December 5, 2013 Leave a comment
Here is another delightful piece that should help you shed the winter of your discontent and warm the cockles of your heart. All of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos are uplifting, but I find Number 4 in G Major particularly so. It starts out with twittering recorders that play a lilting, two-beat sunny melody. It has such a strong beat, you could almost do a two-step dance to it. In a way, since this piece is for chamber orchestra (just the strings, ma’am), it almost sounds like a concerto for two recorders.
The second movement reminds me a bit of one from Vivaldi’s Winter section of his Four Seasons. It moves along more slowly, being marked “Andante” (“Walking”) and its lush orchestration highlighted by the plaintive flutes also make it a bit sad-sounding.
But then the third movement, marked “Presto” (“Fast!”) kicks in and blows away all of our winter cobwebs. It starts out as a kind of fugue with in the violas first, followed by the violins, cellos, bases, and finally the flutes again. Fugues are kind of like really big and complicated rounds (row, row, row your boat). Being a concerto, and the precursor to our modern concertos, which feature a solo instrument, the last movement allows groups or single instruments to shine by playing small solos or extended counterpoint back and forth with the rest of the orchestra. I find Brandenburg Concerto Number 4 in G Major therefore a great place to start appreciating how great a master was Bach was at weaving complex cat’s cradles of works together from the different threads of melody and colors of the instruments in the orchestra.
This piece has such a good, light hearted feeling to it, that you could imagine yourself donning your powdered wig, hopping into your caleche and bopping off to Berlin for an audience with the Margrave to whom Bach dedicated the six Brandenburg Concertos. In his dedication to the Margrave in 1721 Bach comes off as being a bit of a toady:
“begging Your Highness most humbly not to judge the concertos’ imperfection with the rigor of that discriminating and sensitive taste which everyone knows him to have for musical works, but rather to take into benign consideration the profound respect and the most humble obedience which I thus attempt to show him.”
Imagine living under a royal, inbred despot before whom you had to debase yourself like this for your livelihood! Maybe Bach had the last laugh-when he received the commission for these works, he dusted of six concertos he had written for his ensemble at Cothen, and reworked them to be a bit more appealing.
My familiarity with these pieces came from the a mentoring family I met in high school once again, who suggested I buy the set conducted by Pablo Casals with the Marlboro Festival Orchestra. Some people find his interpretations too lush and Romantic, but if that’s not your cup of tea, there are countless recordings of them out there.