Keyboard concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach

The harpsichord concertos, BWV 1052–1065, are concertos for harpsichord, strings and continuo by Johann Sebastian Bach. There are seven complete concertos for a single harpsichord (BWV 1052–1058), three concertos for two harpsichords (BWV 1060–1062), two concertos for three harpsichords (BWV 1063 and 1064), and one concerto for four harpsichords (BWV 1065). Two other concertos include solo harpsichord parts: the concerto BWV 1044, which has solo parts for harpsichord, violin and flute, and Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, with the same scoring. In addition, there is a nine-bar concerto fragment for harpsichord (BWV 1059) which adds an oboe to the strings and continuo.

Most of Bach's harpsichord concertos (with the exception of the 5th Brandenburg Concerto) are thought to be arrangements made from earlier concertos for melodic instruments probably written in Köthen. In many cases, only the harpsichord version has survived. They are among the first concertos for keyboard instrument ever written.

Compositional history and purpose

Johann Georg Schreiber, 1720: Engraving of Katherinenstrasse in Leipzig. In the centre is Café Zimmermann, where the Collegium Musicum held weekly chamber music concerts
Engraving of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig in 1723, the year in which Bach was appointed there. He took up residence with his family in the Thomasschule on the left.
Composer directing cantata from gallery in a church, engraving from Musicalisches Lexicon, Johann Gottfried Walther, 1732
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 1730 until 1733, 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 1726, 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.
Philip Spitta, "Johann Sebastian Bach," 1880[1]

The concertos for one harpsichord, BWV 1052–1059, survive in an autograph score, now held in the Berlin State Library. Based on the paper's watermarks and the handwriting, it has been to 1738 or 1739.[2] As Peter Williams records, these concertos are almost all considered to be arrangements by Bach of previously existing works. 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.[3]

The harpsichord part in the autograph manuscript is not a "fair copy" but a composing score with numerous corrections. The orchestral parts on the other hand were executed as a fair copy.[2][4] Various possible explanations have been proposed as to why Bach assembled the collection of harpsichord concertos at this particular time. One centres on his role as director of the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig, a municipal musical society, which gave weekly concerts at the Café Zimmermann, drawing many performers from students at the university. Bach served as director from spring 1729 to summer 1737; and again from October 1739 until 1740 or 1741. John Butt suggests that the manuscript was prepared for performances on Bach's resumption as director in 1739, additional evidence coming from the fact that the manuscript subsequently remained in Leipzig.[5] Peter Wollny, however, considers it unlikely that The Collegium Musicum would have required orchestral parts that were so neatly draughted; he considers it more plausible that the manuscript was prepared for a visit that Bach made to Dresden in 1738 when he would almost certainly have given private concerts in court (or to the nobility) and the ripieno parts would have been played by the resident orchestra.[2][6] Peter Williams has also suggested that the collection would have been a useful addition to the repertoire of his two elder sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel, both employed as professional keyboard-players at the time of writing. 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.4 of George Frederic Handel published in London and Paris in 1738.[7]

The concertos for two or more harpsichords date from a slightly earlier period. The parts from the Concerto for four harpsichords BWV 1065 (Bach's arrangement of the Concerto for Four Violins, RV 580, by Antonio Vivaldi), have been dated to around 1730.[5] Whereas the harpsichord concertos were composed partly to showcase Bach's own prowess at the keyboard, the others were written for different purposes, one of them being as Hausmusik—music for domestic performance within the Bach household at the Thomaschule in Leipzig. Johann Nikolaus Forkel, Bach's first biographer, recorded in 1802 that the concertos for two or more harpsichords were played with his two elder sons. Both of the, corresponded with Forkel and both remained in the parental home until the early 1730s: Wilhelm Friedemann departed in 1733 to take up his appointment as organist at the Sophienkirche in Dresden; and in 1735 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 1740s during visits to Leipzig by the two elder sons: one of Bach's pupils J.F.K. 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 1739 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 525–530, 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.[8]

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 practise 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.[9]

Movements from two of the harpsichord concertos, BWV 1052 and BWV 1053, had precursors which were instrumental sinfonias in cantatas with obbligato organ providing the melody instrument (BWV 146, BWV 169 and BWV 188). This has raised hypothetical questions—never to be answered conclusively—as to whether Bach might have conceived of these as "organ concertos". A Hamburg newspaper reported on a recital by Bach in 1725 on the Silbermann organ in the Sophienkirche, Dresden, mentioning in particular that he had played concertos interspersed with sweet instrumental music ("diversen Concerten mit unterlauffender Doucen Instrumental-Music"). Wolff (2016) and Rampe (2014) have speculated on whether this report might refer to versions of the cantata movements or similar works; Williams (2016) describes the newspaper article as "tantalising" but considers it equally likely that in the hour-long recital Bach played pieces from his standard organ repertoire (preludes, chorale preludes) and that the reporter was using musical terms in a "garbled" way. In another direction Williams has provided a number of reasons why, unlike Handel, Bach did not compose concertos for organ and a larger orchestra: firstly, although occasionally used in his cantatas, the Italian concerto style of Vivaldi was quite distant from that of Lutheran church music; secondly, the tuning of the baroque pipe organ would jar with that of a full orchestra, particularly when playing chords; and lastly, the size of the organ loft limited that of the orchestra.[10]

