Brandenburg Concerto #1

Brandenburg Concerto #1 in F major BWV 1046

Reviewed by Tom-Tom


The piece begins and your ears struggle to hear what instruments are being played not to mention actually try to divine who has the melody. That’s precisely the thing with the best of Bach’s music. Everyone has the melody and they are all playing now. Oh, to see the inside of the mind behind the music. Speaking of the music, the basso continuo is raking out the mother chords as the oboe come in a beat after and then the strings. Almost everything you hear will be divided, passed around the ensemble which consists of three oboes, natural horns (corni di caccia), a bassoon, and strings with violino piccolo atop them with basso continuo below. Bach’s Double Concerto for two violins is called so because either violin could be taken out and still be a decent sounding piece. Here in the first movement of the first Brandenburg Concerti, there’s so much movement and use that it is difficult to imagine the melody is actually quite simple. It is the use of the fugue which, to Bach was as natural as smoking, drinking coffee, and having yet another child born.


The second movement changes tone to a solemn cry of slow despair that gets echoed in canonic form around the ensemble soloist by soloist first the violin, then oboes, and cello. The harmony by the ripieno is among the more simple and mellow of Bach’s works, just keeping the beat. The passing back and forth between the violin and oboe increases in frequency not even letting the other get out two notes before echoing the melody. The movement ends with random chiming of chords around the ensemble ending on an often copied (by Handel) dominant cadence.


The third movement opening, chipper as ever, the somber nature of the second movement forgotten already. Already into fugue territory as the instantly moving mass following the most mobile of the group, the strings to the end of the initial melody echoed by the horns in the background who are, nevertheless an important part of the ensemble. The violino piccolo reprises the melody and pass it to the oboe trio. The horns puffing out harmony in the back try to keep up and give up leaving the melody to the oboes and strings for a while. The bassoon picks up here not wishing stand idly by and just mime the basso continuo. The horns return but the ensemble is focused on the the violin piccolo and oboes again. The strings with oboes play out the initial melody to its conclusion.


It’s dance time as the fourth movement arrives with its double feature of two Menuets and Trios with a Polonaise thrown in the middle for fun. Who said Chopin was the only one who championed Polish dances? Bach was composing them before they were cool. The Menuets are stately and high class utilizing the whole ensemble whereas the intermittent Trios are all woodwind and horns, which are a joy of counterpoint. One would assume this is where the main dancing couple would come forward and show all how it’s done. The Menuet returns to end the piece, a somewhat quiet finish to the work after the high paced third movement.

The load of ear candy to be had in this concerto enough provides it with endless replay value especially the first and third movements, which take a few listens to distinguish all that’s going on. Apparently, even Bach thought so as he had used most of these movements in an earlier cantata. In tone, it sounds like a mix between yet another Orchestral Suite and a Quadruple Concerto with the three oboes acting like one body with the violin.


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