Free Shipping
  • J.S. BACH Les Six Concerts Brandebourgeois
  • J.S. BACH Les Six Concerts Brandebourgeois
Shop > SACD
J.S. BACH Les Six Concerts Brandebourgeois
17,00
+ shipping cost
Info

Reference: AVSA9871

  • Le Concert des Nations
  • JORDI SAVALL

The precious autograph manuscript of these six concertos has in fact miraculously survived until our time, copied out and preceded by a flattering dedication in French to the Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg: “Sir, as a couple of years ago I had the good fortune to perform before Your Royal Highness, at Your Highness’s command, and, having remarked the pleasure that Your Highness took in the small talents which Heaven has given me for Music, and since, when I took my leave of Your Royal Highness, you did me the honour of commissioning a few pieces of my Composition, I have, in accordance with Your Highness’s most gracious orders, taken the liberty of offering my very humble work to Your Royal Highness, with the present Concertos, which I have arranged for several instruments…” The dedication is dated 24th March, 1741.

Description

As soon as we try to track down the historical circumstances surrounding the composition of Bach’s works, our problems begin. Thanks to decades of painstaking research and the subtle intuition of leading musicologists, today we have more detailed information unravelled from the tangled web of small clues that have been patiently gathered. The rather obscure life of a music maker from Saxony did not give rise in his own day to the great chorus of publicity which surrounded his contemporaries Handel and Rameau, and he himself did not do much to make our task easier, since he left very few traces of his daily life in the form of correspondence, dates or written accounts…

Nothing is simple, therefore, and sometimes posterity has clouded the issues: the Goldberg Variations were probably not written for Goldberg, any more than the B minor Mass was written in B minor. As for our Six Concertos with several instruments, they have little to do with Brandenburg. This name was given them by the first great exegete of Bach’s work, the German musicologist Philipp Spitta who, at the end of the 19th century, spoke of the Brandenburg Concertos, just as others had referred to Mozart’s Prussian Quartets, for example, following the German practice of referring to their dedicatee. And that is how it all began.

The precious autograph manuscript of these six concertos has in fact miraculously survived until our time, copied out and preceded by a flattering dedication in French to the Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg: “Sir, as a couple of years ago I had the good fortune to perform before Your Royal Highness, at Your Highness’s command, and, having remarked the pleasure that Your Highness took in the small talents which Heaven has given me for Music, and since, when I took my leave of Your Royal Highness, you did me the honour of commissioning a few pieces of my Composition, I have, in accordance with Your Highness’s most gracious orders, taken the liberty of offering my very humble work to Your Royal Highness, with the present Concertos, which I have arranged for several instruments…” The dedication is dated 24th March, 1741.

Were the Concertos performed for the Margrave? It is doubtful. The Palatine orchestra was just about big enough to play the fifth and sixth concertos, which require a total of six musicians (all famous virtuosi!); and the manuscript would appear to have been stored along with sheaves of “diverse concertos” which show no sign of ever having been used. However, it is possible that copies were made and the necessary musicians were assembled for their performance. But even if this manuscript had been lost, without knowing it we would still be acquainted with some fragments from the six Concertos through the use that Bach later made of them in a number of his cantatas, both sacred (BWV 52 and 174) and secular (BWV 207). Moreover, the fourth concerto was arranged by the composer himself as a concerto for harpsichord, two flutes, strings and continuo (BWV 1057).

But other sources remain. Each of the concertos is in fact known through various manuscript copies, in score or in separate parts (including those made by Bach himself for the fifth concerto), from the Berlin collection or from originals that the composer had kept, offering proof that these pieces were not as forgotten as people have sometimes claimed. Well before their first publication, which certainly only dates from 1850, the Brandenburg Concertos were thus known and no doubt performed. Together with their variants, these copies are of the greatest interest, since they have allowed us to establish a “definitive form” for the works and to gain a glimpse of their development, as Bach was always at pains to re-work his major compositions – “polish them ceaselessly and polish them again…” However, without the Berlin manuscript we would not have known that the composer himself brought together a group made up of these six concertos, a unique case in his orchestral work; and, as we shall see, this is all the more surprising in that, in terms of style, form and instrumental line-up, they are so varied that we would not naturally think of them as being grouped together.