Concertos for single harpsichord

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, "Jesus, help") 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, and it is the only set of concertos from his Leipzig years. The concerto BWV 1058 and fragment BWV 1059 are at the end of the score, but they are an earlier attempt at a set of works (as shown by an additional J.J.), which was, however, abandoned.[11]

Concerto No. 1 in D minor, BWV 1052

Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D minor, BWV 1052, first movement
Performed by the Fulda Symphonic Orchestra conducted by Simon Schindler with Johannes Volker Schmidt (piano)

Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D minor, BWV 1052, second movement
Performed by the Fulda Symphonic Orchestra conducted by Simon Schindler with Johannes Volker Schmidt (piano)

Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D minor, BWV 1052, third movement
Performed by the Fulda Symphonic Orchestra conducted by Simon Schindler with Johannes Volker Schmidt (piano)

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  1. Allegro.
  2. Adagio.
  3. Allegro.

Scoring: harpsichord solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

The earliest surviving manuscript of the concerto can be dated to 1734; 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. This version is known as BWV 1052a. The definitive version BWV 1052 was recorded by Bach himself in the autograph manuscript of all eight harpsichord concertos BWV 1052–1058, made around 1738.[6]

In the second half of the 1720s, Bach had already written versions of all three movements of the concerto for two of his cantatas with obbligato organ as solo instrument: the first two movements for the sinfonia and first choral movement of Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal in das Reich Gottes eingehen, BWV 146 (1726); and the last movement for the opening sinfonia of Ich habe meine Zuversicht, BWV 188 (1728). In these cantata versions the orchestra was expanded by the addition of oboes.[12]

Like the other harpsichord concertos, BWV 1052 is generally believed to be a transcription of a lost concerto composed in Cöthen or Weimar. Almost all commentators, starting with Wilhelm Rust and Philipp Spitta, think that the original melody instrument was probably the violin because of the many violinistic figurations in the solo part—string-crossing, open string techniques—all highly virtuosic. Williams (2016) has speculated that the copies of the orchestral parts made in 1734 (BWV 1052a) might have been used for a performance of the concerto with Carl Philipp Emanuel as soloist. There have been several reconstructions of the violin concerto; Ferdinand David made one in 1873; Robert Reitz in 1917; and Wilfried Fischer prepared one for Volume VII/7 of the Neue Bach Ausgabe in 1970 based on BWV 1052. In 1976, 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 1052a; since then the authenticity of the violin concerto has been widely accepted.[13][14][15]

As Werner Breig has shown, the first harpsichord concerto Bach entered into the autograph manuscript was BWV 1058, a straightforward adaptation of the A minor violin concerto. He abandoned the next entry BWV 1059 after only a few bars to begin setting down BWV 1052 with a far more comprehensive approach to recomposing the orginal than merely adapting the part of the melody instrument.

The concerto has similarities with Vivaldi's highly virtuosic Grosso Mogul violin concerto, RV 208, which Bach had previously transcribed for solo organ in BWV 594. It is one of Bach's greatest concertos: in the words of Jones (2013) it "conveys a sense of huge elemental power." This mood is created in the opening sections of the two outer movements. 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 epsiodes 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:

which, when they recur later, become increasingly virtuosic and eventually merge into brilliant filigree semidemiquaver figures—typical of the harpsichord—in the final extended cadenza-like episode before the concluding ritornello.

Throughout the first movement the harpsichord part also has several episodes with "perfidia"—the same half bar semiquaver patterns repeated over a prolonged period. Both outer movements are in an ABA' form: the A section of the first movement is in bars 1–62, the B section starts with the bariolage passage and lasts from bar 62 to bar 171, the A' section lasts from bar 172 until the end; the A section of the final movement is in bars 1–84, the B section in bars 84–224, and the A' section from bar 224 until the end. 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.

In both B sections Bach adds unexpected features: in the first movement what should be the last ritornello is interrupted by a brief perfidia episode building up to the true concluding ritornello; similarly in the last movement, after five bars of orchestral ritornello marking the beginning of the A' section, the thematic material of the harpsichord introduces a freely developed 37-bar highly virtuosic episode culminating in a fermata (for an extemporised cadenza) before the concluding 12 bar ritornello.

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.

