J. S. Bach and the Second Brandenburg Concerto
In December 1917, Johann Sebastian Bach began working as Prince Leopold of Cothen’s Kappelmeister (German: “chapel master,” director of music), tasked with composing for celebrations and holidays. A lover of music, the prince held Bach in high esteem; paying Bach more than twice the salary of his predecessor. Restricted by the chapel’s low-quality organ, Bach negotiated for new instruments in Carlsbad and Berlin, traveling with the prince throughout 1718 and 1719. Composing for the inauguration of a harpsichord he had acquired in Berlin, Bach prepared the Brandenburg Concertos in 1720. Drawing from a wide range of musical influences and styles, Bach pays tribute to and in many ways surpasses the works of his contemporaries, ultimately and undeniably furthering the concerto form. The concerto is a genre of instrumental works of three movements performed by one or more solo instruments accompanied by an orchestra. In a musical context, the term “concerto” (from the Latin concertare; “to contend, to dispute, to debate” and “to work together”) was initially used inconsistently to refer to a variety of forms and functions, including vocal ensembles, mixed vocal/instrumental groups, and the act of accompanying. As the form developed, the term gained its lasting definition.
The instrumental concerto emerged in the late 17th century. In Italy, two distinct styles arose, reflecting different approaches to musical structure and scoring. The Roman concerto featured a small ensemble of instrumentalists (called the concertino) playing in unison, contrapuntally or in alternation, accompanied by the larger concerto grosso or ripieno. Northern Italian concertos were written for much smaller orchestras, with sometimes as little as five instrumental voices, and emphasized the role of a single soloist (usually a violinist) backed by relatively light accompaniment.
The genre flourished in the early 18th century with...
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