J.S. Bach: "Switched-On" Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major, BWV 1049, 3. Presto (Synthesized)




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Published on Mar 24, 2014

Few musical works are as loved - and as often performed - as the six "Brandenburg" Concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach. These six works (BWV 1046-1051) display a lighter side of Bach's imperishable genius. Yet they came into being as an unexpected gift. That's what happened in 1721 when Bach presented the Margrave of Brandenburg with a bound manuscript containing six lively concertos for chamber orchestra, works based on an Italian Concerto Grosso style. The Margrave never thanked Bach for his work - or paid him! There's no way he could have known that this unnamed gift (later named the Brandenburg Concertos 150 years later when Bach's biographer, Philipp Spitta called them that for the very first time, and the name stuck) would become a benchmark of Baroque music and still have the power to move people almost three centuries later.

Even though he didn't call them the "Brandenburgs," originally, Bach still thought of them as a set. What he did was compile them from short instrumental sinfonias and concerto movements he had already written. Then he re-worked the old music, often re-writing and elaborating where he saw fit. In doing so, Bach created something of a dramatic arc from the brilliant first concerto to the last, which evokes a spirited chase. Bach even later reworked components of the Brandenburgs into other compositions: the 1st movement of Concerto no. 1 can also be found as the Sinfonia to Cantata 52 and its 3rd movement was used as the opening Chorus of Cantata 207. The Sinfonia to Cantata 174 is a reworking of the 1st movement of the 3rd Brandenburg with the addition of three oboes and two horns. The 4th Brandenburg was used as the last of his set of 6 harpsichord concertos, the concerto for harpsichord, two recorders and strings in F major, BWV 1057.

With the final Presto movement (Bach's fastest marking in any of the concertos) we hear yet another interpretation of the concerto style: the opening ritornello (the "reinventing passage introducing the basic material for the movement) is essentially a fugue built from the bottom up - viola, second violin, first violin (along with solo violin, and finally the flutes on top), etc. The solo violin proceeds to create some striking effects with minimum accompaniment, and some of the movement's most dramatic moments come when the orchestra drops out entirely, leaving the solo instruments alone in the spotlight. Thus the expected contrast of ritornello and episode is replaced by frequent contrasts of instrumentation, the fuller expositions of the subject providing the tutti sonority usually associated with the ritornello. Furthermore another traditional feature of the concerto - virtuosity - is provided by the violin part, something which by its very nature turns a fugue - brilliant enough on its own terms - into a dazzling concerto movement.

In homage to Wendy Carlos' original realization recorded on her "Well-Tempered Synthesizer" of 1969, I scored my version with fairly basic instruments reminiscent of her style. In fact I was able to create such realistic solo violin and recorder timbres, I had to scale them back to sound more "synthetic," to make them more homogeneous with the other "analog" voices. One issue I often encounter is that I have to tweak my "instruments" as the timbres, for example, of an Allegro movement don't sound the same when translated to a Presto movement. Careful retuning is a tedious thing and I usually end up applying various envelopes to the starting tips of individual music passages and finely adjust the equalization of the tracks during the mix down process. As mentioned in my notes to other such videos, I normally prefer to attempt new pieces that she didn't record but again, this movement has always been one of my favourites and so I offer my interpretation for your enjoyment.

As always, the use of headphones will greatly enhance the listening experience..


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