Bach’s Unopened Résumé: Brandenburg Concerto No. 5

In each of J.S. Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos, a new and distinctive cast of musical “characters” take the stage. They spring to life and converse in the thrilling drama of the concerto grosso, a popular Baroque form in which groups of solo instruments interact with the full (“grosso”) ensemble. In the Brandenburg Concertos, Bach took this form, developed by Italian composers like Vivaldi, to bold new heights. Concerto No. 5 in D …

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Bach’s Unopened Résumé: Brandenburg Concerto No. 4

In each of Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos we meet a different cast of musical characters. The First Concerto opens the door in magnificent style with a large, “symphonic” group, including horns with their connotations of the hunt. The Second brings high voices to the forefront with recorder, oboe, violin, and trumpet lines which soar exuberantly into the stratosphere. In the Third, the strings weave a thrilling counterpoint. It’s important to remember that these …

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Bach’s Unopened Résumé: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3

They’re now regarded as some of the most exceptional and groundbreaking works to come out of the Baroque period. But J.S. Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos were initially the result of an unsuccessful job search. In 1721, Bach was employed as music director for Prince Leopold of Anthalt-Cöthen. When it became clear that the Prince’s new wife was not a music lover, Bach began to look for other employment. The Brandenburg Concertos, probably composed …

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Bach’s Unopened Résumé: Brandenburg Concerto No. 2

Right now, somewhere in the vast, interstellar expanse beyond the edge of our solar system, NASA’s Voyager 1 space probe, launched on September 5, 1977, continues to wander into the eternity of deep space. Onboard the small, brave craft is a Golden Record documenting the fragile existence of humanity on our pale blue dot in the cosmic sea. The opening musical track on the Golden Record is the first movement of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major, performed by Karl Richter and the Munich …

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Bach’s Unopened Résumé: Brandenburg Concerto No. 1

They’ve been called, “the most complex and artistically successful failed job application in recorded history.” 300 years after their composition, J.S. Bach’s six monumental “Brandenburg” Concertos are regarded as some of the greatest and most groundbreaking works of the Baroque period. But surprisingly, they came about as a result of seemingly practical, even mundane concerns. Around 1721, Bach was worrying about his job security. The new wife of his patron, Prince Leopold of Anthalt-Cöthen, was …

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Music and the Heartbeat

Repetition is based on body rhythms, so we identify with the heartbeat, or with walking, or with breathing. -Karlheinz Stockhausen In 2008, researchers at the University of Illinois medical school discovered that the 103 beat-per-minute pulse of the Bee Gees’ 1977 disco hit Stayin’ Alive provided the perfect tempo for resuscitating the heart through CPR. From the satisfying groove of a disco or techno beat to a Bach Brandenburg Concerto, musical rhythm has long been …

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Mendelssohn’s Octet: Youth Meets Maturity

If you’re beyond your teenage years, take a moment and try to remember what you were doing when you were 16 years old. Then listen to Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20 and consider that this is the music of a 16-year-old. It brims with youthful joy, virtuosity, vitality and a playful sense of delight in showing off. At the same time, there isn’t a hint of immaturity in this music. …

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