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J.S. Bach: "Switched-On" Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major, BWV 1049, 1. Allegro (Synthesized)

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Published on Mar 7, 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.

The Fourth Brandenburg Concerto, scored for violin (an extremely virtuosic one at that), two flutes, strings, and continuo) opens with an extensive ritornello (a reinventing passage) which not only introduces the basic material for the movement but also reveals the instrumental argument: a solo group (concertino) is contrasted with the rest of the orchestra and within this solo group there is a dialog between the two recorders and the violin. This ritornello functions as a component of the work as a whole, containing its own contrasts, departures and returns; only at the end of the movement do we hear it again complete. Intermediate returns of portions of the ritornello give the movement a sense of architecture, something to provide pillars between the episodes. However, rather than simply confining the solos to the episodes, Bach dislocates the solo argument from the ritornello structure: we simply cannot predict when the soloists will be strongly profiled, they are continually weaving in and out of the larger orchestral texture. in which the contrast is highlighted by dynamics rather than material.

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 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 particular movement has always been one of my favourites and so I present my efforts for your appreciation.

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

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