All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

'Brandenburg' Concerto No. 5 in D major

BWV 1050 performed by the Netherlands Bach Society conducted by Shunske Sato
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

"The appearance of the harpsichord as a solo instrument in the concerto form was a groundbreaking move by Bach."

Bach in the Rijksmuseum

The harpsichord emerges as a solo instrument.

For this recording, we were guests at the Gallery of Honour at the Rijksmuseum, in Amsterdam. We were invited to come and perform Bach’s unusual ‘Brandenburg' Concerto no. 5 – in which the harpsichord emerges as a soloist rather than an accompanying instrument – in order to celebrate the loan of an exceptional harpsichord to the museum. For the recording, the original instrument, built by Johannes Ruckers in 1640, was played by harpsichordist Richard Egarr.

Bach and Rembrandt
Bach himself never went to Amsterdam, and Rembrandt never went to Leipzig or Berlin. Yet there were many ties between the Republic of the Netherlands and Bach’s employers. For many young German princes, the Netherlands was a regular destination for a tour or a period of study. Johann Ernst of Saxen-Weimar, for whom Bach was working when he wrote the first versions of the ‘Brandenburg’ concertos, studied for a couple of years in Utrecht, and Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg-Schwedt, to whom he later dedicated these concertos, also studied for a while in Leiden.
Rembrandt’s Night Watch had been hanging since 1642 in Amsterdam in the Kloveniersdoelen, the building of the civic guard depicted on the painting. In 1700, and between 1704 and 1705, Christian’s step-brother Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg, visited the Netherlands. On his second trip, as a young man of sixteen, he visited “everything there was to see”. Might he also have been to the Kloveniersdoelen? In any case, later as the king of Prussia, he based all sorts of things on the Dutch model: painters, carillons, canals and even a ‘Dutch’ hunting lodge, and in the 1730’s a Dutch district in Potsdam.
In 1715, the Night Watch moved to the town hall on Dam Square, and part of it was cut off so it would fit between two doors. The manuscript of Bach’s ‘Brandenburg’ concertos was treated with similar disregard. After Christian Ludwig’s death in 1734, it was sold off for a meagre 24 groschen. Nowadays, both Rembrandt’s paintings and Bach’s music are regarded as icons of European art, and here they are presented as a unique combination for eye and ear.

'Brandenburg' concertos, BWV 1046-1051
In March 1721, Bach sent a manuscript from Köthen to Berlin entitled ‘Six concertos with several instruments’ (Six concerts avec plusieurs instruments), dedicated to Christian Ludwig (1677-1734), Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt. In the preface, Bach stated that he had played for the margrave ‘a couple of years ago’ (il y a une couple d’années) and had promised to send him ‘some of his compositions’ (quelques pieces de ma composition). That was probably during a visit to Berlin in March 1719, when Bach had travelled to the Prussian capital to take receipt of a new harpsichord for the court in Köthen. The music that he sent to the margrave a couple of years later (which subsequently became known as the Brandenburg Concertos) was Bach’s ultimate view of the most important large-scale instrumental genre of his day: the concerto.

A concerto nearly always involves a solo instrument (or combination of solo instruments) and an ensemble. The key idea is the alternation between one or more soloists and the whole ensemble, in a sort of light-hearted competition. In the six Brandenburg Concertos, Bach explores every facet of this genre, with regard to both instrumentation and the way in which he handles the form. All the traditionally used string and wind instruments and the harpsichord appear as soloists, the musical forms range from court dances to near-fugues, and the relationship between the solos and tutti instruments is always shifting. Together, the six concertos thus form a virtuoso sample sheet of the Baroque concerto.

Background noise in recording
In this recording, you hear a harpsichord that is over 350 years old: a Johannes Ruckers from 1640. During the concert, the jackrail (the rail above the jacks with plectrums that pluck the strings when the keys are pressed) started to rattle. The tapping you can hear comes from this loose jackrail.


BWV
1050

title
Concerto in D major

epithet
‘Brandenburg’ concerto no. 5

genre
orchestral work (concerto)

series
'Brandenburg' Concertos

Year
1719-1720

City
Köthen (but possibly earlier in Weimar)

Occasion
Dedicated in 1721 to Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg

Cast & Crew

release date 21 September 2018
recording date 11 May 2018
location Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Harpsichord Johannes Ruckers, 1640
conductor and violin Shunske Sato
harpsichordist Richard Egarr
traverso Marten Root
violin 2 Anneke van Haaften
viola Femke Huizinga
cello Lucia Swarts
double bass James Munro
Director and editor Bas Wielenga
music recording Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt, Pim van der Lee
music edit and mix Guido Tichelman
camera Ramon de Boer, Tim van der Voort, Bart Krimp
lights Zen Bloot, Henry Rodgers
camera-assistant/grip Robin Noort
assistant director Ferenc Soeteman
set technique Alex de Gier
data handling Kira Falticeau
project manager Videobrix Peter Hazenberg
interview Onno van Ameijde, Marloes Biermans
producer concert Imke Deters
producer film Jessie Verbrugh

Vocal Texts

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