Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 BWV 1046

Johann Sebastian Bach
Composed 1717

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Johann Sebastian Bach
Library of Congress

The 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 chase 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 makes way for two contrasting trio sections and a Polacca, a dance with Polish origins. The alternate sections feature subsets of the ensemble, including the novel sound of three unison oboes honking a breathless accompaniment under hunting calls from the horns in the final trio.

Aaron Grad ©2015