Voices of Music performs Bach - Brandenburg Concerto No. 3

Bach – Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048 (Voices of Music)

San Francisco based early music ensemble Voices of Music performs Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048, on original instruments. Recorded at St. Stephen’s Church, Belvedere, California.

Movements (with the starting times in the video):

  1. 0:00 [no tempo indication] (usually performed at Allegro or Allegro moderato, here it is performed at Allegro)
  2. 5:34 Adagio
  3. 5:45 Allegro

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In March of 1721, Johann Sebastian Bach carefully inked six of his best concertos into a book for the Margrave of Brandenburg, Christian Ludwig. The original title, “Six Concerts à plusieurs instruments” is now known as the “Brandenburg” Concertos in English or “Brandenburgische Konzerte” in German.

These six concertos represent the summa of chamber music in the high baroque period, and the third concerto (BWV 1048) is noted for its rich texture of three violins, three violas and three cellos, with a continuo part for the harpsichord and violone. The original title is as follows: “Concerto 3zo [terzo] a tre Violini, tre Viole, è tre Violoncelli col Basso per il Cembalo”. On the continuo part, Bach has written “Violone & Cembalo”, and this is how it is performed in the video, just as it is indicated in the original manuscript.

The second movement consists of a single measure with the two chords that make up a ‘Phrygian half cadence’ and—although there is no direct evidence to support it—it was likely that these chords are meant to surround or follow a cadenza improvised by a harpsichord or violin player. Modern performance approaches range from simply playing the cadence with minimal ornamentation (treating it as a sort of “musical semicolon”), to inserting movements from other works, to cadenzas varying in length from under a minute to over two minutes. Wendy Carlos’s three electronic performances (from Switched-On Bach, Switched-On Brandenburgs, and Switched-On Bach 2000) have second movements that are completely different from each other.

Occasionally, the third movement from Bach’s Sonata for Violin and Continuo in G, BWV 1021 (marked Largo) is substituted for the second movement as it contains an identical ‘Phrygian cadence’ as the closing chords. The Largo from the Violin Sonata in G, BWV 1019, has also been used.

The outer movements use the ritornello form found in many instrumental and vocal works of the time. The first movement can also be found in reworked form as the sinfonia of the cantata Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte, BWV 174, with the addition of three oboes and two horns.

This concerto is part of the Voices of Music Great Works project. A Creative Commons edition of the score, based on the composer’s manuscript, will be published to accompany the complete recording, and the recording will be available worldwide on Blu-Ray and CD, and for free on MP3 and high-definition, 24 bit FLAC files.

Voices of Music
Hanneke van Proosdij & David Tayler, directors

A note on this video: The Brandenburg Concertos are ensemble pieces, and every musician has a finely-wrought musical line. Rather than assemble clips of small solos, the goal in presenting this work was to show the entire ensemble–in this way, the viewer can follow the counter-subjects as well as the main themes in the musical composition. A specially designed hyperfocal lens was used for the center camera to render the entire soundstage in focus, edge to edge and front to back, so that at resolutions of 1080p and higher, one can view each individual musician. Graduated depth of field was used on the supporting cameras to throw the image into relief when showing sections of instruments. Surround sound techniques were used to place the listener in the middle of the ensemble, so that each part can be clearly heard, as well as seen.

Text: For this recording, a new edition of the concerto was made based on Bach’s autograph manuscript, with careful attention to the original articulation marks.
Original instruments: the Brandenburg concertos have been performed on every imaginable combination of instruments. We believe that the greatest transparency is achieved when the work is performed on instruments from the time of Bach, using the techniques and styles of the time. In Bach’s time, music was performed without a conductor, and each musician had a voice in the interpretation.

Tempo: The first movement has no tempo indication, so a tempo of allegro was chosen based on the style of the music. In the baroque period, the tempo of allegro “assai” or presto would not have been usual for the opening movement; however, the tempo is left to the performers’ imagination: the allegro tempo allows all the parts to be clearly heard. The second movement famously consists of two simple chords, to which Hanneke has improvised a very simple decoration from the harpsichord. The third movement is marked allegro by the composer; here we have decided upon an affect of fleetness, as the themes and counter-subjects whirl around the ensemble, but stopping just shy of the faster tempo marks–allegro assai and presto– which Bach reserves for other places in his Brandenburg manuscript.

Numerology: it is no coincidence that Bach attached special significance to the the numbers two and three, and their multiple of six. Since medieval times, the number three, the symbol of the trinity, was considered the “perfect” division for time signatures, and the combination of two and three form the rhythmic underpinnings of Western music. For the third concerto, it’s all about the number three: Bach employed the unusual combination of 3+3+3: three violins, three violas, three cellos, possibly reworking an earlier composition for these resources. To continue Bach’s tradition, nine HD cameras were used to film this work.