Chamber Works: Bach Triples

Tuesday 15 August 2017

Verbrugghen Hall

Level 3, Sydney Conservatorium of Music Sydney NSW

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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750)

Brandenburg Concerto No.5 in D major BWV 1050
I. Allegro
II. Affettuoso
III. Allegro

Triple Concerto in A minor BWV 1044
I. Allegro
II. Adagio ma non tanto e dolce
III. Allabreve

Concerto for Three Keyboards in D minor BWV 1063
I. Allegro
II. Alla Siciliana
III. Allegro

Concerto for Three Keyboards in C major BWV 1064
I. Allegro
II. Adagio
III. Allegro


  • Paul Rickard-Ford – Piano
  • Inge Rosar – Piano
  • Kirill Monorosi – Piano
  • Natalia Andreeva – Piano
  • Evgeny Sorkin – Violin
  • Fox Chan – Violin
  • James Kortum – Flute
  • Chamber Orchestra led by Ole Bohn

Program Notes

Bach’s Triple Concerto in D major (known as the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5) dates from 1719, and was written to demonstrate the new harpsichord ordered from Berlin for the court at Köthen. It is the first concerto that used the harpsichord as a solo instrument, and thus, can be considered one of the most significant and historically far-reaching works Bach composed. It is the first in a line of his numerous solo, double and triple concertos featuring the keyboard, works that influenced his sons — CPE Bach and JC Bach in particular — whose works in the genre in turn paved the way for subsequent composer-pianists who established the keyboard concerto as a staple genre of the art music repertoire.

The D major triple concerto is also remarkable for the formidable cadenza that is fully written out at the end of the first movement. Again, Bach is groundbreaking: cadenzas were typically improvised, and this one is one of the very first fully written out by a composer. The second, slow movement — Bach follows the standard fast-slow-fast format in all of his concertos, with the slow movement being in the relative major or minor
key — is a trio for the soloists (the orchestra is tacet), while the last movement is a spirited gigue, a testament to Bach’s love for dance.

While the D major concerto was composed relatively early in Bach’s career (he was 34), the triple concerto in A minor BWV 1044 dates from the late 1730s, when he was director of the Collegium Musicum, a musical society in Leipzig founded in 1703 by composer and close friend of Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, and directed by Bach from 1729 to 1737, and again from 1739 to 1740/41. The outer movements of this concerto are fashioned out of an early prelude and fugue for solo keyboard (BWV 894) — it was common for Bach to re-work his compositions — and the slow movement is based on the middle movement of the Trio Sonata for Organ (BWV 527). Apart from the instrumentation, this work shares other features with its earlier counterpart: the keyboard doubles as continuo (playing an accompanying role) and solo, with the solos exceptionally brilliant and virtuosic; while the slow movement is also a trio for the soloists, and the last movement is a lively, gigue-like fugue. Unique to this concerto are frequent changes between pizzicato (plucked) and arco (bowed) in the string parts and frequent changes of dynamics, as well as the wide dynamic range (pp—f).

Although concertos for multiple soloists were popular during the Baroque, with numerous compositions in the genre by composers such as Antonio Vivaldi and GP Telemann, Bach’s keyboard triples are unprecedented, and are unique in the concerto repertoire. The only other concerto for three pianos by a major composer is Mozart’s F major concerto K 242; however, as the third piano part is much simpler than the others, it is usually performed as a double concerto (a practice dating back to Mozart’s own re-working of the work). Bach’s keyboard triples are considered to be his own re-workings of concertos that were originally scored for three violins (the original versions have been lost). These works originated from the need for performance material for the Collegium Musicum. Performances took place weekly at Zimmermann’s coffee house and featured Bach’s best students. The keyboard triples were almost certainly intended for performance by himself and his sons – CPE Bach and WF Bach were keyboard virtuosi of the highest calibre.

The D minor concerto BWV 1063 became popular in the Romantic era with Felix Mendelssohn performing it numerous times, including at a famous concert in the Leipzig Gewandhaus with Franz Liszt, and Ferdinand Hiller (he also performed it with Clara Schumann and Ignaz Moscheles, and later in London with Ignaz Moscheles and Sigismond Thalberg). The C major concerto BWV 1064, is remarkable for the stylistic hybrid between fugue and concerto form in the last movement, which in spite of the complexity of the texture, retains a youthful vigour and lightness. Throughout both concertos, the three soloists are engaged in a constant dialogue with each other and with the orchestra, and while Bach frequently assigns brilliant virtuosic passagework to the first piano part, the other solo parts are also given challenging cadenzas in the final movements of both concertos.

© Kirill Monorosi (2017)