The subdominant tonality of G minor also plays a role in the outer movements, in the bridging passages between the B and A' sections. More generally Jones (2013) has pointed out that the predominant keys in the outer movements centre around the open strings of the violin.[16][17]

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 1740, by Christoph Nichelmann and an unknown scribe in the early 1750s. Its first publication in print was in 1838 by the Kistner Publishing House.[18]

The performance history in the nineteenth century can be traced back to the circle of Felix Mendelssohn. In the first decade of the 19th century the harpsichord virtuoso and great aunt of Mendelssohn, Sara Levy, gave public performances of the concerto in Berlin at the Sing-Akademie, established in 1791 by the harpsichordist Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch and subsequently run by Mendelssohn's teacher Carl Friedrich Zelter.[19] In 1824 Mendelssohn's sister Fanny performed the concerto at the same venue.[20] In 1835 Mendelssohn played the concerto in his first year as director of the Gewandhaus in Leipzig.[19] There were further performances at the Gewandhaus in 1837, 1843 and 1863.[21] Ignaz Moscheles, a friend and teacher of Mendelssohn as well as a fellow devotee of Bach, gave the first performance of the concerto in London in 1836 at a benefit concert, adding one flute and two clarinets, bassoons and horns to the orchestra. In a letter to Mendelssohn, he disclosed that he intended the woodwind section to have the "same position in the Concerto as the organ in the performance of a Mass." Robert Schumann subsequently described Moscheles' reorchestration as "very beautiful." The following year Moscheles performed the concerto at the Academy of Ancient Music with Bach's original string orchestration. The Musical World reported that Moscheles "elicited such unequivocal testimonies of delight, as the quiet circle of the Ancient Concert subscribers rarely indulge in."[22] Johannes Brahms later composed a cadenza for the last movement of the concerto, which was published posthumously.

Concerto No. 2 in E major, BWV 1053

Harpsichord Concerto in E major – 1. No tempo indication
Performed by the Advent Chamber Orchestra with Matthew Ganong (harpsichord)

Harpsichord Concerto in E major – 2. Siciliano
Performed by the Advent Chamber Orchestra with Matthew Ganong (harpsichord)

Harpsichord Concerto in E major – 3. Allegro
Performed by the Advent Chamber Orchestra with Matthew Ganong (harpsichord)

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  1. [Allegro]
  2. Siciliano
  3. Allegro

Scoring: harpsichord solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone).

Like the other harpsichord concertos, BWV 1053 is generally agreed to be a transcription of a lost instrumental concerto. As with BWV 1052, all the movements had previous incarnations in Leipzig cantatas written ten or more years prior to the 1738 or 1739 autograph manuscript, with the part of the melody instrument written for obbligato organ. The first and second movements of BWV 1053 corresponds to the opening Sinfonia (in D major) and alto aria "Stirb in mir, Welt" (in B minor) in Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, BWV 169; and the finale to the opening Sinfonia (in E major) in Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen, BWV 49. The cantatas, part of a series where Bach developed the obbligato organ as a chamber or orchestral instrument, were first performed in October and Novermber 1726 in the Thomaskirche, within two weesks of each other. The scoring in BWV 169 includes two oboes and a taille as ripieno instruments in the sinfonia and an oboe d'amore in the aria. In the aria, the lines of the alto soloist and organ weave around each in what Alfred Dürr has described as "undoubtedly one of the most inspired vocal pieces that Bach ever wrote ... a passionate submersion in heavenly love."

As Wolff (1994) comments, this shows the subtleties in Bach's process of arrangement. In this case the superposition of the additional vocal line over the keyboard part "aims at the exploration, enrichment and perfection of the original compositional material." An oboe d'amore was also added as as a ripieno instrument in the sinfonia of BWV 49.[23]

Since Ulrich Siegele's 1957 dissertation, where he suggested that BWV 1053 originated in either a flute concerto in F major or oboe concerto in E flat major, a number of reconstructions for different melody instruments have been proposed, all discussed in Breig (2001): Hermann Töttcher & Gottfried Müller (in F major for oboe, 1955); by Wilfried Fischer (in E flat major for oboe, 1966, and viola, 1996); by Joshua Rifkin (in E flat major for oboe, 1983); by Arnold Mehl (in D major for oboe d'amore. 1983): and by Bruce Haynes (in D major for oboe d'amore, 1998). Further discussions concerning the possible original form of the concerto can be found in Butler (2008), Wolff (2008), and Rampe (2013). In Wolff (2016), problems with all the reconstructions are mentioned: for woodwind instruments, breathing problems created by long uninterrupted passages of semiquaver triplets in the third movement; and for the viola, the complete absence of string-like figurations in the whole concerto. Given the occurrence of all three movements in 1726 cantatas, he has suggested that the concerto might originally have been composed for an unspecified keyboard instrument—interchangeably a harpsichord or an organ depending on the venue—and that it might have been one of the pieces played during Bach's recital on the Silbermann organ in the Sophienkirche, Dresden in September 1725.[24]

The harpsichord part in the first movement of BWV 1053 differs from the 1726 organ part in several ways in the solo passages: in the right hand the melody line became far more elaborate and ornamental; and in the left hand the figured bass line was replaced by a denser texture of fully worked out figures and chords—the left hand was "emancipated" in the words of Wolff (2002). At the same time in the orchestral parts, Bach reduced the contributions of the lower strings and adjusted the contributions from upper strings to create a proper balance with the harpsichord, with none of the string parts doubled except for the bass instruments. The lighter scoring permitted counterpoint between the first violin and the harpsichord in solo episodes. This method of adaptation—in the style of Bach's full maturity—was a departure from that used for BWV 1052 and was employed in the subsequent concertos BWV 1054–1057.[25]

The musical structure of the first movement of BWV 1053—concisely written but complex in its many intricate and ingenious details—has been analysed in Berger (1997) and Rampe (2013). The movement combines the strict da capo ABA form of an aria with the ritornello structure of a concerto. Section A comprises 62 bars. In the opening eight-bar ritornello, the harpsichord initially plays as part of the ripieno, taking the first violin part in the right hand and the continuo in the left. After this tutti opening the harpsichord follows its own course, responding with a nine-bar episode that introduces its own material.

