The Brandenburg Concertos. One of the great masterpieces of Bach’s repertoire and they were unrecognized and un-paid in their day. When Johann Sebastian Bach presented the collection of six works to the man he dedicated them to, Christian Ludwig (the younger brother of King Frederick I of Prussia), he got no thanks and hardly any recognition.
These six concertos were composed in 1721, maybe earlier, and were named, quite simply, six concerts à plusieurs instruments (six concertos for many instruments). It is thought that their happy and light mood was caused because they were composed in one of the happier periods of Bach’s life. He was then the music director in a small town and was enlarging his musical repertoire rapidly.
The first concerto (in F major) is an average of twenty-two minutes long and is separated into four movements (the only one of the six that is). It was written for several instruments, namely horns, oboes, a bassoon, a piccolo, violins, a viola, a cello and a basso continuo. Like in the other five concertos, Bach was able to blend several instruments to create this enlivening piece of music.
Written for a few less instruments and considerably shorter, the second concerto (in F major) is non the less one of the best of the six. The trumpet is a key part of this concerto, and has a very difficult piece to play. This concerto is definitely my favorite of the six, together with perhaps number five.
The third (in G major) is the shortest of all the concertos. It is only ten minutes long. It has a considerable amount of ritornello, repetition of parts of the music–a common aspect of baroque music–, and allows for quite a bit of improvisation in the second movement.
I especially love the first movement of the fourth concerto in G major. It’s primary instrument, above the basso continuo of the cello, bass, etc…, is the flute. It seems to happily skip over the notes making for a playful sort of piece. Bach later adapted it for harpsichord (BWV 1057).
The fifth concerto is in D major, the only one of the six in this key. It also has the harpsichord as one of the primary instruments, even giving it a solo part, a first for a concerto. This one is probably one of the most popular of the six concertos.
Lastly, the sixth concerto (B flat major) caps off the sextet in a grande finale. No violins take part in this one. Violas, cellos, viola de gamba’s and a harpsichord furnish the light and airy touch to this concerto.
These six concertos, one of Bach’s most famous works, let alone a baroque favorite, share a similar tone throughout, with the possible exception of the fifth. Modernly appreciated as a great example of mastery, skill and a finesse in music, the Brandenburg Concertos were unappreciated in their day. Little did Bach know that one day, several centuries later, they would become one of the most famous classical music pieces of all time.
Here is a great version of this classic: Brandenburg Concertos. Enjoy!!!