A Musical Surprise from Johann Sebastian Bach

“Joy, sorrow, tears, lamentation, laughter – to all these music gives voice, but in such a way that we are transported from the world of unrest to a world of peace, and see reality in a new way, as if we were sitting by a mountain lake and contemplating hills and woods and clouds in the tranquil and fathomless water.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

With my children and their friends running me around in circles this half-term I almost gave up on the idea of publishing a new blog post. But then I made a discovery, and I wanted to share it. By the way, if all you guys and gals out there already know about this gem do feel free to tell me…

I thought I knew all Bach’s violin concertos. I often play them when I practice. His Double Violin Concerto in D minor BWV 1043 is so well known, it seemed odd that he would have written a Triple Violin Concerto that is virtually unheard of.

However, the other day as I was browsing through YouTube that is exactly what I came across!

It was the 2nd movement being performed by Sir Yehudi Menuhin and David Oistrakh’s musical dynasty, (his son, Igor and grandson Valery), in Moscow. I was intrigued. It’s not in mainstream repertoire, or surely I would have heard of this piece before?

So I did a little digging, and unearthed the reconstructed Concerto for 3 Violins in D Major BWV 1064R.  This wasn’t published as an original Bach violin concerto; it’s a reconstruction of the Concerto for 3 Harpsichords, strings and Continuo in C Major, BWV 1064.

Bach - Triple Violin Concerto BWV 1064R

Here’s where the uncertainty creeps in. Whether Bach used one of his own earlier (now lost) violin concertos or one composed by Vivaldi is unclear. But the point is, there actually was a violin concerto used as the basis for BWV1064, and the piece has been transcribed back to the violin in the key of D Major to give us that wonderful original sound.

Whilst it may not be as melodic and lyrical as Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, the Triple Concerto has a certain charm, and so as far as I’m concerned it’s a case of ‘better late than never’.

All of Bach’s harpsichord concertos (with the exception of the Brandenburg concerto) are thought to be arrangements made from earlier concertos for melodic instruments probably written in Köthen. In many cases, only the harpsichord version has survived.

Here is the Freiburger Barockorchester, on period instruments, performing the entire concerto:

Christopher Hogwood Transcription for chamber ensemble musicians.

The original published version for harpsichord with Hogwood, Moroney and Rousset:

I also really like it arranged for 3 pianos:

Again, it just goes to show how versatile and universal Bach’s music is that it suits so many different instruments.  See my earlier post about the Chaconne for solo violin.

With a plethora of top violinists recording Bach, it’s hard to imagine that the early recordings of Bach’s violin music were made back in 1904, when Fritz Kreisler first performed the Prelude in E and ‘Air on the G String’ in Berlin. The Double Violin Concerto was recorded by Kreisler and Efram Zimbalist in January 1915, the first time a complete recording of a major work by Bach was made, and also the first time that two leading violinists played together in a recorded performance.

With such a large body of work it’s hardly surprising that Bach’s music continues to offer surprises, and I’d like to toast to many more to come.

I must scoot Bach to doing the housework now, humming as I go…

“No one can give a definition of the soul. But we know what it feels like. The soul is the sense of something higher than ourselves, something that stirs in us thoughts, hopes, and aspirations which go out to the world of goodness, truth and beauty. The soul is a burning desire to breathe in this world of light and never to lose it – to remain children of light.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

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