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The harpsichord concertos , BWV —, are concertos for harpsichord , strings and continuo by Johann Sebastian Bach. There are seven complete concertos for a single harpsichord BWV — , three concertos for two harpsichords BWV — , two concertos for three harpsichords BWV and , and one concerto for four harpsichords BWV Two other concertos include solo harpsichord parts: the concerto BWV , which has solo parts for harpsichord, violin and flute, and Brandenburg Concerto No.
In addition, there is a nine-bar concerto fragment for harpsichord BWV which adds an oboe to the strings and continuo. In many cases, only the harpsichord version has survived. They are among the first concertos for keyboard instrument ever written. The earliest extant sources regarding Bach's involvement with the keyboard concerto genre are his Weimar concerto transcriptions, BWV — and — c.
Many of Bach's orchestral harpsichord concertos are adapted from a model with one or more violin solo parts. Several of these earlier models are extant. In September Bach performed organ music, accompanied by other instruments, in Dresden. The works he performed there have not been identified. More than a year later he composed several cantatas with an organ obligato part. Johann Nikolaus Forkel , Bach's first biographer, recorded in that the concertos for two or more harpsichords were played with his two elder sons.
Both of them, corresponded with Forkel and both remained in the parental home until the early s: Wilhelm Friedemann departed in to take up his appointment as organist at the Sophienkirche in Dresden ; and in Carl Philipp Emanuel moved to the university in Frankfurt to continue training for his short-lived legal career. There are also first-hand accounts of music-making by the entire Bach family, although these probably date from the s during visits to Leipzig by the two elder sons: one of Bach's pupils J.
Sonnenkalb recorded that house-concerts were frequent and involved Bach together with his two elder sons, two of his younger sons— Johann Christoph Friedrich and Johann Christian —as well as his son-in-law Johann Christoph Altnickol. It is also known that Wilhelm Friedemann visited his father for one month in with two distinguished lutenists one of them was Sylvius Weiss , which would have provided further opportunities for domestic music-making.
The arrangement of the Organ Sonatas, BWV — , for two harpsichords with each player providing the pedal part in the left hand, is also presumed to have originated as Hausmusik , a duet for the elder sons. The concertos for one harpsichord, BWV —, survive in an autograph score, now held in the Berlin State Library. Based on the paper's watermarks and the handwriting, it has been attributed to or The orchestral parts on the other hand were executed as a fair copy.
Establishing the history or purpose of any of the harpsichord concertos, however, is not a straightforward task. At present attempts to reconstruct the compositional history can only be at the level of plausible suggestions or conjectures, mainly because very little of Bach's instrumental music has survived and, even when it has, sources are patchy.
In particular this makes it hard not only to determine the place, time and purpose of the original compositions but even to determine the original key and intended instrument.
The music performed by the Society was of various kinds; hence we may assume that violin and clavier concertos by Bach were also performed, though more frequently, perhaps, at Bach's house The most flourishing time in Bach's domestic band was, no doubt, from about until , since the grown-up sons, Friedemann and Emanuel, were still living in their father's house, Bernhard was already grown up, and Krebs, who had been Sebastian's pupil since , was beginning to display his great talents Whether Bach ever wrote violin concertos expressly for them must remain undecided In this branch of art he devoted himself chiefly at Leipzig to the clavier concerto.
Various possible explanations have been proposed as to why Bach assembled the collection of harpsichord concertos at this particular time. Bach served as director from spring to summer ; and again from October until or John Butt suggests that the manuscript was prepared for performances on Bach's resumption as director in , additional evidence coming from the fact that the manuscript subsequently remained in Leipzig. Williams has also speculated that it might not be mere coincidence that the timing matched the publication of the first ever collection of keyboard concertos, the widely acclaimed and well-selling Organ concertos, Op.
The harpsichord concertos were composed in a manner completely idiomatic to the keyboard this was equally true for those written for two or more harpsichords. They were almost certainly originally conceived for a small chamber group, with one instrument per desk, even if performed on one of the newly developed fortepianos , which only gradually acquired the potential for producing a louder dynamic.
