Sunday, March 24, 2019

Johann Sebastian Bach - the Brandenburg concerti

298 years ago today, J.S. Bach dedicated these six concerti to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt.  And there begins a rather amazing tale.

The Margrave was a Prince of the house of Hohenzollern, half-brother of King Frederick of Prussia.  But Margrave was a title that came with no land, and so in 1721 Christian Ludwig was basically a hanger-onat the court of his nephew King Frederick William I.  The new King was a military martinet, creating the army that Frederick der Große would use to fight off most of Europe, and had fired all the court musicians to fund the army.  Bach was looking for a patron.

But the search was futile, at least with the Margrave.  There weren't enough musicians in Berlin to perform the new works, and so the scores were filed away in the Margrave's desk.  There they stayed - unperformed - until his death more than a decade later.  His heirs sold the score (containing Bach's handwritten dedication) for 25 silver Groschen  (groats: about $22 in today's money).  Then they descended into historical shadow - we simply don't know where they were for the next century or more, only being discovered in the Brandenburg archives in 1849.

This is astonishing because these concerti are quite simply the apex of baroque music.  Other compositions may approach them, but none surpass them.  And they were unperformed for the first 129 years after they were written.

But unperformed no more.  Here's 90 minutes of the greatest of the baroque, thanks to Youtube, Bach, and a simply amazing sequence of lucky breaks that kept these from being lost forever.

Concerto No. 1 BWV 1046 In F Major0:00:00 1-01 (No Tempo Indication)0:04:04 1-02 Adagio0:07:48 1-03 Allegro0:12:01 1-04 Menuetto - Trio 1 - Polacca - Trio 2 Concerto No. 2 BWV 1047 In F Major0:19:35 1-05 (No Tempo Indication)0:24:40 1-06 Andante0:28:23 1-07 Allegro Assai Concerto No. 3 BWV 1048 In G Major0:31:04 1-08 (No Tempo Indication)0:36:40 1-09 Adagio - Allegro Concerto No. 4 BWV 1049 In G Major0:41:33 2-01 Allegro0:48:52 2-02 Andante0:52:34 2-03 Presto Concerto No. 5 BWV 1050 In D Major0:57:02 2-04 Allegro1:06:21 2-05 Affettuoso1:12:30 2-06 Allegro Concerto No. 6 BWV 1051 In B Flat Major1:17:33 2-07 (No Tempo Indication)1:22:55 2-08 Adagio Ma Non Tanto1:27:28 2-09 Allegro
Bootnote: Bach is often described as "mathematical" in his composition style, and the workings of the music have since his day been compared to clockwork.  Today turns out to also be the birthday of John Harrison, the discoverer of the Longitude and the most important clockmaker who ever lived - born this day in 1693.  In a stroke of coincidence no less astonishing than the circuitous route that Bach's concerti took on their way to the concert hall, and perhaps appropriate for a man who ordered and measured time as none before, Harrison also died on this day in 1776.

(Originally posted March 24, 2013)

1 comment:

libertyman said...

Here in Philadelphia waiting for my flight. Great post and I like how you included Harrison.
The movie Longitude was a very good one. Also an excellent book.