08 Nov 2012

J.S. Bach – Concerto No. 1 for Violin and String Orchestra, BWV 1041

By Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: continuo, strings.

Duration: 15 minutes in three movements

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) – For a man whose professional life was a succession of mostly liturgical positions defined by their pre-set compositional duties, the job Bach took in Cöthen must have been a welcome taste of freedom. His new employer Prince Leopold was generous financially and fairly liberal with regard to his expectations. This open artistic atmosphere and the Calvinist ethos of the town (which for Bach meant a general lack of music in worship services) led to a unique period in Bach’s career, one that focused on secular instrumental music. The Cöthen years would be short but they yielded some of Bach’s most remarkable scores. These include the Cello Suites, the Orchestral Suites, the Brandenburg Concerti and (likely) the three Violin Concerti. As is so often the issue with Bach, it is remotely possible that the violin pieces date from a later time but their construction and effectiveness, if not actually born in Cöthen, were certainly based on the accomplishments of that fruitful environment. With the A Minor Concerto, Bach managed to take the example of Vivaldi and simultaneously treat it to respectful emulation and a highly individual expansion of ideas.