Work: Brandenburg Concerto no 2
About This Work
Between 1719 and 1721, Bach assembled six concertos for Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg, either on commission or as a job application. The Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 may have been one of the last to be written, and it certainly seems
like a special-occasion piece. It's a concerto featuring four prominent instruments -- trumpet, recorder, oboe, and violin -- against a foundation of strings and continuo. The writing is virtuosic and brilliant; the high trumpet part, in particular, brings many fine players to grief. 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. The strongly rhythmic first movement, lacking a tempo indication, 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, 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, clearly intended to show how a learned structure could be incorporated into popular entertainment at the margrave's court.
-- James Reel
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