Accompanied by the Anima Musicae Chamber Orchestra, the Hungarian violinists Katalin Kokas and Barnabás Kelemen perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins, Strings and Continuo in D Minor, BWV 1043, also known as the Double Violin Concerto or “Bach Double”. Recorded during the St. Gellert International Music Festival 2022.
Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins [Bach Double]
Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, BWV 1043, often referred to as the Double Violin Concerto, is a remarkable work in the Baroque music repertoire. Composed around 1730 during Bach’s tenure in Leipzig, Germany, this concerto is celebrated for its intricate interplay between the two solo violin parts and its rich harmonic texture.
Bach, a master of counterpoint and harmonic invention, created a dialogue between the two violins that is both competitive and complementary. The two violin parts, often echoing each other, intertwine and converse throughout the concerto, showcasing Bach’s skill in weaving complex musical interactions. This interplay is supported by a string ensemble and continuo, which provide a robust and harmonious foundation.
The Double Violin Concerto stands out for its emotional depth and technical sophistication. It is characterized by its dramatic contrasts, ranging from spirited and lively sections to more introspective and tender moments. The work’s structure and thematic development are a testament to Bach’s ability to balance form and freedom, creating a work that is both disciplined in its composition and expressive in its performance.
The concerto is not only a technical showcase for violinists but also an exploration of musical themes and motifs. Bach’s use of counterpoint, where two or more independent melodies are played simultaneously, is particularly noteworthy. This technique allows for a rich and complex sonic tapestry that is both intellectually and emotionally engaging.
In the context of Bach’s broader work, the Double Violin Concerto is a fine example of his mastery in the concerto genre. While he is often associated with keyboard and organ music, this concerto highlights his versatility and profound understanding of string instruments. The piece remains a favorite in the repertoire of violinists and is frequently performed and recorded, attesting to its enduring appeal and significance in classical music.
The Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor is not just a technical achievement but also a work of great emotional depth. It reflects Bach’s deep understanding of musical structure and his ability to evoke a wide range of emotions through melodic and harmonic means.
There are three movements. With start times in the video:
- 00:00 Vivace
- 03:45 Largo ma non tanto
- 10:45 Allegro
The first movement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, marked as “Vivace,” is a vibrant and dynamic opening to this baroque masterpiece. “Vivace,” meaning lively or brisk, sets the tone for a movement characterized by its energetic pace and rhythmic vitality.
In this movement, the two violins engage in a complex and spirited dialogue, showcasing Bach’s genius in counterpoint and his ability to craft intricate musical conversations. The two solo violin parts are both cooperative and competitive, echoing and challenging each other with similar motifs and themes, which are then developed and varied throughout the movement. This interplay is not just a technical display but also serves to create a rich, layered texture that is both intellectually engaging and emotionally compelling.
The underlying orchestral accompaniment, comprising strings and continuo, provides a harmonious and steady backdrop, against which the two violins weave their elaborate musical narrative. The orchestral part, though more subdued compared to the soloists, plays a crucial role in maintaining the movement’s momentum and adding depth to the overall sound.
One of the key features of this movement is the balance Bach achieves between the individual voices. Each violin part is distinct yet perfectly complements the other, creating a sense of unity and coherence. The interlocking lines of the violins often give the impression of a single, complex voice, a testament to Bach’s mastery in fusing multiple melodic lines into a cohesive whole.
The first movement is also notable for its rhythmic drive and the use of syncopation, which adds to its lively character. The interplay between the rhythmically intricate solo parts and the more straightforward accompaniment creates a dynamic and engaging listening experience.
2. Largo ma non tanto
The second movement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor is marked “Largo ma non tanto,” which translates to “slowly, but not too much.” This movement is a stark contrast to the vivacious first movement, unfolding in a more introspective and emotive manner.