There are three further ritornello passages with two intermittent responses in solo episodes for the harpsichord. Bach devised the harpsichord's rhythmic thematic material as a contrasting counter-theme to the semiquaver motifs at the head of the ritornello. In each reprise the scoring of the ritornello is varied: the harpsichord alternates between its own counter-theme and that of the opening ritornello; it plays increasingly brilliant variants of its own material—eventually including joyful dactyl motifs—in counterpoint to the semiquaver violin theme. The middle section B is 51 bars long and is mostly in the minor mode, beginning in F sharp minor. There are three solo episodes for harpsichord punctuated by two reprises of the orchestral ritornello, first in F sharp (bar 69) and then in its relative major key, A major (bar 81). Less tied to the ritornello, the harpsichord freely develops its own material, which is derived from that of section A. The third and longest episode of 27 bars begins in bar 86 and remains centred on the tonality of C sharp minor. The strings provide a simple accompaniment to the long phrases of the extended harpsichord solo; between phrases the first violin plays a brief reprise in C sharp minor of the opening semiquaver motif of the ritornello. The episode culminates in a semiquaver passage over an extended G sharp pedal point and an Adagio cadence and fermata in C sharp minor. The movement then resumes with a recapitulation of the whole of section A. [26]

The slow movement in C minor and 12/8 time is a Siciliano, which Jones 2013 has described as beautiful and haunting. In da capo form, the sustained string ritornello is accompanied by the harpsichord with an explicit realisation of the figured bass by gentle broken chord semiquavers. After the opening ritornello, the harpsichord, accompanied by detached quaver chords in the strings, plays its own melodic line spun out in two long increasingly ornamented phrases, the second of which merges into the semiquaver accompaniment of the closing ritornello.[27]

The third movement of BWV 1053 is a sprightly and dance-like allegro in E major and 3/8 time. Like the first movement, its concise and ingenious compositional form combines the da capo structure of an aria with the ritornello structure of a concerto; it also has similarly light scoring in the orchestral parts to create a proper balance between harpsichord and strings. Although the overall structure is similar to that of the first movement, the alternations between concertato soloist and ripieno are more frequent and complex. Rather than the concertos of Vivaldi, Gregory Butler has suggested that this movement is closer in form and style to the concertos of another of Bach's Italian contemporaries, the Venetian composer Tomaso Albinoni. Butler has made a detailed study of Albinoni's two sets of twelve concerti a cinque, Op.7 (1715) and Op.9 (1722), each set having four violin concertos, four oboe concertos and four double oboe concertos, and has proposed the last movement of the double oboe concerto op.9, No.3 as a possible precursor of BWV 1053/3.

Bach's third movement is written in strict da capo ABA form, with 137 bars in the A section and 122 in the B section. The opening eighteen-bar ritornello has an introductory section or Vordersatz of four bars: the strings play the "head" motif—three quavers, four semiquavers and a quaver—in canon commencing in the first violin, then the second and then the viola. This rhythm is repeated in the first eight bars of the ritornello. Below the strings and the only instrument starting the movement, the harpsichord plays an introductory flourish of arpeggiated semiquaver triplets filling in the harmonies and spanning almost the entire keyboard. In the remainder of the ritornello the harpsichord doubles the first violin part in the right hand and the continuo in the left.

The harpsichord then begins its own thematic material in the first solo episode. At first it plays only the first four bars as a brief declamation, which elicits the ritornello's Vordersatz as a response. This is followed by a reprise by the harpsichord of the new thematic meterial, now extended to a sixteen bar episode.

This episode is followed by a reprise of the entire 18-bar ritornello in the dominant key of B major. In this reprise the lower string parts are pruned; now the right hand of the harpsichord part provides the counterpoint to the first violin part that instead of the second violin and viola; and the left hand plays its own semiquaver figuration in tandem with the continuo line. There are two further episodes for the harpsichord in which its own material is developed with passagework in semiquavers, in semiquaver triplets and in parallel and contrary motion semiquavers in both hands. These are separated by a shortened version of the ritornello and followed by a full version, with its last two bars pruned down to harpsichord and first violin. Section A concludes, following the traditional pattern established by Albinoni, with a repetition of the main body (Vorspinnung) and concluding part (Epilog) of the ritornello, with the harpsichord once more doubling the first violin and continuo parts.

In section B, which immediately follows, Bach breaks with tradition: now in the relative minor, G sharp minor, he introduces in the first solo harpsichord episode a highly contrasting chromatic theme accompanied by characteristic semiquaver figures in the left hand.

