BWV 593

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Concerto in A minor

BWV 593 performed by Reitze Smits
Lutheran church, The Hague

Organist Reitze Smits explains how Vivaldi’s music travelled from Venice to Amsterdam and ended up on Bach’s organ.

Bach transcribes Vivaldi

Although Bach never lived outside Germany, he was still well aware of what was happening in the music world abroad.

Although Bach never lived outside Germany, he was still well aware of what was happening in the music world abroad. When Vivaldi’s volume of revolutionary new concertos L’estro armonico was published in Amsterdam in 1711, it was not long before Bach got a look at it. He was probably introduced to the volume by Prince Johann Ernst, the young nephew of his employer Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar. The prince was Bach’s pupil and a promising musician and composer. Between 1711 and 1713, he studied at Utrecht University, and took home a considerable amount of new music on his return to Weimar. Bach, who was employed by the duke as an organist and chamber musician, transcribed six of the twelve concertos from L’estro armonico for different instruments, arranging the three-part Concerto in A minor for two violins, strings and basso continuo for solo organ. 

For Bach, making such a transcription was an ideal way of getting to the essence of what he regarded (according to his biographer Forkel) as a new manner of ‘musical thinking’. Vivaldi’s concertos excel at blending clever short-term and long-term strategies. Driving rhythms and catchy melodic lines are underpinned by a tight structure, while displaying a striking contrast between tutti and solo sections.

The first section of the Concerto in A minor has an energetic drive, the second is dreamy and enchanting, and the third is shrill and infectious. As an arranger, Bach remained surprisingly true to the original. Even passages that were written specifically with the violin in mind – such as big intervals and rapidly repeated notes – were transferred to the organ unabridged. Yet Bach did manage to put his own mark on the transcription, besides taking necessary measures like shifting notes where the organ’s register was inadequate or in passages where the two violins double one another. He did so mainly by adding ornaments, complementing the middle voice and completing chords to reinforce the harmony. The tutti sections are played on the great organ (the largest part of the organ) and the solo sections on the choir organ (the smaller part behind the organist’s back).

It stands to reason that Bach’s experiences with transcriptions like this one gave an important boost to the development of his own musical style. More and more often, he joined up the solid German style with the Italian musical architecture, thus enriching solidity with sophistication and straightforwardness with passion.


BWV
593

title
Concerto in A minor

genre
organ work (concerto)

year
ca. 1713

city
Weimar

Special notes
After Vivaldi, Concerto in A minor for 2 violins, strings and basso continuo, op. 3 no. 8, RV 522 .

Cast & Crew

release date 2 May 2014
recording date 29 November 2013
location Lutheran Church, The Hague
ORGAN Johann Heinrich Hartmann Bätz, 1762
ORGANIST Reitze Smits
ORGAN REGISTRATION Arjan de Vos
PRODUCER Frank van der Weij
FILM DIRECTOR Jan Van den Bossche
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY Jorrit Garretsen, Sal Kroonenberg
MUSIC PRODUCTION, EDITING AND MIX Holger Schlegel
FILM EDITOR Dylan Glyn Jones
Colorist Petro van Leeuwen
PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS Imke Deters, Zoë de Wilde

Vocal Texts

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Translation

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