Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bach - Violin Concerto In E Major BWV 1042

Johann Sebastian Bach spent 6 years as Kapellmeister at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, which was a small town in Northern Germany. Despite the small backwater location, Bach's employer was a music lover of the first order who collected first-rate musicians for his band. The prince was mostly interested in secular music so many of Bach's instrumental works may have been written while he was there.

Bach was an eternal student and studied the works of many different composers by copying their works out for his own use. It was a method he had used since he was a child and copied out other composer's music by moonlight from a book of his brothers. Bach got in hot water for the deed as his brother had forbade him access to the book, but Bach's curiosity trumped his brother's orders.Bach had been an admirer of Vivaldi's music before he went to Cöthen, but while he was there he wrote concertos in the Italian model of three movements versus the old concerto grosso form of four movements.

There are only two concertos for violin that can be authenticated, and one concerto for two violins. Scholars believe he wrote more than that, and that most of his harpsichord concertos were arrangements of what were originally written as violin concertos.  There is no positive indication that Bach himself played his violin concertos as soloist, but it is known that he could play the violin, as his son C.P.E. Bach wrote:
As the greatest expert and judge of harmony, he liked best to play the viola, with appropriate loudness and softness. In his youth, and until the approach of old age, he played the violin cleanly and penetratingly, and thus kept the orchestra in better order than he could have done with the harpsichord. He understood to perfection the possibilities of all stringed instruments.
 Violin Concerto In  E Major BWV was composed sometime between 1721-1723 and is in three movements:

I. Allegro - Bach begins the work by drenching the music in E major, as the first measure has each of its
Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen
three beats play the notes of the E major triad.  Bach has the soloist play almost continually, either playing the same notes as the first violins or as soloist. Bach follows the ritornello form of a Vivaldi concerto in general, but Bach has a few surprises for the listener. Many time a concerto movement in ritornello form has the tutti and soloist alternate in playing material, but Bach interlaces the two as he expands the material heard at the beginning. After the material has been worked out in a type of development section, there is a short cadenza for the soloist, after which the entire first section of the movement is repeated, thus making the first movement a hybrid form of  da capo aria and ritornello.

II. Adagio - Written in C-sharp minor, the main theme is first heard in the bass at the beginning and continues throughout the movement save for a few short sections. The theme doesn't leave the bass, but there are fragments of it that appear in the solo part.  The music of the solo violin slowly floats its music over the accompaniment in a most beautiful aria.

III. Allegro assai -  The final movement has Bach write in another hybrid type of form that contains elements of ritornello and rondo form. The theme remains in E major and is repeated by the orchestra between contrasting episodes for the soloist.

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