Of 38 bars in length and punctuated by fragmentary responses from the strings, the solo episode modulates through the keys of B major and C sharp minor to a cadence in F sharp minor. It is followed by a sequence of short passages alternating between ritornello material and solo material for the harpsichord drawn from both section B (semiquaver figures) and then section A (the beginning of the harpsichord theme). The ritornello segments move from F sharp minor to E major, the final segment modulating from F minor to B major and then E major. The next twelve bar solo episode continues with and develops the harpsichord's thematic material from section A, modulating from E major, to B major and then to the distant key of D sharp major. The 4-bar Vordersatz from the ritornello is then played in this key, then in G sharp major, reaching the key of C sharp minor. Section B ends symmetrically with an extended 33-bar solo episode, a variant of the long chromatic episode with which it began, After modulating through the keys of G sharp minor, C sharp minor and D sharp minor, the movement briefly halts in the manner of a Scarlatti da capo aria with a cadence to the mediant key of G sharp minor. The music resumes with a capitulation of section A.[28]

Concerto No. 3 in D major, BWV 1054

1. Allegro 2. Adagio e piano sempre 3. Allegro

Scoring: harpsichord solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 17 minutes

The surviving violin concerto in E major, BWV 1042 was the model for this work, which was transposed down a tone to allow the top note e''' to be reached as d''', 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 1845 Ignaz Moscheles performed the concerto in London.[29]

Concerto No. 4 in A major, BWV 1055

Harpsichord Concerto in A Major, BWV 1055 – 1. Allegro
Performed by the Advent Chamber Orchestra with Matthew Ganong (harpsichord)

Harpsichord Concerto in A Major, BWV 1055 – 2. Larghetto
Performed by the Advent Chamber Orchestra with Matthew Ganong (harpsichord)

Harpsichord Concerto in A Major, BWV 1055 – 3. Allegro ma non tanto
Performed by the Advent Chamber Orchestra with Matthew Ganong (harpsichord)

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  1. Allegro
  2. Larghetto
  3. Allegro ma non tanto

Scoring: harpsichord solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 14 minutes

While scholars agree that the concerto is based on a lost original, different theories have been proposed for the instrument Bach used in that original. That it was an oboe d'amore was proposed in 1936 by Donald Francis Tovey, in 1956 by Ulrich Siegele,[30] in 1975 by Wilfried Fischer [31] and in 2008 by Pieter Dirksen.[32] Alternatively, Wilhelm Mohr argued in 1972 that the original was a concerto for viola d'amore.[33]

Concerto No. 5 in F minor, BWV 1056

  1. Allegro moderato
  2. Largo
  3. Presto

Scoring: harpsichord solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 10 minutes

The outer movements probably come from a violin concerto which was in G minor, and the middle movement is probably from an oboe concerto in F major; this movement is also the sinfonia to the cantata Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe, BWV 156.

This middle movement closely resembles the opening Andante of a Flute Concerto in G major (TWV 51: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.[34]

Concerto No. 6 in F major, BWV 1057

See also: BWV 1049
  1. Allegro
  2. Andante
  3. Allegro assai

Scoring: harpsichord solo, flauto dolce (recorder) I/II, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 17 minutes

An arrangement of Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, BWV 1049, which has a concertino of violin and two recorders. Leaving the flute parts unchanged, Bach wrote the harpsichord part as a combination of the violin material from the original concerto and a written out continuo.[35]

Concerto No. 7 in G minor, BWV 1058

  1. Allegro
  2. Andante
  3. Allegro assai

Scoring: harpsichord solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 14 minutes

Probably Bach's first attempt at writing out a full harpsichord concerto, this is a transcription of the violin concerto in A minor, BWV 1041, 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.[11]

Bach did not continue the intended set, which he had marked with 'J.J.' (for Jesu juva, "Jesus, help") at the start of this work, as was his custom for a set of works. He wrote only the short fragment BWV 1059.[11]

In 1845 Ignaz Moscheles performed the concerto in London.[29]

Concerto in D minor, BWV 1059 (fragment)

Scored for harpsichord, oboe and strings in the autograph manuscript, Bach abandoned this concerto after entering only 20 bars. As with the other harpsichord concertos that have corresponding cantata movements (BWV 1052, 1053 and 1056), 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 (2013) 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 1983 by Arnold Mehl with the two sinfonias from BWV 35 as outer movements and the opening sinfonia of BWV 156 as slow movement.[36]

Concertos for two harpsichords

Double Concerto in C minor, BWV 1060R
1. Allegro
Performed by the Advent Chamber Orchestra with David Parry and Roxana Pavel Goldstein (violins)

2. Adagio
Performed by the Advent Chamber Orchestra with David Parry and Roxana Pavel Goldstein (violins)

2. Adagio (for violin and oboe)
Performed by the University of Washington Sinfonietta, conducted by Vilem Sokol, with Laila Storch (oboe) and Martin Friedmann (violin)

3. Allegro
Performed by the Advent Chamber Orchestra with David Parry and Roxana Pavel Goldstein (violins)

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Concerto in C minor, BWV 1060

  1. Allegro
  2. Adagio
  3. Allegro

Scoring: harpsichord I/II solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 14 minutes

While the existing score is in the form of a concerto for harpsichord 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 1060R.[37] The subtle and masterful way in which the solo instruments blend with the orchestra marks this out as one of the most mature works of Bach's years at Köthen. The middle movement is a cantabile for the solo instruments with orchestral accompaniment.

