Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 BWV 1049

Johann Sebastian Bach
Composed c. 1720

December 11-13, 2009
Julia Bogorad-Kogan, flute
Alicia McQuerrey, flute
Sunmi Chang, violin
Steven Copes, violin
Elsa Nilsson, violin
Maiya Papach, viola
Susan Babini, cello
Fred Bretschger, double bass
Layton James, harpsichord
1 Allegro 0:06:31 Add to Playlist Play Now  
2 Andante 0:03:09 Add to Playlist Play Now  
3 Presto 0:04:58 Add to Playlist Play Now  
  Entire Recording 0:14:38 Add to Playlist Play Now  
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Johann Sebastian Bach
Library of Congress

Along with a solo violin in the Fourth Brandenburg Concerto, Bach wrote two solo parts that he identified as “echo flutes,” a mysterious term that appears nowhere else in his music. Scholars agree (for the most part) that the intended instruments were treble recorders, and that “echo” may be a reference to the loud and soft alternations in the middle movement, creating an echo-like sound. In performances on modern instruments, flutes typically substitute for the recorders.

In the Allegro first movement, the solo violin takes the flashiest material, including long strings of arpeggios, a series of double-stops (the technique of playing two notes at once) and a wickedly fast passage of slurred 32nd-notes. The characteristic tone of the flutes becomes more prominent in the middle movement, when the soloists contribute airy echos to the ensemble’s phrases, with the violin dropping into the role of the bass instrument to support the higher voices. The movement ends on an unresolved chord that should proceed to E minor, the slow movement’s home key, but instead the violas launch the Presto finale in G, where the concerto started. Their robust phrase marks the start of a fugue, which intersperses virtuosic solo episodes among the formal counterpoint.

Aaron Grad ©2014