.3 set, entitled "l'estro Armonico"; he adapted them for solo harpsichord and solo organ, and for the concerto for 4 violins in B minor, op.3 no.10, RV 580, he decided upon the unique solution of using four harpsichords and orchestra. This is thus the only harpsichord concerto by Bach which was not an adaptation of his own material. The middle movement has the four harpsichords playing differently-articulated arpeggios in a very unusual tonal blend, while Bach provided some additional virtuosity and tension in the other movements.;)

ources

*Werner Breig, Bach: Concertos for Harpsichord, ISMN: M-006-20451-9 (1999, Bärenreiter)
*Werner Breig, notes to recordings of the complete harpsichord concertos by Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert (1981, Archiv Produktion); lengths also taken from these recordings

External links

* [http://bach-gesellschaft.cygoth.com/BGA17.pdf Harpsichord concertos, BWV 1052-1059, 1044] - from the Bach Gesellschaft Ausgabe; public domain
*IMSLP2|id=Concerti_for_Harpsichord_and_Strings%2C_BWV_1052-1059_%28Bach%2C_Johann_Sebastian%29|cname=Single harpsichord concertos, BWV 1052-1059
*IMSLP2|id=Concerti_for_multiple_harpsichords_and_strings%2C_BWV_1060-1065_%28Bach%2C_Johann_Sebastian%29|cname=Multiple harpsichord concertos, BWV 1060-1065


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