The keyboard writing also conforms to a practice that lasted until the early nineteenth century, namely the soloist played along with the orchestra in tutti sections, only coming into prominence in solo passages. The works BWV — were intended as a set of six, shown in the manuscript in Bach's traditional manner beginning with 'J. Aside from the Brandenburg concertos , it is the only such collection of concertos in Bach's oeuvre, and it is the only set of concertos from his Leipzig years.
The concerto BWV and fragment BWV are at the end of the score, but they are an earlier attempt at a set of works as shown by an additional J.
The earliest surviving manuscript of the concerto can be dated to ; it was made by Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel and contained only the orchestral parts, the cembalo part being added later by an unknown copyist. The definitive version BWV was recorded by Bach himself in the autograph manuscript of all eight harpsichord concertos BWV —, made around In these cantata versions the orchestra was expanded by the addition of oboes. Like the other harpsichord concertos, BWV has been widely believed to be a transcription of a lost concerto for another instrument.
Beginning with Wilhelm Rust and Philipp Spitta , many scholars suggested that the original melody instrument was the violin, because of the many violinistic figurations in the solo part—string-crossing, open string techniques—all highly virtuosic. Williams has speculated that the copies of the orchestral parts made in BWV a might have been used for a performance of the concerto with Carl Philipp Emanuel as soloist.
In , in order to resolve playability problems in Fischer's reconstruction, Werner Breig suggested amendments based on the obbligato organ part in the cantatas and BWV a.
In the twenty-first century, however, Bach scholarship has moved away from any consensus regarding a violin original. In , for example, two leading Bach scholars, Christoph Wolff and Gregory Butler, both published independently conducted research that led each to conclude that the original form of BWV was an organ concerto composed within the first few years of Bach's tenure in Leipzig.
Both relate the work to performances by Bach of concerted movements for organ and orchestra in Dresden and Leipzig. Wolff also details why the violinistic figuration in the harpsichord part does not demonstrate that it is a transcription from a previous violin part; for one thing, the "extended and extreme passagework" in the solo part "cannot be found in any of Bach's violin concertos"; for another, he points to other relevant Bach keyboard works that "display direct translations of characteristic violin figuration into idiomatic passagework for the keyboard.
As Werner Breig has shown, the first harpsichord concerto Bach entered into the autograph manuscript was BWV , a straightforward adaptation of the A minor violin concerto. He abandoned the next entry BWV after only a few bars to begin setting down BWV with a far more comprehensive approach to recomposing the original than merely adapting the part of the melody instrument.
It is one of Bach's greatest concertos: in the words of Jones it "conveys a sense of huge elemental power. Both start in the manner of Vivaldi with unison writing in the ritornello sections—the last movement begins as follows:  . Bach then proceeds to juxtapose passages in the key of D minor with passages in A minor: in the first movement this concerns the first 27 bars; and in the last the first 41 bars.
These somewhat abrupt changes in tonality convey the spirit of a more ancient modal type of music. In both movements the A sections are fairly closely tied to the ritornello material which is interspersed with brief episodes for the harpsichord. The central B sections of both movements are freely developed and highly virtuosic; they are filled with violinistic figurations including keyboard reworkings of bariolage , a technique that relies on the use of the violin's open strings.
The B section in the first movement starts with repeated note bariolage figures:  . Throughout the first movement the harpsichord part also has several episodes with "perfidia"—the same half bar semiquaver patterns repeated over a prolonged period.
In the first movement the central section is in the keys of D minor and E minor; in the last movement the keys are D minor and A minor. As in the opening sections, the shifts between the two minor tonalities are sudden and pronounced. In the first movement Bach creates another equally dramatic effect by interrupting the relentless minor-key passages with statements of the ritornello theme in major keys. Jones describes these moments of relief as providing "a sudden, unexpected shaft of light.
The highly rhythmic thematic material of the solo harpsichord part in the third movement has similarities with the opening of the third Brandenburg Concerto. The slow movement, an Adagio in G minor and 3 4 time, is built on a ground bass which is played in unison by the whole orchestra and the harpsichord in the opening ritornello.
It continues throughout the piece providing the foundations over which the solo harpsichord spins a florid and ornamented melodic line in four long episodes. More generally Jones has pointed out that the predominant keys in the outer movements centre around the open strings of the violin. Several hand copies of the concerto—the standard method of transmission—survive from the 18th century; for instance there are hand copies by Johann Friedrich Agricola around , by Christoph Nichelmann and an unknown scribe in the early s.
