1 CD - VC 5 45054-2 - (p) 1995


Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Concerto in C minor, BWV 1060
14' 16"

- Allegro 5' 09"

- Adagio 5' 09"

- Allegro 3' 56"

Concerto in C major, BWV 1061
18' 11"

- (-)
7' 26"

- Adagio ovvero Largo 4' 39"

- Fuga 6' 08"

Concerto in C minor, BWV 1062
14' 47"

- (-) 3' 42"

- Andante e piano
6' 16"

- Allegro assai 4' 50"

Gustav Leonhardt, harpsichord I (BWV 1060 & 1061), harpsichord II (BWV 1062) - Bruce Kennedy after Johannes Ruckers
Bob van Asperen
harpsichord I (BWV 1062), harpsichord II (1060 & 1061) - Michael Johnson after Pascal Taskin

- François Fernandez, first violin
- Sayuri Yamagata, second violin
- Wim Ten Have, viola
- Wouter Moeller, cello
- Anthony Woodrow, double bass

Bob van ASPEREN, director


Luogo e data di registrazione
Waalsche Kerk, Amsterdam (The Netherlands) - 14/17 Dicembre 1993

Registrazione: live / studio

Simon Woods

Balance engineer

Simon Rhodes

Tape editor

Mary Hughes

Prima Edizione LP

Prima Edizione CD
Virgin Classics | LC 7873 | VC 5 45054-2 | 1 CD - durata 47' 17" | (p) 1995 | DDD

Cover Art

View of the Kloveniersburggwal in Amsterdam by Gerrit Adriaensz Berckheyde (1638-1698). Johnny van Haeften Gallery, London/Bridgeman Art Library, London.