In this movement, the dialogue between the two violins takes on a more lyrical and tender quality. The “Largo ma non tanto” is characterized by its long, flowing lines and expressive melodies, which are beautifully intertwined between the two solo instruments. This interplay creates a sense of intimate conversation, with each violin responding to and complementing the other’s phrases. The movement is often noted for its poignant and soulful quality, showcasing Bach’s ability to evoke deep emotional resonance through his music.
The orchestral accompaniment, while still providing a supportive harmonic foundation, is subdued and restrained, allowing the solo violins to take center stage. The continuo part, typically played by a harpsichord and a cello or bass, underpins the movement with a gentle and continuous harmonic texture, adding to the overall sense of warmth and depth.
One of the remarkable aspects of this movement is Bach’s use of counterpoint in a slower, more reflective context. The overlapping and intertwining melodies of the two violins create a rich tapestry of sound, with each voice maintaining its distinct character while contributing to a unified musical expression. This showcases Bach’s skill in blending individual lines into a harmonious whole, a hallmark of his contrapuntal mastery.
The second movement’s slower tempo and expressive quality make it a showcase for the violinists’ lyrical and expressive capabilities. The movement demands a high level of emotional expression and technical control, as the soloists navigate through the intricate melodies and delicate interplay.
The third movement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, marked “Allegro,” brings the concerto to a lively and spirited conclusion. This movement, characterized by its brisk tempo and energetic rhythm, forms a vivid contrast to the introspective second movement, returning to the dynamic and animated style of the first.
In this “Allegro,” the two violins engage in a vigorous and intricate musical dialogue that is both technically challenging and expressively vibrant. The movement is driven by a rhythmic vitality that propels the music forward, with the two soloists often engaging in rapid exchanges of motifs and themes. These exchanges showcase Bach’s brilliant use of counterpoint, with the two violins weaving in and out of each other’s lines, creating a complex yet coherent musical tapestry.
The orchestral accompaniment in this movement plays a more pronounced role compared to the second movement, adding to the overall energy and momentum. The strings and continuo provide a robust and rhythmic foundation, complementing the vivaciousness of the solo parts. This interaction between the soloists and the ensemble adds to the dynamic and engaging nature of the movement.
One of the notable features of the third movement is its rhythmic drive and the use of contrapuntal techniques. Bach masterfully employs syncopation and rhythmic variation, which, combined with the lively tempo, gives the movement a sense of exhilaration and joy. The interplay between the two violins is not just a display of technical prowess but also an expression of musical exuberance.
This final movement is a testament to Bach’s ability to balance virtuosity with musicality. The rapid passages and complex interweavings of the solo parts demand a high level of technical skill from the performers, while also requiring them to convey the joyful and spirited character of the music.
Katalin Kokas, born on November 22, 1978, in Pécs, Hungary, is an acclaimed violinist and violist. Throughout her career, she has showcased her talent with numerous prestigious orchestras, including the Israel Chamber Orchestra, the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, and the Taiwan Philharmonic. Her educational journey in music began at the Conservatory of Toronto, culminating in a distinguished graduation with honors from the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. Katalin’s personal life is enriched by her marriage to fellow Hungarian violinist Barnabás Kelemen. Together, they have four children: Hanna Kelemen, Gáspár Kelemen, Olga Kelemen, and Zsigmond Kelemen.
Katalin’s early life was deeply influenced by her musically inclined family. Her father, Ferenc Kokas, notably served as the director of the Liszt Ferenc Music School in Kaposvár for many years. Her mother, Ágnes Farkas de Boldogfa, a cello instructor, comes from the noble Hungarian Farkas de Boldogfa family of Zala County. Her maternal grandparents were György Farkas de Boldogfa (1924-1988), a physical education associate professor, gymnastics association president, textbook author, and Ágnes Dulánszky de Doliánszk.
Katalin’s musical journey began at the age of five under Béla Gyánó in Kaposvár. She furthered her studies with György Papp in Pécs and eventually at the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Budapest, where she was mentored by Ferenc Halász and Dénes Kovács starting from age 11. At 16, she received a full scholarship to the Conservatory of Toronto, studying under Lóránd Fenyves, before returning to Budapest to graduate with honors from the Franz Liszt Academy of Music.
