Compositions

Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 BWV 1050

Johann Sebastian Bach
Composed 1720-1721

November 26-28, 2010
Laurence Cummings, conductor
Laurence Cummings, harpsichord
Julia Bogorad-Kogan, flute
Ruggero Allifranchini, violin
1 Allegro 0:09:34 Add to Playlist Play Now  
2 Affettuoso 0:05:24 Add to Playlist Play Now  
3 Allegro 0:05:26 Add to Playlist Play Now  
  Entire Recording 0:20:24 Add to Playlist Play Now  
December 11-13, 2009
Elsa Nilsson, violin
Alicia McQuerrey, flute
Steven Copes, violin
Maiya Papach, viola
Susan Babini, cello
Fred Bretschger, double bass
Layton James, harpsichord
1 Allegro 0:09:35 Add to Playlist Play Now  
2 Affettuoso 0:05:15 Add to Playlist Play Now  
3 Allegro 0:05:37 Add to Playlist Play Now  
  Entire Recording 0:20:27 Add to Playlist Play Now  
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Johann Sebastian Bach
Library of Congress

Bach traveled to Berlin in 1718 to purchase a new harpsichord for his employer, Prince Leopold of Cöthen. During this trip Bach had an opportunity to perform for Margrave Christian Ludwig, the Duke of Brandenburg, and their encounter stuck with Bach as a possible avenue for future employment. Following up on the lead more than two years later, at a time when the Cöthen position was threatened by Prince Leopold’s recent marriage to a woman uninterested in music, Bach assembled six concerti grossi and sent them off to the Duke of Brandenburg with a most obsequious dedication:

Sir,

A few years ago I had the good fortune to perform before Your Royal Highness at Your command, and I noticed then that you showed some pleasure at the small talent for music which Heaven has given me. When I took my leave Your Royal Highness did me the great honor of ordering me to send Him some pieces of my own composition: therefore, and in accordance with His gracious order, I have taken the liberty of fulfilling my very humble duty to Your Royal Highness with these concerti which I have scored for several instruments.

Humbly I pray You not to judge their imperfections by the fine and delicate taste for music which everyone knows You possess, but rather to take into Your benign consideration the deep respect and very humble obedience which I have endeavored to show You by them.

Further, Sir, I beg very humbly that Your Royal Highness will continue to have the goodness to hold me in His good favor and be convinced that I have nothing nearer to my heart than to be employed on occasions more worthy of You and Your service.

I am, Sir,<br> With unparalleled zeal,<br> Your Royal Highness’s<br> Very humble and very obedient servant<br> Johann Sebastian Bach<br> Cöthen, 24 Ma(r)<br> 1721.

The Duke never responded, and upon his death the Duke’s heirs did not consider Bach’s manuscript important enough to be catalogued individually. It was instead thrown into a bargain bin of miscellaneous works. Bach did manage to mount performances using the court musicians in Cöthen, and the concertos lived on with no help from their namesake.

The Fifth Brandenburg Concerto features a trio of solo instruments consisting of flute, violin, and harsichord. At the time, such a trio was a common chamber music ensemble, playing works for two melody lines and basso continuo known as trio sonatas. What is remarkable about this concerto is that the harpsichord functions not just as a supporting accompanist; it contributes whirlwind figurations during solo passages, and issues a monster of a cadenza at the end of the first movement. (This appearance of a harpsichord as a solo instrument foreshadows the seminal keyboard concertos Bach later assembled in Leipzig.)

The middle movement, labeled Affettuoso (“with feeling”), presents the soloists without the accompanying strings. Unlike a trio sonata, in which the harpsichord would typically have just a bass line with the right-hand harmonies filled in ad libitum, the harpsichordist’s right hand has its own melodic line that intermingles with the flute and violin. In the finale, a fugal structure reinforces the equal footing of the voices. The violin and flute take the first two entrances, and the harpsichord jumps in with the third and fourth voices of the fugue.

Aaron Grad ©2013

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