MuseData: Johann Sebastian Bach

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Brandenburg Concertos

Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos are demonstrations par excellence of both virtuosity and interplay between most of instruments available to Bach's time in Thuringia, where Bach was raised and held all his posts prior to moving to Leipzig in 1723. He composed them while living in Cöthen, which offered few of these resources but may have prompted Bach to show how many different combinations of sounds could be found in the broader palette of sonorities in use within a day's travel from the court.

Work No. Catalogue No. Genre / Instruments ? Key Score (PDF) Concordances
No. 1 BWV 1046 Concerto / 2 Hn, Ob, Bn; VPiccolo, 2V, Va, Vc, Vne Gr, Cem F Major BWV 1046/3 = BWV 207a/1. BWV 1046/7 = BWV 207a/5a.
No. 1a BWV 1046a Concerto / 2 Hn, 3 Ob, Bn; 2V, Va, Vc, Cem F Major BWV 1046a BWV 1046a/1 = BWV 52/1
No. 2 BWV 1047 Concerto / Tr, Rec, Ob, Vn; 2V, Va, Vc, Vne, Cem F Major BWV 1047
No. 3 BWV 1048 Concerto / 3V, 3Va, 3Vc, Vne, Cem G Major BWV 1048 BWV 1048/1 = BWV 174/1
No. 4 BWV 1049 Concerto / VPr, Rec, 2Vn, Va, Vc, Vne, Cem G Major BWV 1049 BWV 1049 = BWV 1057
No. 5 BWV 1050 Concerto / Fl, VPr, Cem concertato; V, Va, Vc, Vne, Cem D Major
No. 5a BWV 1050a Concerto / Fl, VPr, Cem concertato; V, Va, Vne D Major BWV 1050a
No. 6 BWV 1051 Concerto / 2Va, 2Va da gamba, Vc, Vne, Cem B Major BWV 1051

Orchestral Suites

Bach's orchestral suites come down to our time in editions based on third-party manuscripts datable to various years between 1724 and 1739. Those who have studied them recently lean to the view that, like the Brandenburgs, they were composed during Bach's Cöthen years (1717-1723) with Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen in mind. It is not clear, however, that he intended him as a set. The attribution of a putative fifth orchestra suite, BWV 1070, is widely discredited. BWV 1071, which is effectively a suite, corresponds to BWV 1046a, the alternative version of the first Brandenburg Concerto.

Each suite has a distinctly different character and each calls for a different ensemble. The treble wind in No. 2 is variously claimed to have been an oboe or a violin, although the flute and viola parts for it are in Bach's hand on one manuscript set in Berlin. We know that Bach sometimes modified one of another aspect (e.g. key) of individual works in his instrumental collections to meld the whole into a coherent entity. This may not have been the case with the ouvertures (as the orchestral suites were originally named), but the latitude to make changes is ever-present.

Collection, Work No. Cat. No. Genre / Instruments Key Earliest copy date Score
Orchestral Suite, No. 1 BWV 1066 Suite / 2Ob, Bn, 2V, Va, Vc, Cb, Continuo C Major Example Example
Orchestral Suite, No. 2 BWV 1067 Suite / Fl, 2V, Va, Vc, Cb, Continuo B Minor Example Example
Orchestral Suite, No. 3 BWV 1068 Suite / 3Tr, Timp, 2Ob, 2V, Va, Vc, Cb, Continuo D Major Example Example
orchestral Suite, No. 4 BWV 1069 Suite / 3Tr, Timp, 3Pb, Bn, 2V, Va, Vc, Cb, Continuo D Major Example Example

Well-tempered Clavier

Two- and Three-part Inventions

J. S. Bach: Invention No. 4 [BWV 775] from the holograph manuscript, Bach P 610, Berlin, Deutsche Staatsbibliothek.

Bach's two-part inventions (BWV 772-786) constituted one set of several that J. S. Bach composed for his gifted son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784). The term invention is traced to the solo violin pieces Op. 10 (1713) by Francesco Antonio Bonporti (1672-1749), a Trentine composer. Bach uses the Latin title Inventio, reminding us of his command of the language, which he taught in at least one of his posts in addition to teaching music. Each three-voice work that follows in the same collection was likewise called a Sinfonia.

Work No. Catalogue No. Genre / Instrument Key Score
No. 1 BWV 772 Invention / harpsichord C Major BWV 772
No. 1a BWV 772a Invention / harpsichord C Major
No. 2 BWV 773 Invention / harpsichord C Minor BWV 773
No. 3 BWV 774 Invention / harpsichord D Major BWV 774
No. 4 BWV 775 Invention / harpsichord D Minor BWV 775
No. 5 BWV 776 Invention / harpsichord E Major BWV 776
No. 6 BWV 777 Invention / harpsichord E Major BWV 777
No. 7 BWV 778 Invention / harpsichord E Minor BWV 778
No. 8 BWV 779 Invention / harpsichord F Major BWV 779
No. 9 BWV 780 Invention / harpsichord F Minor BWV 780
No. 10 BWV 781 Invention / harpsichord G Major BWV 781
No. 11 BWV 782 Invention / harpsichord G Minor BWV 782
No. 12 BWV 783 Invention / harpsichord A Major BWV 783
No. 13 BWV 784 Invention / harpsichord A Minor BWV 784
No. 14 BWV 785 Invention / harpsichord Bb Major BWV 785
No. 15 BWV 786 Invention / harpsichord B Minor BWV 786

The harmonic cycle that Bach has constructed in the collection as a whole foreshadows the tonally more complete cycles of the two sets of paired preludes and fugues called the Well-Tempered Clavier. They appeared in 1722 and 1744. It was not enough for young Friedemann to be able to play the pieces. He was being called to understand the cyclic possibilities that inhered in tonal relationships. This was a dominant focus in music theory of the time. Johann David Heinichen's Circle of Fifths was first formalized in 1711 and has remained the dominant scheme in Western music theory.

The three-part inventions, or sinfonie, follow the same cyclical organization in the aggregate. It has been suggested that the intended relationship between the inventions and sinfonias was to be performed in pairs, like the prelude-fugue sets of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Given their shared cycle of keys, Invention 1 might be followed by Sinfonia No. 1 and so forth.

Work No. Catalogue No. Genre / Instrument Key Score
No. 1 BWV 787 Sinfonia / harpsichord C Major BWV 787
No. 2 BWV 788 Sinfonia / harpsichord C Minor BWV 788
No. 3 BWV 789 Sinfonia / harpsichord D Major BWV 789
No. 4 BWV 790 Sinfonia / harpsichord D Minor BWV 790
No. 5 BWV 791 Sinfonia / harpsichord E Major BWV 791
No. 6 BWV 792 Sinfonia / harpsichord E Major BWV 792
No. 7 BWV 793 Sinfonia / harpsichord E Minor BWV 793
No. 8 BWV 794 Sinfonia / harpsichord F Major BWV 794
No. 9 BWV 795 Sinfonia / harpsichord F Minor
No. 10 BWV 796 Sinfonia / harpsichord G Major
No. 11 BWV 797 Sinfonia / harpsichord G Minor BWV 797
No. 12 BWV 798 Sinfonia / harpsichord A Major
No. 13 BWV 799 Sinfonia / harpsichord A Minor
No. 14 BWV 800 Sinfonia / harpsichord Bb Major BWV 800
No. 15 BWV 801 Sinfonia / harpsichord B Minor