THE BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2020, 5:00 PM
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2020, 7:30 PM
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2020, 7:30 PM
- Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F major, BWV 1046 (1720)
Daniel Phillips, violino piccolo • Cho-Liang Lin, violin • Danbi Um, violin • Mark Holloway, viola • Colin Carr, cello • Joseph Conyers, bass • Kenneth Weiss, harpsichord • Stephen Taylor, oboe • Randall Ellis, oboe • James Austin Smith, oboe • Peter Kolkay, bassoon • Jennifer Montone, horn • Julie Landsman, horn
- Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047 (1720)
Aaron Boyd, violin • Sooyun Kim, flute • Stephen Taylor, oboe • David Washburn, trumpet • Sean Lee, violin • Benjamin Beilman, violin • Lawrence Dutton, viola • Paul Watkins, cello • Marc Goldberg, bassoon • Timothy Cobb, bass • John Gibbons, harpsichord
- Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048 (1720)
Ani Kavafian, violin • Yura Lee, violin • Alexander Sitkovetsky, violin • Matthew Lipman, viola • Paul Neubauer, viola • Daniel Phillips, viola • Mihai Marica, cello • Timothy Eddy, cello • Inbal Segev, cello • Anthony Manzo, bass • Paolo Bordignon, harpsichord
—INTERMISSION (Discussion with artists)—
- Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major, BWV 1049 (1720)
Paul Huang, violin • Sooyun Kim, flute • Demarre McGill, flute • Chad Hoopes, violin • Daniel Phillips, violin • Richard O'Neill, viola • Jakob Koranyi, cello • Joseph Conyers, bass • Kenneth Weiss, harpsichord
- Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050 (1720)
Bella Hristova, violin • Tara Helen O'Connor, flute • Hyeyeon Park, piano-harpsichord • Francisco Fullana, violin • Richard O'Neill, viola • Colin Carr, cello • Xavier Foley, bass
Though Bach practically defined Baroque music as we know it today, he met with a surprising number of setbacks in his own lifetime.
The Brandenburg Concertos were one such unsuccessful attempt for recognition. They were named after Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg, who Bach only met once—in 1719 during a trip to Berlin. The Margrave asked for some of his music but it took two years for Bach to deliver, at which time his employer, Prince Leopold of Cöthen, was having financial difficulties and Bach was probably looking for leads on a new job. Bach gathered six concertos with vastly different instrumentations, made revisions, and sent them to the Margrave in March 1721. Not only did Bach not get a job, there is no record the Margrave ever listened to them or even acknowledged Bach’s gift. The Brandenburgs remained virtually unknown until they were rediscovered in 1849 in the archives of Brandenburg.
The First Brandenburg Concerto may be the oldest of the six, as there is an early version (without the third movement) believed to have been composed in 1713, when Bach was working at Weimar. It is unclear why Bach added the third movement as this is the only Brandenburg Concerto with four movements. This concerto calls for the largest ensemble of the six, including a wind section with three oboes, bassoon, and two horns. The winds are featured throughout but especially in the full-textured first movement and in the last movement, a compilation of different dances. The piece also includes the piccolo violin, a small, higher pitched violin that essentially disappeared by the 19th century and is best remembered today for its role in this piece and Bach’s 1731 cantata Wachet auf.
The solo instruments in The Second Brandenburg are flute, oboe, violin, and piccolo trumpet, a very diverse group. And though Bach gives each instrument time to shine, the trumpet’s clear, high-pitched playing dominates the first and third movement. Those movements are examples of ritornello form, a style popularized by Vivaldi and subsequently taken up by Bach. In Vivaldi’s music, ensemble ritornello sections are tonally stable to establish the home key at the start and end of the movement and reinforce each change of key during the movement. The solo sections, in turn, are tonally unstable, modulating between keys, which amps up the tension during the daring solo passages. The second movement stands in stark contrast to the outer movements—the trumpet and ensemble strings drop out and the soloists and continuo play something akin to an intimate sonata, a respite from the high energy and bright tones of the outer movements.
In the Third Brandenburg, there’s no differentiation between soloists and accompanying strings. The nine string players take turns playing solo and ensemble parts. With three violins, three violas, and three cellos, and bass and harpsichord playing continuo, it also has the most homogenous sound, a stark contrast with the first two concertos. The strings work together and play off each other to build energy and excitement. This is also the shortest of the Brandenburgs, partly because it doesn’t exactly have a slow movement—just two brief chords. The first violinist often plays a short cadenza during the first chord to bring some flare to what would otherwise be a simple half cadence.
The Brandenburgs remained virtually unknown until they were rediscovered in 1849 in the archives of Brandenburg.
The Fourth Brandenburg Concerto features a violin and two flutes accompanied by strings (two violins and viola) and continuo (cello, bass, and harpsichord). In the first movement, the flutes take the lead playing the ritornello melody while the violin has virtuosic passages in the episodes. The second movement is a feature for the flutes while the violin alternately accompanies them and joins the string section. The last movement is a series of lively fugal sections separated by episodes of graceful flute collaboration and fiery violin virtuosity.
The Fifth Brandenburg is special, even in this set of highly contrasted concertos. Not only is Bach’s instrument, the harpsichord, included in the group of solo instruments but it is the first keyboard concerto of all time. Before this concerto, the harpsichord typically played the accompanimental continuo part or solo pieces. The reason for the unusual choice of instrumentation was probably because Bach brought a new harpsichord home with him from a 1719 trip to Berlin (the same trip where he met the Margrave of Brandenburg). In the first movement, Bach sneaks in the harpsichord solo, giving it successively longer solo passages until finally the other instruments drop out and the harpsichord shines in intricate waves of notes.
The "Gould" Piano
You will notice the presence of a concert grand piano on the stage. The “Gould” piano, as we have come to call it, was discovered by us in a marvelous performance, found online, of the great Bach interpreter playing the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto on an instrument modified to combine the sonorities of both harpsichord and modern piano. All of the instruments in this performance have been improved over the ages. Violins made in Bach’s time have been altered to increase projection and widen coloristic palette. Winds and brass have gained the keys and valves that enable accuracy and perfect intonation. We decided last year to add the “Gould” piano to the mix, as we believe it is an excellent complement to the rich sound that CMS has brought to the Alice Tully stage for 50 years.
–David Finckel and Wu Han
Bach wrote the Sixth Brandenburg for another unusual ensemble. It features a pair of violas—which typically filled in the harmony in the middle of the string ensemble—accompanied by parts for two violas da gamba (here performed on cellos) and continuo. The viola da gamba was the instrument played by Bach’s employer at Cöthen, Prince Leopold, and was usually a solo instrument. “Bach reversed these roles, such that the violas perform virtuosic solo lines while the viols amble along in repeated eighth notes,” wrote Bach scholar Michael Marissen. “Pursuing these two radical instrumental treatments within the same work was unprecedented (and wouldn’t be imitated)… These kinds of inversions play a significant part in Christian scripture, which frequently proclaims that with God the first shall be last while the last shall be first.”
Notes by Laura Keller, CMS Editorial Manager
© Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center