Saturday, August 15, 2020

J.S. Bach - Brandenburg Concerto No.3

Johann Sebastian Bach in 1721 gave the Margrave of Brandenburg a gift of 6 Concerti for different instrument groups.  It is believed that the concerti were not expressly written for the Margrave but were written earlier. That Bach may have offered these up as a kind of resume to become employed by the Margrave is also a possibility.  In any event, Bach was not hired on and it isn't known if the Margrave ever had them performed as the forces needed to do that were beyond what the Margrave had at his court.  The concertos languished in the archives of Brandenburg until they were rediscovered and given the nickname 'Brandenburg'.

Each one of the Brandenburg Concertos is different from the other. Number 3 in G major is for 3 violins, 3 violas, 3 cellos, harpsichord and double bass.  The style of this concerto harks back to the concerto grosso style, that is when a small group of instruments (the concertino) within the ensemble pass musical material back and forth while the full orchestra (tutti) accompanies.  Number 3 is unique in that the two groups are integrated into a whole.  Bach makes but eleven instruments sound like much more because each group of three alternates between being the concertino and being part of the tutti.

The first and third movements of the concerto are written in ritornello form while the middle movement consists of a two chord cadence. Some performers play these two chords, others improvise a short cadenza, sometimes a movement from a different work of Bach's is used. Evidently there was no set rule on which route to take. Composers of the Baroque era left a lot to the performers discretion.

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