In her career, Katalin has made significant contributions to the world of classical music, with six recordings under Hungaroton and BMC records. She is the director and founder of the Kaposvár International Chamber Music Festival, established in 2010, which has hosted illustrious musicians like Joshua Bell, Pekka Kuusisto, Zoltán Kocsis, and Ferenc Rados.
Katalin’s instrument of choice for several years was the Cecilia Stradivarius violin, dating back to 1697, which was loaned to her in 2011 for five years by the now-closed Zelnik István Southeast Asian Gold Museum. This violin, believed to have been brought to Hungary by Archbishop János Pyrker, who acquired several high-quality instruments in Venice, has a mysterious history, particularly regarding its whereabouts post-World War II until its re-emergence in Hungary. Additionally, Katalin plays a Luigi Fabris viola crafted in 1863.
Barnabás Kelemen, born on June 12, 1978, in Budapest, is a renowned Hungarian violinist, chamber musician, and professor. He is the esteemed founder and artistic director of the Festival Academy Budapest and co-founder of the Kelemen Quartet. His exceptional contributions to music have been acknowledged with numerous prestigious awards, including the Liszt, Bartók-Pásztory, and Kossuth Prizes, the Prima Award, and the Gramophone Awards from London. He is also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary.
From an early age, Kelemen was immersed in the world of violin under the guidance of Valéria Baranyai. He later studied at the Liszt Academy of Music under Eszter Perényi, graduating in 2001. Influential figures such as Isaac Stern (1994-2001), Ferenc Rados (1993-), and Zoltán Kocsis (1998-2016) significantly shaped his musical journey, along with the inspiring recordings and films of his grandfather, the legendary gypsy ‘prímás’ violinist Pali Pertis. Kelemen also studied conducting under Finnish maestros Leif Segerstam and Jorma Panula.
Kelemen has established himself as a preeminent artist of his generation, known for his “innate musicality” and technical mastery “only belonging to the greatest,” as described by The Guardian. He received critical acclaim for his performance with the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium, hailed by the New York Times for meeting the composer’s demands “unflappably” and stirring a rousing ovation.
His dynamic and passionate performances have captivated audiences in the world’s most famous concert halls, including Carnegie Hall, the Concertgebouw, and the Royal Festival Hall. Kelemen’s repertoire is remarkably diverse, spanning from early baroque to contemporary works, and he has premiered pieces by eminent composers like Kurtág, Ligeti, and Schnittke.
Kelemen’s collaborations with distinguished ensembles and conductors, such as Lorin Maazel and Sir Neville Marriner, have further solidified his status in the classical music world. Additionally, he is an accomplished conductor, leading orchestras such as the Hungarian National Philharmonic and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.
As a dedicated educator, Kelemen is a professor at the Ferenc Liszt Academy in Budapest and the University of Cologne, where he imparts his expertise in both violin and chamber music.
Kelemen is also a passionate chamber musician, frequently performing with esteemed artists like Joshua Bell and Zoltán Kocsis at major chamber music festivals. In 2009, he formed the Kelemen Quartet with his wife, Katalin Kokas, achieving significant success, including winning grand prizes at international competitions and performing at prestigious venues like the Vienna Musikverein and the London Wigmore Hall.
His illustrious career includes accolades from the world’s greatest violin competitions, such as the Salzburg International Mozart Violin Competition and the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis.
Kelemen’s instruments of choice include the “ex-Dénes Kovács” Guarneri del Gesú violin from 1742, generously loaned by the Hungarian State, and a Januarius Gagliano baroque violin crafted in 1771.
- Katalin Kokas on Wikipedia
- Barnabás Kelemen on Wikipedia
- Concerto for Two Violins (Bach) on Wikipedia
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