Its first publication in print was in by the Kistner Publishing House. The performance history in the nineteenth century can be traced back to the circle of Felix Mendelssohn. Several prominent scholars, Siegbert Rampe and Dominik Sackmann, Ulrich Siegele, and Wilfried Fischer have argued that Bach transcribed this concerto from a lost original for oboe or oboe d'amore Rampe and Sackmann argued for a dating in Bach changed his method of arrangement with this work, significantly altering the ripieno parts from the original concerto for the first time, limited much more to the tutti sections.
The lower string parts were much reduced in scope, allowing the harpsichord bass to be more prominent, and the upper strings were likewise modified to allow the harpsichord to be at the forefront of the texture.
The surviving violin concerto in E major, BWV was the model for this work, which was transposed down a tone to allow the top note E 6 to be reached as D 6 , the common top limit on harpsichords of the time. The opening movement is one of the rare Bach concerto first movements in da capo A—B—A form.
In Ignaz Moscheles performed the concerto in London. That it was an oboe d'amore was proposed in by Donald Francis Tovey , in by Ulrich Siegele,  in by Wilfried Fischer,  and in by Pieter Dirksen. Wollny notes that whatever the origins, the final work is the only Bach Harpsichord Concerto for which "a complete original set of parts has survived"; included is a "fully figured continuo part," which scholars agree was for a second harpsichord.
This middle movement closely resembles the opening Andante of a Flute Concerto in G major TWV G2 by Georg Philipp Telemann ; the soloists play essentially identical notes for the first two-and-a-half measures. Although the chronology cannot be known for certain, Steven Zohn has presented evidence that the Telemann concerto came first, and that Bach intended his movement as an elaboration of his friend Telemann's original.
An arrangement of Brandenburg Concerto No. Besides transposing, recorder parts have few modifications, except in the second movement in which most of their melodic function is transferred to the soloist. Bach wrote the harpsichord part as a combination of the violin material from the original concerto and a written out continuo. Probably Bach's first attempt at writing out a full harpsichord concerto, this is a transcription of the violin concerto in A minor, BWV , one whole tone lower to fit the harpsichord's range.
It seems Bach was dissatisfied with this work, the most likely reason being that he did not alter the ripieno parts very much, so the harpsichord was swamped by the orchestra too much to be an effective solo instrument. Bach did not continue the intended set, which he had marked with 'J. He wrote only the short fragment BWV Scored for harpsichord, oboe and strings in the autograph manuscript, Bach abandoned this concerto after entering only nine bars.
As with the other harpsichord concertos that have corresponding cantata movements BWV , and , this fragment corresponds to the opening sinfonia of the cantata Geist und Seele wird verwirret, BWV 35 , for alto, obbligato organ, oboes, taille and strings. Rampe summarises the musicological literature discussing the possibility of a lost instrumental concerto on which the fragment and movements of the cantata might have been based.
A reconstruction of an oboe concerto was made in by Arnold Mehl with the two sinfonias from BWV 35 as outer movements and the opening sinfonia of BWV as slow movement.
While the existing score is in the form of a concerto for harpsichords and strings, Bach scholars believe it to be a transcription of a lost double concerto in D minor; a reconstructed arrangement of this concerto for two violins or violin and oboe is classified as BWV R. The middle movement is a cantabile for the solo instruments with orchestral accompaniment. Of all Bach's harpsichord concertos, this is probably the only one that originated as a harpsichord work, though not in an orchestral guise.
The work originated as a concerto for two harpsichords unaccompanied BWV a, in the manner of the Italian Concerto, BWV , and the addition of the orchestral parts may not have been by Bach himself. The string orchestra does not fulfill an independent role, and only appears to augment cadences; it is silent in the middle movement.
The harpsichords have much dialogue between themselves and play in an antiphonal manner throughout. It was transposed down a tone for the same reason as BWV , so that the top note would be D 6. Scholars have yet to settle on the probable scoring and tonality of the concerto on which this was based, though they do think it is, like the others, a transcription.
Keyboard concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach
Harpsichord Concerto No.7 in G minor, BWV 1058 (Bach, Johann Sebastian)