Johann Sebastian Bach, Concerto

nach italienischem Gusto (2009)


  • (Italian Concerto, BWV 971)
    Instrumentation for Ensemble

    clarinet (B)
    2 horns
    2 violins
    double bass
  • duration c. 15 min.
  • world premiere on 31 May 2009 in Berkeley (California) by musicians of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, conductor: Kent Nagano
  • audio sample
    Berkeley Akademie Ensemble, Kent Nagano
    I. mp3
    II. mp3
    III. mp3
  • PDF (1st page)


Ornamentation as a lieu of liberty

During his time in Weimar, J.S. Bach had already dealt intensively with the form of the "Concerto" and transcribed six violin concertos by Antonio Vivaldi for harpsichord. In 1735 (two decades later), he composed the "Italian Concerto", creating a synthesis of the adopted art form's playful figures and his own counterpoint. Bach requires a harpsichord with two manuals and identifies their usage with the forte and piano markings. The formal structure shows a clear distinction between the "tutti" and "solo" passages.

In arranging the Concerto for chamber orchestra, I did not intend a historically oriented transcription but rather a translation of the time-honored text using the "vocabulary" of our time, without changing the original contents or the idea behind the music. In the end an interpretation of the work is thus created to some extent, and insofar there are parallels in the approach of the task to the famous instrumentation of Bach's "Ricercar" by Anton Webern.

As an underlying principle of the whole adaptation, the musical phrases (most of which extend over several measures) are always presented by several instruments in alternation. This applies to both leading and accompanying voices. As a result, the structure of the composition is divided into short and very short motives and thus becomes quite colorful and three-dimensional. Even though each voice of Bach's original work is always played by several instruments, their sounds are rarely blended. I have only used colorful mixtures for trills and other ornaments, including ones that Bach wrote out, because these seem to be a lieu where the composer concedes the most liberty to the interpreter or arranger.


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