J.S. Bach: "Switched-On" Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047 (Synthesized)




Rating is available when the video has been rented.
This feature is not available right now. Please try again later.
Published on May 29, 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.

The Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 may have been one of the last to be written, and it certainly seems like a special-occasion piece, perhaps the most popular of the six. The writing is virtuosic and brilliant; the high trumpet part, in particular, is written to employ a style of playing known as "clarino playing," in which the trumpeter played in the highest range of the instrument, and used quickly-changing lip pressure to change the pitch of the instrument. (The trumpet of Bach's day was a long tubed instrument without valves, which were added around 1815.) Today, we normally hear a piccolo trumpet (sometimes called a "Bach trumpet"), which is pitched higher to play these passages more easily; however, the tone of the instrument is quite unique, and tends to dominate the texture whenever it is played.

The work basically follows the Italian concerto grosso pattern, punctuating the solo group's music with tutti outbursts for the strings, although here the soloists are often more integrated into the musical fabric than in the Italian model. A concerto grosso utilizes two ensembles, one large and one small. The large one is called the ripieno or tutti; this includes the orchestra. A group of soloists comprise the smaller group, entitled the concertino (meaning little concerto group). The number of soloists and instruments used was entirely up to the composer to decide. Bach's ripieno includes solo flute [originally recorder], trumpet, violin, oboe, and continuo. (The continuo is never omitted, as it provides the harmonic foundation of the entire piece.)

The strongly rhythmic first movement, deploys the soloists both as members of the overall ensemble and as out-front players, in varying combinations. The orchestra introduces an energetic eight-bar theme, then, two at a time and separated by restatements of the opening melody, the soloists jump in with their own two-bar motif. From this point on, the soloists rarely recede completely, constantly toying with their short motif and picking up fragments of the initial theme as well. The trumpet retires from the plaintive Andante (as is common practice in baroque era concerti because it can only be played in major keys due to its construction, and the second movement of these concerti usually switch to minor keys), leaving the other three soloists, with bare continuo accompaniment, to focus on a sighing phrase. One instrument's entrance overlaps another's last notes in a sort of counterpoint that, despite several efforts, never gets off the ground. Revamping a theme from the first movement, the Allegro assai takes counterpoint more seriously. In the earlier movements, Bach had passed a melody from one instrument to another, fully exploiting their contrasting colors. Now, in this final movement, the soloists each provide different voices in a full-fledged fugue, with the string orchestra merely reinforcing key moments. This fugue is no academic exercise; the music is bright and festive.

Interesting note: the third movement served as the theme song for William F. Buckley, Jr.'s Firing Line, and is currently the theme for Masterpiece on PBS. It was also chosen as the first to be played on the "Golden Record," a phonograph album containing a broad sample of Earth's common sounds, languages and music, sent into outer space with the two Voyager probes.

In homage to Wendy Carlos' original realization (recorded in part, oh her "By Request" of 1975, and completed on her "Switched-On Brandenburgs" of 1979), I scored my version with fairly basic instruments reminiscent of her style. In fact I was able to create such realistic solo instrument timbres, I had to tweak them back to sound more "synthetic," to make them more homogeneous with the other "analog" voices. Although I normally prefer to attempt new pieces that she didn't record, this joyful work is offered for your appreciation along with my other Brandenburg contributions.

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


When autoplay is enabled, a suggested video will automatically play next.

Up next

to add this to Watch Later

Add to

Loading playlists...