Concerto in C major, BWV 1061

  1. Allegro
  2. Adagio ovvero Largo
  3. Fuga

Scoring: harpsichord I/II solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 19 minutes

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 1061a, in the manner of the Italian Concerto, BWV 971), 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.

Concerto in C minor, BWV 1062

  1. Vivace
  2. Largo ma non tanto
  3. Allegro assai

Scoring: harpsichord I/II solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 15 minutes

The well-known Double Violin Concerto in D minor, BWV 1043 is the basis of this transcription. It was transposed down a tone for the same reason as BWV 1054, so that the top note would be d'''.

Concertos for three harpsichords

Concerto in D minor, BWV 1063

  1. [no tempo indication]
  2. Alla Siciliana
  3. Allegro

Scoring: harpsichord I/II/III solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 14 minutes

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.

Bach's sons may have been involved in the composition of this work. They may have also been involved in the performances of this particular concerto, as Friedrich Konrad Griepenkerl wrote in the foreword to the first edition that was published in 1845 that the work owed its existence "presumably to the fact that the father wanted to give his two eldest sons, W. Friedemann and C.Ph. Emanuel Bach, an opportunity to exercise themselves in all kinds of playing." It is believed to have been composed by 1733 at the latest.[38]

In the mid-nineteenth century the concerto, advertised as Bach's "triple concerto", became part of the concert repertoire of Felix Mendelssohn and his circle. In 1840, Mendelssohn performed it with Franz Liszt and Ferdinand Hiller at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, where he was director. The programme also included Schubert's "Great" C Major Symphony and some of his own orchestral and choral compositions; Robert Schumann described the concert as "three joyous hours of music such as one does not experience otherwise for years at a time." The concerto was repeated later in the season with Clara Schumann and Ignaz Moscheles as the other soloists. Mendelssohn also played the concerto in 1844 in the Hanover Square Rooms in London with Moscheles and Sigismond Thalberg. Charles Edward Horsely recalled Mendelssohn's "electrical" cadenza in a memoire of 1872 as "the most perfect inspiration, which neither before nor since that memorable Thursday afternoon has ever been approached." Moscheles had previously performed the concerto in 1842 at Gresham College in the East End of London with different soloists. After a performance in Dresden in 1845 with Clara Schumann and Hiller, Moscheles recorded in his diary, "My concert today was beyond all measure brilliant ... Bach's Triple Concerto made a great sensation; Madame Schumann played a Cadenza composed by me, Hiller and I extemporized ours."[39]

Concerto in C major, BWV 1064

  1. Allegro
  2. Adagio
  3. Allegro assai

Scoring: harpsichord I/II/III solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 17 minutes

This concerto was probably based on an original in D major for three violins. A reconstructed arrangement of this concerto for three violins in D major is classified as BWV 1064R. In both forms this concerto shows some similarity to the concerto for two violins/harpsichords, BWV 1043/1062, in the interaction of the concertino group with the ripieno and in the cantabile slow movement.

Concerto in A minor for four harpsichords, BWV 1065

  1. Allegro
  2. Largo
  3. Allegro

Scoring: harpsichord I/II/III/IV solo, violin I/II, viola, continuo (cello, violone)

Length: c. 10 minutes

Bach made a number of transcriptions of Antonio Vivaldi's concertos, especially from his op.3 set, entitled L'estro Armonico. Bach adapted them for solo harpsichord and solo organ, but for the Concerto for 4 violins in B minor, op.3 no.10, RV 580, he decided upon the unique solution of using four harpsichords and orchestra. This is thus the only harpsichord concerto by Bach which was not an adaptation of his own material. In the middle movement, Bach has the four harpsichords playing differently-articulated arpeggios in a very unusual tonal blend, while providing some additional virtuosity and tension in the other movements.

Concertos for harpsichord, flute, and violin

Concerto in A minor, BWV 1044

  1. Allegro
  2. Adagio ma non tanto e dolce
  3. Alla breve

Concertino: harpsichord, flute, violin

Ripieno: violin, viola, cello, violone, (harpsichord)

In this concerto for harpsichord, flute and violin, occasionally referred to as Bach's "triple concerto", the harpsichord has the most prominent role and greatest quantity of material. Except for an additional ripieno violin part, the instrumentation in all three movements is identical to that of Brandenburg Concerto No.5 in D major, BWV 1050. Arranged from previous compositions, the concerto is generally considered to date from the period 1729–1741 when Bach was director of the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig and was responsible for mounting weekly concerts of chamber and orchestral music in the Café Zimmermann. Wollny (1997) and Wolff (2007) contain a comprehensive discussion of the concerto, including its history and questions of authenticity. Because one of the earliest surviving manuscripts comes from the library of Frederick the Great and because of post-baroque galant aspects of the instrumental writing—fine gradations in the dynamical markings (pp, p, mp, mf, f), the wider range of the harpsichord part as well as frequent changes between pizzicato and arco in the strings—Wollny has suggested that the arrangement as a concerto might have been intended for Frederick, a keen flautist who employed Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel as court harpsichordist; this could imply a later date of composition. Some commentators have questioned the authenticity of the work, although it is now generally accepted.[40]

