About the album
J.S. Bach - The Brandenburg Concertos
In 1718 Bach travelled to Berlin to order a new harpsichord for his patron, Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Presumably, it was during this visit that he came into contact with the margrave of Brandenburg. Christian Ludwig von Brandenburg (1677-1734) resided at the Royal court in Berlin and maintained his own music Kapelle. Bach is known to have performed with the Margrave’s Kapelle during one of his visits to Berlin. It was perhaps on this occasion that he was commissioned to compose a set of concertos for this orchestra. Though a commission from such an influential man as the margrave of Brandenburg must have been an exceptional honour for Bach, it was quite some time before the work was completed. In fact, it was two and a half years later that Bach sent the magrave his Six concerts avec plusieurs instruments, works that have gone down in history as the Brandenburg Concertos.
These concertos may never have been performed by Brandenburg’s Kapelle. When Christian Ludwig died, his ensemble comprised a mere six musicians, too few to perform the Brandenburg Concertos. There are, in addition, reasons to believe that Bach may not have composed these concertos specially for the margrave of Brandenburg, but rather that they were older compositions which he revised and collected in one bundle. On close inspection, the score appears to have been hastily written and in part copied from previous compositions. Indeed, several of these concertos do survive in earlier versions, revealing before reaching their current state these works already had a long history. Viewed from a different perspective, the score’s notation is extremely precise with regard to pages, the number of bars, the number of notes, and so forth. The book Bach en het getal (Bach and numbers), by Van Houten and Kasbergen, Holland Walburgpers, 1985), demonstrates that the score is permeated with number symbolism, even possibly numerically conveying the dates of Bach’s birth and death.
It is currently thought that Bach initially intended the Brandenburg Concertos for the use of the Köthen court Kapelle, of which he was Kapellmeister from 1717 to 1723. The settings in which these works were performed in Kothen can be deduced from the financial records of Prince Leopold’s court. The virtuoso, solo parts would have been performed by the violinist Spieß, the oboist Rose, the flautists Freitag and Wurdig, and the trumpeter Schreiber or Krahl. The remaining court Cammer-Musici (Chamber Musicians) were the violinist Marcus, the cellist Linigke, the viola da gambist Abel and bassoonist Torlee. One must realize that in those days musicians were generally proficient with one or more secondary instruments in addition to their main instrument. Bach himself, for example, would undoubtedly have been the harpsichord soloist in the Fifth Concerto and have performed the first viola part in the Sixth Concerto.
The other viola part was most probably played by the concert-master, Joseph Spieß, and the flautists would have taken the recorder parts for their account. Perhaps, Prince Leopold joined in as second viola da gambist. This would explain the simplicity of the viola da gamba parts: though the first viola da gamba comes to the forefront as soloist in parts of the first movement, it would naturally have been contrary to the etiquette of the time that Herr Abel musically overshadowed Prince Leopold.
The broad setting of the FIRST Brandenburg Concerto indicates that it must have been com- posed for a special occasion for which additional musicians were hired. The horns play a particularly striking role. As there were no hornists in the court Kapelle of Kothen, itinerant hornists were often contracted to perform these parts. The virtuosity of the horn parts and the hunt motifs with which the first movement opens were something new and indicate that the conception of the instrument as being an accessory to the hunt began to give way as it gained acceptance in ‘art-music’. In this concerto the horns are equal partners with the other soloists: three oboes, bassoon and the violino piccolo. The part for this last-mentioned instrument (a somewhat smaller violin tuned a minor third higher) was added in a later version of the work. The third movement (allegro), like the second, in which the violino piccolo plays a richly soloistic role, was also composed at a later date. Furthermore, a Polonaise, a dance-form that was gaining in popularity at the time, was added after the original close. In short, Bach com- bined in this work the three-movement concerto form with that of a short suite.
The SECOND Brandenburg Concerto employs a group of four equally prominent soloists. In this heterogeneous concertino, consisting of violin, recorder, oboe and trumpet, the trumpet part merits special mention for seldom before had the instrument been employed with such virtuosity. While in the first movement the four solo instruments converse as a group of individuals, presenting the various motifs in alternation with each other, the strands of the recorder, oboe, violin and continuo parts in the slow movement are finely interwoven to act as a single instrument. In the third movement, the entrance of the trumpet draws again attention to the special place of this instrument in the solo group.
The THIRD Brandenburg Concerto is a true concerto for strings: three groups of three violins, three violas and three cellos with basso continuo, are presented in the first movement as equal partners. The various motifs are sounded in solos by all the parts. This concerto is singular in that it lacks a middle movement, the first and last movements being joined by a mere two chords. With its virtuoso and exuberantly furious sixteenth-note passages, the last movement stands in stark contrast to the more introverted first movement.
