Giuseppe Clericetti and Gian Andrea Lodovici
The small-sized town of Cothen, about 100 Kilometres in the North of Weimar and the residence of the Prince of Anhalt-Cothen, became a court of muses under Prince Leopold. In the period between 1717 and 1723 he considered no one more important than Johann Sebastian Bach among his employees. Bach began his employment because of the twenty-third birthday of his new employer on December 10, 1717. A business trip to Berlin, due to the purchase of a harpsichord for the court orchestra, introduced him to the Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg, whom he, not much later, was about to dedicated his six Brandenburg Concertos to. The reason of this dedication is not known. It is imaginable that Bach was hoping for a monetary present or possibly even further professional perspectives.
It is certain, however, that these six concertos were not new compositions resulting from this dedication. It is much more the case that Bach relied on already existing musical material; pieces which he had composed even before his stay in Cothen, and then had rearranged them for Prince Leopold`s soirees.
During the time he was compiling the Brandenburg concertos and dedicating them, Bach`s first wife Maria Barbara died unexpectedly. As luck would have it he married his second wife, Anna Magdalena, in December 1721 - about the same time, his employer entered into the bond of matrimony. This marriage had a much less auspicious effect on Bach than his own espousal, because the new princess was much less dedicated to music than her husband and thus probably helped bring about the circumstance of the composer finally leaving Cothen in 1723. So the Brandenburg Concertos can be viewed as the artistic climax of Bach´s time in Cothen, a brilliant prelude of his farewell from this small residence.
The Concerto No. 5 BWV 1050 occupies a special position in the history of instrumental concertos. Here - for the first time - Bach promotes the harpsichord from a basso continuo to a solo instrument. Although at that time the concert could not yet be referred to as harpsichord concert, however, from a more narrow perspective, the composer`s forward-looking intent becomes, however, obvious. The solo group comprises violin, German flute and harpsichord, where as the last one receives a 65 time long cadence in the first movement, which puts an emphasis on it compared to its solo partners. Apart from that, the Allegro is one of the longest and most complex of all Brandenburg Concertos. The second movement, Affettuoso, resembles very much the character of chamber music, because only the solo groups -without the strings - are heard. The last movement is an Allegro fugue, whose reverie-like, gigue reminding theme is commonly carried by both, the solo instruments as well as the orchestra.
There can be no doubt with the Concerto No. 6 BWV 1051 that it was composed in respective of the musical capabilities and performance of the Court of Cothen. The parts of the violas da gamba are performed in a much simpler way than the violas, which may lead to the conclusion that Bach fulfilled the Prince`s wishes to be able to participate in the performance. Probably also in the case of this concerto all the voices found were written for soloist instrumentation in their original version, which would categorize the work according to modern standards rather as chamber music than a concerto.
It is therefore mostly structure, which bestows this composition with its concerto character. Here there is to be referred to the Ritornello, which reappears several times in the first and third movement, where from all other passages are contrasted as solo parts. The solo parts are most of the time dominated by a viola duet, in the first movement with dynamic energy, in the last in a full-of-verve gigue manner. Bach tries in this concerto to unite two models of Italian instrumental music with each other: trisonata and concerto. He did this in transcribing it for his most favourite instrument, the viola and thus created a viola and viola da gamba concerto.
The time of composition for the BWV 1044, referred to as Tripleconcerto for flute, violin and harpsichord is very controverse. From an instrumental point of view, they could have been a part of the instrumental compositions, from which Bach compiled and selected his six Brandenburg Concertos; the concerto version of "Last Hand" which was bequeathed to us, however, originates in the 1730ies. By then Bach had already left Cothen for a long time. It is certain that the composer also relied on them for his earlier works.
So he worked for this concerto on a prelude and a fugue for harpsichord solo from his time in Weimar (BWV 894) and used as the central movement the slower movement from the organ sonata BWV 527, which also probably originates in a lost chamber music work.
As in his Brandenburg Concerto Bach manages to create a variety of tone colour which even today, about 270 years after its composition has not lost any of its fascination.