Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, BWV 1041
Related Artists/CompaniesJohann Sebastian Bach
About the Work
Johann Sebastian Bach spent most of his professional life in church positions, composing sacred music almost exclusively. One of the few periods in which Bach focused on secular music began in 1717 with his move from the stifling climate of Weimar to the secular and open-minded court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, where Bach had both the freedom to explore instrumental forms and a talented ensemble to perform the new works. Compositions from this period include the "Brandenburg" concertos, many of the suites for solo instruments (including the violin sonatas and partitas), and probably the three extant violin concertos. It is also possible that the violin concertos - those in A Minor and E Major for solo violin, strings and continuo, as well as the concerto in D Minor featuring two solo violins - actually originated around 1730, when Bach took a side job as director of the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig, an ensemble of professional and amateur musicians that performed weekly concerts. The prevalent Italianate influences in the violin concertos might suggest the earlier date of composition, but Bach would have reused the works in Leipzig all the same. To enrich his Collegium Musicum repertoire, Bach later recycled the violin concertos into keyboard concertos, and it is through the number and nature of the transcribed keyboard concertos that we can deduce that he must have composed more violin concertos. Because Bach always tailored his recycled material to suit the new setting, it is, unfortunately, impossible to reconstruct accurately the lost concertos.
Bach's approach to the violin concerto borrowed heavily from Vivaldi. His use of ritornello structures, movements organized in a fast-slow-fast arrangement, and an orchestrational approach that included the soloist as a component of the ensemble sound (as opposed to the more heroic soloist-versus-orchestra construct that would emerge in the following generations) all point directly to the Italian influence. The outer movements of the Concerto in A Minor demonstrate Bachâ€™s fluidity and cohesion within this adopted format. Yet the most striking music is reserved for the slow movement; spanning more time than the other two movements combined, this hallowed meditation in the relative major key of C occupies the emotional core of the concerto. The movement unfolds as a spacious conversation between the insistent bass motive of repeated notes and the free-spirited violin melody, mediated by a spare accompaniment of pulsing chords in the upper strings.