Virtuosity reigns supreme in the FOURTH Brandenburg Concerto, whose ensemble of soloists comprises two recorders and a violin. Unlike the previous concertos, here the concertino is divided: the violin part is independent of that of the two recorders. In the score, Bach refers to these two later instruments as due Fiauti d’Echo. This is probably in reference to their role in the second movement in which they interject small echoes interrupting the melody. In order to realize this effect it is necessary that the recorders be positioned at a distance from the orchestra, thus enhancing the exciting spatial effect in their dialogue with the orchestra. The recorder, an instrument which was then considered the conveyor of a pastoral, erotic atmosphere, is the perfect instrument a for this echo effect, something which in this work is could be seen as a symbol for unrequited love.
Of the FIFTH Brandenburg Concerto, like the First, a Frühfassung has survived. One notable difference between the two versions, however, is that 65 measures have been added to the harpsichord’s solo cadenza. This is the first lengthy, fully notated solo cadenza in music history. Although the flute and violin also participate in the concertino, because of the great independence shown by the harpsichord this concerto has more the nature of a harpsichord concerto. Still, the equality between the harpsichord and other solo instruments seems reaffirmed in the slow movement for the cello does not participate in the basso continuo. The extraordinary virtuosity of the harpsichord part and cadenza must be seen as Bach adding his personal signature to the work.
The SIXTH Brandenburg Concerto is scored exclusively for low strings divided into two groups: two violas with cello, and two viola da gambas with double bass. Johann Mattheson, a contemporary of Bach, characterized B-flat major, the key of this work, as being ‘sehr divertissant und prachtig’ [highly amusing and exquisite]. Indeed, the extreme contrast between the lovely melodic strains of the violas and the pounding accompaniment of the other voices does indeed give rise to a smile. The viola da gambas are silenced in the slow movement, there where the violas attain their highest expressiveness. The last movement, in contrast, blusters with the virtuosity of the two violas and the cello.
For this performance of the Brandenburg Concertos we have sought to effect a compromise between the Mendelssohnian approach to earlier music, particularly that of Bach (Mendelssohn attempted to ‘bring up to date’ early music for the listener of his day), and at the same time to take account of the advances made in authentic performance practice. Additionally, both the ensemble and recording engineers made every effort to give this recording the character of a live performance.
Jan Willem de Vriend
[Translation: John Lyden]
Brandenburgse concerten die klinken als een live optreden
Voor deze uitvoering van de Brandenburgse concerten van Johann Sebastian Bach zocht Jan Willem de Vriend met zijn Combattimento Consort naar een gulden middenweg. Hij vond het de kunst om een compromis te zoeken tussen de manier waarop Mendelssohn oude muziek - vooral die van Bach - aanpaste aan zijn tijd, en een manier om toch rekening te houden met de ontwikkelingen in de authentieke uitvoeringspraktijken. Waarbij het streven was om deze opname het karakter van een live optreden te geven. En dat is De Vriend met zijn ensemble goed gelukt.
In 1718 reisde Bach naar Berlijn om een nieuw klavecimbel te bestellen voor zijn mecenas, Prins Leopold van Anhalt-Köthen. Waarschijnlijk is hij tijdens dat bezoek in contact gekomen met de markgraaf van Brandenburg, Christian Ludwig von Brandenburg. Deze verkeerde op dat moment aan het hof van Berlijn en had zijn eigen muziekkapel. Het is bekend dat Bach tijdens een van zijn bezoekjes aan Berlijn met de kapel van de markgraaf had opgetreden. Het kan zijn dat hem toen gevraagd is om een serie concerten voor het orkest van de markgraaf te componeren. Hoewel een opdracht van zo'n invloedrijk man als de markgraaf van Brandenburg een buitengewone eer voor Bach geweest moet zijn, duurde het nogal lang voordat hij het werk afmaakte. In feite was het tweeënhalf jaar later, toen Bach de markgraaf zijn zes concerten stuurde; werken die als de Brandenburgse concerten de geschiedenis zouden ingaan. De concerten werden helaas nooit door de Brandenburgse kapel uitgevoerd, want toen de markgraaf overleed, bestond zijn ensemble nog maar uit zes musici, te weinig voor de concerten van Bach.
