1721: Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in Bb major

SUNDAY, November 29, 2020 – 6:00 AM

So called “period recordings” are usually 1/2 step lower than modern pitch, but this is clearly in C major, down a full step. This recording is down a full step, and I don’t yet know why. So it’s performed by modern players in the key of Bb major, but this is roughly in Ab major.

Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in Bb Major, age 36

Instrumentation:

  • two viole da braccio
  • two viole da gamba
  • cello
  • violone
  • harpsichord

Viola da braccio means the normal viola, and is used here to distinguish it from the viola da gamba.

History

When the work was written in 1721, the viola da gamba was already an old-fashioned instrument. There are all sorts of theories about why Bach chose this instrument in this concerto. There is much conjecture that at this point I have no idea what really happened, or why.

Almost lost

The full score was left unused in the Margrave’s library until his death in 1734, when it was sold for 24 groschen (as of 2014, about US$24) of silver. The autograph manuscript of the concertos was only rediscovered in the archives of Brandenburg by Siegfried Wilhelm Dehn in 1849; the concertos were first published in the following year.

The manuscript was nearly lost in World War II, when being transported for safekeeping to Prussia by train in the care of a librarian. The train came under aerial bombardment, and the librarian escaped from the train to the nearby forest, with the scores hidden under his coat.

 

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