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Bach And Vivaldi

by George Bozarth
Co-Artistic Director, Musique du Jour Presents

Last weekend I mentioned that, in addition to arranging a four-violin concerto from Antonio Vivaldi’s popular L’estro Armonico, op. 3, for four harpsichords and strings, Bach “reduced” three concertos from this set for unaccompanied harpsichord, and two more for organ. He most likely prepared these “reductions” during the period July 1713–July 1714, while he was serving as organist to the court of the Duke of Weimar and learning the new Italian style stemming from sunny Venice. I’ve placed “reduced” and “reductions” in quotation marks because, while fitting the full tutti onto just a keyboard, Bach went further and added more contrapuntal lines to Vivaldi’s texture. Some of the concertos he transposed into different keys.

Bach vivaldi and handel

The Vivaldi is a virtuoso piece well played on the piccolo by William Helm. The recording springs to life with Glenn Gould's performance of the Piano Concerto No 1. It is a bright, percussive performance of stunning virtuosity and great velocity.


Canaletto – The Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice

Canaletto-The-Bucintoro-Venice
  1. Online purchase or streaming (Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music, Deezer, Google Play): Information: https://ww.
  2. On this collection of Bach and Vivaldi Violin Concertos, you get Pinchas Zukerman conducting and playing violin with the English Chamber Orchestra and members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. (Violinist Kenneth Sillito is the other featured soloist on the two Vivaldi Concertos for Two Violins.) This is an excellent collection for sure,.
  3. Commissioned Bach and Walther to arrange Vivaldi’s concertos and his own works for organ and harpsichord. This interpretation is further supported by the fact that Bach and Walther did not seem to have arranged the same concertos.13 More interesting than Bach’s reason for transcribing Vivaldi is Bach’s.

Canaletto-Veduta-del-Palazzo-Ducale-Venice

CONCERTO No. 3 in G major, RV 310 —> CONCERTO in F major, BWV 978

  1. Allegro
  2. Largo
  3. Allegro

A scalar motive, easy to hear when it returns, opens the ritornello. The solo violin offers up echos and sequences. Standing in stark contrast is the minor-key Largo, with lyrical wisps and arabesques in the solo violin supported by bleak orchestral chords (“Winter”?). Active life is rejoined in the Allegro Finale, which is all hustle and bustle, with the bass charging forward, echo effects and engaging syncopations in the upper strings, and the soloist showing off fast-note virtuosity.

Vivaldi: Performed by Elizabeth Wallfisch, violin, with Tafelmusik, by Jeanne Lamond
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6b7WH9Le-E

Bach

Watch how Bach adds to the left-hand imitations of the right hand’s scalar motive, to increase the movement’s dynamism.

Bach: Performed by the elegant young French harpsichordist and organist Benjamin Alard
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uv3sUq-GJe0

CONCERTO No. 9 in D major, RV 230 —> CONCERTO in D major, BWV 972

  1. Allegro
  2. Larghetto
  3. Allegro

For this work we’ll listen to two recordings: Fabio Biondi playing the Vivaldi and Richard Egarr performing the Bach. The Allegro is announced with a group of well-spaced, snappy dotted rhythms open to interpretation — is it a slow introduction (Biondi) or an assertive overture (Egarr)? The same interpretative options are available for the central Larghetto, as witness our two recordings — is it soulfully sad, or is it melancholy yet strongly anchored? On the harpsichord Egarr’s Finale is a bold burst of sound, replete with bounding chords and improvised trills; with Biondi’s orchestra, it is a spritely, dance-like dash-to-the-finish, with quick minor-key inflections.

Vivaldi: Performed by violinist Fabio Biondi with Europa Galante
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ymn1i-kMn2M

Bach: Performed by the English harpsichordist Richard Egarr, playing on a 1640 Ruckers harpsichord
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CACAlhcmKPM

As Egarr notes, “Bach added an interesting part for the left hand in the third movement, and in the first movement he fitted a whole string orchestra onto one harpsichord, while also making the music more appropriate for keyboard.” For a demonstration of how Bach did this, see Richard Egarr’s chat at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWYCEqH3RfE&t=os

CONCERTO No. 12 in E major, RV 265 —> CONCERTO in C major, BWV 976

  1. Allegro
  2. Largo (Vivaldi) —> Largo e spiccato (Bach)
  3. Allegro

The chipper ritornello Allegro, with its bouncing repeated notes, is always welcome on each reappearance. The solo violin appears with a bit of the opening motive in sequence before weaving its own extensions of fancy fiddle-work, specializing in showy cross-string playing. The Largo features contemplative dueting between soloist and first violin, often in stepwise sequences, ending in warm, secure cadences. In The English Concert’s interpretation the ritornello of the Allegro final has a galloping feeling, setting off the soloist’s rapid-fire displays of virtuosity. Yet, all ends quietly.

Vivaldi: Performed by violinist Simon Standage with Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bGxZMUoBh8

Bach: Performed by Robert Hill on a harpsichord built by his brother, Keith Hill, with a scanning score that allows you to see, as well as hear, the step dynamics in the tutti sections using the two keyboards, the brilliant passage-work in the solo sections, as well as how a fine harpsichordist ornaments the melodic lines, inserts poignant hesitations (especially in the Largo), and employs a wonderful variety of arpeggiation (or rolling) of full chords to create lush “orchestral sounds.” After hearing Vivaldi’s original Finale, you’ll be amazed at the incredible arrays of left-hand passage-work that Bach adds to drive the movement forward at a manic pace. You’ll need to take some deep breaths after the roiling, then crashing climax! In Bach’s hands (and Hill’s performance) Vivaldi’s quiet closing takes on a certain nobility of accomplishment.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xL0LLFcJENg

During his years in Weimar, Bach also transcribed two of Vivaldi’s double violin concertos for the solo organ. We shall explore these works next week.

Bach And Vivaldi

Performed by Martha Goldstein (harpsichord)
Performed by Martha Goldstein (harpsichord)
Performed by Martha Goldstein (harpsichord)
Problems playing these files? See media help.
Performed by Radek Materka (piano)
Performed by Radek Materka (piano)
Performed by Radek Materka (piano)
Problems playing these files? See media help.

The Italian Concerto, BWV 971, originally titled Concerto nach Italienischen Gusto (Concerto in the Italian taste), is a three-movement concerto for two-manual harpsichord solo composed by Johann Sebastian Bach and published in 1735 as the first half of Clavier-Übung II (the second half being the French Overture). The Italian Concerto has become popular among Bach's keyboard works, and has been widely recorded both on the harpsichord and the piano.

Context[edit]

An Italian concerto relies upon the contrasting roles of different groups of instruments in an ensemble; Bach imitates this effect by creating contrasts using the forte and pianomanuals of a two-manual harpsichord throughout the piece. In fact, along with the French Overture and some of the Goldberg Variations, this is one of the few works by Bach which specifically require a 2-manual harpsichord.

Bach vivaldi concerto in a minor

Bach also transcribed Italian concertos by Vivaldi and others for solo harpsichord (BWV 972–987), and for solo organ or pedal harpsichord (BWV 592–596).

Bach And Vivaldi Concerto For 4 Pianos

Movements[edit]

The Italian Concerto consists of three movements:

The two lively F major outer movements, in ritornello style, frame a florid arioso-style movement in D minor, the relative minor.

References[edit]


External links[edit]

  • Italian Concerto, BWV 971: performance by the Netherlands Bach Society (video and background information)
  • Italian Concerto, BWV 971: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project

Did Bach Know Vivaldi

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