Sinds de oprichting in 1982 door Jan Willem de Vriend heeft het Combattimento Consort Amsterdam zich onder zijn leiding ontwikkeld tot een hecht ensemble, dat gespecialiseerd is in muziek uit de barokperiode. Het gezelschap speelt op hedendaagse instrumenten. Overtuigd als ze zijn dat de klankintensiteit van deze instrumenten beter aansluit bij de huidige concertbezoeker. Combattimento wil klassieke muziek levendig en boeiend maken en komt graag naar de luisteraar toe. De musici richten zich niet alleen op het standaardrepertoire, wat zorgt voor veel interessante programma’s. De concerten met een combinatie van bekende en minder bekende werken zijn voor de luisteraars, maar ook voor de uitvoerenden, verfrissend en inspirerend. Inmiddels is Jan Willem de Vriend gestopt met het ensemble en hebben de overige leden het ensemble in 2014 voortgezet onder de naam Combattimento.
COMBATTIMENTO CONSORT AMSTERDAM
As of January 2014, Combattimento Consort Amsterdam will seize to exist. Founder and artistic leader Jan Willem de Vriend has decided to give full focus to his conducting activities. The other members of the ensemble have decided to continue under the name Combattimento. More information about them is to be found at www.combattimento.nl
Founded in 1982 by violinist Jan Willem de Vriend, the Combattimento Consort Amsterdam developed into a close-knit ensemble specialising in music from 1600-1800.
The musicians' wish not to focus solely on the standard repertoire resulted in many interesting programmes featuring remarkable and little-known works, some of which were only available in manuscript. The performance of these compositions in conjunction with more familiar works proved to be refreshing and inspiring to listeners and performers alike.
Over the years the ensemble gave many memorable concerts and operatic performances including Handel’s Rodelinda, Alcina, also by Handel, and Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, in collaboration with De Nationale Reisopera.
In September 2002 the ensemble made its debut at the Early Music Holland Festival in Utrecht, giving two performances of Rameau's opera Platée in a co-production with Onafhankelijk Toneel and the Nationale Reisopera.
In addition to numerous concerts in the Netherlands, the Combattimento Consort also appeared in various European countries and in venues outside of Europe. Successful tours in the United States, Japan and South America have always been attracting attention in national and international media.
Concerts often had solo performances by members of the ensemble, but the Combattimento Consort also worked with great performers such as Barbara Bonney, Andreas Scholl and Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Thomas Zehetmair and Sabine Meyer as well as joining forces with Collegium Vocale Gent and other groups.
Several recordings have won the highest praise of the Dutch music magazine 'Luister'. Over the years, the ensemble made numerous CD recordings, including Handels La Resurrezione. Another recent production is Der Stein der Weisen. This opera had its premiere in the Wielki Theatre in Lodz (Poland; 2003), and after that it toured in The Netherlands and Flanders. In 2004 the Combattimento Consort toured through Central Europe and The Netherlands with Handel’s opera Agrippina, the largest cultural project within the Netherlands Presidency of the European Union.
Jan Willem de Vriend
Jan Willem de Vriend is the artistic director of Combattimento Consort Amsterdam and since 2006 the chief conductor and artistic director of the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra.
Combattimento Consort Amsterdam devotes itself to the music of about 1600 to 1830. Since its founding in 1982, it has performed virtually throughout the world as well as on many CDs, DVDs and television productions. For decades, Combattimento Consort Amsterdam has had its own concert series at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw in which many entirely unknown – and mostly unpublished – pieces are performed alongside more familiar works, such as the yearly Matthaus Passion and Weihnachtsoratorium by Bach. Their 25th anniversary in 2007 was celebrated with the impressive project of Bibers Missa Salisburgensis, for the very first time in the original version with 4 organs and as many choirs.
In addition to having served as concertmaster with various ensembles, De Vriend developed a career as a conductor with several orchestras both in The Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Italy Germany, Sweden, as well as China and Australia. Opera conducting has come to play a significant role. He has led Combattimento Consort Amsterdam in unknown operas by Gassmann, Rameau, Heinchen and Haydn, among others, as well as familiar operas by such composers as Monteverdi, Handel, Rossini and Mozart. For the opera houses of Lucern, Strasbourg, Barcelona and Enschede, he has conducted operas by Handel, Mozart, Verdi, Strauss and others.
He was invited by the Stanislavsky Theatre of Moscow to conduct an opera by Handel.
Since De Vriend was named chief conductor in 2006, the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra has become a notable phenomenon on the Netherlands’ musical scene. It has presented semi-scenic performances of works by Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss and Mendelssohn. There were premieres of works by Offenbach, Say and Mahler. And by substituting historical instruments in the brass section, it has developed its own distinctive sound in the 18th- and 19th-century repertoire. The orchestra performed music by Schumann at festivals in Spain and recorded Beethoven’s complete symphonies conducted by De Vriend. Its long Mahler tradition is being continued in recordings and tours.
De Vriend was awarded the Dutch Radio 4 Prize of the year 2012. The Radio 4 Prize is awarded to a musician (or ensemble or institution) who has distinguished himself in bringing classical music to a broad public.