The concerto is an example of the "parody technique"—the reworking in new forms of earlier compositions—that Bach practised increasingly in his later years.[41] The first and third movements are adapted from the prelude and fugue in A minor for harpsichord, BWV 894, a large scale work from Bach's period in Weimar:[42]

The prelude and fugue have the structure of the first and last movements of an Italian concerto grosso, which has led to suggestions that they might be transcriptions of a lost instrumental work. In the concerto BWV 1044, Bach reworked both the prelude and fugue around the harpsichord part by adding ripieno ritornello sections.[43] In the first movement there is an eight bar ritornello that begins with the opening semiquaver motif of the prelude, which is then heard in augmented form before breaking into distinctive triplet figures:

This newly composed material, which recurs throughout the movement, creates a contrast with that of the soloists, much of which is directly drawn from the original prelude, especially the harpsichord part. Like the first movement of Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, the virtuosic harpsichord part takes precedence, with some passages from the original extended, some played solo and some omitted. In the solo episodes the flute and violin provide a "small ripieno" accompaniment to the harpsichord, contrasting with the "large ripieno" of the orchestral strings in the tutti sections.[44]

The last movement of the concerto begins with a fugue subject in crotchets and minims in the viola and the bass line of the harpsichord and a countersubject which provides the material for the orchestral ritornello and transforms the original fugue BWV 894/2 into a triple fugue:

At bar 25 the harpsichord enters with the main fugue subject from BWV 894/2—a moto perpetuo in triplets—overlaid by the countersubject of the ritornello.

The fugue subject in the ritornello is "hidden" in the main fugue subject ("soggetto cavato dalle note del tema"): its constituent notes—a, f, e, d, c, b, a, g♯, a, b—can be picked out in each of the corresponding crotchet and minim groups of triplets in the main subject. Other departures from BWV 894/2 include a number of virtuosic passages in the harpsichord, with semidemiquaver runs, semiquavers in the triplets and finally semiquavers replacing the triplets, culminating in a cadenza for the harpsichord.[45]

The middle movement is a reworking and transposition of material from the slow movement of the sonata for organ in D minor, BWV 527; both movements are thought to be based on a prior lost composition. Like the slow movement of the fifth Brandenburg Concerto, the slow movement of BWV 1044 is scored as a chamber work for the solo instruments. In binary form, the harpsichord alternates in repeats between upper and lower keyboard parts of BWV 527/2; the other melodic keyboard part is played alternately by flute or violin, while the other instrument adds a fragmentary accompaniment in semiquavers (scored as pizzicato for the violin).

As Mann (1995) comments, Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel related to his biographer Johann Nikolaus Forkel how his father took pleasure in converting trios into quartets ex tempore ("aus dem Stegereif"): BWV 1044/2 is a prime example. Bach created a complex texture in this movement by juxtaposing the detached melody in the harpsichord with a parallel sustained melody in thirds or sixths in the violin or flute; and in contrast a further layer is added by the delicate pizzicato accompaniment in the fourth voice, —first in the violin and then echoed by the flute—which comes close to imitating the timbre of the harpsichord.[41]

Concerto in D major, BWV 1050 (Brandenburg Concerto No. 5)

Further information: BWV 1050
  1. Allegro
  2. Affettuoso
  3. Allegro

Concertino: harpsichord, violin, flute

Ripieno: violin, viola, cello, violone, (harpsichord)

The harpsichord is both a concertino and a ripieno instrument: in the concertino passages the part is obbligato; in the ripieno passages it has a figured bass part and plays continuo.

This concerto makes use of a popular chamber music ensemble of the time (flute, violin, and harpsichord), which Bach used on their own for the middle movement. It is believed that it was written in 1719, to show off a new harpsichord by Michael Mietke which Bach had brought back from Berlin for the Cöthen court. It is also thought that Bach wrote it for a competition at Dresden with the French composer and organist Louis Marchand; in the central movement, Bach uses one of Marchand's themes. Marchand fled before the competition could take place, apparently scared off in the face of Bach's great reputation for virtuosity and improvisation.

The concerto is well suited throughout to showing off the qualities of a fine harpsichord and the virtuosity of its player, but especially in the lengthy solo 'cadenza' to the first movement. It seems almost certain that Bach, considered a great organ and harpsichord virtuoso, was the harpsichord soloist at the premiere. Scholars have seen in this work the origins of the solo keyboard concerto as it is the first example of a concerto with a solo keyboard part.[46][47]

An earlier version, BWV 1050a, has innumerable small differences from its later cousin, but only two main ones: there is no part for cello, and there is a shorter and less elaborate (though harmonically remarkable) harpsichord cadenza in the first movement. (The cello part in BWV 1050, when it differs from the violone part, doubles the left hand of the harpsichord.)


