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Johann Sebastian Bach

Brandenburg Concerto No. 2

(Duration: 21 min)

For Johann Sebastian Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto, the distinctive solo group consists of trumpet, flute (substituting for the original recorder), oboe and violin. The trumpet Bach wrote for was a natural instrument without valves, meaning that the range was confined to the notes of the overtone series extending up from the instrument’s fundamental pitch. The low overtones are spaced widely, as in the typical intervals of bugle calls, so to play smooth melodies requires accessing the higher harmonics. Playing in this clarino range of the natural trumpet requires extreme control and strength, and it produces one of the brightest and most penetrating of all musical colors, lending the sonic palette of the Second Brandenburg Concerto its particular brilliance.

The jubilant opening movement makes up for the mismatched strength of the solo instruments by separating the voices out for individual statements and contrapuntal sparring. The more delicate aspects of the flute, oboe and violin emerge in the middle Andante movement, in which a walking bass line supports polyphonic weavings. A heralding call from the trumpet announces the Allegro assai third movement, initiating a rowdy finale that serves as a bookend to the unbridled joy of the opening movement.

Incidentally, the Second Brandenburg Concerto holds the unique distinction of being the work of human creation intended to demonstrate to anyone listening in deep space the presence of intelligent life on Earth. It is the first selection of music broadcasting from the Voyager Spacecraft, a vessel launched in 1977 that has since traveled beyond our solar system.

Aaron Grad ©2021

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Johann Sebastian Bach Watch Video

Johann Sebastian Bach

Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 (11 min)

Eunice Kim, violin
Daria Tedeschi Adams, violin
Eunae Koh, violin
Maiya Papach, viola
Hyobi Sim, viola
Dana Kelley, viola
Julie Albers, cello
Joshua Koestenbaum, cello
Sarah Lewis, cello
Zachary Cohen, double bass
Timothy Lovelace, harpsichord

Instead of the typical concerto grosso setup of a solo group within the orchestra, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto treats all members of the ensemble as soloists, with independent lines for three violins, three violas and three cellos supported by the basso continuo accompaniment. The equitable distribution of the material is especially clear in the first movement, in which the primary motive — a three-note figure that drops to the lower neighbor note and then returns to the starting pitch — cascades through the different voices.

The central Adagio movement consists simply of two linking chords, sometimes elaborated by an improvised cadenza. The concerto closes with a barreling Allegro finale, its tempo and character matching the reeling gigues that conclude most of Bach’s dance suites.

Aaron Grad ©2021

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Johann Sebastian Bach Watch Video

Johann Sebastian Bach

Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 (20 min)

Johann Sebastian Bach’s First Brandenburg Concerto features the largest ensemble, including a pair of corni da caccia, or “hunting horns,” in the group of soloists. Three oboes, a bassoon and a violino piccolo — a slightly smaller cousin of the violin tuned a minor third higher — round out the solo group, while a full complement of strings and basso continuo contribute supporting music.

Bach adapted this concerto from the opening Sinfonia of a secular cantata from 1713, Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd (“The lively hunt is all my heart’s desire”). The first movement retains the jovial, outdoor ambience of music inspired by the hunt, with the horns issuing calls to action, sometimes in triplets that contradict the orchestra’s pulse, as if they have already moved ahead in the hunt at their own pace. After this spirited opening, the Adagio movement is a poignant departure, with the oboe, solo violin and bass group elaborating a plaintive melody. An oboe cadenza and a series of mysterious chords lead into the third movement, a sprightly romp that shows off the solo violin’s bright figurations.

The First Brandenburg Concerto is the only one with a fourth movement, in this case a regal Minuet that pauses for two contrasting trio sections as well as a Polacca, a dance with Polish origins. The alternate sections each feature subsets of the ensemble, including the novel sound in the final trio section of three unison oboes honking a breathless accompaniment under hunting calls from the horns.

Aaron Grad ©2021

About This Program

Approximate length 1:00

The SPCO presents Johann Sebastian Bach’s most cherished set of orchestral works, the Brandenburg Concertos. The profound inventiveness and instrumental virtuosity of the enduring baroque masterpieces are on full display as led by our own SPCO musicians and soloists.

All audience members are required to present proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to attending this event. Masks are required regardless of vaccination status. More Information

Concerts are currently limited to 50% capacity to allow for distancing. Tickets are available by price scale, and specific seats will be assigned and delivered a couple of weeks prior to each concert — including Print At Home tickets. Please email us at if you have any seating preferences or accessibility needs. Seating and price scale charts for the Ordway Concert Hall can be found at


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