The dedicatory epistle allows us to piece together some of the collection’s history. We know that at the beginning of 1719 Bach went to Berlin to buy a great new harpsichord from the maker Mietke for the use of his orchestra at Cöthen. It was no doubt on this occasion that he met the Margrave of Brandenburg, the uncle of the King of Prussia; alone or as part of a group, he performed before the Prince, who was no doubt impressed and wished to know more of the composer’s work. “A couple of years” later, Bach, who may have had some future prospects involving Berlin, sent the Margrave this brilliant sampler of his compositorial skill in the form of concerto movements, arranged as a group of six, following the custom of the time.

But there is nothing to suggest that the Brandenburgs were composed for the Margrave. On the contrary, it seems likely that the composer gathered together six of the most significant pieces, chosen from his quite large collection of concertante works, and that he revised or arranged them for the occasion. Intended for the excellent ensemble of virtuosi for which he was responsible at Cöthen, some of these pieces may even go back, in a slightly different form, to the preceding period, (around 1716, or perhaps 1713) when Bach was in Weimar, where they were used particularly as sinfonias in cantatas: we see this, for example, with the first concerto, part of which may have served as an introductory piece to the hunting Cantata written in 1716 for the court of Weissenfels. According to the present state of research, it is thought that the six Concertos, in the form that we know them, must have been composed in the course of the three years between 1718 and 1720, in the following order: 6, 1, 3, 2, 4 and 5.

Does the fact that they were gathered together by Bach make them a cycle? No convincing sign of articulation or internal cohesion has hitherto been discovered to justify our belief in an overall plan on the part of the composer. We are therefore inclined to think that, contrary to the normal procedures of the period, according to which all collections claimed a unity of conception, the composer sought variety, presenting, as he was to do much later in other musical forms (albeit with very different intellectual aims!), a kind of “Art of the Concerto”. Might we not also in retrospect see in the Concertos something of that didactic intention which in Bach was so often associated with the “recreation of amateurs?” Since his Orgelbüchlein of the same period was intended “to instruct” by presenting all the ways of handling the chorale, might this not have been a prodigiously varied and original description of the various ways of handling the concerto?

From one work to another there is a difference in the instrumental arrangement and in the number of movements, but also – and most importantly – in the style and formal structures: Concerto grosso or solo concerto, Italian or French aesthetic, contrapuntal masterpieces or virtuoso fireworks? None of the six concertos can be ascribed to a pre-existing model, and the composer offers us a dazzling synthesis of the different facets of his genius and of European fashion, throwing up a great arch between the old style of concerto with several choirs and the future concerto for piano and orchestra. However, if we were to try to establish links between the Brandenburg concertos and other famous pieces, our first choice, rather than any Italian precedents, might be Couperin’s Concerts Royaux, which were their exact contemporaries (1722); for they were also examples of real chamber music intended for the delectation of intimate gatherings. Indeed, the French dedication and the style of the French Suite in the first Concerto invite this comparison.

But a new analytical approach may perhaps in the future show these concertos in a different light. In fact, we know today the extent to which all “Baroque” composers, and in particular those at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century, were preoccupied with rhetoric (we even find a reference to Bach in a note from a contemporary translation of Quintilian’s Instituto Oratoria). The macrostructure of a work, the articulation of its musical discourse, in its play of allusions and symbols, particularly in terms of its tonality, harmony and instrumentation, arises from a universally known and accepted code, and this is found even in purely instrumental works. All music was then enunciated as a discourse, the vehicle for the movements of the soul. As a result of a renewal in interpretation, a new field of research has opened up for the contemporary musicologist. But the fact that some movements from the six Concertos were incorporated in the sound texture or the dramaturgy of this or that cantata, sometimes even embellished, if not “revealed”, by the spoken words (as in the case of the third movement from the first concerto) which in 1726 provided the opening chorus for Cantata BWV 207, once again begs the question of whether it might be possible to decipher their musical language in the light of the rules of rhetoric? We might legitimately ask whether the interplay of emblems and allegories revealed beneath the surface of the Brandenburgs points to a unifying “programme”, an implicit address to Bach’s princely dedicatee, and an as yet invisible common denominator of discourse which might justify their selection and their ordering…