The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What if Johann Sebastian Bach had composed more of his popular “Brandenburg” Concertos? What might they look like and sound like? The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble and guest artists from Chicago explore that possibility this Friday night. | May 21, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

Few pieces of Baroque music, or of any classical music in any style from any period for that matter, are more beloved than the six secular “BrandenburgConcertos that Johann Sebastian Bach (below) composed when he was seeking a court appointment.

Bach1

So what is one to make of a concert called “Brandenburg X” this Friday night by the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below), a terrific early music ensemble that uses period instruments and  historically informed performance practices?

Does it mean “X” as in the alphabet or FX (a phonetic stand-in for fantasy-like special “effects”? Or does it mean 10 as in a number or sequence, or perhaps as used in algebra to represent an “unknown”?

Maybe all of those possibilities are correct.

If it sounds like something out of science fiction or something futuristic, well that isn’t far off the mark. That is because Brandenburg X is indeed experimental.

Madison Baroque Ensemble

The concert is this Friday night, May 23, at 7:30 p.m. in Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street, on Madison’s near west side, near Randall Elementary School.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

The performers are Peter Lekx and Marika Fischer Hoyt on baroque violas; Eric Miller, Phillip W. Serna and Russell Wagner on bass viols; Eric Miller and Anton TenWolde on Baroque cellos); Marilyn Fung on violone; and Emily J. Katayama and Max Yount on harpsichords.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble composite

Tickets are available at the door only: Admission is $20; $10 for students.

The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble and New Comma Baroque of Chicago (below) will explore Johann Sebastian Bach’s music for the Viola da Braccio, the Violoncello, and the Viola da Gamba.

New Comma Baroque

The program includes: Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B-flat major, BWV 1051 (heard in a YouTube video at the bottom); Brandenburg Concerto “No. 12” (arranged by Bruce Haynes and Susie Napper); the Sonata in G Major, BWV 1027/1039, in an arrangement for 3 violas da gamba; the Concerto in C Major for Two Harpsichords, BWV 1061a; and the Brandenburg Concerto “No. 7” in C minor, BWV 1029, as arranged by Duncan Druce.

Here are some program-like comments written by performer Anton TenWolde (below):

“We are very excited about our collaboration with the New Comma Baroque, based in Evanston, Illinois. The program is entitled “Brandenburg X: J.S. Bach’s Exploration of the Viola da Braccio (arm viola), the Violoncello and the Viola da Gamba (leg viola).”

“The idea for this concert was conceived when several members of our two groups met last spring to perform the sixth Brandenburg concerto with the Bach Collegium of Fort Wayne, Indiana. We all said after that concert: “This is wonderful! We wish Bach would have written more for this combination of instruments.”

Well, of course he did not, so we opted for the next best thing: compositions Bach could have written or arranged for these lower string instruments (violas, violas da gamba, cello, violone and harpsichord, without violins).

The program is set around three “Brandenburg” concertos.

We start with a “real” Brandenburg Concerto, No. 6, BWV1051 for two violas, two violas da gamba, cello, violone and harpsichord. This is followed by an arrangement by Bruce Haynes, “Brandenburg Concerto No. 12” created for Montreal Baroque, completely based on compositions by J.S. Bach. It incorporates Bach’s arias “Nur jedem das Seine”, BWV163; “Lass mein Herz die Munze sein, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott“, BWV80; “Wie selig sind doch die, die Gott im Munde tragen”, and the Sinfonia from “Gleich wie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fallt,” BWV18. It is scored for 2 cellos, 2 violas da gamba, and basso.

The last “Brandenburg” concerto (Number “7”) is scored as Brandenburg No. 6: two violas, two violas da gamba, cello, violone, and harpsichord. It is based on the G minor sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord (BWV 1029) and was arranged by Duncan Druce.

Some may frown on the practice of arranging Bach’s works for different instrumentations, but it is good to remember that Bach frequently re-arranged his own work, and that of other composers. Numerous cantata movements show up in different places, in different arrangements, sometimes in different keys. In fact, movements of the first Brandenburg concerto show up in three different cantatas, and Bach adapted the fourth Brandenburg into a harpsichord concerto. So the precedent has been set by the great master himself.

In addition to the Brandenburgs we will be performing Bach’s Sonata in G-Major, BWV1027/1039 arranged for three bass viols. This work originated as a trio sonata for two flutes and basso continuo (BWV1039), which Bach recast as a solo sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord (BWV1027).

The program is rounded out with the Concerto for two Harpsichords, BWV1061a., as originally composed without an orchestral accompaniment.

-Anton TenWolde

anton tenwolde

For more information (608) 238-5126 or visit www.wisconsinbaroque.org or www.newcommabaroque.org.

Do you have a favorite “Brandenburg” Concerto?

The Ear wonders: Why doesn’t a compete cycle of J.S. Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concertos get performed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, the Madison Early Music Festival, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or the Madison Symphony Orchestra? It is an annual holiday treat every year in New York City from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center — which uses modern instruments — and The Ear thinks it would be a big draw in Madison.

The Ear loves all of them, but especially prizes the busily virtuosic and exciting keyboard part in Brandenburg Concerto No. 5.

And you?

The Ear wants to hear.

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2 Comments »

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