1st Brandenburg Concert

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Johann Sebastian Bach's First Brandenburg Concerto , BWV 1046, is an unusually large composition with horns, woodwinds and strings, which is generally regarded in literature as one of Bach's earliest concertante works. It is the first in a collection of six concerts that Bach sent to Margrave Christian Ludwig von Brandenburg-Schwedt in March 1721 under the title Six Concerts avec plusieurs instruments in score .

On the occasion of the dedication, Bach did not compose the individual concerts in this collection from scratch, but rather compiled the score from existing works. The individual pieces show great differences in cast, scope and character.


The First Brandenburg Concerto contrasts two horns, four woodwinds and strings. The score demands:

At the time it was composed, Bach obviously did not have the oboe da caccia , which he would certainly have used as the third oboe in Leipzig. The violino piccolo , on the other hand, is an unusual instrument : This is a small violin that is tuned a third higher than usual and so can better assert itself against the other instruments in the solo passages.

In view of the large wind instrumentation, Bach might have expected strings with choirs here.

Origin and other versions

The Bach works list under number BWV 1046a (previously 1071) lists an early form that uses a normal violin instead of the violino piccolo and contained neither the third movement with its virtuoso parts nor the polonaise . This version, entitled Sinfonia, is likely to be Bach's oldest concert composition . It is assumed that the work in this form introduced the Jagdkantata BWV 208 at the latest at the second of the two performances in 1713 and 1716.

However, the horn parts of the Jagdkantata have a much smaller range; the range of the symphonia corresponds more to that of cantata 143 ( praise the Lord, my soul ), which was also composed during this period. It seems likely that the parts of these two works were played by trained trumpeters, possibly even in the trumpet position.

The third movement was probably composed around 1719/20, initially for a normal violin. It was only when the score was written out as the First Brandenburg Concerto that the part for violino piccolo was transposed and many of the double stops were added. On this occasion, Bach also added the polonaise and wrote a new version of the second trio.

In Leipzig, decades later, Bach used the first movement as an introductory symphony for his cantata Falsche Welt, I don't trust you! (BWV 52). Similarly, the third movement in his secular cantata BWV 207 United Discord of the Changing Strings served him as the basis for the opening choir, whereby he simplified the musical text somewhat, added a four-part choral movement and rewrote the horn parts for three trumpets and timpani. In the same cantata he also used the second trio as an instrumental break (and referred to it here as “ritornello”).


The composition adds a rondo-like sequence of dances to the usual three movements:

  • without movement name (Allegro) c F major
  • Adagio 3/4 in D minor
  • Allegro 6/8 in F major
  • Menuetto - Trio I - Menuetto - Polacca - Menuetto - Trio II - Menuetto in F major

Even for today's listener, the horns give the concert a distinct hunting flavor; But Bach even seems to quote a well-known hunting signal .

First sentence

The first movement contrasts the instruments in groups: horns, woodwinds and strings. The corresponding passages usually have two oboes, two violins and two horns alternating in time; A confirming tutti then quickly follows, with the third oboe and viola also joining. In literature, the sentence is usually viewed as six parts, the sixth being the exact repetition of the first part and the penultimate, at least at the beginning, clearly reminding of the second. The pieces are similar in length and all start with a tutti section followed by an "opposing" section, then in most cases the section ends with a tutti effect again.

Second sentence

The Adagio dispenses with the horns and develops an expressive, plaintive duel of the first oboe and the solo violin in far-reaching melodic arabesques. In the first part, the two instruments introduce themselves individually, accompanied by the other choir; the second and third begin as a strict canon in unison, and then gradually lead the instruments more freely. All three forms are completed by the theme in continuo, with very dissonant sighs in the upper parts. Quite unexpectedly and without parallel in Bach's work, the end reduces the groups' entries to individual chords.

Third sentence

This third movement, added later, is a virtuoso concert movement that is tailored entirely to the solo of the piccolo violin, which asserts itself against the other instruments with double stops. The ritornello theme brings several motifs which are gradually taken up by the soloist and the other instruments and set against each other.

The first longer solo passage of the violin is supported after a short time by the tutti and then expanded to a trio with continuo by the first horn. It leads to the dominant after C major; the following tutti contrasts strings and oboes in a chorus. The next passage is also a trio, in which the solo violin is followed by the first oboe; This section also leads to the choral juxtaposition of strings and oboe, this time in A minor. Finally, a third trio follows, with violino piccolo and first violin, to a fermata with a short cadenza written out. A recapitulation of the first solo passage on the subdominant then logically leads back to the basic key.

By inserting this movement, Bach brings the composition closer to the modern concert form, so that the closing dance movements now seem more like an unexpected encore.

Dance movements

The concluding dances form a kind of rondo form: a minuet appears like a refrain ; its two equally long sections initially establish the time signature clearly - imitating upper voice and bass - then obscure it with alternating accents to finally end in hemiolas . This minuet is played four times unchanged from the tutti; in between, each instrumental group introduces itself again in a small movement - a use of the instruments as homogeneous groups, as Bach also uses in his orchestral suites.

Trio I is the “classical” trio for two oboes and bassoon introduced by Lully . The recapitulation of the minuet is followed by a polonaise for the strings - a melody of the first violin that emphasizes the upper part, supported by a gentle pulsation of the other strings. The rule piano and the long organ points give the movement a strange character that sounds like a long way off - only shortly before the end of the second part does a forte gallop suddenly interrupt the delicate mood. Before the final entry into the minuet, Trio II brings an exuberant, noisy gavotte of the horns with accompanying oboes.

Web links



Individual evidence

  1. ^ Siegbert Rampe, Dominik Sackmann: Bach's orchestral music . Kassel 2000, ISBN 3-7618-1345-7 , p. 188
  2. Ruth Funke: The horn with Johann Sebastian Bach with special consideration of the first Brandenburg Concerto . Diploma thesis at the Folkwang University of Applied Sciences Essen, 1995
  3. ^ Siegbert Rampe, Dominik Sackmann: Bach's orchestral music . Kassel 2000, ISBN 3-7618-1345-7 , p. 245
  4. Klaus Hofmann: "Great Lord, O strong King": A fanfare theme in Johann Sebastian Bach . In: Bach Yearbook , 1995
  5. ^ Jean-Claude Zehnder : On the late Weimar style of Johann Sebastian Bach. in: Martin Geck (Ed.): Bach's orchestral works. Report on the 1st Dortmund Bach Symposium 1996. Witten 1997, ISBN 3-932676-04-1 .