J. S. Bach: The Concertos for two harpsichords
Least well-known amongst his modest output of orchestral music are J.S. Bach’s fourteen harpsichord concertos. Despite what some text books claim, Bach did not really ‘invent’ the genre, though he certainly pioneered it. He and Handel arrived at the keyboard concerto independently, nearly simultaneously, and almost accidentally, rather by force of circumstance than through any premeditated creative initiative. Both Bach and Handel had experimented with novel combinations of solo keyboard and accompanying orchestra many years before they had an opportunity of writing fully-fledged concertos. Although Handel chose the chamber organ (without pedals) and Bach the harpsichord, in their respective concertos their formal structures and keyboard writing are not so very different, though it is unlikely that they ever caught a glimpse of each other's work.
Handel's organ concertos were written for the intervals of his London oratorios, when they need ed a sales boost, and went someway towards making good the lack of Italianate virtuoso sparkle in his mostly English casts. Bach's concertos, however, were written for the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, a music society comprising university students, middle-class amateurs and a few local professionals. The society had originally been founded by Telemann in 1702, and was directed by Bach from the spring of 1729 until 1 741 (with a brief hiatus between 1737 and 1739). It met regularly on Friday evenings at Zimmermann’s coffee house in the Catherinenstraße, and during the summer in the proprietor’s garden on the edge of the city.
Unlike the violin concertos and the six Brandenburg concertos which were written for the ears of the Cöthen court alone, the ordinary meetings of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum were open to the public. Although no programmes have actually survived, alongside the harpsichord concertos the repertory probably included some of Bach's specially-written orchestral suites, much of his chamber music, and his two amusing secular cantatas: Der Streit zwischen Phoebus und Pan (BWV 201) and the Coffee Cantata (BWV 211). It is also likely that Bach drew on the talents of his large family as performers. According to his first biographer, Johann Nikolaus Forkel, ‘the proficiency of his elder sons and pupils [on the harpsichord], and his wife's talent as a singer, were a further source of strength to the Society, whose direction undoubtedly made these years the happiest in Bach's life’.
Surprisingly, perhaps, in view of their classic status today, during the eighteenth century Bach's concertos would have been regarded as essentially ephemeral music. They were written to order and, like the works of so many other provincial Kapellmeisters all over Germany, once they had been played a few times and lost their novelty value they would have been replaced by fresh works. Beyond the presentation copy of six concertos dedicated to the Margrave of Brandenburg in 1721 there is no evidence to suggest that Bach's concertos were ever performed under the direction of anyone other than the composer himself. That the majority of these pieces have survived to the present day is fortuitous indeed.
Bach published none of his orchestral music, and so it remained little-known during his lifetime. But Forkel, his early biographer, was acquainted (probably through his friendship with C.P.E. Bach) with two of the three concertos for two harpsichords recorded here. His comments, published in 1802, bear quotation in extenso:
Two Concertos for two claviers, with accompaniment of two violins, viola, and violincello: The first [BWV 1060] is very old, but the second [BWV 1061] is as new as if it had been composed but yesterday. It may be played entirely without the stringed instruments and has then an excellent effect. The last allegro is a strictly regular and magnificent fugue. This species of composition [that is, for two keyboard instruments] was also first perfected and, perhaps, even first attempted by Bach.
Forkel was right, the C minor concerto BWV 1060 was indeed old. We now know that it had been composed during Bach's tenure as Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Cöthen between 1717 and 1723, and scholars are generally agreed that the concerto probably began life as a work with oboe and violin soloists, and that the version for two harpsichords was a later transcription intended for the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, which seems to have had a ready supply of harpsichordists. Indeed, it appears that almost all Bach's harpsichord concertos were constructed in this way. (A reconstruction of the C minor concerto BWV 1060 in its putative original form for oboe and violin is also available on the Veritas label, performed by Elizabeth Wallfisch and Anthony Robson.) In the case of the C minor concerto BWV 1062, the original work on which it was based still survives. It is in fact the wellknown concerto for two violins in D minor which Bach was obliged to transpose down a tone since the highest note called for in the string version lay a tone above the top note possible on the harpsichords available to Bach.
For some early Bach scholars these transcribed harpsichord concertos seemed to call Bach's aesthetic judgement into question. For Albert Schweitzer the harpsichord version of the great D minor double violin concerto was nothing short of sacrilege: ‘How Bach dared to deliver the two singing violin parts from the Largo of this work over to the harpsichord with its brittle tone is something for which he must answer himself’. But second hand does not necessarily mean second best. Bach is so integral to our idealised twentieth-century concept of the original creative genius that his pragmatic approach to composition, his labour-saving short cuts and his creative recycling of material can leave us feeling rather uncomfortable. There is the lingering suspicion that arrangements of any kind are inferior to their models. Yet during Bach's lifetime the re-use of material, often transplanted from one medium to another, was commonplace (Handel did it in his organ concertos too) and in careers as busy as those of Bach and Handel it was frequently a necessity. Originality per se was not the major criterion of artistic judgement that it is today.
Forkel described the C major concerto BWV 1061 as being ‘as new as if it had been composed but yesterday’. Of the fourteen surviving harpsichord concertos, this seems to be the only work which was originally intended for the keyboard. Forkel also noticed that it could be played perfectly well without the string accompaniment. Just as the Italian Concerto BWV 971 is essentially a solo harpsichord concerto without the orchestra, so the present concerto may have originated as a companion piece: a double harpsichord concerto without orchestra, perhaps intended for domestic entertainment. (W.F. Bach was later to produce just such a piece himself, the Concerto a due cembali concertati in F major). The string accompaniments seem to have been a later addition, and may not in fact be by Bach at all, since only the keyboard parts are in his autograph. In the first movement the orchestra has very little to do as the soloists engage in a closely-argued dialogue entirely between themselves. In the succeeding Adagio the two harpsichords are left completely unsupported, and in the closing fugal movement the strings do little more than double the solo parts.
Bach's technique of transcription in the other two concertos can be studied most easily in the case of the C minor concerto BWV 1062 whose model (the D minor double violin concerto) still exists. As was generally his practice he made no structural changes and no significant alterations to the orchestral material. The keyboard parts were formed by assigning the violin line to the right hand and the continuo line to the left. Although the left hand part is sometimes elevated from a purely continuo role to more effectively partner the right, and although occasionally Bach introduces the type of embellishments in the right hand which might have been improvised in performance, there is actually much less idiomatic writing for the harpsichord than one might have expected if the works had been intended from the first for the keyboard. In short, Bach’s process of transformation was always as literal as possible. Nevertheless, our twentieth-century reservations about the artistic value of arrangements of any kind (however faithful to the original) have for too long prevented these concertos from attaining the level of popularity which is clearly their due.
Simon Heighes