  1. Rampe 2013, p. 357 The translation is taken from Spitta (1899), pp. 136–137
  2. 1 2 3 Peter Wollny, "Harpsichord Concertos," booklet notes for Andreas Staier's 2015 recording of the concertos, Harmonia mundi HMC 902181.82
  3. Williams 2016, pp. 264–265
  4. Breig, Werner (1997), "Composition as Arrangement and Adaptation", in John Butt, The Cambridge Companion to Bach, Cambridge University Press, p. 168, ISBN 0521587808
  5. 1 2 Butt, John (1999), "Harpsichord Concertos", in Malcolm Boyd; John Butt, Oxford Composer Companion: J. S. Bach, Oxford University Press, p. 209, ISBN 978-0-19-866208-2
  6. 1 2 Rampe 2013, pp. 368–375
  7. Williams 2016, p. 269
  8. Williams 2016, pp. 368–369
  9. Wiliams 2016, pp. 365–366
  10. See:
  11. 1 2 3 Butt, John, ed. (1997). The Cambridge Companion to Bach. Cambridge Companions to Music. Cambridge University Press. p. 167ff. ISBN 9780521587808.
  12. André Isoir (organ) and Le Parlement de Musique conducted by Martin Gester. Johann Sebastian Bach: L'oeuvre pour orgue et orchestre. Calliope 1993. Liner notes by Gilles Cantagrel.
  13. Butt, John (1999), "Harpsichord Concertos", in Malcolm Boyd; John Butt, Oxford Composer Companion: J. S. Bach, Oxford University Press, p. 2010, ISBN 978-0-19-866208-2
  14. Rampe 2013, pp. 264–270, 372–375
  15. Wolff 2016, p. 67
  16. Jones 2013, pp. 258–259, 267
  17. Rampe & 2013 268–270
  18. Rampe 2013, p. 272
  19. 1 2 Christoph Wolff. "A Bach Cult in Late-Eighteenth-Century Berlin: Sara Levy’s Musical Salon" in Bulletin of the American Academy. Spring 2005. pp. 26–31.
  20. Kroll 2014, p. 264
  21. Alfred Dörffel. "Statistik der Concerte im Saale des Gewandhauses zu Leipzig" p. 3, in Geschichte der Gewandhausconcerte zu Leipzig vom 25. November 1781 bis 25. November 1881: Im Auftrage der Concert-Direction verfasst. Leipzig, 1884.
  22. Kroll 2014, pp. 265–266
  23. See:
  24. See:
  25. See
  26. See
  27. See:
  28. See:
  29. 1 2 Kroll 2014, p. p. 268
  30. Ulrich Siegele, Kompositionsweise und Bearbeitungstechnik in der Instrumentalmusik Johann Sebastian Bachs, 1956, ISBN 3-7751-0117-9
  31. Wilfried Fischer, Kompositionsweise und Bearbeitungstechnik in der Instrumentalmusik Johann Sebastian Bachs, Neuhausen Stuttgart: Hänssler-Verlag 1975
  32. Pieter Dirksen, "J. S. Bach's Violin Concerto in G Minor," in Gregory Butler (ed.), Bach Perspectives, vol. 7: J. S. Bach's Concerted Concert Music: The Concerto, University of Illinois Press, 2008 p. 21, ISBN 9780252031656
  33. Wilhelm Mohr, "Hat Bach ein Oboe-d'amore-Konzert geschrieben?" Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik 133, 1972, pp. 507-08.
  34. Steven Zohn, Music for a Mixed Taste: Style, Genre, and Meaning in Telemann's Instrumental Works, Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 192-94, ISBN 978-0-19-516977-5
  35. Uwe Kraemer. Liner notes for Bach: The Harpsichord Concertos (Igor Kipnis, The London Strings, Neville Mariner) CBS Records M2YK 45616, 1989.
  36. Rampe 2013, pp. 390–396
  37. Oxford Composer Companions guide to Bach (ed. Boyd)
  38. Bach: The Concertos for 3 and 4 Harpsichords – Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert, from the CD booklet written by Dr. Werner Brieg, 1981, Archive Produktion (bar code 3-259140-004127)
  39. See:
    • Mercer-Taylor, Peter (2000), The Life of Mendelssohn, Cambridge University Press, p. 144, ISBN 0521639727
    • Eatock, Colin (2009), Mendelssohn and Victorian England, Ashgate, p. 86, ISBN 0754666522
    • Kroll, Mark (2014), Ignaz Moscheles and the Changing World of Musical Europe, Boydell & Brewer, p. 268, ISBN 1843839350
  40. See:
  41. 1 2 Mann 1989
  42. For a detailed discussion of BWV 849, see Schulenberg (2006), pp. 145–146
  43. Jones 2013, p. 395
  44. See:
  45. See:
  46. Steinberg, M. The Concerto: A Listener's Guide, p. 14, Oxford (1998) ISBN 0-19-513931-3
  47. Hutchings, A. 1997. A Companion to Mozart's Piano Concertos, p. 26, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816708-3


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