Music of the Week: March 11, 2022: Johann Sebastian Bach – Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major

Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050 mvt1 Allegro D°,N Harnoncourt

Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050 mvt1 Allegro D°,N Harnoncourt

J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos are a collection of “Six Concertos for Several Instruments” (1721) that Bach, at the age of 36, sent to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg, presumably in the hope of finding new employment in Berlin. It is not known whether Christian Ludwig ever responded to Bach, and in fact, the Brandenburg Concertos may have never been performed during Bach’s lifetime except on individual occasions at the Köthen court.

For many decades, the original scores remained forgotten in the library of the Margrave of Brandenburg and later in the Königliche Bibliothek Berlin. It was only in 1851 that they were published and thereafter became publicly known and performed, though by that time, several of the original instruments Bach had featured in his compositions were no longer in use.

Regarded as an example of humanity’s most outstanding cultural achievements, a part of the Second Brandenburg Concerto was coded on NASA’s Voyager Golden Record in a version performed by the Munich Bach Orchestra under German star conductor and baroque music specialist Karl Richter. (You can hear and see Richter conducting and solo-performing in the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto here.)

Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major is scored for flute, solo violin, harpsichord, and strings, with the harpsichord given a unique prominence. It is regarded as the first keyboard concerto in history—elevating the harpsichord from its traditional supportive role to a most astounding solo capacity.

The recording of the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto in D major chosen here, a performance by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Concentus Musicus, is surely among the best versions one can find. Harnoncourt was an exceptional Austrian cellist, conductor, and pioneer of the Early Music movement that sought to reactivate authentic historical instruments and performance practices.

Please listen with a headset or quality loudspeakers to fully appreciate the music. Pay particular attention to the cadenza of the harpsichord solo toward the end of the first movement—an incredibly virtuosic and mesmerizing section that can transport the listener into new mental “soundspaces.”


Johann Sebastian Bach on Wikipedia

Nikolaus Harnoncourt