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Name of Work

Bach, Johann Sebastian (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048

Movements:
Allegro
Adagio
Allegro

Performances:


Apr 22, 2007



Robert Chen, Violin
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Kozue Funakoshi, Violin
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Yukiko Ogura, Viola
Katinka Kleijn, Cello
Kenneth Olsen, Cello
Stephen Balderston, Cello
Bradley Opland, Double bass
Stephen Alltop, Harpsichord


Apr 23, 2007



Robert Chen, Violin
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Kozue Funakoshi, Violin
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Yukiko Ogura, Viola
Katinka Kleijn, Cello
Kenneth Olsen, Cello
Stephen Balderston, Cello
Bradley Opland, Double bass
Stephen Alltop, Harpsichord

BACH-Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048

Composed in 1721

Bach composed "six concertos for several instruments" for his virtuoso colleagues at the court of the old German principality of Cöthen. Most of them employ small groups of wind and string players, but No. 3 in G Major is for strings alone, along with the ever-present Baroque-era continuo part that supports the harmony, played on harpsichord with the assistance of a cellist or double bassist. It is ironic that this set of highly original concertos – one of which adds a trumpeter to the mix, and another of which brings the harpsichord into a solo role, making it the first real keyboard concerto – is not named for the city where they originated, or perhaps even more appropriately for Cöthen's Prince Leopold, the amateur viola-da-gamba player whom Bach regarded as a friend as well as an employer, but in fact they are called the Brandenburg Concertos after a would-be employer. Hoping for a job in a larger and more prestigious venue than Cöthen, Bach submitted the concertos as a kind of musical resume to the Margrave of Brandenburg, a Berlin-based nobleman who had expressed interest in the composer's work. The Margrave's musicians were apparently incapable of playing the concertos, so they languished for years in a Berlin library, until rediscovered as part of the 19th-century Bach Revival.

MUSIC
The Brandenburg Concertos are not really a unified set of pieces; they reflect several different meanings of the word "concerto" as it was understood in the Baroque era. The solo-instrument-with-orchestra type of work we recognize today as a concerto is represented by Brandenburg No. 5, with its prominent keyboard part. Numbers 1, 2, and 4, each with a group of soloists contrasting with an orchestra, are similar to the concerti grossi of Corelli and Vivaldi. Vivaldi also wrote works he called String Concertos, pieces for a small string orchestra; the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G is related to these works and also to the concerto-grosso idea. It is scored for three violins, three violas, three cellos, and harpsichord continuo with double bass. The string players sometimes play orchestrally, in "concert" with each other (pun intended); sometimes the three groups are contrasted with each other, the three instruments in each set playing in unison; and sometimes the instruments are treated as soloists, particularly the violins and violas. The opening allegro movement is a particularly energetic one, even for Bach, and the three types of procedures just outlined succeed one another with great rapidity. The main theme and its derivatives pass back and forth among the instruments and the groups almost in the manner of baseball infielders tossing the ball with perfect coordination from first to second to shortstop to third, and back to first. For the concerto's finale, Bach constructed an elaborate and very fast-paced fugal movement, in the tempo and rhythm of a gigue, which was a favorite Baroque-era genre for concluding a multi-movement dance suite.

Connecting the two allegros, we find a pair of chords, A minor succeeded by B major. There are multiple theories about this oddly skeletal middle movement. Some musicologists have said Bach intended that a slow movement from some other piece be inserted here, players' choice; others maintain the chords simply represent a pause, an extended rest to allow a bit of breathing space, so to speak, because of the extremes of energy required to execute each of the allegros. Often, however, the two chords are used as a signal for improvisation, a chance for the first violin to play a cadenza.

Bach reused the first movement of Brandenburg No. 3 as the overture, or sinfonia, to his Cantata No. 174, in which oboes and horns are added to the string complement.

Program Notes by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performance date: April 22 & 23, 2007



Performance Audio

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