Monday, 2 June 2008

105. Johann Sebastian Bach - Harpsichord Concertos (c.1739)


Title: Concertos
Performers: The English Consort
Director/Soloist: Trevor Pinnock
Year: 1979-84
Length: 3 hours 20 minutes (First 3 CDs of 5 CD box set)


We might have heard several of these 13 harpsichord concertos before in other ways on this list, in fact all but one concerto here are transcriptions from other works to fit the harpsichord concerto format. So you get bits from the Brandenburg Concertos and Violin Concertos as well as other works.

Interestingly Bach seems to extend the pieces for work with the harpsichord giving them a different dimension, both in length and in how it is played. It ends up being a superb collection of very interesting concerts, sometimes for 1 harpsichord but sometimes for 2, 3 or even and most spectacularly 4 harpsichords!

The performances are flawless in an early collection of period instrument music by Trevor Pinnock making the music exciting and accessible, unfortunately Bach did not compose so much secular music like this as he did sacred music, but he was a talented harpsichord composer indeed and with the addition of an orchestra of which he was a master you get some very good listening indeed.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

From 1729 to 1741, Bach was director of the Collegium musicum in Leipzig, a student musical society, founded by Georg Philipp Telemann in 1703 and run before Bach by Balthasar Schott. The Collegium musicum often gave performances at Zimmermann's coffee-house. It was for these occasions that Bach produced his harpsichord concertos, among the first concertos for keyboard instrument ever written. It is thought that the multiple harpsichord concertos were heard earlier than those for one harpsichord, perhaps because his sons C. P. E. Bach and W. F. Bach (both excellent harpsichord players) were living at home until 1733 and 1734, respectively. It is likely that Johann Ludwig Krebs, who studied with Bach until 1735, also played harpsichord in the Collegium musicum.

The concertos for one harpsichord, BWV 1052-1059, survive in an autograph score (now in the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek Berlin, Mus. ms. Bach P 234) which is not a fair copy but a draft, or working score, and has been dated to about 1738. Bach may of course have played the works much earlier, using the parts from an original melody-instrument concerto and extemporising a suitable harpsichord version while playing.

The works BWV 1052-1057 were intended as a set of six, shown in the manuscript in Bach's traditional manner beginning with 'J.J.' (Jesu Juva) and ending with 'Finis. S. D. Gl.' (Soli Deo Gloria). Aside from the Brandenburg concertos, it is the only such collection of concertos in Bach's oeuvre. The concerto BWV 1058 and fragment BWV 1059 are contained at the end of the score, and are an earlier attempt at a set of (headed J.J.) which was abandoned for one reason or another.

Bach's harpsichord concertos were, until recently, often underestimated by scholars, who did not have the convenience of hearing the benefits that historically informed performance has brought to works such as these; Albert Schweitzer wrote 'The transcriptions have often been prepared with almost unbelievable cursoriness and carelessness. Either time was pressing or he was bored by the matter.' Recent research has demonstrated quite the reverse to be true; he transferred solo parts to the harpsichord with typical skill and variety. Bach's interest in the harpsichord concerto form can be inferred from the fact that he arranged every suitable melody-instrument concerto as a harpsichord concerto, and while the harpsichord versions have been preserved the same is not true of the melody-instrument versions.

Here's the concerto for four harpsichords played on the piano... there were no pianos in Bach's time so it annoys me a bit, but it was the best video on youtube, although you can get most of the Pinnock versions there as well, only with no image:

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